Category Archives: coolness

Soaring Gardens Thank You Notes

So, in my last update from Soaring Gardens, I alluded to another surprise for the contributors of my GoFundMe campaign, as well as a handful of folks who have just generally helped me out lately. On my last two days at the residency, I walked around the house and the grounds, staging photos of thank you notes, which I think you’ll all enjoy seeing. This is my way of saying that y’all were there with me at the residency, that I was thinking of you and appreciative of your financial help, as well as all your support and encouragement over the last many weeks. I accidentally left off one of the contributors, so I’ll add a special surprise for her at the end.

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Amanda, I forgot to stage a thank you note photo for you at the residency, so here’s one from Philadelphia. And, as a bonus, I’m going to email you a photo from Soaring Gardens that I never posted here, something I think you’ll enjoy.

Pumpkin, gourds and corn from the orchard, at Anne's house in Philly.

Pumpkin, gourds and corn from the orchard on our last day together in Laceyville, now at Anne’s house in Philly.

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Filed under coolness, family, Friends, The Residency Road Trip, travel, writing updates

The Residency Road Trip: Soaring Gardens Week One

The last post was a bit of a cliff-hanger, wasn’t it? I left y’all right at the moment when Anne and I arrived at Soaring Gardens. And now, here it is, the first day of our second week here, so I thought I’d share a bit about the first week.

Day 1 

We arrived in the late afternoon and spent a bit of time unloading the cars. I picked a corner bedroom upstairs, which has two windows, so lots of light. I later found three Ringling Brothers & Barnum & Bailey programs from 1980-82 on the bookshelves, as well as books of Russian fairy tales, so it felt like a sign that this was the perfect room for me. As we were unpacking and settling in, I checked my email and learned that a short essay I wrote was accepted for an anthology, so that felt like very lucky timing.

I volunteered to cook dinner while Anne set up the studio. I plan to do a bunch of cooking while I’m here, so it was good to start right away. I made salmon and quinoa and Anne put together a salad. We sat on the back porch and ate as the sun set. Someone (we don’t know who yet) left us baked apples, so we had that for dessert. Right before it got really dark, a group of deer came out of the trees behind the house and snagged some apples off a tree that’s down the alle from the house. It was a great start to our time here.

1st dinner

Day 1 dinner

Day 2

Today, first thing, I put on my mud boots and went down the alle and through the land immediately behind the house, exploring. It was hot and muggy (not like I’m used to in New Orleans, of course) and the views were spectacular, as you can see for yourselves.

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Back at the house, I worked on the edits for the essay that was accepted for the anthology and did some administrative work. I got word that I wasn’t accepted for a residency in Scotland, but I was one of 12 finalists, so that was a second bit of good news. I worked mainly in the kitchen today, which is a gorgeous space (as you can see here):

kitchen workspace

In the afternoon, Anne and I took a field trip to the farm stand and bought some fresh local produce, cheese and jam. We did a quick drive-through of Laceyville proper so I’d know how to find my way there and back.

When we got back, I volunteered to cook again, throwing together some frozen spinach and mozzarella ravioli with a cream of mushroom sauce and some fresh spinach and grated Pennsylvania jack cheese, both from the farm stand. I didn’t do a very clean job of plating it, but it was tasty. We finished off the baked apples, which I finally thought to take a picture of, right before mine was all gone.

Spinach and mozzarella ravioli in cream of mushroom sauce with fresh spinach

Day 2 dinner

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We ate on the back porch again, watching the sun set. We talked about our respective days and it was remarkable to realize how similar our different mediums are in many ways. After dinner, we each went back to our work for a few hours and then reconvened for cards in the library. I taught her Egyptian rat slap and she taught me how to play rummy. Regular rummy, not the family card game we figured is a variation.

Day 3

I fell asleep with a moth hovering around my room and when I woke up and started moving around, the moth decided to cling stubbornly to me. So, I went on a walk to get him back outside. Here’s what I saw this morning:

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Today, I wasn’t feeling so great and was having trouble focusing. So, I decided to set up in the library and make it a research and reading day. I took care of a few more administrative tasks, talked to a friend who called, listened to music. But most importantly, I mused and journaled (I may already have an idea for my NaNoWriMo story this year). I found another Ringling program, this one from 1977 and spent some time looking through it, which rekindled the Novel a bit. I browsed a book on Vermeer (the library houses an enormous collection of art books), among my more on-task reading.

Anne insisted on cooking tonight and I was providing the cornbread (we’d found a cast iron cornbread pan), so I looked up a recipe and made my best stab with the ingredients we had on hand, experimenting a little. It turned out more like polenta, but was still tasty. Here’s Anne’s dinner, tofu steaks with assorted veggies and sauerkraut (plus, my “cornbread”).

Tofu dinner Day 3

Day 3 dinner

In what has already started to feel like a tradition, Anne and I ate on the back patio, talking and watching the sun set, then cleaned the kitchen together and went back to work. After a few more hours of our respective projects, we reconvened for rummy and tea, more talk about how the work had gone.

