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Monthly Archives: October 2013

The Best Adult Books ABOUT Young Adults

The Best Adult Books ABOUT Young Adults

*Happy Halloween!  Check out my review of Witches, Stitches & Bitches on Burlesque Press!* 

So I’ve pretty much finished the first draft of the novel I’ve been working on. It’s about a nineteen-year-old girl who has an affair with a movie star. Because it’s about a young adult, I now have to make the decision (and some would argue I should have already made it) – is this a book for young adults? Or is it an adult book that happens to be about a teenager?

To be honest, I really want it to be an adult book. If this book is published (and I think out of all the novels I’ve written so far, this one has the greatest potential to be), I don’t want to be pigeon-holed as a young adult author. I read mostly adult books, so I want to write mostly adult books. But I often find myself writing about teenagers, and then it becomes a slippery slope. Once I’m writing from the perspective of a teenager, my prose has the habit of becoming more that of a teenager’s too, and I start to wonder:  would an adult actually want to read this?

I know, in theory, what I need to do. Adult books with teenager protagonists usually have some way of distancing themselves from the young characters in order to provide adult insight. The novels are told in the third person, or, if told in the first person, the narrator is often looking back, remembering an important time in his or her life. At the end of Prep by Curtis Sittenfeld, for example, the narrator tells us that she went to her fifth year high school reunion, and her tenth. “Do you want to know how everyone turned out?” she asks. We understand that she’s been telling us the story of her adolescence from an older and wiser perspective.

Even if the narrator doesn’t come right out and explain that time has gone by since the teenage years he/she is describing, we usually get that sense from the language, which may be slow and languid, as if seeped in memory, or sharply witty and wise — told with the advantage of hindsight.  Sometimes the writing is simply more adult-like, whether that means sophisticated figurative language, mature descriptions, or insights the young character probably wouldn’t (yet) have had.

If I’m truly going to make my novel into an adult book, I need to tell the story from an adult perspective. That shouldn’t be too difficult, seeing as how I am an adult. But I think, actually, it will be hard. For inspiration, I’ll look to the following. These are some of the best adult books about young adults I’ve ever read.

THE BEST ADULT BOOKS ABOUT YOUNG ADULTS:

White Oleander by Janet Fitch – A beautifully written and fascinating epic about a young girl’s journey through a series of foster homes in Los Angeles and her changing relationship with her mother – a poet in prison for murder.

Prep by Curtis Sittenfeld – A sharply observed peek into the inner workings of an elite New England prep school, narrated by a “scholarship girl” who feels she’s on the outside.

Girl, Interrupted by Susana Kaysen – A darkly comic memoir about a young woman committed to a psychiatric hospital in the sixties; disturbing, hilarious, and poignant.

The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold – A carefully-crafted and elegantly-written novel about a young girl who is raped and murdered, and who then watches the search for her killer from the after-world.

His Dark Materials Trilogy by Philip Pullman – Adventure stories set in a parallel universe from our own, these books are often categorized as young adult due to their two young protagonists, Lyra and Will. But as the trilogy continues, the story becomes quite complex; it toys with deep moral and religious ideas perhaps best appreciated by adults.

The Poisonwood Bible by Margaret Atwood – About a missionary family who moves from Georgia to the African Congo in 1959, the book is narrated in turn by each of the four young daughters. A beautifully-written and eye-opening novel that is sweeping in scope.

Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer – A fascinating look at the sad (and some say inspirational) true story of a wandering young man who died in the Alaskan wilds while trying to live off the land.

The Virgin Suicides by Jeffery Euginedes – Told from the perspective of the neighborhood boys who were obsessed with them, this haunting yet lovely book tells of the suicides of five young sisters in a 1970’s Michigan suburb.

The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd – A young, white girl in the 1960’s rural South goes searching for answers about her mother’s past and begins working as a bee apprentice for three black sisters.

Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro – An elegant novel about students at a “special” boarding school, the story has a science fiction element, but is really more about the intricacies of teenage friendship, and how, at this age, little things can mean so much.

Running with Scissors by Augusten Burroughs – Although perhaps exaggerated, this memoir about the author’s childhood –growing up in the household of his eccentric shrink — is hilarious and bizarre and immensely entertaining.

Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden – Intensely researched, this historical novel goes so deep into the secret and strange world of geishas, it’s hard to believe it was written by a man who was never there.

The Bell Jar by Silvia Plath – Told in a wise and sardonic voice, this classic, semi-autobiographical book is about a promising young girl’s descent into depression.

