Inflate My Ego, B*tches.

So I know it’s Friday night and you guys are all “Yo, I deserve beer!” but you actually deserve some really good bourbon. But you know what else would be cool? Listening to the podcast I recorded last week with my friend Leo Costello!

Podcast

Photo courtesy of Leo Costello. Soon to be in a literary pinup calendar near you. By soon, I mean never. Unless someone pays me (and Leo) a lot of money.

Maybe you just want to know how often I say “like” or “ummm” (spoiler alert: it’s a lot), or maybe you just want to know what my voice sounds like. Maybe you want to be like the dude I just dated for the last two months and only listen to 20 minutes of it. Maybe you really want to hear about the freaky dreams I had when I was young. Or maybe you need a really brief synopsis of Lolita. Or maybe you want to know how Leo and I know each other. You’ll learn about all of those things. And more.

Enjoy! You can subscribe to Leo’s podcast on Soundcloud or iTunes.

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I’m like Fat Amy but with introversion.

It’s Friday night and I’m in sweats. I’m alone on my couch. I just inhaled a personal pizza. I’m halfway through my first cocktail. I’m listening to Norah Jones’s discography on shuffle. If I were trying to out-sad you, I’d tell you I was contemplating the beauty of the partially deflated balloon my roommate got for Valentine’s Day.

It’s sort just hovering around a single light. Sort of like that scene in American Beauty with the plastic bag being tossed around by the wind. Poetic, the way it mocks my loneliness.

Judging balloon is judging you and your loneliness.

Stoic helium balloon knows how you really feel

Just kidding. I’m not lonely. My pizza was delicious and my cocktail is refreshing. Vince offered to make me dinner tonight, but I declined. I’ve been craving a night to myself. I say that like I have this incredible social life. Really I’m just figuring out how to be an adult. I don’t know how they do it. I feel like I deserve a parade when I work a full day, go to the gym, shower, AND put my dirty clothes in the hamper.

But I’m not trying to out-sad you. I did that a few months ago, because I didn’t know how to deal with it. I use self-deprecation as a tool for self-preservation. I make fun of my loneliness and sadness before other people can ask me how I’m doing. Sort of like Fat Amy.

Fat Amy

If you’ve been reading for a while or if you know me well enough, you know that about a year ago, I went through a breakup. I was sad and lonely for a big chunk of time. I drank too many whiskey drinks and listened to Ok Go too many times. I ate too much bread and just avoided looking in the mirror. While my roommate was out with her boyfriend, I would find myself sitting alone, unable to do anything but make fun of myself.

True story, just use the search bar to find all my posts on heartbreak and breakup and love and relationships and all those other uplifting topics.

The optimist in me says I was dealing with my situation head-on. But the realist in me knows I was denying the issue and pretending to be stronger than I actually was. But eventually I started to believe myself. I don’t know (or particularly care) what this says about me and my coping capabilities, but eventually I got through it – I became strong on my own. Now I value my alone time. Maybe a bit too much at times.

But you know what? All that matters tonight is how quickly I can get in bed with my heating pad for my hip (I skipped training last week, ran 3mi on Tuesday night, 3.5mi on Thursday and decided I was too cool for stretching), and start reading. And anyway, I’m being responsible. My boss requested I stay in.

Well, sort of.

Well, sort of.

The last time I volunteered to help her out on a Saturday morning project, she (and several of my coworkers) saw my painful recovery from the night I went to a rave. I was so out of it that morning that I didn’t have the mental capacity to lie about where I had been. So when a coworker asked what I had done the night before, I told her, “I went to a rave.” Now, almost two months later, they’re giving me crap for it, constantly making jokes about glowsticks and E.

I bet they’ll have a hard time thinking of something to tease me about when I tell them I read the last 130 pages of Gone Girl alone in my bed.

On second thought, maybe I shouldn’t deconstruct comedy…

Sometimes I confuse myself. This morning, I woke up knowing the only thing I wanted to do today was lie in bed, watch Netflix, and eat leftover thai. I didn’t have any expectations for the day – a refreshing change of pace. Something about not having a single obligation for an entire day feels liberating. I imagine some people use free days to reconnect socially by getting lunch with a friend or calling relatives they haven’t spoken to in a while. It wasn’t that I was completely against the idea of interacting with people today, it was more that I didn’t have a problem not doing that.

