Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Homeward Bound

Writing this post on my phone outside the building where I teach, waiting for Austin-the-saint to drive me to the airport. Some student organization is blasting dubstep. It's sunshiny. Not looking forward to winter weather this evening.

I am, however, looking forward to everything else this evening, for I am finally returning to Chicago! Well, the suburbs, but close enough.

This Thanksgiving we're having an epic Flaherty-side family reunion. Besides my parents and my sister, we have: Uncle Bill, the Boyd clan (Adam and Amy + tiny twins Jonas & Ella and tinier Lydia), the Kappelboyd clan (Erin and Rembert + tiniest twins Willem & Hendricus), Aunt Trish, the Dilger clan (Caroline and Rich + tiny Colleen and tiniest newest baby Anna), Kevin and Catherine, and Catherine's parents. 

Not to mention my dogs. Pretty psyched about the dogs.

It's going to be madness, in the best possible way. 

Getting in pretty late tonight, but I'm going to make every effort to make it to the annual McGrath turkey fry so I can see my Meghan. Also because food. Also because her parents throw the craziest parties I've ever attended.

On a final note before I take my holiday, I'd like to thank you all for your insightful and kind responses to my last post. They made me grateful that I'm acquainted with so many good people. 

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Meditations on Knowing; or, I Have All The Feels

To get this out of the way first: my reading last night at Neon Lit went well. I was far more nervous than I thought I'd be, but I think I read clearly and at a good pace, and everyone assures me it was great. Everyone here is so nice, however, that I'm fairly certain they'd lie to me and tell me it was great even if it was horrible. I don't think they're lying, though. People laughed. I had a good time. I looked like a total babe. Here's a picture:

See? The babeliest. The other readers were awesome, too. Afterwards we went to Velveteen Rabbit, the most hipster of bars, and then we went to a zombie-themed bar's fetish night because Friday. (In regards to my syntax, you should read this article from The Atlantic about how "because" has become a new preposition. I've been doing it for a while now. Only in informal writing, of course.)

So you're probably wondering about the title of this entry. I've been trying to write a post about this for a while, but I haven't had the time, and I hadn't thought it through enough until today. Not that I actually have time to write it now--I should be finishing up my gothic piece--but I'm going to do it anyway.

Fair warning: this is going to be a long one.

Those of you who know me from my pre-MFA life know that I'm a relatively even-keel person, erring on the cheerful side. Cynical and snarky, perhaps, but always with an undercurrent of happiness and overall faith in humanity. That's why I like to start political arguments at the dinner table and other similar things frowned upon by society; my emotions are typically so stable that a heated debate gets my blood pumping. I feel elated afterwards, and for the most part I'm a live-and-let-live type of person, so it usually doesn't matter to me whether I've ultimately changed your mind.

In terms of outward appearances, I would say that my personality has not changed much since moving to Las Vegas. However, on the inside, to quote one of the finest movies of our time, "I'M IN A GLASS CASE OF EMOTION."

When I'm happy I feel practically manic. When I get hurt it feels like someone socked me in the gut. Of course, I do realize that while I think I have, in internet terms, all the feels, I'm probably just dealing with what normal people call feelings. Lowercase f.

I've been trying to analyze why this is happening, why my control over my emotions has become so poor. After much consideration, I believe it has something to do with the fact that nobody here knows me yet. Sure, they kind of know me. I'm sure they all understand that I'm cheerful, that I like music, that I write flash fiction, that I love Chicago, etc. (On an unrelated note, I'm worried I'm driving everyone nuts because all I talk about is Chicago. But it's not my fault! I have no other point of reference for anything in life.) Yet I feel like, at this point, we all only know each other and are friends with each other on an archetypal level--Becky the cheerful gogo dancer and Michael the San Francisco hippie and Shaun the goofy Irish poet and Kayla the wild child and Austin the nicest human ever, and so on.

I don't mean to diminish my friendships here. I would say that there are, at the very least, glimmers of truth and honesty in all my relationships with my fellow MFA-ers, and I've grown considerably closer with some of them--Olivia especially.

