Archive | January, 2014

Friday Links: Link Love

31 Jan

Link Love

Happy Fridaaaaaaay! Any fun plans for this weekend? I’m attending a friend’s apartment-warming and hopefully hitting up an art museum, in addition to doing some editing work.

I added a new page to my website called Link Love. There I’m posting websites related to the Beats, Greece and Greek America, the writing and publishing world, and other things I typically blog about.

You can find it here. It’s also in the tool bar banner above.

What websites do you visit on a regular basis? Do you have any recommendations for blogs I should be following?

PS: You can find past Friday Links here.

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Which Decade Do I Actually Belong In??

30 Jan

quizimage via Buzzfeed

I’m kind of a sucker for personality quizzes, so naturally I took Buzzfeed’s “Which Decade Do You Actually Belong In?” quiz.

Anyone who knew me in high school would probably venture to say I should’ve been around in the ’60s. I became obsessed with The Beatles early on in high school, listening to all their greatest hits, watching their movies, learning how to play their songs on my guitar, and reading book after book about them. I wore bellbottoms and parted my hair down the middle. I thought Mary Quant was a genius. I hosted my own Woodstock party.

On top of my cultural tastes, I had what many East Coasters deemed to be a low-key, chill vibe that seemed to gel with the hippie mentality. I wouldn’t say I was all peace, love, and happiness. I was a teenager, after all, and my mother will gladly tell you I was moody. But, even so, if I was left alone I could easily just lay in the grass outside and ponder life.

But I didn’t get the 1960s; I got the 1950s.

I’d say maybe all reading and studying of Jack Kerouac rubbed off on me, but check out what Buzzfeed had to say about the person who belongs in the ’50s:

You yearn for a simpler time when people were polite, curt, and followed the rules. Maybe people say you’re a conformist, but you know you just like things to stay a certain way. Home is where the heart is.

Yep. That sounds about right. I’m a rule follower through and through and crave stability. Maybe that’s why I’ve always been so drawn to so-called counter-cultural movements and people who rebel against expectations. It’s escapism for me. I admire people who march to the beat of their own drum. I want to be like that. But I’m a cross your “t”s and dot your “i”s type of person. Literally. My career is founded upon anal-retentive attention to detail and to making texts conform to style.

But there is another part of me that does defy rules and expectations. I’ve always been sure of who I am and been true to myself in the greater scheme of life. Tell me I have to participate in class to get ahead, and I will stubbornly keep my mouth because I don’t want to play by society’s rules of social behavior. Expect me to be flaky in business matters because I’m an artist, and I’ll get all type A on you because I really care about my art and understand I have to treat it like a business.

We’re all like that deep down. Complex and individualistic. Not tethered to labels. The same goes for the so-called Beat Generation. Cultural critics argue that Beat writers eroded the pleasantries of the 1950s, but if you really look at the decade and if you really read their works you’ll see it was much more complex than that. The 1950s weren’t all separate twin beds for married couples and Leave It to Beaver childhoods. Jack Kerouac didn’t desire an aimless life on the road; he yearned for a ranch and family life.

Sorry. I didn’t mean to get all philosophical and literary over a Buzzfeed quiz! Anyway, I still think that if I could go back in time I’d want to go back to the 1960s.

What decade did you get? Which decade would you want to live in?

Dani Shapiro Explains Memoir Is Not Autobiography

29 Jan

devotion

When I tell people I write memoir, they tell me that they don’t think they could ever write memoir. Their lives are too normal. No one would want to read about their boring lives. The implication is that they think I must be pretty hot on myself if I’m writing memoir.

But that’s not what memoir is about.

In her excellent “Open letter from Dani Shapiro: ‘Dear Disillusioned Reader Who Contacted Me on Facebook‘” on Salon, Shapiro provides clarity on what memoir is and isn’t and why we read it:

Memoir is not autobiography. You did not pick up my 1998 memoir “Slow Motion” because I’m an important, influential or even controversial person. You did not pick it up because I am, say, running for office, or just won an Academy Award, or am on Death Row. No. You picked up my book because –– whether you know it or not –– you wanted to read a good story shaped out of a lived life. You wanted to sink into a narrative that redeems chaos and heartache and pain by crafting it into something that makes sense.

Read that last sentence again:

You wanted to sink into a narrative that redeems chaos and heartache and pain by crafting it into something that makes sense.

Beautiful. A lot of memoir writing and reading is about understanding ourselves and our life stories better.

