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

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

GISHWHES and Time Management

This week and this week only I am a valued member of Team Neon Studmuffins in GISHWHES--The Greatest International Scavenger Hunt the World Has Ever Seen. That title is not at all hyperbolic. Hosted by Misha Collins of Supernatural fame, this hunt poses challenges that range from silly (stage a water balloon fight wearing business suits), to geeky (improve Misha Collins' Erdos number), to charitable (bring flowers or chocolate to the residents of a retirement home), to virtually impossible (get a passenger POV shot of a fighter pilot doing a barrel roll with "GISHWHES Does Mach 2" written on his/her arm).

So far I've signed up to work at a food pantry wearing something that suggests I know how to party, I've filed a Freedom of Information Act request on my parents (sorry Mom and Dad!), I've set up a fake Twitter account specifically to troll Orlando Jones and have obtained the required 400 followers (but you should still follow here if you haven't--they could arbitrarily up the required number at any time!), and I've picked up supplies to complete several other challenges. I can't do it all alone, though. If you have any connection, even tenuous, to one or more of the following, I'd be grateful if you got in touch:
  • The owner/manager of a skyscraper that is at least 30 stories
  • A NYT bestselling author
  • A Tony award-winning actor 
  • A published science fiction author
  • A WWE or WWF professional wrestler
  • Someone very-high-up at NASA
I wish I were in Chicago, where the majority of my teammates are located. It's hard doing challenges alone--many times it'd be easier if someone were here to photograph me doing something, for instance. I'm currently quite upset because my grand plan to photograph a celebrity wearing a beautiful GISHWHES t-shirt I made with glitter paint fell through entirely; I was supposed to see Jeff Goldblum's jazz show tonight--and I know he frequently talks with the patrons--but he canceled last minute. I can't go around stalking celebrities. I wouldn't know where to go, and besides, I'd feel skeevy. So my last-ditch plan is to try to get into The Meltdown comedy show and hope that some very kind special guests who just happen to be in the top 2000 on IMDB's Star Meter are hanging around. If not, I don't know what I'll do. That said, I guess if you know a famous person in L.A. who'd be willing to offer up five minutes of his or her time, that would also be helpful. 

To be honest, I'm feeling a tad overwhelmed by the whole GISHWHES thing. Or maybe that's not true; I think I'm feeling overwhelmed generally because my time management skills have been so poor this summer. I almost certainly have time to do GISHWHES, and to write, and to do my part-time job work, and to do my internship, and to work out, and even to relax, but I get distracted and disorganized and lazy.

I've been considering making a schedule for myself, like a real adult person. But I have a horrible suspicion that I wouldn't follow it. Still, if I scheduled in an hour or two for "breakfast/reading articles on the internet" each morning, and if I scheduled in an hour or two for "dinner/trashy television" in the evening, and if I scheduled in other, less ridiculous down time, might it not be manageable? 

Does anyone have any experience behaving like a grown-up and setting such a schedule? Please let me know. 

Grown-ups probably don't stay up until 2 a.m. blogging, either.

Shit.