Archive for April, 2013

On Promise

Yesterday my local paper published an article about me. Many years ago, in high school, I won an award given by them to local high school students for leadership, community and achievement — and for not being a psycho hormonal freak, I guess! The series basically followed up on winners at various intervals; I guess this year was my jackpot. I’m super embarrassed about my picture and I feel like the world’s biggest dork, but that’s to be expected, I suppose, because being in front of cameras turns me into a big dork.

It’s a fine article and I’m flattered to have been asked, but of course deep down I had FEELINGS. When I got the call that the paper wanted to talk to me, it brought me back to a time in my life when I could do everything and be everything to everyone and I had a whole future ahead of me: one filled with the promise of great success, achievement and general fabulosity. When I was 17, I had nothing but a glittering path ahead. I hadn’t disappointed anyone with my life choices. I hadn’t disappointed myself with my failures and my wrong decisions, my own stubbornness and short-sightedness, my blind spots and my willful attachments. Talking to the reporter, trying to explain my life and why I ended up back in my hometown — after years of vowing never to come back! — I felt haunted by the ghost of who I was then, by her idealism, her great expectations, her perhaps typically arrogant adolescence, her general feeling of how huge and vast and epic the future was going to be.

Of course, the future — always a big vague place, I guess — came and went, and here I am, 20 years later. In truth, I could never picture myself at this age. When I was 17 — and now I think what a baby-age that was — I could only see up through college. At the end of college, I could maybe see up to 23 or 24. And at 25, I could maybe see to 30. Anything past 30 was vaguely old — settled, ensconced, patterns established. If you had pressed me at 17, I felt vaguely I’d still be in a big city at the age I’m at now. I thought maybe I’d be partnered and had an idea I’d be hugely fabulous. At something equally vague but fabulous, no doubt. Somewhere along the path, I became a creature of moments.

Of course, there were surprises on the way, and the most surprising things of all that you discover in the course of living your life are all about yourself. How your eyes drink in a wide horizon. How fragile your father’s hand becomes when he’s lying in a hospital bed. How you fall in love with someone in the very place you once regarded as a romantic desert, barren of anyone who could think of you as beautiful. The surprising things that change who you are and the sense of what life offers you. The future still looms in front of you, even years later — only you walk forward with stronger, surer footing, knowing better who you really are.

Sweetness Follows (A “Life in Pictures” Kind of Thing)

Moving into spring this year was a little difficult, because winter was so long and a spat of Daylight Savings-induced insomnia derailed me a little. But now I wake up in the mornings just as the light streams into my house, casting temporary paintings of light and shadows onto the walls.

I like going outside in the morning, when the air is brisk and the light is clear. It’s refreshing — something about the snap of it clears out the head-down, shoulders-up huddle you develop during the cold winter.

You look up and suddenly seem more alive to the odd yet strangely riveting sights around you, like how a garage can frame a tableaux. Everything becomes a frame and tableau.


I Have A Story Up at Storychord! Yayness All Around!

Here’s a piece of fun news, in case you missed it on Facebook or Twitter: I have finally hit that certain zine girl milestone and published a short story over at Storychord. It’s called “The Professor and the Bikini Waxer,” and I have my former compadres at nogoodforme.com to thank — the lovely Elizabeth Barker and Laura Jane Faulds, as well as their ace illustrator and partner in crime Jen May — since it’s part of a special issue curated by Strawberry Fields Whatever. I hardly ever submit to publications because my stories don’t ever quite fit and I honesty have no idea where to even begin, but this one did fit into the mold of a “literary fiction.” (Lack of goofball elements like werewolves helps.)

But it’s always a trip to publish anything, no matter where it ends up. It’s always very mortifying but the best part is: it’s truly done. The story is out there, it’s in the world and is ultimately completed when it’s in the imagination of people other than you. And that’s really why we fight so hard to publish as writers, I suppose — nothing ever feels truly complete until it’s being read by other people.

Now that my little story’s journey is complete, it’s nice to finally trace its arc from beginning to end. Usually I’m like a shark with writing; it’s easy for me to jump into the next project without looking back. But in the interest of growing as a writer and not wanting to commit the same mistakes again and again — or just being able to diagnose patterns as patterns, if you know what I mean — it’s nice to remember where a story began, the turns it took and how it finally rounded the bend. Whether a short story or an epic novel, it’s always a struggle in some way or another, no?


