Tuesday, April 23, 2013

On Getting Ahead of Ourselves


I was at the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books this past weekend. It's at USC now (I miss the times when it was at UCLA, when the walkways were wide and a person felt like they could breathe, but that's not why I'm writing) this big sprawling festival of writers and publishers and agents and editors and mostly desperate people, cramped into narrow walkways, over grassy hills, is a miasma of individuals hoping to find something or someone that can help them along the path to their dreams.

Anyone who writes, and especially those like me who are aspiring, know that my demographic -- the people who want to become writers -- is a hugely profitable one. People are making money hand-over-fist on the backs of people's greatest hopes in a ways that are exploitive and dirty. And they are successful because writers are a desperate breed of people. Especially aspiring writers, who all seem to be racing for the finish line (this writer included).

Desperation is an impatient beast. It doesn't have time for hard work, time for classes, time to read, time for revisions, but writing and writing well takes so much hard work, so much time. A serious and aspiring writer friend of mine met another, greener writer and said to me, "I just can't listen to her. I've worked too hard...I just can't." And I totally get what she means. I know what it feels like to have your deepest desire thrown around by other less serious, maybe undeserving, people. How dare they call themselves writers? They haven't worked half as hard as I have. 

I met a lot of these people at the Festival of Books. People who wanted to know how YOU could help THEM. Do you want a copy of my book? Will you publish my book? I have my book here if you want to buy a copy? I'm self published. I'm published. I'm looking for an agent. I get the desperation, I have it too, I just hide it better.

For myself, and for a lot of aspiring writers, I believe the main problem is that we allow our desperation, our hope, to let us get ahead of ourselves. That's why the sight of so many desperate people, all in one place, can be unnerving. I'm going to say something now which might sound a little like hubris, but comes from knowing the fruits of hard work and determination:

I am not worried about publishing my book. I'm not worried about finding an agent.

I believe that these things will come to me if I do my best to produce good work. If my book is good, if I've done everything I can to make it the best it will be, it will eventually find a home. I know this because every thing I've achieved so far has been won on the back of hard work. I know this because In the years I've dedicated to becoming a writer I've read a lot of books. A lot of bad books. A lot of crap gets published so why can't my crap get published? It will happen in time If I just put in the work, and that is the main thing I wanted to get across. Impatience breeds laziness. Impatience allows you to settle with good enough. Impatience allows you to be taken advantage of by people who are looking to make money off of your desperation. I believe that if someone is willing to put in the hard work, the rewards will follow.

It is easy to get ahead of yourself. Especially when you are so close to the finish line, which is why it is important not to think about the rewards. You have to tap into that thing that makes you want to be a writer, the pleasure and self-satisfaction that comes with putting all of yourself into your work. I've been told time and again by published authors that publishing a book will not change your life. So what you have to hold on to is the thing that made you want to write in the first place. Everything else, in the face of that, is empty, fleeting. The work is what is important. The writing is the best part! The satisfaction of taking the time to make craft something filled with beauty and meaning. You can't skip ahead. You have to take your time. You have to roll around in it, enjoy the journey and the success when it comes, will mean so much more.

A former teacher of mine, Les Plesko, once said he allows himself 15 minutes a day to think about his future greatness, then he gets back to work. It's some of the best advice I've ever received.

So:

Get back to work.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Eartha Kitt on Love and Compromise

I've been obsessing with this clip every since I stumbled upon the GIF of this scene on my new favorite (albeit strange and perverse) blog. I want to memorize her words, her inflections and tone and perform it as many times as I can whenever possible. She's remarkable.



INTERVIEWER:
But are you willing to compromise? Within a relationship?

EARTHA:
Compromise?
What is compromising?
Compromising for what?
Compromising for what reason?
To compromise?
For what?
To compromise.
What is compromise?

INTERVIEWER:
If a man came into your life, wouldn't you want to compromise?

EARTHA:
(raises eyebrows)
She laughs
Stupid.
She laughs again.

A man comes into my life and I have to compromise? (pause) You must think about that one again.

An extended laugh, Eartha throws her head back in amusement

A man comes into my life and you have to compromise? For what? For what? (pause, demanding) For what? A relationship is a relationship that has to be earned! Not to compromise for. (pause) And I love relationships I think they're fantastically wonderful I think they're great. I think there's nothing in the world more beautiful than falling in love. (pause)  But falling in love for the right reasons, falling in love for the right purpose. Falling in love. Falling in love! When you fall in love…what is there to compromise about?


INTERVIEWER:
Isn't love a union between two people? Or does Eartha, fall in love with herself?