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Masquerades, Money, & Choosing the Cheapest Thing

Masquerades, Money, & Choosing the Cheapest Thing

My boyfiend was out of town for most of last week – he went to DC for some meetings and then to North Carolina for a wedding – which meant I watched an entire season of Girls, slept in the middle of the bed, and, on Saturday, went shopping.

My first stop was to A Masquerade costume shop. I wanted to buy a mask for the masquerade ball Paul and I are attending for New Years, and according to the website, A Masquerade had some masks that would fit my child-sized face and close-set eyes. Of course, I failed to realize until entering the store that I was going to a costume shop on the Saturday before Halloween – literally their busiest day of the year. The line snaked through the store, and a group of people with faces freshly painted like Day of The Dead skeletons wandered through the tightly-packed racks of petticoats and corsets and sexy nurse outfits. Everyone in the store probably had some cool Halloween party to go to, whereas my plan for the evening was to bake pumpkin cake and possibly watch the original Carrie on Netflix.

A salesgirl in a sexy Viking costume pointed me towards the masks, of which they had hundreds. I made my way past a sign for “18th Century Pirate Costumes” and another for “Women’s Steampunk.” I scooted around people holding wigs and go-go boots and bags of sparkly tights. Three greasy dudes were already crowded around the masks, hogging the mirror. “I want to go for something sort of scary, but sort of sexy,” said a guy with massive blond dreadlocks and a cigarette-scratchy voice. He picked up a leather pig mask and held it to his face.

“Please don’t touch the masks to your skin,” the Viking girl admonished. I wondered if she said that to everyone, or specifically to people like him.

I considered the the collection of masks. There were leather ones handmade by local artists and paper mache Venetian masks imported from Italy. There were Brazilian masks with ostrich feathers and cat masks with Sworovsky crystals around the eyes. It was a bit overwhelming.

So I did what I normally do when faced with a consumer decision: I started turning over the masks and looking at the prices. The cat mask was $198. A pearl-encrusted Venetian mask was $59. Startled, I put them back on the rack and started scanning for something smaller and less fancy that would be in my price range. I wasn’t exactly sure what my price range was, but I knew I didn’t want to pay too much for something I would wear once a year, if that.

I found a small, purple mask for fifteen dollars. It was nothing special, but the price was reasonable. I held on to it and continued to browse. There were some beautiful, jaw-droppingly awesome masks, but once I barely even looked at them. I narrowed in on masks without lace and crystals and feathers because I knew they would be cheaper. For a brief moment I considered another purple mask, one with feathers, but it was thirty-four dollars, which seemed too extravagant. I figured I’d get the little purple one and add my own feathers.

So, holding the cheapest mask in the store, I got in line behind the dreadlocked dude and his pig mask.

Next I headed out to do some clothes shopping. I’ve been wearing the same five dresses over and over again for the past few years now, and I’m getting really sick of them. So first I went to Ross where I found a gray dress with a fake leather belt for $9.99. It wasn’t the greatest thing ever, and I already own two other gray dresses, but it fit me well enough, and at $10 I really couldn’t complain. I considered a pair of $5.99 red leggings, just to spice up all of my gray dresses, but I wasn’t sure if I’d ever actually wear them, so at the last minute, I put them down and headed to the register with the dress and a two-pack of socks.

Next I went somewhere that I generally loathe – the mall. I walked right passed all the expensive stores and went into Forever 21. I felt only slightly ashamed to be shopping there. I loaded up with some cheap dresses and sweaters and a pair of $7.99 jeans and went to the dressing room. But either the youth of today are fat and oddly-shaped, or I’m turning into a frail old woman with a weird body, because nothing fit me, and even the smalls were too big.

Next I made a quick stop at Nordstrom Rack, but even their clearance items seemed pricey. I flipped through the racks, barely looking at the clothes themselves, only considering the tags — $40, $50, $129.99, marked down from $300. I didn’t even try anything on.

Where else could I afford to shop? I watched a little boy and his mother going into the Old Navy. “Vamos a ice cream?” he asked. She shook her head no.  I followed them inside and made a quick circuit of the store, but the clothes were boring and there was too much fleece for my liking. Frustrated, I left the mall and headed home.

Cat mask with crystals, made in Italy. From A Masquerade.

I have a memory from when I was about twelve years old.  I was sitting in the car with my younger brother while my dad pumped gas.  “Daddy,” Deven asked through the window, “can I have some candy? Can I have a soda?”

“Deven!” I hissed, swatting at him. “Don’t be so greedy!  You know we can’t afford that!”

