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Reading Short Stories

13 Dec

This has been my autumn of short story collections. Not for any particular reason other than I had a number of unread ones sitting on my shelf, and I wanted to clear them out. I know a lot of people who buy books at a much greater rate than they read them, and I too used to be one of those people. But I find it satisfying to go through these books and winnow down my collection. I have limited space, and I try to only hold onto the books that mean the world to me. The rest I give away to friends or donate. I do, however, one day want to own a house where all the walls are made of books shelves, but even in that scenario, I want them to be the great books, the ones I wouldn’t hesitate recommending to someone. That requires making sure that the books I own have been read and to commit to not buying new ones until the unread ones have been dealt with accordingly.

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Remember when the Beast gave Beauty this library, and it was the most romantic thing ever, and it set your standards of romance at an unreasonable height when you were still only 8-years-old?

I wholeheartedly believe in the short story as a medium, although it is still one of the most looked over. When I tell people that I’m reading a short story collection, they tend to dismiss the genre either because they think it’s pointless to read something so brief or they’ve never even tried reading short stories, because it holds no interest for them. What draws me to it is the intensity of the story and the language. Short stories, by their nature, have a limited amount of space in which to make the reader feel, grow attached to the characters, and watch them change. Time cannot be wasted in a short story. Novels can be short, long, or painfully long. They can go on wild tangents that have almost nothing to do with the plot and more to do with the author’s political views. I’m looking at you, all 19th century Russian writers. ESPECIALLY YOU, TOLSTOY.

We live in a fast-paced, ADHD society, and short stories are a great option. A brilliant tale with intense images that can be read in 15-20 minutes? It’s the Twitter of Literature. It’s also a great way to get a sampler of the literary scene at the moment. Most mainstream novelists also write short stories and publish them on the side, sometimes expanding them into full-length novels. I do most of my reading on the subway, and I love that I can read about a story per journey. So time-efficient!

 

BEST AMERICAN

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I’m a fan of all the “Best American” collections. They offer about any genre and do a great job of pulling together a snapshot of the best of what has been published in the previous year. Best American Poetry. Best American Sports Writing. Best American Essays. Best American Mystery Writing. I like it, because it is conscious of literary trends that come and go and offers a good glimpse at what is being put out there.

O. HENRY PRIZE

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My aunt gave me a couple of these collections years ago for the bus ride back to New York, but I only just got around to reading them. I don’t know why I stayed away so long, honestly. The stories were excellent and tend to come with the most well known authors on the literary scene. Alice Munro, Joyce Carol Oates, George Saunders. I found one or two stories by new writers, but they tend to collect stories from authors at the height of their powers.

PUSHCART PRIZE

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The Pushcart Prize is a collection of short story, poetry, and essay that have been published by a small press. One of my first jobs was at a small press in Seattle. Three people in an office space, talking about poetry and living on a tight budget. The collection is known for being ahead of the curve as far as trends and publishers go. They pull together from more well-known literary magazines/publishers like McSweeney’s and Tin House and smaller ones that I would probably not come into contact with other wise, like the Alaska Quarterly or the New Ohio Review.

AUTHOR COLLECTION

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Of course, authors also have their own collections which are fantastic and some of my favorite books. I recently read Lorrie Moore’s “Bark.” Her writing is so cutting and something I aspire to. They’re easy books to buy with confidence, too. Just invest the ten minutes or so at the bookstore to read one of the stories, if you like it, chances are you’ll like the rest too.

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Penn Foster Vet Tech Program: A Review

13 Oct
Cat Restraint for Practicum 1.

Cat Restraint for Practicum 1.

The vet tech career is unique in the medical world, because many vet techs don’t necessarily need a degree to work. Personally, I graduated with a degree in Creative Writing with no interest in medicine. However, I ended up as a receptionist at a vet clinic, trying to make ends meet. Within a year, I realized I loved being around the animals, was fascinated by the medical aspect and the head vet tech was willing to train me.

It was a rough road at first. But, at my job, I am surrounded by talented technicians who I am still learning from. And while I saw that apprenticeship and experience was all that was needed to have a job as a veterinary technician, I also saw that without a degree in the field, I was limited in my upward mobility. I have an ambitious personality, and I didn’t just want to be a vet tech. I wanted to be a licensed vet tech. I want to become a board-certified anesthesiology vet tech. The first step was a degree.

