Tuesday, May 13, 2014

When You Read a Gross Story and It Ruins Your Whole Day

I ordered my lunch at the counter (Joe's Special with toasted sourdough bread, though I would have much preferred rice), then sat down to enjoy a few moments of reading. Reading and lunch! What could be better?

Alas, my bliss was not meant to be. Because...I'm currently reading and appreciating Gene Wolfe's The Book of the New Sun, which is made up of Volume I and II of a 4-volume work. It's slow-going, actually, and stuffed with delicious words I've never seen or heard before. Some, I believe, are specific to the world of Wolfe's highly stylized and...mannered?...work, but others such as "tinct" and "saros" are not, and they serve to remind me that my vocabulary is not all that it should be. Anyways, I dipped my arm into my gigantic bag and came up empty. No book.

So I pulled out my phone, tapped on my Kindle app, and randomly chose a story from Fantasy & Science Fiction. I scooted down in my seat a little and scrunched up my shoulders, the standard non-posture of a reader shutting out the world. I prepared to be dazzled.

But I wasn't dazzled.

Instead, I was unbelievably grossed out. And yet, I could not stop reading. Could not. Perhaps I was waiting—hoping— for something redemptive to occur, something that would handily reverse the churning in my stomach. I don't even want to think about the story now (or ever, thanks), but I realize that I need to give you a general idea of the goings-on, so let me just quickly say that mermaids were involved. But not fairytale mermaids, no. Instead: mermaids with catfish whiskers and tiny hands and eyes on the sides of their heads. And also a lotta lotta lotta lotta rape.

Why? Why?

I should have stopped reading, right? That would have been the best thing to do. My food arrived, and I had zero desire to touch it. I took a few bites and stopped for fear of vomiting in public. At the table. With happy people all around me.

The rest of my day was, frankly, ruined. The writer succeeded in engaging me, yes, but only in the way that a freeway accident captures the morbid curiosity of onlookers. Does that success count for much when I read the story against my better judgement and when the experience was utterly without joy? I like to be knocked off-kilter, I like to think. I don't need everything to be lovely, I don't require puppy-shaped clouds and cooing babies, but throw me a bone. Give me one lovely image, one moment of beauty, something funny, a character I can embrace, and I'll stick with you, I promise. What I respond to when I read for enjoyment is the sense of proportion that E.B. White describes here:
"There are good reasons for anger, and I have nothing against anger. But I think some writers have lost their sense of proportion, their sense of humor, and their sense of appreciation. I am often mad, but I would hate to be nothing but mad: and I think I would lose what little value I may have as a writer if I were to refuse, as a matter of principle, to accept the warming rays of the sun, and to report them, whenever, and if ever, they happen to strike me." (read more at Brain Pickings)
The ever-shifting landscape of social media makes the blogosphere a quiet place these days, but I would love to know how other people feel about reading gross stuff.

Monday, March 24, 2014

On Having Written

Almost in spite of myself, I've finished my submission to Barbara Jane's new anthology project (I have another week or so to futz with it, as I am wont to do). She's collecting Pinay-penned essays about how and why we write, and even if my piece doesn't ultimately make it in to the book, I'll be first in line for a copy in 2015. I keep thinking of what a difference a book like this would have made to me as a new writer; it'll be a touchstone for a whole generation of Pinays. BJ has also started Fuck Yeah Pinay Lit, a beautiful one-stop spot for all things good and beautiful and painful and crafted.

Anyways, I was having a hard time getting started. I couldn't organize my thoughts; it's like they wouldn't sit still long enough for me to take a picture. Two things happened to get my head in the right place:

1. I got a massage. Not for any particular reason, just because it had been a long time, and I have (like most women my age) a lot of stress points and responsibilities and whatnot. I didn't realize how much...stuff...I was carrying around with me until I lay facedown on the table and the masseuse placed her palm in the middle of my upper back. "You're okay," she said. "Slow down. Breathe."

Oh my god. Who knows?—She probably says it to everyone, but it really was like having a cue ball thrown at my head. At that moment it became so clear to me that for months and months my breathing has been shallow and neglected. That my shoulders have been up around my ears in self-preservation mode. That I was rarely in the moment, but always five, ten, twenty minutes into the future ticking off all the things I needed to do or should do or would fail to do.

So thank you, random masseuse. Thank you for bringing me back into my body.