Day 4

I stayed up very late last night, writing and reading, which was great, but also a little foolish, because I was woken by the guys who work on the property, who I’d known were coming by fairly early. Despite the lack of sleep, it was a pretty productive day, in which I actually did some work on the Novel (inspired by the 1977 program, surely). No big walk for me today, but I made little trips to the mailbox and the compost pile to break up the work. I went out and lay on the front lawn for a while, watching butterflies and thinking.

Since I knew I was making spaghetti tonight, I had a very light lunch which was so pretty I had to capture it. Earlier in the day, I marinated some local ground beef in some Crystal I brought from home and I made meatballs. Then, I made added a huge, gorgeous purple tomato from the farm stand to the spaghetti sauce (wish I had a picture of that for y’all). I added some red onions and a tiny bit of fresh jalapeno peppers. A local, spicy version of my go-to spaghetti. Anne made a tasty Greek salad and we finished it off with some toasted garlic bread. Yum.

light lunch

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Day 4 dinner

 

 

 

 

After dinner, we talked and saw the deer again, way more than we’ve seen previously. It’s not a great picture (couldn’t get very close without spooking them), but here they are in the pond and you can see that there’s quite a few.

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And then Anne made s’mores for dessert. We didn’t have a campfire, but it was dark and we got marshmallows and chocolate all over us and giggled like children, so it was absolutely perfect:

S'mores

Day 5

Today, I had a mission: drive to Tunkhannock for a big shop before the rain started in the afternoon. We’d been making a shopping list of odds and ends that we still needed and I was curious about the area and the biggest nearby town. I had a plan to swing by the library, but that didn’t quite work out this trip. Anne went by the farm stand and had adventures at a nearby orchard as I drove the half hour to the Weis in Tunkhannock. It was a nice drive and I didn’t feel nearly as nervous about the twists and turns and sheer drop-offs this time around, partly because my car was lighter and partly because I was more familiar with the roads. Once I was at the Weis, I realized I’d forgotten to bring the cooler, so I had to improvise by buying a bag of ice and chilling the frozen/cold items for the drive back (the reason the library visit didn’t pan out).

And the drive back didn’t go quite as smoothly as I ended up taking the roundabout way back, instead of the more direct way. But the ice cream and I both arrived back at the house no worse for the detour (mostly).

Anne was cooking tonight, so I got busy with work, this time in the upstairs office. I’ve been a bit of a Goldilocks the past few days, moving from room to room in the house during my work each day. The office has four windows and the view from the desk is of the studio where Anne is working, as well as the front of the house. It was a good day to be upstairs, as it was rainy throughout the afternoon and started getting gradually cooler.

On one of my breaks, I went by the mailbox and my first mail had arrived! My neighbor back home had sent a packet of mail that had gotten delivered after I put in my forward request (oh Mid City postal office, how frustrating you are!). It was nice to get some mail here and even nicer to have some little daily rituals developing, like my walk to the mailbox.

Day 5 chicken dinner

Day 5 dinner

Before dinner was ready, the delicious smells were already wafting upstairs. We ate in the more formal dining room, since it was rainy and cool. I toasted some of the fresh pumpernickel I’d gotten today, and we opened up the Malbec, since I was missing my tango community a little. I don’t know why, but homesickness for them and for dancing hit me suddenly a little before dinner and I ended up wistfully watching some tango videos that friends posted. So, the Malbec was perfect with Anne’s chicken dish, as were the chocolates we had after dinner.

By the time we reconvened for rummy and tea after our second shift of work, it was so chilly we both had to put on sweaters and socks. I stayed up late reading and may have found some local-ish tango. More on that later.

Day 6

Today was a reset day, full of administrative work in the office, laundry and then reading. Here’s the station I selected for the reading, because it was a gorgeous day after the rain yesterday:

The view from my office

The view from my office

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Today’s office space

 

 

 

 

And after an hour or so of hammock reading, Anne and I set off for Blueberry Haven. She’d stopped there yesterday and talked to one of the owners, who said that the blueberries were done for the season, but he’d leave the gate open today and we could have any blueberries we found. Challenge accepted! So, we went back and spent almost two hours wandering through the rows of blueberry bushes. On our own, it was quiet and meditative and then we met up again at the bushes near the front, still loaded with berries! Here’s some pictures from the field trip: the note left at the stand just outside the field, berries on the bush, the Blueberry Haven sign, Anne and I at the stand, the berries we picked between the two of us (turns out the berries are not, in fact, done. Not quite.).

IMG_3724 IMG_3734Super excited about picking blueberries!blueberriesBlueberry Haven

 

 

 

 

The sun was blazing on our drive back, so we sat down with our feast of leftovers just as magic hour was starting. Afterwards, I made a sweet treat first made for me by a dear friend, so it was a shout out to her.

Spaghetti's 2nd appearance, with sweet corn from Blueberry Haven and a tasty salad

Day 6 dinner (spaghetti’s 2nd appearance), with sweet corn from Blueberry Haven

Vanilla bean ice cream with olive oil drizzle and sea salt

Vanilla bean ice cream with olive oil drizzle and sea salt

 

 

 

 

After some more work in the office, I transitioned to reading in the library. It was getting very chilly, so I shut all the windows and curled up with a blanket. Anne slaughtered me at our evening rummy game, but I am getting better. By the time I went to bed very late (or very early), I’d gotten deep into two nonfiction books. Three, if you count my hammock reading from the afternoon.

