30 October 2009

4 Perfect Moments in LA This Week

This week, I had at least Four perfect moments as a writer:

1. I spent some time with TC Boyle on Monday where we talked about "Hipster Nirvana," a story of mine I gave him to critique that had been giving problems since I wrote it last year in Buenos Aires. Granted, I've revised + edited the shit out of it a million times since that first draft, + it's in much better shape than it was six months ago, but still, there can't be a better moment for any writer than when TC Boyle tells another one of this his students that you're a fine writer, or even better, when TC Boyle wrote in his critique that your story had moments of transcendent beauty. WTF? Are you serious? Did I just hear that right? Transcendent beauty? Shit, I'll fucking take that.

2. Kicking it in Aimee Bender's office listening to a recording of
Flannery O'Connor read her story "A Good Man is Hard to Find." Something about that moment, the intense richness of O'Connor's voice + accent, Aimee Bender opening up her office to me + some other students, simply sharing the experience together, right before workshop. It was magical somehow

3. Kicking it with Keith at Astroburger
where I ate one of the best vegan rib sandwiches + fries I've had in a long time, talking about black narratology, hip-hop, LA + girls. Also, we finally decided on a handshake--yo, that's important stuff man. How else are you gonna know how to greet your friends?

4. Discovering the Notorious B.I.G.'s "Ready to Die"
only 15 years after it came out. Fuck, this is an amazing album. Hip-Hop doesn't get smoother/smarter/grittier/more real than this. I don't appreciate some of the misogyny, machismo + gun worship, but this album as a whole is fucking awesome. And don't take my wrod for it, TIME magazine rated "Ready to Die" one of the 100 most important albums of all time. By the time the glossies know what's up, this automatically makes something 10 years old . . .

23 October 2009

Kicking it with Jim Shepard

I met Jim Shepard yesterday. My department at SC sponsored a three-part reading series with him over the course of two days. First he gave a craft conversation on teenage narrators. Second, yesterday he read an excerpt from "Pleasure Boating in Lituya Bay" from Like You'd Understand Anyway before reading a new piece of flash fiction. Third, he lead our workshop last night. Beyond that, before his reading, I spent some time with him in the hallway just cracking jokes + fucking around.

Here are some things I learned about him:

1. No one knows how to make Aimee Bender blush more violently or more quickly than Jim Shepard. It's like a skill he has--making Aimee Bender embarrassed. I've tried it, but it's really hard. But this dude is a natural. He was joking about how he was going to tell us about her dirty sexual past + the next thing I know, her face is the same color as her V-neck (a bright, Hester Prynne burgundy). Later on:

--I've never seen you blush like that before, I said.
--Yeah, it just happens, she said.
--Wow. Crazy.
--This one time, I was being a little aggressive with one of my students + then I started blushing.
--It's like preemptive blushing.
--Totally.

To read the rest of this entry, please check out my literary blog Blue Mosaic Me.

20 October 2009

Crazy People in LA

I love LA in part because there are so many crazy people here. It really lowers the bar in terms of sanity + self-control. Among some of the spectacles I've witnessed in the past 3 days:

1. A woman walking down Hollywood Boulevard completely nude except for Edenic pieces of lettuce covering her erogenous zones. She carried a sign in her hand that said Justice

2. Yesterday, I was walking to class when I passed a guy in an orange LA county jumper, with a handcuff still hanging from one wrist. He quickly jumped on a motorcycle (+ either hotwired it or used the key, I don't know which) + drove down the sidewalk on Santa Monica Blvd

3. Today, as LB + I were taking the subway to Union Station, a guy with Asperger's Syndrome repeated the instructions of the automated train voice for each station, word for word, in Spanish + English

4. On my way back home from the airport, a different dude belted this to the passengers: all aboard ladies + gentlemen! Welcome to my vessel.

Eventually, a thuggish-looking passenger who referred to me as "blood," when complimenting my tats, starting getting in an argument with the make-believe train conductor:

--How many people believe he works for Metro?
--You're acting childish.
--Nigga, I'm being straight. How many people believe he works for Metro? Anyone?
--You don't know how to be a playboy.
--Nigga, I'm a hustler.
--All aboard! Ladies + Gentlemen, welcome to my vessel.
--How many people believe he works for Metro? Huh?

And then I got off. . .

5. Saturday, walking past Grauman's Chinese Theater, guys in Spiderman, Joker, Pirates of the Carribean, Hercules + Creepy Michael Jackson costumes, swarmed us, poking LB with balloon swords (+ no, that's not an euphemism). Fuck, actually that was the most normal part of the week too.

