Tag Archives: New Jersey

How Do You Like Them Apples?

20 Oct

IMG_3483 IMG_3485 IMG_3497 IMG_3500 IMG_3503 IMG_3509 IMG_3512 IMG_3532 IMG_3549

Every year my friend organizes an autumn apple-picking trip. It’s a nice break from fighting long lines in tiny aisles at grocery stores in New York City. Also, it always makes me think of helping my dad out on the garden in Greece. I took the bus out to Fort Lee, New Jersey, to meet my fellow apple-picking friends, and then we drove two hours or so out to Highland, New York. My friend is the definite “mom” of the group — she brought me an extra jacket because it was spectacularly cold out that day, which I wore on top of my lighter coat.

The farm we went to was called Dubois Farms U-Pick (209 Perkinsville Rd., Highland, NY), which we determined was pronounced like author W. E. B. Du Bois. We were immediately greeted by the smell of grilling burgers and apple cider donuts. The employees there were also super friendly, going out of their way to help us on our apple-picking mission. We were on the hunt for Fuji apples. Or, I should say, my Japanese American friend was on the hunt for that specific apple type. Hmm… does she perhaps have a bias when it comes to apple selection? I also got some Gala apples, which I picked up because they sounded fancy. The type of apples that would know how to throw a swanky party.

What I particularly liked about Dubois Farms is that you don’t have to pay an entry fee. Some farms make you pay to pick. So basically you’re paying to do the labor yourself on top of paying by the pound. At Dubois, though, you only pay by the pound — and the pound is cheaper than what a city dweller pays for apples. It’s a win-win for a starving artist. You can have your fun, and eat your apples too!

I have to admit, though, one of my favorite parts had nothing to do with the apples. I loved all the farm animals, especially that silly goat, who kept trying to my attention. Plus, it was my first time seeing an alpaca in real life!! Remember this scene in Napoleon Dynamite?!

The Starving Artist Jazzes Up Her Tap Water

21 Jul


I might be the only person on the planet who likes humidity. It reminds me of being a child. Growing up in New Jersey, instead of blasting air conditioning, we’d cool off by swimming at night. The sky would be so dark you could see the Big Dipper as you floated on your back in the pool. The lights in the pool would attract moths that would flutter and hover above the surface of the water, occasionally taking a dip of their own. I can still hear the sound of my father’s repetitive splash as he swam back and forth, back and forth.

These days I don’t have ready access to a swimming pool, and in New York City the lights of skyscrapers are so bright that seeing even a single star is rare. Still, muggy nights bring back all the memories of childhood summers for me. Instead of cooling off with the rattling air conditioner by my bed, I drink a beverage that brings me back to my roots.

Behind our pool ran a small brook, and alongside the brook grew wild mint. This refreshing herb is perfect for jazzing up one of earth’s most precious resources, water. It’s easy to grow, but you can also purchase it at almost any grocery store. Here are a few super simple variations:::

  • Simply wash the mint, put it in your glass of water (with or without ice), and enjoy immediately
  • Muddle the cleaned mint in your glass of water and enjoy
  • Store a large batch of water with fresh, washed mint in your fridge
  • Freeze the mint in ice cubes and plunk into your water whenever you want — as the ice melts the mint flavor will become stronger
  • Try pairing the mint with other flavors such as fresh squeezed lime

It’s so important to stay hydrated, but water sometimes gets boring. Infusing water with mint is a great way to drink more water.

