Los Angeles, Writing

On not knowing what you’re doing, ever

I heard from a friend who heard from her therapist that when a relationship ends, it’s a good time to take stock of things: what you need and what you want, things you’re proud of, moments of discord and scenarios to avoid moving forward…you know the stuff. The past few weeks, I’ve found a new application for that kind of psychic rummaging: I started a new job, after three years at a job that I really found fulfilling. It’s got some things in common with a break up, and as such, it’s certainly a good time to hit pause and reflect.

When I’ve transitioned to new jobs in the past, the whole thing sweeps me back to adolescence in a funky way, surfacing questions that tremble with uncertainty, idiocy, and perhaps even hopefulness. I’m back to high school philosophy club, back to declaring my major in college, back to turning everything over in my hands a billion times to uncover its angles. You might say I’m back to not knowing what I’m doing at all. It’s a steeping in the whys: why we have to dedicate our lives to one particular field, for example, when humans are interested in so many subjects. And why success in the creative arts depends on some grotesque social hierarchy of who you know and how can you sell what you’ve got. 

Whys and wahhs. But heck, while we’re at, it’s worth diving into the oldest standby of them all — why working rarely gives people enough money to live a comfortable lifestyle. Society can feel like T. Rex’s “Rip Off” coming on the radio, while a Marxist graffitis “Yikes. Capitalism.” along the highway, ad infinitum. Some pass go, the rich collect $200 (million), and others allude opaquely to ’70s British glam rock and communism in the space of three sentences in a strange attempt to make sense of it all.

But I’m happy to report that while I did have my standard internal screamy “AHHH” moments, this go-around was different. I was able to reflect on what I’ve even been doing at work over the past decade-ish. And this was actually quite comforting. I’ve been fortunate enough to find writing work that’s creative, paid my bills, challenged me in surprising and intellectual ways, and even revealed “business” and “marketing” and “product” issues as truly stimulating subjects (despite the fact that the words “business” and “marketing” and “product” have, at times, made me feel like I’m in an episode of Silicon Valley, and thus recoil). Huzzah! Perhaps I’m no longer a disillusioned, obnoxious teen. And mostly, I’m so grateful for such interesting jobs, where I’ve met wonderful friends — some of which have become the people closest to me — and how much I’ve learned, too. I know many people hate their jobs, and I have rarely felt that dread. 

It seems like one day you wake up and, against all odds, you have something vaguely resembling what they call a “career path.” For me, all of it’s connected by writing. And I’m quite lucky to get a paycheck and health insurance for stringing sentences together, which is an all-too rare thing in this very effed up world of ours. 

Even though it’s pretty sad to leave my former place of work (as if on cue, the NY Times just had an article about mourning your former employer), and even though it’s scary, I’m OK taking the leap of faith, and excited about the prospects of what’s ahead. It’s like starting a new school year. And I’m excited.

***

But this transition has given me more than the 9-5 job stuff to marinate on. The main reason I moved to LA was to reclaim a bit of work-life balance, so I could dedicate more of my free time to writing. And, when you’re in that space, namely that you’ve committed to something, you’ve got to contend with the writerly trap. The trap being your brain, which can become something of a heckler the second you dedicate yourself to something. You stare at a blank page, maybe you type a pararaph, maybe you avoid tackling the work at all because there’s some small yippy chihuahua in the front row saying,”You suck, idiot! Get off the stage!” And the invariable crane around the neck ensues. 

And sure, it’s easy when you finish watching The Staircase and The Handmaid’s Tale in the span of two weeks to feel like you are, perhaps, a bit too lazy. You suspect that there’s something in your DNA, something deep within your guts, that skews unceasingly toward procrastination. And really — why should you be a writer, anyway? What do you really have to say, and what do you really know? So many people are more talented, and more intelligent, and maybe you’re a bit too old to push this old dream forward. You didn’t capitalize on your personal social media brand and the world has moved on without you. And the people you see succeeding, the people who claim to be artists but have instead gussied themselves up in a sales pitch, are playing some game you don’t want to be a part of — and if that’s the only way, why play? They’re not real artists. They have sold out for profit. Not participating at all is to act with integrity.

And oh, how I could keep going! There’s a lot this brain of yours has to say to you. What all this is getting at, to sum it up, is that it’s quite hard to write if you’re a human being. 

The only thing that’s worked for me is to take a breath, and say hooey to it all. You can be kind to yourself, too. And sometimes to be kind, you have to be like, “Yo, brain. You need to step aside right now because I’m trying to do stuff!” I remind myself I’ve taken two writing classes since I’ve gotten here — something I was never able to commit to in NYC — and while nothing is in submittable shape yet, I’ve done more fiction writing the past six months than I have in the last three years. And I have a goal! Imagine that! A personal goal. I’m hoping to submit some fiction to literary magazines by the end of the year. And then, y’know, accruing subsequent silences or rejection slips to add a few layers of thickness to my epidermis. But even to have a tangible goal like that is something! 

And anyway, everyone else seems to feel the same way about their own stuff, too. I hardly believe in talent anymore. Just people who finish their shit. 