Looking back, it’s funny. Yes, sometimes money was tight in our house, but we weren’t dirt poor or anything. I’m not sure where I got the notion that a ninety-nine cent bottle of Coke would break the bank.

The truth is, I’ve always been very careful about spending money. Careful, in this case, meaning I don’t like to do it. In high school my friends with jobs spent their money on clothes or cars or new stereos, but I put 98% of my money from working at Baskin-Robbins into savings. When my friends wanted to go to the movies, I suggested renting a video instead.  When my friends wanted to go to Taco Bell or IHOP, I sat with them in the booth and watched them eat. Why should I waste my money on a 7-layer burrito when I could eat at home for free? When I wanted new clothes, I shopped at the thrift store. When I finally did buy a car, it was $600 Ford Escort I found in the Trading Post.

Being thrifty has always been a part of my personality although I’ve gotten a little less Scroogey over the years. Now I’ll actually buy things at restaurants and splurge sometimes on movies.  I’ll pay without complaint for things that are important to me, like plane tickets or yoga classes. But even with those I’m thrifty. I always try to get the free plane vouchers, and I’m about to start doing a work exchange with the local yoga studio so I can take classes for free.

To this day, when I sit down at a restaurant and look at the menu, the first thing I do is scan the prices. I don’t even consider the higher-priced items. It’s less about what I really feel like eating and more about what’s affordable.  I’ll often order a salad or an appetizer instead of a main dish, and if I do order a main dish, you can bet your bottom dollar it won’t be the filet mignon or the lobster. It’ll probably be the chicken.

Luckily, I like chicken. But I wonder, how much of that is because of the taste, and how much is because of the cost? Have I trained myself to like things that are cheap?

On the way home from shopping the other day, I started to wonder, if money was no object, which of those masks would I have bought? If money was no object, which stores would I have gone into? What sorts of clothing would I have bought?

I’m not even sure I know the answer. All my life I’ve ignored expensive things – haven’t even considered them as something I would ever own. My taste in fashion and food and home décor is so influenced by price, that I’m not sure I really know what my own true tastes are.

In some ways, I guess, this is OK. I don’t think of myself as a materialistic person. I don’t like the gross consumerism of our culture. It’s not like I want to become a shop-a-holic who drops $500 at Anthropologie on a regular basis.  But on the other hand, I’d like to stop choosing things simply because they’re cheap. I want to learn what it is I really like, and that sometimes it’s OK to splurge.

I want to practice looking at all the options (not just the cheap ones) and making decisions based on my own personal desires and tastes. It sounds silly to say that shopping might help me get to know myself better, but maybe it can.

In conclusion, vamos a ice cream, shall we? We deserve a splurge.

My new mask.  I added the feather and plan to add more.  P.S. I bought the scarf for $2 from Goodwill, and I love it.  I have been wearing it pretty much every day, and I love it for reasons other than the fact that it was cheap.

My new mask. I added the feather and plan to add more. P.S. I bought the scarf for $2 from Goodwill, and I love it. I have been wearing it pretty much every day, and I love it for reasons other than the fact that it was cheap.

When Luck Turns, or, Does the Universe Want Me Playing the Guitar?

When Luck Turns, or, Does the Universe Want Me Playing the Guitar?

Either the universe really wants me to play the guitar, or it really doesn’t. I’m having trouble reading the signs.

I decided back in the spring that I should learn the guitar. Everyone else in my family can play multiple instruments and often shows off their talents while silently pitying me and my lack of musical ability. I thought that knowing some guitar basics might be a good skill for me to have, and it would help me to join in when my mom gets out her ukulele or sits down at the piano, intent on a family music hour.

The first step, of course, was procuring a guitar, which I knew would be the most difficult for Scroogey spend-thrift me. Luckily, my boyfriend found a guitar in his grandmother’s overstuffed basement and gave it to me for free. It felt like a gift from the universe (although technically it was a gift from Nonnina.) I was ready to start taking lessons.

My plan was to take a group class in Seattle called “Guitar for Grownups” because it was cheap and I thought maybe I’d make some friends there. I signed up for a beginner’s class that started in October.

But then the universe stepped in, shaking its cosmic head. The day before the first class, I received a call from the the director of Guitar for Grownups. “Unfortunately,” she said, “you’re the only person signed up. There were two other people, but they dropped out, so we’re going to have to cancel the class.” Ironically, this is exactly what happen to my mother with her bike tour of France. Us Langstons are always signing up for group adventures that get canceled at the last minute.