After weighing a number of different options (including the leap of faith of going to vet school), I settled on enrolling in the Penn Foster online vet tech program. That was almost three years ago. Now here I sit, still working as a vet tech, done with my four semesters and first practicum and pulling my hair out trying to complete the second. These are my honest, not-sponsered views on how the program went for me and advice to others thinking about pursuing this program.

  1. Time management is key. I can’t stress this enough. Penn Foster advertises that the great thing about the program is the ability to make your own schedule. Realistically, this isn’t going to work for some people. I’m a book nerd who enjoys studying and has always been good at pushing myself. So I was able to sit down at the end of a long day at work and study. I loved that I was able to keep my job and not have to balance work with a class schedule. But at the same time, that structure would have been nice. I went through a 6-month period where I doubted whether this was really what I wanted to do, and I didn’t study. I wish I hadn’t squandered that time, and if I was enrolled in a community college program, I don’t think I would have. Penn Foster has tried in the last couple of years to set up suggested deadlines for tests and classes which could be a big help to less-motivated studiers. But self-discipline is a prerequisite to finishing the program.
  2. The Proctored Exams are difficult. So how does an online program establish legitimacy in their students? After all, it’s all open book, submitted over the internet, surely it is ripe grounds for cheating. These are true things. The way they eliminate the cheaters? Proctored Exams. At the end of each semester, you are given a live, timed exam. And it is difficult. It is in essay form and asks some of the most minute details from the courses. I’m still haunted by the memory of opening my first semester exam and seeing, “Name the six types of bird feathers.” Sure, I had read over that in the Integument section of Anatomy and Physiology, but I had spent no time memorizing them. Despite meticulous studying, I don’t think I got above a 75 on any of the Proctored Exams. And, yes, it is quite easy and possible to cheat on the Proctored Exams as well, but after all is said and done, we all still have to sit for the Veterinary Technician National Exam (VTNE) which I hear is quite difficult. The degree from Penn Foster is worthless without passing the VTNE, so cheating is only doing yourself a disservice.
  3. You need to be already working in the fieldThe most difficult part of the program is the Practicum. After the second and the forth semester, every student is required to complete an externship at a veterinary office under the guidance of a veterinarian or a licensed veterinary technician. I had already been working at my vet clinic for years when the first practicum came around, and all my co-workers pulled together like the dysfunctional family that they are and helped me get all my skills and paperwork completed. I don’t know how possible that would have been without already having worked in the field. Experience is more important as a vet tech. The degree is in many ways a formality at larger clinics and veterinary institutions. I suggest to anyone not already working in the field to get a foot in the door any way they can. Become a receptionist, a kennel assistant, volunteer at the ASPCA and befriend some of the people that work there. Find a way in.
  4. It’s less respected, but who cares. An online program doesn’t carry a lot of weight with people in the veterinary world. But the nice thing I already mentioned is that experience is more key anyways. Laws are slowly being passed, and the veterinary world is shifting to a more corporate atmosphere where licenses are becoming more required. But I’ve seen licensed vet techs come through my clinic doors that can’t hold a dog correctly and think diarrhea is icky. (If you can’t handle icky things, run away, run away now.) Some of the best vet techs we’ve seen are the unlicensed ones that come with references from other clinics saying that they are competent and know what they are doing. Again, it’s key to get your foot in the door somewhere to start learning immediately about holding and about the inner workings of a vet office.
  5. It’s shockingly affordable. If I haven’t scared any prospective students away, this is the biggest plus for the program. It was easy to pay off. They let me make monthly payments, without any interest added on. They also offered me deals on paying it off faster. For instance, when I had only $1400 left to go, they offered to knock off 30% if I made one final payment. So I finished paying the program off almost a year ago, and I don’t owe the school a thing. All textbooks, webinars, study guides are included. It’s clear that they make their biggest profit from students who sign up on a whim for the first semester and don’t stick it out. Just make sure that you aren’t one of those people!
  6. More than this, I did it my way. When all is said and done, I’m glad I did this program, because it was the right thing for me. I could spend my days off and my weeknights studying while still working, playing softball, writing. I could travel without worrying about missing class. I didn’t have to commute to a classroom, but could instead sit in my pajamas with a pot of tea and study. I liked that I had that freedom and that school became a part of my life without taking over. There are times I wish I had done an in-person program- for the networking, the face-to-face with professors, the structure and lack of Practicum paperwork. But at my age, and at this point in my life, it was the right thing for me.

