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Cross-Country Drive in Lists, 10 Years Later

5 May
In the Badlands in 2009

In 2009, Michael and I drove west from Brooklyn to start a new life in Seattle. I was beginning the MFA program at the University of Washington, and we were ready for a new adventure in a region neither of us ever thought we’d live in. I documented that first cross-country drive in a list of lists here.

Nearly ten years later, we felt the pull to come back east; in April, we packed up our things and now we’re in Chicago, starting the next chapter of our lives. But of course! We had to take another cross-country drive, partly retracing our steps but also seeing lots of new things. And herein is a list of lists for our second crossing:

  • Mileage: Approximately 2400
  • Days: 9
  • Start point: Seattle
  • End point: Chicago

Parting image of the Pacific Northwest: Wet roads, sopping dark evergreens.

Cities stopped in to eat and/or sleep: Ellensburg, WA; Spokane, WA; Missoula, MT; Bozeman, MT; West Yellowstone, MT; Jackson Hole, WY; Rock Springs, WY; Laramie, WY; Cheyenne, WY; North Platte, NE; Lincoln, NE; Omaha, NE; Des Moines, IA; Iowa City, IA.

Detour: Petrified Ginko National Forest

Notable Spokane radio: Developing a trauma-informed perspective, on Native America Calling

Rivers crossed: Cle Elum, Columbia, Coer D’Alene, Clark Fork, Boulder, Jefferson, Missouri Headwaters, Madison, Gallatin, Snake, Buffalo, Hoback, Little Sandy, North Platte, Medicine Bow, Laramie, South Platte, Platte, Blue, Missouri, West Nishnabotna, East Nishnabotna, South Raccoon, North Raccoon, South Skunk, North Skunk, Guernsay, Iowa, Cedar, Mississippi, Fox.

Fauna spotted: bald eagles, hawks, bison, elk, alpaca, orioles, cardinals, starlings, geese, hundreds of horses, thousands of cows.

Best smelling city: Still Bozeman, ten years later. This time, instead of pine trees, it smelled of apple and smoked pork.

Most public service announcements about meth: Still Montana, ten years later. “Ask Me How My Gun Went Off.”

Most fun billboard: “Rock Creek Testicle Festival,” also in Montana.

Most awe: Western Wyoming.

Aw!

Best business name: Pickle’s Discount Mattress in Rock Springs, WY.

Promising overheard dialogue in Rock Springs: “I used to listen to Morning Joe, but I can’t anymore. I just wanna know what’s going on. Don’t rant at me!” This jived with our similar feeling of watching Lawrence O’Donnell on MSNBC for half a minute. Maybe we can turn it all off? Then again…

Notable Nebraska radio: Christian homeschool radio on social media and the “Pakistinian-Israelite Conflict”

Scariest downtown on a Sunday: North Platte, NE, mostly boarded up and closed, save for Hometown Cash Advance, Cash n’ Go, and a dollar store.

Scariest Victorian home to visit at dusk when no one’s around and the horses across the street are all staring at you: Buffalo Bill’s home, also in North Platte.

Notable Iowa radio: Agritalk. Regarding leaving the TPP: “Was the juice worth the squeeze?”

Happiest lunch spot: cheeky Gazali’s in Des Moines, IA, where we ate garlicky chicken shawarma after several days of burgers burgers burgers.

Unicorn in our Iowa City hotel room, with an excerpt from The Glass Menagerie

Best town name: What Cheer, IA.

Most adorable stop: Iowa City.

Most roadkill: Illinois 😦 Intestines coiled in the street like giant fusilli. My next novel will be a horror novel.

Notable Chicago radio that filled me with glee: Cardi B. on Polish-American Radio. Brr!

Going to AWP Without Really Going to AWP: A Post-AWP Report

2 Apr

This past weekend was my sixth time attending the AWP conference. My first was in New York in 2008, an overwhelming affair of 8,000 writers crammed into a couple Midtown hotels. That year, I sat on the floor beside a woman from Texas Tech who thought my plan to wait five years before getting an MFA was absurd. The next thing I knew, I was working as a paralegal to save money for graduate school, and by August 2009, I had a full ride to the University of Washington and Michael and I moved cross-country to Seattle. You could say that AWP changed our life pretty radically.