I was bummed. I looked into some private guitar lesson options I found on the Internet, but they were all either too expensive, too sketchy, or too far away. Frustrated, I went out for a walk. As I strolled passed the Lake Union docks, I noticed a little, red sign: Hillman Guitar Instruction. Introductory Rate: 4 lessons for $75. Boom, I thought. A sign from the universe.

And so I started taking guitar lessons with David Hillman. Maybe, I thought, it was meant to work out this way. Maybe I would have gotten frustrated learning “Amazing Grace” and “Under the Boardwalk” in a group class. With one-on-one instruction I got tailored lessons and a promise from David that he would teach me Nirvana songs, which is, to be honest, my number one goal in this whole venture.

I thought about that Chinese proverb about a man who lost his horse.  Everyone said it was bad luck, but then the horse returned with another beautiful horse — so it was good luck!   But then his son took the new horse riding and fell off and broke his leg. Now everyone thought the man had bad luck.  But with a broken leg, the son couldn’t go off to war like the other young men in the village. His leg eventually healed, while the other sons of the village died in battle.  So maybe losing the horse was lucky after all.

I guess the point is, good luck can turn into bad luck, and bad luck can turn into good luck, and “luck” really just  depends on your perspective. So maybe I was having bad luck with my guitar, maybe I was having good luck. Only time would tell.

Eva attempting to play the guitar

Eva attempting to play the guitar

Over the next few weeks, I started learning basic chords and chord changes. I also learned something I had already sort of guessed: my guitar was a piece of crap.

“I’m going to be honest with you,” David said. “This guitar is terrible.” Almost immediately, he started encouraging me to consider buying or renting a better guitar. “I think you’re going to find it’s easier to play and you enjoy it more with a better guitar.” He told me to check out Dusty Strings in Freemont, where I could rent a super sweet Taylor for $40 a month.

So, that weekend I headed to Dusty Strings, and I tried out some of their Taylors. Oh man, what a difference! I realized then that the guitar from Nonnina’s basement might as well have been the dulcimer I made out of cardboard one summer at scout camp. I marched up to the counter and announced my desire to rent a guitar.

But then the universe put it’s foot down.

“Sorry,” the girl said. “All of our rental guitars are out right now. I can put you on the waiting list.”

Onto the waiting list I went. And there I stayed for several weeks. I visited a few more guitar places, but none of them had rental programs, or Taylors, and their large selection of guitars overwhelmed me.  I was afraid of making the wrong choice, so I didn’t buy anything.  Every time I went to a guitar lesson, I could see my teacher inwardly sighing to see me still lugging around my case-less piece of crap. “Still with the old guitar?” he’d ask. “OK.”

Finally, after three weeks, I called Dusty Strings. “I’m just checking in on the status of your rental guitars,” I said.

But they still didn’t have any in, and they didn’t expect to have any in for another three or four weeks. I hung up the phone and decided, no more dilly-dallying — I was going to get a new guitar today. I headed out to Kennelly Keys, a place which seems to specialize in band instrument rentals for middle school children. I thought that maybe I could rent a guitar from them.  As it turned out, their rental system was sketchy, but I decided that I’d go ahead and buy one.

With the help of the sales clerk, I narrowed it down to a mahogany solid-top Fender with a curvy, folk-style body, and a basic spruce-top Yamaha that came with a grab bag of extras: a strap, tuner, extra strings and picks, and a soft case. The Fender was the better guitar. It was also prettier, and it didn’t poke into my boob the way the Yamaha did. But it had to be sent off to the shop for some minor tune-ups, the clerk said, whereas the Yamaha, which was the same price (and came with goodies), was ready to leave the store.

I let my desire of having a new guitar immediately (and my Scroogey love of free extras) win out, and I bought the Yamaha. As I was leaving the store, my phone rang. It was Dusty Strings. “Great news,” the woman on the phone said. “We just got a rental guitar back in!”

I heard the deep, belly laughter of the universe, mocking me.

“I literally just bought a guitar,” I said.  I considered going back into the store and returning it so I could rent the Taylor from Dusty Strings, but then I thought about the Chinese man and his lucky horse.  Maybe I was meant to own the Yamaha.   “Thanks anyway, though,” I told the lady from Dustry Strings, and I hung up the phone.

yamaha f325 acoustic guitar - natural

My Yamaha guitar.

