The Fancy Guide to Oaxaca

Okay, I don’t know which is more misleading, the word “fancy” or the word “guide.” But during my time here I’ve asked the internet lots of things, like “How far is the beach” and “Calories in mole negro” and “Tarot readings Oaxaca esoterica psychic,” and got about 50/50 helpful answers/crap. So I figured I may as well post some of the things that the internet couldn’t satisfactorily tell me, since I’ve stumbled around the city for a while and it’s rare I get a chance to share my knowledge because it’s rare I have shareable knowledge. (In part because I often get confused between what I “know” and what I “think.” Like the time I accidentally told a lot of customers that Caffe Dolce used to be a bank. “Yeah,” I said to everyone, “all those rooms downstairs used to be vaults!” False. It was never anything but Caffe Dolce. The building was constructed specifically to be Caffe Dolce. Which I found out when a fellow waitress mentioned there was a crazy rumor going around that it used to be a bank. “Wait, it didn’t?” I said. And lost all my cred forever and ever amen.)

1. How far is the beach? (From Oaxaca City, that is.) 

I don’t know in terms of concrete measurements, but when I asked the internet I learned you can take an expensive ADO bus to Puerto Escondido and it will take you 13 hours, which is why I never did it. ORRRR you can take a cheap van that will take you 6 hours!!! Which of those sounds like the better option to you? I found out about the van too late, but you can learn from my mistake. When you’re in Oaxaca city, just ask everyone you see where the vans to Puerto Escondido are, and someone will tell you, and then you can find them and be at the beach in 6 hours; a trip that would be completely worth it not least because if you tell a Mexican you spent 2 1/2 months in Oaxaca without going to the beach they will look at you like you’re a chewed-up piece of gum that was orphaned at a young age.  (Disgust/sympathy, if that simile confused you.)

2. How many calories in Mole Negro?

Lots and lots!!! It has almonds, chocolate, sugar and raisins, to name a few of the thousand ingredients. Think about if you blended up a huge bag of trail mix and added a ton of oil and chile for good measure… that’s about the calorie content. I’m not a regular calorie-counter but Mole Negro tastes so good I just knew it had to be terrible for me. It’s got some healthy stuff in it (see: almonds), so if you’re a health freak just concentrate on those protein-packed little darlings while you furtively lick your plate.

3. Tarot readings Oaxaca esoterica psychic

The internet was not helpful on this front. And I only recently noticed there are signs all over the city with a phone number for Tarot readings, but I never called because a) The sign is really confusing, it says “All types of work guaranteed, you don’t pay until you see results!” which doesn’t make sense for me, Tarot-wise. I’m not a results-based reader, and as I’ve never had a professional reading, I don’t know if such a businesslike attitude is normal, but anyway, it freaked me out and I didn’t call. And b) I cannot speak Spanish on the phone. Face-to-face I’m great, but get me on the phone and I talk like a really loud two year-old. Heriberto’s mom called the other day while he was out and I foolishly answered and said something along the lines of, “HERIBERTO IS A HOUSE. SORRY, HERIBERTO IS NOT A HOUSE.”

But if you want a Tarot reading in Oaxaca, keep your eyes out for those signs. Also there are signs in shop windows, in the kinds of stores that sells magical religious soaps and amulets, yet the Tarot reader is never there, and you’ll have to use the phone to find them, so, nope, couldn’t do it. However, if you’re into it, they sell spells here in the markets and the stores. I think they’re little sachets of herbs with some instructions. I didn’t try any because they all seem sort of mean-hearted and against code. Like there’s one called TapaBocas to shut people up, especially girls, I guess. Look.

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Mexico City is where the real magic happens, it seems. Speaking of…

4. Mexico City

The internet didn’t warn me that everyone calls Mexico City either “Mexico,” or “el D.F.,” which is very confusing when you first arrive. Because you’re like, “What, aren’t we already in Mexico?” Or you’re like, “Who the heck is el Jefe?” because you think it’s one poorly-pronounced word and don’t realize that it’s actually an abbreviation for Distrito Federal. Now you know!

If you want to go to Mexico City, well, this is how I did it. I took the ADO GL, which is a $20 step above the standard ADO OCC. (ADO is a bus company.) If you’re fancy like moi, you too should take the GL, because it has lots of leg room for us long-legged bitches, and they give you a bottle of water and instant coffee packets although you should NOT drink the unbottled water on the bus because I am pretty sure that’s what gave me horrific food poisoning two weeks ago! (See “Food poisoning,” below.) And if you’re fancier than I am (I know, is that even possible?) you can take the platinum line. But if you’re just a normal sorry sack of unfancy working gal, you can take the OCC and you’ll be okay. It takes around 6 or 7 hours and they will entertain you with terrible movies. You should bring lots of snacks if you like eating when you’re bored (as I do).

Once you’re in Mexico City, as far as I’m concerned you’re on your own. This is a guide to Oaxaca. Jesus.

5. Food poisoning (okay, the internet could probably tell you all about this one.)

My recent bout of food poisoning was, unfortunately, well-deserved. I’ve spent years bragging about my stomach of steel and how I not-so-secretly believe I’m immune to all toxins (based on the fact that years ago it took three separate occasions of ingesting LSD for it to have any effect on me, but anyway don’t do drugs!!!!!!!!!!) and swearing that I could eat a deconstructed rancid taco off a dirty bathroom floor and be FINE, and then I’d joke, “I’m probably jinxing myself, huh?” before knocking on wood. But I guess I forgot to knock on wood about two weeks ago, because right after I got back from el D.F. I spent seven whole days unable to eat anything but bananas and jello.

Luckily I recovered just as Nicole and Robby came into town! It was good timing, all said and done.

I’m pretty sure I got it from drinking the “tap” water provided on the bus for tea. Or maybe it was a tuna empanada (I get nauseous just writing those words, what was I thinking). The moral of this story is, even superhumans such as I can be struck down by illness. Eat everything everywhere, but take normal preventative measures like don’t drink any unbottled/unboiled water and wash your fruits and vegetables and don’t eat fucking tuna empanadas ugggggh.

I got over it just fine, although for a minute there I was pretty sure I’d never be able to stand up or chew food again. I didn’t take any medication until the 7th day, and then it was just some over-the-counter slow-down-your-bowels stuff so I could run around without worrying about bathroom visits (TMI sorry). My doctor provided me with a super-strong antibiotic to take in case of food poisoning, but it’s an antibiotic that really frightens me (Ciprofloxocin, google it, or don’t if you want to sleep at night) and I would never ever take it unless I was in the most dire of straits. I didn’t look at the package when she prescribed it because I’m a sheep and usually just do what doctors tell me. But from now on I’m going to pay more attention.

6. Hierve el Aguas

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Go to here. It’s a petrified waterfall with a naturally-occurring infinity pool that looks out over endless mountains, and it’s gorrrrrgeous. I went twice; once with Heri and Sara, on a weekday when almost nobody was there but us (that’s me and Sara in the picture above), and then again with Robby and Nicole, on the first Monday of Semana Santa (also Robby’s birthday). There were, no exaggeration, probably over 5 million people there. Okay, slight exaggeration. But it was packed. A very different experience, but no less fun. We got touristy and drank these things called Piña Locas, which is an entire pineapple cut up and put back in itself, plus orange juice and mescal and, of course, chile. I’m including a picture because have you ever seen a more I’m-on-vacation drink in your life?