Day 7

I found a new office today, shady and comfy and with a stunning view:

Day 7 office

officemateIt was a very still day. The longer I sat meditating and ruminating without moving, the more creatures visited: a few caterpillars, a daddylonglegs, even a hummingbird. After a while, I decided to walk up to the house and eat lunch.

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Walking back, I noticed the flag on the mailbox was down (I’d dropped off a stack of mail earlier in the morning). Inside was this gorgeous postcard, from a great friend and writer, encouraging me. It was so lovely and timely. I propped it on the coffee cup and got back to work.

inspiration

Then, it was time to make dinner. Earlier, I’d chosen a recipe for “Cajun” salmon from a great cookbook Anne brought. I’m normally skeptical of anything Cajun that’s not prepared in Louisiana (snobbish? maybe), but I decided to just go with it. Check out the 6 spice soldiers I had to draft into duty and the finished dish (with a slaw-ish salad from Anne and some white wine):

Spice Soldiers

Day 7 dinner

Day 7 dinner

 

 

Anne made some rice pudding for dessert and afterwards, I did some reading and walked around the pitch-black property admiring the full moon. And then, I found yet another office, doing some writing in the somehow very warm studio, where Anne works. There’s a second drafting table that I set up my computer and notebooks at, the dark windows turning into mirrors.

I can’t promise that I’ll be this thorough with future weekly updates. We’ll see how it goes. But I had a lot of fun taking food and landscape photos this week.

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The Residency Road Trip Leg One: New Orleans to Atlanta

My last night in New OrLast night in Nola 8.23.14leans, I watched the Saints play the Colts at Pelican Bay with a few members of Peauxdunque. It was a great way to say goodbye (for now).

In the morning, I began the first leg of what I’ve decided to call the Residency Road Trip (like my Grandma Road Trip from a few years ago). I haven’t seen my family for more than 6 months, so I decided to head to Atlanta first and IMG_3548spend a few days.

I set off fairly early after filling up the car with everything I might need for the next month+. I’ve made this drive a few times over the years and usually it’s a headlong rush to get there. This time, I felt a lot more leisurely and some pretty cool things happened along the way.

First, in Mississippi, I made a new friend at a rest stop along the way. In the women’s restroom, of all places. Some of you may know that I’m not the biggest fan of birds (I saw Hitchcock’s The Birds waaay too young, plus relatives have had some as pets over the years). This first picture will give you an idea of how the Mississippi Restroom Incident began:

Just a handy reminder in case you forget where you are. Plus...

Just a handy reminder in case you forget where you are. Plus…

A lady had brought her pet bird into her stall, but he followed me around the bathroom. It was exactly like a scene from Jurassic Park, except an unseen lady inside a bathroom stall was reassuring me the bird wouldn’t peck me. I asked her if I could take a picture and she told me she’d take one of me with the bird.

I was thinking, “Um, no thank you…” and yet, this happened:New friend? 

“I’m glad you’re not afraid of birds,” the lady said. “I actually kinda am,” I told her. But you wouldn’t know it from this picture. Maybe this has cured me of my ornithophobia.

 

 

Later, in Alabama, I stopped for lunch at a place called The SThe Shrimp Baskethrimp Basket. I couldn’t resist the advertised “jambalya bites.” I’m usually pretty skeptical of any Louisiana foods ofjambalaya bitesfered elsewhere, but I was too curious to pass it up. I would’ve thought that if it could be deep fried, we’d have it in New Orleans, yet, I’ve never heard of such a thing. The waitress said she doesn’t eat spicy things, so she couldn’t tell me how they were. I didn’t find them terribly spicy, myself.

After lunch, I stopped in and saw Sis and her two boys, which was really good. I spent a few hours with them before getting back on the road to Atlanta. I’m excited to be here – looks like I’ll get to catch up with some old friends and dance tango while I’m here. I’ll let you know in the next Residency Road Trip post.

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NaNoWriMo 2013 Days 16-18

So, back on Day 15, after I posted my update, I went to a fantastic concert at House of Blues’s Parish Room (which is also where I saw Lissie’s phenomenal show a few years ago). I was looking forward to Clairy Browne and the Bangin’ Rackettes for *weeks*, but I wasn’t sure if I’d be able to go till the day of the show. While waiting for my friends N. and M. outside, I saw a guy who looked vaguely familiar with a lady who didn’t look familiar at all. We had a pretty typical New Orleans conversation:

Me: “Hey, do you know where I know you from?”

Him: “No, but you sure do look familiar to me, too.”

Me (shrug): “Well, it’ll come up again some day, I’m sure.”

And then it took a turn for the surreal, which is still fairly typical of New Orleans conversations:

Her: “Hey, this guy just gave us two tickets to this show and we can’t stay for it. Do you want these tickets?”

Me: “Oh *hell* yeah!” (snatches tickets).

Still, no clue how I know him. Except now I know them both as concert ticket-bequeathing angels.

