Sunday, January 31, 2010

Extreme Makeover: Katie Vagnino Edition

I came to the conclusion last night that I am tired of looking the way I look. It's not that I think I look bad, exactly -- I have just looked the same for
years (thick-rimmed glasses, short brown hair). Case in point:

Photo from 2004

Photo from 2010
I feel like it's time to revolutionize my appearance. A haircut isn't going to cut it, no pun intended; I want something drastic. I'm seriously questioning the whole glasses/librarian chic feels a little dated all of the sudden.

But before I do something crazy, I thought I would get some opinions.....should I:

a) get Lasik
b) get contacts
c) get a breast reduction
d) go on a radical and unsafe diet
e) go tanning
f) get a tattoo/visible piercing
g) dye my hair an unexpected color
h) all or some of the above?

Readers, my appearance is (somewhat) in your hands. Use the comments section to let your voice be heard. I hope to unveil the New Me on the eve of my 29th birthday, i.e. February 28.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Endangered species: the copy editor

Two days ago, it finally arrived: the latest issue of The Raintown Review, featuring my pair of sonnets, "Wunderkind." I was especially excited because of the places where my work has been published, TRR is the most legit. No disrespect to online journals, but there is something very satisfying about holding a book in your hands and seeing your words in print inside.

There my name was, on the glossy back cover, listed among the other contributors. I flipped to the page with my poem and while I think the piece could have used another revision or two, I'm okay with the version they accepted. Then I turned to the page with the contributor bios and saw this:

Katie Vagnino is a 2nd year poetry student in the Creative Writing M.F.A. program at Emerson College in Boston. Her writing has appeared in Time Out New York, The Torch (Smithsonian), and. In the blogosphere, she writes a bi-weekly column for The Sex Appeal and posts regularly on her own blog, The Vagnino Monologues.


Seriously? That is a ludicrous typo. And another reminder that the art of copy editing, in our increasingly digital age, is in danger of becoming a lost art. Look, everyone makes mistakes. Copy editors are not infallible. Errors are going to slip past even the most trained eye. But in the publishing industry, copy editing is taking a hit. Many heavily-trafficked blogs and zines, like Talking Points Memo, do not staff copy editors and rely on their writers to check their own work.

A few things bum me out about the impending extinction of copy editors:

1) Copy editing is how many freelance writers pay their bills in between projects. It can be quite lucrative; major magazines pay in the neighborhood of $35/hour.

2) Copy editing is not just about correcting grammar/spelling/punctuation errors. A good copy editor can substantially improve the writing, making edits that improve transitions, clarity, flow, etc.

3) It's depressing that much of the public doesn't care about or doesn't notice errors, even really obvious ones like the one in my bio. This is sad albeit unsurprising given this country's habit of electing politicians with subpar grammar skills.

In my M.F.A. program, there is a course offered every semester in copy editing; we are told it's a marketable skill, one that will ensure we can get jobs after graduation. But unless you're lucky enough to be one of the New Yorker's infamous legion of copyeditors, well, you might find yourself as screwed as those of us who didn't drop $4K to learn how to spot dangling modifiers and errant commas.

Don't know what a dangling modifier is? Don't worry -- you're in good company.

Monday, January 25, 2010

It's funny 'cuz it's true

Sometimes I feel good about my decision to go to grad school. And sometimes I feel, like Arrested Development's Gob, that I've made a terrible mistake. This clip from The Simpsons hits a little too close to home....

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Restaurant Lexicon

Now that I've been working in the food & beverage industry for a year and a half, I have a handle on some of the lingo and thought it would be fun to provide a handy guide for those of you out there who may be trying to break into the exciting business of waiting tables. If you don't have any experience, you'll probably have to make up some to get hired (my first resume created for a restaurant job was definitely a piece of creative writing). And to "pass" as someone with experience, you have to talk the talk as well as walk the walk.

B and B
: Not a cozy inn, but rather a small plate for bread (and butter).

: A table that seats two people.

Eighty-six: To be out of something, i.e. "86 lobster tacos." There are various theories about the origin of this expression.

: Abbreviation for "front of house" staff.

On the books
: refers to the number of reservations on a given night. "How many are on the books?" translates to "how many reservations do we have?"

: Sadly, not a meal, but a meeting for the FOH before service.

: As in, "You just got sat." Means a table in your section has just been seated.

Sidework: Stuff you do when you're not busy, like polish silverware and fold napkins.

: Short for sous chef.

: Can be a noun or verb; refers to a trial or apprentice shift.

: A large refrigerator, big enough to walk into.

: As in, "I'm in the weeds." Not a good place to be; means you're slammed and falling behind.