Over the years, we went to a smattering of conferences, but each year I went to fewer and fewer panels, as they tend to repeat and I learned you can only soak up so much information. In 2015 in Minneapolis, I mostly had lunch and dinner with friends, a most pleasant experience, but I’d realized the conference fee had been a waste. Next time, I resolved, I would go to AWP without going to AWP.

Last year in Tampa, with my novel just out, I didn’t get to do that. But *this* year, in Portland, it finally happened, and I highly recommend it to folks who’ve been around the AWP block. I was more relaxed. More hydrated! I had time to stay on top of my online teaching, so less stressed.

Now for some highlights:

Wednesday night, we started at The Old Portland, a wine bar owned by Courtney Taylor-Taylor of the Dandy Warhols. They only serve old French wine; I misheard the description of the Corsican rosé as “foggy” and enjoyed it very much; Michael enjoyed a ten-year-old red Bordeaux. Then, the very Portland-y (more stoner than twee Portlandia) bartender said, “Yeah, we don’t like advertise or anything,” and showed us the Odditorium, the band’s 10,000-foot “clubhouse,” where they rehearse, record, film music videos, and the like. It was cavernous and quiet. Michael, a big Dandy Warhols fan, was in heaven.

“Ice Cream,” the mono-print I made at VSC when I was sad that the ice cream shop had closed and there was no ice cream to be had.

Thursday afternoon, we went to the Vermont Studio Center alumni happy hour. I’d finished a first draft of Daughters of the Air there back in 2007. Three former literary staff read poetry from their recent releases. A line from Nandi Comer’s American Family: A Syndrome: “If there is blood, the artist has chosen to omit it.” Ryan Walsh spoke of the connection between visual art and writing at VSC (I still cherish learning how to make a mono-print there) and vegetable poems. Zayne Turner read from “Her Radioactive Materials.”

Most of the other readings I attended featured numerous readers, so, forthwith, more of a collage:

Reading “Cauliflower Tells You

At Strange Theater: A Fabulist Reading, there were spiders and trousseaus and swans roasted in revenge and Japanese monsters and red rooms and porcine men and tyrants and cauliflower-fueled murder. A doll’s head was raffled off, among other trinkets; I offered a rare talisman of Cyndi Lauper’s trip to Yemen.

Friday, we went to the PageBoy Magazine Happy Hour, featuring 17-word poems and prose. It was a fun afternoon of zingy one-liners and dreamy experimental works and Gertrude Stein jokes. Then we were off to Literary Bingo with Lilla Lit, a new Portland-based reading series; it was fast and furious with four-minute readings (a loud buzzer ushered off writers going over). Chocolate was pelted at every shout of “bingo!”; I caught a peanut-butter ball overhead with my left hand and won a copy of Jennifer Perrine’s In the Human Zoo. I also read a poem and someone won a copy of Daughters of the Air. All readings should have strict word and time limits and buzzers and prizes!

Saturday, we paid $5 to get into the convention center book fair. I had a lovely time chatting with Chicago-based folks in advance of our move (yes! big news tucked away over here; more on that in a future post), signing books at the Lanternfish Press table, and seeing fellow LFP authors Charles J. Eskew (Tales of the Astonishing Black Spark) and Andrew Katz (The Vampire Gideon’s Suicide Hotline and Halfway House for Orphaned Girls). It was also super cool meeting Carmen Maria Machado, who signed Her Body and Other Parties and Carmilla, an LFP reprint of a lesbian vampire romance that predates Dracula, with a Borgesian introduction and footnotes by Machado.

Fun!

We also picked up a whole slew of poetry in translation (from Romanian and Hebrew), essays on art, novels, short story collections. I can’t wait to read it all! Our last stop was the Northwest Micropress Fair at the Ace Hotel, where I signed copies of Sugar, my chapbook from Chin Music Press, and hung out with regional small presses, which felt like a special little send off before we leave the Pacific Northwest.

I heard that the conference had ballooned to 12,000 (15,000?) attendees. Amazing! Perhaps, perhaps, we’ll be in San Antonio next year, and if not San Antonio, Kansas City, and if not Kansas City, Philadelphia…?

“Don’t Worry” in Moss

17 Nov

ugo-rondinone

Don’t worry about these clowns…Ugo Ronidinone’s “Vocabulary of Solitude” at Rotterdam’s Museum Boijmans van Beunigen.