The Honorable South opened the show, which was exciting. I found out about them when my friends Adam Gambrel and Jax Baker directed and produced the music video for their song The Beast. Realized while grabbing links just now that more friends worked on it: Jil Szewski and Natalie Johnson. Adam’s just directed another video for their new song Saint Charles Parish.

Clairy Browne and the Bangin’ Rackettes were everything I’d hope they’d be. N’s friend A. joined us and we totally danced a loopy awesome swing style dance in the midst of the packed crowd. It was probably totally obnoxious to everyone around us, but also totally awesome. It was just one of those nights. I hope you have one or two soon, yourself.

I worked on Day 16 and had another long, fantastic social evening. No words! Ditto with Day 17, except it (Sunday) included a performance of Waiting for Godot at Tulane, attending with a friend with friends in the cast. It was really funny and well-done. Afterwards, we had to sustain ourselves with steak. So, still no words.

So I broke my no-word streak today. After a long day of work, I had an hour-long word war with Sis. At first, I didn’t know what to write. I started reading the next chapter of my book, looking for sections that could use shoring up or extra scenes. And I got inspired. As I was writing the scene, I realized that I may completely discard it, but that it was telling me something about how I felt the story had to go. By the end of the scene, I was fairly sure I’d keep the scene and change the rest of the book. The magic of NaNoWriMo.

I wrote 1,215 words, which brings my total so far this year to 10,538 words. I need more than 3,000 daily in order to hit 50,000 words by the 30th, so it’s increasingly unlikely I’ll “win” this year. But what an educational adventure it’s been. And at least I creeped over the 10K hurdle. In my worst year, I only wrote 6,827 words. So, I’ve already done better than my worst. It’s all gravy after that!

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Who’s got the brag?

I think this may end up being my most massive brag ever.

As usual, Tad has done a fabulous job of keeping track of Peauxdunquian achievements in real time. For instance that Cassie Pruyn is second runner up in the Faulkner-Wisdom’s poetry category, that J.Ed Marston and Tad Bartlett are both finalists, that Maurice Ruffin’s upcoming reading October 3rd, plus much, much more. So I hope you have the Peauxdunque blog bookmarked.

Jeff Roedel was one of 30 writers asked to write a story responding to a photograph by William Greiner for the book Show & Tell.

The Spring 2013 issue of The Eudora Welty Review features Alison Graham-Bertolini’s “Searching for the Garnet Pin.”

The Devil In Her Way by Bill Loehfelm was a “best new local book” on the Best of New Orleans list, picked by Gambit readers.

Ava Leavell Haymon is now Louisiana’s Poet Laureate! Her official induction will be October 24th. Also, her new book of poetry Eldest Daughter was published recently. I attended two events this week where she read from the book, including at a Women’s Week event yesterday at the Baton Rouge Art Gallery, along with Jamey Hatley and several amazing women writers.

Dispensations by Randolph Thomas won the New Rivers Press MVP Prize and will be published soon!

Jenn Nunes has three short fiction pieces at Fiction Southeast.

Blood a Cold Blue by James Claffey is now available. The official launch is this Friday! I love this blog post from his wife Maureen Foley, about being a couple who both write and both of their books being published at the same time.

Che Yeun’s story “One in Ten Fish Are Afraid of Water” has been selected as the winner of Philadelphia Stories‘ Marguerite McGlinn National Prize for Fiction.

Jewel Bush has written several articles for The Uptown Messenger, including a recent one celebrating the 30th anniversary of Community Book Center.

The Booklover’s Guide to New Orleans by Susan Larson has been published!

Cam Terwilliger will be writing an ongoing “field notes” series about his year in Montreal on a Fulbright Scholarship.

L. Kasimu Harris was featured on WDSU‘s pregame show tonight and was photographed by Daymon Gardner for the December issue of Travel + Leisure, which will be available in Nov. Check out this picture that Giancarlo Dagostaro took of the session.

Kasimu

NOVAC’s Web Weekend has three more days to raise the last $200 of their $5,000 Kickstarter campaign goal. Go check out what they have planned for the Weekend, next month, and see the swag they’re offering their backers. Eritria Pitts of She is Alex will be part of the Web Weekend and you can check out her short “Blind Date” to whet your appetite.

Speaking of Kickstarter campaigns… I don’t technically know JJ Tiziou, but I kinda feel like I do since his project “Everyone Is Photogenic” is changing my life. Ever since I saw the video for the campaign, I can’t tell you how many many times I’ve heard someone I care about respond badly to a photograph of themselves. Whenever they do this lately, I bring up this project and we have a great conversation about confidence and photography and beauty.

The t.v. show I spent part of last year and the first half of this year working on has released an incredible trailer. I get chills every time I watch it. The show, True Detective. will air on HBO early next year. Makes me very proud to have been part of it.

Speaking of being proud of a project, 12 Years a Slave opens on the 18th and I’m eager to see it. Hearing the Oscar talk now reminds me of the conversations we had while working on it last year – we knew it was special and we knew it was important. It’s going to be incredibly emotional to watch and I’m so glad it got made.

