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Sunday, May 20, 2018

Living In A Teenage Wasteland

Oh hey, sweetie heads. Now that I’ve turned in final grades, slept 14 hours straight, tuned and played my guitar for the first time in 9 months, and watched an entire season of Planet Earth while crying on my living room floor, I’m finally gonna take some time to reflect on this last two years. It occurred to me as I was driving home from the grocery store with Just The Essentials (red wine, a 12 pack of soda waters, and rainbow Goldfish), that this whole grad school experience mirrors adolescence in a lot of ways.

Two years ago I started this program as a child in my own eyes, with an un- or under-developed sense of myself as an artist. Luckily, my world-wise, scholarly professor-parents stepped in to teach me how to Be (before I could eat a brain-damaging amount of paste).

Of course, every professor-parent has a different style. You’ve got the laidback, go-with-the-flow lecturer who calls you a “colleague” and talks to you like you understand all of the obscure references he’s making. He’s like the older cousin who would let you sip their beer at a party as a 7-year-old, or teach you how to roll a joint at 13. Then there’s the quirky, queer young aunt. She’s here to introduce you to feminist porn, and teach you to reclaim vagina terminology.

And that’s just your first semester. In time, you’ll meet the helicopter mom, the absentee but somehow still stern father, the kooky grandmother, the scholarly uncle… They’re all there. And you’re paying them to shape your mind, and shape your art, and shape your daily experiences in this program for three years of your one and only precious life. And you let them, for awhile. Like a child, they’re here to teach you “the rules,” and maybe you toe the line and maybe you don’t, but either way you trust what they say. Maybe this is because you trust authority, or you trust their experience, or you so deeply distrust yourself that it’s a relief to finally trust somebody else with Your Self.

Enter adolescence. You’ve been doing this art thing With Intention for awhile now, and you’re starting to get a sense of who you are. What you’re about. Maybe you have a few publications under your belt, or you’ve won an award. You’ve navigated classroom politics to one degree or another, finding your people, learning when and where to keep your guard up or let it down. You start to question your professor-parents’ judgement. Why can’t I stay out past 10pm? Really, what’s so bad about listening to heavy metal at an ear-splitting decibel? Oh, you’re saying I can’t use the passive voice and all these adjectives to tell my story?

I don’t remember the first time I realized my parents were just humans and not gods or machines with all the answers. I can say I started to question my professors at the exact moment that a piece of writing that moved me to tears was called “shallow” and “predictable.” I can say that I started to rebel the instant a memorial piece for murdered queer women was called “sexy and playful.”

Here’s where you start to notice that everybody comes from different backgrounds, including the people who are supposed to have all the answers. Here’s where you notice that the time, energy, attention, and resources are being subjectively distributed. Maybe you’ve benefited from this, maybe you haven’t. Either way, you feel profoundly and suddenly complicit in a system you didn’t seem to notice until it was too late, despite all of the warnings.
Yesterday, sitting at Living Room Cafe with a friend, and we were discussing the pros and cons of a full residency program compared to low residency. [Note: full res is what I’m doing, where I go to campus some days a week to meet with profs face-to-face every semester. Low res is mostly online, with intensive face-to-face meetings 2-3 times per year]

One of the cool things, she said, in this low -res program is that you get paired with a single mentor professor, and get to work with them one-on-one with your writing. To which I responded (less than tactfully I think) with an Oh, fuck no. She seemed confused, asked You wouldn’t want to study one-on-one with somebody? Not even with Really Talented Professor You Admire? And the honest answer is no. No, I wouldn’t want to spend three years working one-on-one with anybody, let alone Really Talented Professor I Admire. Because this time is about learning to trust myself more than I’ve ever trusted anybody else. If that human's opinion was the only opinion I ever heard about my work, I’d feel even more compelled to respect it. Consciously or unconsciously, I’d start to compromise my sense of self to fit that subjective mold of “good poetry.”

What I’m trying to say is maybe the world needs “bad poetry” the way it needs overplayed pop music or teenage love stories or hell, even finger painting. Because the things your parents/professors/etc find shallow and predictable are the exact same things that made you fall in love with art in the first place. The exact same things that might make the next generation of artists fall in love. Because it’s less about impressing the people who came before, and all about inspiring the people who come after.

I’m sure there’s more I want to say here, but the wine is almost gone, and I’ve been sitting upright for an untenable 3 hours. I think the best way to end this is with an angsty list of the unfortunate things my writing has been called in the last two years:

Whiplash-inducing
Too circular and predictable
A little shallow
Not sexy/playful enough
Syntactically uninteresting
One-dimensional

To which I say:



Cheers, dreamers. And remember, no matter what your passion is, you’re better than the haters. Not to mention, you know way more about your art than any-goddamn-body else on this planet.

