Fear and Loving At the Key West Literary Seminar

I’m currently at the Key West Literary Seminar in Key West, Florida. My friend Ian Rowan is Technical Director of the Seminar and invited me down to soak up the presence and presentations of some of the most important writers working today. Jamaica Kincaid, Teju Cole, Joy Williams, Marlon James … to name a few.

I’m feeling intimidated … to put it lightly.

So I took a break to tour the manor Ernest Hemingway called home for 10 years here in Key West. There are 54 six toed cats that live on the property.

The house was lovely, situated right next to the Key West lighthouse. The tour guide told us ol’ Hem would use the lighthouse to find his way home from the bars.

The tour was a lot of anecdotes about Hemingway’s drunkenness and wife-hopping. Funny that’s what people are intrigued by. I wanted to hear about his writing rituals, his routines.

Maybe it’s karmic retribution for what a slog writing can be as an art form. Writers can behave badly, and it’s considered eccentric, charming even, and tourists will pay $14 half a century later to peep their bathrooms and closets. 

In the bookstore I bought Martha Gellhorn’s memoir, she was a novelist and one of the most important war correspondents of the 20th century, and Hemingway’s third wife. I feel like I shouldn’t even mention their marriage, and she famously wouldn’t talk about it in interviews, because she didn’t want to “be a footnote in someone else’s life.”

“Everyone behaves badly–given the chance.” Ernest Hemingway, The Sun Also Rises. 

 

What you can’t see in the following photo is butterflies are fluttering all around me like a goddamn Disney dreamland. Which is how it felt to be a surprise scholarship recipient for a @keywestliteraryseminar workshop. After visiting the butterfly sanctuary I read a few short stories over coffee, then went to hear luminaries such as Manuel Gonzales and Billy Collins discuss craft, poetry, and the writing life. Every now and then, life gives us a perfect day. This was one of them. 

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What you do/don’t want your Dad to read

It’s 2:21am on New Year’s Eve, and I’m starting 2018 how I intend to live it. Writing. Processing thoughts into words. Taking action to share those words.

This is something I wrote on Christmas Eve, but didn’t share on my blog because my dad subscribes and I was nervous for him to read it. It’s nothing I wouldn’t say to him in person, but I get shy being so vulnerable. Well, anyway. Here it is.

Dad, when you read this, thank you for the wild ride this year. We did it. I love you.

***********

My dad’s doctors don’t want him traveling during the holidays, so we’re going to stay in our sweats this Christmas and watch movies and unpack his new apartment for his new life, for his new liver.

Tonight we revisited the photo book I made him several Christmases ago, the early 70s photos from when he was the guitar-sitar-dulcimer player in the band/collective called ONE. They were discovered by Jefferson Airplane, were a staple in the magnetic Bolinas, CA music scene, and even played John Lennon’s birthday party.

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I’m over the moon my dad is talking about music again. I hold my breath for the day he picks up the guitar again. And I can’t believe how much we resemble each other in these photos. I’d really love to remake the photo book for him, as a coffee table book along with the story of his band. Anyone know anything about the world of publishing art books?

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A lot of the photos from the time are double-exposed, creating these surreal images I’m obsessed with. These photographs only resurfaced recently, the photographer from the record label found them in his garage and somehow tracked down my dad.

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ONE’s music was ethereal, folksy, experimental. The lead singer had his name legally changed to Reality D. Blipcrotch. The “D” stands for “Dopey.” This is mild compared to the other characters and stories my dad tells. When I look at the photos, I’m also struck how they feel like a generation finding itself. After the big shifts of the Summer of Love, where would the dust settle?

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I made the photo book to cheer my dad up for the first Christmas after my mom passed away. We started talking about the project again when he had cancer. Now it comes back out post transplant. But with so many “career building” projects to work on, making this book with him feels like something “we’ll get to eventually.”