She goes on to further explain that memoir tells an aspect of one’s life through a specific viewpoint:

The memoirist looks through a single window in a house full of windows. After all, we can’t look out of all the windows at once, can we?  We choose a view. We pick a story to tell. We shift through the ever-changing sands of memory, and in so doing create something hopefully beautiful, by which I mean universal. We try to tell the truth – by which I do not mean the facts. Listen to me closely, because here is where I apparently have enflamed you so: it is not the job of the memoirist to present you with a dossier. If you want a dossier, go to a hall of records.

I spent a lot of my time talking about the differences between memoir and autobiography while getting my MFA, and I’ve had a lot of people ask me point blank if writing memoir means I can just make things up. Um, no. If I wanted to make things up, I’d fiction, which frankly, sounds more appealing. Who really wants to write about themselves, to open their lives up for others’ critique? No, memoir sticks to the truth, but it is not journalism. We create dialogue out of the cobwebs of our memory, not through a transcribed secret recording of our entire lives. There are things we leave out, not because we are necessarily hiding things, but because they are irrelevant to the story we are telling. The reader doesn’t need to hear about my commute, for example, unless of course something about my commute is interesting or is relevant to understanding who I am or is a metaphor.

I recommend reading Shapiro’s article in full if you’re interested in memoir as a genre. Also, check out her great blog.

Correcting My Joisey Accent

28 Jan

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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:

 

Kerouac Pub Crawl Set in Alabama

23 Jan

WP_20131011_020a photo of a bar in Lowell, MA, where there are also Kerouac pub crawls

Anyone up for a Kerouac-inspired road trip to Alabama?!

There’s an On the Road pub crawl in Gadsden, Alabama, on March 12 at 5pm. David Murdock, an English instructor at Gadsden State Community College, will be giving a lecture on Jack Kerouac’s On the Road at the Back Forty Beer Company and then the group will begin a pub crawl.

There will also be a poetry contest for “beat-style” poems “preferably in ‘stream-of-consciousness'” for those who have pre-registered. You can sign up for the event (seating is limited) with Carol York at carol@gadsdenlibrary.org.

I’ll let anyone who wants to duke out what “beat-style” poetry means do so in the comments section. Here’s a hint: it does not mean saying “man” over and over again while you pound a bongo drum. Want another hint? The poets associated with the Beat Generation each had their own style and voice.

It is, apparently, Gadsden‘s longest running literary pub crawl series. Other authors highlighted in the past have included Hunter S. Thompson, John Milton, and Flannery O’Connor.

For more information on the On the Road pub crawl, visit Al.com.

Oh, and if you’re into beer culture, the story of Back Forty Beer Company is worth checking out. Here’s just a snippet on their name:

Back Forty Beer Company’s name is inspired by an old agricultural term referring to the 40 acres of land situated furthest from the barn. The back 40 acres are historically the most challenging land to maintain and are often overlooked due to their remote location.

Likewise, Alabama is widely seen as the wasteland for craft beer in America. With mass produced light beer being the drink of choice for many Southerners, the craft beer market here has been largely ignored.

However, if you dig a little deeper into the story of the back 40 you will see that because the soil is rarely used, it’s very fertile and is actually capable of producing a tremendous yield.  And just like the farm, the Deep South’s craft beer culture is fertile and primed for harvest.

I visited Alabama once. I saw more Confederate flags and livestock than classic novels and craft beer. Obviously there are probably a lot of different opinions, but I’d be really interested to hear how Kerouac is generally perceived there.

Immigrants à Gogo

22 Jan

 

garychangimage via Vulture

Discussing how all immigrant writing is dystopian, the unique pressures of being the children of immigrants, and critiquing their own cultures, Boris Kachka’s interview with Chang-rae Lee and Gary Shteyngart in New York magazine offers brilliant insight on the state of immigrant literature.

Here’s a quote from Shteyngart that particularly resonated with me:

And to jump off of that, I teach Native Speaker in my “Immigrants à Gogo” fiction class at Columbia. I read it every year, and there are phrases like “my mother’s happy kimchi breath” that bowl me over. I didn’t know one had permission to write like this about one’s ethnicity. I was absolutely shocked that one could get away with that. And I didn’t see that with a lot of immigrant writers. I still don’t. I can think of Junot Díaz, a few other immigrant writers, but there’s a lot of this sort of endless overcoming of obstacles, racism, the triumph over adversity, and off we go. And that’s not what Chang-rae writes.