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Hierve el Aguas is about two hours outside the city, and there’s a few ways of getting there. One is taking a tour that leaves from a hotel and also stops at some other very worthy places along the way (Tule, Tlacolula, and Mitla), but I realllllly don’t recommend taking the tour. For one, those towns are all worth visits on their own, and for another, it’s way, way more expensive than what you’d pay if you figure out the transportation yourself. All you have to do is take a colectivo from the Central de Abastos (see below) to Mitla, and then from Mitla take a camioneta to Hierve el Aguas. The colectivo is a shared taxi where you’ll be sweatily squished up against strangers and so can make some friends, and the camioneta is a truck with jury-rigged seats and a roof. They are easy to catch, and leave at all hours of the day. Go early, and don’t stay at Hierve el Aguas past 5pm or else transportation will be trickier and I can’t promise you won’t have to sleep by the side of the road cuddling a burro for warmth.

7. La Central de Abastos 

This is where you can catch all the busses and colectivos your little heart could ever desire. Plus taxis. It’s a sprawling jungle of a place, and the colectivo/bus/transportation area is in front of the biggest, most confusing market in Oaxaca. From where the colectivos are, just walk straight up Calle Trujano for like ten minutes and you’re at the Zócalo, which I will not be addressing here since googling “Oaxaca Zócalo” will tell you much more than I can. If you can’t find Trujano just ask everyone until someone tells you.

8. Slow Walkers

Oaxaqueñ@s walk sooooooo slowly. They are short, and relaxed. I am tall and anxious. A slim, five-foot Oaxaqueñ@ can somehow magically manage to take up a whole wide sidewalk and the fast walkers among us are forced to do a frustrated little shuffle-in-place dance behind them until the traffic stops whizzing by for long enough to dart out into the street and pass them. It was a good lesson in patience. I mean, let’s be real: I don’t have a job, I don’t have anywhere to be, why the hell do I feel the need to run everywhere?

(Nevertheless, I feel the need to run everywhere. So was often filled with impotent fast-walking American rage.)

9. Sweaters

Children, don’t do what I have done. Just bring one. If you’re anything like me, you’re going to want space in your suitcase for buying cheap and beautiful handmade gifts for everyone you know. Though it gets cool at night, it is unspeakably hot here during the day: I promise you won’t need a cardigan, two wool sweaters, a sweatshirt, and a down vest. (This is what happens when you pack for summer during a snowstorm.) At the very most, bring a cardigan and a sweatshirt. If I could do-over that’s what I wouldn’t over-do.

10. Chapulines

 

I already mentioned these in a previous post, but that was early on in the trip and I didn’t know at the time how much these little crispy dead grasshoppers would come to mean to me. I love them so much. The best ones should be crunchy but with a little bit of inner gush to them — you can tell by looking at them if they’re too dry, because they look desiccated and brown, while the more delicious ones are red and juicy-looking. I like them with chile, but if you’re spice-averse you can get them without (whyyyy).

The best ones I found are at the market in Etla, right in front of the breakfast place there, which you should also pay a visit to!!! I don’t know if it has a name… but it’s right outside of the main everyday market and has outdoor and indoor tables and lots of fabulous old ladies cooking up a storm behind the counter. I have only sampled the vegetarian items, entomatadas (tortillas bathed in tomato sauce) and salsa de huevo (scrambled eggs bathed in tomato sauce), but they were absolutely freaking delicious, and I can only imagine the meaty items are the same. Also, every meal comes with an appetizer of fresh loaf of sweet, anise-y pan de yema (egg bread) and a cup of chocolate with water or milk, according to your preferences. (I like it with water, personally.)

Anyway, the lady selling chapulines right in front of that restaurant knows what’s up, holy shit her chapulines are soooo good. Also sometimes she has her baby with her, Max, who has the hugest cheeks I’ve ever seen. One morning Heri and Sara and I went for breakfast and Sara and I watched longingly as a steady stream of women came up and snuggled Max and kissed his miraculous fat face, and when I went to get my chapulines fix his mother must have seen straight into my soul, because she sighed and held Max up to me and said, “Do you want to kiss him?” DID I EVER. And it was everything I’d dreamed (well, a little stickier). If anybody reading this actually takes any of this advice, he’ll probably be older and not as cute by the time you see him. Sorry for your loss.

In my opinion, here is the best way to enjoy chapulines. Make a guacamole with white onion, salt, lime and avocados, and heat up a stack of corn tortillas. Fill the tortillas with guacamole and chapulines. Eat. Praise the heavens.

I made art, it’s called Selfie With Bags of Delicious Dead Bugs.

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This list goes up to

11. Being Vegetarian in Oaxaca

It was really easy. I’m not very strict (obviously, I just sang gospel about grasshoppers) and I’m sure I accidentally ingested some chicken broth or something while here — and also, I eat fish! so I’m a pescetarian — but aside from a constant low-level burning desire to stuff my face with chicken tinga, I encountered no problems. When you get any kind of street food like tlayudas or memelas, just make sure they hold the “asiento,” which is pork lard. And tell whoever you’re ordering from that you don’t eat meat, and then tell them you’re a vegetarian (repeating yourself two different ways is always better than staring down a plate of beef you didn’t order). Because of tortillas, rice, mole, and the glorious triad of beans, tomatoes, and avocados, you could probably even be vegan here without much trouble, although the thought of spending time in Oaxaca without eating quesillo (a heavenly string-cheeselike food that comes rolled in a ball like yarn, called “quesillo” here but “Queso Oaxaca” everywhere else) makes me sad.

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So that’s my spiel. My last piece of advice is, go to Oaxaca if you have the chance. You might not be lucky enough to have an amazingly hospitable pal like Heriberto, but you will have a fantastic time nonetheless. I will certainly be returning, and am already dream-planning my next trip to Mexico to see more of this huge/hugely interesting country.

And, as a single woman traveling alone, I have to say I felt quite safe. As always, I was as careful as I could possibly be while still doing what I wanted. Like, I didn’t take any night buses. I didn’t go near Michoacan. I didn’t stumble the streets alone at night. When traveling, I always think of my father’s motto for us when we were kids: “Safety, politeness, and critical thinking.” I keep that in my mind at all times, with the word “fun” photobombing in the background.

Next time I update this blog, I’ll be in Spain!!! In a monastery town called El Bruc, outside of Barcelona, doing a residency at a place called Can Serrat. I have a full day of travel tomorrow, then a week in the states with my family, then off again. I’m excited and grateful and guilty, like always. Godddddd I hope I write something good. Otherwise what’s the point of me? A question for the ages, that.

Ojalá que mañana yo no tenga un chingo de problemas con la pinche aduana; no mames güey, quiero pasar con los chapulines sin estar chingada por los leyes. Por lo menos no voy a estar peda esta noche y cruda mañana.

