I’m Not Being Sarcastic, I Really Am This Excited

April 26, 2012 § 1 Comment

In the spirit of my last post advocating enthusiasm, I am going to dedicate this post to things I am crazy enthusiastic about. You could say that I am disproportionately excited about Disneyland and toast, but I say taste this toast and tell me it doesn’t taste like pure joy.

1. Lindsey Pavao tweeting my blog post about her!

Last week, I gushed about my crush on The Voice contestant Lindsey Pavao, and when she found out about my blog post (probably through her boyfriend, who is friend’s with my brother J and commented about the post on J’s Facebook wall), rather than filing a restraining order or hiring ninja body guards (regular body guards are so 1992),

she tweeted it to her gajillion Twitter followers along with a sweet note. Nearly 5000 people read my blog that day. I’d like to say that kind of traffic is normal, but I’d also like to say I’m dating Evan Rachel Wood, it’s just that she doesn’t know it yet — so no, not really. Thanks, Lindsey! Such a classy lady. Also, how hot is this picture?

Must. Buy. Dark. Lipstick.

2. Toast!

I really love toast. “But it’s just burned bread!” Sure, the way diamonds are just compressed carbon.

If made correctly, toast is crunchy on the outside, moist and bready on the inside, and covered in delicious, delicious butter (or your preferred butter substitute — I’m a fan of Smart Balance myself).

My brother, a competitive cyclist, used to have exercise-induced asthma, which was a serious problem when he was biking up mountains. He discovered, however, that he was gluten-intolerant, and when he cut gluten out of his diet: poof! no asthma. Since then, I’ve tried eliminating gluten from my diet, and even though my mom and brother felt that doing so had profoundly advantageous physical effects, I didn’t really notice a difference. I did, however, become aware of how much wheat was in my diet, so I decided to cut down just in favor of nutritional diversity. But there was no way I was giving up my toast, and luckily, brown rice bread came to the rescue. It makes amazing toast.

Rice bread isn’t great for sandwiches or generally eating it plain — it’s really dense and a bit sweet — but it makes damn good toast. The inside is so soft and sweet that the butter provides a wonderful salty contrast. (I’ve gotten fairly simple tastes when it comes to toast: I don’t need jam or marmalade or Nutella — I can’t buy Nutella; I will just eat globs of it from the jar — just a good glazing of butter, but don’t skimp now. Dry toast with just a tiny scrape of butter is so pitiful.)

Once, when I was in high school, I had a toast-related trauma. I was on my period, and in those days I had mad hormonal mood swings as part of my PMS, so my ability to handle disappointment was almost non-existent. One weekend day, I woke up sick with cramps and all I wanted was to make some toast and lie on the couch watching TV. I walked into our family room and saw my dad and brother watching a soccer game on the television, and when I turned to the kitchen, there was no toaster oven. It had burned up the previous week — caught on fire and everything! during dinner! it was rather exciting — and my dad and brother were supposed to buy another one while my mom and I were out of town visiting colleges. They clearly had not replaced the toaster. I looked at them on the couch, then at the empty countertop where the toaster oven used to be, and turned on my heel and walked back down the hall, all the way into the bathroom, at which point I stood with my forehead against the wall and cried quietly. My mom found me like that a few minutes later and was basically like “wtf.” She made me take a bath and managed to make me toast in our oven. My mother is wonderful.

3. Oh yeah: THE HUNGER GAMES!!!

I know you’re tired of hearing about The Hunger Games — they’re all over every form of media — but that’s too bad. Pipe down — I’m even more crazy enthusiastic about this one.

I love these books. I was really surprised how into them I got. I basically sobbed my way through the second and third ones; I was terrified my favorite characters were going to die, which, considering the high body count in these things, was quite likely. I fell in love with Katniss, who has been touted as a refreshingly feminist heroine, which I think she is, but not just because of her survival skills, talent with a bow and arrow, and her defiance. She is also a deeply emotional creature and spends significant portions of the second and third books basically catatonic because the people she loves keep being killed and kidnapped and tortured all around her. Katniss can be strong by masculine standards while retaining the emotional qualities that society traditional labels “feminine.” Peeta’s main strengths, similarly, are his compassion and emotional intelligence — again, “feminine” attributes — though he’s not exactly a wimp with a weapon, either. In addition to giving Katniss two very different choices of lover, Gale and Peeta also present two complicated and contrasting options for what it means to be masculine. (Kelsey Wallace has a great meditation on this over at Bitch Magazine online.)

Apart from the gender dynamics, though, and the extensive social commentary that I’m not going to get into right now, The Hunger Games books are awesome because you cannot put them down. Plot gets a lot of shit in the literary scene for being literature’s baser element, a sort of necessary evil, but the phenomenon that The Hunger Games has become is a helpful reminder of the power of plot. Stories entrance, compel, and change us as human beings, so you can scoff at The Hunger Games and pick up your copy of Gravity’s Rainbow instead, but there’s something about the visceral experience of narrative that should be valued just as much as a heightened aesthetic experience.

Now, as for the film franchise, I thought the movie was generally very successful, though I thought it took out a lot of the political commentary that is in the book and that the filmmakers botched a few important moments (as well as cutting out some of my favorite moments from the book — Katniss shouting “Peeta!” from the tree and then clapping her hands over her mouth? That moment is gold!). Maybe it’s a function of the PG-13 rating and the studio’s need to market to young teenagers, but the movie is basically Hunger Games Light, less violent, less complex, with less drastic consequences for the characters. In the novel, Katniss is really beat up at the end of the Games and Peeta is literally seconds away from death — he ends up having his leg amputated and the doctors that rescue him and Katniss from the arena have to restart his heart, twice — while in the film they’re just dirty with a couple of bruises and small cuts. Still, the movie was quite an accomplishment in terms of its faithfulness to the books’ significance and tone; I’m not sure if even the final Harry Potter movies felt as in step with their source material as The Hunger Games film.

