November 20, 2014 § 1 Comment
I dyed my hair blonde again this past week. It takes a very long time, four hours or so. You sit in the chair while someone paints your hair in thin strands with a wooden brush, first the back, then working towards the front. It’s painstaking and expensive. For some reason, when you go blonde the dye itself is purple. I’m not smart enough to know why it’s purple, or really, what the hell kinds of toxins they are actually putting into my hair. The dye’s texture is like something from a childhood haunted house, the goop you’d stick your hands into when the lights are all out, those soon-to-be-expired grapes passing for zombie brains or eyeballs. The fact that this thought actually crossed my mind should be an indication of how often I frequent salons.
When it was time for the dye to sit and dry, my stylist asked if I wanted a magazine. Instead I pulled out my book, Dostoevsky’s “The Idiot.” I got a bit self-conscious. Why do I have to be such an asshole and pull out this seven-pound Russian book in the middle of a salon? A minute or so later, the receptionist walked by and talked to me a bit about “Anna Karenina.” She was having a hard time getting through it, but thought it was just starting to get good. Another hairdresser joined the conversation, mentioning the movie. Then several other girls getting haircuts started to chime in, somehow the topic shifted to horror movies, and then the whole salon was chatting about bad B-grade films. We weren’t discussing anything important – at one point “The Human Centipede” came up – but everyone had something to say and it culminated in a very good joke by one of the stylists and everyone laughed.
I thought of my grandmother, then, and how for her entire life, she loved going to beauty parlors (her term). Even at the end, in the assisted living home, she went to get her hair done every week. It seems shallow. But it was a real social space for her as a woman to connect with other women, one of the few precious spheres afforded to women of her generation outside the home, and she held it sacred. Going to the beauty parlor for her, a poor New York Jew from an immigrant family, was a luxury, a duty, and I suspect most importantly, a community. Watching her in there chatting with all the women, both as a child and then caring for her as an adult, made celebrity gossip and nail polish something quite substantial, actually.
It can seem shallow. You know early on that your beauty is what matters, and simultaneously that caring about it, that talking about it – the women who diet obsessively and spray tan, who have extensive morning makeup routines, who get their nails done and pontificate about it as if it’s a philosophy final thesis – this is superficial and silly. Men hate women who go on and on about this. Women hate women who go on and on about this. But it’s a hard ask of society, to tell us to stake our identities to something, and put systems into place that ensure it’s enforced upon us, and then tell us we are crazy or stupid for internalizing it and claiming that it is important in our lives. I prefer to critique the cultural machinery then the women it produces, but maybe that’s because I am a feminist or just read “The Beauty Myth”, though I’d like to think that it is really just a basic empathetic, moral stance. Either way, when I was at the salon, laughing at the stylist’s joke, I thought of my grandmother, who went to beauty parlors every week for 70-something years. And I thought that the group of us had managed to carve out a nice space for ourselves for a Sunday afternoon, while we all partook in something that I’ve heard referred to as “superfluous.”
September 26, 2014 § 1 Comment
In 2003, I was a freshman in high school. Up until that point, I’d used our shared family computer mainly to flirt with boys on IM chats when I should have been sleeping. I joined Xanga shortly after I had my first kiss. I know this because even though the website is now defunct, they made the archives available, and I downloaded mine. I had a Xanga long after it was acceptable – all through high school, all through college (mid-college was when it became embarrassing), and through several years of living in New York (by this point it was so past embarrassing that it actually felt like a character flaw. Fortunately, it was an easy secret to keep since no one else was on the site.) I suppose I have a hard time letting things die, and it took a company literally hemorrhaging funds for several years and collapsing into ether for me to give it up, by default.
By the end, I didn’t even like Xanga. When it died, it was a relief. Like finally having permission to let something out of its misery (me, or the journal itself). In the final years of my Xanga, every bitchy entry was me bitching about bitchy New Yorker things to essentially no one, like 1. how I didn’t know what I was doing with my life, 2. how other people seemed to know what they were doing with their lives, 3. smatterings of lyrics from feminist musicians or The Smiths that seemed important to copy and paste and post, and/or 4. me blabbing about how half the food in New York has ingredient names I can’t pronounce, then bitching about how I suck at cooking, then bitching about my rent, which somehow always feels tangentially related to every topic when you live here. The point being, it wasn’t fun anymore.
It’s easy to forget that creativity can be (should be?) fun, or at least, derivative of some form of joy. When I began my Xanga at age 14, I didn’t know what I wanted to do or be. The first entry is downright painful to read (dramatic, attention-seeking, and about some dbag senior who made out with me and said he liked me a lot but then didn’t really want to date!!!). As time went on, however, I began to look forward to coming home from school to write in my Xanga. Not just because I disliked a lot of my classes and thought eating microwavable Pizza Bagels and talking to my friends on a landline for six hours was what life was all about (not sure I was that far off, actually), but because I found a community and a voice on Xanga. And I felt autonomous over that voice.