(That was my attempt to use lots of Mexican slang in one sentence. Translation: “I hope tomorrow I won’t have a fuckton of problems with fucking customs. No shit dude, I want to go through with grasshoppers without getting fucked by the law. At least I won’t be drunk tonight and hungover tomorrow.” That last bit, directly translated, means, “At least I won’t be fart tonight and raw tomorrow.” LOLLLL gross.)

Ahí nos vemos, pendej@s.

Máximo

I am in Mexico City! And am leaving tomorrow. I’ve been here for… 5 nights? But not consecutively. More on that later.

First things first, nine days ago — on my first night here — I went to a Lucha Libre and had my mind blown for three hours straight and am still not over it. Lucha Libre is Mexican wrestling, I’m sure you can picture it: wild serial-killer masks, tiny gold-spangled speedos, enormous muscles and impractically long hair, famous for the spectacle as much as the sport. I knew before I went that it was rigged; I mean, I knew that the results of the match were pre-decided; but I didn’t realize how incredibly choreographed the thing would be, nor how gymnastic. It was not uncommon for a wrestler to launch himself off the ropes, do a triple handspring, and land with his legs locked around the neck of his opponent, then flip them both over the railing to land on their feet outside the ring. It was like watching a violent, absurd ballet with scantily clad cheerleaders/Veelas between each act.

There were many notable things about the fight, not least of which is the fact that they were selling RAMEN SOUP as a concession snack in the arena. Popcorn, beer, Maruchan. I mean, that’s genius, right? Who doesn’t want to slurp tepid dehydrated noodles while screaming “KILL HIM, SHOCKER!” in Spanish? (Spoiler: I didn’t want to. I stuck with beer. Lots. of. beer.)

(Context, I was with a nice Libertarian boy from Colorado.)

Another bizarre twist was the character of Máximo, whose whole schtick is that he’s gay. He was wearing a tiny purple dress-like costume, and had a pink mohawk, and in between slamming men to the floor with inhuman strength, he did an enormous amount of prancing. There was a running gag throughout his fight that he was in love with Negro Casas, a black-haired beefcake who defended Máximo from the other fighters so many times that I thought, Okay, this is real, this is actual romance, I’m sitting in Mexico in a packed arena of screaming fans watching two male wrestlers enact their devotion. But then at the end of the fight Máximo tried to kiss Negro Casas and Negro Casas decked him hard and he fell to the floor knocked-out cold. (Or, fake knocked-out.)

I just did not know how to run analysis on that situation! On one hand, I was pleased as punch to see an openly gay wrestler. But on the other, bigger, stronger hand, I thought it was fucked-up to turn the idea of a gay guy into a hilarious caricature. Everyone loved Máximo, like everyone loves the gay best friend. (Shout-out to Jonathan, worst gay best friend ever, never once has he waltzed me around the room telling me I’m beautiful a la Rupert Everett in My Best Friend’s Wedding).

(Also shout-out to whoever’s playing “My Heart Will Go On” on the violin in their hostel room right now. It sounds really good.)

The most distressing part about the Máximo thing, however, is that he’s not actually gay. Whaaaaat? He’s married to another wrestler, a GIRL. Ew.

Another popular, caricature-y wrestler was this very fat man everyone adored — they were all screaming some word I didn’t recognize, and when I asked the guys behind me I realized I didn’t recognize it because it was in English. They were screaming “PORKY!!!”

Turns out Porky is Máximo’s dad. 

Turns out, in fact, that the world of the luchadores is super interconnected — everyone’s married to or related to everyone else. Beyond bizarre!

Also bizarre is the reason I left Mexico city in the middle of my stay… which is that my second night at the hostel I ran into three ’09 Macalester girls, Becky, Becca, and Allison. Becca and Allison lived in the veggie co-op with me, and Becca was my roommate for a semester!!! They were both visiting Becky, who’s in the Peace Corps stationed in a tiny mountain town about an hour outside Pachuca. Is that crazy or is that crazy? People who travel all the time can seem kind of woo-y, I think, always talking about interconnectedness and how to surf life’s waves or whatever, but that’s because when you travel a lot, you realize that the world really can be a beautifully intimate place.

I ended up accompanying them to Becky’s town, Carboneras, for four nights, and had a wonderful time hiking in the national park system and riding rickety packed-full vans across mountain ridges. I also rode a horsey and two little boats!

Here I am on top of a mountain I conquered. You can’t tell but I’m clinging to the rock for dear life… it was a lot higher than it looks in the photo.

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Here’s a marvelous sheep.

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Here’s a view of Carboneras, the town where Becky lives. This is taken from right outside her door.

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Then when I came back to Mexico City, on Friday I went to a music festival and saw, among other bands, Arcade Fire. Also the Polyphonic Spree and a bunch of Mexican bands. We walked around in an overheated daze and drank lots of beer and danced and swung for a while on some swings. A great success overall.

Then yesterday I went to Frida Kahlo’s house, which is now a museum, and paid $4 extra for a performance, which involved a woman dressed up as Frida Kahlo taking us on a tour and talking about her life. Interspersed with the recitation were a few select musical numbers — apparently popular songs from the time period — which “Frida” sang dramatically while accompanied by a solo violinist. It was one of those things where I kept trying to catch someone’s eye so I could giggle about it, but everybody else seemed more moved than amused… I even caught a woman wiping her eyes. This is a peril of traveling alone.

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But then I ended up getting a little teary at the exhibit of Frida’s gorgeous clothes, including her hand-decorated back braces and false leg. So who am I to say what’s funny and what’s sad?

I’m going to take this moment to confess that I’m in my bed writing this blog entry at 11pm on my last night in Mexico City. I know I should be out living it up but I’m leaving early tomorrow and I’m tired. Today I went to the Pyramids in Teotihuacan with a bunch of kindly French kids and we got hardcore rain-and-thundered on while we were at the top of the pyramid we’d spent forty minutes sloooowwwwwlllyyy climbing up in a huge, crowded line of Mexican tourists. It was exciting and fun and wet and cold. I had to tie my dress between my legs so it didn’t fly up in the wind. I also spent a good part of the day desperately trying to surface my one semester of college French so I could communicate. Then we went to Wendy’s?! I didn’t realize what was happening until we walked through the door (see earlier note re: communication issues). I ate a baked potato and a fish sandwich, which tasted awesome, as you can probably imagine. Wendy’s is delicious. LOLLLL probably for some people that’s not weird but for me it was extremely surreal.

And now I’m going to bed. My other roommates — two Chilean grown-up women and two Argentine not-as-grown-up women — are already asleep, so I don’t feel so lame.

Buenas nochesssss que te sueñas con los angelitos. Well, que me sueña. I don’t know what you all are planning.

Tragic Buffy (mis)Translations

I know I should be posting about more interesting things but this has been weighing heavily on my mind.

