Dave

If you know me personally, you know that A. I am like most of my friends and family in mourning over the election and B. I’m a bastion of worthless pop culture knowledge. Some people have athletic talent, others have crazy IQs or even EQs, and I have the ability to remember and notice way too much in movies.

Here’s a breakdown of the film Dave—the perfect panacea of escapism. None of my friends have even heard of it, so I’m glad to spread the good word.

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  • WHAT: Dave
  • WHEN: 1993
  • WHO: Kevin Kline, Sigourney Weaver, Frank Langella, Ving Rhames, Sir Ben Kinglsey, Charles Grodin
  • SUMMARY: Philandering jerk president has a stroke and local nice guy Dave is suddenly president thanks to shady machinations of chief of staff.
  • WHY: Rose-colored glasses. In light of the recent election, I think we could all use some ’90s escapism. Think of this as a rom-com where the characters are in love with democracy.
  • DID YOU CATCH: Laura Linney, Bonnie Hunt, pre-Governator Arnold Schwartzenagger, any nearly a dozen politicians, pundits, and personalities including former speaker Tip O’Neill, former senator Alan Simpson, Ben Stein, Larry King, Jay Leno, and a Chris Matthews so baby-faced that even I missed him.

I am honestly shocked that so few people my age are familiar with Dave. Even as a kid I enjoyed it, and I was not one of those brainy children watching intellectual films at 8. Like any time, the 1990s were far from perfect in terms of politics and in fact the premise of this one is pretty untenable. Even before the days of cellphones and social media it’s hard to believe that Dave Kovic could disappear for months and that the entire country could fall for a double. Still, the dream world of Dave, where the presidency comes down to balancing the budget in one afternoon to save a children’s shelter, is just the kind of saccharine and yes, hopeful, message I need right now.

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DETAILS

  • Frank Langella looks so much younger! And so very pissed off the entire movie. Is this proto-Dick Cheney?**
  • Sigourney Weaver’s FLOTUS wardrobe: Slips and white hosiery reign supreme.
  • The chief of staff and press secretary staging a clandestine coup? Inconceivable and amazing. This could be a movie unto itself. I’m thinking Rahm Emanuel and Dana Perino falling for each other in an Oceans 11-style executive branch heist.
  • Dave was biking around DC before it was cool. Or safe probably.
  • Where are these underground tunnels? Do they lead to Metro Center?
  • Speaking of underground, that secret hospital cell where they kept the real Bill Mitchell was downright scary. I nominate it for the next season of “American Horror Story.”

** I would still take angry Frank Langella over Donald Trump**

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A pen name, perchance

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Dear writers,

Have you ever used or considered using a pseudonym? It’s a trend that has a long history: Mary Ann Evans as George Eliot; Eric Blair as George Orwell; and J.K. Rowling as Robert Galbraith. But as enduring as it may be, the art of adopting a different name has never been mainstream. It was more like an offbeat indie band that appeals to some, but never other.

A friend of mine who had a soft spot for romances joked that she and her sister had their genre names ready to go for when that first paperback was published.

I myself have a name or two in mind that I think would add a nice degree of anonymity, especially if I wanted to try something out of the ordinary.

What do you think? Is it a fun way to express different sides of yourself or experiment? Or do you prefer the consistency and solidity of your name?

Stranger than fiction

In college and the early years proceeding it, Isabel Allende was one of my favorite writers. Her words had a lilting rhythm and the stories were caught somewhere between folktale, historical fiction, and fantasy. I remember reading Zorro while traveling through Spain during the spring break of my semester abroad. Allende’s style had the magical realism I’d studied in Latin American writers like Jorge Luis Borges and Julio Cortazar, but hers was more accessible and little more grounded in reality. I was enchanted.

kw878611Since then, I’ve gravitated toward contemporary fiction with a dash of the extraordinary rather than straight-up science fiction or fantasy. Both of Karen Russell’s short story collections—and even her Pulitzer-nominated novel Swamplandia! to an extent—were dynamite. To this day, I’m not sure whether it was the adept writing or the crazy plot details (an adults-only indoor blizzard; presidents reincarnated as horses) that left me agape. Also, it probably goes without saying that George Saunders’ Tenth of December with its own forays into the impossible breaks the mold.