ANYONE ELSE OUT THERE HAVE EXPERIENCE WITH ONLINE OR IN-PERSON VET TECH PROGRAMS?

Book Roundup #3

13 Jul

I was amazed today to realize how peripatetic my 2015 has been so far. New Mexico, London, Spain, Tangier, California, Maine, and later this week Canada. I’ve had so many amazing opportunities that I haven’t been able to turn down. One of the side-effects of my jet-set life is a lot of reading to fill those plane and/or train rides. I like being stuck on these journeys with a stack of books or gigabytes of books as the case may be. It’s one of my favorite things about traveling, having an excuse to sit and read or write and let my nerd-self simmer in the English language. These are some of my favorites of late.

Modern Romance by Aziz Ansari


Buy here.

I bought an Aziz Ansari comedy special years ago and somehow ended up on his mailing list. In preparation for his debut book, I got a mass email that announced a lottery for his book release party open to those that pre-order the book. It doesn’t take much to convince me to buy a book, so I pre-ordered a copy in hopes that I’d get to hobnob with Aziz in New York. I didn’t win, but I was surprised to find the book on my kindle one morning. I was even more surprised to find out that I loved the book. I’m not a huge fan of comedy books. I just don’t find them funny without seeing the delivery. But, although, Aziz Ansari’s brand of humor is present throughout, the book is more of a sociological study about dating in the modern world. He conducted experiments with a sociologist and combed through OKcupid’s data to find out how people are dating and what they are doing right and/or wrong. He even discusses modern dating in other cultures like Japan, France, and Argentina. I read the book in about a day as it was fascinating and easy to get through.

Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn

Spoilers in that video, although I like the analysis.

I watched the movie before I read the book. A sin, I know. But I had accidentally found out the twist in this book when reading an essay about unlikeable female characters. I was so disappointed to have it spoiled for me that I didn’t want to read it. But after seeing the movie and reading Flynn’s other book “Dark Places,” I had to. It was amazing. I couldn’t put it down. I loved every ounce of the character of Amy and the dark tones of the book. Gillian Flynn has quickly joined my fantasy Boss Ass Bitch Booze Brunch club along with Cheryl Strayed, Amy Poehler, and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichi. I daydream about hanging out with these intelligent women and discussing writing, creativity and just being awesome. I guess they would discuss, and I would refill their cocktails/bring out more hash browns, but I’d be honored to be there and to possibly soak up some of their glory.

Anyways, “Gone Girl” takes a commonplace narrative of a murder and twists it around to something new. I know I’m late on the bandwagon, but I just can’t stop thinking about the book. It raises so many questions about love, marriage, feminism and identity.

“Travels with Charley: In Search of America” by John Steinbeck

I’ve been meaning to read this book for years, and it went above and beyond my expectations. John Steinbeck has always been one of my favorite authors. This is a departure from his usual fiction writing and is a memoir of a road trip he took with his standard poodle Charley through the country to try and get back in touch with what real America is like. I loved this book for all the reasons to love any Steinbeck book. Funny, beautiful, and revelatory. My mother bought me my copy when we were in Monterey as a souvenir of our California trip, and I’ve marked this copy up with all my favorite quotes and parts I want to go back to and re-read.

“I was born lost and take no pleasure in being found, nor much identification from shapes which symbolize continents and states.”

Night of a Thousand Stevies

15 May

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I was planning on spending the Friday night in. I had a flight the next day and wanted to pack and rest up. My friend Jan, however, was texting me earlier in the week and convinced me to go to an event with her. It was called “Night of a Thousand Stevies,” and I had no clue what I was getting myself into.

Jan is a HUGE Stevie Nicks fan. She adores the twirl, the bohemian occult draw. I liked Stevie Nicks enough. I mean, doesn’t every woman find “Landslide” poignant? And I had listened to “Dreams” on repeat when going through a break-up years ago, until the sting of the loss subsumed into the clang of Stevie’s tambourine. But I wasn’t a huge fan and found myself unsure why I was dragging myself out for an all-night, Stevie Nick’s themed, mystery event.