I’m wondering if this is a holdover from last summer. I spent so much time wallowing in loneliness that the sensation became sort of comfortable. It’s got me wondering if I’ve become too comfortable being alone. Furthermore, it’s making me wonder if there’s any harm in that. I think most people would agree that the cruelest punishment is solitary confinement, but that’s not what I’m really talking about. I’m talking about being okay with spending six nights a week mostly on my own with books, manicures, and Justin Timberlake on repeat. When my one social obligation came around on Saturday night, I welcomed it. But it came and went, and on Sunday morning, a day in bed on my own seemed perfectly wonderful.

This was taken around noon.

Last night I went to a dinner and a comedy show with an academic. The conversation prior to the comedy show ranged from classic literature to dealing with that dirty feeling you get after watching too much of something like Louis CK or It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia. At one point, he started to deconstruct some of the comedy shows I wasn’t very familiar with (Louie, Curb Your Enthusiasm) in order to persuade me to watch them. I followed this thread of deconstruction throughout the rest of the night. Over wine, I began to analyze our conversations, wondering if we touched on the typical date conversation topics. In those conversations, you’re each trying to decide if you want to invest more in each other. But listing favorite bands, movies, books, and television shows only reveal so much about a person, right? By the time we got to the comedy club, I was in full deconstruction mode, doing quick dissections of the jokes.

But my dissections were shallow and obvious. One comedian said he was saving up to buy a firetruck so he could safely drive home drunk. “Firetrucks are supposed to be speeding and weaving in and out of traffic. Have you ever seen a firetruck get pulled over? No.”

The dissection (which I kept to myself) was something like, “It’s funny because it’s absurd. The idea of saving for a firetruck to support alcoholism is absurd. The image of a firetruck being pulled over is absurd.” Though my initial comedy analysis was simple and obvious, it made me start to wonder why I enjoy it so much. I admire the way a good comedian can quickly illustrate a complete story well enough to make an audience empathize. I admire the ways some comedians make us laugh at ourselves and how others make us ashamed. Comedy is more than just laughter, it’s the acknowledgement of human nature and its ridiculousness.

Anyway, I ended up spending most of the day in bed trying to learn more about comedy. I started reading And Here’s the Kicker: Conversations with 21 Top Humor Writers on their Craft. While reading, I compiled a list of movies and television shows to watch and re-watch, and books to read: The Graduate, To Die For, Louie; The Office (UK), Arrested Development, Spaceballs; Catch-22, What We Talk About When We Talk About Love…I expect the list to grow tenfold by the time I’m finished with the book.

The twisted thing about today is that I did exactly what I wanted to do: no more than read a good book and watch some funny television. Yet, now that the day is done, I’m a little sad because I feel like I could have been more social. I always get like this after spending a day on my own, even if I’m fulfilled and pleased with my endeavors. A couple weeks ago, I spent the day with e.e cummings’s six nonlectures, feeling myself become more inspired by each page. But just like today, after sunset, I was left feeling lonely. It felt like mental masturbation; as if I’d rather spend the day with a book – something I can interpret and manipulate for myself – than forge a connection with someone else. That’s not actually true, but I’m afraid resistance to reach out to people could be interpreted that way.

This was taken around 9pm. Way to go, Ashley. Day accomplished, I guess.

This was taken around 9pm. Way to go, Ashley. Day accomplished, I guess.

Yet I find myself telling you all about it here – an act that could be construed as a narcissistic indulgence – in an attempt to feel connected. Surely this must resonate with someone else. Other people must feel the tug of solitary pleasures while also craving deep connections, right? I’d like to think I keep posting for the same reason comedians take the stage night after night: to feel – or even just get a taste of – social resonance.

I love my Kindle but…

Yesterday was a long day. I was busy all day at work with training, meetings, evaluations, and projects. I came home in one of those moods that just left me wanting to through my hands up and scoff. Not scoff and explain myself or complain, just keep raising my arms and scoffing, as if to tell the day to get up off my grill.