EARTHA:
I think, if you were to think about it in terms of analyzing... (beat) Yes. I fall in love with myself, and I want someone to share it with me. (beat) I want someone to share me, with me.


Thursday, March 21, 2013

On Idol Worship

They have everything your bones ache for. You want to consume them. You want them to be your friend. Your mother. Your father. Your lover. You want them to see brillance in you, because their approval is the validation of your entire identity as an artist, writer, human being.

You think it'd be something to eventually grow out of. But as an artist, or someone with an artistic pursuit, I find myself falling into idol worship all the damn time. I can fall in love in a sentence. Fuck that, I can fall in love over a word so perfectly chosen it feels like it's grabbing me by the spine.

Then, if you're lucky enough, you get to meet your idols. If you're luckier still, you get to talk to them, take classes with them, learn from them -- the lighthouses of your dreams.

It is a humbling weakness. I want to be confident in my abilities, in my talent, in the results of the hard work I've put into my reading and writing, without needing the affirmation. I'm terrified people will think I'm a hack, a shitty, talentless writer, or worse yet, a dilettante. I don't want them to see the insecure, approval-seeking wannabe hiding behind my ambition. It is a painful reminder of my immaturity as a writer, as a person.

Approval seeking is a big part of that fear and the high you get from it is fleeting. It lasts as long as the moment lasts if not just a moment longer before you're aching for the next fix. More affirmation, more approval, special treatment.

I know enough to understand that gaining approval shouldn't be important. Having something to say is what is important. Putting in the hard work to say it in a way only I could is what is important. But it's still there, sitting in my chest, my pilot light of hope, waiting for you to love me.

Friday, February 22, 2013

On Finding Inspiration.


I looked for inspiration and when I found it, it looked annoyed.
“What do you want from me?” Inspiration said.
“The usual,” I said. “You know, what everyone wants.”
“Everyone wants something different,” Inspiration said.
“Okay,” I said. “Give me something sad.”
“Something sad? I can do that.”
Inspiration changed into the shape of my old dog. She wagged her tail at me the way she used to when I came home from school. I thought of the last time I saw her and felt sick.
“That’s too sad,” I said. 
Inspiration changed back.
“You want something happier?”
“Happy is boring,” I said. “Give me something different.” Then I had a thought. “Show me what inspires you.”
“What inspires me…”
Inspiration changed into a scene. A quiet morning, or maybe it was night, one small lamp glowing on a desk, and a person writing in a notebook.
I watched the scene for a moment. The person wiped their eyes, drank from a cup, and continued to write.
“What is it?” I asked the tableau.
“It’s Dedication,” Inspiration said. “It’s Discipline. It’s you.”


Friday, February 08, 2013

When I think of Los Angeles

Julius Shulman

I don't think of traffic, or smog, or Hollywood or the vain and vapid people who make the city intolerable at times.

I think of the mountains and the desert and the orange trees of the San Gabriel Valley and the way they blossom and fill the night air with a magically sweet smell.

Me and my friend Bando in Apple Valley
I think of what it must have been like in 1920 when my great grandparents came here from Oklahoma and Indiana. Or what it was like when my Mom moved to El Monte in the late 50's from Minnesota and before that from the Philippines. I imagine my Dad with his chin length hair seeing the Doors play in West Covina, driving around with his windows rolled down blasting rock and roll when it was in it's prime.
That's my Dad second from the right (What a stud),
with my Uncle Richard, Aunt Debby and Uncle Danny at the Grand Canyon.

I think of a town of limitless opportunities and unparalleled diversity. I think of home and the people that inspire with their suffering and their success. Los Angeles isn't a town for the soft-palmed and fearful. It's a place that awards the confident and adventurous. The outside world might look at us and see wannabes and coteries but I see hardworking people. People who have to push themselves everyday.

Monday, February 04, 2013

Emerging Voices Welcome Party


Left to right:  Kima Jones, Krisserin Canary (Me! Duh),
Elle Brooks, Tommy Moore, Lilliam Rivera and Terrence Flynn.
Photo by Casey Curry.

January 27, 2013 PEN Center USA threw a party to celebrate the 2013 Emerging Voices Fellows. Thank you so much to everyone who came out. For those of you who weren't able to make it--I've pasted the excerpt I read from "The Incredible Gustafson Women," below. Thank you again to everyone for your love and support. It means everything.
Photo by Casey Curry.