When I came here to visit in March, I noticed that everyone in the program only hung out with each other, and dated each other, and I thought it was a little weird, honestly. And I understood that, if I were to join this program, I would have to get used to a much lower level of privacy than I had previously enjoyed. I used to be a very private person. Since coming here, however, I've made a strong effort to be brutally honest with everyone, because I know that no matter what I do, it's going to get around to everyone else sooner or later, so I might as well share it on my terms. I guess I just thought that being so honest and trusting people who I had no real reason to trust would lead to deeper friendships faster.

I'm not an idiot. I know that it usually takes an incredibly long time to get to know someone on the level that I'm talking about. I've known my friends in Chicago for years. Some of my Chicago friendships, were I to personify them, would be in high school. The odd exception is, of course, the lovely miss Gena, who swing-danced into my life and in less than a year we were practically inseparable. Naturally, I'm going to feel like those people know me better than the people in my program.

It's just hard being in a completely new place without someone who truly knows me. I don't know who I can talk to about things. I'm certain that, in the future, many of my friendships here will reach that level, but in the meantime it feels sort of like I'm climbing across a net with holes strewn here and there.

I am irritated with how many times I've used the word "know" in this post. The French have two words for the verb "to know": savoir, to know facts, and connaƮtre, to be familiar with a person. This is a distinction we desperately need in English, n'est-ce pas?

Back to the point: the other side of this is that being brutally honest and open is hard. And the weirdest part is, it's difficult to do it without it feeling a little fake, since it's not natural to be so open and honest with near-strangers.

It's like flirting. I always feel like I'm lying when I'm flirting, not because I'm not interested in the person--obviously, I wouldn't be flirting otherwise--but because I'm not naturally a touchy-feely, eyelash-batting, floozy-esque person. I suppose it can be fun sometimes, but it normally takes a great deal of conscious effort on my part. It's exhausting.

It is equally exhausting being as honest about oneself as one possibly can with everyone all the time, especially when I feel that I'm not getting as much out of it as I should. You could argue that I could just not be myself--moving to a new place is the perfect opportunity to reinvent a personality, after all. But that seems wrong. I could never do that.

It's also a problem--and this was a problem sometimes in Chicago, too--that people always seem to enjoy my general cheerfulness, so much so that I am completely out of my element when I try to talk to people about the less-than-cheerful feelings I have. I'm not allowed to have such feelings--I'm Becky. You know, the perpetually happy one. It takes a long time for me to trust someone enough to tell them when I'm feeling low. This post would lead me to believe that I've apparently known the internet long enough?

I guess I just wish that someone would walk up to me and say "Hey, Becky, I want to know you more thoroughly than any other person so let's just talk about everything." Actually, no, I don't wish that. That would be totally creepy.

I do wish that I could spend one day with each member of my program hanging out with them individually. We almost always spend time together in groups, and I suspect some one-on-one time would go a long way in terms of knowing my fellow MFA-ers, and them knowing me. That's probably one reason why Olivia and I are closer--we have girls' nights all the time. Also she's just awesome.

Okay: rant over. Thank you, internet, for being my silent Freudian psychoanalyst. No comments necessary, folks, unless you really want to. I'm not looking for a pity party--just some catharsis.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

What is this water falling from the sky?

It's raining. Gross.

I guess I can't complain; the weather has been gorgeous for the vast majority of my time here, and I'm sure this won't last too long. Even the desert has to be watered sometimes.

Let's see. Updates. Tuesday the poet Derek Henderson came to do a craft talk and a reading. Both were lovely, although he never explained what I desperately need to understand for next semester: how does one write a poem? We all went out after his reading, and there was lots of good music, and I stayed up too late. Shocker. Whether I'm out with friends or doing work in my room, I am consistently up too late.

When am I going to realize that I'm too old for 2 a.m.?

(The True Champion is NEVER too old for 2 a.m.!)

I am ultra-excited for tomorrow because I'm doing my first public reading ever at Neon Lit. I've mentioned the event before; it's the monthly reading our program organizes at an art gallery downtown. I picked out the stories I want to read yesterday, and I practiced a little last night. I'm nervous, but I'm sure I'll get through it fine. I usually do. I'll have to practice some more tonight, assuming I don't waste all my time BS-ing my teaching philosophy for pedagogy class. So much work for a class that means so little.

Other things I'm excited about:

Gena told me about a wonderful, completely historically inaccurate show about Mary, Queen of Scots called Reign. It's hilarious. So bad it's great. Sexy Nostradamus.