I was feeling good about my decision and my purchase until I went home and tried out my new guitar.  That’s when I realized with dismay that it pressed into my boob in a most uncomfortable way — something I think I had ignored while testing it out at the store.  Also, the grab bag of extras was a grab bag of cheap crap.  I realized that I had really wanted the mahogany Fender, whose pretty, feminine curves fit well with my own. I had been so eager to have a new guitar today that I hadn’t bought the one I really wanted. Was this the universe’s fault, or my own?

In the morning I called Kennelly Key’s and explained the situation. I bought the Fender over the phone and told them to send it off to the shop straight-away. It will be ready at the end of next week, at which point I will go pick up my pretty brown baby and return this pale, fat Yamaha I have now. I’m excited about my new guitar, and I think my guitar teacher will be, too.

As for the universe and all the pranks it’s been playing on me lately, I have this to say: I’m going to keep playing the guitar whether you like it or not. And if you throw more bad luck my way, I’ll just shrug my shoulders and wait. Bad luck might turn out to be good in the end, and besides, luck is all in the way you look at it.

RELATED READING:
Chinese Proverb:  Sai Weng Lost His Horse

Ode to a Foggy Day

Ode to a Foggy Day

Fog
by Carl Sandburg

THE fog comes
on little cat feet.

It sits looking
over harbor and city
on silent haunches 
and then moves on.

 

When I woke this morning, it was dark as night, and when the sun finally struggled into the sky, it was hidden behind a thick, white fog that had settled in while I was sleeping. Seattle, a city on the water, and the Queen of the cool, wet Northwest, is a foggy place — second only, I think, to San Francisco.

After writing for a few hours, I put on my jacket and stepped out into the misty morning. I walked up the street towards the park high on the hill. The orange tom cat that patrols the neighborhood was out, padding carefully through the fog on his little paws, his whiskers twitching curiously. I crossed Taylor Avenue and continued up the steep road towards the park. The fog grew denser as I climbed, condensing on my cheeks and turning my hair to damp curls. It felt like I was ascending into the sky, walking directly into a cloud. Which, in a way, I was.

When I reached the park at the top of the hill, I looked down and saw a blanket of white. Where Lake Union should have been was nothing but mist. The city itself — the skyscrapers, the Space Needle — all of it had disappeared into the fog. Only my immediate surroundings existed. Everything else had been erased, leaving rubbed-out white spaces, like a piece of paper heavily worked on by a strong hand and a fresh Pink Pearl.

The fog absorbed the sounds, too. I walked down Bigelow street, with ghostly footsteps on the damp pavement. Everything was hushed and blurred, and I felt alone in the world.

But then, as I passed a lamp post, I noticed a perfect spider’s clinging to it. Each silvery strand shimmered with water droplets from the fog. And now I noticed another web in a tree, with a demure black spider waiting patiently in the very middle. Above my head ran long strands of silk – spider walkways from one tree to another. Had there always been so many spiders in Seattle? How had I never noticed them before?

The fog had brought them to my attention, of course. Now, as I walked home, I noticed a dozen more webs.  They were all wet and shining in the trees and bushes and against the street signs.  They were beautiful — woven works of art in silvery white.  I noticed more silky strands stretching across the sidewalk, like magic trip wires. I must walk into these sometimes, I thought, on sunny days when they’re all but invisible.

The fog had hidden the city from me, and yet it had showed me something beautiful. What else was I walking by each day, utterly oblivious to its existence? I guess if you live in a world that is sunny all the time, you will only ever see the obvious. It takes a dense fog rolling in, blotting out the big stuff, to show you what you’ve been missing.

 

Getting Lost, in Tukwila and in Life

Getting Lost, in Tukwila and in Life

My dear friends Cory and Melissa got married on Saturday, and I flew to Virginia to be a bridesmaid in their wedding. It was a beautiful, super-fun wedding, and the only thing that made it less than perfect was that my boyfriend, Paul, wasn’t there. I was sort of bummed because a) I like being around him and b) I wanted to show him off to my friends, and c) I have literally never had a date to a wedding, and I think it makes people feel sorry for me. But, Paul had to go to DC this week for a meeting, and then his cousin is getting married in North Carolina this coming weekend, so there was no way he could make it to Cory and Melissa’s wedding on top of all that.

Melissa (the bride) with me and her sister, Jessie.

Melissa with me and her sister, Jessie.

This meant that I got back from Virginia yesterday afternoon, and then at 6:45 this morning, I had to drive Paul to the airport. It sucked.

What also sucked was driving home.

