Tuesday, August 25, 2009

P is for Poverty

In the mail today I received my credit card statement (moving expenses + setting up house + MacBook = ouch) and my auto insurance notice from State Farm. (and a postcard from Lithuania, thanks T!) Today I learned that insurance companies are now on the "money saving tips" bandwagon; I received a nifty little newsletter along with my bill. State Farm didn't discuss how Americans waste money on useless insurance policies, or explain that variable annuities "exist to make money for the people who sell them."

The real enemy?

That's right. Lattes are devastating American finances! If we writers cut out our $3 latte every day we can save $1000 a year! Of course, we spend every day miserable and under-caffeinated, robbed of our single reliable pleasure in life.

What, really, is the freaking point of denying myself coffee, when my retirement fund just crashed ($5000), my home's foundation cracked ($10,000), my car flooded ($500 - didn't meet deductible), my computer died ($1200), I had to move across the country ($1000)...

...there's more but we'll stop here.

I pay State Farm $1600 a year (home and auto).

The world might blow up tomorrow. I'm drinking my coffee.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Athens, Ohio: Small Town

I stole a book from Marigny Perks in New Orleans. It wasn’t intentional. I found it in my bag once I was home, a klepto move. For weeks after pangs of guilt stabbed my side. I “had time” for poolside cocktails, so why didn’t I “have time” to drive back over to Marigny Perks?

Guilty. Guilty as charged. And when I unpacked in Athens, Ohio, guess who tagged along? My rationalization is I have also left many books at coffeeshops, so this is all part of the great karmic book swap. And I donated a box of books (good ones!) to the Nola library. I could tell myself I’m going to mail the book. But I’m not. But I can apologize.

Bless me Father for I have sinned. I have stolen. I’m sorry Marigny Perks. You are a good, kind, independently owned business and did nothing to deserve my immorality and sloth.

The book is a Best American Essays, which should be called Best of The New Yorker. I could grumble about this, since I will never be in The New Yorker, but maybe The New Yorker is arguably, the best literary magazine in America. At the very least, it is the best magazine in America containing the most articles that go unread. Anyone who has subscribed can testify that issues pile up at a terrifying rate. And those articles are long. Probably a “best of” is necessary so that some of these meticulously fact-checked works get a shot.

When I first picked up the book, I scanned the list. I like this part because I enter the mind of the reader. Which titles and author names will catch my attention? My eye caught Atul Gawande, The Learning Curve. The name was unusual, and the essay had the same title as a David Sedaris story.

The Learning Curve is written from the doctor perspective (Dr. Gawande I realized often covers medical topics for The New Yorker), discussing the hush-hush that surrounds medical training. He admits that the only way to learn medical procedures is to do them. Meaning, medical professionals have to practice on people.

Tip: Don’t ever have surgery at a teaching hospital in the fall.

The analogy applies to writing. The only way to write is to write. The MFA research and the books on writing can only get you so far. At some point you pull out the scapel and cut.

Tip: Don't ever pull out and reread your first MFA workshop submission from the fall.

Dr. Gawande also mentioned he grew up in Athens, Ohio, and how his father is a Dr. Gawande there too. This caught my eye because I was moving there in a month.

I’m here now. My apartment has two stories. From my bedroom window I have a voyeur’s view of a wealthy person’s backyard; an A-framed structure with many windows, a pool and a luscious landscape.

When I first saw the apartment, I joked to the landlady about being the poor grad student with opulent view, and made pawing motions at the glass, like when my cat wants out.

“Oh, yeah,” she said. “That’s Dr. Gawande.”

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

> Kill Author

Once I received a hand written note from a chapbook contest thanking me for my submission, but announcing that they found my tone cold and emotionless. Yes, I appreciated this honest feedback--in longhand, no less! Sure, maybe I took a hatchet to all of the articles or pronouns in my poems. But, boo, another rejection letter.

Then, anonymous-y online magazine > kill author ("for the mostly alive") kindly accepted some of my new, post-MFA poems.

Dorothy Parker is up next.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

A Move of One’s Own

After 15 years of a stationary life (home owner for ten of those years) in Durham I moved three times in three years. Major moves. From NC to Montana. From Montana to New Orleans. And in the last week, from Nola to Ohio.

With the Montana move I went for it. I packed all my furniture, the adult furniture earned from many hard hours of restaurant work. The real dining room table with real chairs. The bookshelves and the lamps and the groovy 70’s endtable and the nice mixer. The mattress...ahhhh. The piece that made that decision for me though, was that just a year ago I had purchased my first real sofa, and I wasn’t ready to give it up. For years I had sat on futons, the kind that slink down no matter how much you shore them up. Each slump made me more irritated and I vowed one day, I would sit in peace.
See? Wasn’t it nice? Carter furniture out of North Carolina. Firm but springy. There was a subtle print to the black that doesn’t show up in the picture. The sage chenille cushions were nubby yet silky soft. My cats would sleep on the each of the flat arms like New York Library lions. I miss you sofa, as I sit here, writing on the floor, my butt bones aching. And I believe my cats, flopped here on the floor with me in stereo, miss the arms.