Bottom line: I LOVE IT.

4. Faux fur’s becoming popular!

Since I love animals so desperately, I can’t handle real fur. I discovered yesterday, reading an interview with him in GQ, that Drake has a $5000 arctic fox fur bomber jacket. No. Not okay. Little foxes!! Suffice it to say I now like Drake less. I was never in love with him like some people, but I will not forgive this fox thing. Foxes are my spirit animal.

But while real fur is super not okay, in my opinion, I still love soft things. I especially love when my clothing is really soft. I never thought I’d be into faux fur — it always seemed so gaudy; also, Gotti — but this past season’s batch of higher quality acrylic stuff, as well as my changing fashion sense and decision that my clothing isn’t weird enough (seriously: I sometimes stand in front of my mirror and think, “This outfit isn’t weird enough”) but I’ve come to be a sucker for faux fur. It’s fuzzy! If I can pet my clothing, I’m on board.

5. Water (specifically, drinking it) !

I love water in general: the ocean, rain, rivers, lakes — I go apeshit for that stuff. In my daily life, though, water is most important as something that I consume in large quantities. I drink more water than anyone I’ve ever encountered, with the possible exception of my mother.

One time, in college, I was in a professor’s office at around 10 am, carrying my usual Nalgene, which holds something like 36 ounces. Since this was my first appointment of the day, it was full. My professor gestured to it and said, “Are you really going to drink all that?” When I replied in the affirmative, she was impressed. “I never drink enough water. I consume so much coffee.” I nodded in understanding and we launched into the discussion I’d come to have. During our half hour conference, I emptied my Nalgene of about 30 of my 36 ounces.

I’m the person that the busboy has to come back to every five minutes because my water-glass is empty again. I get really excited if a waiter/waitress leaves a pitcher of water on my table in a restaurant, and I’ll frequent any establishment that has a water cooler or a soda fountain where I can refill my water bottle.

I love water. It’s delicious and it makes my body run better and it doesn’t have any calories and it gives me something to do during awkward pauses in class.

6. New Gossip Girl episodes!

Gossip Girl is trashy and ridiculous, filled with improbable events and characters that I find abhorrent. And yet, it’s also awesome. Anything that involves Chuck or Blair is entertaining. Case in point: consider Dan Humphrey. He’s so annoying a friend and I once had a “Who is more annoying, Dan Humphrey or Finn Hudson” conversation, and we basically came to an impasse because both of them so desperately need someone to shake them by the shoulders and yell, “What is wrong with you? You’re living in a dream world!” I find Dan Humphrey so distasteful that I didn’t realize I find Penn Badgley (the actor who plays Dan) attractive until I saw him opposite Emma Stone in Easy A (stellar movie, btw — so erudite; also, Stanley Tucci). Watching Badgley as Woodchuck Todd in Easy A (you must see this film if you haven’t already), I realized he’s actually pretty cute. And not irrevocably obnoxious. It’s just his character on GG that I find so repellant. And yet, now that Dan is dating Blair, I find him and plot points involving him amusing. Although even Blair can’t save his hair. It looks like a marmot died on his head.

Blair’s redemptive powers are great. She’s a fierce woman with unapologetic ambition and no patience for other people’s bullshit. Also, a gold Burberry Prorsum trench coat.

She's clutching her coat like that because she's wearing lingerie under it and definitely didn't realize her boyfriend's parents were there.

This is what it looks like when it's not being violently jammed to the body in order to hide garters and a corset. WANT.

The writers have included some things in the last few episodes that I think totally betray Blair as a character, but these infractions aside, you can always count on Blair to have a witty barb, an inventive scheme, and truly excellent designer clothes. Unlike Serena, who, in addition to continually setting new records of cluelessness and entitled indignation, dresses like a trashy sixteen-year-old who shops at Forever 21 and Wet Seal and Bebe:

and then she turns around and thinks a lace-edged romper and a sequined vest are acceptable sleep apparel:

As for Chuck Bass, earlier this season he referred to USA Today as “the newspaper for people who can’t read” and he recently adopted a dog that he named Monkey. Also, actor Ed Westwick has perfected a deep voice full of both disdain and apathy that implicitly says, “Serena, I can’t believe I’m in having another conversation about how you’re still in love with Humphrey — after five years! I have a billion dollars. I could be doing literally anything else. If you weren’t Blair’s best friend, I guarantee you’d have ‘mysteriously disappeared’ long ago.”

Also, in a recent episode, he wore this:

That, my friends, is a hooded red onesie. I rest my case.

Nate should be embarrassed by how normal his workout clothes are. Embarrassed.

7. Dogs!!!

When I see a dog in public, I have to concentrate on utilizing all my self-control in order not to run up to it and hug it. “That is someone else’s dog. She will be freaked out if you scream and sprint toward her and then start hugging it.”

I can barely help myself. I just fucking love dogs!!

8. Disneyland!!!

I can be a cynical person. I think that the US Government is, in the worst case scenario, evil, and in the best case scenario, spectacularly incompetent. I don’t trust corporations and the all-pervasive consumerism of our country makes me very uncomfortable. HOWEVER, I love Disneyland. I love it. I realize that Disney is a multinational corporation that is doing tons of stuff I don’t agree with and that even their that movies I love from my childhood perpetuate harmful racial and gender stereotypes, but I just don’t care. Outside Disneyland, sure, these things are a problem, but inside those gates, I’m at The Happiest Place on Earth, and I plan on having the best fucking time possible.

I went to Disneyland with my two best friends to celebrate my 19th birthday, and my best guy friend, S, does not revere Disneyland in the way I do. I think he’d only previously been there once, as like a seven-year-old, and he thought we were going to approach our time in Walt’s fantasy kingdom with the same sarcasm cynicism that we apply to so many other things in life, but he was so wrong. Right after we’d entered the park, he made some comment that was not vehemently pro-Disneyland, and I almost ate his face.