Until two months ago, I continued to describe these wonkily wonderful stories as “like magical realism” or “amazing, really bizarre literature.” Then I came across this Wall Street Journal article on Kelly Link’s latest work and the burgeoning category of “slipstream fiction.” According to the piece, the term was first coined in the ’80s to describe stories that slip in and out of reality while being more grounded than a true fantasy.

Are you familiar with slipstream fiction, a.k.a the “New Weird?” Genre bending could offer writers more creative latitude, and I personally prefer realism (and reality) to be a little bizarre, at least every now and then.

Unfinished stories

When it’s a bright, new year, you can’t help but think of fresh starts and the road yet untraveled. But what about the old projects and the chronic hangups?

Since finishing my last creative writing class as an undergrad seven years ago, I’ve had a number of false starts: Stories that are started with such zest and anticipation but are ultimately abandoned. I’ve got about a dozen of them.

Some like writer/blogger Deborah Ross maintain that unfinished stories can serve as a useful tool in challenging a writer to improve. However most contend that to grow, writers must conclude their stories.

And here is the perfect (albeit paradoxical) New Year’s project: Bring a fresh perspective and swift conclusion to these orphan stories—one week and one story at a time. Many will make me grit my teeth at their premise, prose, and presumption, but perhaps others will turn out okay. At the very least I will be finished what I started.

I went for years not finishing anything. Because, of course, when you finish something you can be judged.
– Erica Jong

Work on one thing at a time until finished.
– Henry Miller

You will never be the writer you want if you cannot complete what you begin.
Chuck Wendig

You have to finish things — that’s what you learn from, you learn by finishing things.
– Neil Gaiman

Great is the art of beginning, but greater is the art of ending.
– Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

What do you think of unfinished stories? Do you have any and do you revisit them later?

Write on

“Watch your thoughts; they become words. Watch your words; they become actions. Watch your actions; they become habit. Watch your habits; they become character. Watch your character; it becomes your destiny.”Lately, I’ve been thinking about habits.” — Lao Tzu (or Margaret Thatcher)

I had a habit epiphany. [Clarification: I had a realization about habits; I am not now in the habit of having epiphanies on a regular basis. Admittedly that could be cool.] Quotes like the one above and articles and books about making good habits and breaking bad ones have an inspired me to think smaller.

Habits are those tiny building blocks that can build to something bigger. Sometimes you’re looking at a skyscraper of a goal and its gargantuan-size and shiny, polished windows freeze you with fear. How could I ever build something like that? My building would collapse on itself.

I’m glad architects and civil engineers practice that kind of precision, and I hope they do worry frequently about things collapsing. But rather than let the pressure of a building be overwhelming, they piecemeal the process with blueprints, models, and, yes, building blocks.

As Meghan Trainor sagely says, “I’m all about the base.” Start from the most basic foundation and keep going.

I’m officially challenging myself: Write something creative (i.e. not grocery lists or news stories) every day. Even if it’s three sentences. Even if it’s a really corny couplet. Every. Day.

Bass

The new 30

*I originally posted this in my old blog in 2012 shortly after my layoff. The Hairpin recently did a review of My Best Friend’s Wedding, and I thought it would be worthwhile to rehash. Plus the big 2-9 is only weeks ago. It’s a good time to remind myself that not all (probably most) of us do not have it together by 30.

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The fantasy life: a food editor at 30

Some months back, after a particularly stressing day at work,  I returned home wanting nothing more than some sitcom laughs (and for it to be Friday). Since I’d missed the previous episode of  New Girl, I watched it and the latest back to back.

I won’t give too much away with regard to the storyline, but basically hunky Dermot Mulroney guest stars as a potential love interest for Jess. Their decade-plus age gap highlights the maturity disparity between 30- and 40-somethings while a parallel plot compares undergrads to their 30-something counterparts.

The stark differences — which while embellished for TV, still exist — got me thinking about this New York Times article from a years ago that suggests early adulthood (namely the 20s) might be its own developmental stage. Opponents point to indulgent parents, economic woes, and increased options in life and career as the true causes for Gen-Yers and Millenials’ flightiness and drive to explore. Still scientists point to the brain as evidence that such a phase is no less legitimate than adolescence — a stage that was not granted much credence until living conditions allowed children to delay marrying and working.