I put on sweatpants, poured a glass of wine, and joined my roommate to watch a mediocre romantic comedy before retreating to my bed around nine. I wanted to read and thought about continuing The Zen and Art of Motorcycle Maintenance I had started over the weekend, but I decided against because it was on my Kindle.

Don’t get me wrong, I love my Kindle, but I just couldn’t deal with it. All I needed printed words. A few years ago when I got my first e-reader (the Kindle 3G keyboard), I looked forward to reading on it, because it was truly an escape. In the middle of a Toni Morrison novel, it ceased to be an electronic device and became a book.

Then in October when I got my Kindle Fire HD, that sort of stopped. Instead, it became a tool to more effectively look at pictures like this on Pinterest:

Great

Ryan Gosling

 

Payday

 

Stefon

 

Key change

Owning a Kindle went from being an intense and passionate literary experience to a disturbingly efficient pinning obsession. (If you follow me on Pinterest, you know that My “Lolz” board is the most well-developed. It doesn’t take much to entertain me, apparently.)

But last night I didn’t want cat memes. I didn’t want 27 ways to rethink my bed. I didn’t even want a recipe for peanut butter caramel ice cream bars. I just wanted a book. Turning to my stack, I realized how wonderful it was to have so few choices. Instead of having dozens of books, apps, and websites to choose from, I just had three books. And since I just wanted to remember the beauty of words, I reached for Joyce Carol Oates.

Books

For about an hour, I remembered what it was like to read before I owned a Kindle: Smelling the air that escapes from the crack of the spine’s glue, appreciating the thickness of a roughly-cut page as it’s turned, finding the most comfortable way to hold the book (One hand? Two hands? Resting on a pillow?) While deciding whether to reach for a pencil to mark a passage or just dog-ear the lower corner,  I told myself I need to do this more often.

I love the portability of my slow-growing Kindle library, but nothing will replace the satisfaction I get from holding a book.

Joyce

I also don’t think I’ll ever lose that thrill I get from marking anything in a book – a holdover from being forbidden from writing in library books. 

Thanks to Jennifer for the idea for this post! If there’s something you’d like me to write about let me know by stopping by the Everything is Blooming Facebook page, writing me a message, posting on the wall, and checking out some of my previous posts. And don’t worry, you’ll get a shout out if I end up using your idea.

This morning, Everything is Blooming hit 10,000 views. Thank you for reading! I love you! 

Embarking on Infinite Jest

Amazon Kindle has David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest for $4.99 right now. I was going to buy it a few months ago, but I was already reading three books I had just purchased and I couldn’t justify spending another $9.99 on a book I wouldn’t read for a month. But I bought it yesterday. And I had ten minutes between work and teaching a lesson to read Dave Eggers’s introduction.

If you don’t know anything about Infinite Jest, I’ll fill you in. It’s a 1,079 page satirical (postmodern, tragicomedy, sci-fi, etc) novel that takes place in a future version of North America where corporations purchase rights to each calendar year (Year of Glad, Year of the Depend Adult Undergarment, etc). The novel touches on depression, popular culture, advertising, family, addiction, and just about everything else, including tennis.

It’s basically a beast. And I’ve been hesitant to start reading it because it’s the size of the bible (but way more entertaining), and because I’ve heard that while DFW’s fiction is extremely rewarding, it is difficult to read.

Anyway, I purchased it on a whim and read the introductory essay by Dave Eggers and got really excited when I read this:

Is it our duty to read Infinite Jest? This is a good question, and one that many people, particularly literary-minded people, ask themselves. The answer is: Maybe. Sort of. Probably, in some way. If we think it’s our duty to read this book, it’s because we’re interested in genius. We’re interested in epic writerly ambition. We’re fascinated with what can be made by a person with enough time and focus and caffeine and, in Wallace’s case, chewing tobacco. If we are drawn to Infinite Jest, we’re also drawn to Magnetic Fields’ 69 Songs, for which Stephin Merritt wrote that many songs, all of them about love, in about two years. And we’re drawn to the ten thousand paintings of folk artist Howard Finster. Or the work of Sufjan Stevens, who is on a mission to create an album about each state in the union. He’s currently on State No. 2, but if he reaches his goal, it will approach what Wallace did with the book in your hands. The point is that if we are interested in human possibility, and we are able to cheer each other on to leaps in science and athletics and art and thought, we must admire the work that our peers have managed to create. We have an obligation, to ourselves, chiefly, to see what a brain, and particularly a brain like our own – that is, using the same effluvium we, too, swim through – is capable of.

