Category: culture

The Zombies Descend

Photo by Lareign Ward.

Photo by Lareign Ward. In Texas, even the zombies are Longhorn fans.



Like many MFA students who are staying here for the summer, I’m going to need either a summer job or a large supply of gold teeth, and fast. So when a friend posted on Facebook about a zombie series filming in Spokane, I started thinking.

Sure, being a zombie extra wouldn’t be the steadiest job, but it’s chasing after people and moaning “BRRAAAIIINNNS” is probably less degrading than a typical day at a fast food restaurant (I worked in fast food for three weeks at age 18, and it did not end well). I also write creative nonfiction, and I’m always looking for new material. As a fellow student told me, “When you’re a writer, anything and everything is research.”

There’s no guarantee I’d get chosen once I register, of course. If all the people discussing The Walking Dead on my Facebook are any indication, zombie fever is running rampant. Still, here are a few reasons why I think me as a zombie just makes sense.

1) In high school, I played a stern East German nun and the ugliest girl in town, respectively. Appearing as a zombie with no lines in a series brought to us by the producers of Sharknado seems like the next logical step.

2) Give me a few milligrams of melatonin and call me at 7 a.m. the next day. You’ll be amazed at just how much I sound like a zombie in my inability to form complete words.

4) Want me to shuffle and lurch like a zombie? Put me in three-inch stilettos and watch my center of gravity vanish.

3) I don’t have an actor’s ego. In fact, after my triumphant turns as a nun and a hideous girl, I decided to major in theater as an 18-year-old undergraduate. It went poorly. My self-worth was so damaged that I decided to become an English major instead.



some things I have been wondering

photo by the author

photo by the author

I’ve been wondering about the implications of your saying, “soon we’ll have to have a second car just to take to the poor neighborhoods, because I’m not driving my car there.”

I’ve been wondering how that would work, and what it is about cars, and what is at the very center of your saying it.

I’ve been wondering how far out from themselves a person can usually navigate before the edges get dark and a person turns back in.

I’ve been wondering this not just about you.

I’ve been wondering what makes us deflate and what makes us expand.

We are in line at the grocery store and we are very polite and content with our things and we’ll smile at anybody and we look at no one too long.

I’ve been wondering who it is we want to see and what we want them to show up as.

I am sometimes sure people are wanting me to show up as someone opinionless, cheerful, someone they have known all their lives.

I am sometimes sure people are wanting me to show up as a piece of soft metal they can bend in their hands.

I’ve been wondering about when I came home to find the house trashed, the window open, the T.V., computer, jewelry, everything gone, it was then deemed safe to let two very large strange men with guns in the door who brushed past me with no introduction.

I showed up as victim and they showed up as heroes and we were all supposed to feel seamless in roles decided by who.

I’ve been wondering which car you have decided on, and who it is I want you to show up as.

I’m wondering if we can take each other gently apart, hair by hair, just to see.

I’m wondering when the fear falls out, will we know what to do without it.

Springtime in Spokane

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I come from Texas, a land where school is canceled and the news channels go to round-the-clock coverage if two inches of snow falls. When that happens, Snowpacalypse 2012 (or whatever year) is all anyone in town can talk about. The grocery store shelves are bare. Drivers are warned to stay home unless it’s an emergency. apocalypse

Then I moved to Spokane.

I knew winter would be rough, but I didn’t quite know just how rough it could get. It snowed, and no one seemed to blink, although a few people did say, “You think that’s bad?” and shake their head, almost as if they pitied me.

The plows did not come through, at least not on my street. I am told this is not unusual, but it was still jarring to walk outside and see what looked like an ice rink that spanned several blocks. The snow fell, and it did not melt. More snow fell on top of it, and that didn’t melt either.

By early February, I felt numb, both physically and emotionally. Nothing was alive, and it seemed like nothing would ever be alive again. Everything was cold and gray. Colors no longer existed.

I bought a SAD lamp, but it was hard to even muster up the energy to turn the blasted thing on. When I did turn it on the first time, I was dumb enough to look directly at the light. Being rendered temporarily blind did nothing to improve my mood. At my lowest moment, a Lana Del Rey song came on the radio and I started yelling: “SUMMERTIME SADNESS? IT’S 3 DEGREES OUT, YOU MORON!”

Gradually, something shifted. A few weeks ago, I switched from my  heavy coat to my lighter coat (the latter being the only coat I really needed back in Texas). The snow cover started melting, and sleet and rain started falling instead of big, thick snowflakes.

Then, a couple of weeks ago, I started leaving my coat in the car when I ran errands. This was around the time the sun decided to start peaking out from  behind the clouds again, around the time the clocks sprang forward and the sun started setting at 7 p.m. instead of noon.

Nowadays, I walk outside my house in the morning and feel like Dorothy leaving her tornado-battered house and entering the world of Technicolor that is Oz. There’s an asphalt street instead of a yellow brick road, and there are screaming schoolchildren across the street rather than Munchkins, but that’s OK.