I dressed myself up as Stevie as I could. Red flowing skirt, black sheer sweater with sleeves that covered most of my fingers, long charm necklace, hoop earrings, and feathers in my hair. I thought I’d feel silly, but I actually felt amazing, thinking I should start dressing like a wayward gypsy more often. I had downloaded some Stevie Nicks music while out with my softball team earlier in the week and on my train ride to Irving Plaza for this strange event I had signed up for, I listened. “Silver Springs,” “Edge of Seventeen,” “Gold Dust Woman.” How had I missed this? These songs are incredible, and her songwriting is on point.

“Rulers make bad lovers. Better put your kingdom up for sale.”

She’s incredible.

Jan and I

Jan and I

We get to the event and start to see the thousand Stevies. People in top hats, black corsets, tambourines with ribbons, fake owls, long capes. Everyone dressed in some form of an inspired Stevie ensemble. So many twirl-offs. I had no idea that twirling could be such an art.

Up in the balcony, we managed to score a prime viewing spot of the stage where a variety of bands and artists came out to perform odes to Stevie. We saw straight-forward tribute bands, look-alikes who just wanted to dance and twirl, drag queens who came out with giant dove wings and glowing orb moons. My favorite was a troupe of ballerinas who danced en pointe to a choreographed routine of “Carousel” while dressed like Stevies in tutus.

I was struck by the idea of Stevie Nicks and her career. She was different than many women in music during her day, an original concept and style that she created and stuck to. And to back it up, she wrote beautiful songs with so much honesty and vulnerability. Now she lays claim to a cult of weirdos who get together once a year to emulate and bond over her music. She inspired me to be less afraid to lay my heart bare in my writing, to find my own way and style. If anything, that night I joined the cult of weirdos in worshiping the amazing Stevie.

I’ve spent the last couple of weeks obsessed with her music, bouncing from song to song and listening to them on repeat. I can’t get enough of her. My latest song on repeat is “Leather and Lace”

“You’re saying I’m fragile. I try not to be. I search only for something I can’t see. I have my own life, and I am stronger than you know.”

Twirl on, Stevie. Twirl on.

The Summer Game by Roger Angell

20 Apr

I know that I’m a couple of weeks late in writing about the beginning of the 2015 baseball season. But that shouldn’t undermine the level of excitement and complacency I feel. Playing softball with my friends on the warm Spring days. Watching the Mariners at a sports bar while eating wings and drinking beer. All is right with the world. Everything is as it should be.

During this time of the year, I spend a lot of time working with Dr. G who is a lifetime Yankees fan. We tease each other back and forth and talk about the ups and downs of our respective teams. Dr. G is the one who told me about Roger Angell who is a friend of his and a client of the clinic’s. I had no idea that the adorable old man with the Jack Russel Terrier also happens to be one of the most legendary baseball writers of all time. “The Summer Game” is the first book of his that I have read.

The book is full of essays that he wrote during the sixties. To be honest, some of the writing didn’t grab me, only because I was reading about games that happened almost 60 years ago. And while I easily recognized names like Willie Mays, Sandy Koufax, and Carl Yastrzemski. So many of the other players and games he wrote about are so far in the past that their importance doesn’t translate. So I did skim over a handful of the recaps of who stole what base in what inning.

There was an interesting arc to the essays as they followed the nascent years of the New York Mets whom I support on a casual and Queens-pride level. He wrote about how horrible they were in their first couple of seasons, yet how the fans supported them with a fervor that some of the more successful teams couldn’t come close to. He wrote about the transition from the Polo Grounds to Shea stadium, tracking the evolution of major league baseball to newer venues, expanded franchises, players rights.

“This was a new recognition that perfection is admirable but a trifle inhuman, and that a stumbling kind of semi-success can be much more warming. Most of all, perhaps, these exultant yells for the Mets were also yells for ourselves, and came from a wry, half-understood recognition that here is more Met than Yankee in every one of us. I knew for whom the foghorn blew; it blew for me.”

Angell writes about baseball as only a true baseball-obsessed person can, as a religion. I get tired of the debate I have with people about whether baseball is boring or not. If other people don’t like it, I simply don’t care. It’s something I need in my life. And there’s a special kind of recognition to spend time with another baseball fan who understands the game and what makes it so special. This is the recognition that I found in his writing.