***

Because I work from home, and because of the general vibes of LA anyway, I feel like I have so much more time in the day than I did in NYC. That’s not to say I don’t love the NYC lifestyle. That energy showed me I had it in me to work my tuchus off. And I also learned I can squeeze mezcal cocktails in almost any night of the week. But I’m trying to soak up the strange energy of this city while I’m here and see how it shakes things up within me. The slow-as-traffic pace, the vegan avocado everything, the fact that no one here seems to have an actual job except pitching movie concepts to producers in coffee shops.

But there’s a burgeoning fiction scene here that’s really cool, and I’m clinging to the subversiveness of fiction writing in the land of screenwriting, even if that’s really just a psychological tactic to quell the pang you get when you see all the bookstores closing and most people you know don’t read very much fiction. Let alone short fiction! Aye yi yi. Sometimes I think writers are just writing for an audience of other writers, who are writing for an audience of potential agents, who are ultimately writing for an audience of editorial assistants combing through their inboxes, filled as they are at the slowly-going-under publishing houses.

So you lean on the things that make sense to you in a nonsensical world. Bryan and I cooked breakfast the other morning at his place. He put on 70s funk (he is going through an Andy Gibb phase), and we danced around like crazy people as the eggs fried and the turkey bacon defrosted. Afterward we went to the record store so I could grab some Michael Jackson and Aretha (even though, yes, I should have already had both). But they were out of Aretha and the only MJ left was some funky (in the not good way) later-days Jackson 5 album. So instead I grabbed Stevie’s Songs in the Key of Life, a Coltrane compilation, and Nat King Cole’s Love is a Many Splendored Thing that was somehow only $2.99, despite the fact that Nat’s voice is sent straight from heaven. The kids today don’t even know. 

I wanted the cashier, a middle-aged white dude in his 40s, to comment on my taste or something, since you always kind of feel like record store dudes are judging you. He didn’t say anything and I didn’t probe into my weird desire for him to be impressed. Bryan and I left, and we drove to my place with the Verdugo Mountains behind us and a wave of cars and palm trees in front. And then I sat down and wrote this thing, which took me far too many weeks to edit, but it made me feel good even just to do so though it’s not going anywhere, and instead ends inscrutably like so. 

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Random stuff, Writing

There are things to do

I went to a coffee shop to work on a new website (no offense, WordPress dear). Even with Squarespace’s robust help center, the nuances continue to evade me. So I tried to write something here. The muse came not. Focus lacks on all fronts, homies. Is this an internet-induced attention span issue, or my own stupid noggin preventing me from accomplishing something this Sunday? Perhaps a to-do list is in order:

-Write something here

-Finish creating a website that doesn’t look terrible

-Call my parents

-Do taxes without decapitating self

-Transcribe an interview for work

-Do a bunch of other things for work

-Put my laundry away

-Listen to the new Drake album

-Determine once and for all if it is even possible to have small talk with a stranger given our political situation

-Determine once and for all if it is even possible to have small talk with men given our political situation

-Eat a vegetable today? That egg sandwich, while delish, was nutritionally neutered.

-Figure out how much I owe Jesse

-Figure out how much Jesse owes me

-Invent something to save the environment immediately because the globe as we know it is toast, literally

-Learn science to achieve the above point

-See if the Drano I dumped in our sink earlier worked

-Watch every movie ever that’s important

-Do homework for my design class due tomorrow. Subtask: master every possible action in Photoshop tonight.

-Call super about freezer: ice stays frozen, but ice cream does not, and that simply will not stand.

-Figure out a better way to articulate the value of empathy in radical leftist socialist circles after I’ve consumed one beer and three vodka sodas because oddly this keeps coming up

-Reschedule dentist appointment

-Sit down to create a budget, and do not 1) break out into hives, or 2) determine that I need to decrease ice cream purchases

-Think more about that conversation we had about horology, and how human development is tied to the harnessing of time in various ways: agricultural systems, women’s cycles and the moon, circumnavigation, aviators, and Louis-François Cartier and that whimsical French balloon rider you told me about who birthed the modern wristwatch

-Land on one side or the other re: Bruno Mars

-Cough it up already, and acknowledge that I basically use to-do lists as a procrastination tactic, not an action plan

-Take time for self-care after acknowledging last point and eat a vat of mint chocolate chip ice cream, unless it’s melted due to aforementioned freezer situation, in which case, bitch endlessly to Jesse and/or this blog about it

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Women's Rights and Gender Equality, Writing

On “Empowering” Female-Centric Clickbait

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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Writing

New Writing, Old Editing

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.

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New York Living, Women's Rights and Gender Equality, Writing

I’m Still Alive

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

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Women's Rights and Gender Equality, Writing

Don’t Blame It on the Sunshine (blame it on the boogie and/or social constructions)

As I am both a product of gender studies courses and a lover of danceable 80’s beats, I felt compelled to comment on Michael Jackson’s cultural impact, as last week would have been the King of Pop’s birthday.

Here is my article, submitted to the Feministing website. And if your eyes haven’t been e-bludgeoned to e-death with Todd Akin internet commentary, you should also check out my article on that whole fiasco, entitled “Why We Can’t Write Off Todd ‘Misspoke’ Akin as a Lunatic Exception”.

Hope everyone is enjoying September! In fact, September really means “seven”, even though it is the 9th month of the year. Why, you ask? It’s because we converted stuff weirdly from the Roman calendar, but dug the lingo too much to change it. And that is a charming tidbit of history from you to me, in my own colloquial tongue. (As you can see, I am not a product of history courses.)

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