DDIY (Don’t Do It Yourself)

pretty much

I got bored this weekend and attempted to give myself a shag haircut, and BOY, was that a mistake and a half. I mean just woooooooooow. Did I mention that I’m also in the middle of moving right now? In other words, I didn’t have access to the necessary tools I needed when I began this foolish endeavor, even running over to the other house mid cut only to discover my sheers were packed away in some unknown location. Luckily, 99% of shags look like they were done in the recesses of a garage by someone’s half-blind grandmother. I can also hide most of my mistake with a ponytail, but I already went ahead and booked an appointment to see a stylist in early December. Oh the irony. Had I waited in the first place, none of this would’ve happened. But alas, my overly impulsive ADHD butt lost any trace of patience that day.

All of my fellow ADHD peeps know the struggle of jumping straight into a project without the benefit or deterrent of executive function as well as I do. It’s great for creative pursuits like writing but little else. What’s sad is that this isn’t the first time I’ve done this or the second or the third or the forth, and I doubt it will be the last. Although in all honestly I cannot wait to see the stylists reaction to this mess. One thing I’m an expert at is laughing at my blunders. I mean, what else can you really do?

This also reminds me of how I became known in college for dropping my cell phones in public toilets and equally known for saving them from certain death every single time. Although I never wanted to touch them again let alone hold them up to my face. Poverty was obviously a huge incentive for sticking my hands in used toilet water (*gags*). I couldn’t afford to buy another phone so I did what I had to do. But what’s mind blowing is that I never seemed to learn to avoid keeping my phone in my back pocket whenever I went to the restroom. It seems that very little has changed. I’m just grateful that all of the new iPhones are water resistant now.

One of the last times I brought a water-damaged phone into the Apple store, I lied straight to the guy’s face about it only to have a single, traitorous grain of rice fall out onto the counter top when he took the case off in front of me. God, I wanted to die of embarrassment right then and there. In my panic, I somehow thought it better to tell him I blacked out during a night out on the town and threw the phone in rice just to cover my bases but didn’t remember dropping the phone in water (it was actually a solo cup full of champagne, lol). I could’ve saved the phone too had one of my best friends not asked to see it and turned it back on, immediately frying the damn thing. I wanted to ring his neck for that.

That was the only phone I was unable to save, well that and the first ever water-resistant iPhone I managed to kill during a foam party in Gulf Shores. Believing the foam would act as a cushion, I took an impulsive nosedive onto the ground, which hurt something awful, not realizing my phone had slipped out of my pocket at some point. I paid a group of small children to search through the piles of suds for it, but the screen had cracked and water had seeped in. By the time it made its way back to me back, it was already fried. I could probably write a manual on how not to treat an iPhone if I really wanted to.

(image from the Delta Enduring Tarot deck)

When my husband returned Sunday night from the Renaissance Faire in Hammond, Louisiana, where he works on the weekends as a cast member, a Spanish count to be exact (he’s also featured in this costume popping out of a wormhole in Bill & Ted 3), he kissed the top of my head and told me he liked my hair, which was still mostly up in a ponytail. I warned him the day before via text that I’d accidentally given myself a mullet and wanted him to be prepared. Bless him for always supporting me no matter what wild shenanigans I get into, lol. Maybe he deserves that PS5 for X-mas after all.

I hate moving, but our new place is superior in every way. Same square footage, but the ceilings are so high that it makes the space feel infinite. Now he has his own gamer room, and I have my own reading/writing space. I’ve lived in New Orleans-style shotgun homes ever since I moved back here 4 or 5 years ago, and they’ve all come with their own list of individual issues (no central A/C, broken gas heaters, mold, weird smells, fighting neighbors, car break-ins). Issues that became harder and harder to ignore as the pandemic forced me indoors damn near constantly. I’ve actually been working from home since July, when I first tested positive for COVID-19 antibodies. But I find myself having more success working from home and writing in my free time now that I don’t hate my surroundings with a fiery passion. Flooding was also a huge issue at our last place. I mean, people were kayaking in the streets every other weekend at one point when we lived there. I don’t know how many times I woke up in the middle of the night to move the cars to higher ground during random torrential downpours that would pop up without warning. It was also a terrifying place to ride out Hurricane Zeta. There’s something to be said for change though.