18 October 2009

Eating Vegan Japanese Food in LA

Being Japanese-American + a vegan is a cruel cruel thing to be (not to mention a prickly oxymoron). Japanese people are pescaphiles (actually, first and foremost they're oryzaphiles--rice lovers). So, trying to stay true to my cultural heritage while also following my personal diet is basically a pain in the ass.

Little by little, LB + I are finding places where's it's possible to be both. I'm not trying to give a promo of this place, but I absolutely love the owners of Shojin. + on top of that, the food rocks. Tucked inside a mall in Littly Tokyo, Shojin knows what's up. The caterpillar maki (using seitan as unagi) and the avocado tempura salad are Pavlovian bells as far as I'm concerned--so delicious you'll slobber all over yourself in your sleep. The desserts are killer too (the pumpkin chocolate pie + the soy strawberry + chocolate ice-cream are fantastic).

I took LB here last night + we both loved it. Evidently, Shojin loves us too. Here's a pic they took of us + posted on their website. Holla back!

16 October 2009

Meeting LB at LAX

As I was waiting for LB at LAX in the US Airways terminal--a journey that takes three trains + a shuttle bus if you're dumb enough to use LA's mass transit--I suddenly realized that Angela Simmons (one of Run DMC's daughters in "Daddy's Girls" if you're a reality television whore) was sitting in one of those universal black leather airport seats with the steel armrests. She (or someone that looked just like her) was fidgeting + irritated. I glanced at her for a second, but only a second (I'm not a starfucker). Later, she looked at me, worried that I was staring at her (actually I was looking at what was going on behind her: a woman that dropped her suitcase + then kicked it). Angela Simmon's friend/cousin/whoever arrived in a baseball cap. Eventually, I lost track of them because. . .

LB magically floated down the escalator + I really thought I might lose it. It's been two and a half months since I've seen her. For two or three seconds, I got to look at her with an objective point of view, as if I was seeing her for the first time + she was even more beautiful + heartbreaking than I remembered. Angela Simmons was attractive, but LB was fucking stunning. Seeing her descend on that escalator was an emotional experience for me. I could have loved her forever the way she felt as she wrapped her arms around me, stuck on the love of intersection. I was delirious + sprung on that moment, caught in a net of madcrazybeautiful love. Sometimes love can be so real it hurts like a fist in your eye, but sometimes love nourishes you + brings you back to a place of wonder, a backyard where fruit hangs from the lowest branches, so ripe it's swollen, practically gushing with the earth's dye.

13 October 2009

My Second Conversation with TC Boyle

I had my second real conversation with TC Boyle today. We talked for almost an hour. Some of things I learned from this transmission:

1. He's reading at the New Yorker Festival next week + he's not going to bring his laptop. In fact, he never brings his laptop with him when he's on tour or giving a reading at a festival/conference. The only thing he brings are manuscripts, books he's reading for research + lots of clean underwear. For a second I thought he was telling me he's incontinent, but then I realized he just brings the important stuff. So let me repeat: manuscripts, books + underwear. Now that's a real author

2. He doesn't watch TV. Like me, he'll watch a movie on the Movie Classics Channel, an action flick at the theater or a DVD (because movies have a beginning + an end) but he pretty much avoids TV at all costs

3. He hates his cell phone. He never answers it.
--Let them call my agent, he said.
In fact, he told me he only brings his cell phone for emergencies

4. It's impossible to say something original to him. I mean, I've tried + it's just impossible. There's nothing this guy hasn't already heard, thought of or written + that really fucks with your mind after awhile. I find myself wanting to use more and more hip-hop slang because that's one of the only areas where I'm gonna represent.

--Yo TC, I'll say, let's throw up a burner on Hollywood + Vine that disses the alphabet bois. Maybe then we'll meet a bunch of bustdowns, ballas + buttafaces!

His response: neck-scratching + some mystified silence. And then I'd say: um.

I mean, there's shit I'm just figuring out that he's known for thirty years + I'm gonna have to try very hard not to try to impress him because you know what? It's just not happening. I can bring delight + intelligence + personal charm + lots of love to a conversation, but with TC Boyle (+ Aimee Bender, for that matter), you're not going to impress these people. That's their job, that's what they do effortlessly + they do it way better than you + they do it because they're not trying to impress you. They're being real, you're not. Ah, stupid defense mechanism. . .

If you want to read the rest of this entry, you can find it on my literary blog, Blue Mosaic Me.

