Thursday, May 14, 2009

Francesca Lia Block Essay

Home is where the heart is, and in the case of Francesca Lia Block, that is especially true. Block’s writing is clearly influenced by her years spent in Los Angeles, from a star- struck childhood, onto feelings of inadequacy as a teen, and finally coming into terms with her own skin in adulthood. She shows the crazy L.A. lifestyle that she experienced through story-telling, imagery, and a lack of punctuation. In each poem, she tells a story. Sometimes the story is separate from everything before it, and it will eventually all weave together, but other times she uses her poems as if they were chapters in a book. Her use of imagery adds depth to her poems, and helps the reader see exactly how she saw Los Angeles throughout her life. Los Angeles to her is beautiful, free, and torn, all at once. The lack of punctuation in almost all of her poems is another technique that helps the reader better understand how she felt growing up: chaotic, inferior, and sometimes broken.
Francesca Lia Block was born January 3, 1962 in Los Angeles, which she lovingly refers to as “Shangri-L.A.”(Wikipedia) She lived there all her life, leaving only in her college years to attend UC Berkeley. She missed her home town so badly; that it was there she wrote her first book to be published. But before that, Block had written many other stories. In an interview, Block said “I wrote poetry when I was very little. I was encouraged because my mom wrote down a lot of what I said and made me feel that it was valuable.” (Alloy Media and Marketing) Her mom wasn’t the only one to encourage her to write though. Her father would often read her Greek mythology and other fairy tales. (Maughan, Shannon) Clearly, her mother and father played a big part in her writing career, yet there was another factor that helped her along the way. That was her beloved L.A. In her poems, the city shines through, both the good and the bad. Even today, she still loves it, claiming in an interview “I like downtown Culver City--the Culver Hotel, where the munchkins lived while filming Wizard of Oz, M Cafe, Tender Greens…” and her list goes on. (Asharya, Barker, Faulds). Her writing always has a touch of magic, just like her life. She lives with her children in a pink cottage in L.A. along with their dog, Vincent Van Go-go Boots. (Language Is A Virus)
In “Psyche in a Dress” Block works her mythological magic, showing what Los Angeles is like through the eyes of a teenager who feels average compared to all the beautiful starlets. Echo, who is the speaker in the poem, says that her father put her in the film Narcissus because he “saw that [she] was broken.”(Echo 19) Her father, the director, often refers to her as his muse, yet she feels unworthy after losing the man she loves. Block puts the reader right in Echo’s shoes, portraying the inadequacy she feels by saying “The ladies frowned at my skin/ turned my face this way and that/ in the harsh lights/ ‘What are you eating?’(19) they asked me” Echo is perceived as a regular girl, with a few facial flaws here and there, not ugly, yet not amazingly pretty. Block portrays her in this light to show what the average teenager goes through when they are surrounded by above average girls on a daily basis. She lived in city of stars, and consequently felt inadequate because of it. She creates the feelings of inadequacy with her characters, who are either very vulnerable, like Echo, or very self-assured, like Narcissus, an actor Echo works with. Though Echo has gone through her own special set of problems, she still is tied to the reader through her feelings of insufficiency and failure. Almost everyone has felt this way at some time, and Block taps into that, using her story-telling skills to build her characters. Echo felt as if she was not worthy of anything, and yet her father still found a place for her. Echo says “He saw that I was broken/ and he thought it might work well for his next project”(19). Depending on how this particular line is read, his finding a place for her could be a positive or negative situation. On one hand, it could mean that she is accepted no matter what she looks like, while on the other hand, it could show that her father is exploiting her for his own selfish wants to make a movie. This line mirrors the real Los Angeles that Block is trying to show in her poems. Though it is the city of angels, there is still always a possible dark side. Echo later mentions that she “had just inherited [her] father’s complexion”(19). Just like her father can be seen in two lights, so can Echo, as well as any other female. Block shows that teenagers can inflict the same hurt or extend the same comfort the same way any other adult can.
In the play Echo is taking place in, she is supposed to vanish into nothing but a voice. Here, Block depicts what a girl who sees herself as nothing more than average may feel like. Her name also foreshadows this event. She will become nothing but an echo. She is described as a regular person is described, yet her co-star, Narcissus, is described as if he were a building or an object. He has “gold ringlets/ chiseled features/ and a body like a temple”(21). Block shows that often the extremely pretty ones are the ones that have nothing inside, much like an unfinished building. Also, like stone “You will never find your reflection” in his eyes. (21) Echo feared having to spend time with Narcissus, yet she was forced to go to dinner with him. Echo described the place as having “a bar of red-veined marble/ with spigots spurting wine like blood.”(21) This imagery brings to mind monsters and vampires, and Block seems to have thought the same thing, for she next writes “A woman was covertly nibbling the petals [of the lilies]/ Beautiful people sat staring at themselves in the mirrors/ Their twins emerged out of glass pools/ to have sex with them on the tabletops”(22) Block is yet again showing that beautiful people do not always have beautiful souls. Echo and Narcissus dine in a place that resembles blood-filled veins, and they sit among the gorgeous ones, yet everyone is too busy making love to their reflections to notice that “the food had no scent”(22) In the beginning of the poem, Block writes with the fears of a teenager who feels insufficient. Yet, she makes a switch when Echo and Narcissus go to dinner, and suddenly begins writing as an adult who is comfortable in her own skin. Though Echo still feels the same, Block gives the reader enough information to know that there is no reason to feel uncomfortable around the people Echo is comparing herself against. Though L.A. and its people are beautiful, the inside may not always be so.
In “How to (Un) Cage A Girl” Block shows the influence Los Angeles has on teenagers. The speaker is telling a story of “two girls/ who were really bored” and went out to have a night of fun. (How to (Un) Cage A Girl 36) These girls wore their shortest shorts and highest heels in order to make themselves attractive. After living in L.A., they want to dress like stars, even if it means “their toes bleed”(36). Block describes L.A. as “the shiny city”(36). The city is no longer seen in the same light as it was for Echo, but instead it is something beautiful to be admired. Yet, while the girls are out, they meet a vampire. He was living in this bright and beautiful city, yet in order to survive, vampires need darkness. Block hints that the city must be darker than the girls realize at first. Though the begged for him to drink their blood, he wouldn’t. Here, Block imparts a good lesson to all girls who want to live forever. The vampire chides “Oh no oh no…/ it might look fun but it actually kind of sucks”(36) He points out that life would be even more boring than it already was, even though they are living in the city of lights. Block shows that even though she lives in a city swarming with stars and clubs, life is not always going to be interesting. We are not meant to live forever, because one day everything else will die, and we would be alone. After the girls had a drink, they went home on bleeding feet, the same on the outside as they had gone, yet more beautiful on the inside. They understood what it would be like to be alone, and they knew that no amount of fun in the world was worth it. The Los Angeles they knew would be gone , wiped away forever, and they would be the only ones left. Yet at the same time, they still wished the vampire would come back. Block captures the essence of teenage girls perfectly. Though they did what the vampire advised and turned out the lights to help the planet, they still secretly wished that the vampire would come back. Block added that they would only do this when they were alone in their beds, which is a detail that makes the most difference. She shows what teenage girls do and feel by creating this casual dialogue that takes no time to pause between thoughts. She writes as if she was a teen girl herself, talking to another friend. Through doing this, she is able to relate to the reader.
Though Block grew up in a different setting than most teenagers, she was still able to experience the same emotions almost everyone faces. She brings her poems to life with her ability to capture emotions, and make them relatable to everyone. Even though she lived in a crazy city, she made the best of it, and was able to turn her problems and fears into poetry for young adults.

