Tuesday, February 17, 2015

New Year's Eve Eve

Tomorrow is Chinese New Year's Eve. I'm thinking of it as a new beginning because the New Year was just more of the same.

The New Yorker recently published an article about serious, government funded, scientific studies on how psychedelics can help people deal with the existential crisis of dying that terminally ill people face. It's a very moving piece and I had to stop reading it every now and then and just stare into space thinking about the possibilities.

My latest interview is one I did with Naomi Yang and Elisa Ambrogio. It's up at the Rumpus. I feel sorry for musicians because they often get asked the same questions over and over again. One thing I realized when I spent time with them is that professional musicians have a much deeper relationship to music than I ever will. I'm pretty obsessed but not quite as obsessed. Even when I played in a band I was always a little bit outside it and I don't think I could play with other people because I only know how to play for the band I was in. Music has always been a language I don't quite understand, whereas writing is a language I feel very comfortable working with. That said, I miss the meditative quality of playing music, or at least the music I played.

I finally feel I can write fiction again. I was at this event the other night and I didn't quite understand what I was watching. I decided to sit on a ledge and just watch people because I didn't know anyone there, but if you stay in one place for a long time people will start talking to you. Toward the end of the night I pulled out my notebook because I got an idea for the novel I'm working on and just as I was getting ready to write, a guy came over and asked me what I was doing. I said I was writing. He then asked what I was writing, like he was annoyed. I said, "My thoughts." It's pointless trying to explain a novel in progress. It was also none of his business. I do realize that it's a little pretentious to start writing in a dark room where people are having a party but I often get the best ideas when I'm a little bit bored, like at a reading, or at a party where I don't know anyone. All I'll say about my novel is that it's about superstition and love. If you told me just two years ago that I would write about love, I wouldn't have believed you, but love is something that people take too seriously and treat too lightly at the same time. At the end of your life what will you have had? The terminally ill people who were given psychedelics all said that the only thing that matters is love and if that's sentimental, I think you can forgive a terminally ill person for feeling sentimental.

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Makeup

Editorial note: I wrote this originally in the fall but decided to keep it in my drafts. I'm publishing it now as a response to Elisa Gabbert's great piece on style. Re: being in your 30s--YES YES YES. 

My mother is of a generation that did not leave the house without makeup on. I loved to sit on her bed and watch her go through the ritual of getting ready for the day, but  I rebelled against this a bit and I didn't start wearing makeup regularly until a few years ago. It was something I started doing to mix things up and because I felt more confident about myself, and thus less self-conscious about wearing makeup. I want to make this clear. I didn't start wearing makeup to feel more confident about my appearance. I became more accepting and more confident about my appearance and that led to my feeling comfortable enough to wear makeup. Some people assume that it's the lipstick that gives you that boost, but sometimes you wear the lipstick because you already feel good about yourself. 

I recently started using my dormant instagram account to keep in touch with friends who don't use twitter (I don't use Facebook because of my job). The other day I wore fairly dramatic eye makeup to a party and I'd recently posted a picture of my mother wearing dramatic eye makeup. I wanted to show my (female) friends the cool trick I pulled off of paying homage to my (totally cute!) mom, but I hesitated to post a picture of myself because I knew men would see it, too. I didn't want them to think the picture was for them or that I was trying to look pretty for them. I wanted my female friends to think I was pretty and that I'd done a good job on my makeup. I think this is hard for men to even understand. Yes, I am sexually attracted to men, and yes, I do hope that the ones I am attracted to think I am pretty, but I don't want all men to notice me. I have friends who are model-pretty and they get stopped on the street and that kind of attention can be exhausting (or it looks exhausting from my pov). 

Which brings me to last night. I went to a concert by myself and I wanted to dress up, so I put on eyeliner and I did a really good job (practice does help!). I was pleased with my appearance and I enjoyed the concert. End of that story. I didn't talk to anyone and I wasn't looking to talk to anyone. Women shouldn't have to prove that they're "there for the music, not the scene" (which is such sexist bullshit) but it's true--I'm really into music. You might have noticed. I write about music.