So, here in Mexico there are mandatory Spanish subtitles on all Netflix programs, including Buffy the Vampire Slayer, aka the greatest show of all time ever, aka what I am currently re-watching bit by bitty bit. I am a fan of Buffy. And when I say I’m a fan of something I REALLY MEAN IT. Like, undying loyalty, think about it at least once a day, three lines of dialogue can bring me to tears, fan. I don’t get full on fangirl often, but when I do it’s for life. So far as an adult I’ve felt this way about just four things: The Beatles, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Harry Potter, and Supernatural, though I’ve only been an “active” fanfiction-writing fan for Supernatural because it’s by the far the most flawed product and is always crying out to be tampered with and improved. (As a kid, being “into” fantasy series was basically all I did until sixth grade/boobs; special shout-out to Dealing with Dragons, the Song of the Lioness, and a Song of Ice and Fire, hollaaaa.)

Anyway, I am trying to impress upon you the deep love and respect I have for Buffy, because only if you understand my attachment will you understand how personally I’ve been taking these TERRIBLE HORRIBLE NO GOOD translations. Oh my god they are killing me with wooden stakes. My heart breaks for all Spanish-speaking Buffy fans, because the dialogue is the best part of the show and the (un-turn-offable!) Netflix translations just suck the blood right out of the veins of the script! 

I decided to take notes and share them, because I need to publicly be in pain, and that’s what the internet is for. The English comes first, the Netflix butchery comes second. This is just from one episode!!!

1. It’s just a long, cultural tradition of raging insincerity. Embrace it.

It’s an old hypocritical tradition. Put it into practice.

2. Well, I’ve got the list narrowed down to just under infinity.

The list of suspects is really long. 

3. Okay, so I’ll do what Monsieur Silk Knickers did!

I’ll do what the French sorcerer did.

4. All prayin’ no slayin’.

Only speeches. I’m not going to kill anybody. 

5. Riley: You sure this isn’t your way of making me feel less, what were the words… “cute and weak and kittenish?”

Buffy: … Kitteny.

Riley: You sure this isn’t your way of making me feel less “attractively in danger?”

Buffy: … Cute.

6. Hey! Necessary opposable thumb here!

Hey! You bruised my thumb!

7. Giles, I noticed you’re doing the smallest amount of helping that can actually be called helping.

Giles, you’re not helping much.

8. Lots of pointing and scowling.

Giving orders and making faces.

9. Nothing like getting your ass kicked to make your ass hurt.

When you get a beating, it hurts.

10. Any breakthroughs on the identity of Miss Congeniality?

Do you know who the girl is?

11. You’re a god. You’re like the god of boyfriends.

You’re great. You’re the best boyfriend in the world.

12. Dawn: Come on. Who’s the man?

Buffy: You are. A very short, annoying man.

Dawn: Who’s the best?

Buffy: You. The best at not minding your own business.

… But besides being in total agony every so often regarding these translations, everything’s great, thanks for asking. Took a cooking class yesterday and learned how to make some ungodly delicious chile rellenos buttttt this is not a food blog so I won’t go into detail because if I start I won’t stop and I don’t want to be that girl. I will give a quick plug for Casa de los Sabores, however, because if you’re ever in Oaxaca and want to drop a bunch of money on a cooking class, this one is stellar and so much fun.

I wandered into a bazaar the other day and found a vast selection of used books and got really excited until I realized they were all old gynecology textbooks with incredibly graphic pictures of shit like “tricomoniasus” … then glanced up and watched the gentleman beside me realize the same thing, and we both kind of backed away and didn’t look at each other.

For the record, men don’t yell dirty things at me in the streets here, which I really appreciate. In the Gambia people kept trying to aggressively ask for my hand in marriage, and in Argentina they would shout things like, “If you were an apple I’d eat you down to the seeds!” or “Sing Jingle bells and pull my hair!” In Buenos Aires I had to give a spoken final for my Philosophy class, and spent hours and hours carefully preparing a fifteen minute speech on Focault and Nietzsche, and when the time came I entered the little room, sat down across from the professor at the table, and felt proudly confident as I began to deliver my exam.

After about thirty seconds, the professor — an older man, pouchy eyes, pinstriped vest, you know the type — waved his hand to stop me. “Hang on,” he said. “Tell me what you think about the men here. Do they catcall you a lot?”

“Uh,” I said, not sure how this fit in with Foucault, thinking maybe something about the panopticon and surveillance, “Yes?”

“And?” he said. “Do you like it?”

“Like it?” I said. “No.”

“No?” He sat back and steepled his hands, smiling. “But in the U.S., if you step out on the street and no one compliments you, how do you know you’re looking good?”

I foolishly still thought this line of questioning had something to do with my speech, so I kept trying to bring it back around to the thinkers we’d studied. “I look… in a mirror? Like… Lacan’s mirror… phase?” Stretch. 

“Come on,” he said. “Admit it. It’s nice to be told you look pretty!”

And so help me, I feminist failed. Hard. I just wanted to get out of there. So I said, “Okay. You’re right. It is kind of nice. In the U.S., no one appreciates my efforts, but here I always get feedback on a good outfit, and that makes me happy.”

“I’m glad you like Buenos Aires,” he said, and sent me out. That was it. Five minutes and a total surrender of my personal politics got me an A. No joke. I still feel gross about it six years later.

So yeah, two thumbs up for the Mexican men. The most forceful thing anyone’s said to me here is “Hola,” and then when I didn’t respond, “Hey, are you sleeping?”

Of course, I am literally three times the size of all the men here, and so maybe am too huge to be catcalled. Before I came I was complaining to Nicole that a standard response, when I told people I was going to Oaxaca, was, “Oh, the men are all really short!”, and it pissed me off because, like, what kind of thing to say is that? For one, I didn’t come here to find a husband, and for another, surely there are more interesting comments to be made about a whole region of the world? But annoyed as I was, I now acknowledge the truth. I am comparatively enormous.

Benito Juarez, a Oaxacan and former President of Mexico, was and is the shortest leader of any country ever, at FOUR FOOT SIX. I mean, that is real short right there. You have to respect that.

Also… on a somber note… I just have to say I’ve been following the news about the missing Malaysian Airlines flight with morbid and horrified fascination. The whole story is just so disturbing. A crash is tragic — but an entire airplane vanishing with scarcely a trace? Uncanny. Out of a nightmare. So hard not to imagine being on that plane; so hard not to start spinning terrible possibilities. Best case scenario is it got Donnie Darko’d through a wormhole. I don’t know what the worst case could be. My imagination doesn’t want to go that far.

I’d rather not end low, so, I just read Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh and it’s amazing.

Good night!

Brief interviews with Oaxacan foodstuffs

I promise this isn’t going to turn into a food blog. But it would be IMPOSSIBLE to be here in Oaxaca and not talk about the glaring fact that their food is AMAZING. In fact it’s become my main topic of conversation. I think I say, “Por dios está riquísima” even more than I say “Cómo se dice…?” or “I think I’m getting a sunburn.”

Most people who know me know I like my food soggy. In elementary school I used to sit on my peanut butter and jelly sandwiches until the bread got all gooey and red like it’d been shot. Bowls + spoons > plates and forks. Soup, oatmeal, pasta with too much sauce… If it’s hot and mushy, I’m likely to enjoy it. (P.S. Apparently mushy is German slang for vagina. Thanks Emily.)

