Hello? Is it me you’re looking for?


To my students, the “real world” sits just beyond the classroom. It is a space in flux, moving and changing much more quickly than academia. In education, there is a creative tension between an established body of knowledge and the real world; this tension can help fuel teaching.

For the past two years, I have taught a series of literary publishing courses where students produce a regional literary arts magazine called Scribendi. Throughout the year, Scribendi students begin to master the skills necessary for small press production, including graphic design, desktop publishing software, arts and literature assessment, copyediting, and small business management and marketing.

Most of the students who enroll in Scribendi are English majors who are thinking about applying to law school. Even though they are “digital natives,” their skills are not as technologically robust as most adults believe. While many more of the students are entering the class with previous experience using Word’s track changes functions, about half of the students are still just as intimidated by Excel as they are by InDesign. In addition to being nervous about becoming proficient enough at InDesign to create a successful flyer, brochure, or magazine layout, many of these students are terrified of being judged on their creative or artisitic ability. They are, after all, mostly English majors.

To reassure students that they could learn graphic design, and to begin introducing the graphic design component, one of my first lessons discusses the difference between art and design. The students are expected to have come to class already having read certain chapters in Denise Bosler’s Mastering Type and are ready for a design discussion. In the past, I have drawn a Venn diagram on the board with the headings “Design” and “Art” to discuss the differences and similarities of the two. Then we look at some gig posters, book jackets, and advertisements to practice talking about design, and finally, we critique the previous year’s issue of the magazine.

The morning of that lesson last fall, while walking to campus, I ran across a flyer stapled to a telephone pole. Typically flyers in my neighborhood advertise pets lost and found, couches for sale, or upcoming gigs by the Vassar Bastards or Let ‘Em Grow, but this one was different. Across the top of the paper it read, “Hello? ” below which was a photo of Lionel Richie, then the words “Is it me you’re looking for?” At the bottom were tear-tabs, where one typically might pull off a phone number or e-mail address of a student looking for a roommate. These tabs had other lyrics to Richie’s song “Hello.” Someone had already plucked off one “I love you.” Read more »

Let’s Talk About Tao Lin

Like everyone in literary land, I’ve been following the events of the past week with a lot of interest. The allegations of rape and abuse have been absolutely abhorrent.

Tao Lin’s case—and the reaction to it—has been compelling. As everyone by now knows, Lin has been reviled for sleeping with a much younger paramour and subjecting them to an incredible amount of abuse. Clearly, what he did was reprehensible and he’s essentially admitted as much.

The open question seems to be—what now? Is Lin banished forever? Should he be?

Read more »

Two Cool Projects for Students

Screen Shot 2014-09-19 at 10.08.05 AM1. Transcribe a document for the Smithsonian. The Smithsonian is looking for help transcribing original, handwritten texts to improve their readability and searchability. They say:

Our goal with this project is to make our collections more accessible and useful to curators, researchers, and anyone with a curious spirit. Because computers have a hard time understanding handwriting, many of our collections still hold many secrets and hidden knowledge inside their pages. With your help, we can bring that knowledge to life.

Volunteer at https://transcription.si.edu/.


Screen Shot 2014-09-19 at 10.15.03 AM2. Record a poem at Harriet Headquarters.

We’ve created the Record-a-Poem group where we invite everyone to post audio recordings of their favorite poems. People can upload recordings they have on their computers, or use SoundCloud to upload audio files directly to the group using the Upload button here.

To get started listening, here are a few of our faves:

Susie Asado” by Gertrude Stein, read by Fred & August Sasaki.

To the Virgins, to Make Much of Time” by Robert Herrick, read by
Garrison Keillor.

Screenwriting Is Easy, and Other True Lies about Craft

Read a screenwriting book and you'll feel like the king of the writing universe.

Read a screenwriting book and you’ll feel like the king of the writing universe.

