"well something's lost, but something's gained, in living every day" -joni

Sunday, March 28, 2004

i guess my trip to the johnson taught me something about writing that i already knew. i got there before opening on friday morning and sat there and drank tea, waiting for emily, my partner in crime for the day, and people watching. there were two middle aged men speaking spanish sitting at a table behind me, going over some papers, several older women stood by the souvenir shop, and a class of what looked like fourth graders filed in on a school trip. not bad for 10 am on a friday, i thought.
when the museum opened and emily and i dropped our coats off downstairs, we decided to check out the "girl culture" exhibit first - a collection of photographs depicting what its like to be a girl in America today. i was especially excited because the woman who actually compiled the photos and wrote the book is a professor in my department (human development). so anyway, we enter this empty room where there are just these huge pictures of girls, ranging from 4 year olds to 20 somethings, in different elements- some getting ready for school dances and pageants, others at fat camp and in dressing rooms, in baseball dugouts and swim practice. and next to most photos is a one or more of the girls in the picture telling her story, on how she feels about being a girl today. and most of these stories are really heart-wrenching and desperate. one five year old is trying on what she considers "cool clothes" and says she can't wait to be older so she can be pretty and wear makeup like all the cool teenagers do. and this girl is like, reallllly little. and then theres the stories of the girls getting plastic surgery and the stories of the girls in fat camp, who say they never feel good about themselves at home, but some do find refuge at the camp. the best stories, the most reassuring, are those of the girl athletes, such as the girls on the swim team who accept their muscualr bodies and are proud of what they can do.
but overall, the exhibit saddens me. girls are constantly told not to compare themselves to models and actresses, to be happy with who they are, and yet this is impossible. everywhere girls are still dying to be thin, to win pageants and be "the prettiest," and girls are so mean to each other, putting each other down and making one another feel bad. and this exhibit, it seems to me, is trying to say this- that we are all girls, short and skinny, tall and fat, pretty and not as pretty, rich and poor. and that we are all self concious and trying to fit in and find a place of happiness for ourselves, a place where we are accepted and the media just makes it all the more difficult to do so. its definitely a challenge being a girl in America today. i look at some of the photos and i see myself and while i think i am a fairly confident person today, i think back to high school and junior high and comparing myself to other girls and feeling very concious about my weight. and not being happy.
looking back to my trip to the johnson, i saw a lot of artwork. emily and i made sure to go into all of the exhibits and rooms. but the part that stuck on the most for me, and still does, is the girl culture collection. so what did the johnson teach me about writing? that we are all the same, that when we write, we are writing to people just like us, who will identify with the emotions and thoughts of our characters. and while each reader may identify and interpret a piece of writing differently, it is my (and i'm sure, others') ultimate goal in writing to have someone sit down and read my work and think "oh god, thats me, thats what i feel like." and thus i have made a connection and touched one person. after all, we all experience the same world. i was the little girl who couldnt wait to grow up and wear make up. i was the girl who wished herself skinny. and my friends were too.

Saturday, March 27, 2004

Pindeldyboz.com. It just sounded interesting the day i wrote my name next to it on the sign up sheet in class. The term is defined on the website as "a feeling of confusion and/or anxiety when ingeniously anesthetized by obese amounts of levity." And the website, which is run by a small group of writers, aims to maintain a "grass roots feel," publishing submissions-mostly fiction- as they are with little editing, if any at all, while expanding as a print magazine as well. And the editors claim "the stories defy classification." The premise is definitely admirable and chock full of potential.
However, as i soon found out, the site doesn't live up to its intriguing name and intentions. The website itself is quite simple; it is gray with mostly orange and blue lettering- definitely not visually stimulating, but different to say the least- and it offers a link to archived issues, lists upcoming events and news, and allows readers to submit their own work and purchase printed issues, yet only posts 5 short stories. As I am not familiar with online literary magazines, this may be the norm, but i was expecting a greater selection. Still, had all five stories been better, the small number would not be as much of a problem. After reading all five, each taking only a few minutes, i found most of them average with the exception of one really really good one.
The story "Prelude to a Phone Call" by Darby Larson describes a male character standing underneath the window, deciding whether or not to call the girl in the apartment (assumed to be his girlfriend or ex-girlfriend), pondering what she has been doing all day, how she will respond to the call. He is clearly in anguish about it all- very typical. But we never learn if he actually makes the call or whatnot. I don't know why, i guess i can't put my finger directly on it, but the story was just lacking something. While there are some novel descriptions, such as "her hair in a scrunchy, except for two strands that hang down the side of her face like fangs." other than some good imagery, though, it doesn't tell the reader anything new, doesn't evoke emotion in any exceptional way, its just a short story about a relationship in trouble.
another story, "monopoly" by Claudia smith, is about the relationship between a college-aged girl, candy, and her mother, who is has recently married a very wealthy man, changing the mother/daughter dynamic entirely. Candy was raised by her single mother and the two were very close, but with her new husband, candy's mother has become more distant, and even plans to have another child with him. While smith does a good job of depicting the new, different relationship between the two female characters, she doesn't do much in the way of a plot, there's no climax, no resolution- and smith also attempts to use a charm bracelet as symbol of the changing relationship, which seems forced. All in all, the story isn't particularly bad, but not particularly good either.
however, the one story that still stands out in my memory is "lovely when you talk to me" by monako tanaki. It starts off with a man and his wife in bed, bickering with each other, which seems trivial, but is actually ripe with morbidity in that the wife is depressed and has attempted suicide and has been cutting herself. It is apparent that they are not the ideal "in love" couple, but it really seemed to me that the husband really cared about his wife, having gotten rid of all of her Sylvia Plath books when she became suicidal (clever on tanaki's part, i think).
however, the relationship becomes more complex when we learn that the husband used to have a gay relationship in college and when he admits this to his wife, she admits she was involved in a lesbian one with one of his coworkers. more bickering ensues, this time over sexism and the pizza man. Just when things seem as though they are as dysfunctional as possible, the wife admits she is over her desire to kill herself and the husband grows enraged. What he does next is so shocking that i won't spoil it. tanaki does an impressive job of creating this love/hate enigmatic web of lies and trust between this woman and man. And she keeps surprising the reader. In this way, she is the only author of the five to fulfill the pindeldyboz's editors' goal of defying classification and by far the shining star in this issue.
in general, this literary magazine of a website does try to push limits with its stories, but the majority use cliched symbolism or try to hard to seem "deep," while they are just average stories that could be better if the writers had taken greater risks with plotlines or character development. tanaki's story, like i said before, is the only one that goes out and take risks with the characters and the sequence of events. yet, from reading these stories i can see the flaws in my own work and the common mistakes i make as well. and i can see that i too need to take more risks with my writing. as far as pindeldyboz goes, though, if it wants to live up to its own name, it needs to select more stories like "lovely when you talk to me."
as far as recommending this magazine to others, i think i would recommend this issue for the sake of tanaki's story. and although i haven't read the new issue, it seems that pindeldyboz does try to choose "unique" stories, whether or not they may be moving or not. thus, while there was only one outstanding story in the issue i read, there is a good chance that there are more such pieces in both archived and upcoming issues. and besides, the intentions of pindeldyboz are in the right place and, if nothing else, the site does accept submissions from anyone and everyone, so i'd also recommend it to someone who wanted to get published. hey, you may even see my own work up on it one day (wink wink)...

