Sunday, December 28, 2014

No Moffatry

I finally caught up on this season of Doctor Who--don't you love it when your parents have Comcast On Demand? Here's the thing: I adore Peter Capaldi as the new Doctor, but Steven Moffat continues to have some serious failings a writer. The most troubling thing to me is his inability to write even remotely realistic female characters. (Regarding the recent Christmas Special: god forbid elderly Clara be able to go in the TARDIS--only young, conventionally pretty women deserve to travel space and time! And it's good to know that she never really has a life of her own--only a love life. It only matters what men she's with, or not with.) But Moffat also has a big problem with plot holes. He always tries to create these overarching, season-long arcs that don't pay off when they "resolve" in the end because he hasn't given us enough information for them to resolve in a satisfying way. I think there are two possibilities for why he does this: 1) He has the whole situation figured out in his head, but just assumes that we'll all think the same way he does, so he fails to put the things we need to know into the script, or 2) He doesn't even have all the rules figured out--he's more concerned with the ending flourish, and doesn't care about doing the necessary work to earn that flourish.

Sometimes this happens in a single episode as well; the recent Christmas Special was absurd, for instance. Basically it involved these aliens that attacked by putting you into multiple, nesting dream states so that you wouldn't notice while they slowly ate your brain. But the "logic" that the Doctor uses to determine whether they're in a dream state doesn't hold up, especially towards the end of the episode. It was sort of a cheap Inception rip-off featuring aliens and Santa Claus--although, to be honest, I had similar problems with Inception. The more I watched it and thought about it, the less it made sense.

All this led me to create a new writing mantra last night: DON'T BE A MOFFAT.

I've been working on my novel as much as I can over break--I recently broke the 50,000-word mark!--but lately I've been bothered by a few things (this is going to be hard to explain without summarizing my whole story, so I apologize for the vagueness):
  • My main character can enter a different world and control powerful creatures/forces, but so far it is unclear how he controls them. He's not a wizard like Harry Potter, so there's no spellcasting involved. In my head it's more of a psychological process, but that's just the trouble--right now it's only in my head. I need to find a concrete way to explain it on the page, especially considering that he's being trained to do this.
  • I thought I had all the rules of this different world figured out, but as I've been writing more, I've come up against some situations where I don't know why the creatures are doing what they're doing, and that's a serious problem. If I don't fully understand the thing I've created, nobody else will, either.
My novel is still in the rough draft stage, and I've also never written a novel before, obviously, so I can't be too hard on myself. But I feel as though Steven Moffat would simply leave these issues unanswered, just to get to the big bang flashy finish as quickly as possible. He wouldn't care that it doesn't make sense. I care very much. I want my story to be airtight. So last night I made a new list of rules for my world; I'd already made one early on, but I had to add to it, both in length and in detail. Today I think I'm going to re-write a few small sections throughout to make sure it's clear how my character is controlling the creatures. I think it's dangerous to do too much editing when I still don't have a completely finished draft, but at the same time, I think this will make it easier to write the rest of the scenes where's he's controlling them. I want there to be consistency.

Leta once cross-stitched me a small sign that says "Ass to Chair," so that I would always remember to sit down and write. I have it on my desk. Maybe someday she can make me one that says "Don't Be a Moffat" to go along with it. 

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Baby It's Not Particularly Cold Outside

I don't know--maybe it is this morning. But I have serious doubts about whether I'll receive a white Christmas this year. It's stayed in the balmy 40's the whole time I've been here. It kind of sleeted the other night. Almost snow. Not quite.

It's alright, though. I'm happy to be in Chicagoland. The past weekend was nuts, completely nonstop. Thursday was ABIS Christmas party, Friday was Gena's Christmas party (charades! celebrity! finally meeting her boyfriend!), Saturday was hanging out with Mickey at Pick Me Up and Chicago Comics and Book Cellar and her apartment (RuPaul's Drag Race mini-marathon! cats!). Sunday I finally came home, but then I had to go to the rockin' Christmas party at my grandmother's retirement home.

Things have been calmer this week, thank goodness. I've been writing a lot, which is wonderful. I've can't seem to adjust to the central time zone, unfortunately. I keep waking up way too late. Maybe I just need the sleep. I forced myself to get up early-ish today.

Gee, my life is exciting! I'll bet you're thrilled to be reading this blog entry. Let me make it up to you with puppies:


And on that note, I leave you. A very Merry Christmas Eve to you and yours!

Monday, December 15, 2014

I'll Be Home for Christmas. Literally.

Today I turned in my students' final grades to the department, so you know what that means: WINTER BREAK!

I've got big plans, my friends--the most drastic of which is that I'm flying to Chicago tomorrow for a three-week visit. I am so very excited to see all my lovely Chicago humans that I don't even care about the cold. I also plan on doing a great deal of reading, a great deal of writing, and a great deal of French speaking. (All those study abroad deadlines are coming up quick.) Am I overly ambitious? Perhaps. But I'm going to do my best.

I don't think I can fully be in the holiday spirit until I return to the Midwest, but sunny Vegas has been doing its best. On Friday night Dan/Brittany/Denise/Austin hosted a Christmas party featuring a white elephant gift exchange, in which I won a white elephant. Saturday night I organized karaoke at Champagne's because I'm a goddamn rockstar and everyone needs to know it. It sort of turned into crazyoke, though; the regular host was out, and the woman filling in was possibly on drugs? She kept playing the wrong songs, or playing the same person's song twice in a row. It was bizarre.

Last night Olivia and Austin and I went to Sam's Town, a wonderfully tacky Vegas institution, to see White Christmas in theaters. Austin had never seen it before, which makes me sad; how can someone go so many Christmases with no White Christmas? It's not Christmas without Bing! From there we headed to the tiny bar tucked into the hotel's interior courtyard to see its infamous laser lights show--the holiday edition, of course. I have no words to explain how beautifully bad this show was, what with its shabby animatronic woodland creatures in Santa hats and its pale imitation of the Bellagio fountains choreography and its fake snow and its lasers that essentially made rebuses of the song lyrics. It was truly one of the best/worst things I've ever seen. I'd highly recommend it.

I decided to crash at Olivia's because Sam's Town pours a pretty big glass of wine. But then at Olivia's there was more wine. My head and tummy were not so happy today, which made it all the better when the landlord sent someone to repair the roof, and when I started my period. Hangover hell. Nobody's fault but my own.

And on that cautionary note, I have to pack. I'll see you tomorrow, Windy City!

***

EDIT: This site was recently brought to my attention, and now I would like Santa to bring me all of these feminist clothing items for Christmas. Santa's a feminist, right?

Monday, December 8, 2014

Tales from a Broken Brain

I had a nightmare last night for the first time in many years. I woke up just as I was ready to scream. I could feel it caught in my throat.

In my dream-family, I have a much younger brother (probably only four or five), a somewhat younger sister, a Jackie-O-esque mother, and a sturdy father. We live in a pale brown-gray brick house surrounded by forest. It is late fall, so all the leaves dead and scattered on the ground. The dream opens like a movie--I am observing only, not yet part of the action. My little brother is playing in the leaves on a neighbor's property and discovers buried bones. The neighbors find him--a slightly older couple, a gray-haired woman and a man with the only real-world-recognizable face in the dream, that of the actor who plays Lord Grantham on Downton Abbey. (I just finished the most recent season the other day.) They put my brother in their car, along with the skeleton, and bring him back to our home. They let him out, and they re-bury the skeleton near our porch. Presumably they don't believe any trouble will come to them, since my brother is too young to understand.

Later, when I have joined the plot, things are going wrong in the house. The walls begin to warp and shift, the views outside the windows change. It starts to affect my mother and sister. They become increasingly distracted until they cease to speak entirely. Slowly their eyes become darker, black bleeding out over the irises and into the whites. One day my father notices something in the leaves by the porch. I help him dig. We discover the skeleton, and my father leaves to get help. When I come inside, I notice my mother and sister staring at me with their nothing-eyes. I know that I need to leave. I run out onto the porch, only to see the neighbor couple slamming shut the doors of their car. They see me. I am trapped.

That's when I woke up. Weirdly, I have no idea what happened to the little brother.

***

I am sitting in my bed, writing this, and my left arm hurts. It hurts especially in the shoulder, a deep ache all around my rotator cuff, but also up into my neck and down into the fatty part above the elbow. I am afraid I'm going to die.