This post is going to be short so I can get back to my screenwriting. You read me right. My husband and I have started writing screenplays. I’m diving deep into my first one literally as I type this. (Ideas are always brewing, you know.) Somehow, by reading Save the Cat! and collaborating with my husband, I’m not only coming up with ideas quickly, but…wait for it…I’m having fun! I know. It’s too good to be true. But here are a handful of reasons I think this is happening:

  • Brainstorming works: We’ve been encouraged (by the screenwriting books we’ve been consuming like candy) to come up with as many ideas as we can and not worry about totally fleshing them out, so we’re freed from the hard stuff (at least at first) and able to revel in the glory of what we think are genius movie ideas.
  • Walking collaboration is magic: We talk details as we walk to the store, and it feels more like planning a slumber party than writing a story. We talk motivation, action, conflict, how to ramp up the conflict even more, and how to get to the climax gracefully. And when we get home, we’re so energized, that we have to just write it all out. And we do! The lesson of the walk-talk is that collaboration can make writing more fun. I suppose you have to have a good collaborator, though, so I’m lucky there. My dude’s full of good ideas.
  • Helpful guidance is a sage: The books we’ve been reading (besides Save the Cat! there’s also Writing Movies for Fun and Profit, which is as much fun to read as it is to follow) give some great practical advice, including outlines and examples that are easy to understand and follow.

This isn’t to say that as soon as we get past the outlining phase all the lust won’t have evaporated, but it is to say that I’ve never had such a good time writing in any other genre, and I wonder why…

Hipster Hiking

About a year ago, I started a photo project called the “Hipster Hiking Series.” I began this series because I take many photos and my mother was asking to see more with me in them. The rules were simple: the camera had to be balanced somewhere, on the ten-second self-timer, or handed to someone so unfamiliar with cameras that the chances of them getting the autofocus to work would be less than twenty percent. Also, because I am not one to model, I had to make fun of myself by adding “hipster elements,” including a logo, light leaks, and hue shifts.  They had to be taken while I was hiking or camping. The process has led me to many questions–beginning with the question, “are these selfies?”

What makes a selfie? Is it any self-portrait? When Van Gogh painted himself, bandaged after cutting his ear, was it a selfie? Or must it be a photograph? Must it be more ephemeral than a painting, more off the cuff?


White Sands National Missile Range, 2014

Read more »

Dreams, the Collective Unconscious, Joan Rivers and Andy Taylor

Joan Rivers circa 1967

Joan Rivers circa 1967 (Getty)

On the night Joan Rivers died, I dreamed of her, her and Andy Taylor of Duran Duran.

Well, this is something that happens. Us common folk dream of celebrities all the time.

Yes, yes. I agree. However in this instance, I had no idea Joan had had surgery, was in a coma and had died. The dream stuck with me for days because it was slightly bizarre and yet felt very based in reality. For me it took place mostly backstage. I haven’t worked backstage since my very early college years (read: before drinking age), and even then I never worked a show for anyone super famous. But my reality is that I’ve been all over stages and dressing rooms and green rooms.

The dream was also very persistent. The theater was sometimes an amphitheater, that was the only bit of inconsistency, which I’ll just call a quirk. The event lasted for hours in the way that dreams can compress and expand time at will. At the beginning, I was ushering Joan and Andy around backstage. Then I was trying to blend in with the stage crew and performers because it felt like I had snuck backstage or very seriously didn’t belong at least. There were chorus line dancers and circus performers. There was a nervous stage director lecturing everyone to do their best. I was terribly afraid I’d get caught, but then Joan and Andy were coming off stage, done with their onstage performance. They knew me! And I hadn’t “dreamed” that I was their escort! (Meta moment: being afraid I had imagined or “dreamed” something in the dream.) We walked out of the theater together. Joan was hilarious the whole time. Andy smiled a lot and was charismatic. It was mostly an enjoyable dream, and I thought about it for days.

Then three days later, I heard about Joan River’s death. And I did the math Read more »

I Saw You

Some years ago, while reading the Kokinshu for the first time, I was struck by a thought that many of the love poems read like I Saw You ads in the local alternative weekly newspaper. In the Kokinshu, seasons follow arcs—there is the first hint of green with herbs breaking through snow, then the kaleidoscope of flowers, seventy poems about cherry blossoms, then summer comes a we listen to the nightingale for a season. Love and grief also follow arcs—with love, there’s a giddy first hint, then getting to know all about one another, and finally, breaking up. In the beginning of the love section, a poet might glimpse a beauty across the fields of Kasuga and become instantly entranced.