“Whatever the pace of the particular baseball game we are watching, whatever its outcome, it holds us in its own continuum and mercifully releases us from our own.”

Stitch Fix

4 Apr

Shopping, to me, is a dreaded, stressful experience. I don’t know what I want, and I feel overwhelmed by choices. But I can’t help but look at the girls around me that are my age. They have these stylish outfits that seem well thought out yet simple. They have nice purses, and their hair falls just right, either straight or in perfect waves. How do they do this?! I don’t have the time or the patience to pull myself together. On top of that, I’ve chosen a career in which I get to wear scrubs. So my style has gotten increasingly lazy over the years.

However, back in October I found Stitch Fix. It’s a personal shopping service for women. I signed up for the every other month deal, and I filled out a lengthy profile that went over everything from my size, what I like to show off, different styles I like, and how much money I’m willing to spend. So every other month, a personal stylist sends me five pieces that they think I will like.

This month's box. The stylist sends these cards showing fashion-incompetent me how to wear each piece.

This month’s box. The stylist sends these cards showing fashion-incompetent me how to wear each piece.

I am only charged a $20 styling fee. I send back whatever I don’t like, and I keep the pieces that work. They charge my credit card for what I keep (deducting the styling fee), and I have new pieces of clothing.

This has been AMAZING for someone like me. I’ve been able to build up a better wardrobe. With each box, I write a review back to my stylist of why I did or did not like certain pieces. So each box (in theory) gets better than the one before. With my most recent box, I ended up keeping all five items which resulted in a 25% discount off the whole thing. IMG_2506

This for instance shows the leopard print infinity scarf, the black sweater and the army green skinny jeans. I never thought I’d like anything leopard print, but I gave it a shot and was immediately enamored. I had no idea it would go so well with my plethora of black clothes. The black sweater was simple, but it has beautiful detailing and an almost sheer, lace quality to it. Pants that aren’t jeans? A revelation. I also have a pair of burgundy skinny jeans from a previous box.

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I also like that each piece comes from independent clothing companies. So I’m not throwing my money to Gap and Urban Outfitters anymore. The striped blouse is from Fate. The jacket that I plan to wear every glorious day of Spring is from Latte. And the skinny jeans in the picture are Mavi and are from a previous Stitch Fix box. They fit like a second skin.

I debated whether I should mention that this is not a sponsored post, because HA! this is nowhere near being anything close to a fashion blog. I just can’t help preaching the good word of Stitch Fix to the likewise fashion-illiterate people out there. It’s honestly been the easiest means of looking put-together I have ever found.

Feel free to use my referral code.

For men, I think there’s a male version of it called Trunk Club. But all of my guy friends who have looked into it have told me that it’s dreadfully expensive.

Battleborn by Claire Vaye Watkins

21 Feb

“Have you started reading your book-pick yet?”

This is how my friend and fellow book club member Melis greeted me as I entered my friend Jonah’s launch party for his new website.

“Not yet. Why? Is it bad?” I ask her. This is my second time picking a book for my book club, and both times I’ve been terrified that I’ve selected a dud.

“It’s kind of fucked up.”

“It’s about Nevada!”

“It’s not about Nevada. It’s about fucked up things happening in Nevada.”

My relationship with my home state is fraught with tension. I hated living there. I often felt embarrassed about being from there. Yet it’s shaped a huge part of who I am. And since I’ve left, my nostalgia for that weird place has become bittersweet. I don’t know how it happened, but I reluctantly fell in love with Nevada.

It has crept into my writing as a loaded setting, and a new friend of mine who has been kind enough to read the short stories I’m churning out told me to check out this book. He recommended it not just because of her use of the Nevada setting, but he thought our styles were similar as well.

I was ready to love this book from the moment it arrived in the mail. An initial kudos goes to an incredible title. “Battleborn” is the slogan of the state of Nevada, referring to the fact that we only became a state so that our silver could help finance the North in the Civil War. But it is also an adjective that can aptly describe the characters that Watkins writes about. They come out of poverty. They come out of the desert. They come out of heartbreak. But I don’t agree with Melis’ assertion that it’s about fucked up things. I think it is about unpleasant situations (unwanted pregnancy, sexual assault) in a somewhat gritty place (rundown apartment buildings, whorehouses, desert.)

