Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Fallcation

I spent last weekend in the wonderful land of Chicago, visiting all my friends and my family. The weather wasn't quite as cool as I would have liked (it's still over 100 degrees here in Vegas), but it was an excellent Fallcation nonetheless.

I flew in Friday, and hopped on the train to Mickey's new apartment, where we pet the cats and talked and talked and talked. May not sound exciting to you, but trust me--it was rad. That night we met up with Gena and Marty and Felipe and Ben and Lindsey (and briefly Alex) for burgers and $10 sangria pitchers on the spacious, shaded patio of Moody's Pub. We stuffed ourselves and relived our post-college days, eventually moving back to Ben's place for board games and relaxing on the back porch. Nothing can compare to Chicago back porches. They are the best.

Lula Cafe is one of the most famous brunch places in the entire city of Chicago, and although I lived in the city for seven years, I never ate there. Until Saturday, that is. Mickey lives in Logan Square now, so we just walked right over. Ran into my friend Shayne, which wasn't surprising, as I tend to run into her all over the country. The food was as tasty as I expected, if a little pricey. We walked around Logan for a while, then went shopping for picnic fixins. (Trips to Chicago are mostly about eating.) Our evening plans involved an outdoor showing of the 1993 Halloween classic Hocus Pocus in a cemetery. Felipe came over and we drank lots of tea, and then we headed out. Unfortunately, the line for the movie wrapped around the block. There was no way we were getting in, so we settled on watching the movie on Mickey's laptop and eating at her place. And talking. And talking. And talking. What can I say? We all had a lot of catching up to do.

On Sunday Mickey and I headed to Mojo Spa for their Harry Potter party, which apparently wasn't quite as magical as last year's. There were fewer activities, which was disappointing, but the food was great (see this photo), and we left with amazing goody bags filled with Harry Potter-themed treats. After that we met up with Felipe for lunch at Handlebar, which, I was pleased to discover, still serves some of the best vegetarian food in the city.

Mickey dropped me at the L, where I took the red line to the purple line all the way to Evanston, where my parents picked me up. My sister was supposed to play a show at Space that night, but the venue canceled last minute. So (stay with me here), my mom's work partner's friend, a well-known investigative journalist who had purchased several tables' worth of seats at the canceled show, moved the party back to his lovely old house in Evanston. So I hung out with a bunch of people I mostly didn't know, eating delicious food, listening to Bittersweet Drive play music and watching the blood moon eclipse. I also enjoyed perusing our host's collection of historic political campaign buttons, because I am a nerd.

Speaking of Bittersweet Drive, you should consider funding their Indiegogo campaign!

Anyway, Monday I just stayed home in the suburbs and cuddled the dogs and hung out in pajamas with my mom. It was pretty great. Everyone needs a pajama day once in a while.

Here's the thing: when I got back to Vegas, I had easily the worst panic attack I've had in a year. This always happens when I travel home to Chicago. I either have a bad panic attack when I'm in Chicago, or immediately upon my return. I wonder whether visiting home triggers them somehow, as it's where I first started getting panic attacks? I don't know, but it's really annoying, and I haven't slept well since. I'll have to get back into my exercise routine. That usually helps.

And now I have to buy groceries as I have nothing to eat in my home. Which means I have to put on clothes. What a shame.

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Busy Bee & Chicago Bound

Again I must apologize for the lack of blogging. It would be an understatement to say that the past week has kept me on my toes. On Tuesday my story was up in workshop--and it went well! Or at least I think it went well. There were several concrete criticisms, which are always better than wishy-washy, vague comments. Some of it I anticipated; I suspected that I had accidentally left some important things off the page. Some of it, however, I didn't anticipate. For instance, I need to start kicking myself every time I describe someone's hair. Too much hair.

On Wednesday we had our first Emerging Writers Series event of the year with author Kirsten Valdez Quade. Since I'm on the EWS committee (meaning I helped decide which authors to bring for the series), I had lunch with her and Brett and Scott. She was gracious and generous in her craft talk, and she's a wonderful reader, as we discovered later that evening. You should definitely check out her book of short stories Night at the Fiestas.