Since I promised that I will self-brag when appropriate, here’s some news about me and my work. Since my last brag, my reviews of Bill Loehfelm’s The Devil in Her Way and Suzanne Johnson’s Elysian Fields were published in 225. Karin C. Davidson interviewed me for Hothouse Magazine. It was a great experience and I’m honored to be a part of this series, which includes great interviews with Brad Richard and Andrew Lam, among others.

Next month, on the 26th, I will read “Tango Face” at a special event at Cafe Istanbul. Orquesta Fleur will play live tango music, there will be dancing and readings about tango and its history. Should be very cool. At the Louisiana Book Festival (Nov 2nd), I will be conducting a live interview with Josh Hanagarne, author The World’s Strongest Librarian, and presenting a panel with fellow Peauxdunque members Tad Bartlett, Susan Kagan and Maurice Ruffin, which is pretty exciting. And shortly after that, “Tango Face” will be published in the Double Dealer, coinciding with this year’s Words and Music Festival (Dec 4-8). The last quarter of 2013 is looking to be very productive.

Speaking of quarters…I owe y’all my 3rd Quarter Review soon. I hope you enjoy all of this bragging for now – these people and these projects are amazing, so go spend some time with them.

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My end of 2012 homework

In 2010, Jamey assigned me some homework, ordering me to reflect on everything that I accomplished that year. So, I did and I wrote a post about it. It was really helpful. So helpful that I did it again last year and I’ve been writing 2013’s homework in my head pretty much all year long.

The 12 Achievements of 2012:

1. I turned 30. I watched the Saints-Lions game at a neighborhood bar with a bunch of friends who decided the only way to make me feel 30 was to encourage me to drink like I was 21. The Saints won, I got to spend time with friends while celebrating the start of my thirties and everybody was happy. At least, we were all happy that night. Darker times were ahead for the Saints. But, thus far, my thirties are still going well.

2. I got my 5th tattoo and “finished” my birthday tattoo project, undertaken between the pivotal years of 25 and 30.

3. I attended a local premiere of 21 Jump Street with cast and crew, which was a really fun experience and the movie was hilarious. Then, I spent the first three-fourths of the year working on two more movies I’ve very proud to have been involved with (#1 and #2).

4. I went on a road trip with Mamma Mia!, after I evacuated for Hurricane Isaac and stayed with some friends. Since we visited both of my grandmothers in Columbus, Ohio and Chicago, I called it The Grandma Road Trip. Not only did we get to see a lot of family members we hadn’t seen in years since we’re all so spread out, but Mamma Mia! and I spent more time together than we had in probably a decade. And we both survived.

5. I wrote a skit for The NO Show, Helen Krieger‘s new-school old-fashioned radio show, then got to see it produced. Helen was looking for material, I said I might have have some and next thing I knew, we were writing a 5-minute version of my idea. Then, there was a table reading and a “punch-up” draft with the actors and other funny people. Then, one of our actors couldn’t make the re-scheduled recording and I had to step in and voice one of the characters! It was a rollercoaster ride, a fun one, and I hope it keeps going.

6. I freelanced for the last quarter of the year. It was really tough, but it was also one of the most important things I’ve ever done. I continued to write for 225 Magazine and also continued some editing work I’ve done for a while. I worked for a friend of my dad’s in the industry I grew up in (conventions and trade shows) and discovered I’d picked up a lot more as a kid than I’d realized. And I wrote. I freelanced on another movie and recently accepted some new work on a tv show, which I won’t be able to talk about for a long time.

My obsession with tango continued. There were a lot of firsts this year.

7. I bought my first pair of tango shoes. This coincided with me dancing as much as possible, at least once or twice a week, and sometimes more, so my dancing improved a lot.

8. I danced in new communities, in Atlanta (three times) and Chicago (once). I hope to go back and dance with them more in 2013, and also, I plan on checking out new places to dance as well.

9. I performed for the first time. I almost didn’t, then changed my mind at the last minute. It was a terrifying and utterly satisfying experience and I hope to do it more. I’m glad I made the decision to be bold and dance.

Photo by Shari Stauch

Photo by Shari Stauch.
Partner is Casey Mills.

10. I won NaNoWriMo. This year, it was easy. I was freelancing, so I had the time to commit. I had a great, fun story. I watched Saints games, tv shows, movies, went out with my friends. Even with voting, Thanksgiving, my shower exploding and getting sick, I still finished early.

11. I won my first major literary prize. My essay “Tango Face” won the essay category of the William Faulkner-William Wisdom Literary Competition. In my “end of 2011 homework” post, I said I was submitting my work diligently and promised I would brag on myself when the submitting paid off. So, as promised, when it paid off, I bragged on myself.

12. I achieved better balance. Literally, with my dancing, I achieved better balance, working on my core and maintaining my own axis. There’s still lots of room for improvement, but I’ve come a long way. Figuratively, I sought out and achieved better balance in my life, between work and play, between paying the bills and passion. I fought for and found better balance within myself. I talked about balance in both my 2010 and 2011 end-of-the-year homework assignments, each time with more clarity and cohesion. I mentioned balance by accident in 2010, unaware of it’s importance. I knew I needed balance in 2011 and I was looking for it. In 2012, I achieved it for glorious patches of time, which convinces me that it’s attainable. It’s still the goal.

