Me with Spaghetti Hair

I’ve been meaning to post this one for a while. A few months back, my friend Lia Ryerson sent this drawing of me out of the blue, and I just love it.

I’ve always, always been fascinated by illustrations and caricatures of real people—and it’s still on my half-existent NYC bucket list to get one done in Central Park one summer. In the meantime, Lia’s interpretation of my hair as spaghetti wrapped around a fork and a spoon is exactly what I needed.

This image is part of a series of “Anatomical Deviant” drawings Lia has done as an amuse bouche for her novel-in-progress, Bear Left, which is about a man named Nancy Critter who wakes up one morning to find that his two front teeth have grown overnight to reach below his chin. The drawing series includes me and my “pasghetti” hair, but also someone with a mushroom for a nose, someone with a boat for a mouth, and someone with camels for ears. Lia is an MFA creative writing student at The New School and is always up to something really cool, both in her life and in her writing. Keep an eye out!

An Unapologetic Dylann Roof Says There’s “Nothing Wrong” with Him

Credit: Facebook

Credit: Post And Courier and Facebook

Disturbing. If there’s “nothing wrong” with him, a boy who mercilessly killed nine African Americans at a Charleston church ceremony, then clearly there’s something wrong with the culture he was brought up in, the culture that allowed him to become this way. I suspect it’s both—he’s psychopathic, but also adopted his views from an abhorrent white supremacist undercurrent that is clearly still present today throughout the United States and on the internet.

There’s no denying that racism, unfortunately, exists. Which is why movements that tell the truth about people of color’s experiences, movements like #BlackLivesMatter, MATTER. If you oppose these sorts of movements, I think it’d be smart to re-think your own worldview and try to understand that your opposition aligns you much more closely with the views of monsters like Dylann Roof than you’d like. And if that statement gets you mad or disturbs you, then that’s good. But that means you’ve also got to become more conscious of your own biases that are making you opposed to people of color coming together and telling their side of the story.

Being any shade of racist is lazy—it takes work and patience to build your own compassion for people not like you. But working hard to achieve something, especially equality and freedom—for all—is the American way. If you’re a true patriot, it’s worth the effort.

New Year, New Banner

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Credit: Brian Chin

Thanks to the talents of Madison Square Garden graphic designer and up-and-coming musician Brian Chin (who is also my good friend and former roommate), I now have a new banner for my website! He literally sent it to me yesterday, just in time for the beginning of 2017.

The new banner combines everything I love—the printed word, the handwritten word, sketches, and water color. If you look closely, you’ll see that Brian hand-drew the font and sketched not only books, but also a laptop, a spiral notebook, a coffee cup, and even a pencil. And that text in the background? Yeah it’s the first chapter of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, one of my all-time favorite books.

You’ll also see a new image on the right side of this page that lets you sign up for my newsletter. As one of my goals in 2017, I’m going to start using MailChimp to update my subscribers whenever I have a new post on my site or any news to report (which means you’ll get an email maybe once a month, tops, since I’m pretty lazy). If you’re interested, please sign up for my mailing list by clicking that shiny new image! (Or just click here.)

And as is customary for a new year’s blog post, I suppose I should comment on 2016. I have a lot of friends who had the worst year of their lives. I have a lot of friends who had the best year of their lives. And I have a lot of friends who, despite their shock at what has become of the U.S. political scene, their sorrow over the loss of so many childhood heroes, and their horror at the many calamities happening around the world, still somehow managed to have a pretty good year both personally and professionally. This gives me hope that there’s always a spectrum, that a year can’t necessarily be summed up by one feeling or one event.

I was among those who had a pretty good year both personally and professionally. The biggest things, of course, involved getting back on the horse and saying “giddy up” to my writing productivity. I’m still working on sticking with good habits, but luckily I’m at the point where if I go for more than two weeks without doing any form of writing I start getting really uncomfortable and existential, and I start to berate myself. That’s healthy, right?

In summary, here is my 2016 year in review by the numbers:

  • 60 submissions to literary and mainstream magazines and contests, which resulted in:
  • 1 story told at a Moth StorySLAM
  • 9 books read (though since three were over 600 pages long, including George R.R. Martin’s A Clash of Kings and A Storm of Swords, total pages read = 3,240)
  • 3 years with my boyfriend David
    • 1 move to a new apartment together
      • 5 rooms / 20 walls painted
  • 1 brother engaged  🙂
  • 1 political party changed (I am now officially a registered Democrat)
  • 8 vacations / new travel destinations
    • Palo Alto, California
    • Asheville, North Carolina
    • Chicago, Illinois
    • Richmond, Virginia
    • Chicago again
    • Camping in Staatsburg, New York
    • Dublin, Ireland
    • Boston, Massachusetts
  • 1 Harry Potter-themed LARP attended
  • 150 work out sessions (roughly 3 per week)
  • Countless (decaf) coffees drank
  • Countless moments of meditation and gratitude
  • Countless dreams to work toward in the new year

Happy New Year everyone!