Like a lot of my ideas, it began as a joke…this one was a crass half-joke on a shoot during film school. I was brainstorming ideas we could make with very few locations, and I thought it’d be funny to do a short or even a web series about a bikini waxer — a kind of wisewoman-savant that ladies would line up to talk to for her advice on life and men and everything else. I just thought the idea of this love and relationship guru existing in such a profession was a funny, fascinating concept. We never made the film, though I did outline it quickly. I think the outline still exists somewhere in Google Docs or Dropbox or whatever cloud service I was using at the time.

The idea of a bikini waxer as a central character stuck with me, though, even long after I left the film industry. At some point, perhaps about a year ago, I decided just to write it in short story form. It initially began as a lark, just a “see where this character takes me.” I thought it’d be a lighter story, like the genesis of the short film/web series idea, but then as I wrote, I thought about the profession itself: how does one end up waxing bikini lines for a living? What would it be like if you discovered that this was one of your talents in life? And what if no one in your immediate sphere recognized it as legit and valid? I thought it was such an odd yet dramatic conundrum. What kind of person would this be? Maybe slightly embarrassed? Maybe trying to compensate in some way or another? Maybe a bit recessive and shy? I didn’t know. I basically wrote to find out, cheating on my novel by drafting the short story. And of course, being me, it went into slightly darker, more alienated territory, because that’s how I roll when it comes to me and writing. And: I have a pervy, fucked-up sense of humor, and that always seems to come out in a weird way.

I’m embarrassed to say, though, that this story went through a hella amount of revisions — it only took a few days to write, but almost a year to revise. Embarrassing! But it’s like any matter of the heart — sometimes you need to let the truths settle in before you can approach anything at a new angle. And honestly, I thought the story was weird and I couldn’t figure out what it wanted to be. This weird ingredient — the lost Germanic warrior tribes my little bikini waxer dreams about — kept popping up and wouldn’t go away. And so did the image of these intellectuals floating above the sprawl of Los Angeles, swilling wine and talking Greek and Latin classics in some crazy modernist house nestled in the Hollywood hills. That image, transposing a weird East Coast sensibility into a denuded landscape devoid of history but full of a Didion-like glamour — kept lingering as well. I had all these elements that wanted to be together, but I couldn’t figure out how they related to each other. So I wrote and wrote and wrote until I kind of figured it out.

There was initially way more action, and in an odd, subdued way, it became slightly “Heart of Darkness”-y but in a Hollywood spa. (There was even a “Heart of Darkness”/”Apocalypse Now” moment where Nina, my waxer, smears her face and body with mud mask and stares into the mirror in a very Travis Bickle kind of moment.) I finished it, and then I left it alone for a good long awhile and basically forgot about it as I finished up revising my novel. But then I’d remember it, and I’d pick it up and take a stab at revising it every now and then — and slowly each element came into its proper place and proportion. I realized it was basically a “shift in consciousness” story — like so many of my short films! (Talk about tracing patterns!) Once I realized that, I stripped away much of the action, until the story focused on just those moments that considered her thoughts and feelings, and the incidents in the story that created the changes in consciousness she goes through. Sometimes you have a wide lens working; this one was a very tight macro one.

It’s a tricky business to write a character like this. She’s essentially a passive person, though she does act and make decisions — but those actions and choices generally preserved her status quo because she feared change. I actually had some weird residual film school guilt about her not being more “active” of a character, but then I realized: it’s writing, not film, and especially on a short story like this, the change in point-of-view and perspective is the fulcrum of the action. She actually doesn’t make any changes in her life in the story, but the tale is really about laying the groundwork in her heart and mind before she makes concrete changes in her life It’s just a moment, just an inhale before you leap from the precipice — but so much can change in a breath.

Patti Smith and Other Lightning Bolts of Creative Inspiration

Build a good name. Keep your name clean. Don’t make compromises, don’t worry about making a bunch of money or being successful. Be concerned about doing good work. Protect your work and if you build a good name, eventually that name will be its own currency. Life is like a roller coaster ride, it is never going to be perfect. It is going to have perfect moments and rough spots, but it’s all worth it.

— Patti Smith

That’s advice that Patti Smith offers to young artists in this video over at the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art’s website. There’s lots of good stuff there, featuring smart, creative people like Sophie Calle, Nicole Krauss, Thomas Vinterberg, just to name a very few. Check it out! But if you’re looking for some quick hits of creative thought and inspiration, here are a few bolts I’ve collected since my last post on creative manifestos. The last one’s from John Cage and Merce Cunningham, which is pretty righteous. I’m currently in a very “admin” phase of getting a creative project out, and it’s so annoying…but reading these and listening to Patti are making me excited to get down to the next project. It’s always about the next project!