08 October 2009

Una Cosa Rara

Es una cosa rara, pero realmente extraño Capital Federal porque BsAs fue el último lugar en que LB + yo vivíamos juntos en la misma ciudad, en el mismo departamento, juntos como hojas de un libro. A mi me gusta LA mucho, el tiempo es casi perfecto acá, nuestro apartament es lindo + amplio (y tenemos 2 pisos), vivimos en un barrio mezclado, camino hasta la estacíon de subte de LA (que siempre gozo, es decir, tomar tránsito público), me encanta mi programma doctorado en la universidad de california de sur (incluso mis profes + compañeros de clase), escribo casi cada día, me siento bien viviendo en la costa oeste de nuevo después de haber pasado unos años en Chicago, Indiana + Buenos Aires. En una palabra, soy contento. Pero me falta un cosa: LB. Y es por eso que siento como si me faltara algo. Y es cierto, me falta algo.

Aunque extraño cap fed tanto (en particular: los cafés, los argentinos habladores y sus niños arreglados, la merienda, nuestros paseos antiguos por Palermo, el monton de argentinas guapíssimas, las conversaciones aleatórias en la calle con desconocidos, el sentido del humor de los porteños, la lluvia, el mate), creo que además de todo eso, extraño Capital Federal porque fue la última ciudad en que realmente estábamos una pareja: todo que hacíamos allá, lo hicimos juntos y tuvimos que suportar con las consequencias de nuestras decisiones. Acá, aunque me gusta LA, voy a encantarlo después de que llegue LB acá. Por ahora, mi vida es abundante pero incompleta.

El amor es así . . .

02 October 2009

My First Murmurs as a LA Writer

I'm not gonna lie, this was a pretty good week for me as a Chicago implant + new LA fiction writer. Among the many small things that give me little heart joy:

1. I met Howard Junker (the editor of the ever-great Zyzzyva
) on the phone on Wednesday. Evidently, he liked one of my short stories I'd sent him only last week about a pepera that falls in love with one of her victims. It's called "30 Roofies." He told me a bunch of things, many of them mysterious + smart, some even flattering: he wants to publish something of mine in the spring; it may be 30 Roofies, it may not be, who knows; he wants something of mine hot off the press; he feels like 30 Roofies is good, but slightly old for my repertoire, but not wrinkled per se. He didn't tell me why he thought that though (I wrote 30 Roofies in the spring of 2008, so in a way he's right, but maybe he's been reading my blog). Anyway, of course I'm thrilled by this because Zyzzyva is the real deal as far as literary journals go, a fierce defender of emerging writers + Howard Junker has been fighting the good fight for 25 years, even standing up to other journals that have become too smug/slick for their own good--something I welcome frankly because it forces us to ask ourselves why writing matters. At the same time, nothing is set yet for me. So until he says yes Jackson let's do this, I look at his letter/offer as very promising for sure but not concrete. Not yet anyway. I think I'm going to send him a new chapter from my second novel that I recently started. It doesn't get fresher than that man

2. I gave my first public reading in LA last night at the Mountain Bar for USC's The Loudest Voice (along with my talented classmates Elise Suklje-Martin, Lisa Locascio, Jess Piazza + poet extraordinaire Mark Irwin).

Though my performance wasn't my favorite one by any stretch of the imagination (I mean, I actually messed up a few words + adlibbed more than once as I was turning the page), people seemed to like it a lot, which is always flattering

3. Mark Irwin, (who is one badass poet, not to mention a four-time Pushcart Prize-winner) came up to me afterwards + told me he really enjoyed my reading. Mark fucking Irwin,
man. This guy's huge + has been published in every major literary journal + not once mind you, but repeatedly. Anyway, when a poet of that caliber, charisma + reputation compliments you, you do one thing: you fucking take it

4. I'm entering BLANK in the Bellwether Prize this Monday, a contest founded by Barbara Kingsolver to spotlight socially conscious fiction that speaks of the greater world around us + our responsibility to that world + to each other. It's gonna be hard to win that contest because there will be many fantastic novels, many of which will come from writers with impressive resumes + even more impressive apprentisage, but I still have to try. BLANK, despite its flaws, is a beautiful + important novel + it advocates human connectivity, social protest + collective responsibility as well as offer a critique of narcissism, doing so in a way that is important, ambitious + yet also tricky too for some agents to swallow. Wish me luck peeps. In this industry, talent is not enough. You also need lucky dice + an empty seat at the High Rollers Table to strike it big