 

My story “Don’t Worry” is out in Moss, Issue 6.  Here’s how it begins:

Johnny’s teaching math in the fall and we’re on our honeymoon. Venice, Rome, Paris, Amsterdam. A whole month. Sexy sexy cities for sexy sexy times. I planned most of it. He got Amsterdam.

continue reading

I wrote the story on the way home from my trip to the Netherlands this May, after overhearing a tourist at Anne Frank House say of the diary, “it’s just paper.” It’s (unfortunately) been feeling pretty timely this past week. The trip was made possible by the Artist Trust / Gar LaSalle Storyteller Award, which brought me there to research my third novel. I’m forever grateful for that opportunity.

The story will be available in print later this year in Volume 2. If you’d like to hold the story in your hands and support a great journal, you can subscribe here!

Netherlandish Birds

15 May

bosch-pond

Thanks to the tremendous generosity of the Artist Trust / Gar LaSalle Storyteller Award, I spent the earlier part of this month in the Netherlands, researching my third novel. M came as my trusty research assistant, furnishing highlighters, snacks, and sweaters with alacrity. There’s a lot of information crammed in my skull right now, which I am organizing as best I can, hoping it seeps into the crevices of my subconscious fruitfully.

What struck me on our trip: the birds! (I know, I know, put a bird on it.) Egrets, loons, swans, geese, ducks, grouse, crows; white-breasted, brilliant blue, long-tailed, plump and shimmery; raucous, trilling, warbling, chortling. Fact: the first painting acquired by the Rijksmuseum features a bold, angry swan.

Jan_Asselijn_-_De_bedreigde_zwaan;_later_opgevat_als_allegorie_op_Johan_de_Witt_-_Google_Art_Project

In the moat by the citadel in ‘S-Hertogenbosch, an egret bullied ducks until a trio of geese chased the egret to the boardwalk where it loomed. This continued on a loop for a while. A seagull swooped down to chase the egret further and when the egret returned, the geese trailed it, sinister and slow. Sinister, at least, until we realized there were goslings near.

In a canal in Rotterdam, three loons had a lovers’ spat. Slapped wings, held heads beneath the water–murderous! Not far from there, we strolled past the “swan bridge,” soaring and modern.

On our last night in Amsterdam, we stayed at a fanciful b&b on the Western Canal Belt. Our hostess could not greet us when we arrived. She hid our keys in a flowerpot. Up two steep, narrow flights of stairs, we flung open the door. The lights were on, the doors and windows open, a gust of wind coming from the terrace, which led to another room with another open door, and the flutter and chirp of green and yellow parakeets, in a big cage looking down upon the Keizersgracht canal. Old books stacked everywhere, art on the walls and leaning upon the books, a laptop left on a long wooden table, half open, as if our hostess had left in a hurry. It had the feel of that computer game Myst, where mysterious rooms, empty of people, always suggest a presence, a place quickly abandoned. We did meet her late that night and in the morning at breakfast the birds flew freely about the room and she would call to them and air kiss them and talked to us about Argentina and Barcelona and photography and her love of Amy (Winehouse).

Apropos of birds, on the flight back, I finished Noy Holland’s debut novel Bird, a raw gorgeous thing. Here, I leave you with an excerpt:

She was hungry again and gorged herself on chicken fried steak and skittles, on vermilion faces of canyons, cliffs you could dig with a spoon.

 

“Art After Auschwitz” in Jewish in Seattle’s April / May issue

8 Apr

“I wish people would just stop writing about the Holocaust,” a woman said to me at a national writing conference. Thus begins “Art After Auschwitz,” my feature article for Jewish in Seattle‘s history issue.

It’s such a big topic. I’d love to explore it further. I learned about so many artists, such as Israeli Maya Zack, who’s working on a film about Paul Celan, and Seattleite Leah Warshawski, whose documentary Big Sonia follows a larger-than-life survivor running a tailor shop in a dying mall outside Kansas City. I came across Ann Lipscombe, a young artist whose surreal drawing “What We Talk About When We Talk About My Jewish Nose,” stopped me in my tracks at the Jewish Art Salon’s “The Jew as Other” show in New York last December, and miniaturist Tine Kindermann, whose “Hummel Midrash” project explores the danger of kitsch and who curated “The Jew as Other” with Yona Verwer.