As soon as I read that paragraph, I wanted to call and cancel my student’s lesson, stay in that park and read. But I didn’t. Three hours later, I’m finally home and I’m able to make myself a cup of tea, grab a blanket, and sit on my couch with my Kindle and read.

If you’re interested in learning more about David Foster Wallace, check out this BBC interview.

A Million Little Pieces, Memoir, and Honesty

I was up at 6am today. Not as terrible as 5am, but on labor day, that’s still a pretty crappy time to be awake. I went for another run, followed by some yoga. Then I sat on my patio for a nice breakfast and reading session. I finished The Marriage Plot and was pretty disappointed. I had such high expectations after Middlesex, so my disappointment was inevitable.

I’m trying to find something to read next, which is sort of funny all on its own. About a quarter of the books on my shelf haven’t been read. A customer from the coffee shop I used to work at gave me the The Letters of Anton Chekhov. That seems like a nice thing to read, right? Meh. I went through a phase a few years ago when I was obsessed with Chekhov. I ripped through a collection of his short stories in a week (probably the same week the customer gave me the book), and haven’t picked up a story or play of his since. Had I read his letters right after those short stories, I probably would have gotten some insight into his life and personality, and I probably really would have appreciated it. Now? Nah. I also have the Norton Collection of Personal Essays that I found at a used book store for $7, but I’m trying to stay away from shorter works.

I wandered over to Carissa’s shelves today and found A Million Little Pieces. I don’t know much about the book other than it claimed to be a memoir and ended up being false. Also, something about drugs. And Oprah.

When this book blew up, I wasn’t interested in memoir. I sort of regarded it as a lame fad: just uncreative and self-indulgent people who wanted to write but couldn’t write fiction. I was a Fiction Writer, interested in the construction of character and plot. Then I took a memoir-writing class at UW-Milwaukee and that changed. I realized that my fiction elitism was unwarranted since I was an unrealized memoirist at heart, what with my incessant journaling (I did more digging, my journaling slowed most during my junior and senior years of college). Then I started reading memoirs and essays and found that I loved how truth could be stranger than fiction.

So I have mixed feelings about A Million Little Pieces. Now that I write memoir I’m aware that I have an obligation to be honest. I had a few autobiographical fiction assignments in college, and I was so confused about them. I allowed myself fictional retribution – ending a relationship when I should have, dumping beer on his belongings, wildly advertising his infidelity, slapping him more than just the one time, etc – but it felt sort of dirty. I was telling a story that had its roots in reality, but then ended it falsely. If my ex were to read it, he would surely point out all the fiction, expose me as a fraud, humiliate me, etc. And I would know he was right.  I would face similar consequences if I paraded the story as fiction, only in a weirder inverted way.

If I were to ever share those pieces, I think I would need to preface them with a disclaimer: “The following events are based in reality, though I’ve taken the liberty of replacing certain details and/or the ending with ones preferable to me.” And really, who cares then? The truth probably offers a better story than the one I give anyway. Maybe I’ll clean one up and share it later this week, then you can tell me what you think.

Anyway, reading a fictionalized memoir is going to be an interesting experience. I’m going to have to tell myself it’s a novel if I don’t to feel completely cheated by the end of it.

On My Amazon Recommendations

For Valentine’s Day earlier this year, Bill got me a Kindle. It was actually a Valentine’s Day/Birthday gift, but it sounds better if I just say it was Valentine’s Day gift.  (Come on boyfriend, you should be showering me with gifts every chance you get.) I was thrilled to get it, and it’s since become my single favorite object. Every now and then I’ll swoon over how wonderful it is and I tell Bill, “I just love it so much. I want to tell everyone about it.” I’m not exaggerating when I say that I use it everyday or that I carry it with me everywhere I go. I’ve only forgotten it twice, and both times, I found myself stranded without reading material and having a minor panic attack until I realized I could read books with the Kindle app on my phone.

