Friday, July 29, 2011

Coulda had a V8

I've been feeling a lot like celery lately. I've heard people say that it takes more calories to burn celery than there are calories in celery. It's probably not true, just one of those things people say because it feels true. 

Right now I'm reading Stranger Things Happen by Kelly Link.  She makes my best prose look like it was written by a five year old who has been dropped on her head a few times. 

After the first few stories I was depressed. (This is not a new phenomenon, just the most recent occurrence.) How could I possibly continue to write when the standard has been set so much higher than I could ever reach? 

This was it. Last straw. Game over. No more pretending that I was a writer. I’m turning in my pens and giving up. I'm going to be in this cubicle till the day I die.

Then I thought about what that would really mean. What a life without writing, even bad writing, would be like. A life where the only work I did took place M-F in my itty-bitty cubicle in the insurance industry. I could see that life rolling on and on day after day, being caught up in the waves with only my paycheck to hold on to. 

I felt like I was going to throw up and it was awesome. Because that's how I know that I AM a writer. Even if I'm a bad writer, even if no one but my best friend ever reads my books and I have to publish them myself, I'm going to keep writing. No matter how bad I might feel about myself, comparing my work to Kelly Link or Neil Gaiman, or *insert brilliant writer who makes me feel like a stalk of celery here*, not writing feels worse.

I may always have to keep my day job. I may always have to struggle to get writing time in, and struggle to get my writing read, and struggle to keep writing when I feel so mediocre that I can't imagine ever writing anything worth it's weight in ink. The struggle sucks and it makes me wish that I could give it all up and be an accountant, but the struggle is who I am.

I’m a writer not because I can’t imagine doing anything else but because I CAN imagine doing something else and it scares the shit out of me.

Monday, July 25, 2011

What I Read/What I'm Reading/What's Up Next


The Complete Essex County by Jeff Lemire 

I'm a late in life comic nerd and Jeff Lemire's Sweet Tooth is one main reasons why I now how a pull list at my local comic shop. Lemire is an infuriating talent because he writes interesting, beautiful characters and he can draw them too. The Essex County stories come together to form a wonderful love letter to his home town and to hockey.

Flappers and Philosophers by F Scott Fitzgerald

After watching Woody Allen's Midnight in Paris I hopped on a bit of a Fitzgerald kick, first re-reading The Great Gatsby last week and then downloading this to my kindle. I'm always sort of had a crush on Fitzgerald and these stories only served to make me just the more wistful for a Tardis en route to the Jazz Age.

Scott Pilgrim's Finest Hour by Bryan Lee O'Malley

What can I say, I LOVE Scott Pilgrim. LOVE.

Northlanders: Metal by Brian Wood

Brian Wood is fantastic and his historical fiction series of comics, Northlanders, is one of the best things out there right now. Vikings. Who doesn't love vikings? What really keeps me coming back is that each volume tells a different tale from a different time. His protagonists are fierce and flawed and always have you rooting for them even if you don't always agree with them.

Bossypants by Tina Fey

Bossypants is not Remembrance of Things Past, so, if you're looking for the meaning of life or moving literature to lift you up where you belong then Bossypants may not be for you. But I'm pretty sure you were able to figure that out from the title and the cover photo (sometimes, people, you really should judge a book by it's cover). However, if you're looking for a laugh and to maybe feel a tiny bit better about being an awkward freak trying so hard to pretend to be a respectable adult, this may just be the perfect thing to unwind to after a hard day at the cubicle.


The Shadow of the Torturer by Gene Wolfe

For no other reason than Neil Gaiman said to. And I am oh so in love with Neil Gaiman.


the rest of the Book of the New Sun by Gene Wolfe (Shadow of the Torturer is the 1st of 4 parts)
The Magicians by Lev Grossman
Magic for Beginners by Kelly Link
Fables vol 1
Fables vol 2

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Bring Out Your Dead

The fall after I thought I had graduated from college- after I had walked in the ceremony but before I found out that I still needed three more credits- I got a job at Borders, just for a few months around the holidays, just too earn a little money and get off my mother’s couch while I was figuring out what I was really going to do with my life. I was a bookseller for a year, then a supervisor, then an assistant manager. My “three months until I find something better” turned into three years. I worked for Borders in two different states and if it hadn’t been for a manager who dicked me over when I moved back to NY I would probably still be there now, at the end of days.

