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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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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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.

Summer sucks, unless you’re seventeen.

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.

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I took this photo a few summers ago on a road trip with my muse Paije. We weren’t in Gardnerville, but the feeling was the same.

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?

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That same summer road trip. I wish I had pics of my Gardnerville youth, but I can’t seem to find many.

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.

 

Have attention with no intention.

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.

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A cold desert Christmas.

I had a cold desert Christmas. I visited my dad in his new home of Flagstaff, Arizona, and was amazed by the majesty of the land. We had Christmas dinner at the Grand Canyon. It was my first visit, and the site took my breath away (because the Canyon is awe-inspiring, and because it was really fucking cold).”We” was me, my dad, and John, the wonderful human I get to call my boyfriend. I’ve spent many holidays back home in Tahoe as the weird single LA artist cat lady, so being somewhere new with someone to call my own felt like Christmas morning all week long.

In addition to the Grand Canyon, we also explored the Wupataki ruins, the Sunset volcano crater, the mystical rock formations in Sedona, and drank in the stars via telescope at the Lowell Observatory. One word kept connecting these different experiences: perspective. I’d been needing a dose of the stuff. Lately, I’ve been trapped in the petty grievances of my lower mind.

It was fascinating to read about the natives who called Wupataki home, how they were in a constant struggle to survive against the elements yet thrived for centuries. Pottery has been found there but not the tools to make it, which suggests it came from elsewhere, which suggests trading between tribes occurred at Wupataki. The Sunset crater wasn’t much to look at from the base, but the lava flows around it were cool, and I was gobsmacked to read the placard calling the volcano a “geographic infant” because it erupted a mere 1,000 years ago. Telescoping the night sky at the Lowell Observatory (where Pluto was discovered!), we saw a “stellar nursery” located within Orion’s belt, which is literally where stars are born. Add in that poor Pluto isn’t even considered a planet anymore, and all this perspective made me feel one thing: grief.

Grief for all the times I’ve felt less than amazed to be alive. Grief that I spend a lot of my days without perspective. The perspective that this Earth is magnificent and I’m lucky to inhabit it for a speck of time.

So my perspective going into 2015: I’m grateful I have a healthy father, a car to take me to places like the Grand Canyon, and a witty handsome boyfriend to be my co-pilot. Here are some pics!

 

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Secrets from my high school diary.

I just got home from my writer’s group holiday party. Normally we bring pages from whatever we’re working on, but since this was a party and we intended to get drunk, we brought in pages from our old diaries to read. This was an excellent idea, if you ask me. Which you are, because you’re reading my blog. Half the fun was looking through my old journals, which was no small feat. I was a prolific diarist, especially the last few years of high school. One pink diary in particular chronicles many milestones, and things got real juicy around the time I started partying. A few excerpts for your entertainment:

“I hope I’m not in trouble, I came home last night with three Zima’s in my jacket pocket. I had so much freedom for once, me and Renee went to Reno to Kick’s and went dancing! It’s this new awesome 18 and older dance club, we passed back a fake ID to make us 18. We didn’t even have to be home until 12:30! Also I did well on my finals! I won the Key Club vice-presidency and I got new skis! Yet I’m getting in trouble a lot. Mom got a call from the same cop my sister got a call from when she was a junior, telling her I’ve been seen smoking pot! It’s just so weird. I’ve never heard of that happening, getting a call like that!”

It’s difficult to believe I fell for this, but my mom did in fact tell me a cop saw me smoking pot and called her as a warning. Pretty clever on my mom’s behalf, as it scared the daylights out of me. Could’ve been true I suppose, we lived in a really small town. But considering my sister had gotten the same “call” I think it was a set-up.

“I think I’ve lost myself a little. I don’t really have passions stirring inside. Friday night my dad took me and Beth to a Matchbox Twenty concert! Rob Thomas was so sexy in black leather pants! Then Beth stayed the night, we had an awesome talk. She informed me people think I’m a ditz. I figured out I’m selling myself short. It’s stopping. I might be forgetful, but I’m not exaggerating it anymore. We stayed up until 1:45am, which was stupid because we had PSAT’s at 8:00am! They were hard and intimidating! Oh and I went to haunted house with Charlie*. He has a fake ID so he bought us beer. We held hands! He was such a badass, smoking cigarettes. We were waiting for our friends and had the best talk. We talked about how I’m a virgin and he’s not, it was cool. He’s so deep. One thing led to another and we made out! He has his tongue pierced! It was so cool. He told me to come over today to watch Braveheart. But I got there and all his skater friends were there. Whatever. Maybe it was just a one time thing?”

Gawd. I could go on forever. Instead I’ll leave you with two poems from zee pink diary. My teenage self is mortified, but I’m going to share them anyway.