Starving artist might enjoy these other summer food posts:::

Video from David Amram & Co.’s Inspiring Show at Cornelia Street Cafe

15 Jun
Every time I go to hear David Amram & Co. perform, I am blown away and walk away inspired to be more creative and to live life more fully. This month with no different.
On Monday, June 1, I brought my friend who was visiting from Brazil to Cornelia Street Café to hear David Amram perform with Kevin Twigg (drum, glockenspiel), Rene Hart (bass), Elliot Peper (bongos), and special guest Robbie Winterhawk on congas. They played all the literary-inspired classics, from Arthur Miller’s After the Fall to Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg, and Neal Cassady’s Pull My Daisy.
Between songs, David Amram told stories of how he came to learn to play the hulusi, a Chinese flute made of bamboo pipes that pass through a gourd wind chest; how he met Woody Guthrie (“There was Woody sitting in this little kitchen….” in an apartment between Avenue C and D in New York City); to the fact that Pull My Daisy was written in an exquisite-corpse fashion (“People would come into town and add lines”). The stories behind the songs are themselves sweet melody to a life of passion, dedication, and originality.
David Amram uses his platform to inspire people both on and off the stage. He encourages the crowd with words of wisdom:
“Every day is an experience. Every day is an adventure.”
“Pay attention to anybody and everybody, and you’ll be amazed at what you can learn.”
He invites people up to the stage to perform him. 
People like Frank Messina, who is known as “the Mets poet.” He told a story about playing baseball with some of the legends of baseball while growing up in Norwood, New Jersey. It was so fun to hear because I grew up a few towns over from him and lived across the street from a Yankees player! Messina’s handwritten journal of 9/11 poetry is in the permanent collection of the National September 11 Memorial & Museum.
And people like Mike Shannon, an actor, who read Kerouac’s “Children of the Bop Night.”
I happened to have incidentally sat down next to one of the performers, Connie Diamandis. She turned out to be a Greek American from Lowell and that we knew some of the same people! A singer, she did an amazing rendition of George Gershwin’s “Summertime.” She also told a story about Jack Kerouac and friends coming back to Lowell and hearing the Beatles and the new music of the era and pronouncing it good “but nothing like the classics.”
You can find out where David Amram will next be performing here.

It’s Walt Whitman’s 196th Birthday! …Or a Post that Includes References to President Lincoln and Bon Jovi

31 May


Here I am in 2013 standing outside Walt Whitman’s Birthplace State Historic Site and Interpretive Center in Long Island.

Walt Whitman was born on May 31, 1819, in Huntington, Long Island. He’s best known for Leaves of Grass. American schoolchildren are probably most familiar with the poem “O Captain! My Captain!” from the poetry collection. Written in 1865 and not included in Leaves of Grass until the fourth edition, the poem is about the death of President Abraham Lincoln.

There’s so much more to Whitman than that, though.

Walt Whitman is a complex and endlessly fascinating figure of the American poetry scene. He is regarded as the father of free verse poetry. He was also a reporter. He wrote a temperance novel: Franklin Evans (1842). He didn’t believe that all the works attributed to Shakespeare were actually Shakespeare’s. (Hm… what would Miguel Algarin say?) He at first called for the abolition of slavery … and then later thought the movement was a threat to democracy. He’s been inducted into the Legacy Walk, which celebrates LGBT history and people. He passed away in Camden, and the Garden State claimed him in the New Jersey Hall of Fame; that same year (2009), fellow literary luminaries William Carlos Williams and F. Scott Fitzgerald were inducted in the category of “general” while Whitman was inducted in the category of “historical.” (Jon Bon Jovi was one of the inductees honored in the category “arts and entertainment.) Andrew Carnegie said Whitman was “the great poet of America so far.”

“So far.”

Has any other “great poet of America” come along who has taken Whtiman’s place? It’s difficult to say, but this week we’ll be honoring the Good Gray Poet and talking about the poets that have been inspired by him.

Yep! You guessed it. The Beats.

Friday Links: Helping Others Is More than Wishful Thinking

17 Apr


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!!

It’s All Karpouzi to Me

23 Jun



That’s me as a kid eating karpouzi!

Last week I wrote about Feta burgers and how my family used to BBQ all summer long. Our BBQs weren’t complete without karpouzi—watermelon—at the end of the meal, so this week is all about watermelon!!

