Tag Archives: identity

“I don’t feel that it is necessary to know exactly what I am.” ~Michel Foucault

12 Oct

“I don’t feel that it is necessary to know exactly what I am. The main interest in life and work is to become someone else that you were not in the beginning. If you knew when you began a book what you would say at the end, do you think that you would have the courage to write it?
What is true for writing and for love relationships is true also for life. The game is worthwhile insofar as we don’t know where it will end.”

~Michel Foucault


The Perfect Novel for My Personality … and Yours!

29 Jul
Obsessed with Buzzfeed quizzes, I of course find Myers-Briggs types fascinating. Perhaps as a memoirist I’m always on the quest to know myself better. Or maybe it’s because I’m Greek. Wasn’t it Socrates who said, “Know thyself”? At times, the Myers-Briggs test seems to know me better than I know myself. It narrows in on aspects of my personality that I haven’t thought about before even though they’re true.
Maybe that’s because I’m an ISTJ, and “The ISTJ is not naturally in tune with their own feelings.” ISTJ means Introverted, Sensing, Thinking, Judging, or “Introverted Sensing with Extraverted Thinking.” ISTJs are quiet, reserved, loyal, dependable, keep in line with the law, and like tradition. You can read the breakdown here.
When I came across Flavorwire recently published “A Classic Book for Every Myers-Briggs Personality Type,” I was curious what novel would be paired with my personality type. Would it be one of my favorites? Would it be something that resonated with me on a soul level?
Would it be Jack Kerouac’s On the Road?
Saul Bellow’s The Dangling Man?
Maybe Marcel Proust’s Swann’s Way?
Perhaps Nikos Kazantzakis’ The Last Temptation of Christ?
According to Flavorwire, the novel that best suits me is…
ISTJ: The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton
With interest in traditions and loyalty, and an ability to make a huge impact despite being quiet, ISTJs will appreciate Wharton’s masterpiece of manners.
I actually do love Edit Wharton’s writing. I even have a Pinterest board devoted to a make-believe puppy I created named after one of her characters.
The part about my supposed “interest in traditions” is interesting though, particularly when it comes to my reading habits. I do like tradition. I was the kid in the family who always insisted we HAD to have Christmas at our house and do it a certain way because it was tradition. But, I think sometimes we read to escape ourselves, to stretch ourselves, to live out in our imaginations the parts of our personalities that we are too rule-abiding, too anxious, too conformist to live out in our actual lives.
What personality type are you? Do you find it to be an accurate portrayal of yourself? What book would you pick for your personality?

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?



Warby Parker Glasses for Halloween

31 Oct

alvie_small-900x620via Warby Parker

Happy Halloween! Though I tortured my sleepover guests with classic horror films when i was a preteen, I’ve never been real big into the scary stuff of Halloween. I do, however, think it’s a super fun opportunity to play dress and reinvent one’s identity for a day.

Then again, I’m a bit of a chameleon when it comes to my style and personality even on an average day. You know how in The Breakfast Club there was the jock, the princess, the brain, the basket case, and the criminal? Or how when you ride the L train you can always tell who’s going to get off at Union Square versus who’s going to Bedford Avenue? I’ve never really identified with one social group or another. One day I might dress preppy in pearls and a button-down shirt with a sweater over it and the next day I might wear lots of dark eye shadow and all black. Likewise, some days I wear glasses and some days I wear contacts. It would be fun to own multiple pairs of glasses to switch out depending on my mood.

Glasses are such a defining accessory/medical need. Certain glasses styles have become synonymous with certain celebrities. Think John Lennon’s little circles. Buddy Holly’s thick frames.

Warby Parker says, “There are plenty of characters to be channeled with the right pair of glasses.” They’re featuring costume ideas like Tootsie, and Dr. Strangelove, Alvie Singer (Annie Hall) on their blog, complete with the prescription glasses they sell. Oh sure it’s a gimmick to get you to buy their merch, but — and I’m not at all affiliated with them and not getting anything for saying this — it’s a rather clever idea. Because sometimes it’s fun to channel someone else for a day!