An I Saw You ad, in case you have never heard of one, is a record of a missed opportunity. You might have a conversation with a gorgeous stranger in the frozen food aisle at the grocery and go home kicking yourself for not having asked for a name or a phone number or a date. Or you might make eye contact at a stoplight and want something more. All you would have to do is phone the alternative paper (here call the Alibi) and place an ad with some details about your moment.

I am teaching a freshman humanities course (a “legacy course”) that in part follows the influence of ancient Japanese (the Kokinshu and Basho) and Chinese (Han Shan) poetry on the Beat Generation (Gary Snyder and Jack Kerouac) and our contemporary world. The “legacy courses” strive to provide students with knowledge of works and ideas from earlier cultures that have played and continue to play significant roles in understanding the contemporary culture in which we live.

So, my class is also looking at questions such as why does Albuquerque have an annual haiku contest, Japanese botanical gardens, a Zen meditation center, an Asian grocery store, a bunch of anime lovers and martial arts enthusiasts, etc.

In my attempt to bridge the ancient text with our lives, I thought I would bring in some I Saw Ad clippings, have the students write waka (a poem with a 5-7-5-7-7) using the information in the ads, then compare our poems with the those of the ancients. Here are some examples:

Girl at Casino (8/11/14)

I saw you on Monday at Santa Ana Star Casino, near the back area by “The Stage” around 1:30–2:30pm. You were wearing glasses and with a woman I assume was your mother. I was walking up to a machine when we made eye contact for a split second before I looked away … I wanted to talk to you but wasn’t thinking. You are beautiful and I can’t stop thinking about you! If you see this please respond; maybe we can go out to a casino or have dinner sometime and get to know each other :)

Spinning slots at the
Santa Ana Casino
you must be lucky
trying to win money
and winning my heart as well

Read more »

Amazon, Dissonance, and the Influence of Others

Colbert is "mad prime" about Amazon's tactics.

Colbert is “mad prime” about Amazon’s tactics.

I unliked Jeff Bezos before I liked him.

The reason I disliked Bezos and his company, Amazon, is pretty simple. My friends disliked them first. I realize that makes me sound like a lemming, but let’s be honest. Our friends have a lot of sway over how we feel about things. They influence our politics, our ambition, and our musical preferences. They help determine our buying behavior. I don’t drink Starbucks, shop at Wal-Mart, or buy Nike products, at least in some part due to the influence of my friends. And generally speaking, my friends don’t approve of Amazon. In this case, when I say friends, I mean a particular subset of my friends and acquaintances. I mean writers.

In the taxonomy of my Facebook friends, the categories, in descending order, are writers, former students, Peace Corps volunteers, people I knew in college or high school, and colleagues. Notice writers right there at the top? They are the people who most influence my mental space, insofar as that space exists on social media.

The writers I know are diverse and brilliant, and they are generally progressive – they, and I, tend to support the ACA and the DREAM act. They want to see assault weapons banned. They were down on DOMA before it was cool. They have equal signs stuck on their bike fenders and tattooed on their ankles. They’re also largely traditional in the way they pursue publication. They tend to take the slow road to getting published, sending the results of their long hours in front of laptops in coffee shops to editors, who the writers hope will find merit in the carefully crafted pages. Of course, it’s subjective. Of course, the writers are rejected. The rejection slips come, and the writers save them, delete them, maybe even frame them. They revise. They send the work out again. Onward.

Alternatively, they can take the fast lane to publication. It’s so easy! Just set up an account on Amazon and find the link that says “Independently publish with us.” Upload. Click. Done. Published. Right?

Few of the writers I know seem to engage in self-publishing beyond personal or shared blogs, like this one. Perhaps it’s because we distrust a system that has no checks and balances – if no editor is approving your work, who’s to say, other than you, that it’s any good? Perhaps it’s indicative of writerly technophobia. We love our paper books. We don’t want the system to change.

