My Easter Soiree

20 Apr

Easter was a special time in my family when I was growing up. And by Easter, I of course mean Greek Orthodox Easter. Every year, we’d pile into the station wagon and drive down to Baltimore to spend the most important religious holiday for Greek Americans with my father’s side of the family. There would be a whole lamb out on the spit, a symbol of Jesus Christ as the sacrificial lamb, and we’d crack red Easter eggs, a symbol of the crucified Jesus breaking out of the tomb and overcoming death.

I’m all grown up now, and my family is spread out between three different countries. Holidays can be a tough time for singles — especially those in the city, who don’t have family in the area and can’t get to their family. Protestants and Greek Orthodox believers follow different liturgical calendars, and since this year our Easter celebrations didn’t align, I decided to reach out to my American friends in the city who might not have family in the area.

After inviting friends from all walks of life, none of whom were native to New York (two of whom are not even native to this country!), I started to plan the menu only to begin panicking about what to serve for an American Easter. I certainly wasn’t going to roast a lamb out on a souvla on the city sidewalk! In the end, I made egg salad, which one friend said was the best she’d ever had! Secret ingredient: LOTS of mayonnaise! I also made cold carrot ginger soup with goat cheese and carrot curls. My friends said I saved the best for last: cheesy hash browns!

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Friday Links: Helping Others Is More than Wishful Thinking

17 Apr

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Make a Wish matches!

It’s been forever since I did a link roundup! I’ve been trying to focus more on my memoir writing these days, but I’ve run across so many great news stories and websites lately that I wanted to share with you:

  • My friend Gregory Andrus has been taking these stunning photographs of the Jersey Shore. The other day he posted this article about NJ musician Jon Bon Jovi opening JBJ Soul Kitchen in Toms Kitchen, where there are “no menu prices, to help the fiscally challenged, and the restaurants try to serve organic produce whenever possible.”
  • My friend David Sung, the pastor of the Upper East Side-based Christ Resurrection Church, told me about this New York Times article about how Dan Price, who attended the Christian college Seattle Pacific University (which, by the way, offers a creative writing MFA), slashed his $1-million salary to give his lowest-paid workers a raise. The minimum wage at the company he founded, Gravity Payments, is now $70,000/year.
  • Meanwhile, this article reveals that 25% of “part-time college faculty” (and their families) receive public assistance. You know who this includes? Professors. Many colleges rely on adjunct professors, who get paid per class instead of being salaried.
  • My editor Jordan Green is obsessed with Clickhole. Obsessed. I particularly enjoyed the satirical buzzfeed-style listicle “How Much of a Grammar Nerd Are You?” he posted. My favorite line: “I got a tattoo of a comma splice and then had it removed.”
  • Via Pure Wow I discovered the loveliest named jewelry company: Wanderlust + Co. These gold arrow earrings are super cute. Arrows are so hipster.
  • Another company I discovered recently is Moorea Seal. I love the fact that sales from their goods benefit charities and that you can shop by cause. I also love these Make a Wish matches!

Happy weekend!!

Robert Frost, Jack Kerouac, Gregory Corso, and the Road Not Taken

16 Apr

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In honor of National Poetry Month, I wanted to share some poems.

I write a lot about the road. I write about Jack Kerouac’s On the Road and even wrote a whole book about it called Burning Furiously BeautifulWhen I was much younger, though, all the way back in elementary school, I encountered Robert Frost’s “The Road Not Taken.” Here it is for your reading pleasure.

Robert Frost’s “The Road Not Taken”

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,

And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

Frost begins his poem, “Two roads diverged in a yellow wood, / And sorry I could not travel both.” It reminds me of the Gregory Corso quote: “If you have a choice of two things and can’t decide, take both.” It’s not always that easy, though, is it? You can’t always choose to go both left and right at the same time. You can’t always choose to stay and to go. Sometimes you have to make a choice.

Robert Frost says, “I took the one less traveled by.” And that’s certainly what Jack Kerouac, Gregory Corso, and the many other poets and writers associated with the Beat Generation did. They choose the road less traveled.

