Thursday, August 31, 2006

Scribbles and Bits

It's been an exciting couple of weeks at chez Screwsan. First and foremost, the household has a new member: the lovely Brad, pictured here holding a baby boer goat, with the help of my mom. It is wonderful to have him around, plus now my bunny have a baby daddy. Kevin's a bastard no longer...well, not in the literal sense, anyway.

Doesn't that just make you want to puke from cuteness? What is cuter than that? If the baby boer goat was holding a kitten, maybe that would be cuter. Maybe.

Second, I'm enjoying a spate of publications this week. When I got home from work yesterday, my copy of the literary anthology I helped compile and edit last year was in the mailbox. The book is called THE WAY WE KNEW IT: Fiction From the First Twenty Five Years of the MFA in Writing Program at Vermont College (1981-2006). Can you say that without running out of breath? I can't. Let's just call it TWWKI. So I spent a lot of time working with my co-editors Christopher Noel and Kate Harding last year, sifting through an amazing, high quality body of submissions to find the stories that fill TWWKI. We also asked a lot of Vermont College graduates whose work we know and love to contribute. As a result, we have a great mix of new voices, like Alex Enders (who just sold her first novel to Plume this week! Congrats Alex!) and more established writers, like Alicia Erian and Naama Goldstein. Here's the cover. First the front:

Now turn around and let's see you from behind.

So obviously I'm biased, but I really do think the stories in the anthology are fucking awesome. And while I love the cover and think it is absolutely beautiful, the classic look of it sort of belies the feeling of the collection itself, which I think strikes a great balance between very strong traditional narrative stories and pieces that are more experimental--strange, sad, funny funny stuff.

Vermont hasn't decided yet how they want to sell it yet, so I can't actually tell you how to get ahold of a copy if you're so inclined, but I'll put out an update when they figure it out.

Finally, on September 6, my very short story "Magic Trick" is going to be posted live on the Daily Palette website, which is sponsored by the University of Iowa and the Iowa Review as part of the Iowa Writes project. A few times every week for two years, starting this summer, the Daily Palette will feature short stories or poems by writers who self-identify as Iowan. Luckily, The Daily Palette can see into the future--my story is already archived. Link here, or visit The Daily Palette website to browse other writers stuff. It's a pretty neat-o site.

And last on my list of small wonders this week: I have the internet at home now! All I had to do was go to Best Buy, make some hand signals at one of the blue-poloed salesfolk and cough up $40 for a wireless router. Convincing my crazy Russian landlord to let me mess around with his magical Verizon set-up was a little trickier, but with some native-speaker, electronics-instructions-reading skills (mine) and some vodka (his) we figured everything out. Ah, my pretty interweb, how did I ever pass the evenings without you?

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Time Travels

About six and a half years ago, I traveled through Southeast Asia with my then-boyfriend, Tattoo Mike. My camera was stolen at the airport and never made it to our travel destinations: Cambodia, Indonesia, Thailand and Vietnam.

(This was just one of many ridiculous travel woes on that trip. Shortly after my camera was stolen, I had to rebook my flight because I didn’t know I needed a visa just to be in a Chinese airport for a layover. I had to stay in L.A. for another three days to fix it. Later, I snuck into Vietnam on a bad visa. Someone in the state department had fucked it up right before the week-long celebration of Tet, during which time all government offices were closed. We had two options: try to get into the country and hope we didn’t get caught and arrested, or wait another week for the offices to open, another three weeks for the visa to come back to us, and cut our trip to Vietnam short by 20 days. I’m glad we risked it, but I was sweating bullets at customs. Vietnamese airport security guards were military and had semi-automatics, which was disturbing back then.)

Instead, I got a little point-and-shoot and took about 15 rolls of film. After we got back from Asia, Tattoo Mike turned into Psycho Mike and, fearing for my physical safety, I had to flee our apartment in the middle of the afternoon with the help of my boss. Needless to say, I left a lot of stuff behind when I moved back to Iowa, and even more stuff behind when I moved from Iowa to NYC. I’d never thought much about all that missing film until the other day when I was starting to dig out the apartment to make space for my new roommate, the lovely Brad. In the back of a closet I haven’t used since 2001, I found a whole bag of undeveloped film. I got back the first two rolls today.

