Thursday, February 28, 2013

Girls Makes Me Feel Funny Inside


I have free HBO until the end of May b/c my cable provider wants me to get hooked on it and then spend another $50 to have access to movies like Thor and 50 First Dates until the end of time, even though I'm already doling out like $100 to have what amounts to just two signals directed toward my house and then another $100 to access a phone. So, thanks, Company, for this free bonus. I mostly forget that I have it, because with taking two classes this semester and going to shows and things for the one class, I don't spend a lot of time on the couch, and then there's the thing where I'm getting old and now go to bed around 10 PM to read. Boring! But I have managed to catch a few episodes of Girls, the controversial (is it?) show written by Lena Dunham. 
I watched just one episode last night and it was like a horror movie in so many ways. Like, there were two parts where I had to actually shield my eyes from the screen--I couldn't take the painfulness of the scenes. This particular show was about leaving New York City for the weekend to visit her mom and dad in Michigan; what was difficult about it? It was difficult to watch her talk to herself in the mirror before a party, as she tried on an awkward and ill-fitting dress that was meant to be ironic but really just looked too small and clownish. She's giving herself a pep talk because she's nervous about a date she has with the pharmacist, a cute young guy from her high school: "Don't worry about saying anything dumb. You're from New York. The dumbest thing you say will be ten times more interesting than the smartest thing anyone from her says."  Oh, dear, I still often have that same type of inner monologue myself.Then she goes to the party and ends up having sex with this cute and small townish pharmacist, but does these weird things that I won't mention because my mom reads my blog, and then she goes home and finds her naked dad sprawled on the bathroom floor. He's fallen out of the shower after trying to have sex with his wife (Hannah's mom) in celebration of their anniversary. It's painful, but I was also glad to see they showed his actual penis. Sorry, mother, but honestly, it was refreshing. And horrible. 
Mostly, this show bothers me because it triggers all of these memories I have from being twenty and living in Chicago and basically having no money and dating (?) all of these f-ed up guys who weren't really in to me and who, if I'd thought about it for two seconds, I didn't like that much either.


Thursday, February 21, 2013

A Reading about Psoriasis

For class last night, we went to the Kelly Writer's House and heard from three readers--two guys reading queer work and the third, a woman name Erin Markey (have to look her up) and all of them were like just 30 years old and super hipster and visiting from Brooklyn. I can't say I was in love with the one guy's project, though some of it might be jealousy--he has a book called Thirtynothing, and it's about his thirtieth birthday falling on the same anniversary as the birth of AIDs, or something like that. I'm not entirely sure that there is a birthday designated to AIDS, but you get the gist.

The second guy read what he characterized as sci fi post industrial punk rock pornography, and it was this noir-ish piece about a guy going undercover to seduce another man and possibly kill him (unclear), but then, when he's in the middle of having sex with the man, the guy tells him that he was the one who actually hired him, not the other guy. It was a somewhat funny piece, at least other people were laughing and I was making mental check notes like, Mildly amusing, but I didn't think it was LOL funny.

I liked the third reader, Erin Markey,  best--she has her own cabaret show in Brooklyn and sings and reads her work. She came up to the podium wearing a super high, super messy bun, and read in this sardonic, dead pan funny way about when she was fourteen and moved from one Southern state to Georgia, and how she decided to take that opportunity to transform herself, having recently gotten contacts, by going to the mal land trying to convince her mom to purchase an entirely new wardrobe. She only succeeded in getting two pair of short shorts, which she then alternated daily. She described going to the new school and realizing there wasn't a whole lot of opportunities to join things. First, she tried out for the girls' basketball team, but got hung up on the try out (she called it an audition) where they had to run backwards, which she described as feeling as unnatural to her as purposefully peeing one's pants when there was a perfectly good bathroom within eyesight. Next, she joined a Christian, holy roller church and then admonished her Catholic parents for not praying more in front of the children. Next, she had a friend come up to the front and play guitar while she sang a song about psoriasis, which had lines like, "I have my father's cankles/And my mother's Hershey kiss tits/But I'm the only one in my family/To have psoriasis."

Her reading was thoroughly entertaining and vivid and funny and now I see that I have to come up with something like that for my final project; some way to talk about being female and different without making it too much about the unrequited crushes I had on boys most of my life. Some famous writer (Eudora Welty? Carson McCullers?  Can't recall) once said something about how if you survived childhood, you had enough material just from that experience to write about it for the rest of your life.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Failures, A Resume

This is from a writing assignment we had for this arts & entrepreneurship class at Penn. 

Math and Baseball
           
Beyond basic algebra, I’ve never excelled at math; have always been more of a reader than a calculator.  Words make sense to me and numbers do not. In math class, I did well only when we worked on logic problems.  In my junior year in high school, I had to take Algebra II with Coach Nichols, so called because he also coached junior and varsity baseball. I happened to also be a bat girl for the baseball team because I had a crush on Marc Dunbar, one of the players who bore a striking resemblance to Michael J. Fox.
            Though I studied for the mid-term exam for Algebra II, when I got into class and looked down at the equations, any and all the necessary formulas fled my brain.  I glanced at the girl sitting next to me, Maria deSanto, a sophomore who was a whiz at math. She already had half the answers written on the page. She was also sitting in such a way that I could clearly see what she had written. I copied it all, as fast as I could. When I was almost finished, I happened to look up and see Coach Nichols, with his oval, owlish glasses, looking right at me. I ducked my head and finished the last problem on my own.  I knew though, in the pit of my stomach, that I’d been caught cheating.
            I couldn’t sleep that night. I waited for the phone to ring, for my mom to come into my bedroom and tell me I’d been given detention, or expelled from class. I imagined Coach Nichols calling me out in front of the whole class, holding up my paper, inked in red, and letting me know I was no longer welcome to help with the baseball team (henceforth, there went my dreams of marrying Marc Dunbar).
            The next day before class, Coach Nichols told me that I would be moving seats. He didn’t say why; he didn’t have to. He put me in the front row, right by the corner of his desk. When I got my exam back, I saw I’d gotten credit for the one problem I did on my own, correctly. The rest, the ones I’d copied, were crossed out. My grade: “F.”
            I already knew that cheating was wrong—so, it’s not that I learned not to cheat. But I did learn that you didn’t need to shame the cheater, not by much and I learned that not all adults needed to exert their power in the same way to make their point. He seemed to know that I would learn my lesson, and I appreciated that he didn’t make it worse by stopping class right at that moment or calling my parents or pulling me off the team. The punishment fit the crime, and it was enough.