“I have basically no areas in my life in which I have maintained my childlike sense of wonder. I enjoy lots of things, but it’s really hard for me to do so unreservedly, to open myself up to the untempered joy of an experience. Disneyland is basically the one place that makes me feel childlike rapturous wonder and if you take that from me I will end your life.”

Suffice it to say, S was amenably positive for the rest of the day.

Now, don’t even get me started on the glories of Disney World

9. THE OLYMPICS!!!

THE OLYMPICS ARE COMING THE OLYMPICS ARE COMING THE OLYMPICS ARE COMING AHHHH!!!

Generally, I’m not a huge sports person. The friends who’ve seen me at Stanford football games can attest to the fact that when I do focus on a sport, though, I get really fucking into it. Screaming, swearing, gesticulating wildly — and soccer matches are possibly even worse.

The Olympics are pretty much my favorite thing ever. Not Olympics time? Sports — eh. Olympics time? Oh my gods what is on is that curling I must watch it! 

In my mind, Olympics are the ultimate competition and winning an Olympic medal the highest honor an athlete can attain. Of course, in certain sports (mostly uber-popular team sports), other championships might take precedent in terms of prestige, such as the World Cup for soccer, but in my mind, when I’m watching the Olympics, this moment is the most important moment in this person’s career, period. That’s what gets me screaming at a biathlon with people shooting on skis in the snowy wilderness, what gets me crying about some diver and her arduous journey to get here.

The Olympics are a perpetual waterworks for me. Put on almost any medals ceremony and I’ll just burst out in tears.

I love it. I love Bob Costas, I love the video bios for the athletes, I love the special NBC Olympics music. I love seeing athletes whose careers I’ve followed compete. I love rooting with my whole heart for someone I just found out existed twenty minutes ago. I love watching sports I normally don’t give the time of day. Mostly, I love the emotionality of it — the joy, the agony, the disappointment, the triumph. I CAN’T GET ENOUGH OF IT.

When do the Olympics start again? July 27? Bomb. GET READY PEOPLE!! LONDON 2012!!!!

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How (Not) to Get Your Writing Published

March 5, 2012 § 3 Comments

I’m currently reading submissions for a bi-annual literary journal, sifting the “stellar” from the “has potential” and the “just get it away from me.” Since I’m currently an unknown writer sending my poems out to various publications, whispering, “Like me, like me, like me” when I mail them, I know the vulnerability of putting your work into the hands of someone potentially willing to publish it.

I’ve been writing poetry since early childhood. My premier preschool-era poem still hangs on my grandma’s wall; it is entitled “Happy Birthday Grammo” — my spelling was not all that at age 4.  Despite my two decades of writing since then, however, I’m still an “emerging writer,” in that I’ve never published a book. Or published in a lot of journals. Or developed a following. Okay, “emerging” is a generous term; I’m still very much in the early stages of getting published beyond my grandmother’s living room. And since I’d like people to read more than a single poem written in magic marker, I really hope that people at various journals and publishing houses are going to give my work a chance.

Especially since at any other journal I’d be the submitter, when I’m reading submissions sent to the lit mag I work for, I truly try to give each one the benefit of the doubt, assuming each poem will be good until I’m proven otherwise.

But sometimes I’m proven way otherwise.

My friend J made this stamp as a gift for another friend, who is an editor for a literary journal and who also teaches poetry to undergrads. I don't care if it's a joke -- I'm starting to want one of these.

Over the last two months, we’ve been processing significantly more submissions than normal because we’ve been reading all the entries for our annual editors’ prize. I’ve read over 500 poems that have been submitted for the contest, and that “benefit of the doubt” period I try for is getting shorter and shorter. (Are you familiar with the concept of the nanosecond?)

There are a number of things submitters do that immediately set their poem on the slippery slope to the “no” pile. (Subsections of the “no” pile include the “hell no” pile and the “oh, please, please let me never think of this again” pile.)

To help you, the submitters, (but mostly to help me and other editors deal with this crap less in the future), I’ve compiled the following points to help you avoid ending up in one of the nine circles of rejection hell.

1. Read the gorram directions.

a. If the journal’s submission instructions say, “Please submit no more than [insert integer here] poems/stories at a time,” what should you do? That’s right! Your should submit twice as many as they ask for because anyone anywhere would be happy to read more of your poems!

No. My biggest piece of advice for submitting to journals is to go out of your way not to piss off the people who will be evaluating your work. If I open your submission file to discover that you’ve included eight poems even though we only allow six at a time, I’m immediately annoyed, and I think two things: 1) This person did not read the directions, and 2) This person thinks that he/she/ze is above the directions. Well, guess what? Since I work for the journal, those are my directions, and your ignoring them is like giving me the middle finger while I’m doing you the kindness of trying to consider your work seriously, even if the title is “One in a Million” (Note: actual title for a poem I recently read — try to avoid cliches, especially in the title: it’s your first impression).

You don’t want me thinking you’re lazy, negligent, or arrogant before I even read your poems.

b.  If the instructions say, “Oy! These are going to be blind submissions! Don’t put your name on the manuscript!” then my suggestion is: don’t put your name on the manuscript! If you’ve submitted to a contest or an editor’s prize or anything else that asks you to remove your name from the file holding the poems/stories, but you ignore this and put your name and contact information on the first/last/every/any page of your manuscript, the person reading your submission can and probably will just reject it without reading it, since you didn’t follow the rules.

Conversely, if the mag asks you to put your contact info on every page of the manuscript in order to make it easier for them to contact you later, do that. If you don’t follow the directions, everyone will know how poorly you did on the “listening” portion of the STAR tests as a child.

2. Submit all your pieces of writing in one file, unless the directions indicate differently. Why? Multiple files are a hassle for us.

Many publications now allow you to (or even prefer you to) submit online. Writers usually do so by uploading their work to a dropbox feature on the journal’s website or through a service such as ManuscriptHub, or Submishmash, or Submittable.