One of my friends and I have decided to start our writing workshop back up on the weekends, which I’m excited about. It’s so much easier to write when you have some level of accountability. Lately, I find myself feeling burnt out and stagnant on the page. I recently had a burst of writing where I wrote my novel non-stop outside of work. Now I hate all of it and can’t seem to get back into it. I think this workshop will help with that thought. This is definitely one area of my life I feel confident performing DIY in.

Using Twin Signs in Astrology to Inform Your Reading List

As previously stated in my last post, “Field Notes on Writing, Astrology & Escapism”,

I know that there’s no scientific merit or validity to astrology but also I could care less about trying to prove it.
it be like that
I think learning creationism in place of science throughout elementary school sort of ruined that for me, lol. Instead of continuing on the metaphysical path that was set before me though, I went to the opposite end of the spectrum, exploring New Age ideas and philosophies.  
Anyway, this brings me to a strange epiphany I had this morning, which is that most of my major role models, style icons and favorite celebrities share the exact same Sun and Venus sign combination — Capricorn Sun/Aquarius Venus.
As a little girl growing up in the 90’s, I was an unapologetic Sporty Spice fan. While most people wanted to be the alluring Ginger or sultry Baby Spice, I was running around my living room in noisy sweat pants and a sports bra. 
Most of my favorite style icons — Janis Joplin, Sienna Miller, Kate Moss, Sissy Spacek, Marlene Dietrich, Sade Adu, the Duchess of Cambridge — also share this combination. But what I find even more interesting are the Cap-Sun/Aqua-Venus authors — J.R.R. Tolkien, Simone de Beauvoir, Carlos Castaneda, etc.
In astrology, you only get half of the picture when you analyze sign alone; you must also look at what house this planet is in. 
My Venus is located in the 9th house, an indicator of writing and publishing. Go figure! Language, publishing, and writing are all ruled by this house. 9th House Venusians are also frequently attracted to/attract people from other cultures (*enter my Cuban boyfriend*) and also make great travel writers.
Being cosmically destined to become a writer and work in publishing is an appealing thought no doubt. But this led me to seek out some of the writings of like-signed people, and I have to say, I agree with everything I’ve read so far. At the very least, it’s an interesting exercise leading me to explore works I might not have otherwise. Simone de Beauvoir’s philosophical writing, in particular, is appealing to me.
Although I’ve studied her before in women’s and literature classes, the astrological context makes me see the work in an almost personal way now. Her radical feminism is something I definitely relate too. The below excerpt from ‘The Second Sex’ is the OG “of course you call them females”.
Whether or not you believe in astrology, there is something about the idea of hidden kinship with favorited authors that can change the way you view great works and the lens through which you see the world.
As writers, we naturally possess expansive imaginations. Most of us hope for the impossible to be real each and every day. I’ll refrain from encouraging you to believe in the metaphysical but know that it can be used in beneficial ways in terms of craft. Great writers can use anything as a tool of expansion.

Field Notes on Writing, Astrology & Escapism

To read and write creatively is to live in a dreamstate, or so many would

have you believe. A sizable demographic perceive R&W as beneficial forms of entertainment but some of these people also believe that these pastimes hug a treacherous line between education and escapism in what can only be described as strangely reminiscent 90s gateway-drug propaganda.
The idea that R&W might impact anyone negatively is pretty laughable. Can you imagine the wave of television ads telling us to just say no to a rich inner life indoors? [1] Neither can I. I suppose the only merit to this idea is that virtually anything can be abused to escape the growing hellscape that is the year 2019. But as far as vices go, there are worse things one could fall into in my opinion.
Truthfully, I fell in love with both of these activities because I didn’t understand how to process trauma or how to vocalize what was happening around me a lot of the time. I felt voiceless throughout my early childhood and telling my story in my own words changed that feeling in a big way. Reading first-person perspectives from people in similar situations helped me navigate my world a little better and also made me realize I wasn’t alone.
While my daily reality felt hard to deal with at times, escape wasn’t the only reason behind throwing myself religiously into the arts. Like dreams, these activities allow us to work through our subconscious and process our emotions as well as our environments. [2]
In my family, it is particularly hard to get a word in edgewise or to process anything communally that could be perceived as negative, emotionally or otherwise. In other words, overall empathy and emotional support are both a bit lacking, although it has gotten much better as we’ve all matured. But it’s the sort of family dynamic that makes you pray for water-sign children in the not-too-distant future. 