I had pretty well committed the trip to memory, resigned myself to the fact that I would never have a visual record of it. But now I do. I wonder if everything will look different than I remember? I wonder how it will feel to look at my life before Psycho Mike, before grad school, before 9/11 and the war in Iraq and all the strange, heavy, inevitable stuff that has given me wrinkles and gray hair and made me into a reluctant adult. Weird.

I’ll post the best pictures from each roll here and tell a little story about them. Here’s the first:

We went on a dayboat tour of the Mekong river delta. We went up and down different tributaries in this boat and eventually parked and took a tour of a local rice winery and coconut candy factory. The word “factory” made me think it was going to be like Necco or something, but really it was just a little brick hut in the jungle that popped out a few hundred candies a day to sell at the local floating market, which is a bunch of boats tied together, like spring break in the Ozarks.

I don’t want to get into too many details here, but that day I experienced some unexpected lady problems. I’m sure I don’t have to tell you that one thing about trekking around the deltas and jungles of third world countries is there’s no convenience stores. It was then I began to realize that traveling is harder for girls. This would continue to be a quiet motif throughout my travels, culminating in my experience of being publicly groped in Cambodia.

Pre-psycho looking kind and happy. Beware, future self, beware!

Monday, August 21, 2006

A friend of mine just launched this new and beautiful website.

You should visit it, enjoy it, and contribute. He's looking for message graffiti from all over the world.


Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Love Letter to Claire Hoffman

I'm late on this, but Claire Hoffman, a 29 year-old Iowan and writer for the LA Times, wrote a fantastic piece on Girls Gone Wild fucker Joe Francis. The story is great, definitely read it, and then prepare to want to murder Francis, who manhandles, hurts and later threatens our heroine. She keeps her cool, even when he tries to get her fired by calling her editor and accuses her of behaving inappropriately due to her crush on him. I tried to find her email on the masthead of the Times, but to no avail, so this is my official public declaration of love for Claire Hoffman, who punched Joe Francis in his ugly, rapey face. Thank you Claire.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Teenage Investment Bankers and a Starbucks on Every Corner: Welcome to the New East Village (or So Long and Thanks For All the Sushi)

I complain a lot about being broke, I know. But that's because being broke takes up so much brainspace. It's hard to think of anything else when your credit card is maxxed out and your landlord can't wait another week to get the rent. I've literally had to choose between buying shampoo and contact solution as recently as last month, because I couldn't afford both (answer: contact solution--this is why I keep the shampoo from every hotel I ever stay in). I do a lot of math in my head and I worry all the time. I worry so much that various people who love me have suggested at various times that maybe it would do me good to invest in some Xanax. But I've realized recently that it's not me that needs to change. There's absolutely nothing wrong with my brain chemistry. The problem is New York.

Fair New York, where citizens wallow in filth and stink and maggots and blackouts and murder and poverty. And that's just the well-educated, white collar luckies like me!

Of course, I don't even live in New York. I live in Jersey City, the sixth borough. But I work in New York and I have lived in New York and Jersey City is becoming just as expensive as New York, so let's agree to do away with the semantics.

I've never really been able to afford my very humble studio apartment. There have always been options, I realize. I could move farther out in Jersey City, where hoards of teenage boys have been shooting, robbing and generally terrorizing people all summer. Or I could go the other way, and get a place in Queens or outer Brooklyn (even dirty Billyburg is too expenso for me now). But I don't know a soul in Queens or outer Brooklyn. I only see my friends who live in inner Brooklyn every few months as it is. And pardon me for not wanting to double my commute again this year. I could look on Craigslist and move in with some strangers and hope that all the horror stories I hear about people who look on Craigslist and move in with strangers don't happen to me. Forget about Manhattan entirely. Artists and musicians and writers are fleeing the East Village like its on fire. The only people who can afford to move into the neighborhood where I first lived when I came to the city are freshly graduated investment bankers accompanied by all the behavioral stereotypes they seem happy to reinforce.