-b

Friday, May 18, 2018

A Brief & Incomplete List: #9

A Brief & Incomplete List: ways to use the phrase, “We’re 30 Year Old Women”

1) To justify spending $12 on Bulleit Rye Old Fashioneds, instead of $9 on well whiskey at the indie-hipster concert in North Park. Your sister, who is only a 23 year old woman, will have no such justification. Her night will peak when she weaves her way through the crowd, double-fisting PBR tallboys while the crowd serenades her with “PBR Angel,” sung to the tune of ”Beauty School Dropout.” Don’t be jealous. You’re a 30-year old woman; beer and being the center of attention make you queasy anyways.

2) In disbelief when you realize, on your way to brunch the following morning, that the right thigh of your jeans now sports a rather impressive splotch of dried marinara from the save-your-life pizzeria you visited the night before. This is a singular statement of disbelief, (“But… I’M a 30 year old woman...:”) because your person would never leave the house in pizza pants. Luckily, she loves you anyways.

3) To explain why you and your partner have no interest in going dancing on a Sunday night at the Gayborhood’s most happening dance club with your literary friend following a casual, potluck-style drink-and-chat at a classmate’s house. This usage should be accompanied with big smiles and rueful shakes of the head, as if to say, “If only we were younger, if only we were as strong and energetic as you! Of course we’d love to be there, but… we’re 30 year old women.

4) As an excuse for day drinking on the beach that same Sunday, after brunch but before the potluck-style drink-and-chat at said classmate’s house. In this context the phrase comes with an implied “we deserve this” clause. Careful, this particular use walks a fine line between “we deserve this” the day the drinking occurs and “we should have known better” the morning after.

5) As an explanation for why you and your partner need to leave the beach-adjacent bar after taking a quick lap through the pulsing neon lights, and the bass that rattles your glasses’ frames, where the girls in bikinis and cut-off shorts are hip-thrusting the exposed bottoms of their white, white pockets in the general direction of the shirtless men on the rooftop.

6) Basically anytime in any situation because perching upon the precipice of 30 allows you to
both gaze backwards into the void of things you’ve already accomplished or overcome, and peer
indefinitely forward, into the vast expanse of experiences you have yet to encounter.

Take the nap, drink the cocktails, sleep in late, eat the pizza.
You’re a 30 year old woman, goddammit.

Sunday, April 15, 2018

In Which I Try Not To Ruin My Own or Anyone Else's One and Precious Life

Hello dream weavers! Guess what? We’ve made it through 81% of yet another semester, and the
Turtle Insurrection still hasn’t happened. I mean, plenty of other things have gone horrifically wrong
in the world, but at least it wasn’t the turtles. I’m sure that’s what you were all most concerned about.

This morning while I was waddling aimless circles around my 400 square foot apartment, chatting with Boo Face, I casually thought I should really take out the recycling. This thought was immediately and quite unexpectedly followed by the thought But will any of those materials come in handy in the case of a nuclear event? Maybe I should save things just in case. This led to several more minutes of tortured internal debate, before Boo Face talked me down with her science and reasoning. According to human logic, a 12 gallon repurposed kitty litter container will not do me any good in a nuclear war, even if it is filled with potable water.

So I guess that’s about where I’m at these days: straddling the line between absurd alarmism and generalized despondence. I did not fill the kitty litter tub with potable water, but I also didn’t take it out for recycling because, what’s the point?

There are three weeks between me and the end of my second year of grad school. For those of you keeping track at home, that means the upcoming year is my third and final. Much like the current state of our nation, this thought fills me with existential dread whenever it crosses my mind, so I try to keep it tamped down with to-do lists, alcohol and binge-worthy television (what up, Magicians? Can’t wait to see what happens to all my new friends in Season 4…).

This semester has been some of the most humbling, overwhelming, and if I’m being completely honest just-a-little-bit-soul-crushing months of my life. Remember last semester? When I was like, Yeah I can shower and feed myself and work four jobs and still sleep at night because I can do anything good, better than anyone? I was wrong. There are things that take time and practice. I’ve learned that teaching is one of them. I can honestly say I think my students like me (or at least pity me enough to pretend), so that’s nice. What’s not nice? The constant nagging fear that I’m somehow derailing their educations, their futures, and potentially their entire lives. Not only am I worried that someday (hopefully years down the road) I’ll die alone in my apartment and be eaten by my 47 cats after my dishwashing shift at Applebee’s. No, I’ve also got myself worked up about the theoretical futures of 25 college freshmen.