We use ManuscriptHub.com, and after writers electronically submit their work, our readers must then download each file in order to review it.

Each submitter has his/her/hir own folder, and you will have assuaged me if I open your folder to find only one file (.pdf or .doc/.docx or something please — if I have to figure out how to open up some bizarre file type I either 1) won’t, or 2) will be incredibly annoyed by the time I actually get to your writing). If, however, I open the folder for submitter #4559 and find four separate files, each of which holds a poem about one page long, I will be muttering obscenities to myself as I open them. (You only want this to happen after I read your poem, as in, “Fuck! This poem just tore my heart out and fed it to a vulture and then put the vulture through a wood chipper!” This is how I react to things I like; I’m weird.)

3. I am judging you based on your font. When I open your (one, please just one) file, the font is the first thing my eyes register. Before I can evaluate your title or even the poem’s visual form, really, I either notice your font or fail to notice your font.

a. If I fail to notice it, that means you used Times New Roman: good job. Times New Roman is totally innocuous — it’s easy to read and is the default font for Word documents.

b. If I notice it and it engenders a happy feeling in my chest, that means you used a font other than the old standby of TNR, and one that is aesthetically pleasing but conservative. Examples of this include Georgia, Palatino (my current favorite), Garamond, Cambria, and plain Times (somehow slightly more beautiful than TNR).

Poets care an inordinate amount about font and spacing; I’ve had multiple protracted discussions with other poets about which fonts we prefer and why, as well as the benefits of 1.15 spacing and the evils of double-spacing a poem. You might think we’re ridiculous, geeky control freaks to spend time alone in our rooms thinking about fonts, and we probably we are — but we’re the obstacle between you and publication, so we’re ridiculous, geeky control freaks with power.

c. If I notice your font and it engenders a tight, burning feeling in my chest that makes me look for the nearest chair or small child to kick, that means you used something absurd — a flowery script that I can barely read or some pseudo-handwriting that looks like a kindergartener scrawled your poem in crayon (unless you are a kindergartener writing a poem destined for your grandmother’s wall, this is unacceptable). I will not take your poems seriously anymore. I will read for evidence to support my new belief that you are a dilettante/moron/cat that stepped on the keyboard while Jane got up to make a cup of coffee.

4. I’m judging you based on your poem’s visual form. Never center-align your poems. Never. Just don’t. It shows that you’re an amateur.

The only acceptable center-aligning that I can think of occurs in Leslie Marmon Silko’s novel Ceremony, in which she center-aligns a series of ceremonial poems/stories that interrupt the prose at various points, and these are center-aligned to emphasize that they are spoken, i.e. this is oral tradition: Native American myths spoken throughout the generations. And even in the midst of this brilliant, astonishing, acclaimed novel, I still cringed when I came upon poems placed in the middle of the page.

5. If you haven’t racked up any demerits during numbers 1 through 4, congratulations! I am now actually reading your writing without any negative feelings!

But now I’m judging you based on your title.

Coming up with a title can feel like lot of pressure. I mostly suck at it. The easiest thing is to use a very simple title and thus dodge the bullets of “cliched” and “overdramatic.” If you write a poem about a cornfield, call it “Field;” a poem about a lover, call it “For Thomas” (feel free to substitute the name of your own lover).

That “One in a Million” poem? My expectations immediately fell from this-person-could-be-the-next-Anne-Carson to writing-from-a-Katherine-Heigl-movie-level. Similarly, don’t call your poem “Tortured Hell that Is My Soul” — you don’t want me thinking this is a discarded Dashboard Confessional song from 2003. (Keyboard confessional: I secretly loved DC back in the day, and I’ll still rock out to “Vindicated” if given the chance.)

A title prepares readers for the poem, primes their expectations. A title can lead grammatically into the first line of the poem (I have a poem called “She Asks Me How You Are,” and the first lines are “And I tell her / you’re wonderful”), or a title can provide vital information (W.H. Auden’s “September 1, 1939,” which centers on the Nazi invasion of Poland on that date, which marked the beginning of World War II) or convey a tone (“In Vermont No One Can Hear You Scream” and “The Things I Do When I Am Not Doing You,” both by Gregory Sherl, who great and you should check these poems out right now — go on, click the link).

Your options for titles are myriad, but the safest is a one or two word title that is quiet and doesn’t distract from the poem. Of course, if you can come up with a title that does something more than be innocuous, kudos! Just so long as the thing it does isn’t “sound like a 13-year-old’s diary.”

I’m a big fan of the super specific, super long title. James Wright was a master of these. Great titles of his include “In Response to a Rumor That the Oldest Whorehouse in Wheeling, West Virginia Has Been Condemned” and “Lying in a Hammock at William Duffy’s Farm in Pine Island, Minnesota,” the latter being one of Wright’s most famous poems (and one of my absolute favorites). He also has a poem called “In Memory of the Horse David, Who Ate One of My Poems,” which consists entirely of the title: there is no poem; the horse ate it!

Of course, you can use a subtle title such that the poem’s ultimate tone or content comes as a surprise. When I first read Matthew Dickman’s “Grief,” I certainly wasn’t expecting the first line to be “When grief comes to you as a purple gorilla.”

There are so many options for titles, and you should feel free to experiment. I had high hopes for a poem I read entitled “If Proust Had a Facebook Account.” Just remember that the title is a reader’s first opportunity to get an impression of your writing; you don’t want that impression to be, “Did he copy this title from his great aunt’s needle-point pillow?”

7. Rhyme. If your poem sing-songs like a nursery rhyme and isn’t a re-imagined nursery rhyme that has the Old Woman Who Lived in a Shoe on welfare, there’s a problem. Use rhyme carefully (and, when in doubt, sparingly).