CURRENCIES OF AUGUST by Donald Anderson

Currencies of August
Here’s something I realized recently: I haven’t had the chance to read many self-published novels. I suppose this is for two reasons—one, as an English major, I spent most of my time (really, all of my time) reading classics. And two, after graduating, I started working in at a large publisher right away, which meant I was surrounded by free traditionally published books for years. But while I was off doing all that, indie publishing began to experience a renaissance. And it’s still going strong.

So many authors are trying out self-publishing and it’s paying off by creating a truly diverse array of bestsellers in most genres—science fiction (The Martian by Andy Weir, and Wool by Hugh Howey), fantasy (My Blood Approves by Amanda Hocking, and The Thief Who Pulled on Trouble’s Braids by Michael McClung), mystery/crime (Only the Innocent by Rachel Abbott, and Taunting the Dead by Mel Sherratt), self-help (Choose Yourself by James Altucher), romance (Fifty Shades of Grey by E.L. James), and more. However, missing from that list—quite conspicuously—is realistic literary fiction.

Currencies of August is the first self-published book I’ve ever read in the realistic literary genre. It’s author and academic Donald Anderson’s debut novel, and boy is it ambitious. (*Disclosure: Anderson was one of my former English professors at Marist). Due to Anderson’s background with the study of language and literature, I right away noticed how measured and mature his prose is. It’s the type of language you want to stop and savor (at least, that’s what I did for almost the entire time I read it). And somehow, Anderson is able to keep that up throughout its entire 502 pages. Yes it’s a long debut. I’ll say it again—it’s ambitious.

The prose is still beautiful even when the protagonist, Jeremiah Curtin, deals with quite a few uncomfortable things. Namely, the death of his father, trying to re-establish a relationship with his estranged mother—oh, and dating his first grade teacher.

Yup, his first grade teacher. Though, by the time they start dating, he’s in his 20s, and has become a teacher himself (which even he is surprised by). Jeremiah’s relationship with his first grade teacher—her name is Nancy Feller—is one of the most unique and uncomfortable romantic situations I’ve ever read about, and that was one of my favorite aspects of the book.

Another was the setting. Currencies of August takes place in the Hudson Valley, and Anderson never misses a chance to illuminate its beauty and the history, especially when Jeremiah decides to renovate a home that dates back to Dutchess County’s first days as a settlement.

One thing that of course can’t be missed are the quirky characters that Jeremiah meets throughout the novel. Though he’s a little quirky himself, he pales in comparison to people like Willy Furman (a talented but disinterested student—and a spitfire at that), Chuck Gillis (the nutty, impassioned college professor everybody hopes to have at least one class with), Mary Jane Otto (Jeremiah’s weirdo neighbor and her dog, Steverino), and seriously so many more. As I’m writing these few names down, I’m remembering just how many unique characters fill the pages of this book.

As for criticisms (any review isn’t complete without them), my main thing was that this book is a bit long for this type of cerebral, quirky, academic story. I also wish I knew a little more about Jeremiah’s motivations for some of the rash decisions he makes—then again, he is the type of character who doesn’t really think things through, so it lines up with his personality for sure. And as most of us learn when studying literature, we don’t always have to read about “like-able” characters. If anything the mysterious or unreliable ones tend to provide the most entertainment.

Try out Currencies of August with this exclusive excerpt from pages 12-14, the scene when Jeremiah sees Nancy again for the first time in 20 years (all due to her college age son’s refusal to do his homework in Jeremiah’s class):

It was Nancy who set up the interview after midterm grades were released. It was one of those late-October afternoons in the Hudson Valley that slices into you.

It was just after what people call The Peak, an unmeasurable outshoot of time when the turning trees are their most perplexing. Much of the leaf-fall has already taken place, and the ones that remain, with no purpose but to let go, are at their most vivid. They wave slightly, modestly, but with such an articulation of beauty that one almost has to turn away.

After twenty years, her first words after introductions were, “I hope you won’t take it too personally that you’re the only teacher he’s not doing well with.”

I didn’t know how to prioritize the several new elements of important business.

“Given all that, it’s difficult not to personalize.” Her smile had changed little over time, except for a few new facial lines to reinforce that look of soft command.

“It really isn’t all that much,” she said. She looked at me with a kind of curiosity, a wideness of pleasant unknowing. “I get the sense you’re new to all this.” Her eyes gazed around my rather tiny office with its view of a shopping center. Michael, meanwhile, sat comfortably in the chair next to hers. He seemed to have his own kind of unknowing, not as immediately pleasant as his mother’s but one that fit his crunched-upon posture like a pillow.

“All what, do we mean?”

“Teaching?”

“On the contrary, Mrs. Feller, I’ve been around teachers and teaching most of my life. They’ve taught me everything I know and a whole lot more.”

