“All our dreams can come true, if we have the courage to pursue them.”

February 24, 2014 § 1 Comment

Last week I started a dream journal. This week I obliterate my dream journal.
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What’s the Deal with the Weather?

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it’s hailing from the sky or coming at you laterally from the ground or if it’s just the End of Days and all analysis is obsolete.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.

On “Empowering” Female-Centric Clickbait

January 8, 2014 § Leave a comment

Seeing articles like the one posted below repeatedly go viral speaks to the sad state of perceived gender constraints more than the contents of the actual article. The ideas and writing are fine, considering simultaneously that its points are blasé and uncontroversial. “Not having baby fever. Having baby fever. Wanting to get married young. Not wanting to get married young. Weight, because size actually does not determine what a ‘real woman’ is or not.” General decision making and humane attitudes towards appearance should not spark a throng of women to share and weep. It should not spark a mass of men saying “THIS.” If such spoon-fed conspicuousness is felt as empowerment—then that is much more telling as to how far we still have to go and just how needed progressive gender work is.

Read the article in question here, if you haven’t already come across it on your news feed: http://thoughtcatalog.com/brianna-wiest/2014/01/18-things-women-shouldnt-have-to-justify/

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New Writing, Old Editing

August 9, 2013 § Leave a comment

My latest piece for Read it Forward:

The Book You Love That No One Else Has Heard Of

(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.

I’m Still Alive

May 3, 2013 § Leave a comment

Reasons I’ve been MIA:

  • Hurricane Sandy caused the pipes in our building to explode, the heat to fail, our ceiling to collapse – in a nutshell I had to move to a new apartment. To give you non-New Yorkers some context, moving apartments here is the difficulty-equivalent to building Rome in a day while writing a Nabokovian novel while juggling purple elephants.
  • I started a new job! At a great company! It’s great! But it means sacrificing certain things while adjusting, such as babbling in a blog at 2am.
  • “Game of Thrones” returned. Naturally this means I had to re-watch every season before the premier. To do so involved retreating to my cave of a room, leaving society, throwing my fist in the air and yelling “Joffrey!” while covered in peanut butter, etc.

But I am alive, and have been busy. Feel free to check out some of my womany feministy human rightsy writings on PolicyMic:

-Is Fast Food a Feminist Issue?

-“This is Personal” Campaign Fights For Reproductive Rights Online

-Hollaback! to Create An App to End Street Harassment

Cultural Superiority and Issues of Rape

January 11, 2013 § Leave a comment

I’ve been following the story unfold in India regarding the Delhi gang rape. The more I read, the more I am appalled.

But for now I don’t want to talk about the specificities of the case. What I want to discuss is how these incidents are appearing in American media. In an incident that appears to be so black and white, so good vs. evil, we as a Western culture have taken liberties in criticizing Indian culture without taking it one step further, in reflecting on the rape culture here at home. Of course, we should criticize this incident. We should be upset. But we should not presume a kind of colonial superiority, however unintentional this presumption may be. In fact, the “unintentional” is what frightens me most about this kind of editorial coverage.

A lot of people I know have difficulty seeing rape culture in our society. They don’t deny that there are faults within the system, but they also cannot identify how it affects their daily life and the life of those around them. I believe the men in my life who say they do not understand the purpose of a feminist movement anymore. These are not misogynists or idiots; they are friends and people I love. These are people whose opinions matter to me. But what I also believe is that if they understood the insidious ways gender inequality and social constructions have been established in American society, that they would no longer passively support them. I believe these issues would not be viewed with such cultural opacity the way it is often done now. I believe they would call themselves feminists.

Rape and sexual oppression are not issues that were ordained by God. If we are willing to label other cultures’ gender relations as morally wrong and separate from our own, than a country’s gender relations are not inherent. And that means the way we do things at home, as well as abroad, can be changed. Gender inequality has fallen under the umbrella of “culture”, a big, foggy word that often shifts our perception to one of concepts instead of something tangible to be dealt with proactively. But as any historian would tell you, it is possible for immense and drastic change among gender policies and cultural attitudes. This should make us hopeful. While we scrutinize Indian culture and advocate for positive changes abroad, we should take the opportunity to implement the same strategy here while these issues are in the national dialogue, and criticize.

Here are some things I’ve been reading:

Experiencing Sandy in Upper and Lower Manhattan: Two Perspectives of Crisis

November 5, 2012 § 1 Comment

It’s odd when you find yourself living through a historical moment. Being in New York and experiencing Hurricane Sandy this past week, I felt deeply aware of a consciousness foreshadowed — of knowing this was a “where were you the day of?“ moment, knowing this was happening., this was important. It added an undercurrent of anxious tugging, as there was a very human need to make holistic sense of what was happening. There was a need to get your head wrapped around the thing before the thing had even passed. And that was silly. The overly-cognizant, almost lofty analytical element to it. Philosophies and the future tense are a luxury when you’re watching homes in Staten Island being swallowed up into the ocean. It’s like an animal alert in the thick of a ticker tape parade.