Works Cited

Alloy Media and Marketing. "Spotlight." gURL. 8 November 2008 .
This interview with Block covers topics such as why Block enjoys writing, and what high school was like for her. There are also questions about what she enjoys doing besides writing, as well as what she likes and dislikes the most about writing. She also discusses how she goes about writing a novel.
Asharya, Kat, Liz Barker and Laura Faulds. "No Good For Me Interview." 8 December 2008. No Good For Me. 14 December 2008 .
This interview was especially interesting, as it stayed away from the typical questions interviewers ask. Some of the questions were what her spirit animal was, how music plays a part in her writing, and what she was currently working on. FLB was very open to all the questions, and she also showed her "Weetzie" side. (Weetzie is a character from the first book she wrote, who she has often been compared to.) She claimed to love the hotel where the Munchkins from The Wizard of Oz stayed while filming.
Block, Francesca Lia. "How To (Un) Cage A Girl." vampire in the city of lost. New York: Harper Collins, 2008. 36-38.
Block, Francesca Lia. "Psyche in a Dress.” Echo. New York: Harper Collins, 2006. 19-23.
Language Is A Virus. "Language is a Virus: Francesca Lia Block Shrine." 2008. Language is a Virus. November 2008 .
This website has a whole plethora of information. It has writings that FLB has done, but are not found in books, her biography, fan clubs, interviews, and other related topics. It's a good place to find other's opinions on her work, but it also has some real facts from FLB.
Maughan, Shannon. "Author Profile: Francesca Lia Block." 10 March 2000. Teen Reads. 8 November 2008 .
Another interview with FLB reveals that her love for Greek myths comes from her father. He read them to her often when she was little. She always knew she wanted to be a writer, and shares this fact, along with her worries when her books were first published. Since she deals with topics that were a bit risqué for her time, she got a lot of criticism. Yet her books won many dedicated fans.
"Francesca Lia Block." Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. November 5, 2008. November 8, 2008. .
This is just the basics of FLB’s background, and where she is today. She lives with her two children, and two dogs.