I learned quickly that writing a self-piteous diatribe about a senior guy not liking me (totally over it by the way!!) did not get as good of a reaction as, say, me writing a story poking fun at a naive high school chick just trying to eat Pizza Bagels and talk to her friends and get over senior guys who were clearly using her. I began to craft, daily, some hybrid of journal writing and storytelling, that attempted to be funny or witty or maybe even beautiful on occasion, and have my peers (in its heyday, maybe 50), comment and react to it. And I got better based on their feedback, though none of this was a self-aware process. These were prehistoric likes and shares and comments. The whole thing was a natural occurrence. I didn’t have a goal to write daily and I had never even thought of becoming a writer.
Of course, the internet changed, and everyone left Xanga for the greener pastures of legit websites. I got older and wrote about things that were more serious and more elegant, but often less pure and joyous. As every writer knows (really anyone with an internet connection knows), you often have to write things in a censored way, or present yourself in a certain way, ever-aware that privacy is historic and what you post is public forever. There’s no moral compass or nostalgic value proposition I’m attaching to any of this, but when I got an invite to ello today, it made me remember what I used to think the internet was, and how much it helped me back when it was, perhaps, as naive as I was.
August 13, 2014 § 1 Comment
Last night my roommates and I were interviewing someone to take over my room before I move out in September. While absently flipping through his phone, one of my roommates gasped. He told us Robin Williams died. Of course none of us knew Robin Williams personally. Of course we continued to vet the potential subletter, letting him know about our cleaning chart and the protocols for having friends over during the workweek. Of course we went about our lives.
When our guest left, I headed to my room, searching the internet until 2am in the hopes of clarity, and perhaps some absolution from the tragedy. I read the tweets from his celebrity friends. I watched a skit with Carol Burnett and a clip from “Inside the Actor’s Studio.” I looked at my DVD of “Hook” sitting in the corner.
I don’t remember feeling this bad about other celebrities that have passed away. Sometimes it was shocking, and sometimes I did feel sad, but only in the abstract way that death is always sad to hear about. I cried for Robin Williams. I think about how my parents knew him so young and how I grew up with him. I think about how overwhelmingly, horrifically depressed one must be to feel that is the only way out.
But from the outpouring I see on my newsfeeds and in the conversations I have with friends, it is nice to be reminded of the transcendent power of comedy and art, how it cuts through to universal human experience, that someone none of us knew could make us feel something. It’s easy to forget that. Fame can seem dependent on “selling out” at best, and cultural materialism and immoralism at worst. But Robin Williams was not that. He was charming. Did he make crude jokes? Yes. He made fun of all types of people, but it never felt malicious or mean-spirited or offensive. He was a verbal force, sometimes exhaustingly so, with an unbelievably quick mind that is stunning to watch in old Johnny Carson videos or SNL skits. I remember being a child and laughing along at “Mork and Mindy” reruns, and my not-so-brief “Aladdin” addiction, and feeling moved by “Good Will Hunting,” and weeping at “Good Morning Vietnam.” I remember being grossed out at his comedy specials. It feels almost inappropriate, but also remarkable, to say that I miss him.
February 24, 2014 § 1 Comment
February 14, 2014 § 1 Comment
If this sounds plucked straight from a mediocre “Seinfeld” sketch, that’s because the situation warrants it and I cannot be remotely creative when my brain is frozen. Why is my brain frozen? Because it’s freezing. I don’t use the word freezing lightly. I’m from Chicago. 15 degrees feels balmy to me. But this? This weather is just self-indulgent. It’s like Mother Nature has an itchy trigger finger and a vanity complex. Back in the early 90’s, pre-noticeable onset of global warming, snow was kind of a joyous event. It was exciting to put on your snowsuit, have your mom wrap 14 scarves around your face, then build a dilapidated snowman as a precursor to homemade hot chocolate. Now I wake up and all I see is muddy sheets of gray—and just a one-dimensional sheet of gray at that. I’m talking about the kind of gray where you can’t tell if it’s hailing from the sky or coming at you laterally from the ground or if it’s just the End of Days and all analysis is obsolete. It’s been this way all week. This is really terrible. And there are no other thoughts. It’s just, “This is terrible, this is terrible, this is terrible.” With each step you take to the subway. Then when you’re on the subway. And throughout the day, too. Like if you happen to ever glance out a window, “This is terrible,” just flows from the neurons. Then if you do some work, and around midday, you kind of want Chipotle on your lunch break, you just think “This is terrible,” I mean, who has the kind of superhuman strength to assemble all the necessary 700 layers in a reasonable amount of time during the workday? So now not only are you freezing all time, which we established earlier, but you’re also perpetually burrito-less as well.
I’m not sure if it’s raining or thundering or snowing pellets of rainthunder at the moment, but I’ve spent the last few hours researching climate change and we need to reverse some stuff. New Yorkers can’t live like this! We’re a very busy tribe and inclement weather does not agree with our artisanal cocktail plans and food delivery plans and walking down the subway steps without falling plans. Does no one hear our pleas??
That being said, I do hear it’s worse in Chicago.
August 9, 2013 § Leave a comment
My latest piece for Read it Forward:
(You should seriously all check out this book by Venedikt Erofeev, “From Moscow to the End of the Line.” It’s a weird, hilarious, unique, insert other positive adjectives, treasure.)
