Saturday, February 28, 2009

Happy Birthday to me...almost

In a few hours, I will turn 28. It's not a particularly watershed year, but I unabashedly love my birthday, so I never shy away from letting people know when it is.

I have always been baffled by people who don't tell you when their birthday is coming up. Your birthday is the one day out of the entire year when you can basically demand that people be nice to you. It's a celebration of your existence. So I don't get why some folks want to keep their special day a secret. Tell me it's your birthday, and I will hug you and buy you a cocktail. Win, win.

When I was in elementary school (and actually for much of high school as well), I would wear a gigantic button on my birthday that said "It's my birthday and I can do whatever I want." It was not very subtle. Not much has changed -- I throw myself a party every year and invite everyone I know. This year, I planned two parties in two different cities. For my 30th, who knows, my party might be simulcast in countries around the world.

My most memorable birthday? It's wasn't 16, when I got my driver's license. Or 18, when I could vote. Or even 21, when my drinking habit became acceptable in the eyes of the law. It was my 6th birthday: March 1, 1987.

You see, I was in kindergarten at the Wilson School at the time. And I couldn't wait to go to First Grade and join the ranks of the big kids. I used to ask my parents all the time when I could go to First Grade and they told me that when I was six, I'd have my chance. So naturally, I assumed that the day I turned six, I could leave the losers of Kindergarten behind forever and begin my life as a sophisticated First Grader.

I remember waking up that morning and being so excited I couldn't even eat breakfast. My mom dressed me in my favorite pink dress with a rhinestone hearts. And when I was dropped off at school, I made a beeline for the First Grade classroom, which was in the opposite direction of Kindergarten. The principal of the school, Mrs. Patton, stopped me curiously:

"Good morning, Katie. Where are you going?"

"It's my birthday, Mrs. Patton and I'm six today so I get to go to First Grade!"

"Well, Katie, happy birthday. But you will start First Grade in September with the rest of your class."

"But....I'm six TODAY and six-year-olds are in First Grade." (Duh)

The conversation devolved very quickly from there and ended with me bursting in tears, the idea of having to spend another day in Kindergarten too upsetting for me to bear. They actually had to call my mom and put her on the phone with me to calm me down. I was inconsolable.

I don't expect 28 to be as dramatic...but you never know.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Am I a snob?

Recently, over beers after class, a fellow Emerson student confessed that he had been worried when he'd first met me and realized that we had a class together. This was because he had heard, from another writer in our program, that I was a snob. Now that he knew me, he said he did not find this to be true, which is why he felt comfortable telling me this in the first place.

Of course, whenever one hears something negative about oneself through the grapevine, it's important to consider the source. The person who said I was a snob turned out to be a girl I met briefly during orientation. We were grouped together for an icebreaker activity. I don't remember much about orientation, so the details of our interaction are a little blurry, but I think we discussed reasons for getting our MFAs. Since my plans are kind of vague (it's not like I showed up with a specific book in mind to write), I don't know how I could have come off as snobby.

But maybe the question merits consideration. Maybe I am a snob.

The definition of snob, according to Webster's (10th edition) is "one who tends to rebuff, avoid, or ignore those regarded as inferior; one who has an offensive air of superiority in matters of knowledge or taste."

Hmmm. What this definition fails to account for is the possibility that "those regarded as inferior" actually ARE inferior. Just kidding. If I were snob, that would obviously be my response.

I confess that I am a book snob. I don't read books about boy wizards or horny vampires. The Da Vinci Code? Bitch, please. But given that I get paid to write book reviews, I think some snobbery in this arena is acceptable, if not downright necessary. But yes, I will judge you if your favorite book is Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants. And I hope Mitch Albom is one of the five people I meet in heaven, so I can punch him in the face.

I wish I were more of a wine snob, but in actuality, I'm more like this guy:

I talk a big talk with the wine guy at my local liquor store ("I'm looking for a young California pinot, something fruit-forward"), but I'll drink anything. I just think it would be cool to be a wine expert. But I love wine, even when it comes in a box or a jug.

I'm definitely not a music snob. I am the first to admit that I have pretty uncool taste in music. I love music, but I get equal pleasure from Rufus Wainwright and Rihanna, Britney and Bach (all of whom are on my iPod). I like showtunes, I like shitty pop, I like opera, I like Journey. So I don't think I have an "offensive air of superiority" when it comes to music. Ditto with film. I like movies, but don't really have a critical eye for them. If popcorn and Milk Duds are involved, I'll probably have a good time.

My dilemma now is this: I want to prove to this girl that I'm not a snob, but I don't know how to do it. First impressions are hard to undo. I also want to call her out on talking about someone she barely knows. I mean, that's rude. I wouldn't do that. I guess you could say I'm above that kind of behavior.