Parking Signs to Power Lines

6 Mar

Last month, I took an afternoon class at Richard Hugo House with Shin Yu Pai called “Maps for a Narrative Atlas” to, as it were, tickle my psychogeographic fancy. After some discussion of Denis Wood’s Everything Sings and Rebecca Solnit’s Infinite CityShin sent us out into Capitol Hill to map some specific, observable aspect of the neighborhood and then try to transcribe what we found into text. I decided to focus on everything visible between parking signs and power lines, plus any sounds. I ended up with a catalogue of mostly tags and graffiti animals, an “urban bestiary” as one of the workshop participants noted (incidentally, this is a topic for another post I’ve been meaning to write as well as the title of a fascinating forthcoming book).

Here’s that catalogue.

E. Olive Street, from 11th Avenue to 12th Avenue

shoes

crows

propeller affixed to pole, swaying

crows

parking sign: Hellawasted, Action for Animals, sad ghost

bright yellow bits of a torn flier

crows

fuzzy green tree buds

Z overlaying U

Nasty Nate Comfy

faded blue outline of a skeleton

Lost Cat: Adult Male Mostly Black with a White Belly. Will Give Generous Reward if Found and Returned to Owner. Contact Arlene.

bright yellow flier, intact: Our Neighborhoods Under Attack! scary black towers descending upon single family homes with crash-pow comic book bursts

Notice of Public Meeting

fuzzy green tree buds

police car siren

12th Avenue

shoes

crows

guttural other-bird song; rattle and click

11th Avenue from Howell Street to E Olive

crows

parking sign: Hello My Name Is Nick Nack Records

4 hour parking sing: No Big Deal, smiling prehistoric fish with wings, Nasty Nate Comfy, Blink

children squealing

stick man with a briefcase and devil horns apparently going to hell

4 hour parking Valid Here: love birds

night owl with steaming cup of something

shoes

Upcoming Readings

26 Jan

Recently, a gardening-savvy friend got me excited about what will crop up in our yard as the weather warms – lilacs, cherries, and plums, oh my! I just have to get through these last cold, muddy weeks. Luckily, I’ve got three readings on the horizon that will sneak me right into spring, all at the loverly Richard Hugo House:

  • Tuesday, February 5, 8 pm – The Castalia Reading Series – This is the monthly reading series for the UW MFA program, and I get to read as an alum for the first time. I’m reading alongside fellow alum & poet Rachel Welty and students Derek Robbins, Jay Yencich, and Kristine Greive.
  • Friday, February 15, 7:30 pm – Made at Hugo House Midyear Reading – As a part of the Made at Hugo House Fellowship, the fellows (Bill Carty, Irene Keliher, Eric McMillan, Katharine Ogle, Elissa Washuta, and me) will be sharing new work produced in the first half of the program.
  • Thursday, March 21, 7:00 pm – Cheap Beer & Prose – I’m reading alongside Nicole Hardy, Corinne Manning, and Kristen Young as a part of the series’ annual ladies’ night. Wee!

Addendum: At the Pine Box, Monday, February 11, 7:30 pm – Pacifica Launch Party – The literary magazine I help edit is launching its first issue! Lisa Nicholas-Ristcher, Maggie MK Hess, Sarah Kathyrn Moore, Leena Joshi, Joannie Stangeland, and Jake Uitti will be reading, and the book, designed by Ryan Diaz, is beeeeautiful.

Glass Steak

12 Mar

Cherry blossoms were bursting all over the city today. M and I wandered down to the Belltown Top Pot to read and write. It was helpful to revise some Brooklyn scenes of my novel with the Monorail gliding by in the periphery –  a quieter, sleeker elevated train. We also poked around galleries in the neighborhood. Form / Space Atelier had three neat works, including the Interstitial Theater, a space for video installments. The video on view showed a glowing-hot knife burning through paper gently swaying in a dusky breeze; incense burned in the room and birds chirped and cooed in the background. Very calming to watch the paper char into strange maps. The Interstitial Theater is there until tomorrow and is apparently moving to SoDo after that. But the gallery has openings every third Thursday of the month, and I think we’ll be heading back.

In other news, the audio from my reading at the Hugo House is now available here. I had a fabulous night reading with Rachel Welty, Johnny Horton, and Heather McHugh!