2. I ran across this single sentence written by Tobias Wolff: "Memory has its own story to tell." Images started to present themselves to me like gifts, and they manifested on the page in small chunks of EXACTLY five lines. This was weird to me, but what could I do? Every single one emerged that way, pre- and post- editing. I worried about it at first, but then just decided to go with it: why force a square peg into a round hole, etc. etc.

Once I got out of my own way, I found the whole process so, so enjoyable. How many times has writing reminded me who I am, where I come from? I ought to be more grateful to / for this thing that I know how to do, and to all the amazing writers / editors who keep creating spaces, projects, potential homes for our work. It's been a dark 12 months, but there's light creeping, creeping, creeping in... 

Monday, February 03, 2014

You Know You Want It: Outpouring

Download your copy now. Like right now.

I'm so happy to have my short story, "The Photograph," included in Outpouring: Typhoon Yolanda Relief Anthology, a collection edited by the brilliant, and apparently tireless, Dean Alfar. Let me count the ways:
  • All proceeds go to the Philippine Red Cross to assist those who continue to suffer in the wake of Typhoon Yolanda/Haiyan. As many have pointed out, news of the typhoon has slipped from the front page, but recovery will take years. I just performed a cursory google news search, and the last news report was filed nearly a month ago.
  • Feast your eyes on this table of contents! What a sexy international line-up! What? You think I'm trying to up the page views by including the word sexy here? Sexy, sexy, sexy. So what if I am? It's the sexy thing to do:
    • “The Wordeaters” by Rochita Loenen-Ruiz 
    • “Invisible Empire of Ascending Light” by Ken Scholes
    • “The Photograph” by Veronica Montes
    • “A Moment in Time” by Charie D. La Marr
    • “A Gentlemen’s Agreement” by Susan S.Lara
    • “X” by Karissa Chen
    • “Cunning Syncronicity” by Berrien C. Henderson
    • “Godsend” by Joel Pablo Salud
    • “Ondoy” by Laura McPhee-Browne
    • “Rescuing the Rain God” by Kate Osias
    • “The Wish Head” by Jeffrey Ford
    • “Flash Forward” by Jhoanna Lynn B. Cruz
    • “Where Sky and Sea Meet” by Dan Campbell
    • “Arrow” by Barry King
    • “Finding Those Who Are Lost” by Celestine Trinidad
    • “Synchronicity” by Victor Fernando R. Ocampo
    • “We’re All Stories in the End” by Matthew J. Rogers
    • “Silverio and the Eidolon” by Vincent Michael Simbulan
    • “Tinkerers” by Jay Wilburn
    • “Finding” by David B. Ramirez
    • “Ikan Berbudi (Wise Fish)” by Jason Erik Lundberg
    • “Pilar Escheverria” by Cecilia Manguerra Brainard
    • “Scraps” by Michael Haynes
    • “Freeborn in the City of Fallacies” by Andrew Drilon
    • “Storm Warning” by Lilian Csernica
    • “The Nameless Ones” by Gabriela Lee
    • “Whispers” by Grant J. McMaster
    • “Highway Run” by Alexander Marcos Osias
    • “Black Sun” by Todd Nelsen
    • “Life at the Lake’s Shore” by Alex Shvartsman
    • “Aliens” by Fiona Mae Villamor
    • “Little Italy” by Isa Lorenzo
    • “Discipline” by Rebecca McFarland Kyle
    • “Unmaking” by Julie C. Day
    • “Fresh Fruit” by Yvette Tan
    • “The Sparrows of Climaco Avenue” by Kenneth Yu
    • “Gellen’s Retirement Plan” by Tim Sullivan
    • “When We Were Witches” by Nikki Alfar
    • “All the Little Gods We Are” by John Grant
    • “Tuba Knight” by Cesar Miguel G. Escaño
  • It only costs $3.99, and it's 544 pages of storytelling goodness. 544 pages!
  • I get to share space once again with my friend and mentor, that most elegant Lady of Letters, Cecilia Brainard.
  • It just feels good to have a new story out in the world. Though I'm working on it, my story output is meager by almost anyone's standards, which means I have fewer shots to share my work. More on this soon!
Thanks once again to Dean for including me, and hello-and-so-nice-to-meet-you to the other contributors. Oh, look!—Another link for your convenience!

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Sunday In the Shop on the Day the 49ers Play the Seahawks

It's Sunday, and I'm perched on my stool in the shop just having exchanged a flurry of instant messages with my brother. They were mostly single-word exchanges:

Me: Gracias namiento
Him: Dinero
Me: Puttanesca
Him: Bertoli. Picolina.
Me: Kimbocha.
*20 second pause*
Me: I WIN!