Rising Star

In recent years, I’ve found astrology to be a useful tool in psychoanalyzing these relationships and in fictional character development, not that I believe there is any scientific validity or merit to it, rather I find the simple, elemental assignment of various parts of one’s personality to serve as a helpful descriptive device.   
fire suns/moons/mars be like
For instance, my natal chart is mostly comprised of earth elements (Capricorn Sun/Mercury/Saturn/Uranus/Neptune) plus a very prominent fire Moon (Aries) and Mars (Sag), air venus (Aquarius) and rising (Gemini) signs, and pretty much zilch on the water sign front. The way I decipher this information is that I am well grounded and ambitious but am also prone to flashes of anger and impulsivity, am detached and independent in love, and have a very hard time being vulnerable with others.
My mother, who gets along with everyone she meets, is all water, while my Leo-Sun father has heavy fire/air placements, and my younger Aquarius-Sun sister has 5 planets in Capricorn as well as a fire Moon (Sag). [3]
When I realized all of this, everything finally made sense to me, at least with regard to the gapping dissonance between our various and individualistic communication styles. I never really understood as a child/adolescent why my father and sister were so abrasive or how they had the ability to let things roll off of them into the ether. It just wasn’t something I could relate to, and, although I wanted more than anything to be just like them, the lack of freedom to express myself only drove me further into being my own psychologist on the page. 
This is all to say that it’s hard not to view yourself in limited and debilitating ways when you are an earth sign inundated in fire and air. In the end though, it made me much stronger, teaching me how to trust myself, my feelings, thoughts, and observations over that of others, and it led me to a flourishing inner life, even on the darkest days.
When we can’t make sense of our environments or resolve stressful situations, it often falls on us to make it work alone. This is often the case with kin. As they say, you can choose your friends but not your family. So it goes. Part of me wonders though if it isn’t all part of some larger life lesson relating to tolerance, selflessness, acceptance, and appreciation.

Escape the Bear and Fall to the Lion

me tryna steal fams’ positive air/fire energy
Despite the risk of falling too deeply into a world of rich, riveting fantasy, there is also something wholly grounding about telling your story on your own terms and adapting to settings you have no familiarity with or settings that don’t exist at all. In this way, R&W feels very much like dreaming. However, I definitely feel my earthiness when I am alone writing through my thoughts and discomforts, looking for hidden meaning in the mundane.
I think the majority of writers also have a deep-seeded desire to preserve the most vulnerable parts of themselves and to keep them hidden and safe from the rest of the world. To me, writing is and has always been the struggle to turn your pain into art, to construct a place of existence out of sheer nothingness. 



Footnotes

[1] *actively resists the urge to crest said ad on photoshop*

[2] One reason why I love poetry so much is that the subconscious is permitted to reveal itself in a less convoluted way in fragments and images without any need for context.

[3] FYI, your Moon sign is the second most important influence in your chart after the Sun and represents your emotions and inner mood.

James Patterson’s Editor

I am not ashamed to tell you that I periodically look at job listings posted by all of the major publishing houses. This is a habit I started back in 2012, after graduating from college.

Despite being a massive cliche, I always wanted to be that young snappy bookworm in the Big Apple, drinking lattes at her desk and sifting through the manuscript slush pile for hidden gems. I still fantasize about this sometimes, and that is how I make my way to the career sections of publishing houses who will never take a second look at me.