On Friday we had our first Neon Lit of the semester. I don't go in for astrology, but the Internet keeps telling me that Mercury's in retrograde, whatever that means. Something was in the air, though; little things kept going awry. There were parking issues thanks to early Life is Beautiful set-up, one of our readers dropped out last minute (but we were able to find a replacement even more last-minute), our MC's printer broke so we had to print her intros at the store. Luckily, the reading itself was delightful. We had a good mix of first, second, and third years, and I think everyone had a good time. I can't wait until the October reading--we'll all be in costume for Halloween.

I wish I could say that I get to take a breather this upcoming week, but that's not the case. There's a reading we're supposed to go to after workshop on Tuesday, but I might skip it, as I'm trying to grade all my students' papers. (Today's hilarious student flub: "The author implies that the police are hippocrates." Instead of hypocrites. Ugh.) Thursday evening there's another BMI panel with Gary Snyder, and later that evening Michael's launching his book at Velveteen Rabbit.

Basically I'm never going to sleep again.

But I must sleep! For on Friday I'm flying to Chicago for one glorious weekend. And do you know what it will be in Chicago? Autumn! Changing leaves and brisk air and---oh my god I just looked up the weather and it's going to be in the high seventies. Dammit. Cooler than Vegas, but not cool enough.

Before I go, there's one thing you must know: my little sister is a fantastic folk musician, and she's trying to raise money to produce a new record with her duo Bittersweet Drive. Have a look at the fundraising campaign page, listen to some of their music, and if it charms you as much as it charms me, please throw a few dollars their way. If you can't contribute, spreading the word would help just as much! Thank you.

Friday, September 11, 2015

Where in the World is Becky Robison?

Now I just want to wear a big, broad-brimmed red hat.

The reason I haven't blogged for so long is that I was in Los Angeles for Labor Day weekend visiting Katie. I had a glorious time. We ate brunch every single day. Every. Single. Day. Eggs are the most versatile food, and perhaps the most delicious.

We also went to Ikea. We also lounged around her apartment or by the pool and read books. (I'm reading Jennifer Pashley's The Scamp at the moment. Once I finish, you know where the review will be.) I also managed to see Kenzie and Alex on my last night there, which was wonderful. Katie and I were probably busiest on Friday, which ended up being a very macabre day. First we went to the Museum of Death, which is something I've wanted to do for a while. I'm a big fan of serial killers, doomsday cults, the like. I guess I should say I'm a fan of reading about serial killers, doomsday cults, the like. Anyway, this place was a little intense, even for me. I'm pretty good at dealing with gore, but after spending two hours winding around low-ceilinged, claustrophobic hallways plastered with grisly crime scene photos of mangled corpses, I was relieved to get back out into the sunshine. I'd still recommend a trip if you like creepy things.

That night we went to a showing at the L.A. Shorts Fest, as Katie's friend's friend had a film in it. For whatever reason, the majority of the short films during that showing had to do with death. There was one about female serial killers, another about the Jewish shemira tradition of watching over a dead body until burial, another sort of funny murder mystery in a corporate office setting. The day definitely had an inadvertent theme.

I flew to and from L.A.--I don't trust my car to make it--and when I was waiting for my flight back, I decided to count how many flights I'd been on this year. NINETEEN. Nineteen separate flights. And I'll be on a plane again in just a few weeks when I head to Chicago for a visit (!!!). I believe I qualify as a jetsetter.

I didn't blog when I got back because I had to play catch-up. Not much work was getting done in L.A., that's for sure. This week I talked about police brutality against black Americans with my students, and as always, I was impressed by how thoughtful and respectful they were during their discussion. That's not sarcasm; they may write terrible papers, but I find that when I ask them to read and think about complex, uncomfortable, and tragic situations, they rise to the occasion. I only had one mildly off-putting comment from a frat boy, and the other students corrected him, not me. I was very proud.