2012 was a banner year, not only because of my 12 personal achievements, but also because the world didn’t end. And since it didn’t end, I’m looking forward to all the experiences and achievements 2013 has to offer.

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Filed under Atlanta, bragging on, coolness, family, freelance work, Friends, musing, NaNoWriMo, New Orleans, New Orleans Film Industry, random rant, tango, The Grandma Road Trip

Brag and the city

I’m late in bragging on this essay I wrote for 225 Magazine about LSU Press. I interviewed a lot of amazing people for this one and it was a joy to write a positive piece about all the good work being done in publishing, since we all read a lot of negativity about the way the industry is failing.

 

Ronlyn Domingue has an essay in the anthology, The Beautiful Anthology, work collected from The Nervous Breakdown, where she’s been publishing nonfiction for a while. Also, she has a publication date for her second novel, The Mapmaker’s War, which will be released February 19th, 2013. The sequel will be published in the spring of 2014.

 

Here’s the latest update from James Claffey, who has a plethora of recently published work (I especially love his signature – one day I will have a signature like his):

Nice words at the Review Review that mention my three short stories at Thrice Magazine: “Within the journal, my favorite illustrations were the ones that accompanied James Claffey’s trio of stories near the beginning of the issue,” and, “James Claffey’s trio of short pieces about life in Ireland may be succinct, but they explode with powerful descriptions that float off the page and flood the reader’s senses.”
New work at Press 1: Mad Dogs & Irishmen; Tampa Review Online: Hard Freeze; and Orion Headless: Cut Short
If you can, buy a copy of Scissor & Spackle containing two of my short fictions: Counting Holes in my Shoes & Ghost Watch
 —

 

Jamey (Hatley) interviewed the Ernest J. Gaines award winner, Dinaw Mengestu, for 225 and was herself interviewed, along with Chef Chris DeBarr by Tad Bartlett for his new Oxford American column Food and Writing.

 

Arion Berger, a super talented Peauxdunque member, has self-published (as Lyra Byrnes) the first of three paranormal romances set in New Orleans.

 

Daniel Handler selected  Kiki Whang‘s story “Cucarachero” as the 2012 fiction winner of the Enizagam Literary Awards. Her story is published in Issue 6, so mosey on over and buy it. Here’s what Handler (aka Lemony Snicket) has to say about Kiki’s story:

‘Cucarachero’ is one of those stories that works like a trap. I wandered into the first paragraphs, charmed and intrigued, and then, curiouser and curiouser, fell deeper and deeper in, and not until the story was over did I have a real appreciation for how smart the thing is, how wise about people so unwise, how careful and yet how instinctually the whole thing is put together. This is the kind of thing I always want to read.”

 

The MelaNated Writers Collective has had three successful events in their Summer Reading Series. Check out L. Kasimu Harris‘s teaser for the second event event:

Video and photos from the events are available on MelaNated’s website. Here’s a great essay about why the Collective is so vital for its members and for New Orleans.

Some members of MelaNated Writers Collective

 

Tad’s done an amazing job keeping track of events and publications at the Peauxdunque website. There are a plethora of brag-worthy achievements in between my posts, so book your browsers accordingly. He’s beat me to the punch in listing the Peauxdunque finalists in the Faulkner-Wisdom Literary Awards, but I’m still gonna brag.

Keep in mind, the finalists who are still in the running are listed by title only, so there may be additional bragging later. I’m going to mention the folks I know who are finalists, but not list the titles of their work, since it’s a blind reading process.

In the novel category, Tad Bartlett and J.Ed Marston are on the short list of finalists for their novel Flying Kites. My friend and former teacher Rick Blackwood is the author of the semi-finalist novel <Ô!>. Peauxdunque member Susan Kagan ‘s novel Ruxandra is also a semi-finalist.

In the novel-in-progress category, Eloise Holland (Be My Thrill), Elsie Michie (Broken Ornaments) and Susan Kirby-Smith (Canyon Relics) are all semi-finalists.

In the short story category, Maurice still has a story in the running, and also has one on the short list for finalists, “The Winter Lion.” Also on the short list is Tad (“Hawks”), Craig Brandhorst (“No Air Holes Anywhere”), and Emily Choate (“Thunder Sometimes, Never Bells”). Emily is also a semi-finalist with “The Falling Down Side,” as are Jamie Amos (“A Good Dog Buries Its Bone”), Kiki Whang (“Keepers”), and Jenn Nunes (“Nothing That Couldn’t Just Float Away”).

In the essay category, Terri Shrum Stoor and yours truly are both still in the running.

I’ll add folks as the rest of the lists go up, as names are revealed and in case I’ve missed anyone. Congrats to all!

 

In other news, my friend Arvid Cristina is teaching a Final Cut Pro/After Effects class for NOVAC called Gimme Credits, later this month.

 

I’m so lucky to have the friendship of such talented people. I hope you’ll join me in supporting them all.

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2012 Q2 Reading Report

Sooooooooo late on my 2nd Quarter Reading Report. With no further ado…

March (addition)

Louisiana Saturday Night, Alex Cook – Read the 225 Magazine review here.