It’s funny how life and death situations spur you to action, you think you’ll always live thereafter with the beautiful perspective trauma can bring. But alas, you don’t. You seep back into the minutiae. You procrastinate. I try to remind myself it’s a gift to be caught up in the petty stuff. It means your life is calm. Free enough from major hurdles that you even have the emotional bandwidth to sweat the small stuff.

I hope everyone has a lovely holiday. May your worries in the new year be petty and small. May you have the gift of health, the only gift that really counts.

What am I “About”?

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I just re-wrote the “About” section of this website, and it was the trickiest damn thing to do. I procrastinated doing it for so long, because what am I “about?” I’m constantly asking that very question, and it’s only very recently (like this year) that I finally feel like I have a point of view.

The personal bio section of everything I’ve ever applied for has always stumped me. You’re supposed to list your achievements in this part, right? But is that a real reflection of what you’re about, what keeps you up at night, what keeps you going? In part, yes. Our achievements are a reflection of our life priorities. But if I really want to share what I’m “about,” it’s human connection, finding comedy in the darkness, Nature, being self-expressed, taming the voice in my head, experiencing new cultures, challenges, kisses, and cats. Not the jobs I’ve had or the awards I’ve won.

So rather than a typical bio, I interviewed myself instead. This seemed like an authentic way to lightly brag about my accomplishments, plus it’s so dumb when people write in the third person in a bio.

Me: You’re from Reno? That’s weird.  

Erin: I grew up in a town called Gardnerville nearby Tahoe, and went to college in Reno. I fucking love Reno so don’t say anything about it. 

Me: What’s LA been like for you?

Erin: Wonderful and terrible. For a while I had that job where I sat in a glass box in white underwear at the Standard Hotel. It’s like an LA rite of passage. I made my first vlog while I was in the box. Which got me fired, but they didn’t make me take down the episodes.  

Me: You just sat there? Sounds like a scam. 

Erin: I think it was “art.” The observer being the observed. 

Me: Sounds deep. 

Erin: I’m trying to frame it that way. 

Read the whole interview over in the “About” section. Obviously. And I’m curious your thoughts on this subject. How do you write your own bio? What are you “about?”

Still from “Omen 31” by The Loves

Catfishing life success.

When I got notice my script Forever Flowers had advanced at the Austin FF Screenplay Competition, I felt like I’d won the lottery. But being there in person a few weeks ago, meeting the writers who’d actually won, I felt dumb for how excited I’d been. But if you don’t celebrate the “no” that’s somewhat a “yes,” then aren’t you perpetually swimming in “blah”?

This picture is not of me. I don’t write topless, nor with a typewriter. I write in ugly sweats with a laptop that’s had a Pilates DVD stuck in it since 2013. But this is social media which is all about presenting the fantasy version of our life so yeah, doesn’t my ass look great in these jeans?

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Releasing lanterns, hoping it’s not dumb

I wrote this last month for Uproxx.com, still ruminating on it. I’d always wanted to attend a lantern fest, but there’s something that feels inherently wrong about a pretty event that’s meant to pay tribute to those who’ve suffered. Like when celebrities have $10,000 galas for charity. I know the heart is in the right place, but I feel weird about it. I like the article, though. Been a big triumph this year to publish regularly. Think I’ll keep at it.

Releasing Lanterns With Messages Of Healing And Hoping It’s Not Dumb

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Still thinking about that eclipse …

There isn’t a day that goes by I don’t think about the total eclipse. The thrilling / terrible feeling of whoever’s in charge turning down the sun dial like “Watch what I can do, silly humans.” I’ve never felt so insignificant, yet interconnected. The only event that’s affected me in the same way was being in the room as my niece was born. Both experiences are tattooed on my soul. 

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A “pretty white girl” writes about Burning Man

Unpacking The Lies You Tell Yourself At Burning Man

Who knew getting hated on could be so rewarding? To date, the essay I wrote about my Burning Man experience (see above) has been read ­­­­­50,000 + times. This might be normal for other writers, but since I’m usually locked away in a long form narrative, this shit never happens to me.