Also, I really like Warby Parker’s business model: for every pair you buy, they donate to someone in need.

Oh, and get this: their name is a Jack Kerouac reference! Here’s the story:

We’ve always been inspired by the master wordsmith and pop culture icon, Mr. Jack Kerouac. Two of his earliest characters, recently uncovered in his personal journals, bore the names Zagg Parker and Warby Pepper. We took the best from each and made it our name.

So what I want to know then is why they don’t have a blog post for dressing like Allen Ginsberg?! You can’t help but think of his glasses when you visualize him. Plus, with all the Hollywood attention on the Beats lately — characters based on Ginsberg or Kerouac’s alias for him appear in On the Road and Kill Your Darlings — you’d think he’d be a fun person to dress up as for Halloween.

Or maybe I’m the only nerd who thinks dressing like authors and literary characters is a perfectly normal Halloween costume?

And, for a story about the time Allen Ginsberg lost his glasses, check out Burning Furiously Beautiful: The True Story of Jack Kerouac’s “On the Road.” It’s available as an ebook and paperback.


Maria Fragoudaki’s “Superheroes”

3 Oct

mfragoudaki_11-lgMaria Fragoudaki’s “Sometimes I Cannot Control Myself”
Mixed media on canvas. 70in x 56in.

Move over, Ben Affleck! Maria Fragoudaki‘s Superheroes opens tonight at New York’s One Art Space (23 Warren Street; Street level—Gallery 1; Manhattan). Fragoudaki explores issues of identity in New York City. Her larger-than-life works of mixed media shine like the bat signal, exposing the fast-paced, fragmented lives we lead here in Gotham.

Born in Athens, Greece, Fragoudaki has shown her work in New York as part of groups shows in the past, but this is her first solo show in New York City . Tonight’s opening reception begins at 6.

From the press release:

The inspiration for this body of work came in New York during the last two years. The artist explores issues of individual identity in a fast-changing world where anchoring points are disappearing. These themes, familiar in Maria’s work, take a new twist here as emotions are amplified by the uniquely fast-paced rhythm of the archetypal metropolis, New York.
At the center of this whirlpool where anxiety is constant and uncertainty the norm, the need for stable references, strength and reliance become more acute. This prompts her to reach to the world of superheroes, which in addition has direct references to New York. Drawing on the collective unconscious of pop-culture the artist creates immediate associations that facilitate a casual and direct communication with her audience.
In the creative process the superheroes become abstracted moving the focus to the notions they represent. Deceptively simple messages, with child-like directness, are superimposed at times as statements, at time as cries, while the medium of collage enhances the feeling of the fragmented self in the process of constructing identity and meaning.

Maria Fragoudaki’s first solo show in New York induces the public to connect with their emotions and conflicts. This exhibit allows each of us the opportunity to discover our own personal Superhero.

mfragoudaki_12-lgMaria Fragoudaki’s “Spiderman’s Arrival”
Mixed media on canvas. 91in x 27in.

From Fragoudaki’s website:

Maria Fragoudaki was born in Athens in 1983. She studied chemistry, pharmacology and business management in London where she subsequently worked for a few years. She started painting systematically in 2008 and over the last 4 years she attended various courses and seminars in painting & fine art in New York and London. Her work utilises a wide variety of media such as oils and acrylics on large canvas surfaces and she has also produced other mixed media works incorporating the technique of collage. Over the last 4 years Maria has participated in numerous group exhibitions in New York, Belgium and Greece and has also presented her first solo exhibition in Skoufa Gallery in early 2011. She is currently working on her forthcoming solo show in London. Her work has been acquired by private and corporate collections in New York, London, Greece and Belgium.

Superheroes will run at One Art Space through October 24.

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Burning Furiously Beautiful is now available as an ebook! You can download your copy here.