An excerpt from my novel-on-progress, The Incredible Gustafson Women:

"BOOBS!"
Saying the word seemed to form their mouth into the very shape the boob was intended for--pursed, ready to suckle.
"BOOBS!" They said again, pointing.
The three boys, Buddy, Matthew and Ronald, had been her friends since as long as she could remember playing in the fields, but age had brought something between them, it brought Margaret's breasts.
Margaret Gustafson descended from a long line of Danish women, whose colossal bosoms were made to nurse the strongest of Viking men. At 12, what Margaret had developed were only a wink of what was to come, but on seeing the sprouting of those little buds, her mother drove her down to the store and bought her the itchiest, scratchiest bra they had to offer. It was white, cotton with stitched-cups, that fit tight around her chest and pushed what little Margaret had up towards her neck. The edges, trimmed with lace, left red outlines on her chest and underarms. It was a torture device, created to punish the wearer. Margaret was convinced that if Eve had known that this would have been a consequence of the fall of man, she would have changed her mind.
 "What do they feel like?" One of the boys asked.
"They feel like normal," Margaret said. She was sick of her anatomy being the topic of conversation. She wanted to talk about baseball or hidden treasure, but Margaret's developing chest was too new, too exciting. She'd taken to removing her bra and sticking it in the back pocket of her jeans before she went out to play, but its absence only made her breasts more noticeable. They stood up like toothpicks propped underneath her shirt.
Margaret hated the idea that she was turning into something different from the only friends she'd ever had. She didn't want to be like Maude and Mary, her older sisters who were obsessed with boys and bleaching their mustaches. She wanted to be out in the world--running, playing, dancing, and most definitely not growing boobs.
 "I want to cut them off!" She wailed to her mother, after a particularly embarrassing day.
"They're just interested because it's different. They'll give up caring soon enough," her mother said.

The next day the boys were sitting in their usual spot playing cards, in the remains of the old burnt-out barn at the end of Margaret's road. The cards were Matthew's; lifted from a secret box his older brother kept under his bed. They had pictures of naked women, their top halves twisted to show pink nipples, joyfully erect.
Margaret had seen the cards before, and before they never harbored much interest, but now she couldn't help but to look and compare.
"This one's got huge titties. Look!" said Matthew.
He turned to the next card.
"She's my favorite," said Buddy, pointing.
"Why are her nipples brown?" Margaret said.
"What color are your nips, Margaret?" asked Buddy.
"None of your damn business," Margaret said. "I don't know why you guys care so much. They're just boobs. Your mom has them."
"Not like these she don't," said Matthew.
"If it's not such a big deal, why don't you let us see 'em?" said Ronald.
"It's not a big deal!" said Margaret. She didn't want them to think she cared. She didn't want them to think she was different.
"Can we touch them?" said Matthew.
"If I let you, just once, will you leave me alone?"
They unanimously agreed that they would.
So in the dark, cold, burnt-out barn, Margaret Gustafson took off her top; she turned to face the three boys, her childhood friends, bare-chested.
Buddy was the first one to reach out. He put his hand under her right breast and lifted it up.
"They're smaller than I thought," he said.
"They're still growing!" she said.
"They’ll get bigger,” Matthew said. “Have you seen Mrs. Gustafson?” He reached out and poked at her nipple, pushing it down into her chest.
"Careful!" she said.
"Why is one bigger than the other?" Ronald said. He reached out and pinched her left nipple, while Buddy, whose hand hadn't moved from below her right breast, began to slap it lightly back and forth.
"Look! Her nips are getting hard!" Buddy said.
She didn't think that it would have bothered her to have other people touch her there, because until that day they had existed separate from Margaret. They were not a part of her, they just happened to be attached to her, like a tick or a barnacle. A parasite growing larger and larger each day, sucking a little bit more pride away from our girl. But now that they were under attack by the careless hands of these boys, she finally felt that they did belonged to her. The shock of nerves and pumping blood vessels exploded all the way down to her stomach, and she didn't like how it made her feel.
It was a hard pinch from Ronald that finally turned the switch. Margaret reeled back and punched him hard, right in the face, her fist drawing blood from his split cheek. A transference of pain, of hurt.
Margaret ran. She ran out of that barn all the way back to her house, her two hands cupped over her chest to protect herself. She was able to escape upstairs to her room without anyone seeing her, and once alone, she took the opportunity to look in the mirror. She imagined she was going to see bruises or marks where the boys had touched her, but there was no sign left behind.
She felt them. They were sore, and she wondered if it was from the fondling or because they were growing that they hurt; that she hurt. She put on her bra, and her shirt, and she was sad--sad that, despite wanting to run and play and dance and be a kid, her body had decided it was time to grow up.