Oh shit.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Seymour Philip Hoffman and other memorable Oscar moments

Well, well, well. Another Oscars down and overall, I was pretty entertained. Some of the production choices were questionable and as always, the number of montages was excessive, but the live broadcast seemed to go smoothly and there weren't too many surprises.

In my betting pool, folks were unanimously outraged by Bruce Springsteen's snub, since his song for "The Wrestler" was awesome. A song from "Slumdog Millionaire" called something like "Giant Ho" took the award. We were split on Mickey vs. Sean, and although I was rooting for Mickey, I correctly predicted Sean's win. Initially, I was outraged at the "Council of Elders" format for the acting awards (thanks to Andrew W. for that genius description) and then once I realized how moving/meaningful it was to the nominees, I decided it was a good change. I guess this is really more about them then my viewing pleasure.

But Barbara Walters interviewing the Jonas Brothers? And Beyonce's lip-synching? And Alan Arkin's Best Supporting Actor tribute to "Seymour Philip Hoffman"? Kind of inexcusable, even if PSH was wearing a knit cap with his formal wear. And you know that curtain gaffe in the opening moments right before the Best Supporting Actress montage got somebody fired. That's maybe what I like best about the Oscars-- all the little moments where you know the PAs backstage are shitting their pants.

Anyway, I was psyched for Kate, a little sad for Mickey, pleased with Angelina's accessories, and delighted with Hugh's opening musical number even though he lost steam later on.

Top Five Favorite Dresses/Looks:

1. Taraji P. Henson -- can I borrow this dress for my wedding?

2. Alicia Keys

3. Anne Hathaway. I'm not a huge fan of her acting, but girlfriend looked gorgeous.

4. Meryl Streep. I mean, as entertaining as it is when Meryl shows up in some random frumpy outfit because she doesn't expect to win, I appreciate it when she puts in the effort.


Yum. If I weren't lazy, I'd photoshop his wife out of the picture, but I guess I'll just have to mentally erase her for now.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

So You Think You Don't Like Poetry

(part 4 in an ongoing series)

After an evening of bad T.V. (seriously, did you see American Idol tonight? It was a hot mess), I need a little poetry to lift my spirits. This week, I'm going to go with a poem by someone I went to college with who is doing quite well making a living as a poet. Her name is Dora Malech and she's my age, which is both intimidating and inspiring. Her poems have appeared in The Yale Review, The New Yorker, and Emerson's own literary journal, Redivider.

I love this poem, "Push Pull," because of how it plays with sound. The more times I read it, the more things I discover. She's really expanding within the couplet form and doing amazing things with rhythm and rhyme. I hope you like it!

Push Pull

Coughed and called what bled the quick.
One kick, one trick, one act, one hit.

Called the troops less precious few.
To lift a fist and strike a deal.

To best the jester, cheek to lodestone.
Not rising was occasion of its own.

Spring brought a stiff rain of prostheses,
the storm's black eye on our procession

draped in lace, hook, line and I do.
Meant charred limbs, rest in pieces.

Meant long time came and none too quiet.
Then, too quiet beneath the birthing

of new galaxies, the nebula's
dark arms of dust. Sun smoldered on.

Baby's first words were friendly fire.
Chrysanthemums of copper wire.

Cat buried out back in a satin hatbox
beside my big broken, obsolete token

I'd taken to wearing on a string. Tried
to trade, but the wind wouldn't bargain, took

more than her fair share of starlings,
left me kneeling on the tarmac,

mouth full of ammo and ipecac,
strange heart in my throat, a belly of swelling.

Bells on bridles to ready for battle.
Broke those horses and there weren't any

horses left. Explosives in the hope chest.
Hawks waiting to be whistled off the fist.

Doused the dovecotes with gasoline.
Slipped the last dowels from the cask.

Couldn't we call the crash a birdbath?
Couldn't we call the coffins gift wrap?

Must have been some misunderstanding.
Shore ordered ocean but sent it back.

Monday, February 16, 2009

AWP Recap

Sorry for the hiatus in posting, but I just returned to Boston after a 4-day trip to Chicago for the
Association of Writers & Writing Programs (AWP) conference. Students from Creative Writing MFA programs around the country attended, as well as authors, journalists, writing professors, and representatives from literary journals and publishing houses. There were panel discussions, readings, slams, book signings, and a lot of schmoozing/networking events with drink tickets. I'm exhausted, but overall enjoyed myself and met some interesting people in the industry.

