Tag Archives: writing

It Takes a Village, Part 1

23 Jun

Why do we stop being raised after we grow older? If it takes a village to raise a child, then who raises the twentysomethings like me who wander through life—not exactly aimlessly—without a clear guide map through young adulthood’s piney forest? If it takes a village to raise a child, then it takes a family, a campus, and a city to raise a twentysomething. We, Lord of the Flies—style, have to fend for ourselves and raise each other. And we people of the concrete jungle know that our island can be just as rough as the one in Lord of the Flies, because rather than a group of gangly boys, we’re dealing with eight million people who would put our head on a pike to get ahead of us personally, professionally, and romantically.

I think a lot of us in our lives try to paint by the numbers. We see how others have succeeded, and try to follow along within the lines other people have outlined. Putting personal flare into our lives is a topic that I have previously advocated in my blog, but it was advice that I didn’t take myself until a friend of mine swooped in and caused me to color outside the lines.

Patrick is a friend of mine through a long line of connections. He goes to Fordham at Rose Hill, and I met him because he dated one of my best friend’s roommates. With such a tenuous link between us, it seems weird that he was still in my life at all, but we have kept in contact through this time. Last Friday, he called me up because he was in the city, and he took me to lunch at Empanada Mama where I mislead him as to the size of the empanadas. I could’ve sworn they were bigger. But what they lacked in girth, they made up for in flavor.

The date went really well. It wasn’t a romantic date, and neither of us have any interest in each other (unless Patrick is one to conceal his passions, and from his out-there, expressive demeanor, I doubt it) but it was the best date I had so far. Patrick had a lot of great advice, and it was really great to work through some of my problems with someone one-on-one. Whereas most dates cause anxiety, this one worked as a kind of relieving therapy session, only a booth replaced the couch, and the office was Hell’s Kitchen.

I had become discouraged because, while I have seen and felt my body respond well to the diet and exercise, I felt as if I was failing in my mission. Patrick, though petite and healthy, is on a personal journey to lose weight, even if I believe he doesn’t need it. It’s always part of the plight of the fat person to believe that every skinnier person should be happy with his or her body. However, we may have a bigger blind side to the problems of pretty, skinny people than skinny people do to those of us who are an extra pizza slice away from visiting the tailor to have our pants let out. He advised me to not always worry about the numbers, and that if I felt myself shrinking, it was best to follow what my mind was thinking, and if I liked the way I looked in the mirror, then I shouldn’t ache to bring a scale into my circle of friends. Whereas friends can give subjective, personal advice, scales cannot.

It Takes a Village to Raise a Child, It Takes a Bulldozer to Raze the Concrete Jungle

As I related in my previous blog, I recently began speaking with my ex-boyfriend. Though he hurt me in the past, much like Patrick felt obligated to help me where he had experience, I feel an obligation to him to help him through experiences I share with him. He has been having problems with his boyfriend, and when he called me to talk to me about it, I heard a lot of the same things I said last summer after we broke up coming out of his mouth. Even though I knew how to deal with them, I remember how hard it was for me to take advice last summer, even from friends of mine who knew how I felt. When someone is going through a break-up, it’s especially hard, because the person is expected to transition to the single life while simultaneously going through a period of trauma. Transition is hard enough without having to do it in a distraught personal state. If being broken up taught me anything, it’s that you need other people to get through it, because going cold turkey doesn’t work when it comes to break-ups. Breaking up is a team sport, and your friends are the star players. However, my ex-boyfriend finds himself right out of college, most of his friends have moved back home, and he now has no boyfriend, which is why I have come in to help him through this period.

I got the job as the intern for the About.com GayLife blog. During the interview, my boss talked a lot about how he believes that journalism is an important platform for social change. The blogosphere is a place where people can feel community without being within physical proximity of each other. If you can relay important news to a lot of people, and force people to think about important issues, then you can change the way their brains think and their hearts beat. It’s very powerful. With this blog, my writing is a force for personal change. However, there is still a community. Knowing that I have readers who are coming along with me on this journey is important to me, because you are an unseen motivation, the unsung heroes behind the biking, the dieting, the reading, and the writing. It still takes a village, but at this age, it’s a village of equals who stand to learn from each other. We are often blind alone, only able to see peripherally, or not able to see past the end of our nose. But together, we navigate the concrete jungle in search of love, financial success, and friendship, and along the way, a little bit of not-by-the-numbers fun.