Even when I was a magazine editor, I couldn’t get the likes of Simon & Schuster or Hachette Book Group to return my calls and emails about featuring their Naomi Judd books in our nationally syndicated publication (I’m almost over it guys, I swear.). So you can understand why I have never held out hope of actually getting a job at one of these places.

Even if such a prospect were to come to fruition, it wouldn’t be affordable or feasible in any way. Since 2012, every time I have checked these listings, the salary is the same: $40,000/year as an Associate Editor/Editorial Assistant living in New York City. I mean who in the H-E-double-hockey-sticks could survive off of that in a city with one of the highest costs of living? It’s pretty laughable, although not that shocking for a position in literary publishing. Funnier still are the job descriptions themselves, which toss around words like “managing” and other skills that are anything but entry-level.

But when I actually applied for several of these jobs after graduate school with both a master’s in creative writing and editorial experience at a literary press, communication was radio silent. Not even a thanks-but-no-thanks? Not gonna lie, that hurt my feelings a little bit. And, like a glutton for punishment, I still find myself perusing these job boards from time to time, which is how I came across something very unexpected (see image below).

I must have laughed for a solid 10 minutes at this. I mean, I’m just trying to picture my life as James Patterson’s editor (which, admittedly, is way too presumptuous). Like all I do, day in and day out, is read James Patterson while making line edits and coaching him through his manuscripts. After a good belly laugh, I began wondering what happened to the last editor? Seems like a pretty sweet gig so I can’t imagine they just up and left. There’s also something extremely meta about the mystery of James Patterson’s missing editor, don’t you think?

Part of me wonders if this has anything to do with the rumors swirling around Patterson’s writing technique, which allegedly involves a team of writers who formulaically churn out books like factory assembly lines. I have no idea if there is any truth to this gossip, but part of me wonders how anyone is capable of producing that much copy, going through the editing process, book design/layout, and having it out on the shelves so quickly (“up to 10 books a year”), but it’s certainly not impossible. I have witnessed as much on the production side of things.

Even though the listing came as a bit of shock, this is actually a great opportunity for any experienced mystery and/or thriller editors out there. What’s the weirdest job posting you’ve come across?

Snow

I remember how much my heart ached in the snowy mountains of Colorado that first year. I had never seen snow in person before, let alone touched it.

That morning after the MFA Halloween party felt fuzzy, almost like buzzing static or the high-pitched ringing after a bomb goes off.

I woke from a restless night of sleep next to my boyfriend, still dressed in a half-assed mermaid costume. One feathery eyelash had fallen off, but my scales, which had been sculpted from eyeshadow and fishnets, remained somewhat intact against my forehead. My hands roamed over my body and face, until reaching the top of my head. I was surprised to find the pink hairpiece faithfully secured there, albeit tangled beyond help.

A faint pink light matching the color of the newly formed nest on my head cast itself over every inch of the room. Sunrise.

There comes a point in the many stages after a party when one wakes much too early and is in too much physical pain to go back to sleep, and I had hit that point. I tried waking my boyfriend without luck, then decided to move around.  

The first thing I noticed, after walking to the bedroom window, was a small streak of red-orange peeking over the mountains, fighting its way to me despite my desperate need for continued sleep and aspirin. The second thing I noticed was the endless, snow-covered landscape. Every ordinary object I had come to know was now unrecognizable, and I could not tell where the parking lot ended and the street began.

The night before had been chilly, sure, but no one, especially a southern girl like me, had expected to wake up to this. I’d waited almost three months to see my first snow, and it was otherworldly.

Starkwhite quiet blanketed the cars in the parking lot below. My Black SUV could’ve been mistaken for a white dune. The light seemed brighter than usual, as if amplified, reflecting off of the shimmering earth and into the air, causing me to squint, the way I did when looking at a pool of water. It was beautiful and completely foreign.

I practically squealed as I threw on a men’s jacket, running out of the door, down the stairs, and into pearly dawn.

Snow wasn’t something I minded in the beginning. Perhaps because it was new and exciting to me then. I hadn’t yet driven in it with my pathetic 2-wheel drive nor had a group of strangers pushed me out of a drift on campus, and I certainly hadn’t skidded to a jarring halt just barely avoiding a violent smack into the back of a stopped Subaru. Like everything else in this new world, snow was alluring until it wasn’t.