I’ve felt elated, proud, shocked, seen, and – hurt. Because there’s also been a lot of backlash. By readers who hate Burning Man in general and thus hate the article (which is such a curiosity, to take the time to read AND comment on an event you’ve never attended but loathe intensely … Burning Man is so charged like that). And by Burners themselves who hate – well, me. Or at least what I wrote, what I represent, “everything that’s going downhill about Burning Man.” To get backlash from the community stings a little. Okay, a lot. I got called a Sparklepony. In Burn culture, this is very, very unflattering.

When I look back at what I wrote, in the midst of unpacking the rental van, hair ratted, bike chafed, picking playa dust out of my eyelashes, mourning the loss of my sleep schedule, hoping we wouldn’t get charged a cleaning fee on the van, getting charged anyway, catching up on bills and checking in with family, yeah I cringe at how obnoxious the article is at times. But in that haze of post peak experience deadline drama, I had no time to self-censor, no time to organize my thoughts beyond a brain dump of what the experience was like inside my neurotic, self-judgmental mind.

I agree with some of the detractors. I wasn’t there for my camp as much as I could’ve been, admitting lugging grey water in apocalyptic heat was the hardest physical labor I’ve ever done was a pretty embarrassing window into my privileged existence. But the comments that piss me off are the ones that refer to me as “just another pretty white girl.” This means my experience isn’t valid? This means I can’t have a point of view?

Would it have made a difference if I’d divulged that I’ve spent the last year as caretaker to my very ill father? That getting to spend a week feeling alive in the desert was the antidote to our endless ER visits. And that before that I was holding space for my boyfriend when he got run over by an SUV, breaking both legs and spending months in a wheelchair. And that he and I got our Burning Man tickets as the goal on the horizon when he would walk again. And that even though we’re not together anymore, my ultimate Burn highlight was when we found each other on the playa under the moon, marveling that he could not only walk but dance and ride a bike, and we held the solar shower for each other as we took little bird baths and discussed our favorite art installations.

If I’d shared all that, would it have made a difference?

Or is that just something a pretty white girl would say?

With that said, now I’ll do the only thing you really can do in life: focus on the light.

In this case: the positive feedback the article has generated. Readers who’ve shared El Guaco-esque experiences of their own, and the owner of El Guaco himself, who found me on Facebook to say El Guaco is his playa contribution because he’s an introvert and this is how he feels comfortable interacting with people.

Some other things I need to say:

–My heart is heavy for the man who ran into the fire, for his family, for those who witnessed it. I didn’t address this in the article because I wanted to gently shine a light on all the other aspects of the experience. I don’t have anything poetic to say about it, just had to acknowledge it.

–I love bike culture at Burning Man. It’s such a return to childhood, riding around with your friends, your bike posse. It’s the perfect example of the duality out there, hedonistic activities happening simultaneously as you get in touch with your inner child.

–Something needs to be said about baby wipes at Burning Man. They are a gift from heaven. That’s all.

–To save face, I know I should write more about my previous Burns, in response to the commenters who wrote that it’s sad I’d been 4 times and was still such a “spectator.” But that’s another article for another time. And I’m pretty ready to be done with Burning Man for the year.

The last thing I want to say is I’ve had haters before. I wrote a sex column for a semester in college that was so divisive I got both applauded by my First Amendment and Society professor, and nearly kicked out of school. Being the center of such turmoil was thrilling, and embarrassing. It was right after my mom’s death and I was in a very “fuck it” place in my life. I’d be lying if I said the backlash didn’t affect me deeply. I wanted to hide for the entire year following. What’s changed in ten years? Then I was writing for shock affect, this time I was authentically expressing myself and my experience. I think I just have a somewhat salacious way of moving through life. I’ve also had ten years of rejection and disappointment to get me primed.

Okay, controversy. Okay, Burning Man. I’ve said all I can say. I’m done. For the year. Or longer. Or not.