I'm not totally convinced of my doom. There is a solid part of my brain that is telling me over and over again that nothing is wrong. It keeps telling me the real reason why my arm hurts. I went climbing with Austin on Saturday, and I climbed several difficult routes in a row. My arms felt like jell-o by the end. I must have strained something.

Besides, my left arm has hurt to some extent almost constantly since about 2008. I believe there are many reasons for this, the first and most obvious being that it's simply the weaker of the two. The physical therapist I once saw for this pain informed me that I have hyper-mobile joints, like gymnasts--but unlike gymnasts, I don't have the muscle strength to hold those joints in place, so it's easy for me to injure myself. (Once I also saw a rheumatologist for this pain, and she told me that sometimes you just have to "reset" the muscles. With little warning, she jabbed a syringe full of some mild anesthetic into my shoulder.) I suspect my many anxieties (as previously discussed in this post) have a great deal to do with the pain; I carry loads of tension in my shoulders and back. I also often wonder if my anxieties leads me to feel psychosomatic pain in my shoulder--my brain might be telling me there's pain when there isn't.

Despite the efforts of the rational portion of my brain, the anxiety-ridden portion will not be quiet. This lunatic part of my brain informs me that I must have a blood clot, that a heart attack must be on the horizon.

The really crazy part is that I popped into the doctor's office last week for an unrelated issue, and they took my blood pressure, gave me a quick check-up. If there were a problem, surely it would have come up. But apparently medical expertise is not good enough for anxiety brain.

***

These are some other nightmares I've had:

When I was very small, I was scared of The Addams Family. Now I think it's hilarious, but as a child I failed to see the humor. I once had a dream that I was inside their dark, decrepit mansion. I was sitting on Morticia's lap, and she was brushing my hair. But her comb was made of sharp spikes, and my head was bleeding, dark red dripping down blonde locks.

In another dream, I was in the center of a large, old-fashioned gymnasium. My mother and sister sat on a set of metal bleachers directly ahead of me. At either side of the gymnasium was a set of tall double-doors, presumably heavy. Suddenly, both doors opened at once, and two gigantic monsters moved into the room. I can't remember exactly what they looked like. I do remember that they got closer, and closer, and I couldn't move, and right before they closed in on me entirely, I saw my mother and my sister, laughing.

***

This is going to seem like a non-sequitur, but stay with me: when I was little, my mother would almost never let us eat fried chicken. It was a rare treat, for birthdays or special occasions only. As a child I was upset by this, but now I can hardly ever bring myself to eat fried chicken. I feel horribly guilty when I do, and it makes me feel sick. Don't you hate it when the stuff your parents did actually worked?

Anyway, today was our last Dungeons & Dragons session for the semester, so we played for a whopping seven hours straight. J.D. brought fried chicken to share, and I had two pieces, two tiny legs. I also had some potato chips, and some beer, though not nearly as much beer as everyone else. Not an ideal diet, obviously, but also not my everyday diet, and one that's relatively common for a celebration.

When I got home, I told myself I was going to catch up on work, but instead I fell into bed and read articles on the internet that made me angry--about the recent rape-apology episode of The Newsroom, about Rolling Stone's serious mishandling of the UVA rape story, which will probably set rape-survivor-advocacy back years, not to mention journalism exposing rape on college campuses. Then, shortly after midnight, I got up and gogo danced five songs.

Why did I gogo dance five songs, you ask? Well, because I didn't work out today, and my arm hurts, and the only way to stay healthy and not have heart attacks is to eat well and exercise, and I didn't exercise today, and I didn't eat well, and my arm hurts, so if I exercise now maybe the universe will forgive me and let me go on.

Isn't that absurd?

I'm not naive enough to think that's how the human body works, but I often find myself bargaining with the universe for my life that way. In fact, my anxiety is a large motivation for my working out at all. I don't particularly enjoy exercising; I only like gogo dancing because it makes me feel sexy, and I only like rock climbing because it gives me some puzzles to solve. But I don't like exercising for exercising's sake. If I could stay healthy by sitting around and reading all day and eating whatever I wanted, I most certainly would. I am concerned, though, that my anxiety regarding cardiovascular disorders is becoming too much of a factor in the decisions I make regarding a healthy lifestyle. Yeah, pizza isn't good for you, but I shouldn't freak out when I have a slice or two. If I miss a day of working out, I shouldn't become convinced that I have a blood clot. Not that this happens every time, but it happens a lot, and I know it isn't right. There's a difference between wanting to be healthy and being scared of dying, and I think my mental scales have tipped too much towards the latter.

***

The other day I received a personal phone call from the aforementioned asshole-misogynist crime procedural creator, who, despite being an asshole-misogynist, is kind to take the time out of his busy schedule to read our work. The story I submitted to him was about anxiety--a fictionalized version of something that really happened to me back in Chicago. We also had to submit a one-page bio to shed some light on our stories, and in mine I mentioned that I had trichotillomania.

He didn't like my story. He loved that I have trichotillomania.

He told me to write a different story, one that he proceeded to narrate in its entirety to me over the phone, somehow without grasping the concept that it's his story, since he narrated it, and that what he wants me to write is his story. His story about a 20-something female graduate student in Las Vegas, who has trichotillomania, and who is constantly dating without success because she can never truly open up to these men because she fears they will reject her once they know about her horrible, ugly, freakish condition.

It was a shocking reminder that mental health issues are so frequently misunderstood, and that some people have so little sympathy for those who suffer with them. Honestly, I haven't considered trichotillomania a detriment to my social life in years. In my experience, most people don't notice (I'm well-practiced in the arts of eyebrow pencil and eyeliner), or if they do, they say nothing. On the rare occasion someone does say something, I explain why, and then that person likes me anyway and life goes on as normal. I suppose it helps that I tend to make friends who also have anxiety/depression problems. It's not that we seek each other out; I think we're just naturally drawn together. Similar temperaments, all that. I'm glad it happens that way. I have no interest in hanging out with the obtuse, asshole-misogynist crime procedural creators of the world.

I have been bad about pulling lately, though, so I've been wearing gloves to bed again.

***

That's all I can write for now. That's all I should write for now. Sleep beckons, even with an aching shoulder and all the silly terror that goes along with it.

Monday, December 1, 2014

A Brief Recap

I've been putting off blogging because I've been so busy lately, and now look what I've done. It's December. I've been terrible about blogging this whole semester, actually, and I apologize for that. It's unusual for me, and it's not as though I've had nothing to tell you. Don't worry, though; I've set a weekly reminder on my to-do list app, so now I'll definitely get to it, lest it kill my virtual pet cat.

I'm not even going to try to recap everything, but here are a few highlights:

Jennifer Pashley came for a craft talk, which was wonderful. She discussed some of the business-related aspects of writing, which is unusual, and also helpful. She's funny, and her stories are sharp and weird. I would recommend them if you're looking for some holiday reading.

Lulu and I hosted Friendsgiving. Lulu loves to cook. Ohmygoodness was the food delicious. Thyme-and-lemon-seasoned turkey, garlic mashed potatoes, brussel sprout-sourdough stuffing, and a pecan pie. Denise brought a pumpkin pie, and Brittany brought an apple pie. That means we had three homemade pies. Yum. Joe brought a mysterious bag that we were not allowed to open until after dessert. The bag contained Twister. It's a good thing we're all really, really comfortable with each other. Maegan brought Cards Against Humanity. It's a good thing we're all really, really comfortable with each other.

I kicked ass at Dungeons & Dragons yesterday. 

I registered for classes next semester. I'm taking Dr. Campbell's Chaos Theory Literature class on Monday nights, but other than that, it's all independent study. I'm going to be working on my Critical Essay requirement with Dr. Campbell as well; the plan is to write about children's literature. You know what that means? I've finally found an excuse to read Harry Potter for school! (She laughed an evil laugh.) I'm also doing my first set of thesis hours with Maile. That means it's probably going to be my novel for the thesis, which is exciting and also scary. I've been writing more, though. Well over 40,000 words now. I'm hoping to go crazy over winter break and finish a rough draft by March at the very latest. But we'll see. 

At any rate, since I'll have only one physical class, I'll theoretically have more time to blog as well. I'll still have to teach, of course, but what can you do? 