There’s also no sign of a benevolent blonde witch in a puffy pink dress, but hey, it’s only April.



Riots around the Corner

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Photo from the ABQ Journal

According to the US Census’ 2012 data, about 555,417 people live in Albuquerque. That’s about a quarter of the population of New Mexico. It is a majority-minority town and state. The state often markets its tricultural harmony.

Nearly 18% of the people here live below the poverty line. Starting police salary, without differentials for overnight shifts, is about $35,000 a year.

Several years ago, there was TV show called COPS. The intro song went like this”Bad boys, bad boys. Watcha you gonna do, watcha you gonna do when they come for you. Bad boys, bad boys.”

The vague pronoun “they” appears to refer to the police. Does the ambiguous “bad boys” refer to the police or suspected lawbreakers?

The show had a little film crew who rode along with the police and taped them making arrests. The crime series aired on Fox for 25 years.

Albuquerque has a lot of drunks and homeless people. Many people come into town and go on benders.

Since I live close to the Route 66 and the university, I’m near a lot of bus stops and places where people are allowed to sit in public for free. Empty, inexpensive pints of vodka litter my neighborhood.

Homeless people are often entering the dorms on campus and trying to sleep in the warm buildings, out of the wind.

Walking to work one morning, I encountered a man weaving his way down the street on a bicycle. He appeared neither homeless nor housed. “You have nice eyebrows!” he said as he wobbled past.

The drunks here are mostly harmless. Every few days, some Native Americans will catcall me in Spanish. (I am white; I could be Hispanic or Anglo.) They are just as likely to say something vulgar, as they are to offer some potato chips or ask for a couple bucks to get another beverage.

Part of the energy with the COPS show when it filmed in Albuquerque was that racial dynamic between the police and the people being arrested. Part of it was that the combination of characteristics was foreign to the rest of the U.S. In one episode that residents have shown me multiple times to explain the popularity of COPS involves a drunk Native American crossdresser in trouble with the police. For most of the country, this is a bizarre combination. It is a reminder of some social problems that stem from 500 years of colonization.

The TV show started filming here all the time. Every time you watched COPS it was taking place in Albuquerque. The mayor finally banned COPS from filming here—the show was giving the town a bad reputation. We did not appear to be three cultures holding hands and singing kumbaya.

In the last two weeks, the police have shot and killed two men.

One had his hands up in the air and was agreeing to come peacefully. He was homeless; they were arresting him for sleeping in the foothills. Read more »

Foolin’ Around

Trust no one.

Trust no one.


Today on campus, I overheard a conversation between two women. It wasn’t a quiet one. In fact, they were all but yelling.

Woman 1: “No wonder everyone thinks we’re a lesbian couple!”

Woman 2: “Well, if you would just stay off me…”

Woman 1: “You won’t stop buying me stuff!”

Considering tomorrow is April 1, that conversation reminds me of the best/worst April Fools’ joke I’ve ever played. Eight or nine years ago, a good friend of mine was engaged to be married. For whatever reason, this friend and I decided to post separate online declarations of love to one another and make it so her fiance was sure to see them. I don’t remember how we pulled this off, especially if we weren’t on Facebook (it’s hard to remember a time before Facebook). But we got our intended effect: he freaked out upon reading that his betrothed was secretly in love with a woman. We were both amused, but looking back, it feels like kind of a crappy thing to do, and not just because of the “Haha! Lesbians!” angle. We only kept him in suspense for a few hours, but I wonder at the wisdom of playing with someone’s emotions like that.

The relationship didn’t last, by the way, but not because of homosexuality, be it fake or otherwise.

The older I get, though, the less novel and exciting April Fools’ Day seems. The best kind of joke would genuinely shock your friends and family without causing them great and lasting emotional trauma; those jokes are hard to find and even harder to pull off. For a while, all my female friends and half of my male ones fell pregnant on April 1. It’s not a bad joke, necessarily. It involves sex, and sex has the inherent ability to freak people out, but it’s definitely overplayed at this point.

Maybe April 1 has lost some of its luster partly because the Internet seems like one big fake-out nowadays. It’s hard to tell if that crazy photo your cousin posted is real or just another trick/ad engineered by Jimmy Kimmel/a clothing company/the Scientologists. For every million hits a viral video gets, there will be another million people trying to prove the video is a fake. I admit I fall into the latter group, as I hate being taken for a fool, be it on April 1 or any other day of the year. I’d rather be called the ugliest, craziest wench alive than be called stupid (OK, I’d actually rather not be called any of that).

If you are actually having a gay affair/pregnant, don’t announce it tomorrow. Wait until Wednesday, when people will ask, “Wait a second. Is this a late April Fool?”





Invented Landscapes and Very Real Things

Berkeley IB Art ShowI know memory leaves bright spots where there used to be large, black expanses, and I know it hardens up shapes that used to be fluid and swimming. I know my memory draws long, looped lines to all the places I could have got to quickly if I’d turned the other way.But what I remember about being a teenager is a lot of uncertainty and a kind of desperate cultural claustrophobia.