The Writerly Blog Hop

3 Apr


Huffington Post columnist and Burnside Writers Collective colleague Emily Timbol invited me to join a blog hop organized by writer Kirsten Oliphant of the wonderfully titled blog I Still Hate Pickles. You may remember that I participated in The Next Big Thing Blog Hop last year. I kind of feel like they’re the chain letters of the blog world and am infinitely curious who’s in my six degrees of separation.

Kirsten says in her “about me” section on her blog that she doesn’t like rules, so it should come as no surprise that she gave me and the other blog hoppers some general guidelines but told us we didn’t have to follow any set format or answer every question. Since I’m one of those creative types that tends to actually like rules (blame the editor side of my brain), I am taking a literal approach to the blog hop and answering her questions one by one.


What makes you (or makes a person) a writer?

A while back there was a funny meme going around called “What People Think Writers Do,” which shows just how relevant it is to discuss what makes a person a writer. There are all sorts of writers—some are political journalists, some write children’s books, some have their books turned into films, some are hobbyists. I don’t think it’s fair to place absolute judgment on who qualifies as a writer. There are many poets and fiction writers who only became famous late in life or even after death. Is a little girl writing in a diary a writer? What if I tell you her name is Anne Frank? Is a doctor who writes poetry on the side a writer? What if his name is William Carlos Williams? Okay, but what if that doctor is a career oncologist who writes nonfiction about cancer? Does it make a difference if his name is Siddhartha Mukherjee and he won a Pulitzer Prize for The Emperor of Maladies? Even if he never writes another book again? Is a blogger a writer? Is a grant writer a writer? Is someone a writer just because they have to write emails at work? Is there a difference between being a writer and writing? I wouldn’t say that whether someone is published or not or whether someone earns money or not means they are or are not a writer, but I would suggest that being a writer, in the sense of it meaning more than someone who occasionally writes their name on a check or writes a grocery list, means being intentional. This could mean being intention in carving out time for writing or being intentional in the selection of words, but not necessarily so: William S. Burroughs, for instance, used a cut-up technique that displaced authorial syntax yet he is still considered a writer.

So do I have the right to call myself a writer? Well, my name has appeared on book covers across the country and the New Yorker and the Paris Review have mentioned my writing. Then again, I don’t live off my writing—I didn’t even make a thousand dollars off my writing last year—and most people have never heard of me. I call myself a writer because even when I’m not writing I am thinking about writing.


Why is it sometimes hard to fess up to being a writer?

There are two big reasons why I sometimes have a difficult time admitting I’m a writer. The first is that when I introduce myself as a writer to people, they automatically ask who my publisher is—and I mean even people who aren’t in the industry suddenly want to know who the gatekeepers who let me through are or want some sort of proof that validates me as more than just the (in their mind) dreaded hobbyist. I feel like it’s like saying I’m a woman, and then someone asking who my gynecologist is. For the record, Barnes & Noble and HarperCollins Publishers have published books containing my writing. The truth, though, is that I sometimes don’t feel comfortable confessing to being a writer because I haven’t written, or published, a full-length book by myself—yet.

The second reason I don’t always like confessing that I’m a writer is because I am an editor. I personally feel that these two callings work well together, but I have noticed that people in publishing houses tend to think that the only reason I am an editor is because I’m trying to get published. I wish I was that savvy! The truth is that I began a career in book publishing because I love working with words. When I was starting out as a proofreader, the idea of being an author seemed like some far-off imagery dream, like being an astronaut. I always had a need to write, and even back then wrote for various publications, but I wasn’t diligently working on my own book. I really love working at a publishing house, seeing a book go from concept to finished product. I love working with authors and helping them achieve their dreams. From my experience, there are a lot of people in the industry who are editors and publishers because they love books and not because they themselves want to be writers. I just happen to be both.


How does writing affect your identity or otherwise impact your life?