I must have looked downright insane twirling around the parking lot in my fish scale leggings and irretrievable pink hairpiece with one giant, vibrant eyelash flapping in the mountain wind, but I didn’t care. And I didn’t know the turbulence that would follow in coming months.

Not long after that morning, my then-boyfriend gifted me a copy of Mary Ruefle’s poetry collection, “The Most of It”. When I opened the book, I noticed an earmarked page; on it, was a poem entitled, “Snow” – a poem that now serves as a time capsule of that day.

Snow Pt.I
Snow Pt.II

There is something about this poem now that makes me feel completely enveloped by a time when everything felt damn near perfect, if only for one day. It reminds me of a world where I could be anyone or anything. A world where I was 24, in love, and finding joy in the ethereal unknown landscapes around me.

I am no longer the woman who once felt astonished in the presence of snow, but the beauty of poetry is that it can take you right back to a place you thought you’d left behind.

Prompt of the Day: Any Genre

Today’s prompt is to write something using this photo as inspiration. I don’t know the original image source unfortunately, but I saw it on Facebook earlier today with the caption: “Farm workers in California continue working while the fires blaze.” It reminds me of one of the YA novels I started last year in which a human-caused ecodisaster blocks the sun, causing an unstoppable super winter set to wipe out all human life on earth.

There are a lot of things I see when I look at this photo beyond fantasy though. It’s pretty terrifying to witness something so post-apocalyptic happening right now. It also snowed in the northern part of my home state of Louisiana, today. Currently, I’m huddled next to a space heater in snow boots and a down parka typing with numb fingers somewhere in the middle of New Orleans. Yesterday, my phone wouldn’t quit buzzing at work from a tornado warning. And last week it flooded within a matter of minutes at the beginning of a thunderstorm. None of this is normal.

For these reasons, I feel torn between a political essay about migrant workers in CA and a short story in the same vein as the YA mentioned earlier.

Either way, this prompt doesn’t have many restrictions, aside from using the photo as inspiration for your opening scene. Any genre is fine. Try to write at least 500 words.Use at least one color. Mention the word “burning” somewhere, whether in or out of context of the CA wildfires. 

Feel free to post what you come up with in the comments section. I’d love to read it!

It’s Okay if You Missed the Beginning of NaNoWriMo

giphyIt’s that time of year again, folks — National Novel Writing Month! Of course, I didn’t remember this fact until today with a third of November already underway. Pretty standard for me though if I’m being honest.

For those who are unfamiliar with National Novel Writing Month, more commonly referred to as NaNoWriMo, this is an annual event held during the month of November that encourages creative writers to complete a 50,000-word manuscript in exactly 30 days, the equivalent of 1,667 words per day.

Now is when I confess to you that I have never participated in NaNoWriMo in any official capacity. The organization website has determined rules, deadlines, achievement badges, and so on. I merely adopted the concept some years ago and have since adapted it for my own creative purposes. However, if you struggle to write everyday and need that extra level of accountability, it may be useful to register with the site.

I tend to personalize my restrictions for the month of November around my desired goals with realistic expectations. As a full-time editor and part-time poet, it is not always feasible for me to write an extra 1,667 words per day. Sometimes I come home late too mentally exhausted to do anything other than stare into the abyss that is Netflix. Sometimes my partner wants to spend quality time with me and talk about the day. Sometimes I have to make dinner or go to roller derby practice or run out to the store or walk my dogs, etc. I think most of us lead incredibly busy lives, which is why many of us don’t write regularly or as often as we would like to in the first place.

giphy2To make matters worse, I am the type of person who will stop trying altogether if my goals are ridiculously unobtainable. It’s just who I am as a woman living with diagnosed ADHD and almost no free time. Sometimes I expect too much of myself. I am also in the habit of pushing the limits of my physical and mental capabilities. At my core though, I am my writing therefore this is one area of my life I refuse to ruin through exhaustion.