Sunday, March 14, 2004

i decide the truth for myself...because my truth is different from everyone else's. granted, there are the basic facts and the stats and the news reports and all that- those kinds of things i accept and hold as truths without much hesitation. but i've come to realize that even the things i thought were truths when i was younger had to be questioned at one time or another. what my parents have told me and forced to be believe in - morals, values, and the like- i've had to reevaluate and adjust through my own experiences. and its weird, beacuse when these things happen to you and make you rethink everything you once held to be "true," its earth shattering and painful and confusing. like when you realized that your parents didnt know everything there was to know about life and the world. suddenly, nothing was true anymore and everything was up for being questioned. suddenly, adolescence.
so basically i have come to listen to what everyone says and to take it all in, as much as possible, and then to decide for myself what is right to believe. i've been betrayed and let down and made too many false assumptions in my life to take things at face value anymore. and sometimes i think it is ok to let the truth be somewhat false. like, when you like someone and you want more than anything for them to like you back. but you have this nagging feeling they don't. well, then i think its ok to lie to yourself and let yourself believe in chance and fate and all that. so i guess my truth is somewhat laced with hopefulness, occassionally anyways.
the truth can hurt and the truth can set you free and the truth can be a lie. it all depends on the person. i know myself and i know where i need to look to find the truth- inside my head and my heart, in intuition, but also in the words and gestures of the people i love and respect. one of my best friends prides herself on never lying to me; she will even give me honest answers when i ask how i look. i guess i am insanely lucky to have friends who i can ultimately trust, above all. and its comforting to know that, if i am able to find and keep such trustworthy and truthful friends, that i am looking for life's truths in the right places. :O)

Wednesday, March 03, 2004

Where do you write? What do you write with? Describe the physical dimension that writing has for you.
When i'm here I write at my computer, in my room, in the apartment on stewart ave. usually anyways. I've also written in the cocktail lounge in olin and even big red barn once, but not so much anymore. But then when i'm home in brooklyn, on ocean parkway, i write on my bed, in my green and orange journal. i used to go and write in the starbucks on chambers street when i was in high school and then in the starbucks on astor place the summer i went to nyu. both of them had windows facing subway stations and everytime a train let out, there would be a flood of people in mass exodus, pouring out of the underground. it helped with ideas. i'm always writing in my head, sometimes i'll just be walking along and then i'll have a really great opening line for a story. or just a great line to use within the story, one thats not a cliche and should be published, and i feel so lucky to have it be my own. sometimes it'll be conversations i have in my head between two people and i'll think, i have to write that down, thatd be great in a story of friendship and self-discovery (of college), but then i don't. i'm writing all the time, you just can't see it. you think you see this somewhat nerdy, somewhat mismatched, somewhat city, somewhat jappy girl. i don't know which one of us is living the lie, but i love it.
i write with my keyboard and mouse, i write with pens, with pencils (mechanical, but of course). For awhile i was into watercolor painting and i used the paints to write, in my work, in pictures. but i think most of the writing is carried on by my mind, by the ever racing thoughts and psychic energy that transcript ideas from latency and bring them to my conciousness. they do a lot of the writing. sometimes i feel like my eyes do the writing. i'll have random thoughts or i'll be making up a story and then a potential character will walk by and i'll cast these thoughts onto them, making them a part of my story. i really do live in my own world, i guess, but it's sad and wonderful all at the same time, with the stories and the characters. and i'm always the hero.
So, does my writing even have a physical dimension? I think so. i mean, theres the majority of it that is constantly brewing and stirring around somewhere in my cerebral cortex, with neuronal firing and synaptic vesicles and thresholds, and whats more physical than that. and then there's the typed/handwritten loveliness that i spill onto computer screens and paper. and then i let the words take on lives of their own and become what they were always meant to be, they become me.

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