Anyway, Oaxaca is all about the sauce. Mole is what it’s famous for (“the land of the seven moles”), but even un-moléed items are covered in salsas and pureed black beans and melted cheese, and they serve soup with like every meal, and it’s all so spoonable and messy and marvelous. This morning I had a cup of hot chocolate and a piece of bread meant to be dipped in the chocolate, and then deep-fried scrambled eggs soaked in some kind of heavenly tomato sauce that was meant to be sopped up with bread and tortillas. Soggy, soggy heaven.

(I wish there were a more appetizing word for “soggy” because I feel like it doesn’t really help my “this food is delicious” case.)

Plus there’s tomatoes in everything. DO YOU KNOW ABOUT ME AND TOMATOES? We are bosom buddies. Twin souls. Besties. And this place really knows the value of tomatoes. The value is, you should put them in everything except dessert. Though apparently there’s a sweet tomato pie that someone’s mom makes (Sam?).

There’s also lots of things I’ve never eaten before! I love trying new foods, because so far, the only food on this planet that I haven’t liked is papaya. EUGH to me it tastes like the inside of a cat.

So here are some pictures of a few new-to-me foods. No interviews, sorry, I’ll leave that to a real food blog. (“Tell me, fried eggs, do you have a good relationship with your mother?”) Just… reviews.

1. Guayaba

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Guys, this is a GUAVA!!!!!!!! I’ve aways thought of guava as a flavor, not a real-live fruit, but here it is! So adorable, no? The outer texture is kind of pear-like, and the inside is reminiscent of a passion fruit… kind of a slimy substance that suspends the seeds (alliteration sad emoticon ). The flavor is pure candy. Very tropical, for want of a better word.

Grade: A

2. Chicozapote

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Mushy. LOLZ. This is such a weird and delicious fruit. The texture is kind of like a very, very ripe pear — it has that mealy juiciness to it. It’s one of the naturally sweetest things I’ve ever tasted, as sweet as a dried date. The first bite shocked me. The second bite thrilled me.  The third bite, well, whatever, no need to get cheesy.

Grade: A

3. Nopal

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This is the prickly pear cactus! Uncooked it looks like an enormous green tongue. Cooked, it develops the same clear viscous coating that okra does, which I know some people don’t like, but doesn’t bother me. The flavor is slightly sour, almost a lemony tinge to it, and Heriberto sautéed it with garlic and onion, to great effect.

Grade: (Are you seeing a pattern? Told you I liked everything.)

4. Huitlacoche

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Known in the U.S. as “Corn Smut,” a very unforgiving name for a supremely tasty mushroom. Granted, it is horrifying to look upon. But the taste is awesome, especially sautéed with a little red onion and tucked into a quesadilla. They taste like earth, in a savory, understated kind of way.

Grade: A

 5. Chapulines

Great

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and small.

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Yeah kids, these are BUGS. Grasshoppers. The big ones were flavored only with salt, and the teensy ones have chile, too. I think they must also have some kind of lime or lemon, because there’s a sourness to them that I don’t think comes from their bodies… but I can’t be sure. When you bite into the big ones, their guts spurt out, hahahaha. The little ones, not so much. The only thing you have to worry about is legs stuck between your teeth. Also, if you eat them for dinner — as I did this evening, on a tortilla with guacamole — your plate can look a little infested when all’s said and done. They are pretty dang good, especially the babies. I don’t know how to describe their flavor, other than salty, citrusy, and spicy, with an underlying taste of soil, or grass, in a good way. They’re not dry or crunchy, but they’re satisfying in the same way potato chips and peanuts are. Excellent with beer!

Grade: A

Bonus!

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Okay, obviously not a food, but wow, Mexico does not play around with Jesus. Everywhere I look, there he is, suffering. It’s pretty effective. I see why Jews don’t have the monopoly on guilt. And lucky me, half-Catholic, half-Jewish, I’m the guiltiest gal around!

To summarize, aside from feeling sad for Jesus, my first week in Oaxaca has been completely delightful. Next post I won’t even MENTION food, I swear. Next time, you lucky little darlings get to read about BEVERAGES!!! (Just kidding. Maybe.)

The Beatles

Ha, bet that title got your attention! Actually this post has nothing to do with the Beatles. (Except this weekend WROR played every single Beatles song in alphabetical order in honor of the 50 year anniversary of their appearance on the Ed Sullivan show, so it’s been the greatest weekend ever for driving. Lucky, because since Friday I’ve driven from Barrington to Providence to Somerville to South Boston to Somerville to South Boston to Acton. Every few hours they had call-in prizes and I kept calling but didn’t win, so FUCK THEM, BASICALLY. Jusssssstttt kidding, WROR 4-ever!)

My little sister bought me a manicure today! It was my second. It took me like forty-five minutes to decide on a color; I kept going back and forth between “Cajun Shrimp” and “Your Dress is So Hollywood,” and on the patient advice of my sister and my manicurist I decided on the latter. It’s kind of a dusky coral/rose, like your Midwestern grandmother’s lipstick, and if it had a scent it’d be Jergens. I look so beautiful now.

And the manicure-lady was very complimentary towards my hands. She said my pinky nail was “small as a bean,” and that my fingers were “exceptionally long and soft.” Those are compliments, right?

This was the first weekend I’ve spent in Boston in a while — I came in on Friday to see Des Ark, then hung out with Z&G and Caitlin and Hannah, and got accidentally/on purpose drunkkkkkk. I’ve was on antibiotics for almost a month and haven’t had anything alcoholic for fear of making myself ill, so Friday was kind of a no-more-sulfamethoxazole celebration. I was well-behaved but kept falling asleep in my chair in Glennon’s kitchen.

Is it kosher to publicly admit drunkenness? Better than public drunkenness.

Full disclosure, I also got drunk last night with my sister and her boyfriend, but that was a downright CLASSY drunk. White wine! Plus I was wearing lipstick and dining on superior ravioli.

And okay I had ONE mimosa this morning for my stepdad’s birthday brunch. I know, I’m crazy.

Aside from this weekend, I’ve been mostly hanging out at my dad’s house in Rhode Island, eating eggs and watching Gossip Girl and playing solitaire on my stepmother’s iPad. Also hardcore bonding with their dog, Sienna, who’s my canine soulmate. She is perfection in dog form. I have big plans to steal her if I ever get a house and a job. Every time we hang out (which is all the time), I whisper in her ear, “You’re my dog” — an attempt at not-so-subliminal messaging. Unfortunately, Ella found me out, and is counteracting my brainwashing by ALSO whispering, “You’re my dog,” which is unfair because it’s true.

Let’s be real, though. Sienna adores me. See the picture below for evidence.

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I’m going to miss her when I leave for Oaxaca on WEDNESDAY! I’ll be gone until April 23, but I’ll have wi-fi so will be able to answer emails and maybe update this blog some.

Bookwise I’m re-reading Ian Pears’ An Instance of a Fingerpost (phenomenal), and trudging through The Luminaries, which is exquisitely written and contextually interesting yet can’t quite keep my attention. It’s very tour-de-forcy. And there aren’t really any female characters — which is not a feminist complaint, for once — it’s just, I’d rather read about women because I’m sexist and I like them better. But there’s no debating it’s an impressive book.