I honestly can’t remember when the first Borders opened near me, or, really, a time before Borders. I went straight from Scholastic book orders to spending hours among the rows and rows of books, getting lost in the possibilities, desperately trying to figure out how to convince my mom to let me take it all home. Or maybe one more, just one more book, I need this book!

As an English major, Borders seemed like the logical place to work. I mean, if I was going to go back to retail it might as well be selling things I know a little bit about. And I really did love the store. So, I accepted a job that I was overqualified for, for less money than I could have gotten, because I got to be around books all day, and really, this was only going to last for a few months…

If I had had any kind of dignity or self respect or esteem at all I probably could have found a “grown up” job that paid a livable wage and said goodbye to Borders and retail in the three months I had allotted myself. If I had done that maybe I would be more financially secure right now, more stable, climbing the ladder not worrying who’s looking up my skirt. But then I just wouldn’t be me.

More than high school, more than college even, working at Borders made me who I am today. For whatever that may be worth to society. My coworkers were musicians and actors, aspiring directors, writers, artists, bibliophiles, and students. It was a while before I was able to shrug off enough of my insecurities to start making friends.

They all seemed so much cooler and smarter than me. They weren’t exactly the popular kids from high school, they were the smart alecks who sat in the back of the class and fell asleep because they were out last night at some bar you could never get into, listening to a band you’d never heard of. Because of these misfit toys I finally committed to being a vegetarian while on my lunch break (at a McDonald’s), I discovered all those bands I had never heard of before, and my life changed forever when a co-worker told me that I HAD to watch Battlestar Galactica. I had gone into Borders with a rough sketch of who I was and they helped me shade in the colors.

Now, it wasn’t all roses and sunshine. In fact, it mostly wasn’t roses and sunshine. It was retail and retail means customers who will demoralize you and then make you clean up after them, it means managers who sit in their office all day doing god knows what, while you try to manipulate yourself out of her line of sight whenever she does grace the sales floor with her presence because the only leadership tool she has is fear, and it means shitty, shitty pay.

It’s been a couple of years since I left Borders though, and now I look back on my time with the company much the same way so many people remember high school. All those things that had me cursing and complaining, threatening to walk out in the middle of a shift, and getting drunk with co-workers on a Tuesday night have faded into this warm hazy glow and I’m left with only the rose colored memories. Even the terrifying night I spent alone in the parking lot with Harry Potter fans who were not yet allowed in to buy Deathly Hollows feels like part of the good ole days.

I miss talking teenagers out of buying new Gossip Girl and instead sending them off with Looking for Alaska.

I miss the advance copies of books that publishers sent to the store and I, almost exclusively, absconded with.

I miss the discount, even though Amazon is still probably cheaper (My first few months at Borders I worked myself into a decent debt before I was able to reign myself in- millions of books and I get a discount, how could this possible go wrong?).

I miss walking the aisles finding new things to love.

I miss shoving The History of Love into customers’ hands and telling them that they would love it.

I miss talking to nerdy compatriot customers about Sandman and League of Extraordinary Gentlemen.

I miss discussions about the validity of having an African American lit section when really shouldn’t it just be with the rest of literature?

I miss all the crazy stupid things we did to keep each other sane, like cart races or reading erotica over the walkees.

Every so often in this awkward quest I'm on to be "a grown up" I fantasize about ditching the cubicle and running back to Borders, back to the books and the misfit toys. Guess I need a new escape route.

Even if I do figure it out, if I find my way into the life I really want, one of peace and security and success on my terms, there’s probably always going to be part of me that misses working at Borders.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

We Hate it When Our Friends Become Successful

My boyfriend is sleeping. At least, I hope he is. I’m lying in bed next to him with the light on so I could read. I finished the book I was reading and thought about turning off the light and trying to sleep, to be a better girlfriend (the light usually keeps him up), but I just don’t feel like closing my eyes. So, I’m telling myself he’s already asleep.

I’m dating a 23 year old and that means that sometimes I get to feel like (pretend) I’m 23 again- which is a feeling somewhere between empowering and heartbreaking. I’m 30 but I wish I could be 23 so that living in my parent’s basement without ever having come close to realizing any of my childhood dreams wouldn’t be such a big deal. “I’m only 23,” I could say. “There’s still so much life stretched out before me just waiting to be lived!” 23. Everything is just starting and all these mistakes you’re making everyday? They’re learning experiences, character builders, amusing anecdotes to tell your friends when you’re 30 and successful.