And I think that’s exactly the kind of thing that I’ve grown to love in my own writing, in the things I read, and in my home state. It’s not the shiny fantasy that the tourist boards from California, Florida, even New York present of themselves. Even Las Vegas, the shining glory of the state drips with seediness. It’s a quirky place that’s hard to understand unless you are from there. But I think the thing that Watkins does that I admire is she is able to bring the reader closer to what life in Nevada is like, making it a character in itself. I also couldn’t help but get giddy as she mentioned so many things that I remember and love. Penny poker slot machines and the Bucket of Blood Saloon, anyone? Above all, it’s fine writing. I savored every sentence, and I felt physical pain as I neared the end. I wanted more. More Nevada. Not enough has been said about that place, but I’m glad that a brave soul is out there bringing it into the conversation.

Drunk Mom by Jowita Bydlowska

4 Nov

Have you ever had a friend confide something somewhat disturbing to you? Maybe they warned you there was something they wanted to talk about. Or maybe they just blurt it out while you’re enjoying your weekly meetup for coffee/drinks. They look you right in the eye while they confess a truth that’s been weighing on their heart. They hush their voice and tell you the unpolished, unaltered secret that they can’t hold onto any longer. You are enraptured in them at that moment. You don’t know whether to condemn them or tell them it’s okay, so you just sit and listen, because that’s probably all they want you to do anyways.

That’s what reading this book was like. Somebody baring the dirty, nasty secrets of their past. I read this book in two days, glued to every word. While getting my hair done, waiting for the subway, eating a bagel and sipping coffee at a diner. I couldn’t turn away. Jowita Bydlowska describes a year of being a relapsed alcoholic while also being a new mother. Her prose is jarring, overloaded with metaphors and missing dialogue and cuts between time. I found it beautiful and felt pulled into what it must be like in the mind of someone completely under the spell of addiction.

I was reading some of the reviews of this book on Goodreads and was shocked to see how many people gave it one or two stars. These reviews always read something along the lines of “Great book/writing, but I can’t give her a good rating, because she was a horrible mother who did deplorable things while caring for her child.” WHAT?! When you rate a book, you aren’t rating the author as a human being. She doesn’t speak highly of the things she did. If anything the book is full of shame, grief, self-loathing and disappointment. I loved the book because of her absolute honesty. Who wants to read a 300-page book about someone being a perfect mother, never making any mistakes? Bigger question: Who wants to read a 300-page book about anyone being a perfect person, skating through life making all the right choices?

Sometimes when I sit down to write personal essay/memoir/blog posts, I hesitate. I think less about the craft of writing and more about who might one day read it. My mom, my friends, ex-boyfriends, future boyfriends. I even worry about possible future children who will think their mother was a moron/shitty person in her younger days. So I censor myself. I tell half the story and shelve the rest. I’m not ready for the world to see the ugly parts of me. It always makes me think of one of my favorite F. Scott Fitzgerald quotes:

“You’ve got to sell your heart, your strongest reactions, not the little minor things that touch you lightly, the little experiences that you might tell at dinner…you only have your emotions to sell.”

And that’s what made me so in awe of this writer and this work. It was the truth, her truth as she felt it and she lived it in what was the darkest year of her life. I thought it was beautiful.

Crooked Lines

28 Oct

Last Thursday I was at work when my friend Jeff texted me that he had an extra ticket to an off-broadway musical called “Here Lies Love” and could I be at Astor Place by 8. Normally I would have said no. Thursdays are my night in. I work till 8pm and have to be back at 8am the following morning. But something about the randomness of it all pulled me to say, “Sure!” despite not knowing how on Earth I could get there in time.

I took a cab, then ran through giant puddles on the Lower East Side to arrive at the theater at 8:07. The ushers shove me into an elevator and take my coat and bag from me for coat check. I exit the elevator and walk into what looks like a giant dance club. Jeff waves at me as I make my way across the room, and the second I am by his side, it begins. I had no idea what I was in for.