To Oaxaca I’m bringing several can’t-believe-you-haven’t-read-them-yet books – Middlemarch, Bleak House, and Robert Jordan’s Eye of the World, which is the first book in the Wheel of Time fantasy series, my sister’s favorite creative product on this earth aside from Buffy.

I’m also bringing sunscreen! And lots of other stuff, obviously. I’ll spare you my entire packing list, but spoiler alert: clothes.

Now I’m going to go rummage around my mother’s fridge for a snack. Wish me luck, and I’ll see you on the flip side. (By flip, I mean Mexican. See you on the Mexican side!)

Love, Emma.

My trip to Costa Rica, briefly presented in the form of titles to Upworthy posts

If you aren’t familiar with it, Upworthy is where you go on the internet when you want to cry about inspiring things, or the white patriarchy. Costa Rica is a country in Central America where you go in real life. (If you’re lucky! I am lucky.)

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Ever Feel Like Swimming Every Day in an Ocean the Color of a Mystical Turquoise Pearl? This Question is Calculated to Make You Super Jealous!

Owner of Jungle-Based Ziplining Business Speaks Candidly About Zooming Through the Air on a Piece of Wire and a Carabiner 200 Feet Above the Ground: “Sure, People Cry All the Time,” He Says.

Does Your Family Praise Your Foreign Language Skills? That’s Because They Can’t Understand Spanish and Don’t Realize You Told the Taxi Driver You Swam in a “Cataract” instead of a “Waterfall.”

A Twenty Seven Year-Old Girl Asked Google if That Huge Grey Spider She Saw Was Poisonous: the Answer Will Shock You!

The Struggles of Being a Woman in a Male-Dominated World, Evidenced by my Stepsister Cooking Dinner For Us Every Night. (Or, More Accurately, the Struggles of Being a Phenomenal Vegan Cook Amongst Mediocre Cheese-Melters.)

Do You Like Coconuts? So Do Adorable Monkeys! OMG So Cute! Just Like Furry Little Humans Except With No Sexual Impulse Control!

The Image of a Scarlet Macaw Regurgitating Green Pulp into Her Baby’s Throat is Awe-Inspiring, Icky.

I Dare You to Stereotype Dolphins After You’ve Seen Them Gamboling Around Your Kayak at Sunset.

Think You Understand Crabs? This Video of Crabs in a Compost Pile Will Make You Think Again.

CLICK TO WATCH

This Picture Needs No Introduction

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New Year’s Resolutions

Just kidding! I don’t make those. Instead I make thousands of hopeful daily resolutions like, “Even though this book is exciting and peeing is boring, I resolve to get off the couch soon and go to the bathroom.”

I’m reading the hit YA post-apocalyptic trilogy Divergent, a gift from my 13 year-old stepsister Ella, and am once again marveling at how some books can be so bad and so good at the same time. Every sentence is like a huge OUCH in my brain, yet it’s impossible to stop reading. As we have learned from The Hunger Games, and from living in America, entertainment is dangerous.

I left this blog too long and now I forget how to write blog entries. Jesse has been hassling me about it and so I resolved to write something today, but I’m feeling the seductive pull of meta-quicksand… that is, I’m really tempted to start writing about writing a blog, like when you got creative assignments in school and wrote about not knowing what to write about.

One of the reasons I haven’t updated in a while is, it’s the holidays, which means I get to see a lot of people I haven’t seen in a while — and I’m so happy to see them!!! But, like writing a blog entry, visiting with seldom-seen relatives and friends entails a great excess of talking about myself, and in very rigid patterns:

“Where are you living?” (Nowhere exactly.)

“What are you doing with your life?” (Nothing exactly.)

“What do you hope to do with your life?” (Everything exactly.)

“Boy are you tall!” (Yes.)

“Why don’t you write a best-selling post-apocalyptic YA series?” (Why don’t you buy farmland in Virginia and grow horses?)

It isn’t that I dislike talking about myself — obviously — but I prefer to do it within the bounds of conversation, not Q&A sessions. These sessions make me feel very young; they’re questions asked of a bushy-eyed just-graduated-from-college kid, not a nearly-27 year-old WOMYN. Except, okay, for all intents and purposes, I am just a kid. 27′s not that old, but it’s old for not having a job. And not having a place to live. And I don’t volunteer anywhere, and I don’t have a boyfriend, and I don’t have babies, and I don’t have a dog. And normally I don’t worry all that much, because I have other things — freedom!!! long hair!!! a Subaru!!! — but when I’m being asked the same concerned/amused/confused questions over and over again, I can’t help but turn the questioning on myself in the dark of the night, and mild hopeless panic ensues.

Also, super importantly, I’m trying to grow out my bangs in an attempt to come to terms with my face, and it’s the worst. (Not my face necessarily, just the whole process.) I badly want to chop them again but am holding out as a matter of commitment.

Also I haven’t written a fictive word in two weeks (!!!) and it’s starting to make me anxious, but I have no routine right now — I’m bouncing between houses, mostly my dad’s, my mom’s, my sister’s, and Glennon’s, and I feel like I’m constantly packing bags and forgetting my toothbrush. Not good writing conditions. At heart I’m kind of a domestic person, a homebody, but I’m always trying to counteract these instincts by forcing myself into adventure-type situations.

Several such adventures are upcoming.

Soonest starts next Tuesday — a weeklong trip to Costa Rica with my mother, stepfather, and stepsisters Sophie and Tessa, and Tessa’s boyfriend. Baby sister Jesse couldn’t come because she has to work, like a fucking grown-up.

And I may be spending at least February – April in Oaxaca, details pending.

And I’m doing a residency outside of Barcelona for the month of May, then being met by Jesse for the first week of June and traveling around.

I assume anyone reading this blog knows my situation, but just in case you’re asking how the hell I can afford my life, I’ll tell you. Although I’m extremely grateful, it’s not a happy story, and for a long time I couldn’t talk about it (I can’t even write about it without getting a little teary).

Doug, a very close family friend, died a few years ago (three years this month) and left me money. With it, I paid off my student loans and quit my awesome job at Caffe Dolce in Montana in order to pursue this writing-intensive itinerant lifestyle for one year. Doug was an avid reader and a heartfelt, immersive appreciator of music and literature, so I like to think he’d approve of my choices.

Inheriting money from a loved one is strange, and difficult. Especially dealing with other people’s reactions. It’s true that I’m “lucky,” but the price of that luck was the death of an amazing man, and my first experience with terrible grief and loss. I’d rather be broke with Doug still living. But that’s not the case, so. Here I am.

Jesse said to me the other day, “If you’re going to live a fabulous international lifestyle, the least you can do is blog about it for people who do have jobs and dogs.”

That’s the main reason for this guilty update.

As always, I miss everyone I’m not with, and think about you all the time.

And while I’m here, I recommend the books Ready Player One by Ernest Cline, and The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt. The first I recommend in spite of its fast pace and videogame aesthetic, and the latter I recommend despite its seeming slow, old-fashioned pace. Couldn’t put either of them down!

There’s something intentionally timeless about Donna Tartt’s style — something antiquated in her syntax — (it’s jarring each time a word like iPhone appears) — and at first I found the down-the-nose narration a little wearying, but I grew to love it. I’ve loved all three of her novels. They all have a plodding literary quality interspersed with moments of almost exaggerated action, and while that might not sound flattering, for me it works to great effect.