Since I do most of my reading on my Kindle, Amazon has a good record of the books I like. To find new books to read, I usually look at their recommendations for me. Chuck Klosterman, Chelsea Handler, Tina Fey, Stephen Clarke, Amy Sedaris, Kathy Griffin, Augusten Burroughs, Sarah Silverman, Elizabeth Gilbert…the list varied quite a bit. Having decided to really dive into the personal narrative experience, I wanted to see what other women were writing. The list presented to me seemed pretty unpromising. While Chelsea Handler might be a good guilty pleasure read (ie, when I want to feel morally superior to somebody who documents one night stands and her weird obsession with midgets), she’s not somebody whose work I hope to emulate. Tina Fey, also, while charming and hilarious, has gained popularity for her work not as a writer, but as a comedian, as did Chelsea Handler, Amy Sedaris, Kathy Griffin, and Sarah Silverman. And actually, I find the latter four irritating. (Just because she’s David’s sister, Amy does not get my affection.) Also, I hate Augusten Burroughs, and if there’s a way I can block him from every showing up on my Amazon recommendations list, I’d love to learn.

What’s frustrating is that female writers have a difficult time being funny without looking like bimbos. I brought this up to Bill once, and he asked me what I would think if I found an essay written by David Sedaris had actually been written by a woman. The fact is that it would still be good. His essays are funny and self-deprecating without trying too hard, because while he laughs at himself, he also realizes his error. I’m thinking of the first essay in Courduroy and Denim, “Us and Them”. He writes about his fascination with a family in his childhood neighborhood who didn’t have a television. He comments on how strange it must be to grow up like that, not knowing how and when to do things. They’re so clueless, in fact, that they go trick or treating the day after Halloween. His mother makes him and his sisters get their own candy to share with the Tomkeys so they don’t feel as if they’re in the wrong. In a desperate attempt to save his good candy, David stuffs as many candy bars in his mouth as he can. His mother comes in his room to find him with chocolate falling out of his mouth, and she tells him, “You should look at yourself, I mean really  look at yourself.”

…it was hard to shake the mental picture snapped by her suggestions: here is a boy sitting on a bed, his mouth smeared with chocolate. He’s a human being, but also he’s a pig, surrounded by trash and gorging himself so that others may be denied. Were this the only image in the world, you’d be forced to give it your full attention, but fortunately there were others. This stagecoach, for instance, coming round the bend with a  cargo of gold. This shiny new Mustang convertible. This teenage girl, her hair a beautiful mane, sipping Pepsi through a straw, one picture after another, on and on until the news, and whatever came on after the news.

The essay entertains you by creating this funny image of a child, but it also illustrates the ugly selfishness of humans and how we find both distraction  and solace from our hideous selves in television. It’s brilliant!

Try to find something that works on multiple levels in a Chelsea Handler book. I dare  you. It’s self-deprecating to be self-deprecating. It doesn’t provoke thoughts beyond, “Yeah, I guess midgets are pretty entertaining.” And I guess you could say that’s a difference between a silly book and a literary book – it does more than entertain a reader.

I’ve since read a few collections of essays by women – both of Sloane Crosley’s books, Stefanie Wilder-Taylor, Elisabeth Eaves, Sarah Vowell, Lucy Grealy. Those are books I’d recommend. (For a point of reference, I would not recommend Emma Forrest or Laurie Notaro.) I’m not saying every piece by these women is magnificent. I’m not saying every piece David Sedaris writes is magnificent.

I’m not expecting perfection. I’d just like to see a female essayist write with intelligent humor. But it might be an entirely different obstacle to overcome: are women who are self-deprecating automatically seen as bimbos? Can a woman poke fun at herself without looking incompetent and undeserving of respect? Or does the problem lie in the fact that women’s experiences are generally perceived as sillier than those of men? Do I have time to even begin discussing this? Not really, so I’ll leave this post unfinished and return to it at a later time.