Pregnant Pauses

28 May

What makes a pregnant pause? For those of you who don’t know what a pregnant pause is, it’s a technique where entertainers pause to build suspense, to leave you hanging on whatever next passes from your lips. Comedians best know the pregnant pause as the dead air before the punch line, while dramatists know the pregnant pause because it usually precedes a confession, or some plot-altering development. Pregnant pauses, either way, are moments infused with possibility. The people in the audience, breath subdued, wait for the conclusion of the phrase, because we want an emotional release just as much as the entertainer. Like expectant fathers, the audience waits to see what will come of the pregnant pause—a bouncy baby comedic thrill, or a quiet, contained dramatic confession.

Bloggers don't worry about stretch marks.

I find that keeping a blog is a lot like living a life full of pregnant pauses. Every moment ideas swarm around me like houseflies, and I try to catch them and keep them long enough for me to write them down. Every day is full of new possibilities for me. Every blog, every book presents new ways for me to express my thoughts. After posting this entry, I don’t know if my next entry will be about weight loss, my first summer date, or about the next book I’ve read. Each entry has the possibility to be a triumphant declaration, and the possibility for solemn reflection. The people and the events in my life hold within them the power for inspiration and analysis, a potent energy that is unique and refreshing.

Take for instance the dinner I tried to make two days ago. I tried to make brown rice and beans, and for flavor, I added avocado and turkey bacon. The rice and beans kicked my ass, the stove was spotted with black bean juice, and the rice ended up thick, and best resembled brick-squished mortar. I ate my experiment quickly, and dumped the rest out. I had to sit there waiting for the beans and rice to cook for about 45 minutes, and there were two distinct possibilities:  this meal can succeed, or this meal can fail. After it failed, I had two distinct ways I could present this:  a fun foray into the world of cooking, or a failed experiment that persuaded to put down the wooden spoon.

Every event I attend, every book I read, and every day that passes has something to offer me. You could say that I’m constantly pregnant, if that didn’t have a creepy connotation to it. And every time I give birth to a personal essay to share with the world, ideas are ready to impregnate me again. This constant state of pregnancy is, like normal pregnancy, a basic human want to share a part of me with the world, and to ask that my ideas, thoughts, and values live on in a way that is more permanent than myself (which seems odd since this blog is nothing but one’s and zero’s.)

"If I Loved You, I Would Tell You This" by Robin Black

I’ve nearly finished my second book, entitled If I Loved You, I Would Tell You This by Robin Black. I picked this book next because it was completely different in tone from my first. It is a collection of short stories, it was written in this past decade, and published in the past year. The characters, like Charity Royall , are due for awakenings, but theirs come at varied stages of life—grade school childhood, old age singledom, and mid-life malaise. I originally picked up this book, because I wanted to read a record of what is being published in the short story market at the time, because I write short stories myself. The book also had a gorgeous cover. The maxim “Don’t judge a book by its cover,” is immutably true in every area of life except when choosing a book. Walking into Barnes and Noble these days is like walking into an art museum, except I can afford the merchandise covering the walls. Though it was beautifully covered, and the writing itself is admirable, precise, and evocative, I felt that the book left me a little flat. I believe that short stories, in a way, work off the notion of the pregnant pause. There is a moment in the story when the suspense builds, and we wait for a moment of grotesque action that leads us to an epiphany. For the record, both comedy and drama work off of the notion of epiphany. Comedies make us realize how silly we could be, while dramas make us realize how silly we really are. Unfortunately, I felt Robin Black took to much time reveling in her own writing abilities to care about her characters. I feel as if her characters learned nothing, and we were meant to learn everything, which to me is writing for show. Though it seems counterintuitive for a blogger, I feel that writing must always be first personal and second for others to read. To write a short story and not have your characters learn something in the process is a shitty way to treat your characters—it makes their lives a mere vehicle for our lessons, and gives their lives no purpose of their own.

Reading this book has made me realize that the way I write may not exactly fit in with the current short story market, and that’s okay by me. There is a gimmicky way of writing now, people write like imitations of post-modernists now, and trying to write like someone who breaks form seems kind of counterintuitive. Replicating Lorrie Moore with extra lilts and sing-songy lyrics doesn’t make you an author. A true desire to tell one’s story, and find little grains of truth as you sift through grains of beans of rice spread out on your countertop, that’s where one finds stories. Those are the places where one has to pause, let an idea cultivate in your spine, and ultimately make itself ready to be shown to the world.