“Here Lies Love” was created by musical geniuses David Byrne and Fatboy Slim about the rise and fall of the former first lady of the Philippines, Imelda Marcos. I’m unsure how to describe the following 90 minutes of my life. It was incredible. An interactive, multimedia, dance-hall themed musical. People in space suits (not as crazy as it sounds) shifting the crowd around, the performers coming into the audience to sing, breaks in between songs for the crowd to do DJ-led, Filipino-style line dancing! Every once in a while, Jeff and I would look at each other in ecstatic amazement.

After a crescendo of political strife, assassinations, the institution of martial law, a headline on the screen showed that Imelda Marcos and her husband, Ferdinand Marcos where helicoptered out of the Philippines for refuge in the United States. At this point one of the stages had been morphed into stairs where the audience sat. After the multimedia, dance club extravaganza, one singer came out with a ukelele and performed a song called, “God Draws Straight.”

The minimalism of the performance almost brought me to tears. The lyrics struck something in me. Despite having never heard the song before, it wouldn’t leave my mind. I downloaded it the next morning and have been listening to it on repeat for days. The crux of this song’s chorus is this line:

“You might think you are lost, but then you will find that God draws straight but with crooked lines.”

This is an idea I’ve been coming across a lot the last couple of weeks. This sense that everything happens for a reason, that things are unfolding as the Universe intended. It’s hard to comprehend and make sense of it, but the line in this song made it click. I’m not where I expected to be at 28, and I can’t believe how winding the path has been. But I have to believe that all my experiences, the good and the bad, are leading me toward a better path. I don’t feel lost the way I did at 25 or 22 or 18. I do feel nervous about my future though. I don’t have a sense of where I’ll end up living, what I’ll end up doing, or which people will be around me. But that’s not because I’m lost, I’ve just been heading down crooked lines, and that’s okay.

My Filipino co-worker who has already seen “Here Lies Love” twice is bringing me the full soundtrack to the musical and a documentary about Imelda Marcos to work tomorrow to lend to me. I’ve put a couple of books about her along with a book about the Power People Revolution on hold at the library. As Jeff and I left the theater and walked down St. Mark’s looking for a place to grab a beer, we could hardly express our amazement at what we had seen. Jeff summed it up pretty well, “David Bryne! That crazy, creative, genius son-of-a-bitch!”

Start Your Engines…

25 Feb

RuPaul”s Drag Race Season 6 – Trailer from Eduardo Roza on Vimeo.

A couple of years ago, I was spending a lazy Friday night at my friend Brian’s apartment on the Upper West Side. We were drinking Gin and Tonics and catching up on “30 Rock” on Netflix. Once we were Liz Lemoned out, he suggested we watch old episodes of “RuPaul’s Drag Race.”

“It’s so campy and cheap and ridiculous, you’re going to love it!”

I was reluctant. I was skeptical. Brian is gay. I’m not. It wasn’t my culture, and drag queens had never interested me. Two episodes in, the show was growing on me. First, it’s hilarious. Queens insult (“read”) each other with quick-witted, smart one-liners. The competitions they were put in were over-the-top camp. Photo shoots in a wind tunnel that pulled their wigs off, getting thrown in a dunk tank. The tongue in cheek humor is unparalleled. The winner is whoever displays the most “cunning, uniqueness, nerve, and talent.” Think about that acronym.

So I became hooked. To this day, “RuPaul’s Drag Race” is the only show that I look forward to, make sure to watch on a weekly basis. I’ve even gone to events in the city that feature some of the past and present queens. Over the years, I’ve begun to see the show as more than outrageous fashion and campy attitudes. Beneath all the glitter, the show has a distinct message about being yourself, and to me, it’s taught me a lot about being a woman.

Despite our equality strides, women are still not portrayed as powerful as often as they should be. When they are, it’s with a frumpy bitch overtone (see Hillary Clinton). Men dressing as women has traditionally been seen as humiliating, weak. What the drag queens do is elevate the ideals of womanhood. They are smart, creative, and tough. They are beautiful and commanding. The queens that win are the ones with the strongest personalities. Last year was Jinkx Monsoon with her vaudeville humor and flapper glamor. The year before that was Sharon Needles who has a gothic appearance and a penchant for using fake blood in her outfits. But these lady boys aren’t laughed at for dressing up as women, they are respected and admired.

We should all be that proud to be ourselves.