When I graduated from Montana in 2008, that’s when gas was almost $5 a gallon. Nevermind two grad school years had depleted the coffer. I sold off all my furniture on craigslist. As people appraised, harangued and eventually hauled off every stick, I admit I was pretty depressed by the end. I was 39, and while these were just things, these furnishings had made me feel adult. And it was really best if I didn’t stop to think about how many hours of restaurant work and careful comparison shopping and obsessively planned IKEA shopping adventures had gone into all this.

Of course, writing is more important to me than nice furniture. I’m just saying.

In Nola, I lucked out and my apartment came furnished. With nice antiques. I’m realizing how lucky that was as I furnish now from scratch. I’ve spent a good deal of the past week sitting on the floor, assembling black particle board furniture with one of those microscopic Allen wrenches. My knuckles are cranky. One reason I chose all black assembly furniture was I figured this could be a theme. My new Mac is silver and black. My drums are silver and black. I have silver decorative things. Black furniture. Sure.

The real reason, though, is that I can carry unassembled furniture by myself. For great furniture deals at garage sales or little stores or ads the general rule is you haul. Some new grad student friends helped me unload the trailer, but they live out in the country, with a kid, and I can’t call them every day. Bottom line it’s me who has to get this done.

And that’s when I feel sad and single. As I drag boxes of flat packed furniture down the driveway and up stairs. Isn’t there supposed to be someone on the other end? Helping me lift? And yeah, I mean someone male with nice forearms.

A friend from my Nola writers’ group said he and his girlfriend devised a moving strategy: she packs and cleans and he lifts. At this I thought: Gee, I have this super awesome method where I pack and clean and lift.

Then again, moving alone has benefits; I haven’t had to negotiate a trick. If I decide on all black furniture then it’s a done deal. I don’t have to come home and hear, “Check out this awesome plaid La-Z Boy recliner someone just left out on the street!!!” I don’t have to deal with someone wondering if all black might be depressing, or if we can afford this, or maybe we should look around more, or..? Who knows? Everyone has their own agenda. Moving is a series of a thousand tiny decisions and another person’s opinion doubles the amount of choices that must be made. Maybe more depending on the person.

When I get everything home, and I set it up, all according to how I want it, I’m ready to go. No clutter in my mental space. Nothing that isn't mine because I want it there. And I’m so totally Woolf here, in that I need hours to piddle and shuffle and rummage before I get to work. I can’t even focus with a dog around. Maybe I don’t need someone asking me what we are going “to do” about that huge painting that needs hanging. Maybe it’ll just sit on the hallway floor for a while. Maybe it’ll sit there for five freaking years if I feel like it, because I’m too busy writing.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Lucas Farrell in the Boston Review

Huzzah to fellow '08 MFA graduate Lucas Farrell, whose poem "Geosmin" is featured in the current issue of the Boston Review!

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Sweet Corn, Next Left

My beat just changed from Nola to Athens, Ohio, location of my upcoming PhD program, three days ago. I feel like Liz Lemon in Cleveland! I've been listening to a great deal of news from Lake Wobegon of late, which has felt like nice cultural prep.

Changes I have noticed:

No drive thru daiquiri stores, but Nelsonville has a drive thru bait and tackle.

Sweet corn. And more sweet corn.

That there’s that familiar hum of NC insects at night (I lived in Durham for 18 years)

Oh, and there’s those allergies again, too

Everyone runs into businesses panting Thank God! A/C! when outdoors is cooler than my Nola apartment was indoors.

Food is more organic, crispier, healthier, and blander.

This will be my first time recycling again in three years.

The postman shook my hand and asked for my name. In Nola, I would gather with my neighbors in the street and exchange mail. Excuse me, but are you Leonie Comeaux?

My brain feels a lot clearer here, it has more room, all the jittery New Orleans energy has eased out. Part of me is relieved and part of me is already bored. (Priced round trip tix, only $150!) My place here is twice as large. Now I have a downstairs, a big kitchen, and TWO upstairs rooms. TWO!

I have also driven by Ellis Hall, very red bricky with white trim, a promising place to restart my Wonderboys lifestyle.

Dr. Ben Bernacke, Mrs. Katherine Grayson, Mrs. Agnes Jones

With the establishment of my university identification at the university offering me health insurance, comes the Recycled Email That Has Been Used Many Years Before. With this privilege comes spam emails intended for the One Who Came Before. Apparently, this Lindsey person subscribed to St. Paul's Ordway Theater newsletters and updates from YouGoGirl.com (get your spunky back-to-school tips here!). In time I'll be able to offer an elaborate profile, clues culled from the remaining newsletters trickling to my inbox. She enjoys local theatre, may have a tween in the house (or did at one time). It also seems she may be a sympathetic philanthropist.