In waiting for my rice to boil, or anticipating the soreness in my muscles to seep out, or even just waiting for a date to appear, my life has been full of pregnant pauses lately. But, that means it has also been filled with possibility. And possibility is something I can handle. In small doses, I may not be able to handle not eating my favorite foods, shelling out money for IcyHot, or reading ten short stories back to back in a week, but as a whole, I can take a challenge. Because the thing you have to remember about a challenge:  you can fail, or you can succeed, but you can’t just sit back and wait for it to happen, you have to act like a pregnant woman and deliver.

Action is Character

17 May

I think it was F. Scott Fitzgerald who said, “Action is character” regarding, I expect, not only writing fiction, but also life. His words are a guiding light for most writers. They are unwritten writing rule, and a go-to mantra for undergraduate and high school writing teachers across the country. Recently, I was revising a short story I wrote, and I was listing traits of the main character to attempt to come to a deeper understanding of him—and to help finally move the plot along. To be blunt, I was the main character, just like every facet of me is a LEGO I use to snap together all my characters. But, for this character, the only adjectives I could list were unsure and emotional. As you can imagine, these are not two adjectives useful to a writer. How do you give a character a purpose, how do you propel forward the plot when your main character is anchored to the seafloor, tethered at the ankles and gargling to survive? Of course, I knew these adjectives were a sheer guise behind which I was hiding truths about myself.

Starting the Summer Book Pile...

I was this character completely, from the waves in the nappy hair to the mismatched socks on his feet, and the uncertain steps he took. None of my fiction had such a complete portrait of me, and it was boxing me in. My other stories’ main characters, or supporting characters, were facets of myself, of my need to be vindicated, or my inability to curb my desire for cupcakes. It was easy to write a story about things that I did—about things that made up my character. But how does one write a story about inaction, about a character who is striving to become something, yet is too unsure to act? Quite simply, few writers do, and those who do are those who have Classics editions at Barnes and Noble, or authors who we feel comfortable quoting on blog posts. They have already proven themselves.

I began to think of ways to cure my inaction. I wasn’t exactly unhappy with my life. I had great friends, a great family, but I found myself in a rut. I needed to do something to revivify myself. I looked around the room at my bookshelf that holds my small personal library. It’s three decently high shelves kept together by curved metal rods on either side. On the top, I keep textbooks, fiction on the middle shelf, with a collage of non-fiction, anthologies, and writing books on the bottom. But for the kind of instruction I wanted, I looked to my middle shelf and dusted off twenty books that I knew deserved my attention and had been undeservingly denied it for so long. I was so good at buying books, I could burn a hole through my debit card at Strand faster than you could imagine, but reading them was always a slower process. You could buy five in one hour, but it would take you upwards of weeks to plow through them, by the time life gets in the way. Turning my attention to the books on my shelf the longest, I picked out twenty that should have been read by now. These twenty books, ranging from prim and proper European classics to New York Times bestsellers that are chirped about on Twitter, form a thorough summer education course of my own design that inadvertently sparked the rest of my summer mission.

Why stop at twenty books? Why should only my mind expand and my bookshelves lighten when there are so many other areas of myself that deserve a close look?  I turned my attention right away to my weight problems. I have always been heavy, and I have always been uncomfortable with it. The feeling of discontent comes tethered to the extra pounds. They pal around together, one carried with you on your bones, the other walking a few steps behind, though still part of your entourage. So, I decided to finally take action on weight loss, and to lose at least twenty pounds by the end of the summer.

Lastly, I wanted to get out of the building in which I live. I live in McMahon Hall, a little box of an apartment building on the thin edge between Hell’s Kitchen and the Upper West Side, and the only residence hall for Fordham University at Lincoln Center. I also work here as a Resident Assistant. As such, getting away from the building becomes a chore. So, I decided to get out and date, and not just any dates, but twenty little adventures. I want to go on interesting dates in parks, museums, or outdoor concerts. I want twenty unique experiences that can’t be interchanged or confused with one another.

There’s the mission, folks (who are soon to be addressed as faithful readers.) Twenty books, twenty pounds, and twenty dates in one summer. What you will read following this entry will be reviews and reflections on literature, recaps and analyses of gay male dating habits, and the woes and wants of a foodie who will be relearning how to eat healthily. I hope this first entry intrigued you enough to continue reading, and I hope that you all enjoy the next months reading my blog as I will enjoy writing, reading, eating, exercising, dating, craving, enjoying, and loving it.

And, as for my story, the character finally took action, and the reader was able to see his true character. Let’s see what you can see of mine as I reveal the story of my summer to you.