Just over two weeks before I head home to Chicago for Christmas! I can't wait. But first: last imitation for Doug's class, Shakespeare final essay, Shakespeare final exam, grade 50 papers, grade 50 final exams, calculate & turn in final grades. Ugh. Wish me luck.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Faking Winter

Ever since my recent trip to Denver, I've been obsessed with snow. Not that I'm ungrateful for the consistently beautiful weather in Las Vegas; to the contrary, it makes motivating oneself to go outside and do things much easier. However, when one is trying to write a dark, creepy novel, constant sunshine can be something of a nuisance--especially when the portion of the dark, creepy novel one is currently writing takes place in the middle of winter in Chicago. Therefore, I have developed a few techniques to fake winter, which I will now elaborate for your edification.

1) Half-close the blinds. The sun doesn't seem nearly so shiny when filtered through off-white slats. 

2) Listen to a winter soundscape. If you think you can't experience the sounds of winter while living in the Western United States, think again. The internet is your friend, and provides all the resources you could ever need to place yourself--audibly, at least--back in the snowy Midwest. "Winter Walk" from myNoise is an excellent example. For the bleakest possible sensation, I recommend turning up Winds A & B, turning up Footsteps B, turning up the Crows, turning down the Birds, turning down the Stream, turning up the Thaw, and turning down Rains A & B.

3) Listen to ominous music. When you're not in the mood for nature noises, quiet and eerie music will do the trick. I suggest DM Stith, Marissa Nadler, and Timber Timbre, and others of their ilk. I will share my "This is Halloween" Spotify playlist with you upon request.

4) Stay warm. This may seem counterintuitive, but the wintry feeling will be more convincing if you behave as you would during the winter. Wear a sweatshirt. Huddle beneath the covers. Drink lots of hot tea.

5) Consume other cold-weather media. For instance, last night I fell asleep watching David Fincher's 2011 feature The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. Yes, that is a somewhat traumatic film to watch before bed, but it certainly helps to put you in wintry state of mind! For reading, try one of my all-time favorite novels, Donna Tartt's The Secret History. There's a long winter scene in the middle of that book where the narrator almost freezes to death.

Can you think of any other tips? Let's swap. 

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Denver!

I think I need to take vacations more often. The past several times I've come back to Vegas from somewhere else--from Los Angeles, for instance, or from Chicago after winter break last school year--I was more than excited to return. However, I was a little sad to leave Denver, where I spent a relaxing (and simultaneously productive!) five days. I was also a little sad to leave Leta, but then, I am always sad to leave Leta because it's not often you find someone with whom you share a smear of brain at the bottom of a bucket.

My adventures began Friday the 7th, when Leta met me at the airport. It was a balmy 60-something degrees, and after jumping around and hugging and squealing for a few minutes, we made the harrowing two-bus journey from the airport to her apartment with Nick and Jennifer in Aurora. Did we stay in the apartment, sit on the couch, catch up? No! There were things to do and places to go and people to see, of course. We took another two buses to beautiful downtown Denver, where we met a certain Shaun Leonard for late lunch and drinks at Wynkoop Brewery. On our walk to the restaurant, Leta and I had noticed a mysterious establishment called "Upstairs Circus." Intrigued, we headed there after our meal. To our surprise and delight, Upstairs Circus turned out to be a crafting bar. That is to say, you can order a drink AND you can order a craft project to do, complete with supplies, instructions, and time/difficulty estimates. We were there during happy hour, so we all took them up on their $15 free-paint special and got to work on our respective masterpieces. 

Craftin'

Leta with "Bonewish: Destroyer of Worlds"

Shaun with "Reflections on Spider-Man"

Me with lots of colors

Shaun's friend Katie met us after she was done with work, and we proceeded to wander the city streets. We stopped for crepes and hot chocolate (eating was a big theme on this trip), we saw Denver's beautiful performing arts complex. We went to The Celtic Tavern--Shaun had to take a picture with the Galway sign, naturally--and who joined us there but one of my favorite Brits, Sacha! For our last stop of the evening we went to Double Daughters, an Edward-Gorey-esque, pseudo-steampunk bar that served fancy cocktails with twisted names. I had "Gregory's Peck." In keeping with the spirit of the place (no pun intended), we invented cocktails for each other. Mine sounded pretty delicious. I'll have to make it sometime.

Nick came to pick us up, and guess what? It was raining. Like, a whole lot. I've been living in the desert too long. I forgot what weather was like. I was far more excited about getting soaked than I should have been.

The next day we took the bus down Colfax to one of my all-time favorite Denver destinations, The Tattered Cover. The Colfax location of this impressive independent bookstore is housed in a gutted-out theater; they left some of the seats in so you can relax and read. There we sat and wrote for hours, as pretentious hipster types like us are wont to do.

Pretentious hipster types

We also drank lots of spicy bhakti chai. (Why can I never find spicy bhakti chai outside of Colorado?! It's a travesty.) After we got home, we spent the evening cuddling and eating popcorn and watching Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog. ("The thoroughbred of sin?")

On Sunday Leta and Nick had all their friends over for a Board Game Brunch. I still maintain that it was actually Board Game Breakfast, as we started at 9:30 a.m. But I digress. I finally got to meet Hillary and Hondo, Mike and Vanessa, Brad, and Eric. Shaun and Katie were able to join us as well, along with Sacha and Dan. There was food. So much food. Way too much food. I'm going to pretend that none of it had calories. I have to pretend, or else suffer shame for the rest of my days. (Damn you, chocolate donuts!) There were board games. So many board games. Flux, Geek Out (is Ender's Game a bloodsport?), Carcassonne, Bananagrams, Battlestar Galactica, Telestrations, Cards Against Humanity.

We played board games from 9:30 in the morning to 7:00 at night. This is what dedication looks like, people.

Monday morning Nick had to drive to his job in Boulder, so Leta and I traveled with him. I'd been to Boulder once before, but only briefly and a long time ago. It's a charming little town, filled with little shops with local artists' goods and little cafes and little bookstores. Hippies, too, but the wealthy kind.

And it was snowing!

I'm talking fairytale snow, here. It was coming down heavily, but not so heavily that you couldn't comfortably see and walk around. I hardly ever wanted to go inside, as I was afraid it would stop, but it stayed that way all day.

Snowflakes in my hair

Besties in the snow

After strolling around the Pearl Street Mall for a while, popping into stores and grabbing lunch, we wandered along Boulder Creek and then uphill to see University of Colorado Boulder. The campus is beautiful, filled with old, European-style buildings, and in the snow it looked all the more wondrous (read: "like Hogwarts"). The walk there was long, so we snuck into one of the buildings and listened to their orchestra practice from the back row.

We found Boulder Creek!

Old Main on the CU Boulder campus

Band practice

We sat there for a while and warmed up, then we walked back to town. We seated ourselves in another small cafe with some oolong tea (me) and some ginger beer (Leta), and we wrote wrote wrote. I wrote 30 pages during my trip! Admittedly they're tiny notebook pages--I prefer tiny notebooks so I can carry them in my purse--but it's an achievement nonetheless.

Honing my craft

Kicking NaNoWriMo's ass

After dinner we picked Nick up and drove back to Denver. More popcorn. More movies. More cuddles.

On Tuesday, my final day in town, we stayed inside. The temperature had dropped to 14 degrees, so we made a pot of minestrone soup--or, rather, Leta and Nick made a pot of minestrone soup because I'm a terrible adult. They drove me back to the airport, but my adventures did not end there. For who was flying back to visit London that day but the lovely Sacha! And from the same terminal, no less. We grabbed drinks and discussed literature and the state of education today, like the international jet-setters we are. 

Airport lighting is flattering for no one

All in all it was a fantastic vacation, and I miss Leta already. I keep thinking of places I might like to move after I graduate from the program, and I must confess that Denver is high up on the list. Although the last time I visited Chicago I had a group of people surrounding me and chanting "MOVE BACK! MOVE BACK!," so I suppose I have to take that into consideration.

Things are already hectic again back here in Vegas, but it isn't all bad. I met with Don today to show him some of my poems and to discuss summer study abroad options, and thanks to his suggestions I have a few fun ideas in the works. Let the planning commence...

Thursday, November 6, 2014

coloRADo

Readers, it is a happy day, for tomorrow I am flying to Denver to visit the one and only Leta Keane. 

*squee!*

Hilariously, my favorite Irish poet Shaun Leonard planned a trip to Denver at exactly the same time. You know what they say about great minds. I am certain that fun will ensue.

Aside from the fact that my back and neck muscles have decided to rebel against me, I've had a rather lovely week. My students are taking CAAP exams, so I don't have to teach them. Instead I've been writing. Crazy, I know. 