Choosing the road less traveled is not an easy choice, though. It is an unfamiliar one. It is one without precedent. It comes with risk.

Sometimes, though, it’s worth it. It can’t be a reckless risk. It must be, as my father would say, a calculated risk.

Should a New York Couple Follow the Husband’s Greek Tradition?

15 Apr

The other day a friend of mine posted an article on Facebook about how his friend, a New Yorker of Greek descent, has taken to the internet because his wife doesn’t doesn’t want their unborn baby to be named Spyridon. Here’s how the headline read for the Daily Mail article:

Couple launches online campaign to decide if their unborn baby should be called Michael or Spyridon – after failing to reach an agreement despite months of arguments

A couple basic facts:

  • The husband’s name is Nicholas. A common name. An easy to pronounce name.
  • The name Spyridon is Nicholas’ father’s name. In Greek culture, it’s common to name your first child after the husband’s side of the family. Though a familiar Greek name, Spyridon is not common even in the diverse city of New York … well, unless you go by its diminutive, Spyro. Nor is it obvious to nonGreeks how it should be pronounced.
  • The wife’s name is Kseniya, a name I’ve never heard of until reading this article. A name I’m not quite sure how to pronounce. Kseniya thinks the name Spyridon is too “archaic.” If it’s a boy, she wants to name it after her own father, Michael.

Some have posited that the husband has “the right” to name “his” son after his father. Here are a few questions to consider:

  • Should the New York couple follow Greek tradition?
  • Would it make a difference if they lived in Greece?
  • Why should the couple follow the husband’s tradition over the wife’s desires?
  • Does it matter that the child in question is a son*? Should a father’s opinion matter more for the name of a son?
  • What makes the child “his” son and not “their” son?
  • If the child is a daughter, would this be as big of an issue? Would you still say the child should be named after the father’s side of the family or if it’s a daughter would you side more with the mother?
  • Does Kseniya perhaps know better than her husband the frustration of growing up with a a difficult-to-pronounce first name?

*Here’s the kicker: they don’t even know yet if the baby is a boy or girl!

So yeahhhh this type of marital spat is kind of how I ended up with my name. In Greek culture it’s tradition to name the first child after the father’s parents so my father just assumed I would be named after his mother. My mother (a Midwesterner who is not Greek) didn’t want me to have two “weird” names. The result? The night I was born my father ended up storming out of the hospital when the nurse came around to ask for my name and my mother refused to name me after my father’s mother. While he was out in the midst of a New York City snowstorm, my mother named me. For the record, my mother compromised by naming me after my dad’s stepfather instead of his mother and gave me his mother’s name for my middle name.

As Shakespeare would say, “What’s in a name?”

Women on Top: Pam Belluck, Hettie Jones, Margot Olavarria, Marci Blackman & Beth Lisick

23 Mar

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At the Burroughs 101 reading, Three Rooms Press announced that their next reading at Cornelia Street Cafe would be Women on Top, featuring “five feisty females”: Pam Belluck, Hettie Jones, Margot Olavarria, Marci Blackman, and Beth Lisick, and hosted by Three Rooms Press’ Kat Georges. My friend and I decided on the spot, without even consulting our schedules, that we were going.