Is this a reasonable fear? No, not at all, but I think we’ve already accurately assessed my propensity towards reason (see above: recycling quandary). Anyways, I guess most of this was to say that I’m still alive, the turtles haven’t taken over yet, even if I’ve been in that space where I can’t write and I’m afraid I’ll never write again, so I keep Not Writing, because what if I’m no good at it, the way I’m no good at teaching, and so on and so forth.

Now that most of you have forgotten this blog exists (much like I did for the past several months), I’m probably going to use it as my janky, Muggle Pensieve because even Dumbledore needed somewhere to store his stresses, memories, and probably family recipes, favorite song lyrics, and strange observations. SO, internet. Thanks for always being a readily available void for my worthless and self-pitying human angst.

Monday, December 18, 2017

Whooooaaaaa, We're Halfway There!

Hello sweet peas. Tell me, are you all still breathing? I’m about to re-enter the land of the living. I am freshly showered, cuddled up in a blue sweatsuit with my favorite blue blanket, and sipping One Glass of Wine™ (AKA half a bottle), but who’s keeping track? Definitely not me, since around 4 o’clock this afternoon I hit send on my last assignment of the semester. This morning, Facebook decided to remind me that exactly one year ago I was in my bed, surrounded by books. Coincidentally, that’s exactly where I was today, surrounded by different books. Except everything was better because this semester I managed to shower habitually, and I’ve done considerably less crying. I even managed to leave my house not once, but twice this weekend. She can be taught!

Hitting send on that email marked the halfway point of my Master’s program. This semester I wrote a chapbook, the first draft of a full length manuscript, about 25 pages of lit crit, and six pieces that found homes with print and online publications. I also managed to juggle three jobs and watch the entire backlog of “Fresh Off The Boat” episodes.

Next semester I’ll be teaching my own section of Intro to Rhetoric & Writing Studies (RWS 200), which is exciting/terrifying/daunting, because I’ll have students of my own who may or may not like me, and will probably most definitely not like the subject matter, and are being forced to learn it in order to go on and do the things they actually care about, like becoming engineers and doctors and mathematicians, but it’s my job to make sure they can think critically and write analytically, so fingers crossed we can make it fun and use less run-ons than I habitually thrown down in this blog.

Anyways, since I’ve spent the last year and a half getting me some high quality book learning, I thought I’d take this post-semester opportunity to look at some of the Real Life lessons that have been handed to me. Listed in order of importance (just kidding, it’s as they occur to me):

Office refrigerator tamales are a miracle, and should be regarded as such. Do not question where they came from. Do not try to find the glorious human who slaved over their exquisite husks and blessed you with them, expecting no compensation or praise. Do not rush your break room tamales. Savor them. When you return to the office, day after day, and there are no tamales, just stale, store bought cinnamon rolls with a dead fly caught in the sugary web of icing, do not begrudge the cinnamon rolls. Just fondly remember the miracle tamales.

Happy Hour is a trap. Or a lie. Sure, things like “Buy One Get One ½ Off” and “All You Can Eat Tacos, Just $6.95” seem inviting enough. Times are hard, am I right? Anything to save a couple bucks… No. What they forget to mention, as you’re ordering your BOGO margaritas is that each margarita costs the equivalent of one tank of gas, five Double Doubles, or 1/45th of your rent. Plus, Happy Hour always ends too soon, as if bars have tapped into some sort of warp speed time acceleration, and as you’re slurping down the dregs of your first drink, things are suddenly full price again. But of course, by then you’re just juiced up enough to think You know what, I work hard and I DESERVE this $16 craft cocktail, and let me tell you something: you’re so right. You do work hard, and you definitely deserve that cocktail, but you know what else you deserve? To eat for the rest of the month.

**Strategy to avoid Trap-py Hour: set an alarm for 30 minutes before the drink specials end. Not for you, because you’ll just ignore it, but for your friend who doesn’t drink and is willing to scoop you up and buy you five Double Doubles with the money you would have spent on one more margarita. I have not tested this strategy, but I feel as if it is flawless.  

It’s really best to pretend the turtle insurrection isn’t a thing, until it is. A thing. Let me explain. On the campus at SDSU there’s a burbling, tranquil pond next to Scripps Cottage, home to koi fish, decorative greenery, and a whole army of red-eared sliders. This is my favorite place to sit in the sun, eat a chicken salad sandwich, and consider the impending avalanche of responsibilities that I’ve been narrowly outrunning each semester. Generally, the turtles will perch along the rock, soaking up the same sun. Sometimes the turtles are wearing warpaint on their shells. And we just don’t question it. Nope, we sure don’t.