Being a poet is a factor in my self-imposed month of writing as well. For instance, 1,667 words per day is doable for most fiction writers, novelists, essayists, and those who write long-form pieces, but for poets — who tend to focus almost exclusively on the quality of words versus quantity and who spend hours agonizing over every single word choice/pairing — this can be excruciatingly difficult or even impossible to achieve.

Still, cultivating the impetus to write every day for an entire month, come hell or high water, is useful in creating new habits and making the follow through on deadlines less intimidating. “One day, I’ll finish that novel,” transforms into, “Today, I will finish that novel,” and this monumental shift in thinking is crucial to manifesting your dreams no matter who you are or what you write.

For poets, this may become an exercise in letting go. It is easier to edit/whittle down pages and pages of lines than it is to pull the perfect sequential line out of thin air while writing a poem.

A few years ago, after a particularly bad case of writer’s block, I decided to try writing from stream of consciousness during the month of November. The goal was to write as quickly as possible without pausing — the opposite of my writing practice at the time. The biggest problem I had then was my inability to forget the reader/audience while writing, which led to the belief that everything I put down on paper was garbage; if it wasn’t ready to be published the moment I wrote it down, I tossed it. This is why I decided to try something new, something that would help me bypass the part of my brain intent on shouting, “This sucks!”

I got the idea from Gertrude Stein who, early in her career, performed experiments on “normal motor automatism” — the practice of simultaneously dividing one’s attention between two intelligent activities, such as writing and speaking — which was theorized to reveal one’s subconscious in a literal “stream of consciousness.”

giphy1

In the end, Stein didn’t believe “automatic writing” was possible, but her work often reflects a sort of primitivism in the repetition of phrases, unique linguistic patterns and experimental forms she chose that feels reminiscent of a stream of consciousness.

I thought about how Stein might have come up with “Tender Buttons” (one of my favorite works) and concluded that I couldn’t allow myself to stop and analyze what I wrote down under any circumstances. The result was a 70-page collection of poems that became key to my final thesis. In this way, NaNoWriMo can be utilized as more than just a way to create consistent writing habits or to finish that long-put-off novel; it can also be used as a period of exploration and evolution. I encourage anyone who missed the beginning of November to participate anyway. It’s never too late to begin a new writing practice.

Remembering Anthony Bourdain Pt II

Last night I fell asleep to the sound of Anthony Bourdain’s voice. He did not appear as an apparition.

Screen Shot 2018-06-13 at 6.08.01 PM
“fish”, lol

I realize what I’m about to say may sound blasphemous to many of you, but I sometimes forgo handheld books for audiobooks. The reason being, I’m busy as hell, and it helps me fall asleep 99% of the time. This habit started a little over a year ago when I started commuting across the longest bridge in the world.

I know what you’re thinking…that’s one expensive habit. FYI, you can rent audiobooks for free if you have a library card.

The point though, is that Anthony Bourdain’s Medium Raw is read by the author himself, and it is pretty damn phenomenal. There are many poignant parts about his feelings on suicide, which are both intriguing and hard to listen to now. It’s quite a window into his motivations.

For instance, near the beginning of the book, he says that when he got his first show and stopped working day-to-day, his life descended into chaos. You can also tell he is hyper aware of his privilege by the way he often calls himself out or glazes over these moments, detracting from his own pain and experience, but they’re still there.

I guess I recognize some of myself in Bourdain’s autobiography. Mainly these moments of complete self destruction and moments when he, despite his better judgement, goes along with questionable people and situations because he is bored of his life and monotony.

What I find interesting though is how often in interviews and in the book he lives on this edge of craving routine and also detesting it. It seems like no matter what he does, including travelling the world with a TV show, he eventually becomes numb to any moment of pleasure. Of course, this is exactly how depression works, and, once someone has it, their chances of relapsing skyrocket.

I had a strange moment last night where I thought, maybe there is something to that whole positive attitude thing. Although, for the most part, I believe depression to be both chemical and situational, which takes more than merely redirecting your thoughts to come out from under. Bourdain was very candid in his books and sometimes in his shows, but he clearly, and often, redirected his suicidal thoughts in front of others almost as quickly as they appeared.