Wednesday I spent literally all day editing ~50 pages of my novella for workshop--except for a brief trip to the climbing gym. Have I mentioned my novella? That's kind of weird. It's my blog, and I haven't mentioned what I'm writing? Here's the deal: I was tight-lipped about it for a while. I was afraid I would jinx it and not be able to finish it if I talked about it with anyone. But I finished a draft! A little over 100 pages. I wrote 2/3 of it while I was in France, initially at a manic pace. The idea was so forceful in my head that I scribbled down the first two chapters in a week. I wrote the final third while I was in Vegas, and I honestly think that's the weakest part of the draft. It didn't help that I was recovering from wisdom tooth surgery while working on chapter 7. Chapter 7 is a mess. But that's what revising is for.

I think I'm still going to be vague about it here. Those of you who need to look at it are already looking at it. Don't want to jinx the editing process. Let's just say that it's super annoying when people say "write what you know," but they may have a point. It's a lot easier.

What else is important for you to know? Oh yes--my dearest darlingest Olivia Clare's first book of poetry, The 26-Hour Day, is out now! You should buy it because poetry is good for you, and Olivia's poetry is so good for you that were it edible, it would be marketed as superfood. The only reason I haven't purchased it yet is that I will be doing so on October 2nd, when she has her book launch at The Writer's Block. She will hopefully sign it for me, and then one day, when she is ultra-famous, I will flip through its pages and sigh and say I knew her when...

I mean, I'm sure we'll also still be friends and that I can call her up after all the sighing and say hello. But still.

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Addressing Misogyny in Workshop

Last night in our fiction workshop, a classmate reacted defensively when he was questioned about misogynist elements in one of his stories. I'm concerned that I may have reacted too angrily to his defensiveness--and yet at the same time, I feel that my anger is deserved. When critiquing male writers' stories, I can suggest that they slash characters, alter dialogue, change whole endings, and all that is fine. They aren't upset by those kinds of edits. But the second I bring up misogyny, it's as if they stop listening altogether. No, not me, I couldn't possibly hate women, let me tell you what I really meant--and the worst response of all: this is integral to my story. 

The problem is that male writers are misinterpreting critiques regarding misogyny. When I say, "there are elements of misogyny in this piece," they hear, "you are a misogynist." And that's not at all what I mean! I don't believe that most of these writers actively hate women. I don't believe that they spend their evenings hunched over their keyboards, twirling their cartoon mustaches and plotting ways to take those meddling females down a peg. I only mean that they are steeped in an inherently misogynist, patriarchal culture the same way that everyone else is, including me. 

Most instances of misogyny in workshop stories are careless, thoughtless--thoughtless precisely because most misogyny is enacted by people adhering to social norms without questioning those norms. That's why misogyny is dangerous and so difficult to dispel; it's insidious, built into the structures of everyday life. I think it's okay for characters in a story to be misogynist. People are misogynist in real life, so it makes perfect sense for fiction to reflect that--as long as the victims of the character's misogyny are not the butt of the joke.* 

Unfortunately, more frequently than not, the victims are the butt of the joke--and that's only because the author hasn't closely examined his work for misogyny. That's why the response that "this is integral to my story" is particularly maddening. It is absolutely not integral to your story. I can't recall a single workshop story where the misogyny has been integral. It always appears as a trope trotted out on the page by someone who hasn't yet questioned that trope. 

This doesn't happen exclusively to men. Women (and people of all genders) are equally steeped in our patriarchal culture. There are often instances where I write a story, and then I have to question whether or not my portrayal of a female character is misogynist. Happens all the time. The difference is that I bother to question it at all. When I bring up misogyny in workshop, I'm merely trying to hold my classmates to the same standard. 

Sometimes workshop critiques can be brutal, but ultimately we're trying to help each other succeed. One day my classmates will submit their stories to editors, and if those editors spot unwarranted misogyny in the work, they may not select it for publication. Those editors may believe my classmates to be thoughtless jerks, when they aren't really thoughtless jerks at all. 