You can blame just about anything on the moon. Feeling melancholic? Well, it’s that new moon energy. You’re just plumbing the depths of your own psychic shadow phase. All amped up and nowhere to go? Chill boo, it’s just the full moon in Gemini. Or Aries. Or something about Mars? Real talk for just a minute: yes, I do believe that the alignment of the planets has something to do with the forces of energy down here on this big galumphing rock we call home. But, I also feel like astrology presents really great opportunities for introspection, and a space to examine your feelings, impulses, and personal growth. Plus, knowing a little something something about all those space rocks is a great conversation starter at your school-sponsored Meet n’ Greets. [Note: my go-tos are Chani Nicholas and Jessica Lanyadoo]

People don’t grow out of being lactose intolerant. Scientifically, it’s just not possible. No matter what your mom tells you, no matter how accustomed you’ve become to the pain, it really just… No. Luckily, science! There’s a handy little capsule that helps your body digest lactose, the natural sugar found in milk and dairy products. So listen, boo. If your internal windmills churn angrily when you eat dairy products, maybe you should look into just not.

The first 20 rows of an Alaska flight board last. Which means you can dally over the visit’s final sushi dinner, and still have an extra five minutes of crying in the parking garage before you have to say goodbye to your sweetie. True, sometimes you will still have to carry your shoes and literally run to your gate, but it’s worth it for those last few soggy sweet nothings murmured into the crease of your neck.

No matter how much you think you know your cat, you don’t. Things I have spent the last 7.5 years assuming were true: Murphy hates wet food, chewy treats, brushing, and catnip. Things Murphy has apparently loved her whole life: see above. It’s not easy trying to sleep with a stranger on my chest every night, but once you relax into the not-knowing, things really get easier.

Overuse of the word ‘awesome’ is a super American thing? For the past six months or so I’ve been the copywriter for a Dutch fitness and nutrition company… Ahem, pardon me. A “premium-lifestyle brand.” In that time, I’ve become uncomfortably aware of how frequently I use the word awesome to describe admittedly mediocre things. Avocado toast? Awesome. Getting out of class early? Awesome. Drinking a protein shake with green tea in it? Super-mega-AWESOME. [Note: If anyone has suggestions for a word that means the same thing as when Americans say awesome, I’d appreciate it. You’ll get a 10% cut of my copywrite pennies.]

Hanging out with younger people is a 50/50 gamble. Sometimes, you get to be the cool, cultured older sibling who pays for the youngsters’ drinks at your sister’s engagement dinner. Other times you’re the hyper-stressed almost-30-year-old who drinks too much at dinner and falls asleep on your sister’s couch, still holding a beer, while watching American Horror Story. If you don’t like those odds, don’t play the game. Also, I’m so sorry for drinking your beer, Emily. I owe you a 6-pack of something that isn’t pineapple flavored.

Caulking guns are a thing. Initially, when you decide to be a Grown Up and recaulk your shower instead of bothering your landlady to do it for you, you may be intimidated by the options on the shelves at Home Depot. Of course you’ll select the reasonably priced tubes of silicone, with their 7 year mold-free warranty. What you won’t realize is that those tubes aren’t meant to test your fortitude, and extracting the caulk from the tubes does not require strength of character. No. It requires a caulking gun. Through some miracle you may manage to caulk your entire shower using a screwdriver, a box knife, and the jammed knuckles of your own determined fingers. This is not advisable.

Ride the roller coaster. Go back for the purse. Watch the awful, hotel room tv movies, and don’t be sad that the bar closed at 11pm. I don’t know how many of you know this about me, but I’m not the best at last minute changes to plans. I like to put off the “super chill, go with the flow” vibe, but I have a habit of getting caught up in expectation. Call it a function of being a wordsmith, when the story is in my head already I have a hard time rewriting. But this past summer taught me that some of my favorite stories are the ones that were rewritten. The “waterfront” room, overlooking that creek that followed the underbelly of the overpass. The 8am hot tub soak, because we missed pool hours the night before. Arriving in San Diego at 2am, because we didn’t leave Santa Cruz until 4pm. Each of these improvisations feels like the perfect, sappy story, when co-written with the human I love.

[Note: can you tell I’ve poured my second One Glass of Wine™?]

I still don’t quite know how to explain the past sixteen months, and I’m not sure I’ll ever really find the words without them being overblown and sentimental. God knows you don’t read this for the overblown and sentimental… right? What I can say, considering Saturn left my sun sign at 10:30pm EST last night, is that I never expected to be this person, living this life. The other night, on the phone with my human I said, You know what? If I DID die and this life is just the story I’m telling, I would be glad because it would mean I finally learned how to be kind to myself. I hope you sweet darlings are still out there, living and loving and being your kindest selves. Feel free to share your life lessons with me, lord knows I need them…

Xoxo, my sweeties.

-b