I dropped Paul off at 7:15, so I had an hour and fifteen minutes to get home in time for tutoring. I didn’t want to be late for Skype tutoring with my Ukrainian student, Sergiy, because I hadn’t been able to tutor him as much as usual the past few days, and Sergiy gets upset if he can’t tutor with me every day. Anyway, I figured I’d get home in plenty of time, even with the crazy morning traffic, since I planned to avoid the jammed-up interstate and take 99 north, a little two-lane highway which goes right through our neighborhood.

I managed to navigate myself out of the airport to 99, but then I didn’t know which way to turn – there was no sign telling me which way was north and which way was south. (Paul claims that there is, so I’m going to blame the early morning darkness and heavy fog.)

I went with my gut and turned left. I drove down the dark, misty road, passed small, sketchy motels and greasy spoon restaurants. Nothing looked familiar, and I wished I could see a sign that would ensure me I was going the right way. But no, there was nothing telling me I was going north, nothing telling me I was headed to Seattle. Only more seedy bars and hubcap shops. I glanced at the road sign as I went through an intersection. Tukwila Parkway South, it said. Uh-oh, I thought. I’m not on 99 anymore. And wouth isn’t a good sign. Seattle is north of the airport.

My GPS, by the way, was no help. I had turned her on and programmed her to take me home, but she just kept insisting that I get on the interstate, which was packed tighter than Kim Kardashian’s spanks. So I had to keep ignoring her insistent directions.

I tried calling Paul, but no answer, so I decided to turn around and go the other way, to see if it looked familiar. But that didn’t feel right. In fact, it felt much less right than the way I’d originally been headed. Finally I stopped at a Subway. “Are you familiar with the roads around here?” I asked an old man sitting in a booth eating a breakfast sandwich. He was the only person in the Subway, although I assume there was an employee lurking somewhere in the back.

“Pretty much,” he said.

“Which way is 99 North?” I asked.

He pointed in the direction I was going – the direction that felt so wrong.

“So that’ll take me into the city?” I asked. (It occurred to me later that I did not specify which city.)

He nodded, so I got back in my car and kept going. But this really didn’t seem right. And my GPS kept imploring me to make a U-Turn and get onto I-5. I was starting to feel desperate for a compass. Why were there no signs telling me north from south?

It was now ten minutes until eight. The sky had lightened and the fog was beginning to clear. But I still felt confused. I decided to go with a sure bet. I-5 was going to be slow, but at least I knew it would get me there.

Just as I had made a U-Turn and was heading to the interstate, Paul called me back, and in a whining voice I explained to him the situation.

“Yeah, Tukwila Parkway,” he said. “That’s right.”

“It is? So I was going the right way to begin with?”

“I think so.”

It was too late to turn back now, though. I was currently inching up the entrance ramp to I-5 North. My GPS said I’d be home at 8:05, but that was because she thought I’d be able to go 60 miles per hour, when in fact I would be crawling along at somewhere between 10 and 15.

“I’m sorry,” Paul said.

“It’s not your fault. I’m annoyed with myself. I was going the right way at first, but I second guessed myself, and now I’m going to be late.” I was also mad at the old dude in the Subway. So much for the old-fashioned method of stopping to ask for directions.

I entered the stop-and-go traffic of the Interstate, watching as the GPS arrival time changed from 8:05 to 8:11 to 8:23. I knew that if I was a little late for tutoring it wasn’t going to be the end of the world, but still, I felt like the whole thing was a metaphor for life, and that I had done the wrong thing.

This is my car.  I call her Lil Bee.

This is my car. I call her Lil’ Bee.

Last night I talked to my mom on the phone. She’s trying to figure out whether or not to quit her job, and what she should do if she does take the leap. “Give me some inspiration, Eva,” she said. “You’ve made your own path for yourself. What should I do?”

I didn’t know what to say. Because, in a lot of ways, this past year and a half has made me feel like a confused driver without a compass or any reliable directions.

When you’re trying to figure out how to get somewhere new in your life, it can feel like you’re alone in the dark, driving down a foggy, unfamiliar road. You’re unsure – are you even going in the right direction? Or are you just getting further and further away from your goal? Your annoying GPS is trying to tell you take the Interstate – that big, crowded path that everyone takes, the one that makes you stressed and gives you road rage. And then there are people along the way giving you bad advice. Who can you trust? (Not the man in the Subway, that’s for sure, although maybe you should have been more specific with your questions.)

I guess the important thing to remember is that deep down, I knew the right way to go. I listened to my gut and turned left, and that was the right direction after all, even though it looked a little weird. Even though there were no signs or people along the way, telling me I was doing the right thing. A lot of times there won’t be.  I should have kept going with my gut, but I listened to the doubts in my head, and that’s what got me into trouble.