Working in a restaurant is tough and knowing the slang is only one small part; balancing trays, communicating amidst chaos, dealing with the occasional wretched customer, it's all more exhausting than you'd think. Honestly. I worked Friday night, Saturday night, and brunch this morning and I'm wiped. I must have filled 500 glasses of water; when one women commented on my water-refilling vigilance, I said solemnly, "I am a water sentinel."

In searching for some kind of picture to represent "water sentinel," I stumbled upon the lyrics to a song recorded by Ella Fitzgerald called "I Want the Waiter (With the Water)."
Many of the lyrics are nonsensical ("He's got a menu that will send you and befriend you") but I still enjoy it. Ella, had you walked into my restaurant, your water needs would have been fulfilled...and refilled.

Finally, I'm betting my tips would be better if I were allowed to wear this:

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

So You Think You Don't Like Poetry

After reviewing all the previous "So You Think You Don't Like Poetry" entries, I was surprised to discover that I have never featured a sestina, one of my favorite poetic forms. Sestinas are very difficult to write -- for one thing, they are long (6 6-line stanzas and a 3-line envoy). But more tricky is the repetition of the end-words, six words that cycle through the poem on the ends of the lines. The length of the form supports a narrative style, and yet the repetition keeps the story from fully unfolding since there is a constant return to certain words/images. Forward momentum is difficult -- the sestina therefore is well-suited to obsessive subject matter, like grief.

Elizabeth Bishop's "Sestina" is perhaps the most well-known example from the 20th century. And in a minute, you will know why.


September rain falls on the house.
In the failing light, the old grandmother
sits in the kitchen with the child
beside the Little Marvel Stove,
reading the jokes from the almanac,
laughing and talking to hide her tears.

She thinks that her equinoctial tears
and the rain that beats on the roof of the house
were both foretold by the almanac,
but only known to a grandmother.
The iron kettle sings on the stove.
She cuts some bread and says to the child,

It's time for tea now; but the child
is watching the teakettle's small hard tears
dance like mad on the hot black stove,
the way the rain must dance on the house.
Tidying up, the old grandmother
hangs up the clever almanac

on its string. Birdlike, the almanac
hovers half open above the child,
hovers above the old grandmother
and her teacup full of dark brown tears.
She shivers and says she thinks the house
feels chilly, and puts more wood in the stove.

It was to be, says the Marvel Stove.
I know what I know, says the almanac.
With crayons the child draws a rigid house
and a winding pathway. Then the child
puts in a man with buttons like tears
and shows it proudly to the grandmother.

But secretly, while the grandmother
busies herself about the stove,
the little moons fall down like tears
from between the pages of the almanac
into the flower bed the child
has carefully placed in the front of the house.

Time to plant tears, says the almanac.
The grandmother sings to the marvelous stove
and the child draws another inscrutable house.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Golden Globes

Instead of blogging about how terrified I am about the
special Senate election happening today in Massachusetts, I'm choosing to focus on something much more inconsequential: Sunday night's Golden Globes telecast, which I finally got around to watching today.

It turns out, I saw a lot of movies in 2009 and actually had seen most of the nominated films. Television-wise, I watched less, but still was pleased to see Mad Men take home the top award for drama, and Glee for comedy (which despite my initial hesitation to jump on the Glee bandwagon, won me over by the end of the season). Also, Chloe Sevigny totally deserved to win for Big Love, though I think it was unexpected (the show only got 3 nominations total and is less hyped than HBO's other shows).

Also good: Meryl (a.k.a. T-Bone) Streep's acceptance speech. The woman has won a bajillion times and still always manages to deliver a poised, seemingly unscripted and heartfelt speech of the perfect length. Bravo, T-Bone!

Robert Downey, Jr.'s speech was also clever and I'm always happy to see him win, even though Sherlock Holmes was a tad disappointing. However, he was one of three offenders in terms of what I consider to be an awards ceremony faux pas: saying in your acceptance speech whom you thought would win as an excuse to not have prepared anything to say.

It's one thing to act surprised and humble; it's another to state specifically which of the nominees you thought would beat you. Because let's face it, they didn't win -- you did -- and it's supposed to be your moment. Also, it's kind of insulting to the other 3 nominees -- did you not think they deserved to win? We already get loser reaction close-ups; a brief acknowledgment of fellow nominees suffices.

RDJ said he thought Matt Damon (The Informant!) would win, screenwriter/director Jason Reitman (Up in the Air) said he thought Quentin Tarantino (Inglorious Basterds) would win, and James Cameron (Avatar) said he thought Kathryn Bigelow (The Hurt Locker) would win. You know what? Probably some other people, including the nominees themselves, might have thought they were going to win too and are bummed out. There's no need to rub it in. We get it, you're surprised. Get on with your speech.