One thing that stuck out in the book is just how frequently he played with death. In most of his anecdotes, it’s always at the edge, if not the forefront of his thoughts. In chapter two, we learn that he regularly let the next song on the radio determine whether or not he drove off of a cliff while living in the caribbean. Listening to this, I wondered how Anthony Bourdain ever made it to 61 years old. To say that he had a death wish was to put it mildly.

Still, his writing as a whole and descriptions are incredible. I am now convinced that he could have lived another life as a successful fiction novelist. Until last night, I seemed to have forgotten all about the explosive memoir that pushed him into the limelight in the first place, Kitchen Confidential (2000), which he discusses in Medium Raw (2010).

You can bet he used this follow up as an opportunity to go in on the Food Network and celebrity chefs once more. But, as we now know, the Food Network actually gave Bourdain his big break with the show No Reservations. Eventually though, he recognizes himself as a sellout. To make matters worse, they pull his show after realizing that audiences will eat up dumbed-down, buzzfeed-style TV features. This is a big point of contention for him in the book, particularly the way the network begins using anti-immigrant, anti-poc, anti-diversity language in reference to his show.

Where most people might move on from something like this fairly quickly, I get an overwhelming sense of hopelessness from Bourdain, even now, as he recalls something from his past. It’s like every moment, every event, every interaction in his life left a lasting mark. Hearing his voice through my headphones as I writhe around in sleep is both soothing and unsettling. 

I could probably write my own book about this, but, alas, I must go. However, if you’re a fan of Anthony Bourdain and want more insight into this recent tragedy and into who he was, I recommend starting at the source.

Remembering Anthony Bourdain

At 7:17 AM Friday morning, I woke up to find a heartbreaking text waiting for me.

img_2581

I later told my friend that the news wasn’t surprising given his former heroin addiction and open dialogue about his struggle with depression and suicide. I’d witnessed him speak on this over the years in episodes of No Reservations and Parts Unknown. But this automatic retort was a lie. Despite his history, the news still shook me.

For one, you spend your entire life working for the things Anthony Bourdain has: an extremely successful career that allows you to travel across the world, wealth, fame, love—all on your own terms—and it still doesn’t fix the underlying problems that accompany depression and other mental health issues many of us struggle with.

Whatever he was going through, he deserves recognition for his accomplishments and his game-changing impact on the culinary arts and reality television.

If you watch some of his older shows, you might laugh because the foods he was trying and the places he visited, that seem so normal now, were still taboo for many Americans at the time.

I don’t care much for cooking shows, but I loved everything about Bourdain from the moment I saw an episode of No Reservations in college. He was, as the show’s title implies, an absolutely fearless, punk-rock, barebones traveling chef who went where high-brow chefs refused to and who could care less about these same opinions on food or his approach to food.

And yet, he spent so much time advocating. For people of color. For women. For rape survivors. For addicts. He was outspoken about all of these things. Much of the show (both NR and Parts Unknown) is dedicated to watching other people cook as well as learning and highlighting their techniques.

He never intruded in these spaces while he was there, rather he carved out a voice and a space for these individuals. That was the heart of his shows.

It’s incredibly hard to picture someone as fierce, loved, and wildly successful as Bourdain ending his own life.  Although he always spoke of depression and addiction as though he’d overcome them, there is no denying that this came up often enough in his shows to send up red flags. But there were also incredible moments of joy and laughter in the exchange of food and culture throughout every episode.

I’ve since talked to several friends about Anthony Bourdain, and he meant something different to all of us. A talented writer. An advocate. A bold voice that went against mainstream food critics. A cool guy. A tour guide in the bowls of unknown spaces. There’s no denying the fact that he touched people’s lives in a positive way…and under all that was still a man battling for his life.

I don’t pretend to know what drove him to this, but I think it was always this brokenness just under the surface in him that always resonated with me. Maybe it was what allowed him to be so different, relatable, and fearless. There is nothing glorious about suicide, which Bourdain himself admitted is a selfish, stupid act in past interviews. I don’t think anyone is in a place to judge why another does something this extreme. However, I think that Anthony Bourdain still deserves to be remembered for all he has done and for what he meant to others. I know I won’t be the only one who misses him.