But the other important thing to remember, is that I did get home eventually. In fact, I was only ten minutes late for tutoring. So, I guess, when the unfamiliar path is too confusing or poorly marked, you can always take the road more traveled, at least for the time being. It might be slower and more annoying, but if you really want to go somewhere, you’ll get there somehow. You’ll find a way.

The Best Halloween Costumes

The Best Halloween Costumes

The other day I posted an amusing link on my facebook page to 70 Vintage Halloween Costumes That Were Really Creepy, and my mom joked that she’d have to upload a picture of the cow costume she made for my brother in 1989. I remember that Halloween. My brother was three and a half, and I was seven, and my mom asked us what we wanted to be for Halloween. Deven immediately said “cow,” and I said I wanted to be a goblin. Our costumes ended up looking somewhat similar – both brown sacks. Deven’s had white spots on it, and I had black fabric wings. I don’t think anyone knew what we were supposed to be.

But those costumes were was way better than my Halloween costume when I was three.  My mom dressed me up like a clown, neglecting to realize that I was deathly afraid of clowns.  I took one look in the mirror and started screaming bloody murder.  My mom dragged me out of the house and attempted to make me trick-or-treat, but I was crying so hard, she eventually took me home.

I’ve had some great Halloweens, some terrifying ones, and others that were just so-so.  Probably the best ones occurred when I lived in New Orleans.  New Orleanians LIVE for dressing up, and it’s the place where I both saw and wore some of the best costumes.

THE BEST HALLOWEEN COSTUMES:  

Group Costumes – If you can pull it off and get everyone on board, this can be really impressive. I’ve even done choreographed dances with the other people in my group costume group.

Ghetto Disney Princesses -- Belle, Ariel, Pocahontas, Cinderella, Mulan, and Snow White -- with tattoos and grills.

Ghetto Disney Princesses — Belle, Ariel, Pocahontas, Cinderella, Mulan, and Snow White — with knuckle tattoos and grills.

This was actually a Mardi Gras costume, but still, it was good.  The anarchy cheerleaders from Nirvana's "Smells Like Teen Spirit" video.  We did TWO choreographed dances.

This was actually a Mardi Gras costume, but still, it was good. The anarchy cheerleaders from Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit” video. We did TWO choreographed dances.

Pop Culture – The key to this type of costume is being current. The year the TV show The Girls Next Door was popular, some friends of mine went as Hugh Hefner and his three girlfriends. That costume wouldn’t really work this year, whereas maybe the furry leotard Miley Cyrus wore at the VMA’s would.

Hugh Hefner and the "girls next door."

Hugh Hefner and the “girls next door.”

Creative – My friend Jamie always wins the award for most creative. See her below dressed as a pineapple.

A pineapple with Marilyn Monroe and Frida.

A pineapple with Marilyn Monroe and Frida.

Creepy/Scary – I’m not talking Jason masks here, but I do like it when people go with what Halloween is supposed to be all about:  death. I like the idea of the Day of the Dead skeletons, as seen below.

Mardi Gras 1 063

My friend Chana (far right) and friends.

Classic – My mom is wearing a chicken suit this Halloween. She bought it at a yard sale.  I think it’s the best thing ever.

Photo: Yard sale deal:  Who knew, when I got up Saturday morning, that I would be purchasing a complete chicken costume at a yard sale? My weekend was not a waste!

Puns – But only if they’re good. I once saw a guy wearing a Hawaiian shirt with a necklace made of Prozac bottles. He was a “tropical depression,” and I thought that was pretty clever. But pun costumes can teeter on lame, so be careful. My favorite puns are song titles. One year my friend Gina dressed up as the Prince song “Purple Rain.” I stole this idea, and, a few years later, I dressed up as “99 Red Balloons,” which still takes the cake as my favorite costume I’ve ever worn.

99 Red Balloons (floating in the summer sky...)

99 Red Balloons (floating in the summer sky…)

And if, after Halloween, you’re still looking for reasons to dress up, join me at Burlesque Press’s Literary Festival and Masquerade Ball on New Years  Eve in New Orleans!

RELATED READING

Vampires and Voodoo:  Halloween in New Orleans

Drinking on the Job: The Myth of the Alcoholic Writer

Drinking on the Job:  The Myth of the Alcoholic Writer

*Check out my review of Night Film on Burlesque Press!*

I just started taking guitar lessons a month ago, and my guitar teacher says that while I’m learning to transition from one chord to the next, it doesn’t matter what it sounds like – my right hand should continue to strum whether or not my left hand is making the chord correctly. I’m a perfectionist at heart, so it’s a little hard for me to strum these imperfect chords, and I’m a human with ears, so it’s a little hard for me to make all these god-awful sounds. Which is why I’ve gotten into what could, perhaps, be a bad habit.