The irony of a dirty soap dish

Just found this poem thing I wrote on a napkin maybe a year ago. Beth took this pic of me the other day in the RV I almost bought.
THE IRONY OF A DIRTY SOAP DISH.


Loneliness. What a funny friend. At a sushi bar, surrounded by humans, lonely as the single rice left behind. Why MORE lonely when in company of people, less lonely when just me and my cat — alone?


“Isn’t it ironic?” asked my 90s flat hair hero.


• Ironic as the soap dish being dirty.


Which is something I spent so long contemplating this morning I was late for wherever I was going.


My whole life is late.


Or is it right on time?

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What I don’t post.

There’s so much I don’t share about myself. Since the beginning of the year, I’ve crossed two things off the list I’ve always wanted to do: study fight training and study drumming. I’ve been accomplishing things I never thought I could do, like wielding a machete and singing and drumming at the same time. But I don’t really talk about it. Am I keeping it for myself, or do I have a block around self-expression?

If we don’t post about it, did it ever really happen?

I feel an incredible connection to the Divine, to the goddesses, to the plants. But I feel silly writing about it. Guess I’m afraid of being judged.

But Stevie Nicks says “I see the crystal visions / I keep the visions to myself.”

And she also says “When the rain washes you clean you’ll know.”

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Amtrak across Arizona.

A few weeks ago I was hurtling across the Saguaro Desert on a train trip. Part of me feels like I still haven’t arrived back.

The bumpy, rattling movement of the train (somehow soothing). The curious other passengers (eclectic cross-section of folks travel by train). America going by outside the viewing car (desert, cacti, power plant, river, airplane graveyard, more cacti). We must have passed through a dozen different tiny towns, all with the same 3 things — bar, junkyard, train stop.

We got our Colombian waiter in the dining car to wear my headdress costume. We listened to our luggage attendant talk about how much she hates LA traffic (always end up talking about that no matter where I am in the world). We saw a spectacular sunset in Tucson. We watched an electrical lightning storm during dinner. We laughed til we couldn’t breathe.

But my favorite part, the best part, was this man I filmed from afar during the sunset. While everyone else was scrambling to take photos of the pink sherbet sky, he just gazed out the window, stoic as a sculpture, obscuring everyone’s photos of the sunset, not caring in the slightest. His energy was heavy, lonely. But maybe I’m projecting that, and he was perfectly happy, enjoying the minutely disruptive act of messing up everyone’s photo.

I like how in the video he’s observing nature, yet is separated from it. Perhaps that’s just a thing I think I should say. Seems like something you’d read at a museum.

Actually, the best part was hearing the train whistle all the time. It’s the best sound in the world. Full of romance, full of longing. The 9 hour trip was worth it just for that.

 

I did The Moth!

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Last night I told a group of strangers about my past in beauty pageants. It was The Moth, and I got picked to tell a story! (thanks to @ebschiller signing me up because I was late because I’m always laaaaaate). The theme was “Beauty” and here are the highlights of my story: ⚡️There’s an urban legend in pageants about the girl whose onstage question was “Who do you most want to meet, dead or alive?” And she blanked and answered “Definitely alive!” In other words, being a beauty pageant contest is perhaps the most vilified, misunderstood thing a woman can do in modern culture. I was one of those women. From age 17-24. An adult decision. ⚡️But it was one of the most empowering, positive experiences of my life. And I won. More than once. Because your highest and lowest scores are thrown out, which means because I was strongly mediocre, I won. I was consistently whelming. ⚡️My mom never wanted me to do pageants, but it ended up being a way we bonded, driving to rehearsals and dress shopping. When she was diagnosed with breast cancer, it was something we did to get our minds of chemo and the heaviness of her condition. ⚡️other stuff other stuff ⚡️Act 2 where I shared details and anecdotes, to be honest my story lost steam here. I always spend too much time on the set-up.⚡️more stuff about not having a tragic life story and it kept me from winning the ultimate crown … then I connected this to my moms illness but what’s the line between catharsis and exploitation? So I never talked about it in pageants.
⚡️When she passed away, I still felt I couldn’t “use” her death to “get ahead.” I did move back from New Zealand to do one last pageant, Miss Las Vegas, before I aged out. But I lost to a deaf Cher impersonator / flutist. ⚡️Then I kinda didn’t know how to connect it so I said something like “When I look back, the times I felt beautiful weren’t having a crown put on my head, but the times I shared with my mom, that in the last year of her life we had something fun we shared.”