I tend to view my experiences through the lens of being a writer. When I go to an art gallery, I automatically think that I have to write about the art I saw. When there’s a particularly momentous current event, I feel the need to write it down in my diary. It’s not just a matter of mining life for stories. I process information by writing. I often joke that I don’t really know what I think about something until I write about it.

Being a memoirist has helped me understand my identity beyond being a writer. Agents and editors tell writers that their main characters should never be a writer. But what do you do if you’re a memoirist and your main character is you, a writer? You dig deeper, you don’t allow your writerly self to speak for who you are. When you can’t rely on that shorthand of clichés about being a writer, that fancy wordwork that hides your true identity, you’re left with just yourself. Writing doesn’t just allow me to be myself—it forces me to be myself.

Want to join the blog hop? Answer the questions however you see fit on your own blog and post a link below as well as link to Kirsten’s post.

Writing Wednesday: Building Your Book Before You Even Begin Writing It

5 Sep

David Krell’s article “From Book to . . . Blog? Inspiration for the Aspiring Nonfiction Author,” published in Publishing Perspectives is jam-packed with great advice for nonfiction writers.  To sum it up succinctly: start garnering interest in your nonfiction book before you even publish it.

Krell offers five tips on how to build your author platform before you’ve even published books.  He advises that you can score interviews and forewords for your book as well as lectures at conferences before you’ve even finished writing your book.  This, in turn, will improve your chances of writing a well-informed book, obtaining a reputable agent, and selling your book successfully because you’ll have taken the time to build up your reputation as an authority on the subject and gotten other authorities on the subject to contribute to your book.  You should read his tips on Publishing Perspectives for more insight on how to begin building your platform and become a successful author now, even before you’ve written a book.

In relation to Krell’s advice, here are a few questions I think a nonfiction writer should start thinking about as early as possible:

Who is your target audience?

What are the sub-themes of your book?  What are the various angles you can use to market your book?  (Krell’s book is about the Brooklyn Dodgers, but his friend suggests it’s also about urban history.  One of my books is a memoir about growing up Greek American in New Jersey.  It touches on family dynamics, coming-of-age stories, New Jersey, Greece, identity, and the immigrant experience.  Another of the books I’m working on is about Jack Kerouac.  Looking at it through a broader lens, it could appeal to anyone interested in the Beat Generation, the 1940s and 1950s, travelogues, and American history.)

Who would you like to interview?  (Approach them now.)

Who would you like to write your foreword?  (Approach them now.)

Who would you like to blurb your book?  (A blurb is the endorsement on the back of a book.  Approach people now.)

What associations are there for your subject?  (Sign up for the mailing list, get to know its leaders, volunteer to help with an event or to write a guest blog entry.)

What conferences are held on your subject—or on your sub-theme?  (Begin attending, meeting people, speaking.)

What websites are about your subject or sub-theme?  (Sign up for their newsletter, leave comments on their posts, offer to guest blog.)

What books are similar to yours?  (Read them to get ideas.  Also, read the acknowledgements to find out who their agent is.  Begin following the agent’s work to see if you’re interested in signing with them.)

Are there any other questions you would add to the list?

By thinking about these questions now, you’ll have a clearer vision of where you’re headed.  You’ll also be more motivated to continue writing because you’ll have people who are already invested in your success.

Happy writing!

3 Takeaways on Blogging Advice from A Cup of Jo

22 Aug

It’s been a while since I’ve posted anything about social media, but when I ran across this article, “Blogging As a Career,” with A Cup of Jo’s Joanna Goddard, I knew I had to share it with you.

You’ll want to read the whole article because there’s a tenderness to it, touching on heartbreak and personality types, but here are my three takeaways:::

Follow your dreams. – As cliché as this may sound, you can’t force yourself to enjoy a career that isn’t the right fit for you (in Joanna’s case, law).  You’ll be more successful when you discover what you want and really go after it.  Following your dreams is not easy.  It requires sacrifice.  You may end up not even being able to afford to add a sliced tomato to your bagel with cream cheese.  You may have to work on your honeymoon.  But it’s worth it.