Works Consulted
Block, Francesca Lia. Excerpt of “How To (Un) Cage A Girl” Perf. Francesca Lia Block. Book Soup, Los Angeles. 19 November 2008. 14 December 2008.
Block reading from her new book, “How to (Un)Cage A Girl”. The reading takes place in Los Angeles on November 15, 2008, at Book Soup. It is about 10 minutes long, and she reads and discusses a few of the poems, as well as the format of her book.
Harper Collins. "Harper Childrens: Francesca Lia Block." November 2008. Harper Children's Website. 8 November 2008 .
This site has an interview with FLB, which mentions that Block's love of Greek mythology stems from her childhood. It also explains that she was influenced by One Hundred Years of Solitude, and the half grounded reality it took place in. She was also influenced by her mother and father, the painter and poet.
Block, Francesca Lia, Elizabeth Matson and Christian Lassen. Francesca Lia Block's Official Website. November 2008. November 2008 .
This website has all of FLB's books listed, along with some books she is currently working on. It has her biography, and classes she is teaching. This site is good for general information about her.
Platzner, Rebecca. 1998. ALAN Review. 8 November 2008 .
This article is written by a woman who compared Block's stories to a collage. She says she can imagine Block beginning her stories with one character, and slowly developing the rest of the story, so that they are all connected in a few ways.
Block, Francesca Lia. "Myspace-Francesca Lia." 8 November 2008. Myspace . 8 November 2008 .
FLB's myspace is much like any other person's. She filled in all her interests, wrote some poetry she had been working on, and updates it constantly with books she is writing or will be writing. It shows how dedicated her fans are, and also shows that she is willing to talk to them. They seem to be having some conversations on her comment page.

Copies of Francesca Lia Block’s Poems


The film my father put me in was called Narcissus
He saw that I was broken
and he thought it might work well for his next project

I went to the set without any makeup
The ladies frowned at my skin
turned my face this way and that
in the harsh lights

“What are you eating?” they asked me
“Dairy? Sugar?”
“Do you get any sleep?”
“Supplements? Facials?”
“You’ve got to start taking care of yourself”

I shrugged
I said I was okay
I had just inherited my father’s complexion
And now of course
I didn’t have the benefit of sex with a god every night

At least in this film no one gets raped, mutilated
or murdered
Unless you count vanishing as murder
It’s what you assume in the world these days
when someone disappears
I was supposed to vanish
turn into a voice

Narcissus came to the first reading late
He didn’t apologize
My father didn’t say anything
Anyone else
he’d have fired on the spot
Instead he just scowled
at me
I turned away so he couldn’t see

Narcissus had long, gold ringlets
chiseled features
and a body like a temple
Don’t look too deeply into his eyes, though
You will never find your reflection

I’ll probably be fine if he doesn’t touch me
I told myself
But that was not my father’s plan

Narcissus and I went out for dinner
My father set it up
There was a bar of red-veined marble
with spigots spurting wine like blood
Stargazer lilies stained the white linen tablecloths
with their rusty powder
A woman was covertly nibbling the petals
The food had no scent
Beautiful people sat staring at themselves in the mirrors
Their twins emerged out of glass pools
to have sex with them on the tabletops
In the candlelight I wondered
if Narcissus might find me attractive
Not that I cared
Love had already left me

I had on makeup and a blue satin chinoiserie dress
my mother’s jewels—
a double strand of pearls and her sapphire ring
I imagined her teeth, her eyes

I asked Narcissus about himself
I didn’t expect him to say anything interesting
but when he started talking I fell
under his spell
Instead of touching parts of my mother
I watched Narcissus’s full lips move over his white teeth
His eyes were pools shattered by the sunlight
and his lashes brushed his cheekbones
If he was looking at his reflection
I couldn’t see

vampire in the city of lost

once there were these two girls
who were really bored
and they put on their shortest skirts
and highest heels
the ones that made their toes bleed
and they applied perfume to all their pulse points
and they went out into the shiny city
where they met this tall vampire with a shaved head
and a body tattooed with the stories of the centuries
and the face of a matinee idol
please please drink our blood they begged
tossing their hair away from their long swan necks
please make us into the immortal dead
and the vampire said
oh no oh no you silly girls
that is not really what you want
it might look fun but it actually kind of sucks
be we are bored, said the girls
we want to wear the fashions of the future
we want to have countless lovers
and most of all we want to stay young and beautiful
but the vampire gave the girls a lecture
about global warming
and the unfathomable hours of the walking dead
if you think you’re bored now! he said
he bought them kir royales and kissed them chastely
on the lips
so that their mouths went numb and tingly
for a moment
and then he left
the girls hobbled home on their bleeding feet
and they thought about that handsome vampire
sitting up in a tree
watching the deserts flame around him
or sailing on a melting ice floe
while the polar bears died
and the girls were glad to be alive
and they were glad they would eventually die
and after that they always turned off
all the lightbulbs in the house
when they went to bed
hoping they were helping the planet
and, secretly cloaked in the darkness,
that the vampire would come back

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