I got good scores!! 🙏 Thank you Mom for being okay with me talking about your illness then, even though I didn’t, and finally making the pageant connection, 13 years later. #themoth #storyteller #futuredreams

This is summer.

I edited this yesterday while relaxing at a river swimming hole. Sometimes nature and technology can be friends. Happy (belated because I’m always belated) Fourth of July.

Shot and edited on an iPhone 6 by me. Poem “The Laughing Heart” by Charles Bukowski, by way of a Levi’s “Go Forth” ad I’ve always loved.

The movie we never finished.

This is the trailer we never released to a movie we never finished writing. It was 5 years ago, and we wanted to make a love letter to Sayulita, Mexico, where Beth’s family had a house. She’d been taking me since we were 15, she’d been going even longer. The film’s theme was about running away, literally and metaphorically. Our characters were living an idyllic expatriate life in Mexico, but discovering that even paradise has its trappings. We wrote dozens of pages and outlines, but the script just never came together. We couldn’t crack it. There was a foreboding about “commodifying” our friendship, and the town we loved so much. Maybe it was meant to be a lesson in the creative process, that some stories just aren’t meant to exist on the page. Her family has since sold the house, and anyway Sayulita has been quite “discovered” by now. Vaya con dios, movie that never was. Thank you @machetebangbang for putting this edit together. All the way to Pluto and back. 💫

 

They named the baby Quest.

My nephew is two. He has ignored me for his entire existence, until last weekend. I get it. I had little to offer. I didn’t provide him milk or a cozy bed or anything other than “Hi, you’re so cute.” I don’t know how I earned it, but suddenly he loves me. Like, can’t get enough of me. Such a gift, albeit an exhausting one. I was reminded of this piece I wrote when he was born, and wanted to share it again (however I edited it a bit, this is the power of perspective to make your writing better). Marveling at how much has changed in just two years. Marveling at how I rarely cry and rarely talk about it when I do, yet a lot of my posts are about me crying. Funny that.

 

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This is what Tulum feels like.

For the last few years, I sorta rolled my eyes when people gushed about Tulum. Now I’ve been there twice in two months. Just something about that place. Two weekends ago I was there swimming in a cave. This weekend I’m doing laundry, driving in traffic, and holding space for sick family members. Life is funny like that. The balance of yay and meh. But back to the cave. It was an underground river system called a cenote. A sacred place. Turns out cenotes are sink holes circling the crater created by the meteor that killed the dinosaurs. And because this was an exquisitely curated gathering, we reached the end of the cenote to find a guy playing a sitar surrounded by red candles. A. Freakin. Sitar. This was a “peak experience” to say the least. How do we then integrate back to our normal lives, with its obligations, rules, and general unsexiness? I used to start planning my next escape, asap. Now I’m finding balance in the obligations and rules. Finding sexy in little pleasures like hot coffee, fresh laundry, and good rest. I think perhaps that’s how we become warriors. Finding contentment no matter where we are, because at least it means we’re alive.



Shot and edited on an iPhone at @our_habitas. “Man in Nature” by Alan Watts.