Every evening I get myself a beer or fix myself a bourbon and Sprite, and then I sit down with my guitar. I play a few chords, and as a reward, I take a sip of my drink. I play a little more, I drink a little more. My theory is that the alcohol loosens me up so I’m not quite as worried about my imperfect guitar-playing. Plus it’s sort of like the positive reinforcement psychology used on autistic kids and dogs, except I’m using beer instead of candy or Milkbones.

To see a video of me playing a very bad rendition of Nirvana's "About a Girl" go here.

To see a video of me playing a very bad rendition of Nirvana’s “About a Girl” go here.

But the other day I decided to curb this habit a little. Otherwise I might start thinking I need alcohol in order to play the guitar, which obviously isn’t true. It reminded me of a very creative and wonderful person I know who once told me he “needed” to smoke pot because it made him a better artist.

“That’s baloney,” I told him. “You’ve always been creative. You don’t need pot to make art.”

It’s sad how many creative people – artists, musicians, writers – become dependent on drugs and alcohol. The writing profession is littered with alcoholics. Of course there’s the obvious: Hunter S. Thompson (just reading The Rum Diaries gives me a hangover), Edgar Allen Poe, Jack Kerouac, the entire Lost Generation.  (There’s a scene in Hemingway’s memoir, A Moveable Feast, in which he and Fitzgerald ride around the European countryside consuming more wine than I would think is humanly possible.)

I just finished reading On Writing by Stephen King and was a little shocked to read that he, too, struggled with addiction. He wrote Misery and The Tommyknockers while high on coke, and the character of Jack in The Shining, a recovering alcoholic writer, is based on King himself.

There are all sorts of reasons why writers end up drinking, either on the job, or after. One is much like the reason I started drinking while playing the guitar: to turn off the inner critic. Sometimes writing can feel, in the words of Stephen King, “like all you’re managing is to shovel shit from a sitting position.” It can be disheartening, to say the least, and writers might reach for the bottle in order to drown that nagging voice that says “this sucks, give up.”

Along the same vein, when the inner critic is shoved out of the way, the ideas might flow more quickly and easily. Once there’s nothing holding you back, nothing saying “ no, that’s stupid,” the page floods with words and ideas. This is why writers sometimes say they drink to become more creative. What they probably mean is that they drink to unblock the ideas that were already there.

Of course, there are also writers who drink for other reasons. Maybe they grow depressed from their work – their lack of success or their perception that their writing isn’t good enough – and they turn to drinking. There are also writers who drink to avoid writing. Or writers who drink because they think it will enhance their work with a spontaneity. Once, when I was having trouble writing a party scene in which the main character was drunk, I decided to drink while writing the scene. It turned out okay, but I probably would have been better off just staying sober and using my memory.

Because that’s the thing. When it comes down to it, your best work is probably not done while drunk. If you’re a writer, then writing is your job, and you wouldn’t show up to work sipping a bourbon and Sprite, would you?  As Stephen King says, “the idea that creative endeavour and mind-altering substances are entwined is one of the great pop-intellectual myths of our time… Any claims that drugs and alcohol are necessary…are just the usual self-serving bullshit.”

“Aw, come on…” you say.  “Don’t be a prude.  One drink.  I can have one drink while I’m writing.”

And to that I say, yeah, you’re right. One beer isn’t going to hurt your writing, and it may even help to shut up that damn inner critic. But the problem is that one beer can turn into two or three or more. (Just ask Stephen King.) The problem is that you’re reinforcing an idea in your brain that says “I can’t write without a beer.” Which is obviously untrue.  You are all you need to write.  Don’t ever think you need more than that.

What’s better, I think, is to practice kicking that inner critic to the curb on your own. As you sit there shoveling shit (or playing horrible chords), ignore the voice that says “this sucks, give up.” Keep on writing, keep on playing, and eventually, the voice will grow weaker, or you’ll at least stop noticing it quite so much. When the inner critic fades away, your ideas will flow freely, just like the wine at an F. Scott and Zelda dinner party.

Good lord, I’m not telling you to give up the booze. I’m just saying, you don’t need it to be creative. You don’t need it to (one day, anyway) make beautiful music, or a novel of which you are proud.

RELATED READING
Top 15 Great Alcoholic Writers