Now onto other stuff:
Editing is hard, and unfortunately, it’s the not-so-glamorous part of a writer’s life that doesn’t get talked about much outside those in the writerly trenches themselves. Here’s the part we all love: you get in a zone, write something astoundingly magical, you’re pretty sure this piece will not only abolish world hunger via the power of its narrative, but you also managed to write it in prose that can only be described as “Tolstoy-Franzen floral hybrid.” Then you wake up the next day to find it is a horrible steaming pile of garbage and you consider law school for the bazillionth time.
So you have two options. You chalk up your first draft to the .docx graveyard, or you lick your ego wounds and take a stab at editing. It’s not easy to do. It ain’t famously called “killing your babies” for nothin’.
But we should make a distinction here. It’s different writing for a publication under a deadline than it is writing for yourself, and thus, the editing process is different. I happen to be more productive when I am given the constraints of a deadline, potentially because years of school trained me to work under this model, but it also probably has something to do with a certain, je ne sais quoi, extreme laziness. If you suffer from the same affliction as I do (“I could write, or I could paint my toenails and watch “Arrested Development” reruns for the 700th time while stalking the Domino’s pizza tracker.”), then editing your own work takes some artificial constraint-setting.
But sometimes, between a full-time job and tracking Domino’s all the live long day, some of the stuff you work on for your own pleasure slips through the cracks. One of the few positives to this is that I occasionally reap the benefits of one of editing’s closest compadres: time. Remember “killing your babies”? Well, having distance from a piece means that you’ve had time to grow apart from your children, stop loving them, and you can now properly shove them off a cliff without a second thought. Maybe you’re even sporting a grin while doing it! (I’ll stop working off that metaphor.)
The point of the editing shpiel and the Domino’s reference is this: tonight I edited a really old piece of mine from 2011! I haven’t written in this style in a long time, and I rarely get a chance to entertain this type of voice these days. This is originally an assignment I received from a dating editor, who supplied me with topics and gave me free rein in terms of letting my fiction go nuts(/a bit early 20’s emoish in this case.) It was originally titled “1:00am Ramblings, the Day After Dreaming of an Ex.” It’s a pretty bad title! Some other parts of it are still pretty bad, too, even after tonight’s editing! One of the comments I received back then was, “Are you talking about real love?? People don’t do that on the internet!” OKAY here we go!!
[Come up with a new title that’s not the original title here, future self looking back on this]
There were a few moments the other night when my heart was tugged by the kind of invisible wires Jake talked about. He said they connected people at parties in subtextual undercurrents, or even across wider distances, like state lines.
I dreamt of him, and that’s why the lines came to mind. I want to confess it with a smirk, “Yes, yes, so I dreamt of you!” with the gumption and sass of an old movie star. But I cannot, and I do not, it is just what happened, and I deal with you in facts.
At first the dream didn’t make me sad, though, and I called that progress. At first it was just odd, like seeing another side of the moon. You, the stranger, with a foreign panache. I dream of you.
The sadness came the next night. I was cleaning my room and listening to records: Nat King Cole and Ella and Billie. And something became an encasement. The sounds that came through the stereo, even the sappiest or simplest songs, seized me like a thing underwater. The music unfurled so languidly until it was an environment, that cumulus nature of melody. A billowing out like a smokestack to fill the crevices of old places I thought were erased or dried beyond resuscitation.
I turned towards my bed and like an echo it said, “Empty. Empty.” And I could so imagine you there. I could so see myself through your gaze, watching me as I folded my summer dresses to pack them up for winter, shoving them in my suitcase, awkwardly jamming it under the bed.
I missed the security of someone I knew romantically for years and as a friend for years and all that soul level shit that’s not shit for what must be infinite years. At least, that is how we discussed ourselves with ourselves. That’s what we believed. I become melancholy when I think of belief as something so malleable that time and place dis-harbor it. So I looked down at the suitcase, a fallen tree limb, a grotesque bulge, a growth under the bed frame.
It’s probably a weightiness that was nestled in my thin golden curtains all along, if I had been paying attention. Starting from the place where the fringe is torn across the valance, it meandered down the serpentine way. “Gotcha,” and when it hisses I don’t know from whose mouth it is hissing.
I was mistaking bread for a kiss. I was trying to capture the meat of someone’s pupils like two birds’ shadows. It was a frail thing but it had an endurer’s heart, and I felt it pumping for years, tracing across so many widespread veins, and now: a landscape viewed from an airplane.
What comes to mind? The black studio theater. The cough syrup. Go Home #2 and the sweater you gave me years ago, which I saved, and the first time you frightened me (your eyes were black, your grin went too far). Your poetry, those words, the timbre of your voice–I was honest about that. I always told you how I loved that. The living room in your parents’ house where I was excited over you and, you know, you know, I cried, too.
Orange goo low as a brow. We both liked The Misfits t-shirt and Howlin Wolf records. We thought it would be cute to the point of nausea to get our mothers together for an embroidering club.
I was a dog circling back twice, not knowing his name. The love, whatever it was, a contamination.