Among my favorite panel titles:

Don't Stand so Close to Me: Controlling Narrative Distance

Jewish Poetry vs. Poetry by Jews

Gay Regionalism through the Eyes of Appalachia

Avoiding Sick Mothers, Absent Fathers, and Losing Your Virginity: The Tropes and Traps of Nonfiction

Quantum Narratology: Toward a Transactional Interpretation

I didn't actually attend any of those, but the titles tempted me. I did check out something called "Bad Poems by Great Poets," which was entertaining. It's refreshing to realize that even people like Wallace Stevens wrote a few stinkers. And to be able to discuss how much undeserved exposure Galway Kinnell's sex poem "Rapture" gets, especially around Valentine's Day. From a craft standpoint, it's just not his best.

The highlights of my AWP experience included hearing Paul Muldoon and Mary Jo Bang read and discuss their work, drinking with Emerson students at bars other than The Tam, and scoring literally dozens of free pens and notepads off tables at the Bookfair. I learned about applying for fellowships and getting published, and that unleashing a bunch of writers and academics at an open bar dance party results in utter chaos. You haven't lived until you've seen a bespectacled gray-haired professor doing the Worm.

I also found time during my stay to stop by
The Wieners Circle, get dim sum in Chinatown, and enjoy a dirty martini at the very old school steakhouse Myron and Phil, as featured on the local Chicago TV show "Check, Please!" hosted by Alpana Singh.

My kind of town, Chicago is! And it just struck me how syntactically odd that song lyric is.

Monday, February 9, 2009

You know you're broke when...

....the discovery of a Borders gift card from Christmas fills you with joy because you realize you can use it at the Borders cafe and eat something other than Craisins and stale tortilla chips for lunch.

I understood when I decided to go to graduate school for poetry, as opposed to law or business, that I was committing to a life of financial struggle. Even published "successful" authors have to teach to support themselves (which is fine with me, I love teaching) and book advances are not as lucrative as they used to be. When I went to my five-year college reunion last June and told my fellow classmates that I was starting an MFA program in Creative Writing, most people responded in awe: "Wow, that's so brave!"

I guess it is brave...certainly, my life is more suspenseful than when I worked a regular job and received bi-weekly paychecks. Freelance writing is tough in terms of cash flow-- sometimes you get paid promptly. Ok, sometimes is a little generous. I just got paid last month for a story that ran in Time Out NY in September.

And you can't control when you'll be working -- for instance, I have a pretty sweet gig writing 700-word articles for an internal Smithsonian publication called The Torch. They pay well and it's the government, so the direct deposit does usually come in on time, but things can still go haywire. Like last month, when the person I was supposed to interview for a profile decided to leave the country for three weeks without telling me. I couldn't make my deadline and the story is now indefinitely postponed. Which means $500 less in my bank account, which means readjusting my lifestyle and becoming a Lady Who Lunches at Borders.

I am not implying that I deserve sympathy. I love what I do and I love being in school. Paying off my loans won't be a picnic, but I have a couple of years before I have to worry about that. And poverty does breed creativity -- this past weekend, when my brother (also a broke student) was in town, I found a number of free activities for us: Sam Adams brewery tour and tasting, the Freedom Trail, a friend of a friend's open bar birthday party. We did a lot of drinking and sightseeing and I sent him home on the Fung Wah bus properly hung over, like a good big sister.

I have friends and I have my health, so I guess in George Bailey terms, I'm the richest (wo)man in Bedford Falls. My birthday is coming up -- March 1 -- and I hate getting cash. But I do accept hugs, cards, home-cooked meals and cocktails. I mean, what kind of writer would I be if I didn't have a drinking problem?

p.s. I'll be at the Borders in Copley Square if you want to visit me.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

The worst part about being on Facebook

Clearly, there are many annoying things about Facebook, everyone's favorite time-wasting blessing-and-curse, but this has got to be the worst:

I recently went through a break-up and was torn about changing my Facebook status, out of fear of receiving questions and frowny-face emoticons from my 700+ friends. For about a week, my ex and I just didn't change anything. Then I discovered a privacy setting that allows you to change your relationship status without blasting it on your feed. So I erased my status altogether so I was not listed as single or in a relationship or, my personal favorite, "It's complicated with..." (isn't it always?)

However, my discretion proved to be moot yesterday, when my ex changed his status to single and allowed it to go out on his feed. Which of course invoked an onslaught of sympathy and encouragements on his wall to get out there and "pet the pussy" as soon as possible. Classy.

It's not so much that I'm annoyed with my ex -- after all, anything you can do to hasten the getting-over-someone process is a good thing -- I'm annoyed that we live in a world where you have to think about these things at all. I'm annoyed that as we were making the heartbreakingly personal and difficult decision to stop seeing each other, we actually had to discuss The Changing of the Facebook Status.

I've learned my lesson -- I'm never touching that shit again. No one on Facebook will ever know whether I'm single, in a relationship, engaged, married, divorced, cheating, rebounding, prostituting myself etc. If you want to know my "status," you're just going to have to ASK ME. Just like in olden times.