I'm listening to "Seven Swans Reimagined" for the first time in a while, and I forgot how wonderful it was. Nothing like DM Stith, Carl Hauck, and Bonnie 'Prince' Billy covering Sufjan Stevens.

And, most importantly, WELCOME TO NIGHT VALE IS DOING A LIVE SHOW IN VEGAS IN JANUARY. Yes, I know Cecil Baldwin is fictional (sort of). Does that mean I want him to be my best friend any less? No it does not.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Return to the Pioneer Saloon, and other adventures

Phone blogging from Einstein Brother's between writing center shifts because I don't buy or cook meat not because I'm a vegetarian but because I'm lazy but sometimes I just want a goddamn turkey sandwich, okay? Don't judge me.

Run-on sentences are fun.

Anyway, as the title of this post suggests, we made our triumphant return to the Pioneer Saloon on Friday night. You remember the Pioneer Saloon--it's that 100-year-old cowboy bar in the middle of nowhere. And once again, it was utter madness, in the best possible way.

Jamison rented a grill and cooked us all burgers and brats. Lulu sang Whitney Houston and made a local cry. Joe sang my favorite Lou Reed song ("Perfect Day," for the record). Austin did a truly stunning rendition of Electric Six's "Danger! High Voltage," and we are all now his karaoke groupies. Colby discovered his calling as an inspirational dancer. Flynn, the grizzled old biker dude from last time, rocked "War Pigs." Monica, the bartender, offered us all shots of whiskey on the house--assuming we'd let her pour them directly down our throats from the bottle. As a designated driver, I did not partake. However, I did discover that I can sing Led Zeppelin's "Rock and Roll" pretty damn well. 

We shut the place down. It was magical.

Last evening was Good Hair Fiction Club at Jean's. It should really be called Good Hair Fiction and Eating Club because there was tons of delicious food. Jean made chili, Brittany baked cookies, and Joe brought cronuts. Cronuts

I read my gothic piece. It's still awful, but I got lots of helpful feedback, so I'm generally excited to revise. Why can't it just do what I want it to do? (Said every writer ever.) I wish we didn't have to turn it in the Tuesday before Thanksgiving. More time would be helpful.

I have "Danger! High Voltage" stuck in my head now. I hope you do, too.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Productivity (or lack thereof)

Remember how I said I was going to finish the first draft of my story for gothic fiction class? Totally did. Quite pleased with myself. The middle is basically awful, but that's why one revises.

As you may have guessed, the rest of my Veterans Day weekend was largely full of writing. That's what I did Saturday, until that evening when I met Shaun and some of his friends who had driven in from L.A. at the Freakin' Frog. I was reluctant to go at first because I was getting so much writing done, but ultimately I'm glad I did. When I write, I get into this zone where I forget about everything else, including moving the vast majority of my muscles. I usually end up quite sore afterwards, and I'd been writing all day, so a few beers definitely helped. Besides, Shaun's friends were lovely, and I got to hear about all their adventures at the Grand Canyon.

Sunday I read some stories for Witness in the morning, but then I decided to give myself a break. Aurora, Colby and I headed to Boulder City for a few hours. It's this quaint little town right near the Hoover Dam. (We didn't go to the dam, though--I want to save that for another day.) We went to their little microbrewery for lunch, and we ended up at this funny art fair in the parks & recreation gym, where several cute old people were selling their wares. Then we drove down to Lake Mead, where I saw the creepiest fish ever. Aren't they awful, swarming all over each other with their gaping pinkish mouths, desperate for food? Not at all right.

Monday was another writing day, and also a grading day, but grading is horrible and I don't want to talk about it.

Last night was better than Monday. Last night there was a free scotch tasting at the Frog, and it was expensive, tasty scotch to boot. Lulu had never had scotch before, so I insisted she attend. Shaun, Austin, Josh, and Olivia were all there as well. I spent the evening being entirely unproductive, and I do not regret it in the slightest. I should be unproductive more often.

Haha just kidding that is so far from my nature I don't even know how I'd handle myself what is laziness I don't understand help I'm so nervous just thinking about it.

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Let the Long Weekend Commence

Three posts in one week? WHAT IS THIS MADNESS?! It's strange to actually have some spare time. Strange and wonderful, obviously.