In contrast, Ernest Cline is pell-mell action and a nonstop barrage of pop-culture references, almost none of which I got, but you don’t have to be up on ’80s movie trivia to have a great time reading the book. It’s puzzle-like and very exciting — takes place mostly inside a videogame. My closest videogame contact to date is Mario Kart, and I loved this novel, so I can’t imagine how excellent it would be for someone who’s actually ever played a videogame in their life.

Here’s a picture of my 18 year-old cat, Ben, who has gotten a bit smelly in his old age, but is still the cutest cuddliest darling on the planet.

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And, if you ever have a chance to take a residency at the Vermont Studio Center, DO IT!!! It’s literally the best.

where I am/where am I

Hi, anybody! I haven’t written on here in a while because I’ve been busy. I took a little three-state tour — first to the Boston area to see my mother and my sister and a musical production of A Little Princess, then to my dad’s house in Rhode Island, and now I’m in Vermont enjoying a one-month residency at the Vermont Studio Center. It. is. FUN.

My bedroom is this monk’s-cell of a place, wingspan-wide, wooden floors, single thou-shalt-not-fuck bed, face-sized mirror, I love it. The only off-putting part is, there were dried garlic cloves in all my drawers when I arrived. Very curious, and it made the room reek of soup-making, which is all fine in the kitchen but in a tiny bedroom it’s a bit yuck. Superstitious as I am, I couldn’t very well throw the garlic away, since it might have been put there for a reason, to ward off vampires or the evil eye, so instead I hid it at the top of the staircase where its magic will still work to protect me. Then I poured tea-tree oil all over my room to try and get the smell out, to dubious success.

My studio is so dreamy… also very small, which works wonderfully for me, with a big wide desk and an expensive rolly office chair and a big bookcase and an armchair with a pillow. Plus an enormous corkboard over the desk. But look at the view from my window! It’s the best part. Here’s pictures with and sans sun.

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I just came back from lunch — I’m pretty much always just coming back from or just going to meals, since my whole day is structured around when they feed me… I’m turning into a labrador, one track-minded and pudgy. The food is so good, whattttttt, so good. Full salad bar at lunch and dinner, fresh baked bread, cheese, and lots of root vegetables; there are parsnips hidden in everything. Plus they’re nice to vegetarians and there’s tofu galore (though now I’m giggling at the disheartening phrase “tofu galore”).

We had Thanksgiving here, a giant 70-person feast, and in the holiday game-playing tradition we played Mafia afterwards and fought like family. The food was delicious and the centerpieces were awesome. Here’s a photo of a cowboy serenading a brussel sprout.

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Better than the food is the company. I made friends!!! I’m sure you’re astonished, we all know how shy and uncommunicative I am. Everyone here is smart and nice and it’s a turkish delight to be surrounded by so many visual artists — they outnumber us writers more than two to one. They’re always talking about, like, “epoxy” and “steaming wood” and “egg tempera,” which is sooooo cute, though unfortunately anytime we writers are in proximity to one another it’s all over for most conversational subjects except writing. Writers LOVE to talk about writing. It’s our favorite thing. We like it better than actually writing. Plus we’re loud. We’re working on it.

Many of us (at least 20, maybe even more than 30, numbers aren’t my strong suite) went to karaoke on Saturday and EVERYONE was good at it. It was pretty weird. Everyone chose great songs and everyone sang them with verve and pizazz. Then we went back to this underground basement area at the VSC called “the lounge,” which has a lot of hilariously heavy furniture that demands some serious back-breaking in order to heave it around the carpet and arrange it into party-conducive formations, but luckily there’s some deceptively strong people here. There was music. Dancing. Drinking. All the normal stuff that’s at a party.

At the end of the night/beginning of the morning, I fell asleep really hard at a table while others ate cereal. They tried to get me to eat cereal too, and arranged it so beautifully for me like a continental breakfast, but I was too busy being like, “Zzzzzzzzzz.” I slept for a solid hour. The next morning this photo of me was making the rounds, credit of Sam, and it is too funny not to share.

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This is not all fun and games, however. I am getting a lot of work done, too, although it is kind of scattered in nature. Having trouble focusing. I’ve been working on this one short story that involves John Lennon’s death and every time I try to do research I start crying… I thought I was over that guy but I guess not. I’ve been reading a bunch of Tarot cards, for myself and others, and have found it an interesting way to focus my writing-mojo… I did a reading for each of the six main characters of my novel and it was very accurate and amusing and made me feel a little closer to them. Though considering I made them up and they came out of my head, I don’t know how much closer I’d want to get before tipping the line into wackville.

All this to say, don’t worry about me, I’m eating well, I’m making friends, and I just read Donna Tartt’s the Goldfinch and loved it extravagantly and have been mostly successful in fighting off the feelings of deep unworthiness and despair that sometimes come hand-in-hand with reading great literature. Now I’m in that terrifying gray place of being in-between books, so if you have any suggestions, let me know. Novels for now, I think. Though I wouldn’t say no to a neat little short story collection.

As much fun as I’m having, however, I miss my not-here friends. Although I’m a terrible no good very bad long-distance correspondent, I really love you all and think of you many times throughout the day. Thanksgiving is medium dumb but giving thanks is not, and so let me have my moment of misty-eyed sentiment and allow me to say how thankful and lucky I am to know so many incredible people. If it’s not luck then who needs luck? This is better.

I guess a blog is kind of like talking one-sidedly at someone so I’m a hypocrite but no more than anyone else

I visited two creative writing classes at Middlesex Community College last week, to guest-lecture, and one of the classes asked if I was going to put them in my blog — yes! Hello! Here you are!

They read two of my stories, “Safe Word” and “Poolside,” and it was a whole lot of ego-tripping fun hearing their questions… I know, abstractly, that once you put a story out there it’s not really yours to control anymore, but it’s still a jittery gleeful experience hearing something you wrote analyzed as “literature,” an artifact, unchangeable, full of tropes and symbolism… I do, of course, purposefully put symbolism in my writing, and of course I have themes, ideas, etc., but it’s a shock that people notice!

I’ve found two instances online of strangers analyzing things I’ve written (what, you don’t google yourself? give me a break); one, someone analyzed my poem “The Comet” on their blog, and two, an analysis of one of my undergrad creative nonfiction essays is being sold on one of those pre-written paper websites! The poem analysis is… interesting, and “off,” in terms of what I intended/was thinking of, but it made my look at my own poem in a different way, which is cool.

The “pay-for-this-paper” one has this great line:

“The Father Frederic is a significant person in author’s life to the contrast with her mother who we hardly read anything about. Father calls her “Tootsie” even when she is grown up.”

How embarrassing. He does call me tootsie. And it’s true, the Father Frederic is significant! But so is my dear mama, the original fancy bitch.

I’ve recently applied for several creative writing teaching jobs, so Middlesex kids, if you’re out there, cross your fingers for me! You liked me, right? Wouldn’t I be the best teacher ever? I’m so fun and strict! Best of both worlds! Plus I wrote that bondage scene you were all so psyched about. Call or write to your senator today and tell her to get me hired!