Nothing about my high school, or the streets I took to get there, or the people who rotated in different versions of the same visual, reflected the ripplings that were going on inside me. There were structures in place: gateways and tryouts and solidifyings that stretched out forever and determined one’s place in an inscrutable system– which felt everlasting, in the doomiest way possible.

Not having played soccer religiously from the age of four, for example, had been a bad choice. No teamlife for me.

Not being a prodigy in any one spectator-ready talent was troubling, as the best is what it seemed the system was searching for. Every fifteen-year-old had a lot and wanted more, and the point was to stand directly in the spotlight and grab it. That was the point. Grab it.

Read more »

The Comments Section of The Internet, As Told by a Brainwashed Moron

I don’t usually delve into political topics on the internet, and this is because of the Comments sections everywhere. I recently watched Ellen’s interview of President Obama, and the comments quickly turned into the following conversation:








In an effort to have a comment on there about something other than who was responsible for the destruction of this country and how awful Obama was and why Americans are stupid (or why the Swiss are idiots), I stupidly commented on the fact that OBAMA WAS ON ELLEN, and how awesome the interview in the first place, and I commented on this because the novelty of it amused me. This is a world where the US President appears on a talk show . . . there are so many different things at play here that are phenomenal. We’re in an age where someone can record, digitally, in color, a conversation with one of America’s most popular television hosts and one of America’s most-hated/most-loved leaders, and where people can have a discussion about it.

And of course, someone posted in response, “wow . . . brainwashed morons are always like this.” Read more »

brackets of brackets

like many americans, i’m watching an obscene amount of basketball this week.  like most americans, i’m a little overwhelmed by the proliferation of “bracket” culture.  even the number of brackets focused just on books is a bit much.  so, after seeing brackets this year for npr vs. pbs personalities, the bitchiest fans, the most privileged demographic, curse words,  and (for fuck’s sake) life, i thought i’d be all clever and make a bracket of brackets.  but the internet beat me to it.  now the best i can do is encourage you to vote in the saved by the bell bracket.  and then cry.  or watch cat .gifs.  whatever.  ‘merica.


Anything Other Than Writing

My brain is a kind of synapse soup leaking out of my ears after two terrific conferences, one odyssey in Denver, a delivery of files to the printing press, and the mere suggestion of grading scientist profiles. So, in lieu of a thoughtful post, I will offer you several games.

1. Pick up the book nearest you.
Turn to page 45. The first complete sentence describes your love life.

Here’s mine:
“Rather than simplifying and unifying, he is revealing the complexity of the Japanese ‘natural’ world and opening a space in the cosmology for native yokai.”

from Pandemonium and Parade: Japanese Monsters and the Culture of Yokai by Michæl Dylan Foster

(Har har har, sounds supernatural, huh?)

2. Make a book spine poem by arranging books on your self.
Here’s mine:


The hummingbird’s daughter
falling up
in the wilderness
skinny legs and all.
Read more »

The Making of Good Writers

WriterLeslie Jamison thoughtful and smart essay “Which Creates Better Writers: An MFA Program or New York City? examines the issues brought up in MFA vs. NYC, an essay collection edited by Chad Harbach. The collection is an extension of the questions Hardbach asked in his 2010 essay by the same title, which was written in response to Mark McGurl’s  2009 book The Program Era.

I remember some of the arguments debates that heated up the internet four years ago, and it seems like the collection continues those discussions.

The Los Angeles Times thinks the book ‘ponders whether getting a master of fine arts degree in creative writing is a good idea.’ Though in the article that follows this headline, reviewer Carolyn Kellogg broadens the issue: ‘The larger question is whether institutionalizing a creative endeavor benefits our culture.’ In the New York Times, Dwight Garner calls it a ‘volume that asks whether fiction writing can, or should, be taught.’

Jamison expands these questions in her essay and clarifies why the debate will probably never be settled.

“Not so much whether writers can be taught but what it means that they are getting taught, and what it means that we keep asking this question about the legitimacy of the discipline; what our anxieties about the institutionalization of writing might teach us. The volume asks who pays the bills, and how; and also how these flows of money—the pressures they generate and the institutional affiliations they produce—affect the work itself.”

Reading this article right after AWP resonated with me. It’s been four years since I last attended the conference and yet many of the panels this year discussed the same issues as the talks I attended then, including “…the legitimacy of the discipline; what our anxieties about the institutionalization of writing might teach us.” And many of the students in the audience again  brought up variations of “who pays the bills, and how; and also how these flows of money—the pressures they generate and the institutional affiliations they produce—affect the work itself.”

I’m not sure we’ll ever get concrete answers. I kind of hope we don’t, because I like the landscape of the writing market to be as fluid and diverse as I hope new writers (and writing programs) will continue to be.  And so, I’m quite happy to debate these issues, now and in the future.

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