That's why defensiveness is a poor reaction. I am only bringing the misogyny up because I like my classmates, I think they're good writers, and I believe that they deserve success. Please excuse the cliché, but I wish they wouldn't bite the hand that feeds them. 

*The same applies to racism, homophobia, etc.

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

The Great Automobile Kerfuffle of 2015

When I moved to Las Vegas, Mickey and Leta and I drove out here in what until that point had been my mother's 2003 Volkswagen Beetle Convertible. As a Chicago resident, I never needed a car; for as often as people complain about it, the CTA is reliable and efficient--trains and buses took me everywhere I needed to go for $100/month. The Beetle was my mom's 50th birthday present from my dad, and he conveniently gifted her with a newer, better car for her 60th birthday, which fell right before I moved. Therefore, The Beetle was passed to a very-grateful me, who desperately needed some means of transport out here in the desert.

Here's the thing, though: The Beetle is now twelve years old, and though it still has fewer than 100,000 miles on the odometer, it's showing its age. Every six months something goes wrong with it. I'll bring it in for an oil change and leave with a list of a dozen other problems that need to be addressed. Lights pop on the dashboard and disappear again like some sadistic carnival game. It's maddening. All I want to do is move back to a place with decent public transit. I do not think car ownership is for me. The only thing I like about it is that it's a convertible. Vegas nights are good for putting the top down.

Lately, though, the automobile-related chaos has reached absurd levels. I'm fairly certain I've been written into someone's comedy of errors. It started when I noticed that my parents hadn't sent a new license plate sticker. The car is still registered in Illinois because if I switched it to Nevada plates, my car insurance would go up many hundreds of dollars. Fortunately I'm a student, not technically a legal resident of Nevada, so I can get away with it. Anyway, I found this odd, because normally I receive a new sticker around this time of year.

I called my mom. (Call your mom sometimes, guys.) She said that they couldn't get a new sticker because I needed to get an emissions test first. Good. Fine. I can do that.

I look up the official locations to receive an emissions test on the Nevada DMV website. There's one down the street. Excellent. I go there.

"I'm sorry, ma'am, but the outlet below the wheel, where we need to plug in the equipment, is broken. You'll have to get it fixed first."

Of course it's broken. I should have known better. He recommends a Firestone Automotive place up the street that can fix the car and do the emissions test. The next morning, I head there.

"I'm sorry, ma'am, but this is something only the dealership can fix. You'll have to make an appointment there."

The nearest Volkswagen dealership is out in the suburb of Henderson. I give them a call. After being transferred twice to the wrong department, the receptionist finally connects me with the service department. They do not have any appointments available until Tuesday. My plates expire on Monday. Of course they do. Is it legal to Sharpie in a "6" on the sticker until I resolve this? Probably not.

I make an appointment for Tuesday morning at 8 a.m. It's an appointment. They will fix my car at 8 a.m. on a Tuesday. I awake bright and early this morning, and drive to Henderson.

"I'm sorry, ma'am, but we can't get this in until 11:30 or noon."

Of course they can't. "Fine. How do I get back?"

"We have a shuttle."

"Great! When can they take me?"

"In about two hours."

I am not spending two hours at a fucking car dealership listening to Taylor Swift on repeat and drinking bottled water. I haven't eaten breakfast. I have to teach a class at 11:30.

This is where my wonderful friends swoop in to save me from my fate. Thanks, Joe, for picking me up and making yourself late to work! You are a champ. Also: Thanks, Danielle, for taking me to the dealership after their shuttle has stopped running so that I can pick up my car! You, too, are worthy of the champ title.

Barring any unforeseen complications (in this saga, unforeseen complications happen so frequently that they no longer truly qualify as unforeseen), I will have my car back tonight, though I'm sure I'll lose a couple hundred bucks in the process. Wish me luck, and write your congresspeople. Tell them that high-speed rail and improved public transit are imperative for American society.

p.s. I wrote a review of Vu Tran's Dragonfish on my other blog.