I guess what increasingly bothers me about the Globes is how blatantly it's used as a marketing tool for upcoming movies. All the presenters have films coming out in the next month and many find cutesy ways to promote them. And while I enjoyed Martin Scorsese's tribute, the last few minutes of it was just the trailer for Shutter Island, which no one has seen yet. It could be terrible and it isn't out yet, so why include it in his montage? Given the fact that the release of the film was pushed back, from October to February, and the buzz is mixed, including it in the montage seemed like a desperate move on behalf of the studio releasing it.

In summary, Ricky Gervais was decently funny, Angie and Brad (and Best Supporting Actor winner Alec Baldwin) couldn't be troubled to attend, and per usual, Jennifer Aniston wore a pretty but forgettable black dress. Would it kill her to wear something with color or texture?

But I digress. Time to go back to praying for a Coakley victory in MA.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

What Would Kant Say?

Until quite recently, I had never intentionally stolen anything. I never shoplifted lipstick from Walgreens as a rebellious teen, never snagged a piece of candy from a gas station counter. I knew stealing was wrong and I was too much of a goody two-shoes to ever defy that maxim.

A few years ago in NYC, I accidentally stole a Zagat Restaurant Guide from a Duane Reade -- but I'm not counting that because I wasn't aware I had walked out without paying for it until I was on the subway riding home. Now, it has been argued that I should have brought it back or returned to pay for it, but come on. I'm not THAT good of a citizen. I considered it as a token gift from New York, something to make up for the myriad of ways the city ripped me off on a daily basis for the five years that I lived there.

But curiously, in the last few months, I've been riding a small crime wave of my own creation. Don't get excited -- my petty thefts total in value to less than $10.'s an odd trend, an unusual confluence of circumstances that have led me to steal three items.

Theft #1: A bottle of water from McDonald's ($1.00)

Every few months, when I get home late and I'm hungry, I succumb to the siren song of the Golden Arches. It was a few minutes before closing at the McDonald's in Allston, and I ordered an Extra Value meal. For my beverage, I asked for a bottle of water. The woman who took my order gave me the bottle of water right away and then went to tend to the fries. I put the bottle of water into my purse so I'd have less to carry. Moments later, a different employee brought my food and...a second bottle of water. I accepted the second bottle and my food and exited.

What say you, moral public? Keep in mind this was McDonald's, not a mom-and-pop operation.

Theft #2: Iced tea from Chipotle ($1.25)

What is it with me and stealing beverages? Just days after the McDonald's incident, I found myself at Chipotle*, ordering a burrito and asking for a cup for water. They gave me a cup and I headed over to the soda fountain. I mistakenly thought this (see below)
contained water. It did not. It contained iced tea. So instead of asking for a new cup, I drank my free iced tea. An innocent mistake?

Theft #3: A breakfast sandwich from Au Bon Pain in Logan Airport ($3.89)

Ok, this is clearly the most intentional of my crimes.

I stopped in to grab breakfast at ABP before heading through security. I was slightly pressed for time; it was a few days before Christmas, the airport was crowded and my flight was scheduled to board in the next ten minutes. I ordered my sandwich and then headed over to the registers to pay. And no one was manning the registers. A number of employees were doing other things -- making breakfast sandwiches, taking orders, cleaning up the coffee station -- but no one was at the register. I swear, I waited two whole minutes for someone to show up....before making off with my sandwich.

Listen, they were practically asking for me to steal it. I didn't feel like I should have to ask to pay for it. They are supposed to make me pay for it, right? That's their job. I was running late, hungry, and I didn't plan to steal the sandwich when I ordered it. Am I morally in the clear?

Probably not. I think my crime spree is over, though. It would be really embarrassing to get caught.

*In case you're wondering, no, I don't eat at fast food establishments every day. This was just a period of time when I was especially broke and lazy.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

What's in a Name?

What's in a name? That which we call a rose
By any other word would smell as sweet.
--"Romeo and Juliet" Act I scene II

The other day at Lineage (my new restaurant job), I saw some of the servers chuckling over a bill. I wandered over to see what was so funny, and apparently, it was not the bill, but the person who had signed it: the unfortunately named "Lenny Poon." I giggled -- but then it occurred to me how often my name is probably the source of humor in restaurants and, let's face it, anywhere that strangers encounter my moniker.

In 18 months of blogging, I have never posted anything about my, er, unusual surname. Which is odd, considering that my blog's title directly alludes to the fact that my last name is two letters from being "vagina." For years, I HATED my name. I vowed that I would get rid of the pesky silent "g" as soon as possible. My father, when he went into the wine business, did just that -- his label was Vanino Cellars. It didn't seem to affect sales.