I think my Halloween costume creeped people out more than I had anticipated. I thought it was cute bordering on uncanny, but perhaps I was wrong. You can judge for yourself.


Marianne was my puppeteer. 

And now I must continue packing. I will fill you in on all the details of Denver after they have occurred. 

Thursday, October 30, 2014

In case you forgot...

...I write fiction. It's a thing I do.

This semester has been so busy that I'd almost forgotten, to be perfectly honest, but a few recent incidents have reminded me.

For one thing, I was up again in workshop on Tuesday. For the first time, I submitted a portion of my novel. I had hesitated to do so before because I didn't know whether it would be appropriate; there is often such an emphasis on "literary fiction"--no genre pieces (sci-fi, fantasy, horror)--in MFA programs, or at least in the idea people usually have of MFA programs. I didn't know if anyone would want to workshop my novel, since it is written for children. I don't know why I thought this, exactly--I don't think any of my friends here are snobs. Sometimes the workshop atmosphere can mess with your head a bit, though. It take a great deal of courage to submit something you've worked hard on to a group of people that you respect, knowing that their criticisms will probably be spot-on, and that there will, possibly, be many criticisms. I just didn't want to take the risk of submitting my novel. But I talked about it with Maile beforehand, and she seemed to think it was a good idea.

Fortunately, people seemed to like it. More than I thought they would, actually. In fact, it may have been the least criticism-filled workshop I have ever attended in terms of my own work. What was interesting was that they were grasping at the threads weaved into the chapter, guessing what might happen later. That was very helpful; not only did it give me ideas of what actions certain characters might take in the future, but it also made me aware of what signposts weren't strong enough. It was a relief to hear that the tone was largely on point, as I was worried about that, and that one of my characters is apparently far more fleshed out and believable than I thought she was. I haven't read through my classmates' written comments yet, but I'm looking forward to it. I am so grateful to have such intelligent, thoughtful readers looking at my work.

Will my novel be my thesis? (Oh that dreaded, looming thesis! How you haunt my days and nights.) We shall see. I wrote a little more of it last night. It was funny--I started writing at about 10:30 p.m., thinking I'd just scribble down a short scene and be done with it. I wrote for what I thought was roughly a half hour. I looked at the clock. It was 1 a.m. Who needs sleep, anyway?

I was also reminded of my writerly status by yet another--very kind--rejection email. This one was from The Masters Review, for their Halloween scary story contest. The editor informed me that they had seriously considered it, and gave me some feedback, which is a rare and wonderful thing. One of these days it's going to be an acceptance letter, you guys. One of these days.

The other day Shaun (whose poem "Vinegar" was recently published in the Misty Mountain Review) sent me information about a scholarship offered to graduate students who wish to attend the Society of Children's Book Writers & Illustrators Conference in New York. I think I'm going to apply. If I win, it would cover tuition for the conference and for a special plot intensive session. It would definitely be helpful to get some industry feedback regarding my novel. There are some things I need to know that I don't currently know. For instance, is my novel middle grade or young adult? I honestly can't tell sometimes. They need an even smaller category in the middle of those two. I've looked up Harry Potter to see in which category people place that series, as I feel like the tone of my novel is similar, but I can't seem to find a solid answer. So I imagine discussing my work with industry professionals might be quite useful.

Alright. I suppose I'd better stop writing this blog and start writing fiction. I spent too much time this afternoon perfecting my Halloween costume--a new idea that I just had today. Luckily the thrift store gods were on my side, and I found everything I needed. Can't wait to debut it at tomorrow's Neon Lit...

Monday, October 27, 2014

Life is Beautiful

First: I am the worst at blogging. I apologize for the prolonged absence. The past two weeks have been extraordinarily stressful, and I don't really want to talk about them. Fortunately, they are over now, and the only lasting damage is a mild cold. What's more, I had a lovely weekend to make up for them, and I'm happy to talk about that.

In case you didn't know, I am magical. Through my magic powers*, I was able to attend the Life is Beautiful festival for free this weekend--as a VIP, no less. What is Life is Beautiful? It is the Lollapalooza of Las Vegas, featuring three days of top-notch musical acts, food from many of Vegas' world-class chefs, and oodles of public art, all sprawling through the vintage neon cityscape of downtown. My VIP status gave me access to oversized Jenga, free drinks, and much nicer bathrooms.

And now: mini-reviews!

Girl Talk: I like listening to Girl Talk, mostly because I believe he has good taste in the music that he samples. As is the trouble with seeing any DJ live, however, I had to wonder whether he just pressed play on his computer and then jumped around. High energy though. Plus, I finally broke my consistent missing-Girl-Talk's-set-at-festivals streak.

Jenny Lewis: I didn't know she was a Vegas local, but apparently it is so. Talented lady, solid set. Best part was the blues-y medley in the middle.

Neon Trees: I hate their music, but their frontman's stage banter is hilarious. If they haven't covered Queen or Billy Idol before, they need to, ASAP.

The Head and The Heart: Say what you will about hipster-folk, but I thought their set was wonderful. They were clearly having a great time; the crowd was clearly having a great time. "Rivers and Roads" was so pretty I almost wanted to cry.

Kanye West: I got to see a real live Kanye rant! It was only 15 minutes or so, though. I feel the same way about Kanye that I've always felt about Kanye--I think he's consistently creative, and cares about what he's doing, but I still don't like many of his songs. I was psyched about "Gold Digger," though. Brought me back to senior prom. Wish I could have heard more songs from Yeezus, but I missed the beginning of the set.

The Roots: I imagine The Roots must be the safest festival-booking bet ever. You know they're going to draw a crowd, you know they're going to put on a good show. Danceable, for sure. Extremely talented, all. They covered Guns N' Roses, which was unexpected.

Lionel Richie: I only stayed for a few minutes, because I don't really care. I suppose they probably booked him to get middle-aged tourists on vacation to come to the festival for a day. From what I hear it was great. People were enthusiastic about the prospect of a conga line.

Kimbra: Didn't stay long here, either. I hadn't really heard her stuff before, and I'm thinking it would sound better recorded than it did live. I'll have to try it sometime.

Alt-J: For some reason I was under the impression that I didn't like Alt-J. My impression was entirely incorrect. I loved their whole set, and now I'm probably going to listen to them nonstop for weeks. They sound like the soundtrack for a gritty Robin Hood reboot.

Matt & Kim: I was too short to really see anything, but they sure sounded like they were having fun.

The Flaming Lips: It was a tough call to go see Flaming Lips over Outkast, but I knew they'd put on a colorful, glittery, confetti-filled show, and I was not disappointed. The crowd was weirdly small, so I was right up front. Plus, they played "The W.A.N.D.," which is one of my favorites.

Tune-Yards: I don't really like her/their new album, but man was I excited to hear "Gangsta" live.

Broken Bells: I was very sad to miss Trampled by Turtles, but I'd never seen Broken Bells before. A great set, complete with giant bouncy balls. I still like The Shins better, though.

St. Paul & the Broken Bones: I was pretty excited to see these guys, as I'm a sucker for a good soul band. The music was awesome, but the lead singer left me wondering where the line is between acknowledgement of someone like James Brown as an influence and full-on blackface parody, minus the actual makeup. The mostly-white crowd didn't help; I wish I could have made a giant sign that said "check your privilege." Anyway, they were fun, but they were no J.C. Brooks & The Uptown Sound. Obviously.

And that was that! A fantastic weekend. Unfortunately real life resumed today, so now I have to go grade papers. So many. I suppose I can't complain.

*By "magic powers" I of course mean "awesome friends." Thank you, awesome friend. 

Monday, October 13, 2014

WHOA

I haven't blogged in forever. Sorry about that.

I would say I've been busy, but I'm sure you already know that. Busyness is my natural state of being.

What have I done? So many things! Joe and I went to see Lorde again. We wanted a Lorde do-over, since her show at the Cosmopolitan last spring was amazing, but the crowd was terrible. This time it was at the Hard Rock, and it was much better. We were fairly close to the front (good gracious pre-teen music fans need to calm down), and the staging was far more elaborate this time, which I enjoyed. I wish I were as cool as Lorde. I will never be as cool as Lorde.

I have been making some rock climbing progress! A bit. I've climbed a few 5.9- routes, and I've fallen off a few 5.9s, which is better than nothing. I need to make my core muscles stronger if I'm going to progress. I know this, and yet it is extremely difficult for me to make myself exercise when I'm aware that I'm doing exercise. Does anyone know how to trick oneself into a strong core workout? Zumba/dance isn't cutting it.