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In other news, after ten years of trying, I finally got past the first three pages of White Noise by Don DeLillo. In fact I read the whole thing. It took me five days, which is about four times as long as it usually takes me to read a novel, the reason being it was boring. SO BORING. It was well-written, I guess, and kind of funny in an “I’m watching your face and making sure you laugh before I keep lecturing” kind of way, but ultimately it felt so contrived; no character was really a character, they were just opportunities for clever little speeches, and all the speeches and the musings and the ping-pong dialogue grated on my nerves so badly I kept clenching my toes in annoyance. I understand there were grand ideas at work in the book, big philosophical dilemmas and smaller though no less deep domestic ones, but I don’t like to be talked at when I read novels. I don’t like the feeling I’m meant to applaud the writer at every turn for being smart.

Which makes me sound uncomfortably… anti-intellectual? Like a person who uses the word “pretentious” as a catch-all for “art.” My own knee-jerk reaction against White Noise is, in some part, a reaction against feeling like an audience member instead of a participant, but on another level it’s a reaction against not being entertained.

A couple weeks ago, Jonathan asked me, “Do you like literary fiction?”

I immediately got defensive, as if by simply asking the question he was insulting my intelligence, or my taste, or my capabilities as a writer… but the truth is… No. I don’t really like a lot of contemporary literary fiction. On the whole, I like the ‘classics,’ but the ‘literary fiction’ of the past fifty years doesn’t interest me a great deal. Or, not that which is written by men.

In order to explain why, I’m going to indulge in some wide and probably unfair generalizations.

Straight women are taught to flirt by asking lots of questions and laughing at the all the man’s jokes. Straight men are taught to flirt by talking. And talking, and talking, and talking. This extends to non-flirtatious scenarios, too — so many times, I’ve been backed into a corner by a guy intent on telling me all about his dissertation, or his musical career, or his thoughts on cable TV versus HBO — so many times, I’ve felt trapped, unable to get away or somehow turn the conversation outwards.

There was this one man who always used to talk to me in Bernice’s coffee shop in Missoula, and one day he sat down across from me while I was writing and said, “Mind if I sit here? I promise not to distract you.”

“Okay,” I said. “But I’m really in the zone, so I’m going to hold you to that!” I was trying to be jokey and polite, so he wouldn’t take offense.

But then he started talking. And talking. And talking. He pulled out a photography magazine and started explaining new camera technology. He pulled out his iPhone to show me a roll of photos he’d taken. He pulled out his computer to read me some choice passages in a writing project he was working on.

I did everything I could to show him I didn’t want to listen, everything short of actually asking him to leave me alone. I didn’t meet his eyes. I focused intently on my computer screen and only nodded vaguely every so often, trying to relax, trying to just get my work done. But I couldn’t concentrate with him talking at me, and I couldn’t get it up to be ‘rude’ and tell him to please, for the love of god, shut up.

At one point, I was so frustrated I started crying. I was literally sitting there with tears welling up in my eyes and he kept. Talking. I don’t know what was wrong with me that I couldn’t be forthright and ask him to be quiet, but I just couldn’t. I felt so walled-in. Finally I stood and left. You might ask, “Why didn’t you leave an hour ago?” but to that I say, I shouldn’t have to leave! I should be allowed to sit in a public place and not get talked at!!!! 

He wasn’t, to my knowledge, trying to flirt with me. He just wanted an audience. And there I was. A woman. Born audience.

That’s how I feel about a lot of male-authored contemporary literary fiction. Like they’re talking just to hear themselves talk. Like I’ve been backed up into a corner at an otherwise awesome party and there’s some guy yammering in my face and not letting me socialize with anyone else. Or, more importantly, not letting me talk.

Because the truth is, I like to talk, too. I like people to ask me lots of questions and laugh at my jokes. I like a man who flirts like a girl.

I don’t actually dislike ‘literary fiction.’ I read anything I can get my hands on, and enjoy most of it — in that, I haven’t changed much since I was ten. And a lot of my favorite books are by men. But there is a certain type of male-authored literary fiction that irritates the everloving heck out of me. And in the circles I run in, full of teachers and writers, it’s more or less okay to say, “I don’t like chick lit,” or “I don’t like genre fiction,” but it’s not okay to say, “I don’t like literary fiction,” and that bugs me a little.

So maybe I put a higher premium than some on being entertained. So what? It’s a standard I hold my friends to; why not my books?

I hope this didn’t come off like a rant. I’m just thinking out loud.

Well, on paper. On screen. Into the ether. Into the forever. A double-consciousness at work, knowing this is written of the moment but too, writing it for eternity, writing it to last, like the memory of red lipstick on the rim of a teacup. We all die.

(That was my attempt at a DeLillo sequence.)

3 lists of 5 things

Things my mom said when I was a kid that I always assumed she’d just made up, and where they actually come from:

“To the moon, Alice!”  She said this when she was fake-mad and sometimes mimed an uppercut punch at the same time. Actually it’s from a ’50s TV show I’ve never seen, called “The Honeymooners.” My mom used it in the correct context, as the sentence was, indeed, a threat, though apparently never realized by the character who uttered it, although he, like my mom, said it many times. For the record my mother never punched me to the moon or otherwise.

“Bedtime for Bonzos.”  She said this when it was — guess what — bedtime! The bonzos in question were me and my sister. Actually it’s the title of a ’50s movie starring Ronald Reagan, though that bonzo is singular, and a chimpanzee.

Mes enfants.  She called us this sometimes. Until I was like 12 I thought it was gibberish. Actually it’s French for “my babies.”

Poor poor pitiful me!  She belted this out exaggeratedly when my sister and I were whining. Actually it’s a Warren Zevon song popularized by Linda Ronstadt in 1976. I heard the real version for the first time in college, and while Ms. Ronstadt definitely sounds more pitiful, my mom’s take on it is somehow overall more convincing.

Soon it’s gonna rain, I can feel it, soon it’s gonna rain, I can tell.  She sang this when she thought it was going to rain. Actually, “Soon it’s Gonna Rain” is a song from a 1960 musical called “The Fantasticks.” I heard someone singing it beneath a grey sky this summer, and was borderline violent in my demands to know where they’d heard the song and whether they’d harmed my mother in the taking of it.

Mom — you had me fooled all these years! What, now you’re going to tell me you didn’t make up the red red robin coming bob-bob-bobbing along song?

Embarrassing story ideas I wrote down on the “notes” function of my old phone

- “The olympics: microcosm of the human spirit”

- “Thinking you have breast cancer on a plane”

- “A takedown of Smokey the bear”

- “Not just hanging out with yourself, but really meeting yourself, maybe even loving yourself, maybe yourself is the only person who will ever understand you”

- “Jared Leto is hot again”

Things I’ve done recently that I’m proud of, with pictures

1. Grabbed a puppy. My sister’s response to this photo via text: “Emma no. No it’s too small and tiny, no. You have to smash it.”

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2. Successfully talked myself out of buying this dress in Goodwill.

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3. Took this from my car window:

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4. Ended up here on a wrong-turn walk:

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5. More karaoke.

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