Regardless of whether early adulthood is it’s own phase of development, the idea of the struggling, single 20-something who

The new 30: Living with four roomies & an iffy job

works like an adult and parties like a coed has seeped into our cultural psyche. Less than 20 years again, Mulroney was in a little film called My Best Friend’s Wedding, which features a very different look of younger adults than we see today. In the film, Julia Roberts and Mulroney’s characters had made a pact in college that if they were both still single at 30, they would get married. Nowadays, that number would be 36 at the lowest, and more like 40 on average. Also, remember what Roberts’s Jules Potter did as her profession? She was a food critic for a major Chicago newspaper at 30. Contrast that with Kat Dennings and Beth Behrs who while not much younger than Roberts’s character, are barely scraping by as diner waitresses in Two Broke Girls. Or the gang in How I met Your MotherCommunity, and The Big Bang Theory, which seem comically stunted in some sort of post-college, pre-adulthood limbo.

I was basically an intern and temp worker until 26, and I know plenty of folks who are in a similar position. I thought I was on my way to the steady-paycheck, IKEA-decorated realm of semi-adulthood until my first job with benefits and an annual salary laid me off two weeks ago. So while I think it’s fun to dream of being a successful food critic/writer/what-have-you by the time I hit 30, I find it comforting (and hilarious) to watch characters struggle with similar uncertainties, disappointments, and surprises. It doesn’t hurt that most of my friends are in the same bumbling boat as well.

Bringing back the models

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I am not a fashion maven. I like to dress nice and try new trends, but I am not one of those free spirits who can shave the side of her head and wear a midriff top with harem pants and platform pumps on the daily.

That being said, I do obsess over the Vogue September issue. How can you not? It’s a tome of wearable art, opulence, fantasy, and indulgence. It’s also a 100-plus-year institution— an impressive feat in the dark days of print publication. This year, the magazine is throwing it back with models on the cover. It’s the first time in a decade since models have been on the September issue of the American edition.

You may ask “Who cares?” or say “I don’t wanna see those skinny bitches.” Valid points. I can in no way relate to the life of a supermodel, and yes, they are too skinny. But here’s where these lovely ladies could be a sign of good fortune for the magazine industry, or at the very least the fashion magazine industry.

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In the documentary The September Issue, creative director Grace Coddington explains that few models are on the cover of Vogue these days because celebrities sell better. As a former model herself, Coddington laments the trend but understands the necessity. [BTW: Coddington is the best part of the entire doc. Watch it for her creative force and Anna Wintour’s hell-freezing stare.]

Since 2004 the magazine industry has had some rough years, and it is hardly out of the woods. It may have no correlation— perhaps they like putting a string of models on the cover every time the year ends in 4— but maybe it is a harbinger of stability and sustainability for the glossies.

At the very least, I know Grace Coddington must have been pleased.

New York City demons, literally

 

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Tuesday night I went to the local Barnes & Noble to see Mur Lafferty, Podcast champion author of The Shambling Guide to New York City and its sequel, the new Ghost Train to New Orleans. I had picked up her first book at The Strand last October when I was reluctant to leave the Big Apple and wanted a little funny escapism.

It’s a wonky, fun read that’s creative in its world-building—Mur was an RPG writer for years and I wonder if building an interactive narrative within a framework aided in her ability to create this underground world. At times, the plot felt a bit forced but I have to give it props for the ingenuity and the plucky heroine Zoë Norris.

In person, Mur was dynamic and funny. She recounted the research trip that she and a friend took to New Orleans, which sounds chock-full of local flavor and side stories. Also amusing: her British publishing house nixed Boston as the sequel city. She speculates that they are still sore about the tea.

When discussing her favorite writers and books (Hitchhiker’s Guide, NevermoreMy Life as a White Trash ZombieThe Girl with All the Gifts, etc.), she noted that she is trying to read more urban fantasy, since technically that’s what she wrote. Like her, I was unaware urban fantasy was even a genre.