“Things you’d like to forget?” She was dressed in a businesslike outfit of pants, blouse, and navy-blue jacket.  She was buttoned securely, but for a moment I had the embarrassing thought that beneath it all were breasts I had sublimated for twenty years. Breasts. I was thinking about her midlife breasts. I felt chagrined and puzzled.

“What is it?”

It was a head-shaking moment. “I started teaching in August, if that’s what you were wondering. So, yes, I’m new to this part of things—the meeting-with-a-parent-of-a-student-who-doesn’t-wish-to-meet-with-me.”

She glanced at Michael. “I thought you said you’d been in to meet with Mr. Curtin.”

“Doctor Curtin,” I corrected.

“My apologies. I didn’t mean to slight you.” She appeared to take enjoyment. She seemed to know something. And she was taking advantage of that something, whatever it was.

“It’s silly of me. It’s a new little badge I wear. Hopefully I can tuck it in a drawer soon.”

“Then let’s try calling you ‘Professor.’”

“Let’s not.”

“What then?” We clearly were not talking about Michael.

“We’ll find something.”

“No need. Michael will start producing for you, I’m sure.”

We all paused, even her son, in the middle of the extended pause he had been taking since coming into the office. I looked at him. He had an air that was gloriously restful and satisfying, as if his mother had given birth to an already-answered question—one needing not to be asked again with conscious insistence. But what it was…?

I had been standing since they arrived, my back to a corner formed by the window-wall and a bookcase. The oddness of it finally pushed me into my seat. “Okay, Michael. Let’s try it just for fun. Why won’t you write for me?”

I had stunned him in some way, but he finally spoke.

“Write?”

“You can write, can’t you?”

I saw his mother frown for the first time. “Michael can write.”

“Plenty,” he added.

“‘Plenty,’ is it?” I was starting to love him in an envious way. Nancy beamed with her own detached aura of motherlove. I could have hugged both of them and given thanks for the eddies of emotion that come unexpectedly. I didn’t.

“Michael has been writing since he was three,” she instructed. “He wrote his first story about a river that became a mandarin orange.”

Nor was that startling. “I’ll hope to read it sometime.”

“I still have it.”

Of course she did.

 

*Disclosure: I was provided a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. As mentioned above, the author is a former college professor of mine. I also contributed a blurb for the cover and helped out with the marketing in the months before it was published.

What’s Wrong With Liking Starbucks?

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Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Fall is just around the corner, which means Starbucks will have its pumpkin spice latte in stores again. It also means the curmudgeons will start wagging their fingers at the Starbucks lovers.

Don’t worry, Starbucks isn’t in any danger. We Americans still love our Starbucks (well, except for the Americans who believe Starbucks has declared war on Christmas).

But as a young person living in New York City, I’ve also heard people starting to chastise it. Namely because it’s a chain. They get annoyed that there’s one in just about every town in the U.S., and on just about every street corner in cities. They hate that it puts indie coffee shops out of business. To them, Starbucks represents the corporatization of our lives. Oh, and of course the coffee “isn’t that great.”

starbucksmeme

I say this is a case of familiarity breeding contempt.

Don’t get me wrong, I love indie coffee shops. And I’m all for local businesses having a fair shot. I also dislike many things about the corporate world. But when it comes down to it, is Starbucks really so bad?

Here are the reasons I like it.

1. Hours. It’s open late. Most indie coffee shops close early or are only open at weird hours (like only on Mondays, 3 p.m. – 6 p.m., Tuesdays 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m., closed on Sundays). As someone who works full-time and values the chance to unwind after the day or maybe get some writing done while sipping on a latte, there’s only so many places that will let me do that after 8:00 p.m. Besides Starbucks.

2. Ambiance. Despite the fact that almost every Starbucks looks the same, you have to admit that their interior design is relaxing. I once took an interior design course in high school where we learned about how color affects our emotions. It turned out that rooms painted bright colors like orange, red, and yellow (think McDonald’s, Dunkin Donuts, and Burger King), raise people’s adrenaline, leading them to feel like they’re in a rush. Whereas browns, greens, and blues helped people calm down and relax. I know Starbucks may not look as hip as your local shop that just opened last year, but their green and brown color scheme at least signals that we should come in and stay a while.

3. Locations, locations, locations. Also, Starbucks is practically everywhere. But do you know how many times that’s saved me? I remember this one particular time when I was coming home late from a bookstore event, when it suddenly started down pouring. I was cold and wet and tired and starving, but through the big fat rain drops falling down around me, I saw the glow of a Starbucks sign in the distance. It was like a lighthouse leading me through to a warm, dry place that I knew would be open at such an hour.

It’s things like the above that make me thankful for places like Starbucks. I know they don’t have the greatest coffee. And I know they definitely put more sugar in their food than necessary. But overall, I find Starbucks to be a comfortable, comforting place (with free WiFi and pumpkin spice lattes) where I know I’ll always be welcome.

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