I organized another trip to the Pioneer Saloon (everyone's favorite 100-year-old-middle-of-the-desert-cowboy/biker-bar) for karaoke. It was a grand success. Many of the first year MFAs joined us, which was delightful. Still trying to get to know them better. I sang some of my standards, but I pulled out "Total Eclipse of the Heart" as well, which I forgot I could sing. Hadn't done that one since Chicago.

The other day Lulu, Joe, Shaun, Shaun's friend Katie, and I all went to the Las Vegas Renaissance Faire. Yes, Las Vegas does have a Renaissance Faire--but it's only for one weekend a year. I don't understand why The Excalibur is not a year-round Renaissance Faire casino, but what can you do? Lulu used to do Madrigals in high school, so she had two period dresses that we wore. I've always wanted to do that. We saw a joust. We paid a dollar to have Shaun flogged. A good time was had by all.

We've had some terribly exciting D&D games lately. Too much has happened to summarize here, but there's been a great balance of battles and role-playing. Often it's too much of one or the other. Austin and Shaun's characters had a big fight. We battled a level-9 Charnel Cinderhouse and won, which was impressive considering that our party consists of one level-7 character, two level-6 characters, and two level-5 characters. We should have died. Actually, Austin's character did die, but we convinced a priest of Bahamut to bring him back to life, so it all worked out. Sort of.

I've been doing lots of school work and teaching and part-time work, too, if you can believe it. Students just turned in their second writing project, so that means I'm stuck grading this weekend. Ugh. But the Vegas Valley Book Festival is also this weekend, which should be fun. Aimee Bender is coming.

One thing I most certainly haven't been doing enough of? Writing. Going to attempt to remedy that this week. I must, not only because it's what I want to be doing, but also because I have to submit to workshop again at the end of October and right now I can't think of a single piece that's submission-worthy. Sometimes it's easy to lose sight of the reason I moved here in the first place.

Just so you know, I am feeling a little better than I was the last time I wrote. My friends have had my back--Vegas friends and Chicago friends alike--and that has made all the difference. Not that all my problems are solved, but I feel somewhat more hopeful. I truly do not know how I would survive without all of you.

Alright, enough with the sappy stuff. I have to read a 300-page novel by Wednesday! I have read...16 pages. This isn't looking good. Wish me luck.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Useful

You've probably noticed that my past few blog posts have not been the most cheerful. I've been far more prone to mood swings since moving to Vegas, presumably because I have a smaller, not-quite-so-well-established support system out here compared to the one I had in Chicago. However, this slump has been going on a little longer than I'd like, so, naturally, I've been trying to figure out exactly why I'm unhappy. There are many reasons that don't need to be discussed here in detail, but I think I've hit upon an overarching theme.

I've realized that my happiness is contingent upon my perceived usefulness to others. I haven't felt particularly useful lately, not even to myself. Perhaps usefulness is not a good way to determine one's happiness, but I'm not sure how else one is supposed to give meaning to life. I don't see how caring less about people would be better. Not that I'm the world champion of caring or anything. I can think of plenty of times when I've failed at caring, when I could have been a better, more helpful friend. But I generally try, at least. 

Recently I've felt like no one needs my help, even in the mildest way, which I suppose is a good thing, except that I feel like I have little to offer. The bigger problem may be that I'm not certain how to be useful to myself. There are currently many things in my life that I'd like to change, and I feel that if I could successfully change one of them, my spirits would be high enough to make the other issues feel less insurmountable. Usually I'm good at taking care of myself, fixing my own problems, but right now I'm (mostly) at a loss. Therefore, I feel sad.

I suspect the best thing to do is just go through the motions until one day I wake up and don't feel this way anymore. That's typically how it works. Unanticipated events transpire and then everything is hunky-dory once again. The trouble is, I feel like my underlying unhappiness is starting to make me impatient and snippy with others, even though they have nothing to do with my problems, all of which are either my own fault or nobody's fault. Unintentional, passive aggressive rudeness simply won't do. I will now compile a list of things that make me happy, in an attempt to lift my spirits:
  • Thursday the poet Bridget Lowe visited school; she gave a craft talk and a reading, and her poems are right up my alley. Weird. Beautiful. There should be a word that combines those two words. I'd recommend her book At the Autopsy of Vaslav Nijinsky.
  • Leta recently shared the band Lucius with me, and they are neat. Here is their heavily 1960's-influenced music video for "Turn it Around.
  • The weather cooled off considerably today, so I was able to work on my balcony. Plus, I can open the window in my bedroom. Fresh air is far superior to air conditioning.
  • I haven't been thrilled about my weight lately, so I've been exercising, trying to eat better. Despite all this, my ass still looks pretty good, for which I am grateful.
  • We're karaokeing at Pioneer Saloon next Friday.
  • Lulu made enchiladas and they are yummy.
  • David Bowie.
Ah, yes, always Bowie. And on that note, I must grade papers and, ideally, read several hundred pages of a novel. Bon soir, dear readers.

P.S. Sometimes I worry that I'm too honest on my blog, but if I can't be honest about my feelings on this thing that I write for myself, with whom can I be honest? It seems wrong to lie to my blog. That said, I don't mean to alarm anyone. Things will work out. Always do.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Thursday.

I guess Thursday is the day I blog now.

Right.

I've been stressed lately. I've been busy, and I've been accomplishing things, but my time has been so structured that even when I schedule time in for myself to relax, it feels just that--scheduled. Like it's a chore. I could do with a little spontaneity.

I've started Zumba again, and that's why the top of my thighs hurt so badly. I have not done squats in quite some time. Today Lulu and I are trying "Zumba Toning," which is apparently Zumba with weights. My arms are not looking forward to it. Yesterday at rock climbing I fell off a 5.9 and bashed my shin into the corner of a large hold. It hurt. A lot. But it's not bruising and I'm disappointed. I wanted a battle scar. The story's not nearly so dramatic if I have no evidence.

I seem to be in a bad mood today. Not angry so much as dissatisfied and a bit cranky. This may be due to the fact that it's the first day of Shark Week (thank you Leta for the world's most finely crafted euphemism). This may be due to the fact that I haven't been sleeping well. This may be due to the fact that I just received two fiction rejections in a row.

However, in a gratifying and somewhat hilarious twist of fate, I was recently named a finalist in Gigantic Sequins' poetry contest. I was submitting to their flash fiction contest, but I had all these poems from workshop, so I figured I may as well submit to their poetry contest, too. Guess it paid off. They're not going to publish the poem, but still. It's something.

One day someone's going to publish a piece of fiction that I write. At least once. Promise.

I've been thinking of joining Tinder and going on some dates, in an attempt at spontaneity. I'm sick of receiving misspelled misogynist messages on OkCupid. (Actually, I haven't been on OKC in months, but if I were to sign in and check my inbox I guarantee that 98% of them would be misspelled misogynist messages.) The benefit of Tinder is that nobody can talk to each other unless they mutually agree to talk to each other. Plus, it seems like more people are on Tinder now than OkCupid, anyway.

What's been holding me back? Dating is the worst activity of all time ever. The only real motivation to do it is to find someone who sticks so that you can stop doing it. I try to be optimistic in all things, but if Tinder is anything like OkCupid, I imagine it will happen like this: I will go on lackluster date after lackluster date after lackluster date, and maybe once in a while I'll go on multiple dates with one person for about two weeks and he'll say he really likes me but then he'll get bored after two weeks and break it off or I will get bored after two weeks and break it off because after several investigatory dates I can think of no adjective to describe this person besides "nice."

Sorry if I sound bitter. It's hard not to be. It didn't used to matter when this always happened because I was young, and I figured eventually it wouldn't happen. Twenty-six isn't old, but it isn't exactly young, either, and now the fact I can't seem to figure out a relationship is starting to get weird, isn't it? Weird, and tiring, and weird, and I'm becoming paranoid, and I'm like ohmigod I must have some horrible flaw that nobody's ever told me and that's why nobody likes me ohmigod I'm a monster!!!

I don't really think I'm a monster. I think that I'm not sexually attracted to the vast majority of the population. Furthermore, I think that a lot of men aren't 100% on board with feminism, and that a lot of men--actually, a lot of people--consider fiction to be frivolous, and these are two opinions that I cannot abide.