8. Be careful with controversial topics. I will cringe if you mention Jesus, or write a poem about 9-11. Writing political poems or other poems with an agenda is very hard. Read an anthology of anti-war poems: most of them will be heavy-handed. A poem (while in progress) needs the facility to change and grow and expand according to its own artistic needs; having a very definite message or moral that you want the poem to convey stifles the possibility for the poem to surprise you, its writer.

This is not to say that a poem dealing with a controversial event or issue cannot be successful — I write political poems sometimes — but if I’m distracted from the actual language and content of the poem thinking, “This is an Iraq War poem,” or “This poem really, really wants me to believe in Jesus,”  your poem will fail in terms of both art and message.

9. Be individual. This is the most difficult task I can give you; the pressure to be entirely unique as an artist (and a human being), to do something no one has ever done, to create a phrase no one has ever used, can feel immense. Don’t feel overwhelmed — simply develop habits that will help you make your voice distinct from the voices of others. Namely, read. A lot. Read all kinds of things — poetry, novels, nonfiction, humor, genre fiction, news — but pay special attention to others writing in your genre, be that genre poetry, the short-story, or what have you.

Pay attention to images and words that you see repeated amongst different writers so that you can avoid over-used images or words or phrasal constructions. People at our journal were joking recently about how many poems we get that compare hands to starfish, and low and behold, one of the submissions I was reading this week actually used that metaphor. I found myself laughing quietly while reading, as well as expecting this poem (the starfish/hand image came in the first few lines) to be rather uninventive and unsuccessful. I hope no one reading my poems is reacting to them that way.

10. All my submission advice up to this point can be summarized in one point: don’t alienate your reader. If you can avoid any red flags that shout “This writer is an amateur!” or “This writer didn’t read the directions/doesn’t really care about this!” or “This writer is either a child that doesn’t speak English or a goldfish!” then you are in business.

Finally: get your stuff out there. Don’t be intimidated by all my bitching and raving; be careful and be attentive, but put your writing into the world. Though the editors and other staff reading journal submissions can seem scarily critical, as if they are just waiting for a reason to hate your work (and I probably just added to that intimidation factor — sorry about that), all we really want is to love your work.

When I see a poem with a font like Renaissance-era calligraphy, I’m annoyed, yes, but mostly I’m sad. My annoyance comes from being disappointed: I was hoping that poem would be spectacular.

The people reading your submissions want you to succeed, so fly, little bird, fly! into the wide literary sky!

Avoid cheesy imagery and terrible rhymes like that last sentence and you’ll do wonderfully.

I Do Not Trust People Who…

February 14, 2012 § 3 Comments

I’m a judgmental person. I like to think myself as “discerning” rather than “judgmental,”  but let’s just call it like it is.

I try, however, to keep my criticism to myself (and close friends) — with the blatant exception of this blog. I can certainly be a bitch, but ripping someone a new bodily orifice because she admits to liking Mumford and Sons is just unnecessary.

Plus, maybe it’s my intense love for media so bad it’s good, or so overblown it’s great, but I don’t want other people to feel as if I’m looking down on them for watching The Vampire Diaries. Perhaps the base impulse here is my desire not to have others look down on me for watching Pretty Little Liars. Or Gossip Girl. Or Beauty and the Geek (man, I wish that show still existed). I have so many guilty pleasures I’ve just started calling them pleasures.

But I have known quite a few people over the course of my life that are unapologetic elitists. Or “pricks,” to use the common parlance. This is one of my least favorite personality traits, so naturally, I keep trying to date guys who possess it.

But really, I hate people who are dickish about what other people like. If the woman who works two cubicles down from you loves Taylor Swift, unless she plays “Love Story” on repeat without headphones, shut your damn mouth.

All that said, while you are free to like and dislike whatever you want (you are quite probably wrong, but that’s your prerogative), I do think it is fair to judge you based on what you know about and do not know about. If you think Camus is a perfume, I will think less of you.

Thus, below you will find a list of knowledge gaps, behavioral tendencies, and character traits that mean I will not trust you.

I will not trust you if

1. …you cannot quote Mean Girls. I don’t expect everyone to have memorized all ten seasons of Friends like I have (except for my best friend K, I do expect this of her. Luckily, she doesn’t disappoint), but Mean Girls is one of the movies of my generation (I will give you a pass on this point if we have a significant age gap). If you don’t know what I mean when I say that “My father, the inventer of toaster strudel” would not approve of something, our senses of humor are not going to align.

Why is this line the best thing ever? I don't even know. Speaking of: this is the best valentine I've ever seen. Thanks, Feminist Ryan Gosling.

2. …you don’t know who Paul McCartney is. During this Sunday’s Grammys, featuring an appearance by the man himself, the twittersphere blew up with this mess:

via Buzzfeed -- to be read with a keen sense of disgust and a fear for the future of humanity

I can forgive the people who haven’t heard of Bon Iver — although that ignorance demonstrates that we probably can’t be close friends, and we can definitely never date — even if they (well, Justin Vernon, so “he”) won their “Best New Artist” Grammy in 2012 when their first album came out in 2008. But Paul McCartney?! Paul McCartney!! Please God, tell me you know who the Beatles are.

I hate when older people say that the younger generation is taking the world straight to hell, but come on, is this a generation that have not only never heard the Beatles, they’ve never heard of the Beatles. Hello, Hades, I hear you have good pomegranates here…

3. …you do not like Adele. It’s fine to be sick of her songs getting overplayed on the radio — especially “Someone Like You,” which is an incredibly emotional and touching song and which I don’t want to hear after some Bruno Mars shit while I’m shopping for groceries. If you genuinely think that Adele is not a good singer or a good songwriter, even if her style is not necessarily for you, you have the musical IQ of Paris Hilton (remember “The Stars Are Blind”?) and are the emotional equivalent of fossilized dinosaur dung.

I didn't watch the Grammys, but I am happy she won all of the things. She deserves all the recognition she can get, even if the Grammys are a pandering mess that often make the Oscars look like the paragon of artistic taste.

