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 this 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.
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?
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.
Lately, I feel grumpy. It’s July, which means days are long and hot. Pool parties. The beach. Short shorts. Blah fucking blah. In other words, a constant reminder that despite my best intentions, somewhere along the line I sold out and became an adult.
I feel nostalgia for the summer of my youth so heavy I can’t breathe. Growing up in the tiny ranch town of Gardnerville, Nevada meant summers were like a country music video on repeat. Especially the sweet spot between ages fifteen and seventeen, when we were old enough to drive but too young to go anywhere.
The launch of summer was Carson Valley Days, the town parade and carnival at Lampe Park. Everyone came and everyone rode the same five rides we’d been riding since we were kids. We spent summer days at Lake Tahoe and summer nights at the river. Cheap beer was usually involved. We rode in the back of pickup trucks, driving too fast down county lanes, nothing but the stars above and our uncertain futures ahead.
The lack of options is what created the bliss. Gardnerville had one movie theater and lots of empty Earth. Social life meant seeing the same movie for the fifth time, or circling up around a bonfire in the desert or the woods, drinking our parents’ purloined liquor and blasting Country Grammar (I know I just seriously dated myself, but Nelly’s debut album was really tight).
I marvel at how we found these bonfire spots. Before Waze, before texting. I guess we called each other on land lines and wrote down the directions?
I could devote an entire book to growing up Gardnerville, and I still might. But for now the last thing I’ll mention here is the scent — summer nights in the ‘Ville are the aroma of hay fields, fresh unpolluted oxygen, cows, wholesome American dreams. I know I’m waxing poetic, we always look back on our youth with a rose-colored lens.
But no matter how many cities I visit, or fancy Hollywood events I attend, nothing feels as great as being seventeen on a summer night, surrounded by my gang of friends, parked at the river, singing Garth Brooks into the night.
Spent tonight absorbing spoken word poet Kate Tempest. She kills. Made me inspired to write a poem.
ATTENTION WITH NO INTENTION
In on a Friday night / Words consume me / I wanna fight / excuses are bruises in my sight / I have a light / I work so hard to cover up, fear of being bright.Smoke rings, fire sings / I now know love, I now know the right / It’s being with me, it’s being with he. Making art for the thrill of it, not for the sell of it / Cheap ideas, expensive faces / They bleed for ads, don’t know other places / But I know the right, I’ve lived the fight / I know the real, is staying in on a Friday night.