April

Mockingjay, Suzanne Collins – This was me re-reading the trilogy again for the third time, around the release of the first movie. I re-read the first two books before I saw the movie and this one afterwards. It was really interesting applying all of the actors to the delicious craziness of the third book, imaging who would be cast for other roles, how they would depict certain things. I like these books better each time I read them.

Rose Sees Red, Cecil Castelucci – This is such a weird, cool book. It’s listed as “historical fiction” because it’s set in the 80s, which is pretty weird for me since that’s the decade I was a kid. It seems like a pretty random time to set a piece of fiction, but I think as writers like Cecil Castelucci (and myself) are reaching a certain stage of our development, we’re naturally turning to this time, mining it for all the weirdness and coolness it contained. It’s about dancers (which comes up more and more lately for me) having this one fantastic, rebellious night in New York. I love books and movies about that One Fabulous Night and this one certainly didn’t disappoint.

The Arizona Kid, Ron Koertge – On his website, Koertge says he’s one of the oldest people writing kids’ fiction and his young readers are always surprised to see an “old guy” walk into the room. That’s probably because, judging by this book, he writes about things that kids are actually dealing with in a real way. I read a lot of YA and kids’ fiction, but even I was pleasantly shocked at some of the subject matter of this book. He has a book coming out this month that looks really, really good – Lies, Knives and Girls in Red Dresses – and I can’t wait to read it, as it deals with the most shocking of material, fairy tales.

Bayou Vol 1 and Vol 2, Jeremy Love + Patrick Morgan – These graphic novels are pretty overwhelming. The art is gorgeous and disturbing, lush. The story is about a young girl on a mythic journey to find her missing friend and save her father, who’s been accused of kidnapping/killing the girl – in the 1930s South. The way these stories deal with race and history is fascinating (and terrifying), but it’s the storytelling aspects that are most astounding. I’ve been waiting impatiently for Vol 3 and I think it’s coming out sometime this year.

Anya’s Ghost, Vera Brosgol – Here I have to admit to judging a book by its over. I saw this graphic novel laying on a rack at the library and I snatched it up. It felt like I was reading a movie and I was constantly entertained as I read about Anya’s fall down a hole in a field, discovery of and friendship with a girl’s ghost and then her bid for independence from her new best friend. I think all these graphic novels I’ve been reading are the result of conversations I’ve been having with Dana and Maurice from Peauxdunque and it’s been amazing to discover them.

What Doesn’t Kill You, Iris Johansen – I definitely like Johansen’s new character Catherine Ling better than her most famous character Eve Duncan. A fast, entertaining read. I’m on the fence about whether I’ll read the next Eve Duncan book where she discovers she has a…half sister! Drama. Yet, why do I keep reading these books? There’s something enjoyable about them, even as the melodrama and write-by-numbers style drives me nuts.

Hell or High Water, Ron Thibodeaux – Read my 225 Magazine review here.

Bossypants, Tina Fey – Parts of this book were sheer genius and parts were kinda eh. I hate to say it, cause I love Tina Fey so much. I definitely loved reading how she became the Comic Genius Tina Fey and I love reading both funny women and women who have a true sense of themselves. I think Tina Fey is both kind of woman.

May

The Bridge to Neverland, Dave Barry & Ridley Pearson – Love these Peter Pan books so much. Barry & Pearson continue to find ways to reinvent and enrich the original story and also, now, to tie to to our modern world. This one might just be the best one. I’m also really interested in how two such different writers work together on such a cohesive, complicated story. I think they may be the best role models for how my sister and I will write together.

Delirium, Lauren Oliver – Lauren Oliver is a seriously good writer. Her book Before I Fall devastated me and this one is very different, yet also just tore me apart. It’s a fat book and has a really unhurried pace at the beginning, yet still feels compelling. Then, there’s this breathless rush toward an ending that slams into you like a train.

Twelve Years a Slave, Solomon Northup – I have been meaning to read this book for at least a decade. I think I worried that I would find the language too old-fashioned and the story too sad. It’s taken me a long time to read non-fiction eagerly. Boy, was I wrong. This book, a narrative of Northup’s experiences in the 183os-50s as a Northern freeman sold into slavery in the South, is enormously compelling. Though it’s a horrific story, there is such subtly in the way that it’s told, and it’s an important story.

June

Zone One, Colson Whitehead – I can’t believe I only read this book last month because I feel like I’ve been living with it for years. It has been haunting me since I started reading it. Phenomenally clever and well-written, this novel luxuriates in the zombie movie aesthetic and tropes, but is constantly stretching and pushing it further. With enough gorgeous language to send any word nerd into ecstasy, there’s also enough true danger and gore to please horror buffs.

Deadlocked, Charlaine Harris – The t.v. show True Blood doesn’t feel anything like this book series anymore. They are each their own monsters at this point. Harris’s series is cozy in its own graphic, humorous way. I feel like her Sookie has a lot more dimension and the relationships are far deeper, so it’s kind of like checking into the paranormal version of Mayberry from time to time and seeing what everybody is up to.