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The main reason I knew I had to be at this reading was Hettie Jones. As a Beat scholar, I’ve long admired Hettie Jones for being a woman who was more than just a muse — she is a writer with her own voice and transcends categorization. I first heard her reading at the Women of the Beat Generation panel at the Bowery Poetry Club, which incidentally was the first time I ever ventured into Bob Holman‘s poetry venue, which became an important part of my own literary upbringing. Later, while studying creative writing at The New School, one of my instructors introduced me to Hettie because he knew I was interested in Beat literature. She was so down-to-earth and honest. She talked with me for a long time, and I greatly valued her insight into the role of women in the Beat Generation. The last time I heard her read was at 2013’s Downtown Literary Festival, where she read at McNally Jackson. Obviously, it had been way too long since I’d heard her read! I loved, loved, loved the poems she selected to read at Three Rooms Press’ Women on Top reading. She read about driving, about New York City, and about the 1940s. Jones didn’t self-analyze, but what I found particularly fascinating to think about was how driving was almost a feminist act at the time. It’s not that women didn’t know how to drive; it’s that the men usually took over the driving. Jack Kerouac, however, hated driving. Occasionally, he took the wheel, but oftentimes he rode Greyhound or let his buddy Neal Cassady do the driving. I don’t think it would be fair to make some sort of leap and question Kerouac’s masculinity because he wasn’t a man who liked driving, but I do think it’s fair to say Jones didn’t let culture dictate what she could or couldn’t do as a woman. She blazed her own path.

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Driving appeared to be the theme of the night. Margot Olavarria, the original bass player for the punk band The Go-Go’s, told tales from life on the road. The world of rock’n’roll is so full of men’s stories that I appreciated hearing what it was like a woman’s experience of life out on tour.

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Marci Blackman had a road connection too — the award-winning novelist is an avid cyclist. Check this out: “An avid cyclist and veteran of the Sister Spit Rambling Road Show, Blackman once spent six weeks in a van with 11 queer writers on a cross country spoken word tour and 12 weeks, alone on a bicycle, pedaling from San Francisco to the outer banks of North Carolina.”

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Beth Lisick is one of those authors whose name is everywhere, so I was excited to hear her read. She did not disappoint. She is a true performer, an author who makes readings lively and entertaining. She read from her work-in-progress. Now I need to work my way through her other five books.

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Pam Belluck is on the health and science staff of The New York Times, and even before that she covered a wide range of fascinating news topics. She regaled the audience with stories of what it was like being a pregnant woman covering major news events.

Write Like a Lion or a Lamb at the Redeemer Writers Group

20 Mar

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Nana, Maurice, Peter, and I are leading a writers workshop at the Redeemer Offices (1166 Avenue of the Americas, 16th Floor) here in New York on March 25, 2015, from 7-9pm. All are welcome to join us. Please bring one to two pages of your writing to share during the critiquing time. FMI.

RSVP through the Center for Faith & Work is mandatory due to office security.

Editor’s Note: Details have now been corrected from an earlier publication. 

Kuros Charney’s “The Humanist” Questions the Value of the Humanities

18 Mar

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My friend and I attended Kuros Charney‘s play “The Humanist” the other night, and it resonated ever so profoundly. Here’s the synopsis:

A comedy about the corporatization of higher education. When his old flame becomes his new boss, a classics professor at a public university must fight to keep his job in the face of state budget cuts and profit motives, while defending the humanities as the foundation of democracy.
The play was put on at Urban Stages and starred J. Anthony Crane, Kate Jennings Grant, Lipica Shah, and Dylan Chalfy. They all have great acting chops, as evidenced not only by their performance in this reading of the play, but in their former credits. In particular, Shah gave a standout performance, appearing so natural in her role of the student that at times I forgot she was acting.
Kuros, a writer I know from living in the same neighborhood in New York City, explores weighty issues of the purpose of education; culture as both an ethnic (read: immigrant) and socio-economic (read: aspirational) descriptor; and relationships between administrators, professors, and students. “The Humanist” shows both the plight of idealistic, intelligent students and their wearying professors in an economic environment in which success needs to be quantifiable. For as much depth as is in the two-hour play, it was also full of humorous and tender moments.
As a graduate of a liberal arts college who studied the humanities — English major FTW! — who also happened to study the classics (I studied Classical Greek at Pomona College), and then went on to get my MFA in creative writing (nonfiction), I believe strongly in the importance of education for education’s sake and art for art’s sake, and yet that’s because I view both education and art as transformational, empowering, and purposeful. I believe that in the long run, education and the arts are just as important to democracy as anything else. Capitalist business models have their place. It’s important to be able to put food on the table. But I believe we can do that while still valuing the studying of Classical Greek.
But maybe I’m a bit biased. ;-)

Anne Waldman, Penny Arcade, Jan Herman, Steve Dalachinsky & Aimee Herman Read Burroughs 101!