It's Veterans Day Weekend, so we don't have school on Monday. I don't think I can adequately express in words how excited I am to not have to work in the writing center on Sunday or plan a class for Monday. You know what I'm going to do instead? Write. Well, I'll probably have to grade some student essays, too. But let's pretend like I don't have to do that, and instead focus on the writing. I'm going to try to write as much of my gothic story for Maile's class as possible. Hopefully I'll finish it.

After my last post, this week continued to be awesome. Honestly, I'm a little afraid I'll jinx it. Joe told me about a contest that Tin House is sponsoring in which you must finish an unfinished Shirley Jackson story. As if that weren't intimidating enough, the judges are Shirley Jackson's family and the so-talented-it-makes-my-brain-hurt magical realism writer Kelly Link. (If you haven't read her collection Magic for Beginners, you're missing out.) I was so pleased to have time to write on Tuesday evening that I banged out my whole submission right then. Of course, it ended up taking me until 2 a.m., but what of it? Sleep is for the weak. I'm still editing it, of course, but I must say that I'm awfully proud of how well I maintained her voice throughout the portion that I wrote. We shall see how that goes.

On Wednesday evening after Zumba, Aisha, Rosemary, Scott, Brett, and I all went to the Double Down Saloon to celebrate Brett's birthday with a little game of punk rock bingo. The phrase "punk rock bingo" is probably enough for you to imagine it correctly. It's regular bingo--just straight lines, no patterns. Probably so that people can get wasted while playing. Instead of a dauber, you use crayons. The host makes dirty jokes all evening, and you certainly don't win money. Oh, no. No money for punk rock bingo. Who would want money when you could win a themed prize package of whatever the host could find in her house/whatever people were willing to donate/whatever was cheap at the drugstore?

I was, in fact, one of the winners of punk rock bingo that evening, and I received the coveted BAG OF RANDOM SHIT. My prizes included but were not limited to: a Godzilla cupholder, antique playing cards, a Sailor Jerry shot glass, Bettie Page coasters, a pint of black zombie costume blood, some toy skeletons on a piece of twine, a juniors' size small shirt that says "nothing wrong with a little junk in the trunk" (which I was forced to put on immediately), and a porn flick. You think that's good? The birthday boy also won, and he received the Instant Pedophile Priest kit. The host dressed him up in his new priestly garb, bestowed upon him his plastic crown of thorns, and pressed a creepy skeleton-child doll to his crotch. It's really the classiest of events. Did I mention the performance by the huge, tattooed crooner who sang "Luck Be a Lady" while a hula-hooping burlesque dancer stripped? 

Thursday night I had dinner at the Frog with many friends, which was great since I haven't been in such a long time. Last night we went out to Fremont Street for Aisha's birthday. A ridiculous number of people in my program have November birthdays. Aisha's not technically in the program, actually--she's a literature grad student--but we like her anyway. We went to this place called Brass Lounge which honestly reminded me of The Bronze from Buffy. It was obnoxiously overpriced, but it had a nice balcony. Had a lovely time talking with people. We then proceeded to Beauty Bar for karaoke. (Yes, Chicago--they have a Beauty Bar here, too!) Between Kayla, Mel, and Marianne's stunning rendition of "Wrecking Ball," Shaun's theatrical version of "Sweet Transvestite," and my classic performance of "Sunday Morning" (Olivia requests that I sing it every time we karaoke), we brought the house down.

I know what you're thinking. It's okay if you're jealous of my fabulous life. That's normal. Just remember that I'm the True Champion, and it's my job to be this awesome.

God, you all probably think I'm some kind of ridiculous party girl. I swear I do real work out here, too. It's simply not as entertaining to write about it. I promise that this week has also been full of grading, teaching, reading, tutoring at the writing center, and working out. I'm going to do work right now, in fact. Now that my fingers have been flying across the keyboard for a while, it's time to buckle down and write some fiction. Until next time...

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Happy Days!

Here's why:
  • My second time up in workshop last night went stupidly well. I feel so invigorated and full of ideas thanks to my kind and insightful classmates. (Not to mention Richard Wiley, who also liked the piece.)
  • The Bears beat the Packers--at Lambeau, no less. (It's amazing how much more willing I am to watch sports now that they remind me of home.)
  • I think I'm making more new friends.
  • I registered for my second semester courses today: Poetry Workshop, Forms of Poetry, and Survey of Critical Theory. As an avid nerd, I am pretty damn excited about literary theory. I'm nervous about having to write so much poetry, but I think it will be a good experience for me. Plus, I know that Michael and Kayla have exactly the same schedule, so at least I'll have friends along for the journey. 
  • And, last but certainly not least, MARRIAGE EQUALITY IN ILLINOIS!!!!! Wish I could be there to celebrate with all my lovelies--have a drink for me! I'll toast you all when I get back for winter break.