 

DEATH BY DISCO

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I’ve always been so entranced by the 70s disco scene. Studio 54 and all that. The glamour, the illusion that the party would last forever. When I was a kid living in Gardnerville — a sweet, dusty cow town in Nevada — there was nothing more exotic than the idea of being a disco queen. This is probably the product of seeing the trailer for Boogie Nights and the scene in Forrest Gump when Jenny is strung out in NYC, and being too young to understand these were characters sucked into a seedy underworld. I only saw the cool clothes. When I was 16, an “18 and over” club opened in Reno, called Rodeo Rock. A few girlfriends and I had one fake ID we’d pass back that made us 19. We’d say we were staying at each others’ houses, and really we’d sneak away to Reno, an hour away, the height of rebellion. I remember wearing a Spice Girls inspired halter top, white pants, and belly chain, dancing to the bump n grind of Nelly, and feeling completely, wildly happy in my second-rate version of Studio 54. I took this bts photos of Bianca a few years ago on a Machete shoot, and it always reminded me of that Rodeo Rock spirit. The fantasy version, in which we remain forever young.

FOR THE RESTLESS HEARTS

You know what they say, “it’s the journey, not the destination” // the ultimate modern cliché. // I’m supposed to be all zen and believe it, but hey – I’m human. I’m goal oriented. Sometimes the journey is really fucking annoying. And after all, who are “they?”

When I was younger I just wanted to party. Now I want to keep my car clean, and my teeth, and my room. // Do volunteer work, be a better daughter, less of a jerk.

(sunglasses emoji sheepish emoji lightning bolt emoji)

What about those of us who don’t wax poetic? Who can’t bemoan the journey OR the destination? // They progress little by little, they have no choice. // Their goal is less than Bali, fame, Rolls Royce. They don’t move mountains, or even move a rock. // Their goal is just the right to breathe, to speak, even just to walk.

To you I say – you inspire me. To get up day after day, when progress is so minute, Facing yourself like that means you’re a true warrior. More than all the medals, “followers” or loot. So is it the journey or the destination? I don’t know and I don’t care.

(shrugging emoji rolling eyes emoji sleeping emoji)

I’m writing poetry, up late at night. // I journeyed to this destination, and it feels pretty alright. // I’ve got air in my lungs. Cheap wine and good weed. Old friends and new lovers. What more could I need?

The end.

A few months later …

So this is interesting. Fast forward a few months from my last post, and the script is not only written, but I shot the first 25 minutes and have a teaser, rough cut, a production company, fancy producers, and press. A thousand tales of challenges and overcoming obstacles to get here, but cool to know that in just a few months, you really can make your dreams a reality.

Here’s the article: http://theemeraldmagazine.com/2017/01/pot-fiction

And here’s our poster:

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Labor Day / Labor Of Love

Writing is rewriting. And so writing is how I’m spending this Labor Day. The familiar excited / daunted feeling of taking a script I’ve “perfected” for a year and tearing it all apart. Looking at it from new angles. Allowing all possibilities. Realizing it wasn’t quite working because I hadn’t quite hit upon the truth of the story yet. The story that wants to be told is actually much bigger than me and my desire to express myself.

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“The writer’s role is to menace the public’s conscience. He must have a position, a point of view. He must see the arts as a vehicle of social criticism and he must focus on the issues of his time. It has forever been thus: So long as men write what they think, then all of the other freedoms — all of them — may remain intact. And it is then that writing becomes a weapon of truth, an article of faith, an act of courage.” — Rod Serling, creator of The Twilight Zone

#cannabiscommunity #legalizeit 👊

When someone you love has Alzheimer’s.

I haven’t posted much of me and my grandma lately, honestly because it’s been pretty tough since we moved her into a home. We know it’s the right thing for her, but it’s hard watching her struggle with having her whole environment change. Her lack of independence. We still do goofy things, like take selfies when I tuck her in on Sunday nights, but she’s not as sharp as she was just a few months ago. To anyone who’s experienced a loved one having Alzheimer’s, or being moved into a home, my heart goes out to you. Its a very emotional process. Even though I know she’s not comprehending as much as she used to, when I tell her she’s my favorite-almost-101 year-old, from the twinkle in her eye I know she understands completely. Because love is the language that lasts forever.

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