4. …you do not like/watch television. My perverse fascination with The Bachelor aside, I truly think that television is an unfairly maligned and undervalued art form. The structure of multiple episodes produced over a long period of time allows TV shows to develop characters in a manner that other more limited media, such as film and even (non-series) novels, simply cannot approximate. This is not to say that television is a superior art form to film, but it can achieve things film cannot, and vice versa.

There’s a reason I sobbed wildly during the season 5 finale of Bones when Booth and Brennan finally express their love for each other and then not only do not get together, but depart for different parts of the globe for the next year. I care deeply about these two as human beings, and while I know that they are fictional characters that do not “exist” in our traditional understanding of the term, I do think that fictional characters engage us emotionally in important and useful ways, and as someone who loves stories, all forms of stories, I love a medium that allows narratives of human lives to be explored and examined over such a protracted period of time.

Anyone who doesn't think these two should be together was tragically born without a heart. Or the brain region responsible for feelings of empathy, as Brennan might more accurately say.

Plus, no one who’s ever seen Battlestar Galactica can say that television is an inferior art form. That show is like a philosophical treatise. With bonus Tamoh Penikett.

BSG's confronting the notion of fear of the Other would make the show incredibly necessary and beautiful, even if its many other nuances were absent.

I have friends who would like to spend all of their time climbing trees and growing organic food, and who are genuinely not interested in TV, but these people similarly are not interested in/do not like/do not know anything about film. The other day I was talking to a friend about a poem I wrote that features Ryan Gosling’s dog, and she said, “Is that an actor?” She wasn’t putting me on — this is simply someone for whom electronic media, including television and film, are not even peripheral to her life.

However, 9 times out of 9.78, if you are the kind of person to say, “What is this ’30 Rock’ of which you speak? I don’t watch television,” you’re probably an elitist asshole.

Most redeeming thing James Franco has ever done.

A Book is Just a Movie Waiting to Happen

December 18, 2011 § 1 Comment

I am inextricably invested in an outdated form of written art called “the book.” These “books” are made up of many pieces of paper glued or sewn together on one side such that they can be read in a fixed order. (“Paper,” for those members of the digital generations who would never have seen a book outside of a museum, is a thin, flat material made from wood pulp, i.e. ground up trees, that is designed to be written on with “ink,” a dark pigmented liquid that leaves a permanent mark.)

Ancient artifact called a "book."

I recognize that “book” has become a fairly abstract term used to describe various digital, written documents, but I can assure you that historically, books were physical objects used to house the written words of novels, poems, non-fiction, etc. etc., which is why  “novel,” a specific type of written fiction, has become nearly synonymous with “book.”

The written word existed in non-digital form centuries before the invention of the computer, or even the invention of film!

It turns out, therefore, that books and movies are different art forms with their own means of expression and experimentation! I thought books were just proposals for movies! A novel is more than a movie waiting to happen? Hollywood certainly doesn’t think so.

Many (if not most) films take their source material from books (usually novels but also nonfiction or collections of short stories — poems not so much, although heeey For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow is Enuf! But even that was a play basically made up of poems…).

Everything from Drive to Die Hard was based on a book.

I understand that filmmakers need to take stories from novels so that they aren’t continually making Dukes of Hazard, Part 15 and its ilk, but there’s a difference between a book focusing primarily on plot and a book using myriad literary devices to make artistic statements beyond what literally happens.

Some filmmakers understand the differences between these art forms and use cinematic techniques to make interesting aesthetic and thematic points that are inspired by a book but not an attempt to filmically transcribe it. For Little Children, Tom Perotta altered his own novel for the screen, dramatically changing his original ending, exchanging it for one that plays out better cinematically. (Or maybe he made a political choice and decided that the protagonists’ casually enjoying a cigarette with a child molester in the final scene was simply too much for audiences to handle after all the other disturbing things in the movie.)

Usually, however, when Hollywood filmmakers attempt to turn a literary book — a book in which narrative perspective, visual/textual format, choices of syntax and diction, etc. are highly important — into a film, they approach the plot as the entire content of the book and think they can accurately translate a novel to film by simply having the same things happen to the same characters.

This winter, a movie version of Jonathan Safran Foer’s Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close hits theaters. It stars a cute, precocious child alongside Tom Hanks and Sandra Bullock. When I heard that Hanks and Bullock were attached to this project, I thought, “There are no main roles for people their age. The main characters are a child and three elderly people. How is Hollywood going to fit these big stars into a story that only has space for them on the sidelines?” I was immediately afraid that attaching star talent would distort the focus of the narrative, but my worry about such possible distortion is really a tiny issue within a larger cornucopia of NO — this book should not be made into a movie, and for many, many reasons.

This just makes me want to cry. Thanks, Hollywood; let's destroy beauty any time we have the chance.

How will a film represent important perspectival shifts in the narrative that are effected by the three separate narrators? How will the film represent Foer’s visually experimental use of text and image? His mixture of poetry and prose? Could a mainstream Hollywood movie even begin to do this literary masterpiece justice?

I, of course, have not seen the film, but I cannot believe that the answer is anything other than “Hell to the f#%$ no!!”

In the spirit of my outrage, here is a list of seven other upcoming films based on literary texts that seem like exploding car-wrecks of Oh gods, don’t do it! Spoiler: not all of them are terrible ideas! Another spoiler: most of them are.

1. The Beat work of the year is On the Road because they already did Howl. With James F’ing Franco. The 2012 take on Jack Kerouac’s twentieth-century classic will undoubtedly be of high quality, since it features the A-list cast of the guy with the sad goatee from the Country Strong trailer (and presumably also the movie, but I definitely did not see that and do not intend to — also, the new TRON apparently?),

This would be the saddest goatee I'd ever seen if it weren't for an awkward Asian guy I knew in high school.

someone I have never heard of from movies I have never heard of, and the cardboard cutout that stars in Twilight.