Such a pointless exchange is possible because unlike yesterday, with its welcome parade of customers, today is 49er game day and no one is interested in me or, more importantly, my beautiful toys. I content myself with smiling at people as they rush by in their 49er jerseys, caps, hoodies and, I assume, socks and underwear on their way, I'm guessing, to the party at their neighbor's house. I won't watch the game, but I'll be able to hear quite succinctly the blood-curdling screams, gasps, groans, and cheers from the small deli across the street. In this way I'll be able to deduce who is winning.

I will work a little bit on an essay that I'm writing, and I won't feel guilty. I'll sweep the floor again, dust the tables, re-arrange the German furniture in the Maine-made dollhouse. When, by a small retail miracle, someone does walk in, we will each be bewildered that the other is not watching the game.

Maybe it will be the small old woman who frequently stands outside and smiles at me through the window. Sometimes she comes in, clutching her purse close to her body. She's always in a pink cardigan and elastic-waist gabardine pants, her hair silver and close-cropped. She told me once that she lives in the senior home on El Camino and likes to take walks. Her daughter and grand-daughter live in nearby Hillsborough, but I have never seen them; she's always alone. She moved here from Michigan, she says, after her husband passed away. I think I'm part of a promise she's made to herself to talk to someone, sometimes.

She told me her name, but I can't remember what it is.

Friday, January 10, 2014

Sounding the Alarm

Not to be an alarmist, but...okay, well maybe I do mean to be an alarmist...if there's something you want to do or say, you should do it or say it already. Except for unnecessary plastic surgery; do not have unnecessary plastic surgery.

You want to square dance? Then square dance! Not that I understand why you would choose to do that, but still: square dance!

You want to re-read the entire series of Game of Thrones books? Do it! I totally understand why you would choose to do that!

You want to tell someone you haven't seen or talked to in 5 years that you love them deeply and for all time until every river runs dry? Go ahead! At your own risk, that is. If you can't think of another option, that is. If your spouse won't be upset, that is. I can sort of understand why you would choose to do that!

Cut your hair off! Eat Jell-O in its crystallized form! Break into song at the mall while simultaneously eating at, I don't know, Panda Express!

Write the book, paint the canvas, print the t-shirt.

Learn to play the violin! I guess.

Master five yo-yo tricks! Take photos without using an Instagram filter! Toss your iPhone off a bridge!

Time is a finite resource, that's what I'm trying to say. It's slipping away from you even as I type, even as you read. The people you love dissolve into the ether, the person you were yesterday doesn't exist anymore and, per the great poet, the center cannot hold. I repeat: the center cannot hold.

Do the things already.

Friday, January 03, 2014

Teenage Filipina Letter Writing / Daly City / Circa 1982

I'm in thinking-and-jotting-down mode for an essay that I hope to start writing soon.

A new image pops into my head every day, usually during the morning. The hours pass, and this initial picture grows bigger and bigger just like a Bubble Yum bubblegum bubble. Yesterday's image: a zoom in on the loopy, extraordinarily ornamental penmanship of my high school girlfriends—Pinays, all.

As the bubble grew, the image morphed into a densely packed missive written on college rule binder paper with the florid sign-off of "love forever and ever and always..." Then I saw brown hands with tapered fingers, maroon-colored nail polish, and the initials "LM" written in black ink on the web of skin between thumb and firefinger. The hands folded the letter in on itself until it became a self-contained envelope. Then it was pressed against the sender's mouth, sealed with a kiss from cherries-in-the-snow lips.

These letters were transmitted hand-to-hand, or furtively tossed into a locker during passing periods, or sometimes sent via a third party, which was especially thrilling when the third party was a boy. In a black derby jacket. Smelling of Jovan Musk.

Receiving letters and writing them cemented friendships, certainly, but they were also the perfect fodder for betrayal, manipulation, or out-and-out war. The modern-day equivalent is a text conversation, I suppose, but texts don't have the charm of doodles in the margins, or an inked wreath of flowers crowning your name, and they don't arrive intricately folded into origami ninja stars or hearts to discourage tampering. The old days RULE!

I wish I had known how large these letters would loom in my old-lady memory because I would have saved some, and there would be a picture here for your viewing enjoyment. As it is, I'll have to make do with a random internet photo that kind of gives you the idea, but not quite.

That's it for my first, stilted post of 2014. May all that follow be more fluent, more amusing, more...something.