Why Out-of-Town Workshops are Valuable

Did I ever tell you about the time I did a writing workshop in Oaxaca? It was the week of Halloween, roughly two weeks after the students missing and the atmosphere was wild.

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Oaxaca is a big destination for Dia de los Muertos to begin with. On top of that, the political unrest grew each day I was there. Near the end of the trip, I received an email from the US embassy saying Americans were being evacuated 7-8 hours away in Acapulco. When I woke up the next day, the building across the street was covered ingraffiti about the students. As the Day of the Dead drew closer, there seemed to be more and more police presence, and, consequently, more and more human-sized guns.

But before that, Oaxaca took my breath away. There were old churches, colorful buildings, and mountains everywhere. The food tasted like nothing I’ve ever had. Not once did I come across anything with preservatives. Juice was nourishing and fresh squeezed. Raw tomato was practically orgasmic. Yes, I did get a touch of Montezuma’s revenge, but it wasn’t anything a few shots of Mezcal couldn’t fix. Best of all, it wasn’t overpopulated with Westerners, and I ended up gaining some Spanish by the end of it.

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The workshop (U.S. Poets in Mexico) itself was extremely valuable. I enjoyed working with Anselm Berrigan and Catherine Wagner the most. Wagner, in particular, had completely unconventional writing practices that shook the foundation of how I conceptualized craft at the time. This experience begged many questions I still ask myself today.

1) How many of us actually use our environment to write?

I’d say that most people write inside with their heads down. We cram our bodies into uncomfortable positions and rigidly pull on the depths of our imagination. Even if you sit outside to write or go to a different location, this stiffness is often still with us.

2) Now out of those of us that deviate from standard writing practices, how many of us use, really use, our bodies or movement to write?

It might sound counterintuitive, but that was the entire focus of Wagner’s workshop. Although it made me uncomfortable initially, this redirection opened up something in my writing I had never experienced before.

This came at a point in grad school when I felt myself repeating the same things over and over again in my work. I was at a standstill, and I wasn’t sure how I was going to write for another year.

A lot of grad-level worshiping involves crafting in private until you’re ready to show it to your peers who then evicerate it, which is valuable in many ways. But after a while, can make it impossible to forget about the audience during the writing process and make you lose touch with your love for it altogether. That changed for me after the workshop.

The first thing we did was engage each other by siting in a circle and playing word games. Someone would say a word and the next person would have to pick out the middle sound to begin anew. This is where I got my thesis title, “Louisiana Alchemy.” Later, we walked around the courtyard describing what we saw in our perspective notebooks.

My favorite exercise though went a little further when Wagner asked each of us to write a sonnet (14 lines). However, we had to incorporate a number, a color, a piece of architecture, and we could only write one line for every block we walked, and we were all sent in different directions.

Something about the timing of the block and being in this foreign landscape brought forth a well of inspiration. I stopped caring about the reader and felt that spark I used to get when I first started writing poetry in college. Some of my favorite poems (see 2 at the end of this post) came out of this experience.

Being a big fan of Wagner, it was also interesting to glean up-close insight into her writing practices. I had always wondered how she came up with such unique, phonetic verse. Everything for her was about movement.

This is also why I recommend finding a workshop where one of your favorite writers will be teaching or one that is put on by a press you love. Not only is it a great way to network, but it’s also a great way to learn exactly what you want to learn from the people you admire most.

Make it a goal to go somewhere you’ve never been before for this as well. As a writer, life experience is necessary for you to do what you do.

Although I went on this trip with a classmate and met up with an old friend who lived nearby, plenty of people go it alone and are ready to meet new writers. A friend may not have the same interests and may want to go to different workshops during this as well. You will also have the advantage of dedicating your time to the writers you came to see.

 

Where are your favorite writing workshops and what techniques do you still practice from them?

 


2 poems from the workshop:

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