A coincidence it is not that suddenly Dr. Bernacke (Fed Chairmen, thankyouverymuch), Mrs. Grayson (cancer survivor) and Mrs. Jones (of the South African Lottery Federation Corporation yadda yadda) have all welcomed me into the fold with correspondence. They want to talk to me!

Yes, Dr. Bernacke, I would love to claim my federal refund you're holding for me! I mean it comes as no surprise you'd like my social security number & bank account information. You run the banks, after all. Sent!

Mrs. Grayson, I am so very sorry to hear about your struggle with cancer. What? You want to donate 13 million dollars from you and your church to...me?! Say it ain't so. You need my reply very soon? Okay!

And, Mrs. Jones. I cannot believe my fortune. I will absolutely claim my unclaimed money. Immediately. Why don't more people know about this lottery you speak of?

How did all these lovely individuals know I sit at my desk, spreadsheets and Word documents galore, awaiting the opportunity to run away to a faraway island with loads and loads of money. Oh, if deception did exist not. The scams are growing as desperation over a dismal economy grows.

Also, in anticipation that was the horror to be had in the upper Midwest this weekend, here was Friday's Chicago-area weather advisory on The Weather Channel. Yes, usually we do have time to acclimate... It's like the weatherbots that usually seem to author the advisories grew a heart and sympathized with the sweltering masses:


Friday, August 7, 2009

Creative Marketing: No Tell Books

Receive a Tarot reading or dream interpretation from the editor with any book purchased between now and Sunday.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

My Longest Relationship: Apple

Apple and I have been one since floppies  flopped. Since the rainbow apple, not the silvery gossamer fruit, donned the back windows of professor VWs. Back when external meant something. 

We're talking  Apple I here that my Dad brought home. In college I had the Apple IIIIe. In the 90's I had a Performa for Chrissakes  (PERFORMA!!!) and then I bought that big blue doorstop, the whatever that was, and after all that, I landed on the iBook G4. My first laptop. This was first product, to be truthful, that didn't mean I spent more quality time with Apple Support than my family. For four and half years my iBook was a faithful companion. I began to gloat over what a perfect piece of machinery it was, almost Japanese. There was the Classic 9 snafu, sure, but that was so quickly forgotten. The only trouble, really, was Dreamweaver, already a whispery ghost of a program, so who cared?

We soared through the MFA, my iBook and I. We wrote stories and essays. We started about five books. We completed on critical essay.  But over the past year, the iBook was slowing down. I didn't want to admit it but I knew the rainbow wheel was spinning for longer and longer. But I was going to gut it out until I began my PhD prog, finagle that discount. I was moving. Times were lean. 

Then this summer — the troubles.  I sought help and lost almost three weeks of my life to the Marigny ponytail Apple UNcertified repairdude, who despite his snazzy jumper,  after multiple phone calls,  had no advice to offer than since my computer didn't charge, perhaps it needed a new charger. 


The Genius Bar set me straight, with a new jack and a fresh keyboard, and I felt a resurgence of that warm fuzziness. 

Then, two days ago, halfway through my move from Nola to Ohio. The move that involves a U Haul trailer, two cats, and me having to teach online when I can at truck stops, I awoke at my brother's in Birmingham to the static rainbow monitor. Bad.  The screenshot then began spinning, flipping, as if running code for the end of the universe. Very Bad. 

It was then I realized, for all the money I had spent in repair, I could have had a brand new Dell. But — to turn PC? Was Apple loyalty merely my artsy ego? Or did I really stand by the mechanics of the Mac? 

My brother drove me to The Summit shopping center in Birmingham. I bravely through open the big glass door of the Apple Store gripping my Visa,  the one with the absurd credit limit because Bank of America secretly desires to repossess my house. I receive checks and invitations to consolidate my debt even as I boil meat bones to flavor my beans. Despite Bank of America's ideas, I am not the sort of person who can brandish the plastic at will.

But...I'm a writer. I'm starting a PhD program. I need the tools. This. That. The pile was small but made me exceedingly nervous. I sweated. The Apple guy rang me out with his little tricorder thingy as Mountainbrook yuppies, people whose Visas can withstand the abuse, milled around in their madras shorts and Izods, a fashion which has remained unchanged since Reconstruction. 


I woke up in the middle of the night. For a GRAND less I could have had Dell! A GRAND. This was retarded. This Mac fascination. Who did I think I was? This product is for the wealthy. For people who can let that backlit keyboard luminesce on their designer Swedish furniture. FORGET Apple. I thought, as I remembered how i had to fight at the store through the iPhone masses to try and get help with my computer. Remember, Apple? Remember when your business was computers and not yuppie gadgets?!!!!

I vowed to find the newest store and return this smoke and mirrors trendy box.

But then. 

I pulled out my MacBook Pro. 

It was silver and shiny. The keyboard pulsed and glowed. Kellleeeeee.