Calling her "cardboard" gives cardboard a bad name.

2. Since remaking Shakespeare with $#@%@&$ garden gnomes wasn’t enough, we’re facing another Romeo and Juliet, starring the talented Hailee Steinfeld from last year’s (very good) remake of True Grit, opposite a young British actor/model named Douglas Booth, who apparently acted in Pillars of the Earth and modeled for Burberry alongside Emma Watson.

He's pretty in a very Chace Crawford kind of way. So, not attractive to me at all, actually. But seriously, are we sure this isn't a picture of Chace Crawford from Gossip Girl?

Of course, in this one he looks like Justin Bieber. Double "no" on that one, then. Ew ew ew.

But speaking of Gossip Girl, Ed Westwick has been cast as Tybalt, which could turn out to be genius, since he is deliciously evil as Chuck Bass.

"I am going to devour your soul with my eyes and then drink a delicious Scotch."

But really, even if this film is pretty good, it’s just unnecessary. We’ve already got the classic Zefirelli film, as well as Baz Luhrmann’s modernday gang saga Romeo + Juliet, and if that’s not enough for you, there’s bound to be a production of the play happening at a local theater company and/or the local high school at any given time.

3. A film version of Paradise Lost is slated to come out in 2012, starring Bradley Cooper as Satan. I heard “film version of Paradise Lost” and began to bang my head against the nearest available surface, so it took me a while to learn that Bradley Cooper is going to play Lucifer. Paradise Lost is Milton’s great legacy for many reasons, one of which is the character of Satan, who is not only the poem’s (btdubs, this is a poem, y’all) most compelling character, but who is often identified as the hero. The idea of Cooper as Satan actually excites me — he has the perfect smooth-talking sex appeal combined with a dark glint in his eye. To reuse my earlier phrase, I think he could be deliciously evil in this role. However, I don’t think this role should exist.

This is the sole teaser image that Legendary Pictures has released so far. So the Devil's not going to be rakishly handsome?

Paradise Lost could be an incredible stage play — and at some point in history, I’m sure it has been — but I just don’t see it working as a film, unless perhaps it is shot in a strange, experimental, independent aesthetic. Since the director‘s best-known movies to date are I, Robot and the 2009 Nic Cage vehicle Knowing, I seriously doubt that will happen.

Others attached to this project include I-think-she-used-to-date-a-Jonas-brother-or-something Camilla Bell, I-used-to-be-in-Oceans’ 11-but-now-I’m-just-in-a-parody-of-Oceans’ 11 Casey Affleck, Spencer’s working-class (horrors!) boyfriend from Pretty Little Liars, and Rufus Sewell??

Rufus Sewell is not taking the news of his involvement well.

I adore Rufus Sewell and think that he is a really top notch actor, from A Knight’s Tale to The Holiday to more artistic and serious movies like The Illusionist, so I wonder about his involvement with this project. Maybe it will be more legitimate than I anticipate? A seventeenth-century epic poem doesn’t exactly seem like a blockbuster waiting to happen, so maybe the director is taking it seriously. Oh wait, the film’s going to be in 3-D. Never mind.

4. Baz Luhrmann’s upcoming adaptation of The Great Gatsby could be truly incredible, and I’m hoping it will be. Like Tim Burton, Luhrmann is a love-him-or-hate-him kind of director, with a very apparent and consistent aesthetic, but I’m definitely on the “love him” side of things. His Romeo + Juliet is phenomenal, even though Leonardo DiCaprio may chew the scenery a bit (the scene after Mercutio’s death when he’s driving the car? Really??), and I think Moulin Rouge is a goddamn masterpiece, so haters can shut it.

IIIII will love this movieeeee, until my dyyyyiiiiiing daaaaaay!

Anyway, this latest film take on Fitzgerald’s classic novel will reunite Luhrmann and DiCaprio, with the latter playing the titular hero, and will feature Toby Maguire as Nick (the novel’s narrator — that could work, I suppose), Joel Edgerton as Tom (Edgerton has the perfect rough edge to play the suave but violent Mr. Buchanan), and Carey Mulligan as Daisy, the girl who motivates Gatsby’s every choice from the moment he meets her.

And she glowed with the light of a thousand angels...

I completely adore Carey Mulligan and cannot communicate strongly enough how glorious I think this casting is. Beautiful in a unique and interesting way, Mulligan will be able to portray Daisy’s enigmatic and elusive attractiveness much better than someone more conventionally pretty, like talking mannequin Blake Lively. And more importantly, Mulligan has the hard-core acting chops to make Daisy both inescapably enticing and repulsive as a human being.

Admit it, you want to hug her, too. Also, is it just me, or is Leonardo DiCaprio getting younger?

The above is an actual still from the film that has been released to Entertainment Weekly, so click on over to EW’s website to see a larger version of it, as well another photo that shows Nick and Gatsby alongside the woman (Mulligan) who makes their worlds go ’round.

Baz Lurhmann’s trademark colorful, visually-packed, explosive aesthetic is the perfect one to take on the rich (both aesthetically and economically) world of Gatsby and the Buchanans, so I look forward to this film as one that potentially does the book justice while approaching it on the terms of an entirely different artistic genre. I defer to you, Mr. Luhrmann.

5. The Bell Jar starring Julia Stiles. You must be joking.

I love 10 Things I Hate About You, of course, like anyone who grew up in the 90s; as a literary nerd, I appreciate its erudite jokes and copious Shakespeare references. I even thought that Miss Stiles was good on Dexter and that role made me think of her as a real actress rather than someone who used to be weirdly popular but stopped making movies after about 2004 — a bit like the male version of Freddie Prinze Jr, though I never thought she was that bad.

But her hair WAS that bad...

Yes, Julia, I don’t have anything against you, per se, but I will if you do this movie!! Sylvia Plath’s mournful, psychological novel telling the story of a mental illness so similar to her own is devastating and beautiful. You were in The Prince and Me. It had a tractor race. Sylvia Plath stuck her head in an oven; she went through enough in her life without this monstrosity degrading her legacy.