The Kennel

In college, I got a job working at a dog kennel. I filled out the application and was hired on the spot. Even as I shook the woman’s hand, I heard the low keening sound of a dog from somewhere nearby. She told me that the job was difficult. I told her that I really loved animals, and could handle it. I asked no questions, because I already knew that I would love the job. It wasn’t a shelter where you’d have to pass cages of forgotten pets on death row. It was a place where people boarded their dogs while they jetted away for long weekends).  I ignored my own nagging worries—about the quickness of the hire, the lack of reference checks, and, of course, the morbid looing noises on the periphery.
When I showed up for work later that week, I was introduced to Margo, the woman who would train me for the day. She sized me up and said, “You shoulda worn jeans.” She turned down the hallway, and gestured for me to follow. We went into a long and dismal room with cement walls, cages on either side, and two troughs next to the doors of the cages. From there, I watched and listened as she mechanically explained , in a monotone voice, how to complete the subsequent tasks: 1. Clean dog poop out with a broom; 2. Clean dog poop out with a shovel; 3. Clean dog poop out with a heavy duty garden hose. I believe there were one or two other ways illustrated, but, at a certain point, I stopped listening and instead watched my fantasies of frolicking with friendly collies and throwing rubber balls to tail-wagging retrievers disappear down the drain. 
I didn’t go back for my next shift, a result I’m sure Margo anticipated. I bet she’d trained more than her share of one day employees. I also didn’t return for my paycheck. The next time I applied for a job, I asked a lot of questions, and not just from the people who interviewed me, but also from others I knew who had some association with the company. I wanted to be sure I had a realistic notion of what I was getting into before diving in headlong.  

The Entirety of My Twenties

So many options to choose from and so little time…

I spent most of my twenties in pursuit of unavailable boys. I choose the term “boys” deliberately—these were not men; they were a subset of the male species whose main goal in life seemed to be to continue the party they’d started in high school or college. Most suffered from the Peter Pan complex; they didn’t want to grow up; they didn’t want to have responsibility; they wanted to stay unencumbered by commitments including jobs, girlfriends, or even houseplants. And yet I continued to be drawn to these same types again and again. On the one hand, I admired their resistance to conformity (i.e. inability to hold 9 to 5 employment), their focus on pursuing pleasure above all else (i.e. embarking on a lifetime addiction to drugs and/or alcohol), and their insistence on remaining free (i.e. not showing up on time for dates, not even really making dates). Yes, sure, it meant that they would never say “I love you” or remember my birthday, but it also meant they would write little bits of poetry on cocktail napkins and keep me in a constant state of anxiety, wondering if there were some magic way to get them to behave; imagining that I just had to find the right way to act or say the exact right thing, and I could change the course of the relationship.
It wasn’t until well into my thirties, as more and more of my friends evaporated into a marriage vortex, that it dawned on me that the boys I pursued basically left me dog-paddling in place. And it wasn’t the fault of the boys---I was the biggest problem. Most of them didn’t claim to be interested in long-term relationships. In fact, they often clearly stated that they wanted the opposite by saying unambiguous things like, “I’m not really into, like, living in the same place for more than six months…”  Or, “Yeah, so, I’ll probably be leaving to study mosquitos in Africa sometime next week or maybe going skiing with my bro.” Or, “My last girlfriend…Let’s see…Was when I was in third grade.”  I had to learn to choose better—to not approach the wild-haired poet in the corner smoking a hookah, but to consider the man sitting across from me at work—the one whom arrived early to staff meetings and sometimes surprised me with a mocha latte with skim (just the way I like it). To pick men, not boys.  

Submit

With writing, it's easy to think of yourself as failing every day. I try to take a day or two a month to send out submissions, in a flurry and then, I tend to forget what's gone out, until I get the email from the literary journal that reads, "Thank you for submitting your work, but we do not like it enough to publish it at this time..." But! I almost always get a sentence that reads something like, Please consider sending us more of your work in the future, which I take to mean that, while the piece I sent wasn't a good fit or wasn't up to what they're looking for, they like my writing enough to encourage me to submit again.  Even getting the rejection is somewhat gratifying as it reminds me that I'm still trying. I haven't given up on writing. And one truth I've found about publishing--one that seems obvious but isn't---is that you have to keep at it and be persistent, you have to send your work out to a lot of places and you can't let rejection stop you. The story I wrote that won the Zoetrope award was rejected by three other places, including Tin House, though they too wrote an positive rejection note. So, I keep at it, and I revise along the way, hoping with each attempt to make the story better, tighter, more vivid, more publishable.