But some do. Read more »

Here is what we know.

Tonight, a football game will be played between two teams in the National Football League. The Baltimore Ravens will face off against the Pittsburgh Steelers. It will be televised to millions of fans. Rihanna has agreed to sing the opening song.*

We know that Ray Rice, star running back for the Baltimore Ravens, physically assaulted his then-fiancée Janay Palmer. We know that Rihanna was physically assaulted by Chris Brown. We know that Pittsburgh quarterback Ben Roethlisberger was accused of sexual assault on three separate occasions. We know that current Raven Terrell Suggs was accused of physical abuse numerous times by his longtime girlfriend, including punching her in the neck, dragging her alongside a speeding car, and kicking her in the face so hard her nose broke—all of those incidents with their two young children present.

We know that this is too much to bear. Not as women. As humans.

We know that today is the anniversary of a terrible day in our country’s history. We know that everyone grieves differently, that some people prefer to do their grieving publicly, while others prefer to do so privately. We know that our nation’s response to a series of terrible things happening was to become wildly patriotic, and to share those expressions of patriotism as loudly and publicly as possible.

We know that during tonight’s football game, patriotism will be invoked in a mixture of direct and subtle ways. Like any good marketing campaign, it will be pounded into our brains that to love football is to love America. Because not loving America is inherently wrong, we will be shown, not loving football is not only un-American, it’s practically indicative of treason. Count how many times you see the American flag on television tonight, if you watch. If you can stomach it.

We knew months ago that a) Janay Palmer walked into an elevator of her own accord and b) was dragged out unconscious less than a minute later by the only other occupant of that elevator, a man who makes millions of dollars per year using his brute strength and talent to excel at one of the most violent sports on earth. We knew because there was video of their entrance and exit. We knew because Ray Rice admitted to police, to the NFL, to the public, that he’d hit his fiancée.

We know how Roger Goodell, NFL commissioner, responded to that video of the couple entering the elevator arguing, followed by footage of Ray Race dragging a woman’s lifeless body out of the elevator. He responded by suspending him from his job for two games. Roger Goodell watched Ray Rice use the toe of his sneakers to shove his woman where he wanted her to go, not caring that her dress was hiked up around her waist and that the lower half of her body was exposed. He watched them walk into the elevator together and then he watched an NFL player drag an unconscious woman out of it, and he gave that man a gentle but loving timeout of two games away from his prestigious job.

We know that pundits and apologists said, “We can’t know what happened in that elevator. Both people said they were at fault. She even said she hit him first.”

We can’t know what happened inside that elevator, they said.

Except that we did know. Long before the second video was released, we did know. We just didn’t want to know.

Read more »

What Makes You Feel Beautiful?

Two months ago, I posted about Esther Honig’s project where she sent out a picture of herself to graphic designers all over the world with the words “make me beautiful” as the only direction.

Today, I want examine internal validation of beauty, instead of looking at how external factors judge what makes us desirable.

How would you answer the question: What makes You Feel Beautiful?

In a recent social experiment aimed at capturing different visions of beauty and document participants’ own impressions of what makes them feel beautiful,  the eBay Fashion Blog team sent photographers Alizon Luntz and Viola Gaskell out on the streets of New York and Seattle to ask 80 random people just that question.



People listed family, exercise, the outdoors, and even brushing their teeth essentials to their feelings of being beautiful. One of my favorite answers comes from one of the Seattle people: “Life just makes me feel happy and beautiful–waking up every day and looking at all the beauty in the world.”

I wish I could wake up feeling like that every day.

Short and chunky, I’ve never measured up to the standard ideal of beauty. Something I came to terms with a long time ago. My own answer would probably be closer to another Seattleite’s answer: “What makes me feel beautiful is my accomplishments, big and small.

Accomplishments and challenges are linked to confidence for me. I like to challenge myself to do new things and accomplish hard goals, reaching those goals makes me feel confident. And when I’m confident, I feel beautiful.

Check out all the pictures and answers from the experiment and then share what makes you feel beautiful in the comments below.

You can follow the Tweets that started with this experiment by searching for #MakesMeFeelBeautiful.

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