Granted, as much as I enjoy sci-fi movies, TV, and pop culture, I am not a sci-fi reader. I find that the genre either lacks depth or is too alien (pardon the pun) to find a foothold. Of course there are exceptions: I love all the Harry Potter books; I found The Sparrow to be as rich as any fiction; and I relished the zany riffs in Slaughterhouse Five. But mostly, I prefer magical realism, dystopians, and fiction with a hint of the bizarre over straight-up sci-fi/fantasy.

Still, when you’re wanting a metropolitan break from the mortal world, take a spin around the urban fantasy scene.

Rejection is like someone telling you that your baby is ugly

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Rejection. It’s such a nasty word. Just reading it twists my lips into a sneer. But when you’re choosing the writing life, rejection is a necessary evil. Actually, scratch that. Everyone (job applicants, online dating users, would-be homebuyers, stamp collectors, etc.) has to deal with rejection at some point.

A couple of weeks ago, I was rejected by my two “safety” schools, i.e. MFA programs that accept 4% of applicants rather than the top-tiers that admit 0.5%—sadly, these figures are not an exaggeration. The rejection stings, and how could it not? I poured time, energy, and money into these applications. And when you share a work that is kind of your baby—be it a short story, sculpture, business project, or research thesis—it hurts when the powers that be decide that your baby is kind of ugly. [Admittedly, my baby was a first draft that could have benefited from some cosmetic surgery.]

On the other hand, this is the name of the game in the writing world and beyond. Last month, I met an author whose novel was on the  New York Times‘ 2013 list of notable books. That same day I had been rejected by his MFA alma mater (the one with the 0.5% acceptance rate). I got up the gumption to mention this while talking with him, and his thoughtful reply could not have been more buoying. He told me to not be discouraged and confided that the first time he applied to MFA programs, he was rejected by all ten schools. His story, along with similar ones from other writers made the rejection letters seem more like badass Girl Scout badges than artistic rebuffs.

Of course, it’s hard to remember this when your safety schools say no.

I’m still not completely over the burn, but I’ve compiled a Neosporin regimen of sorts to get the healing started. My list skips past “Denial,” since I did it but don’t recommend it. Just because the ostrich is my spirit animal does not mean that you should stick your head in the ground when bad news arrives. That’s my schtick, and we can’t all have the same spirit animal, can we?

  1. Process: Wanna cry? Cry. Have a craving for a whole bar of chocolate? Have at it. You can bury your feelings  or put them off for now, but it’s like peeing. Eventually it’s going to come out, so try to do it when a bathroom is nearby.
  2. Step away: If you don’t feel like writing on the heels of a rejection, take some time off. It could be a weekend or even a couple of weeks. Think of it like getting throw from a horse. If it was just like a few scratches and bruises, give it that amount of time. If you broke a leg, maybe give a bit longer. Eventually, you want to get back on that crazy-ass horse.
  3. Confide: Hopefully you have at least one amazing friend who is the perfect confidante. Not only will she tell you that the rejectors were idiots—no, IMBECILES!—to reject you. She’ll also make you laugh. And *fingers crossed* bring you a bottle of wine.
  4. Sweet escape: Read a YA novel.* Seriously. Take a weekend trip to the beach, the mountains, the mall—whatever gets you out of your head and your home/office.
  5. Edit, edit, edit: As a writer and editor, I’m amazed that this mantra doesn’t come more naturally. When a story doesn’t work, change it. Are you still determined to pursue the same path despite the brambles? Or do you want to go somewhere new? Edit your path as much and as often as you want. You might aspire to publish a manuscript, but your life will never be sent to the presses until you’re being sent to the pyre, and even then there will be room for debate [“Jurrasic Park was her favorite movie, not The Wizard of Oz!” For the record, both answers would be right].

This list is hardly comprehensive. I’m just now working my way to steps 4 and 5 and there could be sixteen more after that. I don’t think rejection, like a paper cut, ever becomes pleasant, but it is a paper cut, not a guillotine. You’ve still got a good head on yours shoulders when all is said and done, and you can use it to keep on keeping on.

 

*Divergent, you should be reading Divergent. It’s like spoonful of sugar that helps the medicine go down.