15 Mar

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Attending Three Rooms Press’ Burroughs 101 celebration at Cornelia Street Cafe has become an annual event for my friend and me. Last year’s phenomenal readings culminating in an epic communal reading brought the spirit of Burroughs and the Beat Generation to life, and it was no surprise that this year there were even more people in the audience than at the centennial event.

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Anne Waldman is captivating. I cannot keep my eyes off her when she recites her poetry. I can’t even call what she does “reading.” She sings, chants, tells stories. It’s deeper than performance. It’s like she becomes the poem. I heard her read at the First Blues event honoring Allen Ginsberg’s work at Housing Works. With Ginsberg, she founded the Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics at the Naropa Institute in Boulder, Colorado. She was also friends with William S. Burroughs so it felt special to hear her read her friend’s work. Her son, Ambrose Bye, accompanied her at the Burroughs 101 event, weaving jazz music throughout her poetry. I definitely want to see them perform together again.

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Any time I get a chance to hear Steve Dalachinsky read I jump at the opportunity. The first time I ever heard the New York poet read was actually the first time I ever attended Lowell Celebrates Kerouac. After that, I ran into him at various other readings, but I am naturally shy and hate to appear fan-girlish so I was nervous about introducing myself. Fortunately, David Amram introduced me to Steve and his wife, poet Yuko Otomo, on my second trip to Lowell Celebrates Kerouac, so now I always enjoy catching up with Steve and Yuko when I see them. Steve does amazing jazz-poetry, and I tend to prefer hearing him read his own work, but he has such a reverence for Beat poetry that he gives reverence to Beat events that could otherwise come out cultish or immature.

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Jan Herman is a scholar. He’s someone I’d like to just sit down in a coffee shop with and listen to him talk and tell stories. And that’s what he did at the Burroughs 101 reading. In a conversational approach, he told stories about Burroughs.

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Aimee Herman kicked the evening off, bringing Burroughs’ rebellious and experimental spirit to life at Cornelia Street Cafe as she ripped up poems as she read. Burroughs, as most know, cut up his writing and rearranged it to form his work. Aimee Herman’s reading succinctly captured Burroughs’ literary methodology in that simplistic and stunning gesture.

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Penny Arcade is an authentic poet on the scene since I was old enough experience the contemporary New York poetry world. She closed the evening by reading Burroughs’ aphorisms. It was the perfect ending to a perfect reading.

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The Burroughs 101 celebration was hosted by Three Rooms Press’ very own Peter Carlaftes.

Fall in Love with Writing This February 26

13 Feb

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Nana, Maurice, and I are leading a writers workshop at the NEW Redeemer offices (1166 Avenue of the Americas, 16th floor) here in New York on February 26, 2015, from 7-9pm. All are welcome to join us. Please bring one to two pages of your writing to share during the critiquing time. FMI.

Please note change of date to February 26 and change of location to 1166 Avenue of the Americas, 16th floor. You MUST register for the event via Redeemer due to new office security measures. Thanks!

Remembering Lucien Carr

28 Jan

Because of the film Kill Your Darlings, much has been made recently of Lucien Carr’s murder of David Kammerer, but that’s not how he should be remembered. Carr served his time and tried to distance himself from that association, though he did remain lifelong friends with the people he’d met as a prank-loving student at Columbia. He even went so far as to have Allen Ginsberg take his name out of the dedication to Howl after learning of it in the first printing.

So what should we remember Lucien Carr for? He did not, after all, seek to capitalize on his name or associations with his own writing. Instead, he should remember for tirelessly working as an editor at UPI for close to five decades. There, he encouraged and molded young writers, just as he often did for his “Beat” friends.

Lucien Carr passed away on this day in 2005.

Recommended reading::: Eric Homberger’s obituary “Lucien Carr” for The Guardian.