“Enemy” // I am my own worse enemy. I think too much, drink too much, wear my heart on my sleeve for all the world to see. // I’m a walking contradiction, or so I’ve been told. I don’t agree but if you persist I’m sold, sold, sold. // Shut up and be happy, you have no right to complain. But I do because I know who I want to be, but instead I quest for fame. // I’ll just keep on smiling instead, you would say this isn’t important, these are just the contents of my head. // You think you know me, pass me off as fake and dumb. Well, you don’t know me. I would think you’d understand we’re all just people, with different ideas of fun. // Just give me a break, and I’ll give you one too. Maybe things will work out. Maybe I’ll have the courage to be new.

“Summertime” // Whispers floating on the breeze, thoughts lost with such ease, a giggle, a smirk, the summertime dirt. // Take me there, to the months of carefree, take me there, where I can be me. // Not a show, or unending fights, just freedom, and those warm lazy nights. // Just the hot sun and days at the river, asking a boy you like to come hither. // When you fight over ice cream and whose lips are number, you go quiet a moment and realize it’s summer.

I love my writer’s group. I love the holidays. I love WriteGirl, which has been so inspirational lately. The girls write the most descriptive, powerful poems and stories. I feel connected to my younger self through them.

*Charlie is a fake name, used to protect the guilty.

Just some mundane thoughts.

I feel far from myself. And I know why. I’m not in my creative work routine. I often wonder if the secret to success is as easy as having a routine. A few factors are contributing to this distraction. Year-end duties like figuring out new car insurance, health insurance, possibly moving to a new place. But I know I can always write and post something, even if it’s a few lines. I get caught up in thinking it needs to be something really awesome to be worth posting. But maybe the mundane is the most interesting stuff we can offer each other in the blogosphere. So, my mundane:

–I’m considering moving out of my apartment. I’ve been here 5 years and it’s time for a change. But I keep running up against memories. Just now making chicken on my George Foreman grill, I remembered agonizing if I should get the grill with removable plates or not. It was $20 more, but would be so much easier to clean. Which got me thinking about how much I’ve changed in the five years I’ve lived here. I moved in poor as a pauper, $20 might have been $2000. I’ve gone through a lot here–breakups, hookups, surgery, dance parties, Koreatown Cabarets, tears and fighting, first kisses and last goodbyes. I have done a LOT of writing here. I wrote a novel here for fuck’s sake. I’m an eyelash away from leaving, but that also means leaving that all behind. Which I don’t feel totally ready to do.

–This year has been a rollercoaster for the creative projects. Had my series Johnny and the Scams picked up by a big studio, then dropped when the executive left the company. I started a new vlog and finished writing a thriller feature and co-writing an hour long pilot. Yet I feel totally unsatisfied. Soooooooooooooo many stories in my mind, battling to be told. Yeah, that many “o’s” on the “so.”

–I’ve started volunteering with WriteGirl, a rad non-profit that does creative writing programs for teen girls. I’ve been working with the in-schools part of the program, and every Tuesday we go to a girl’s academy in south LA and do poetry, journaling, goal-setting, this sort of thing with the girls. I’m endlessly humbled, especially with how smart and talented the girls are. Some of them write prolifically. I remember being that age, feeling like I had more emotions than I could possibly express.

–I feel like I don’t want to party anymore. I turn to wine and other mind alterers when I’m not writing. Because I wish I was writing so much I need to blast all thoughts out of me. So why don’t I just write? Bukowski, Hemingway, any ideas?

–I might get a kitten!

Those are a few mundanes things of my current life. Hope it slightly intrigued you, if just in a mundane way. Good bye.

Prose vs. Screenwriting; photos with @b4flight

Last night was the final night of my short story writing class. It was through UCLA Extension and thus on the UCLA campus, and all summer I greatly enjoyed traipsing about the brick buildings pretending I was still in college. There were some excellent writers in my class and the instructor Colette Sartor was phenomenal, she gave excellent feedback and is a lit star herself. Writing fiction prose again after the last few years of screenwriting was like taking a long bath after…hmm…shit I need help finishing the analogy. A post about writing and I can’t even write. Irony. An attempt to redeem myself with the first paragraph of a story I wrote for class:

My uncle Jack lived in a tiny stone house in the beach town of Trancoso, Brazil. The house sat between two extra tall palm trees, and on the afternoon the medics delivered me to his house, Jack was waiting outside, leaning against one of the trees, smoking a cigar, shirtless and as broad-shouldered as my father had been. He’d set up a corner of his house for me, with a reclining chair to accommodate my injuries. Jack helped me get comfortable, offered to make me an avocado milkshake then realized he was out of avocadoes, then sat down across from me and blew a few smoke rings into the air as he said: “I’m glad you’re here, Silver. It’s been too quiet since Matilda died. Look at you, Silver, a grown woman. Guess I wasn’t expecting that. She was my bird. Matilda, I mean.” My uncle Jack smiled at me then, tears shining in his honey brown eyes. It was the first time we’d ever met.

In the last week I also did a photo shoot with the radical b4flight in downtown LA. I love downtown. All the street art and little cafes, skid row and cool architecture. I greatly enjoyed traipsing about those brick buildings, pretending I was an urban hustler, or at least a famous Instagram model.

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Really though, prose and screenwriters, help me finish the analogy?