Now I may have grown up in a mono-lingual household, only speaking English, but there were a few words that for whatever reason (probably because my mom knew them) we always said in Greek—to the point that it felt more natural to say them in Greek than in English. “Karpouzi” was one of those words. Even when I went off to college, that’s the word I used, and my friends picked it up and used it too—just as I picked up words like “haole” and “okole” from my Hawai’ian friends and learned “hella” from my Bay Area friends. Funny how even when you live in one country your entire life, and even when your friends are American, regionalisms and ethnic identities can influence your language.

Tomorrow I’ll share one of my favorite recipes for karpouzi!

In the meantime, I’d be curious to know if any of you switch in and out between languages or if you’ve picked up words from a language that isn’t your own mother tongue?



How Antonin Artaud Came to Influence the Beats

24 Apr

Antonin_Artaud_jeune_b_SDAntonin Artaud had great fashion sense.

Bronx-born writer Carl Solomon joined the United States Maritime Service in 1944 and traveled overseas to Paris, where he was encountered Surrealism and Dadaism. When he came back to the US, he voluntarily admitted himself to a New Jersey psychiatric hospital as Dadaist expression of being beat, being conquered, being overpowered. There, he received shock therapy instead of the lobotomy he requested. He wrote about the experience in Report from the Asylum: Afterthoughts of a Shock Patient.

At the psychiatric hospital, Solomon met Allen Ginsberg. (You can read about how Ginsberg ended up there in Burning Furiously Beautiful.) He introduced the young poet to the poetry of Antonin Artaud, a French poet of Greek ancestry (his parents were from Smyrna) whom he had seen give a screaming poetry reading in Paris. Artaud had written the first Surrealist film, The Seashell and the Clergyman (1928), and produced Romantic poet Percy Bysshe Shelley’s The Cenci in 1935. The year after that, he went to Mexico, living with the native Tarahumara people and experimenting with peyote, before Jack Kerouac and William S. Burroughs would pack their bags for Mexico. Another year passed and Artaud was found penniless in Ireland, where he was arrested and deported. Back in France, he was sent to various psychiatric hospitals, where he was subjected to electroshock therapy. Notably, in his earlier years, Artaud had spent time in a sanatorium, where he read none other than Arthur Rimbaud.

Solomon wrote Report from the Asylum with Artaud in mind, while Ginsberg wrote “Howl” with both Artaud and Solomon in mind.

Once again, I could not find any of his poems in public-domain English translation. So, here’s a quote I found interesting and relevant from Artaud’s prose piece The Theater and Its Double:

“I cannot conceive any work of art as having a separate existence from life itself.”

You can read one of his poems, “Jardin Noir,” here.

*4/24/14: The subject’s name was originally misspelled and has now been corrected. Thanks to my reader for pointing that out!

Correcting My Joisey Accent

28 Jan


image via Harvard Dialect Study

“You’re from Joisey!” all the West Coasters would exclaim when I moved out to Los Angeles for college and told them I had come from New Jersey. That’s what I said, “New Jersey.” Not “New Joisey.” Yet they hoisted the accent upon me anyway.

My finger nails may have been a tad too long and I may have grown up spending every Saturday at the Garden State Plaza, but I definitely didn’t speak like some chick who over Aqua-Net her hair. In fact, no one I knew spoke that way.

…Well, at least I thought we didn’t. No one I knew pronounced “hamburger” like “hamboiger” or anything as nails-to-the-chalkboard as that, but when I really listened to the way my friends talked, I noticed there was maybe a slight accent to a few words. Some of my friends pronounced “water” as “wooter.” I also noticed I had a certain way of crunching words. “Orange juice” became “ornch juice.” “Drawers” became “joors.”

I was always a little sensitive about the issue of accents. As an immigrant with a thick Greek accent, my father sometimes was misunderstood by waitresses at restaurants, which infuriated me because I could understand what he was saying perfectly and when others couldn’t I believed it to be deliberate xenophobia. But it wasn’t just my father who had an accent. My mother was from Minnesota, another state beleaguered by accent stereotypes. My mother did not talk like any of the characters in Fargo, but she did say “melk” for “milk” and “tall” for “towel.” That’s how my siblings and I grew up speaking, and I made a concerted effort to rectify my speech.