Growing up, I wasn’t at all interested in immigrant fiction because I so often found it to be depressing studies of being the Other. Or else, the overriding factor of the book was ethnic pride or the mystery and allure of that culture. As Lee said:

And the people leading those ethnic pride parades are those members of your group that you probably least admire.

Kachka’s interview with Lee and Shteyngart brings to the forefront many of the concepts I’ve been thinking about for my own memoir, which deals not so much with a personal immigrant experience but more so with expectations and identity from a tangential viewpoint.

You can read the full interview here.

THE Beach to Visit in 2014

21 Jan

BeforeMidnight

Greece—specifically Arillas Beach in Corfu—is listed by Fodor’s as one of the 15 Best Beaches for 2014. …And so is the Jersey Shore, with a shout-out to Ocean Grove. It’s like they’re just listing the beaches of my childhood.

Can I give you an insider tip, though? For a less touristy, more authentic beach visit, check out Lagouvardos Beach. It’s in the Peloponnese, on the mainland of Greece. It’s become especially popular with surfers.

It also happens to be where Before Midnight was filmed.

And just check out these pictures I took there at sunset!

What’s your favorite beach? Coney Island??

Keep Dreaming: Martin Luther King Jr., Amiri Baraka, Tamera Mowry, and Kim Kardashian

20 Jan

494px-Martin_Luther_King_Jr_NYWTSphotograph of Martin Luther King, Jr., taken by Dick DeMarsico via Wikipedia

Today is Martin Luther King Jr. Day.

We need to keep on dreaming and keep on working for a better future. I was saddened and frustrated to hear about these two recent incidents:

I don’t post a lot about pop culture, but these two headlines grabbed my attention. What is wrong with people? So hurtful and bigoted.

And this is why I felt uneasy about so much of the negativity I read after the passing of Amiri Baraka. The poet wasn’t one to mince words, and while I don’t agree with everything he said … neither did he: there were times he moved away from earlier statements. Yet one must think about the time period in which he grew up and was writing — the March on Washington, the assassination of Patrice Lumumba, the assassination of Malcolm X, the publication of Norman Mailer’s “The White Negro: Superficial Reflections on the Hipster” — and not be blind to the racism many people still face today. Sometimes strong rhetoric is needed to get one’s point across.

Stuart Mitchner’s “Looking for Amiri Baraka and LeRoi Jones on Martin Luther King’s Birthday” sheds some much-needed perspective on Baraka’s poetry and tells of Baraka’s tribute at the 2011 Community Celebration of King at the University of Virginia.

Baraka’s work through the Black Arts Movement gave others a voice.

We need writers to continue to challenge the status quo. We need writers to share their experience. We need writers to share their dreams. We need writers to share their nightmares. We need writers to be honest.

We cannot censor writers. We need to give writers a larger platform.

We need readers to read widely. We need readers to read outside of their personal experiences. We need readers to go straight to the source. We need readers who don’t rely on recaps, articles, blog entries, and soundbites. We need readers to speak up for the types of books they want to read.

This isn’t about school assemblies or having a day off of work. This isn’t even just about the facts. A study recently came out that said reading literary fiction improves compassion. We need to publish and promote more voices, and we need to read those voices.

Here’s a look at St. John’s Church, which is where more than 700 people met the day of his “I Have a Dream Speech”:

Remembering Gregory Nunzio Corso

17 Jan

corso_mindfield_new

I have a special place in my heart for Gregory Corso. I’ve always appreciated his Romantic notions and the levity he brought to the so-called Beat Generation canon.

Unlike a lot of the other people he associated with, who were brought up in middle-class families and took an interest in the seedy underbelly of New York City as adults, Corso was abandoned by his mother at a Catholic charity and his father had him put in the foster care system. At thirteen, he landed in jail, where he discovered poetry. It was only many years later, after he became famous, that filmmaker Gustave Reininger found Corso’s mother and reunited them in what turned out to be a happy ending. His mother actually outlived him, though, as he soon found out he had cancer. During that time, his daughter Sheri Langerman, a nurse, took care of him.

Corso passed away in Robbinsdale, Minnesota, on January 17, 2001. His ashes were buried at the Protestant Cemetery, Cimitero acattolico, in Rome, across from the poet that inspired him, Percy Bysshe Shelley.

Friday Links: Clips of the Week

17 Jan

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Burnside published my top 10 art picks of 2013

Largehearted boy mentioned my book picks of 2013

Burnside re-published my essay “Does God Laugh at Our Resolutions?” along with several other archival articles on New Year’s resolutions. Did you make any resolutions this year?