Don’t be afraid to fail. – Sometimes the things in life that feel like the most excruciating at the time, end up propelling you forward.  There is risk involved in work and love and life.

Stay true to yourself. – There are so many blogs out there.  Don’t try to copy other blogs.  Blog in your own voice.  As Joanna says, “When you write a post, imagine your mom or best friend reading it.”  To earn a living as a blogger, you need to secure advertisement; choose companies you love.

Joanna also gives advice on work-life balance, how to start a magazine career, and other insight, so check out her complete interview on her blog.

The Distance Between Me and Me

23 Apr


I recently workshopped a new memoir chapter I had been working on, and it wasn’t until after I left the workshop that it occurred to me that perhaps the distinction between the author and the narrator had gotten jumbled in the evaluation of the piece.

I don’t enjoy self-deprecating memoirs, but I had written a rather self-deprecating line to make a point about my past.

“We don’t see you this way,” someone said.

I didn’t get the sense that she was suggesting I needed to show evidence in the work to prove I was that way in the past.  I think she was surprised to see my negative statement and was concerned that I had low self-esteem that wasn’t based on fact.

I rambled off some explanation that only made me sound more pathetic and weird, and then I left feeling exposed and awkward.  But I was trying to explain the person I was—not the person I am today.

I believe good writing takes readers into the feelings of a particular moment in time.  When I write about myself, I think back to how I felt when I was going through a particular period.  I try not to censor myself.  I try to be true to who I was at that time.

Maybe I need to write in double perspective.  Perhaps I need to explain right up front that who I was then is now who I am now.  But I feel like writing and reading is a journey, and I think sometimes you have to wallow in the past a bit before explaining away and fixing things, and saying, “I’m alright! I’m alright!  Don’t worry about me.  My story gets better.”

I’m okay with who I was in the past.  I love that shy little middle-schooler and I love that twenty-something who was naïve and nervous and emotional, and I don’t want to change her.  She is the foundation for who I am today.  But she is not who I am today.

The person I am today is not someone who you can get to know in one chapter or one blog post.  I am not someone who you get to know over one semester.  And I am not the same person in the office as I am when I’m at home.  I’m not someone easily identified by the types of books I read, and I hope no one would ever judge me on my indulgent music playlist.  (I think I almost lost a few friends the day I posted on Facebook that I don’t like Radiohead.)

And I hope tomorrow I’m not the same person I am today.  Maybe that’s self-deprecating.  Or maybe it’s just honest.

Bravo for Writing a Greek-American Memoir

9 Apr

On my lunch break one afternoon I met a man from Greece at a coffee shop.  He had been born in Greece, but currently resides in New York.  He didn’t have the thick Greek accent that would’ve indicated a recent move, and yet like so many Greek people I’ve met, he was still very much hung up on Greece.

After some rather dull conversation he perked up when I told him the memoir I’m writing is about growing up Greek American.  It made me kind of hate him.  I know that’s a terrible, overdramatic reaction, but his reaction gave me the distinct sense that in his eyes my ethnic heritage played a role in my worth.

The Greek American community is incredibly proud of its Greek heritage.  As we should be.  We have a beautiful culture with a rich and fascinating history.  I often feel I don’t live up to Greek ideals.  I know the reason I inwardly cringed when the man expressed interest in my heritage above all else is because I feel like I fall short of the standards of Greek American identity.  I don’t speak the Greek language, I don’t look particularly Greek, and I’m not 100% Greek.  Culturally, I’m not very Greek.

In fact, those who know me well are surprised when I say I’m writing a memoir about growing up Greek American.  Spoiler alert!  The memoir isn’t really about being Greek.  It’s about being American.  It’s about growing up American but going through an experience as an adult that ties me back to Greece.

Life is too complex for anyone to be categorized or valued based on just one aspect of their identity.