Actually, the school system made a concerted effort to rectify my accent: I was put in speech therapy in elementary school. It was humiliating. I was the shyest kid in my grade—and probably the entire state—and yet the few times I opened my mouth I was punished by being singled out and removed from my normal class to have a therapist teach me how to talk “correctly.” That was enough to keep me silent throughout most of elementary school. Now, I had a real reason to fear talking and stay quiet. I was afraid that if I were to speak up, no one would be able to understand me.

In the school’s defense, I really did need speech therapy. As this eHow article on How to Speak with a New Jersey Accent teaches, I dropped all my “r”s—to the point that certain words, like “art,” became incomprehensible. My accent wasn’t just the issue though. On top of having a foreigner for a father and, let’s face it, as a Midwesterner my mom was pretty much a foreigner too, I had pretty severe hearing issues, which had impacted my speech. I had to have surgery twice as a kid to have tubes put in my ears.

I’m not sure if this was related, but a lot of what I did hear, I took literally instead of as an accent. I remember my speech therapist asking me what type of shoes I wore, and I said, “tenner shoes.” I think I knew that meant “tennis shoes,” but I remember thinking in that moment that I had definitely answered “wrong.” I felt so stupid as she questioned me if I played tennis. From then on, I knew the correct label for my shoes was “sneakers.” How could I have been so stupid as to call them tenner shoes? I taunted myself afterwards. I’d never even picked up a tennis racket. I blamed my mom. She was the one who called them that.

Worse, in 6th grade, the music teacher gave us a pop quiz on the lyrics to “The Star Spangled Banner.” When I got my test, it was clear she thought I was a horrible speller. I was relieved because this meant I got a better grade than I should have. I was also shocked that she thought someone could spell that poorly. Suddenly, I realized how “dumb” some of my classmates really must be, if I’d been given that much credit for my botched lyrics. In reality, I’d been misunderstanding lyrics the entire time. I thought “dawn’s early light” was “donzerly light.” I wasn’t sure of the exact definition of “donzerly,” but I pictured it as hazy white fireworks, since that’s what often accompanied the national anthem and seemed to coincide with what “bombs bursting in air” would’ve looked like.

So when that New York Times dialect quiz, based on the linguistics project Harvard Dialect Study, spread like wildfire over Facebook, I took it figuring it would identify me as having some random accent. But nope, it identified me as being from Newark/Paterson, Jersey City, and—somewhat inexplicably since it’s in northern California—Fremont.

Once a Jersey girl, always a Jersey girl.

What accent did you get?

Also, you might like:


Amiri Baraka (October 7, 1934 – January 9, 2014)

9 Jan

Amiri Baraka

October 7, 1934 – January 9, 2014

If you follow the Burning Furiously Beautiful Facebook page, you know that Amiri Baraka‘s family recently reached out through social media to ask for prayers for the poet, who had gone into Beth Israel Medical Center in Newark. I have just learned of his passing. My condolences to his family and friends.

You may be interested in:

Clip: Vox Poetica Published My Poem “In a Diner in America Circa 1956”

20 Nov


I’m thrilled to be published in vox poetica. The lit mag was founded in 2009 by Annmarie Lockhart, a resident of Bergen County, New Jersey — where I’m from!

The poem featured, “In a Diner in America Circa 1956,” came to me one day as I was walking on Park Avenue during my lunch break. I was thinking about Jack Kerouac stopping in a roadside cafe for a little nourishment as he traveled across the country, and the awkwardness and opportunities that abound when one travels on one’s own.

It’s a pastiche of Jack Kerouac’s interview on The Steve Allen Show, his narration of what may be the only true Beat film Pull My Daisy, and an amalgamation of information from his novels and letters as well as biographies.

You can read it here.