I read a good article recently about the housing crisis in New York. A square foot of apartment space in NYC costs $1100. Approximately ten $100 bills take up one square foot of floor. Literally in New York, you can spread your money out across the floor of an apartment, and if you can still see the floor, you can't afford the place.

(I include Hoboken and Jersey City in this equation, since, like the outer boroughs, their rents are relative to the Manhattan market. But that doesn't really matter anyway: New Jersey real estate is the most expensive in the country.)

So a change of venue seems out of the question. What I really need is to make more money. Having recently taken on two part-time jobs on top of my full-timer, I'm nearly at the point where I can both pay rent AND live acceptably each month, but of course I've given up my writing time. Hence the scant blog entries since June. And my fiction? Forget about it.

This is the thing: there are ways to live in or near New York, but only at a great sacrifice to my quality of life. I already spend half my existence on the train so I don't have to spend half my paycheck on my apartment (except that I do spend half my paycheck on my apartment anyway, and of everyone I know, my rent is the lowest).

This used to be okay, this sacrifice. Used to be that you sacrificed some amenities, some comforts, for the privilege of living in the epicenter of culture, art and invention that is New York City. But now the artists are leaving, unable to afford the rents even in the outer bouroughs, which aren't as friendly to them anyway. They're moving to college towns and smaller cities where their work is still valued, and they can afford apartments with separate rooms, fresh air, electricity and (dare to dream) maybe even a dishwasher. And it's sad to think that the artists who stay might be forced out of art altogether to pursue the kind of employment that pays, but demands so much of their time and attention they have nothing left at the end of the day. Used to be everyone in New York had their day job and the thing they did for their souls--their novel, their comic book, their movie script, their acting career. More and more I feel like the day jobs are taking over. And I have no idea how freelancers afford this place. That seems an impossibility anymore.

(What's really dumb is I say "used to" like I've lived here forever. I've only lived in or near NYC for a total of 6 years. That I can say "used to" just attests to the fact that things seem to be going downhill quickly.)

It's sad that this housing crisis--which has been getting steadily worse since I graduated from college in 1999, despite a brief uptick after 9/11--could be the death of New York as we know it. With all the chain stores and Starbucks and high-rise apartment buildings going up in formerly-affordable, even rundown neighborhoods, where liveth the people that make New York diverse and interesting and something more than an overgrown Hartford, Connecticut? More and more, they live in Section 8 housing. What a consolation prize.

And so it's time to do the inevitable and leave NYC. Fuck surviving, it's time to live.

I know I sound bitter in this post, but all I feel now that I've made the decision to move is relief. I know none of my complaints are new or novel. But it's my blog and I'll cry if I want to. At some point, it ceases to be charming to be the house salad girl, and I have hit that point. I'm 29, staring down the barrel of 30. I'd like to be able to afford an entree before I turn 40.

I'll be applying to PhD programs this fall and moving to Iowa City in December where I will work part time and write full time till I hear back from schools and decide on the next big move. I can't wait. It's going to be fictiontastic. Also, the lovely Brad will be moving with me to work on his own art in one of our two bedrooms in our future apartment! My little mind quivers with anticipation.

I am excited, but still a little sad about leaving New York. For every five things I won't miss (excessive horn honking, crowded sidewalks, rats, roaches, black mold) there is one thing I will miss (cheap flowers). (Human feces in the subway, electrified sidewalk grates, grocery extortion, hipsters, filth) (fabulous sushi).

Saturday, August 05, 2006

Still alive?

Well, I'm not dead, or at least, someone has gone to a lot of trouble to convince you of that. Hacking into my stupid blog, claiming I'm not dead. Col. Mustard in the Library with the lead pipe. Etc.

No no, I'm fine, everything's fine. I've just been busy and will have exciting Life Changes to announce shortly.

In the meantime, I want you to know that I was watching Shark Week tonight and apparently--I'm not making this up--there is a place in the world called Sperm Whale Point in the Bonin' Islands. I just thought you should know that. Also, I spelled Bonin' Islands phonetically. You should probably know that too, in case you're planning to take your honeymoon there and you need to Google hotels or something.