Okay. Rant complete. I have to get ready for Zumba. I'm sorry that this is so negative. I promise to be cheerier next time. Tomorrow is another day. So is next Thursday.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Craft & Kittens

This past Tuesday I was up in workshop for the first time this semester. I submitted the five flash pieces I wrote over the summer that I didn't absolutely hate, and one of the universal comments was, "these could be longer."

Sometimes I think such feedback derives from the fact that flash fiction is still not as common as longer short stories, nor is it given the same cachet as longer short stories. However, in this instance I think everyone was correct; even when I was editing some of the pieces, I noticed that they seemed crammed into the short format, forcing me to leave out details that could make the stories more poignant.

One reason I'm so scared to write longer short stories is I have trouble with structure. Another reason is that I'm bad at endings. Often I think of interesting premises for stories, but I have no idea where to take them. That said, I wasn't at all satisfied with most of the flash fiction I wrote this summer, either. I've been feeling anxious about my writing lately, insecure, wondering if I've somehow lost the ability to do it well. I have to keep reminding myself that they let me into this program because they saw something good in my writing, but it's difficult to remind myself of that when I can't see what that good thing is. I frequently do well with descriptions, I think, but descriptions do not a story make.

Then, of course, there's the thesis. Looming. Always. I have to write a thesis. I have no idea what I should do. One thought I had after workshop, though, was that perhaps it would be a helpful challenge for me to go big. Expand one of those flash pieces not just into a short story, but into a novel. Wouldn't that be absurd? If I came in writing flash fiction and left with a novel? It may be an interesting experiment as well, to see if it's even possible to expand such a short piece into a novel. Obviously, I'd have to build upon as well as expand. Of course, if I'm going to write a novel for my thesis, I ought to start...right now. Perhaps yesterday.

The thesis wouldn't have to be a final, publishable draft, but it couldn't be a rough draft, either. It would take a lot of work, and I'd have to become one of those terribly intimidating organized people I so admire from afar. My snarky Carrot to-do list app has been helping me stay on task to a certain extent (for once in my life I'm not behind on my reading!), but scheduling time to write a novel would be a whole different animal.

Maybe a novella. A novella would be more manageable...

Maybe this is a terrible idea.

You know what wasn't a terrible idea? Rescuing three adorable kittens!


Lulu found one when she was taking puppy for a walk, and then we found two more. So we gathered them up, put them in the dog crate, and took them to the Nevada SPCA--the only no-kill shelter we could find in the area. The craziest part about it was that one of the stories I workshopped that day was about three kittens. Coincidence? Yeah, probably.

I think we may have pissed off our scary downstairs neighbors, though. They're the ones who feed all the stray cats in the area. It's awful. The cats leap out at me at night, I've almost hit them with my car multiple times because they like to hide beneath it, and what's worse, they sleep and urinate on my soft-top convertible roof. So disgusting. I've considered asking these neighbors to either clean my car on a regular basis or pay for me to do so, since it's their fault--the cats don't know any better--but they seem like the type who might slash my tires if I cross them. 

When we picked up the kittens, they weren't in anyone's yard, and there was no mother cat around. We figured it would be far better to give them the chance for adoption, so that they could stay in nice homes, have access to veterinary care, and so on. But later that night the woman warned me that one of the strays had given birth to a litter and that I should keep an eye out for them, that I shouldn't confuse them with rats at night, all that. I didn't say anything. I didn't want to provoke her ire. But once she figures out that some of the kittens are gone, I bet she'll blame us. I don't think we've done anything wrong; she and her husband don't actually own any of these cats, but they act like they do. I don't think it's fair of them to raise a herd of wild, potentially diseased stray cats that roam around on a property that's not entirely theirs. If they want to rescue cats, that's fine, but they should go all the way. Take the cats into their home, take them to the vet, get them shots and get them fixed. 

I'd say all this to them, but I've never been one for conflict. I tend towards the doormat side of the spectrum.

Anyway, at least the kittens are alright. 

Tonight there's a BMI event on global conflict and human rights. You know what that means: free dinner! I mean, also Nobel prizewinners and intriguing intellectual discussion. But free dinner! 

Thursday, September 4, 2014

All the Things

Many apologies for my lack of posts--I have been busy with all the things! I won't regale you with each and every tale, but here are a few highlights.

Last Saturday evening I went to see The Avett Brothers with Austin and Olivia, which was lovely. They're phenomenal live performers, and they kept singing these simple, sweet love songs; I must admit I teared up just a bit. WHO EVEN AM I?

I would highly recommend their opener, Nicole Atkins, who has a killer voice. Actually, I would recommend you listen to her albums from the middle to the end; the openings don't do much for me. If you're looking for one specific song to get you hooked, I would suggest "Gasoline Bride."

On Tuesday we had our first workshop, though the beginning was a bit strange--we had a phone call from the creator and head writer for an extremely popular television crime series. (I won't mention his name or show here, as he seems the type who might Google his own name, and I wouldn't want to appear ungrateful.) Apparently Maile interviewed him for a magazine last week, and he offered to talk about his work with us. While it was very kind of him to make time for us, his behavior indicated that he was an asshole to the highest degree. Name dropping right and left, a Scrooge-like obsession with making money--not that he was uninterested in his writing, because he certainly was, and he sounds like a hard-working writer at that. But he has no doubts in his mind that his writing is the best writing of all the writing, ever, and that his show completely revolutionized the television crime drama, although I think it would be easy to argue against that opinion.

And the misogyny! The constant bashing of his ex-wife. The story of how the young female character he's creating for a new project was originally supposed to be "a total bitch," and how he manipulated his current wife into joining him on a trip he had planned for her by convincing her that her dead mother wanted her to come, despite her reservations, because that's the "story" he "wrote" for her. I was none too pleased with this, as you can tell.

That said, it was undoubtedly kind of him to offer us his expertise, though I'm afraid he may have taken too much of an interest; his call was so long that we didn't have as much time as we should have to workshop Scott's story, and he mentioned wanting to call again, and possibly a writing assignment for us? I do hope Maile doesn't allow her workshop to become his screenwriting class, but I have faith in her.

Last night was Doug's Forms of Fiction class. Right now we're reading Chinese novels, and I made the potential mistake of mentioning that I had studied there for five months. Now it seems he has decided that I'm the Chinese culture expert, and I am really not. When he mentioned the Chinese New Year festival, he asked me to talk about it. I did my best, but ultimately--I was at a bar owned by two British backpackers during the Chinese New Year festival? It was the first time I tried absinthe? I mean, it was amazing. They have no fireworks laws there, so people were just tossing them around the streets, throwing them at people. I don't know too much regarding the history of it. What can I say? I'm a stupid American. Here's a link to the blog entry that discusses my impressions of it at the time. (My goodness my writing has improved! As has my ability to check my own privilege! That blog entry is kind of embarrassing!)

Doug does butcher the pronunciation of every single Chinese name, though. I could help him there.

Tomorrow there's a party, and it turns out Lulu and I may be hosting a portion of that party, so I should really go. Lots of work to do. I will attempt to write more frequently! Promise.

Friday, August 29, 2014

TV Break

So I'm trying this thing where I don't watch any TV or movies for the semester. Obviously, I read for my classes, but I read for pleasure far less often than I used to, and I'd like to fix that. If I need a break from coursework, great! I'll read one of the oh-so-many books I have not yet read sitting expectantly on my bookshelf. It seems like the perfect time to conduct such a grand experiment; neither Game of Thrones nor Mad Men is currently on TV. The only show I'm in the middle of is the current season of Project Runway, so I figure that can be my one exception. Once per week I am allowed to watch one episode of Project Runway. I think that's reasonable. Trips to the movies are also allowed, considering that they're relatively rare.

Thus far it seems to be working, but that's not saying much, since I only decided to do this on Wednesday night. Still, I see the early signs of effectiveness; last night I went climbing with Austin, ate dinner, and read the entirety of As You Like It for my Shakespeare class. The whole damn thing. At any rate, I have practice giving things up, thanks to my Catholic upbringing. Not that I've participated in any Lenten activities in years. But no matter how far your beliefs stray from Catholicism--and I suspect that most Catholics-turned-atheist or Catholics-turned-whatever-else can testify to this--you can't ever fully shake the culture. I will feel guilty about everything, unnecessarily, for the rest of my life, and I will always remember what it was like to give stuff up for Lent. TV will seem so great when I can watch it again! Or, on the other hand, maybe I'll no longer care to watch. I guess we'll see.