Save the Last Shreds of Dignity?

6. James “Mega-Douche” Franco has decided that he’s a director now.

The "mega-douche" is also known as a "gross douche" -- 144 times more douchey than a regular douche.

Franco has announced he is in talks to direct film versions of Cormac McCarthy’s Blood Meridian and William Faulkner’s As I Lay Dying. Understandably, this announcement prompts the urge to kill myself,

Hello, sweet death...

but I will stave off these instincts, for you, my dear readers. So: though a number of McCarthy’s books have been made into successful films — including All the Pretty Horses, No Country for Old Men, and, to a lesser extent, The Road — his violent and devastating 1985 novel presents a serious challenge to the filmmaker willing to take it on. Blood Meridian features a truly horrifying villain, and casting an actor up to the role is a tall order, though Javier Bardem was reportedly fantastic (I never got around to seeing it! I’m sorry!) in his portrayal of another murderous McCarthy character in No Country for Old Men, so it can be done — I just wouldn’t leave it to James Franco to get it done.

James Franco: perfectly equipped to be incredibly pretentious, grow a gross mustache, not much else.

7. Then there’s As I Lay Dying. Full disclosure: I wrote my undergraduate literary critical thesis on  As I Lay Dying, so I feel intense affection for it, along with a special ownership. My thesis focused on character consciousness and narrative voice — important to a novel that has 59 chapters and 15 separate narrators — things that I don’t think film could adequately represent. Franco is already on record as saying he’s going to “be loyal to the book” by essentially destroying the importance narratorial perspective plays in the novel. Neat-o. So As I Lay Dying as a film = NO

And since one thing is never enough for multitasking addict Franco, in addition to directing, he’s also planning to write the screenplay for his movie based on Faulkner’s 1930 masterpiece. Hell, he’ll probably want to play Darl, too  — and that makes me want to cut a bitch.

Specifically this bitch.

I am tired of this

December 1, 2011 § 5 Comments

Things I am tired of:

ONE  The Kardashians, Kim in particular. Was her wedding a scam? Considering that she and her “husband” allegedly made $20 million off their televised wedding and were subsequently married for only 72 days doesn’t exactly scream “True love!,” but really, I could not care less. If the tabloids didn’t feel the need to publish a cover story on every inane thought that comes out of her plastic mouth, there would be no reason for her to even consider a scam wedding and we as a society would have been saved all this grief!!

Mostly, I’m just angry that gossip about Kim Kardashian takes up any space in my brain (I learned writing this post that I don’t know how to spell Geico, but I do know how to spell Kardashian – ugh). That’s important real estate that could be devoted to cultural historical knowledge, or lines from Friends.

When Daniel Boorstin wrote The Image in 1962, he coined the term “famous for being famous.” A celebrity, in Boorstin’s mind, was assumed great because he was famous, whereas a hero was famous because he was great. Guess which one our media theorist thought was better? If he were raised from the dead, Boorstin would only need to see the magazine-banked checkout line at Safeway to scramble back into his hole in the ground.

Was the wedding a scam? Kim Kardashian, words cannot express the immensity of the fuck I do not give.

Also, James Bond hates you.

If Daniel Craig called me a "fucking idiot," I'd probably cry to.

TWO  Jimmy Fallon. He apologized for the whole Michele Bachmann, “Lying Ass Bitch” brouhaha, showing that not only is he  an annoying douchebag, but he isn’t even willing to stand by his douchebaggery. Bah. Give me some Craig Ferguson any time.

I can't even handle a picture of Jimmy Fallon, so here's some Scottish for ya. Funnily enough, this is the face I make while watching Craig Ferguson's show.

THREE  The Republican presidential race. It was funny for a while but now it’s just sad.

This whole race has become a carnival. When do we put them in the dunk tank? It can be part of a debate on waterboarding if we need to make it seem relevant.

FOUR  Geico commercials. Can switching to Geico really save you fifteen percent or more on car insurance?

I couldn’t give a rat’s ass because I’m overcome with a violent urge to stab that pig in the neck and then eat a pile of bacon.

I’m willing to admit that advertisements do alter my willingness to patronize a company; if I did switch to Geico, I’d feel like I was rewarding their long assault on my ears/eyes/brain.

Alternately, Allstate (also not my insurance provider) lulls me with the dulcet tones of President David Palmer (the best fictional president since Josiah Bartlet and Laura Roslin), and/or amuses me with the everyday problems Mayhem causes drivers.

Very close to the Geico ad, only hilarious, and it doesn’t make me want to punch babies. Or pigs.

People magazine actually named Allstate’s Mayhem actor as one of its Sexiest Men. I do find him strangely alluring…I can’t tell if he’s attractive or if I’m just excited that his ads are actually clever.

FIVE  The Salvation Army volunteer ringing the bell outside the university apparel shop at the Corner.

It’s nice that you want to help a charity, but you don’t need to swing that thing like you’re bashing a gnome over the head. It sounds like someone is being murdered in a bell factory.

SIX  Men yelling at women from cars. Really? Really?

SEVEN  Humidity. In California, where I’m from, we don’t have humidity. Here in Virginia, it was humid on Monday, the 28th of November, and like 65 degrees. I barely survived summer/early fall. I can’t take a shower every six minutes; sometimes I have things to do outside my house.

EIGHT  People assuming, insinuating, or flat-out stating that a humanities degree is useless. “Oh, you were an English major? So what are you going to do with that, teach? High school or elementary?” I’m glad you asked. As an English major, I got to study novels and poems and to examine the human condition in depth. Now that I’ve graduated, I’m going to use the resulting knowledge of how not to be a condescending, presumptive ass hat.

NINE  Mini skirts and Uggs. That’s still a thing? No.

I'm cold but only right here!!

More bitching to come!

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