 

ARTGASMS: A mysterious party & James Blake

Happy Monday, star seeds.

I had an inspiring weekend…spent Friday night watching an artist I admire paint a massive mural on a wall. We hung out til 3am in an empty parking light under a street light, goofing around, doing improv spoken word and trading ideas. You could hear the bass and trap from a busy stretch of bars just a few blocks away. I felt happy that I’ve finally figured out I’m more content being weird with the artists than I am getting drunk with the masses. Maturity: 1 point. Here are some Artgasms, to get your week started right.

The beginning of a short story I’m writing:

We held the event on Wednesdays. The day started around 2pm, when we’d wake up and not get out of bed. I’d reach for my velvet money clip into which was pinched three hand-rolled cigarettes. I’d look at Jett and say “The sun is up, buttercup.” We’d smoke and share a watermelon juice, then fuck til 4pm.

I’d get up and sweep our apartment, while Jett stayed in bed. He’d begin choosing who got the invite based on a system of social credit only he understood, then he started making calls. In between calls I could hear him scribbling in a notebook, and I knew he was revising the rules. 

I loved listening to Jett, the way he spoke, tough-guy twang coated with a cadence all his own. I didn’t always agree with the rules. I thought guests should be allowed to just observe the first time, but Jett was adamant everyone partake. “Go deep or go home,” he liked to say. I think that rule prevented some worthy people from getting involved. But I didn’t have much time to think about it. Our wait-list was already four weeks long, full of philosophers and candy kids, scientists and celebrities. Psychedelic warriors all of them, brave in their quest to lift the veil.

A music video I love … “Retrograde” by James Blake … the video is eerie and abstract, song is insanely beautiful:

 

Hope you have a good week, everyone! What’s inspiring you these days?

The first page of the novel I wrote in 30 days (sorta).

Over the last few years, I wrote my first novel. It’s about a 24 year-old girl named Holly Fricklesnap who lives with her wacky family on a Christmas tree farm. We meet Holly just as she’s been promoted to head fortune writer at the Good Luck fortune cookie factory, the same week she’s realized her best guy friend AJ will never love her back, and her family will drive her crazy if she lives with them any longer. Should she stay, should she go, or is it all just a Delusion of Glamour?

It was hot the night Moonflower won $14,987 playing blackjack at the Shooting Gun—the Night Everything Changed. I was with AJ in his basement apartment, painting my nails while he tripped on acid. I remember we had the rectangular windows propped open to cool down the stuffy basement. On summer nights the city is dry and smells of sagebrush. This sharp tang floated into the basement, mixing with my Fire Red polish, creating an earth/chemical smell that AJ declared was the scent that perfectly described the 21st century, if only we could find a way to bottle it.

If I knew, sprawled on AJ’s musty orange couch, that across town Moonflower had just become thousands of dollars richer, I might have been there when she arrived home, excitement coloring her cheeks. Excitement that belied the usual stoicism of her gray eyes—that damned pietà expression of hers. I might have been there to persuade her that the money mattered to other people, mattered to me. That I could use it for all sorts of things. But this is a fantasy, an ideal fiction. Because after twenty-four years with Moonflower, I know nothing can sway the conviction of my mother.

So instead, I spent the evening on that orange couch, smoking a joint while waiting for coats of polish to dry. AJ sat facing me, in a striped beach chair with holes in it. Sometimes he’d get up and pace the basement. He’d look through his records, or at a stack of old photos in a corner. There was one photo of us as ten year-olds, we’re down by the river and he’s holding out a frog and I’m shrieking and giggling at the same time. He shows me the photo and says, “This was a moment of truth, Holly. Before the falsehoods of our adult life.” Then he begins laughing, and he can’t stop. He laughs and laughs, because the LSD has silenced the part of his brain that tells him public displays of joy are embarrassing. And I start laughing too, because I’m pretty stoned, and because seeing other people happy makes me happy.

I wanted to post the first page in honor of NaNoWriMo, that crazy November challenge to write a novel in 30 days. Delusions of Glamour was born during NaNo, and I absolutely recommend the experience to all writers. If for nothing more, than to know you can in fact write 1,667 words a day, equaling 50,000 words in a month, equaling one whole novel. It makes you move past your excuses. Your bullshit. My mess of words and ideas after the 30 days (and a few months cleaning it up), got me a manager and an agent. And then the real work began.

I also wanted to post the first page because I’m currently not working on Delusions, even though it’s finished, even though it was good enough to get representation, because I’ve changed so much as a writer and a person that I worry it’s a pile of crap, how do authors stand by their work over the course of years?, and this summer had a vision I should burn it, but I also worked so hard and so long and still really love Holly and her unconventional life that I just can’t give up on it, and last year I left a copy in Bali on a shrine with flower petals in hopes it would infuse it with spirits or something, and in my heart of hearts I want to be a traditionally published novelist, but hey self-publishing is pretty damn cool and I’m all about art-to-audience with little or no interference, but mostly I just wanted to share the first page here. And endorse NaNo. Because I do believe humans can do anything. Even write a novel in 30 days.