And yet....Vanino. It just doesn't look quite right, does it? That's basically how my name is pronounced (for those of you who have been too embarrassed to ask) -- though technically, the "gn" is not truly silent (think "lasagna"). To be honest, I like how my name sounds. "Katie Vagnino" has a nice, memorable ring.

Arguably, my brothers have it worse. They are males with a last name that resembles the female genitalia. I can only imagine what a horror middle school must have been for them. Somehow having a vagina makes having a name that looks like "vagina" not as bad.

Recently, I've come to terms with my name. Or rather, I've figured out how to deal with the inevitable conversation that happens at least once a month.

INSENSITIVE PERSON: Hey, you know what I thought your name was, when I first saw it?

I used to just roll my eyes and brace myself. But now I put on my best poker face.

ME: No.....what?

IP: (suddenly embarrassed) know....well, it looks a lot

ME: (still playing dumb) Like what? I don't know what you're hinting at.

IP: (almost inaudible) Vagina.

ME: (in shock) Really? Oh my god, that's so crazy. No one has ever told me that before.

Which highlights the fact that OF COURSE I know what my damn name looks like, and you are only the 3,000,000th person to bring it up, thanks. With this blog, I feel like I am taking ownership of my name. Now I'm in on the joke, instead of just being the butt of it. THAT would be a hard name to grow up with.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

So You Think You Don't Like Poetry

First poem of 2010!

One of my resolutions is to send out more of my work this year in the hopes of getting more of it published. So I've been reading poems published recently in poetry journals by emerging poets and came across this poem by Heather Bell. It's brutal and beautiful, arresting as all good works of art should be.


The truth about Klimt is: when he painted “The Kiss,”
he was also beating his beautiful wife. He beat her
with one hand and painted with the other. He got
two sad blisters on his right palm from this. His wife
sometimes slowly pulled up the roots to his favorite
willows and cut them, delicately, and then buried
them again. He jokes, “that’s what I get for marrying

a woman from a sanitarium!” but she was from
Vienna, they met in the street, he stopped her and
she believed his eyes said, “I do not want to die,
do not let me die,” so she touched his face, there,
in the street, as a person touches a comma on a
page after they have returned home from a place
that has no commas. On their wedding night, she

ran him a lukewarm bath and his testicles looked
like overripe plums. He raped her until a low moan
seemed to come from the walls, as if wolves were
angry and coming and Klimt went to bed forcefully
and his wife went to bed with dirty blood around
her nostrils and mouth. It goes on like this for years,

just as it goes on for years for everyone who marries
someone they cannot love. You step, body over
body, into the kitchen to kiss your sweat and rot
good morning. “Let me tell you something,” she
says on the day that he paints “The Kiss” and he
hits her in the head before she can remember the
something. She thinks it might have been important.
It might have been something. When he shows

the painting to his friends, they say he must be
the most romantic man in the world and she nods.
And the man in the painting pushes the woman
down further, flows into her, gold and angry, and
her eyes are shut and they do not look clenched
and this is puzzling, but no one else seems to notice.

Monday, January 4, 2010

The Best and Worst of 2009


Was anyone sorry to see it go? What a hot mess of a year. It was a very turbulent year for me and I definitely overdid it in terms of celebrating its end on New Year's Eve. In the tradition of People, one of my favorite magazines (stop judging me), I thought I'd reflect on some of the zeniths and nadirs of my last year in the first decade of the 21st century.

2009 was my first full calendar year in Boston. It was the year I became a published poet. A year in which I was single for less than a month (compared to being single for virtually all of 2007 and none of 2008). In 2009, I worked at an incompetently-run sushi restaurant that is now closed before getting hired at a legit high-end establishment. I traveled a good deal in 2009, visiting friends in Chicago and San Francisco, hiking in Telluride, and getting stung by a jellyfish in Puerto Rico. I joined a vocal band and spent time with a radical feminist. I watched one of my brothers graduate from college and one of my friends from college get married. I saw Britney Spears in concert for free. I discovered that two people I thought were close friends actually were not. I cooked a prime rib roast and rode a mechanical bull. In 2009, I drank too much, spent too much, and wrote too little. I went skiing for the first time in three years. I became a sex columnist and an Elite Yelper. I felt lonely, I felt exhilarated, I felt exhausted. I tried and failed to get a job at Uno's Pizzeria. I threw myself two birthday parties. I won $100 in a karaoke contest. For the first time in years, I kissed someone I loved at midnight on New Year's Eve.

I could go on, but I'm ready to let 2009 go, aren't you?