Monday, November 4, 2013

Out on the Town

Although this week was quite busy, I really was out on the town for a large portion of it. I suppose it was a "work hard, play hard" scenario.

I believe my last entry left off right before Justin Torres was about to give a craft talk. I did indeed attend that craft talk, and I quickly came to the conclusion that Justin Torres is great and I want to be his best friend. During his talk he was engaging and honest, not to mention hilarious. Some gems:
  • When writing realistic fiction, your artistic integrity must be important enough to you to be willing to potentially hurt the people you love.
  • Genre entrenchment is unfortunate. Feel free to explore both fiction and poetry, and to mix them.
  • How to get the most of an MFA program: buckle down and be a writer. Connect with the writing community. Grow thick skin.
I also learned that he loves semicolons just as much as I do. Later that evening, after his reading, he took a picture of my semicolon tattoo. The reading was good as well. You should pick up his book We the Animals. It's beautifully written.

Afterwards we all took Mr. Torres out to The Peppermill. I was excited to go, since I had heard of the establishment many times. I was not disappointed. This diner/bar is in the kitschy old part of Vegas, which so far has consistently been my favorite part. We sat in large round booths beneath ugly fake plants, our gaze drawn by the flames that danced on a pool of water, drinking happy hour mojitos and discussing literature. Tackiness is next to godliness.

Wednesday was a "work hard" day. Taught class, went to zumba, finished writing an essay. Not so much fun to write about.

Let's skip right to Thursday, because it was, of course, HALLOWEEN! My favorite holiday. There was candy in the writing center. Our gothic fiction class fit right in with the mood. (You should read Sylvia Plath's story "Johnny Panic and the Bible of Dreams." Delightfully creepy.) Later that evening we celebrated by going to a strip club. Yes, a strip club. One of our friends (whose name I will not use here) is, in fact, a stripper. So we all went (in costume, of course) to a dingy little joint in the Vegas suburbs to see her dance. I had never been to a strip club before--it was about what I expected. I think I probably analyzed the whole thing a little too much. Found myself tipping ladies mostly based on the difficulty level of their acrobatic feats. There was a costume contest. Joe was robbed. That's all I'll say about that.

Here's a picture of me in fine sugar skull form:

We did not get home until 2 a.m. While we were having a good time, this was ultimately rather unfortunate, as I had to give a presentation in my pedagogy class the next day. Don't worry, dear readers--the presentation was just fine. If there's anything I can do well, it's act bright and cheerful and alert on only a few hours of sleep. Friday evening Olivia and I finally found the time for a girls' night again. Indian food, as usual. Delicious. Because I'm a perfectly normal person, I then went straight to bed and fell asleep watching Carrie.

Saturday was the Vegas Valley Book Festival. I went early to hear Maile, one of my professors, moderate a panel with a few authors, including Alissa Nutting, whose novel Tampa I would highly recommend if you want to feel 100% uncomfortable. Seriously. It's a remarkable read. The weather was beautiful, and I had a wonderful time hawking The Salted Lash with Michael--rather, attempting to hawk The Salted Lash with Michael, because nobody was buying. Nevertheless, I enjoyed spending the day outside, talking with Michael and Joe and Olivia and Aurora and Derek.

Then we come to last night--oh, last night. Last night was fun. It was Joleen's birthday, so we all went dancing at Free Zone, our favorite gay bar. I met Olivia there a little early, so we managed to catch the entirety of the 10 p.m. drag show. After that it was just a ridiculous dance party, a dance party to the extreme, a dance party turned up to 11. Let me tell you: us MFA kids have got the moves.

On a final note, I want to thank my parents for finally sending the rest of my belongings from Chicago. (Hi Mom & Dad!) It was a somewhat harrowing experience getting the giant boxes home from the FedEx store, but with Lulu's help I managed. (My roommate is a saint.) I am so happy to have a bedside table again. You have no idea how nice it is to have my tea at arm-level. It's the simple things.