Speaking of my Shakespeare class, I was getting a bit nervous about it the other day. It's not, in fact, a 9-page paper. It's a 15-page paper--but that's not the problem. It's a midterm, a final, an in-class presentation, and a 15-page paper. You know--exactly what I used to do multiple times a semester every single semester of my undergraduate college career. Why am I nervous? I am truly afraid that I've forgotten how to take a normal class. At this point it's been over four years since I graduated from Loyola with my Bachelor's (grossgrossgross I'm old), and working at ABIS was nothing like working in academia. I feel far stupider now than I did then. I'm not kidding. I frequently feel as though my brain has turned to mush. Writing a relatively short critical essay for Maile's class last year, and then a significantly longer and more difficult one for Dr. Becker's class, was so much harder than I had anticipated.

When I was an undergraduate, I cranked essays out like it was my job. Because it sort of was, I guess. I had no problems with it at all. Sometimes I was dissatisfied with my essays--I wanted to feel like I had written something truly original, and I knew that most of them weren't--but I wrote them well, I wrote them quickly, and I never received a grade lower than a B (as I recall). However, I definitely struggled while writing my two critical essays last year. The ideas wouldn't come, or coalesce, or organize themselves. Not easily, anyway. I think part of the issue is that I was intentionally trying to write on more sophisticated and nuanced topics than I did as an undergrad--I was trying to up the ante, as it were. But that's what you're supposed to do in grad school, n'est-ce pas?

And then let's talk about in-class, off-the-cuff essays. How do you even do that again? I guess I did it when I took the GRE, technically. That was...2012. Ugh. I don't want to think about it.

The point is: I'm worried and I feel ridiculous for worrying. Any advice a) on how to write critical essays easily or b) on how to stop feeling stupid would be greatly appreciated.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Back to Work

I've been so busy getting re-settled in Las Vegas that I haven't had time to blog. But, as the return to the original blog header suggests, I am indeed back in my desert home.

There have been many joyful reunions--and what's more, the lovely Mickey came to visit this past weekend! Friday evening we saw Against Me! at the Brooklyn Bowl, and it made me sad to realize I'll never be as cool as Laura Jane Grace, but I feel that way about many people, so I'm sure I'll survive. It was a great show. Let's see, what else did we do? Went out downtown for Lulu's birthday, went "hiking" at Red Rock, saw the Doctor Who season premiere in theaters (easily the best thing Moffat has written in years). Today an airplane whisked her away to Chicago, and I was left to buckle down on my work for this semester.

I'm anticipating a busy semester. Yesterday I taught my two classes--both 102, thank goodness. I can re-use all my course materials from last semester. My teaching schedule is actually quite pleasant; Mondays and Wednesdays I teach from 11:30 a.m.-12:45 p.m. and from 2:30 p.m.-3:45 p.m., so I have a break in between for lunch and work. Plus, I don't have to wake up early. Ideal for me, since I tend to find sunlight horrific before 9 a.m. at the very earliest.

This evening I had my first fiction workshop of the term with Maile. Obviously, nobody workshopped a story today, but we chose when we would be workshopping throughout the semester, and so on. There are several poets doing their cross-genre work in this class, so I'm looking forward to that. If you workshop only with other fiction writers, you don't learn as much as you do if you also workshop with writers from other genres. A poet or a playwright might say something very different about a fiction piece than another fiction writer would, and I value the variety in feedback. That's why I liked Drivel & Wit so much back in Chicago. I really must start an informal workshop like that here. I keep meaning to. I'm fantastic at meaning to do things.

Tomorrow after teaching I have Fiction Forms with Doug Unger. We're reading a novel a week! I'll manage somehow. I always do. I'm excited to work with Doug. He's the only fiction professor I haven't yet had a class with, and many of the fiction writers who came before me act like he's some sort of god. I hope I'm not disappointed.

Thursday I have Shakespeare class. After the chaos that was last semester, I wanted to have a slightly less daunting schedule. I've read much of Shakespeare's work before, and the class requires only one 9-page paper, so I can hopefully focus more on my writing.

Speaking of writing, I should do that now. Not that blogging isn't writing, but you know what I mean. The fictional kind.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Au Revoir, Los Angeles

Well what do you know? It's already Sunday night, my bags are packed, and I'm driving back to Vegas bright and early tomorrow morning.

I spent most of today getting everything together, but the past few days I've been taking full advantage of what Los Angeles has to offer. Thursday evening Kenzie did indeed take me to Good Times at Davey Wayne's, and all I can say is that their commitment to 1970's theme is more than commendable. You enter through what appears to be a fridge in someone's garage, and then you find yourself in a bar disguised as a house party in someone's a living room--a living room that looks roughly like this, except bigger. Step out onto the back patio and you'll find a trailer where they sell spiked sno-cones. The DJ plays only 70's hits, and at 11 p.m. you're treated to a special performance: a choreographed roller skating routine. What's more, it was one of the most reasonably priced bars I've encountered in L.A., so that was a treat in and of itself.

On Friday night Katie and I saw Star Wars burlesque, thereby fulfilling our goal of seeing one nerdy burlesque show per month. In terms of the show itself, this one was my favorite. They kicked things off with a fully costumed cantina band who played not only their biggest hit, but also cantina band versions of The Clash, The Ramones, KISS, and more. Many delightful burlesque performances followed. My favorites included Boba Fett, who was undressed by the arms of frozen-in-carbonite Han Solo; Jabba the Hutt and Princess Leia dancing to Britney Spears' "I'm a Slave 4 U," which featured strategically-placed balloon popping on Jabba's part and murder by erotic asphyxiation at Leia's hands; and the Red Guard, who accomplished the epitome of a classic striptease. While wearing a helmet.

The following two paragraphs are dedicated to Katie, who demanded a verbal slaughtering on my blog.

The show was wonderful, but the crowd, unfortunately, was not. Perhaps the appeal of Star Wars casts a wider net than usual, but whatever the case, there were several disrespectful men in attendance who made me extremely uncomfortable. Don't get me wrong; it would be bizarre to attend a burlesque performance if you weren't excited to see beautiful women take off their clothes. It's a fun thing to watch, and cheering, hooting, and hollering is 100% appropriate behavior. What's not appropriate behavior: standing at the front of the stage with your iPhone out and filming close-ups of the dancers' breasts/asses literally the entire performance. This guy wasn't watching the show with his eyes at any point. Not only is this hugely creepy for (I should hope) obvious reasons, but also, if this man so desperately wants to watch video of breasts and asses, might I suggest...the internet?

There were others (like the guy with the unironic popped collar that smacked of a frat party in 2003 who tried to flirt with every woman in a 4-foot radius by putting down the cantina band and/or trying to assert how much more he knew about Star Wars than everyone else), but iPhone dude was the most egregious. Suffice it to say, it was easily the worst audience I have ever encountered at a burlesque show. Despite our thorough enjoyment of the performances, Katie and I were happy to get out of there.

I hope that was adequate, Katie. <3

And then there was Saturday. What better way to spend my last weekend in Los Angeles than with A SLUMBER PARTY!!!!! Crushee and Girls Night In LA hosted a giant women-only sleepover at Mack Sennet Studios. And I'm not kidding when I say giant; there were more than 250 women in attendance. It was a tad overwhelming. From 9 p.m. to 9 a.m., we had access to: a buffet, cupcakes, a photo booth, a burlesque performance, hairstyling, manicures, eyelash extensions, tarot readings, a bouncy castle (!!!), custom cocktails named things like "unsolicited dick pic" (I cannot say that men were spoken of highly at this event), a DJ, and two 4.5 square-foot pizzas at 1 a.m. On top of this, we were all given free t-shirts and free underwear. And air mattresses were provided for sleeping. Want to know how much admission cost? $10. Katie and I did manage to get some sleep in the designated sleeping room, though you could hear the party raging on all night, music thumping through the walls. I got my hair chalked blue, which was pretty. (It washed right out today.) My favorite part might have been the bouncy castle, only because I haven't been in one since I was very small. If you're thinking, "isn't putting several tipsy grown women in a bouncy castle a recipe for trouble?", you would be absolutely correct. I, however, was not inside when it tipped over, so that worked out well for me.

It was an amazing evening, but it left me utterly exhausted.* Which, I suppose, is a good thing, as I need to sleep well tonight before I drive through the desert tomorrow. As much as I have enjoyed my time in L.A., I can't wait to return to Vegas. I miss everybody. I miss my bed. I miss the 1960's kitschy aesthetic.