Northwest Spring

17 Mar

It came early this year. Earlier than the East, but also a month earlier than normal for Seattle. Cherry blossoms budding in late January and bursting in February. Then dogwoods. Then magnolias. The storm clouds were consistently inconsistent, but in them now instead of grays and blues there was also the reflected pink. On my birthday a tsunami warning. Then the fluffy white blossoms turned streets bridal. In early March, it was sunny and warm. M and I rented a canoe and paddled about Portage Bay, lightly buzzed from margaritas shared with friends earlier in the afternoon. We diligently avoided the Montlake shipping canal, the only instructions given by the boat rental place. Of course, even with my life vest on I was nervous of toppling over, every time a motor boat or yacht made waves and we bounced and I heard a faint trickling of water (was there a hole in the canoe?). Eventually I relaxed and we paddled proficiently and enjoyed the near-crisp views of the Cascades and Mount Rainier and contemplated life in Laurelhurst and Sandpoint across the water.

Driving to Portland this past weekend we caught even more spring. So much pink with occasional bursts of yellow forsythia. I couldn’t remember a time I’d seen so many blossoms along the highway. Wandering the neighborhoods of Portland, we didn’t need to stoop to smell the flowers, their fragrances wafted up to us. The friend we were visiting rasped with seasonal allergies. All the pollen, he explained, was stuck in Portland. The geography did not allow it to blow away. He told us it used to be called the sick place. Too much spring. I was relieved my own eyes weren’t bursting with stinging moisture. We saw a play there at the Imago Theater, an “opera beyond words” about an authoratarian typing school, in which the task master (a bit like a business-y, malevolent bride of Frankenstein) skewered out one eye from each typist and hung the ball from its red cords above that typist as he or she sullenly tapped away. We brunched at Screen Door, where M spotted Catherine O’Hara, and then took the streetcar from Nob Hill to the waterfront. Of course we stopped at Powell’s; M picked up Michael Chabon’s Maps and Legends and I finally got Irene Nemirovksy’s Suite Francaise, which I’ve been meaning to read for a long time.

Now spring break is upon us. We’re heading back East to visit friends and family, where their own spring should be just emerging.

High Line’s Debut

10 Jun

Yesterday, M. took me to the High Line, which officially opened its first section to the public this week. The only entrance for now is on Gansevoort and Washington. I felt giddy ascending the steps to what had been built up and built up and talked about and photographed and anticipated.

The rain had rendered the vegetation lush: wild grasses, purple and blue conical flowers, odd green spears and larger cones of muted yellow just about to burst open to something brighter. (I’d wished there was a guide to the plants, but could find none on their website, just a picture or two of echinacea purpurea.) There were spindly plants topped with magenta spheres and moody, bluish red petalled things, everything poking out of stylized cracks in concrete and elegantly arranged rusting train tracks, just as they’d done wildly, before.

And the views! M. snatched my attention away from the architectural botany to the strange and wonderful perspective on the buildings around us. Just-above-the-rooftops of the meatpacking district on the one side with wispy grasses growing atop awnings and views of pediments and cornices you’d never see from the street level without craning your neck and getting hit by truck hauling animal carcasses or a snarling Escalade.

On the other side, remnants of what is still a manufacturing zone. Whining machinery still grates the ear. You get a marvelous close up of the rotting neglect of buildings. Gorgeous patterns of mottled brick and peeling paint and metal doors leading out to no where, fire escapes rusted away long ago. Barbed wire catching plastic bags and shuddering rooftop ventilation systems.

Thankfully, the botany seems delicately designed with the olfactory in mind, wafting over any industrial smells.

We walked further north and M. seems to salivate at the view ahead, that explosion of West Chelsea architecture. I’m staring at a honeybee burrowing into a lavender poof of something and then he pulls us forward, under the gray Standard Hotel straddling the High Line. Slabs of concrete jut out of the hotel, reaching for the High Line without touching it, amputated by glass barriers that perhaps will one day be removed and planks put across the gap so park goers can be sucked into fancy pants lounges.

Gehry’s iceberg / sail boat is moored along the northwest side, with Nouvel’s winky windows behind, continuing installation as I write. We can stare into a yoga class in the Equinox near 14th Street and the students emege groggy from their corpse pose, befuddled by the voyeurs standing on this perch, snapping pictures of everything, shamelessly.

We recline on a cedar (?) bench that rolls a short distance along a track and wondered how long it would be before names were scratched into the slats of wood. A man in an army coat, circular sunglasses, and a thick gray moustache pointed whimsically up, shoots his enormously expensive camera right at our faces. He repeats this with the man beside us, assuring him he is only taking pictures of the gallery behind us.

At the fence on 20th St., a Parks Department sentry repeats a happy spiel: “This only the end for now. Section Two is scheduled to open next year. Check out the website for updates.”

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