I spent Sandy partially in Upper Manhattan and partially in Lower Manhattan. Because of these two different experiences, during the storm and week that followed, I felt that all of my feelings were important to note, all of the news was important, all of my observations were vital for recording — and at the same time everything was overwrought and ridiculous. I could not see one more newscaster in rain boots at the scene, on the job, we’ve got you covered!, news at 1, new on-the-dot, our reporter’s dared to walk further underwater than the other channel’s reporter, every minute you’ve got power we’re on you’re power. If you were uptown, your head was reeling from this media influx. And of course, if you were downtown, you were at the central nerve of it all.

We return to our humanness very quickly in times of crisis. Once you and the people you love are safe, the rest is just stuff or an inconvenience. And then you turn to those who were not as fortunate as you were, and do your best to help.

I live in the East Village, far enough east to be Alphabet City, decidedly in Zone A. I was lucky enough to spend the worst of Sandy on the Upper East Side, with family, power, and even a working gym in the building. But I came back to my apartment as soon as I was able to get to it, through a very, very long bus ride downtown. I came back to get more clothing, to throw out the contents of our fridge, and really, to see the state of my apartment and my neighborhood.  I made arrangements with a friend who had a car to pick me up around 10pm that night, essentially rescuing the East Village vagabond I had just become. I quickly found out that our building reeked of sewage and that we had not left any flashlights behind. My only option was to head outside until 10. That was how I came to spend several hours on the streets of the East Village, before returning to power once again.

I want to write at some point more about my specific experiences in my neighborhood.  But that is for another time. For now I want to give a rounder summation of the whole as best as I can.

What I took from my experience of upper and lower Manhattan, of power and powerlessness (literally and figuratively), was a crisis that cast two distinctly human perspectives. People with power knew so much about the storm, they’d learned the basic science behind northeasterly wind patterns and surges, they’d considered if our society was too dependent on technology, they’d talked about Romney and Obama, they’d read all about the problems with the subway lines and when they could possibly be running again. That was my experience. But when I got off the bus at 14th Street, everything was closed and everything was dead. Downtown Manhattan had no clue what was going on. They had no idea about the subway system, they just wanted to take a shower or make one phone call or find water.

In Upper Manhattan, we considered the macro perspective of a storm and its outcomes, while Downtown Manhattan dealt with the intensely personal micro level concerns. Downtowners cared about their makeshift sidewalk communities, what they could do just to stay warm for the day, just to charge a phone, or if anyone nearby wanted to make some conversation to pass the time. It felt very strange to me, having spent a few hours in this situation with my neighbors, to then leave and adapt instantly to life again with electricity. When I was picked up from the East Village and arrived at my friend’s apartment, we cooked dinner, listened to music, and even had time to carve a pumpkin for Halloween. The feeling was something like awe. How quickly we can adapt to our comforts! And it was something like guilt, for why do some have such comforts in life when others do not. Experiencing Sandy for a day in Upper Manhattan and a day in Lower Manhattan was such a stark contrast. I am still trying to reconcile the two experiences in a way that becomes understandable to me.

I do not want to make some grand statement about income disparity or class. And I certainly do not want to imply that a macro or micro perspective should be pitted against one other in some moralistic scale of better or worse. What I want to iterate is that in my individual experience with this storm, what stood out to me was the empathy and outpouring of help. And the experiences of Upper and Lower Manhattan, while different, were something that united everyone.

And that’s the thing about New York. We have a reputation as a rough place, with vast economic disparities and a melting pot of ethnicities. And yet, everyone in this nutjob city manages to come together somehow. New York has singularly faced some of our greatest national tragedies. And when you take a city with a history of such violence and a reputation for such crudeness, it is amazing to see what happens here when societal sugars are boiled away and you are left with people and their souls. I’ll never forget the group of homeless men and women on Avenue C who pulled out two grills, set up a lopsided table, and offered a free hot meal to a crowd of hipsters, businessmen, the elderly, and children. I saw strangers paying for strangers in Evelyn’s bar, which had just finished pumping out water from its basement and opened its doors to a neighborhood with nowhere else to go. I saw strangers asking what could be done for strangers, when they themselves had nothing to give.

And I also know that those who had something to give, did give. Those with power were glued to the TV’s, were anxious to help those in trouble, to donate their time or their money. And may I add, we’d be a very rich city right now if money was measured in couch surfing offers.

What I’m trying to say, however clumsily, is that what I saw this week was something important. What I saw this week was human nature glowing its best glow. Maybe it sounds cheesy, but I don’t know what else you call it.

I am always humbled by the way words are so inadequate when trying to tackle the most important soul-stuff we’re all always trying to get at. It’s hard for me to be a Shakespeare about it, or even a Bukowski, when I just want to say that I had this experience, and it moved me, and I wanted to get it out in some way and share it. These seem like some of the most important things we can share with each other. Because what I experienced was the best of people. What I felt was real human connectedness.

In terms of the Big Apple, now. It’s always seemed to me that once you step foot in New York, you are instantly a New Yorker. I don’t think that’s true of every city. Throughout Sandy, I felt like we all knew we were truly New Yorkers, together. And even though the common pulse was thrust upon us, it was still the same pulse.

  • Here’s me, on a typical weekend hangin’ with Leo

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