Good night, Los Angeles. See you tomorrow, Las Vegas.

*This exhaustion accounts for the probable overabundance of adverbs/repeated words in this post. Sorry.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Last-Minute Los Angeles Scramble

I am not entirely certain where all the time went, but I'm heading back to Las Vegas on Monday! Today was my final day at Les Figues; I can't thank them enough for all the worthwhile publishing experience and the trip to Big Bear and the many, many books. Seriously, y'all, if anyone wants to borrow some feminist experimental writing, I've got you covered. Or, you know, you could just buy books from their attractive, user-friendly website.

Since I only have a few days left in Los Angeles, this of course means that I have to cram in everything I still haven't done. My whirlwind tour began last night, when Mackenzie and I headed to The Rockwell in Los Feliz to see Jeff Goldblum and the Mildred Snitzer Orchestra. Yes, Jeff Goldblum plays piano in a jazz quintet. The evening was full of good music, fancy cocktails, laughter, strange non-sequiturs. The people sharing our table were on a first date, so that wasn't awkward at all. The best part was that we didn't even have to ask the great man himself for a picture; he just wanders around the room before the show and talks to people. 


This picture has more "likes" than anything else I have ever posted on Facebook. I'm not surprised. That's the power of Goldblum.

I guess it's good that I encountered one celebrity while in L.A., and I must say, I couldn't have chosen a better one.

This evening the adventures continue, as Mackenzie is kidnapping me and taking me to Good Times at Davey Wayne's--a 1970's-themed bar with roller skaters and spiked sno-cones and an old refrigerator as the entrance. I'm exhausted, but sleep is for the weak.

There's plenty in store for me this weekend, too, but I'll have more to blog about if I wait until after it happens. Let's just say that it may involve sexy-nerdy ladies taking off their clothes, because Katie and I haven't seen enough of that this summer or anything, and it also may involve free pajamas and a monkey of some kind. Rumor has it.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Spark of Madness

This post is not about Robin Williams, though he is the catalyst for it.

This post is about mental health.

I consider myself truly fortunate to have never experienced clinical depression. Hope clings to me like an obnoxious fuzzy pink barnacle. I have, however, lived with serious anxiety problems for the majority of my life. I typically don't like to admit that they're serious, but they're something I deal with on a near-constant basis.

Even on a good day--and most days are relatively good days, as I have supportive friends and family--there is at least one fleeting moment where I am afraid that I am dying. Enough to make me check my pulse, enough to make my head reel.

I think my fear of cardiovascular diseases--specifically heart attacks and blood clots--was triggered when my Great Aunt Sheryl died. I was very little, probably only 5 or 6. I asked my mom what had happened, and she told me that a vein had burst in Sheryl's brain and that it was over quickly. I don't blame my mother for this at all; surely she meant to be comforting, to suggest that Sheryl had not suffered. Nevertheless, it was the first time I realized a person could die in such a way, and I was horrified. She didn't even have a chance to fight for her life. It was over in an instant.

It's funny--on the rare occasions I tell people that I'm anxious about my health, that I'm a hypochondriac, they almost invariably say, "it's not a brain tumor." I never think it's a brain tumor. I always think it's a heart attack, a blood clot, a stroke, even though there's not a significant history of cardiovascular issues in my family, aside from a few sad instances.

The trichotillomania began when I was in fourth or fifth grade. I started pulling out my eyebrows and eyelashes. I actually consider myself quite lucky in this regard; many people with trichotillomania pull out the hair on the tops of their heads, or on other people's heads, and sometimes they even eat their hair, which is incredibly dangerous. Only eyebrows and eyelashes seems like a pretty fair deal to me. Why specifically eyebrows and eyelashes? I don't know. The crazy answer would be that they are the correct texture.

Trichotillomania is related to obsessive-compulsive disorder, but without the obsessive part. It's simply compulsive. I don't even realize I'm doing it most of the time. It's an anxiety-driven reflex. When I started it was all the time, but through years of wearing bandages on my fingers all day, I managed to stop doing it in public. Now it only happens at night, when I'm falling asleep, or when I'm getting ready for the day.

I didn't experience my first panic attack until I was in college. I was actually studying in Beijing at the time. I was in my bed, and I started shaking uncontrollably. It was hard to breathe, and my chest hurt. I cannot begin to convey how frightened I was. I thought I was going to die there in a foreign country, far away from everyone I loved. I didn't know how to get help. I didn't even know what the Chinese equivalent of 911 was. I just laid there, wondering if this was it. Eventually I fell asleep, and when I woke up, I felt somewhat better.

I had another panic attack when I got home from China. Then another one when I started my senior year of college. Then another, then another. Finally I went to a psychiatrist, who prescribed me a small dose of antidepressants. This medication improved things immensely, and I still take it to this day.

It doesn't always work. A few years out of college I had a panic attack so bad that I actually did go to the hospital--which is a relatively common occurrence for people with panic disorders. Nice way to rack up unnecessary medical bills. I would take trichotillomania over panic attacks any day. It is awful having feelings of doom creep over your shoulders and up your throat so often. Most of the time, though, if I take my medicine and keep myself busy, I can cope.

I would even argue that I thrive. I don't want to sound like I'm complaining; for the most part my life is wonderful, ideal, far better than I deserve. I am close to my family who loves me. I have so many loyal friends who love me. UNLV is paying me to write fiction. I am incredibly grateful for all that I have.

Maybe I'm so grateful because of my anxiety. You learn to appreciate what you have when, on a frequent basis, you're convinced that you're dying and that you're going to lose it all.

***

Those close to me know I'm not very good at watching movies. I completely missed many films that were ubiquitous throughout my youth. I liked Aladdin and Jumanji when I was little. I saw Dead Poets Society once in high school. I never saw Mrs. Doubtfire.

Robin Williams positively impacted so many people, he brought so much joy to people. He was beloved, and what I find so heart-wrenching about his death is that he probably knew perfectly well he was beloved a million times over--he just couldn't feel that love. This is mere speculation on my part, but speaking from the point of view of someone with anxiety, I can say that when you have mental problems like these, what you know and what you feel don't often align. When I'm having a panic attack, there's always a part of me that knows it's a panic attack and nothing more. That rational part of my brain remains. But it doesn't matter, because I feel like I'm dying, and the feelings usually win.

I hate that people only pay attention to depression and anxiety when a celebrity dies. Robin Williams' death is undoubtedly a tragedy; the world has lost a good man and a great talent. But you know who else has mental health problems? People you know. A friend, a teacher, a coworker, a parent. Me. Anxiety and depression are common, and nobody ever wants to talk about it. Society shames those of us who struggle with it into keeping quiet. People use "crazy" as an insult.

I'm sick of it, so I'm talking about it. You should talk about it, too.

Vegasversary

This has to be short since it's too late at night, but I just wanted to mention:

TODAY IS MY FIRST VEGASVERSARY.

That's right, my friends. One year ago, on August 11th, 2013, I moved into my apartment in Las Vegas, Nevada to start my MFA program at UNLV. This blog began shortly thereafter.

It's been an incredible year, to say the least. As tends to happen with major life changes, I've learned many important things about myself, including but not limited to:
  • Up is a direction a person can walk, but it is a direction that reminds me I could be in better shape.
  • I have emotions. Obviously, I was already aware of this to a certain extent, but in Chicago I was so grounded and had such a strong social circle that I never knew what it was like to be truly lonely and to experience some of the lowest lows. Now I know that I can survive those moments, and what's more, I've forged many new friendships, so those moments don't come as often anyway.
  • I'm a better penpal than I thought I'd be, but I'm still not the best penpal.
  • I don't particularly miss snow and below-freezing temperatures.
  • I don't particularly miss working in an office.
  • Poetry isn't as scary as I thought.
  • I'm a big fan of neon.
  • Karaoke is deeply important to my wellbeing.
  • Committing to being a fiction writer is horrifying.
  • Committing to being a fiction writer is one of the best decisions I've ever made.
I wish I could be in Vegas for my anniversary, but I'll be there soon enough: one week from today I drive back. Los Angeles has its merits, certainly, but I can honestly say that I find Las Vegas to be far superior. I suspect it has a great deal to do with my friends, who I can't wait to see.


p.s. GISHWHES is officially over; thanks to everyone who helped out Team Neon Studmuffins! If you want to see some of our crazy-awesome completed challenges, here's a link to a photo album