Pandemonium, Lauren Oliver – I had NO idea how this sequel was going to be as good as Delirium. I thought if anybody could do it, Oliver could because I’d loved both of her earlier books. I just didn’t see how it could be done. Pandemonium goes into far different places and gives us a far different Lena from the first book. It is delicious to see how she’s been scarred by the events of the first book and how she’s grown over the scars. While I totally predicted the “shocker” ending, I was still very, very satisfied by it and excited about what it will mean for the third book, which I’m trying to wait patiently for. February of next year! How will I survive now that i have no more doubts that it will be incredible?

Just a head’s up for the 3rd Quarter Reading Report – I have been working on another film, with just a short break after my previous one (in April, which is why I read so much). Probably, July and August will be light on reading, but hopefully September will be plentiful. However, as I usually do, I’m reading several books at one time and I can’t wait to tell you about them.

 

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Proud to be a NolaFemme

I’ve been meaning to post for a while, y’all. Sorry I’ve been MIA. While you’re waiting for the next bragging on post, please head over to NOLAFemmes and read Amy’s post about her daughter’s excitement for Muses, the awful experience they had during the parade and the wonderful community support they’ve received afterwards. This is an example of both the best and worst of Mardi Gras, and it’s such a sweet reminder to all of us about what Carnival is all about – family, neighbors, community.

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My Banksy tattoo

So, it’s been a while. I’m working on a film, which tends to keep me very busy. The holidays kinda swept me up as well (still haven’t taken down the decorations, let’s add that to the to-do list) and then there was my birthday.

As I’ve said before, I selfishly consider my birthday to be the true New Year’s day since it’s a week into each new year. For the past few years, I’ve been working on a project that I was both incredibly aware of and a bit unconscious to: birthday tattoos. I established rules for myself because I realized from the get-go that I would get addicted to body art.

Rule #1: Don’t get a tattoo you haven’t considered for at least a year. For me, this meant designing all of my tattoos with the artists who tattooed me. Nothing from the wall.

Rule #2: Only get tattoos on odd-numbered birthdays until your 30th, when all bets are off.

So, starting with my 25th birthday, I’ve gotten a tattoo every other year on my birthday. I broke both my rules only once by getting a tattoo of a fleur-dis-lis on my foot. It wasn’t my birthday, and I hadn’t really thought about the tattoo much before I got it.

The only other time the rules were broken was last year, on my 29th birthday when I got my Ganesh tattoo. After work, I rushed to Hell or High Water to get my tattoo and shortly after I arrived, the power went off because there was a devastating fire at a church nearby. I ended up getting it the next day, January 8th, right before the Saints lost their playoff game.

It’s ironic that there were so many obstacles to getting that tattoo of Ganesh last year: since he is known as the remover of obstacles. But he is also the Lord of Beginnings and a patron god of artists and writers and so he is very special to me.

As many of you may know from reading this blog, Banksy is also pretty special to me, including my favorite Banksy graffiti/art. While I like a lot of Banksy’s work and he intrigues me, there’s really only one image of his that I like enough to tattoo it – forever – on my body.

This image invokes hope and childhood, but also poignant nostalgia and unfulfilled desire. It is immediately evocative for most people who see it, yet it is a complete contradiction, both delicate and stark. Of course it would become part of my birthday tattoo project.

Hence, my Banksy tattoo:

I went to Hell or High Water again and while Tony was tattooing me, he surprised me completely by asking me why I’ve gotten all my tattoos. I don’t strike most people as the type, I know.  How did I become a girl who has five tattoos? And why? My brother is covered in tattoos and I don’t think anyone’s questioned why he’s gotten them. It just seems like a natural extension of his personality. Well, actually, I know our family has questioned WHY he’s gotten so many tattoos and while they disapprove, his tattoos probably do make more sense to them than mine make.

But that’s okay, because they make sense to me. My tattoos are each important reminders to me that I am always seeking balance in my life between extreme contradictions in the world and in myself. Which is why, except for my first, most of my tattoos are visible to me. When Tony and I were discussing the placement of my Banksy tattoo, I stressed how important it was that my tattoo be facing me, something I could look at whenever I wanted or see accidentally. He came up with a brilliant placement for it that accomodated the necessary size.

I told Tony this was my only tattoo that I hadn’t designed in some way, the closet to an “off the wall” tattoo, one that any number of other people are also carrying around on their bodies. He told me how much he enjoyed Exit Through the Gift Shop and  we started joking about how Banksy sort of stole the documentary that started out about him. Ultimately, we decided that Banksy should make another documentary, this one about the people who tattoo his work on their bodies. I would watch that documentary and it really seems like something he would do.

I’ll be your first subject, Banksy. ;”)

Shortly after getting my Banksy tattoo, I realized that it may very well be my last tattoo. It might not be. Who knows? But the birthday tattoo project is over. I got 5 tattoos between the ages of 25 and 30. They were done by 5 different tattoo artists at 4 shops on 3 of my important birthdays and in 2 different cities. All of these tattoos have a central theme of balance and they remind me daily of  things and people I love. They also remind me of who I have been and who I want to be. I’m happy with the results.

 

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