Successful is a relative term. I have a pretty decent job that gives me health insurance. I have a rocking credit score and I actually seem to be maintaining a serious romantic relationship. So, yay me. Still, I’m looking down at the copy of my friend’s book in my hands wondering where it all went wrong. Okay, well, not so much wondering where I went wrong as wishing that I hadn’t.

Some awkward children grow up to be fierce, interesting people who get tattoos and cultivate a sense of self so strong that whatever they do think, drink, say or wear is by default cooler than anything you could ever pull off. The other awkward children grow up to be awkward adults masquerading as respectable citizens the best they can all the while plagued by the knowledge that somewhere along the line they slept through some seminal coming of age moment that would have transformed their awkward into awesome. Instead they go about their adult lives slouching in their cubicles, scrolling through facebook, and filling the rest of their hours with TV shows and other people’s stories. I am one of the latter awkwards; Cassie J Sneider belongs to the former.

Cassie and I worked together for a while at one of those large chain bookstores that used to be a pretty fantastic place to work with other interesting weirdos you could have intelligent conversations with and then race through the store on tiny precariously balanced book carts. Then people began to realize that they could get their Nora Roberts fix half price at Costco or Amazon and slowly the place went to shit. Most of us went our separate ways. I jumped ship to fold sweaters at dressbarn and then sell insurance at a call center. Cassie continued to live her life in her awkward adventurous way, compiling her tales in her new book Fine Fine Music which is available on Amazon.

When I picked up my copy, from the bookstore we used to work at, my first impulse was to tear it in two, though I probably would have done more damage to my hands than to the book if I had attempted it. Still, I was pissed. She had done it. She wrote a book. Someone published it and there were real life people out there buying it. My next impulse was to stomp my feet and howl. I didn’t do either. Instead, I sulked. Sulking, while still unattractive is slightly less repellent than a temper tantrum. Cassie had published a book and was driving around the country giving readings at hip independent bookstores where adoring oddballs and intellectuals were lining up for autographs and I… I have this blog that I sometimes write in even though I only have 3 friends who actually read the thing. Jealousy is a nine year old sticking her tongue out at you.

It was probably a week before I was able to open the book past the message she left with her signature on the title page. I read a story and put it down again, disgusted. Not because it was bad but because it was good. It is easier to deal with other people’s successes if you can tell yourself it’s not really a success. If her stories had been vapid or banal or the writing had been crap I could have written her success off as more evidence that the publishing world is catering to mindless drones with a 5th grade reading level *cough*twilight*cough* and I could have padded my ego with some righteous indignation. Unfortunately for my ego, I’m going to have to find something else to be indignant about.

Cassie is a talented writer with an interesting view of the world, a strong voice, and she has done a thing or two worth writing about. Have I mentioned that pisses me off? Writing this now I’m thinking about lighting the pages on fire just to watch them burn. But then I’d have to go on Amazon and get another copy and that one wouldn’t be signed. Also infuriating? Knowing that I can type her name in an amazon search and receive a result that is actually her.

I was published once (and I’m talking real world here, not junior high lit mags. The fact that those were flooded with our poetry doesn’t count). An extremely short story I wrote made its way into an online lit mag for flash fiction. It’s not much of a portfolio. Cassie has taken the dream and fueled it with diner coffee, karaoke highs and cross country road trips. I took the dream and shoved it under my pillow somehow hoping to achieve it through osmosis. It doesn’t seem to be working. Maybe it’s because I forgot to add water. Or maybe it’s because I stopped living in stories.

Instead of writing for hours I watch TV or sleep in. I phone it all in waiting for something to happen, waiting for a story to happen to me instead of creating one. Nothing much happens when you’re stuck in a cubicle. And I’m the one who put myself there. I don’t just mean work either.

I stayed awkward. But maybe it’s not too late for me. Thirty is supposed to be the new 20, right? I can still conquer the world! ……Well, at least I’m not dead. I have a couple of good years left in me and if I ever get my ass off this couch I might be able to make something of myself. Something that looks more like who I thought I was going to be. Pull that dream out from under my pillow and make it fucking happen.

In the mean time, read Cassie’s book, it’s really good.