Anyway, after the concert I took a cab because I have to be at work early. The cab driver was friendly but even friendly men cross boundaries. If I wasn't stuck in a cab, late at night, I could have walked away, but I was stuck in the cab. He asked me about my ethnicity (which is a whole other issue) and told me I belong to two great tribes (okay, I always think it's weird to compliment me on my ethnicity, as if there's a wrong answer) and then he asked my marital status. I should have lied or said I was uncomfortable with the question. I could tell the man was not a native English speaker but his race or ethnicity is irrelevant. What is relevant is what he said. He called me a sweet girl and said I was cute, and he felt he needed to clarify this and he added, "You are sexually attractive. If a man does not want you, don't worry. Not even Viagara can help that man." Okay! That was uncomfortable and out of line! And here's the thing. Men say these things and think they are paying us great compliments. We are supposed to feel grateful that they see us as sexually attractive. But I was not there to be sexually attractive. I just wanted to go home. I probably should have said "you are making me uncomfortable" but my natural instinct is to just appease the crazy until I can get the hell out of there. My other instinct is to make a joke. After the Viagara comment I couldn't help thinking, "Well, then! Hardons for everyone!" But just because I could see the absurdity of the situation and make an internal joke to myself, that doesn't mean I wasn't worried for my safety.

He then made some more conversation, some of which was pleasant, but it always came back to my being cute. He asked where I meet men and he wondered if I met them on the tennis court--ha ha; I hate tennis. 

I kept wondering if he would have been so forward with me if I hadn't worn makeup, but I hadn't done anything wrong. Makeup is not an invitation to unwanted sexual advances. I hadn't given any suggestion that I wanted his sexual comments. I just got in his cab. Men can't assume that because we look made up, we did it for them. When men put clothes on I don't assume I can go right up to them and start dissecting their appearance. Have you ever done this to a man? He gets really uncomfortable because we never subject them to this kind of scrutiny. There is a male writer whose writing I admire, but I also admire his hair. I've told him that a couple times and I know it makes him a little uncomfortable. I'm not trying to hit on him--I just think he has cool hair, but I know it's a little weird for me to say that so I'm not going to say it anymore. I don't want him to feel weird around me. Men need to be more concerned about how they are making women feel. 

The other mind fuck of the whole situation is on the one hand this guy is telling me he finds me sexually attractive, and on the other hand he's concerned that my neighborhood is not safe so he waited until I got to my door and waved before he left--something a father would do. If he hadn't made all those sexual comments to me I would have appreciated his making sure I got inside my building safely because a few weeks ago someone was shot near my building. Instead, his sexual comments complicated things and made his concern feel manipulative.




These ladies are here for tennis, not your male gaze.

Mannequin at American Apparel. Do you see that they chose mannequins whose ribs you can see? Just in case you weren't sure what body type they approved of the most.

Monday, January 26, 2015

Permissive Playground/ Menacing Nightmare

I interviewed writer Dylan Landis over at Electric Literature. I loved "Rainey Royal," a book about a tough but vulnerable teenage girl making her way through 1970s New York City. Landis talks about writing in a way that is both instructive and inspiring, and she also talks about pre-gentrification New York City in a way that acknowledges that there was real danger with the grit, but that's not necessarily something that turns off a teenage girl.

"Rainey Royal" was the first book I'd read in a long time that I felt truly represented what it was like to grow up in New York City. There's actually a Latina in the book! If you go by the fiction published in America you'd think there were no Latinos in New York City.

Something that Landis talks about in the interview is how dangerous New York was, but that didn't stop teenagers like Rainey Royal from treating New York like a playground. We also talked about sexual assault and harassment and how it is and isn't talked about. There are definitely people and things I encountered that I should have told an adult about but I didn't because freedom seemed a tradeoff for safety (up to a point, I'll say--I'm lucky in that I've never been sexually assaulted). When I worked at the Strand when I was nineteen I used to take my break outside and eat a banana on the corner of 12th street. I wasn't trying to be provocative, I just liked eating bananas. Anyway, I was just minding my business and despite my giving no indication that I was interested, an older co-worker repeatedly tried to buy me candy bars and ask me on dates. I wondered what I was doing wrong that he didn't stop bothering me, but he should have stopped after the first time. And then there was the sweaty man with the crooked glasses who asked me if I would come to his studio to have my pictures taken. He asked me once and then forgetting that he'd already asked me, he asked me again the next week and was startled to recognize me once I showed my fear and anger at being harassed by a creep. All I could think was, this fucker thinks I'm going to let him take naked pictures of my like Coco from the movie Fame! The worst, scariest thing was when I stupidly let a co-worker from a telemarketing job drive me home. He was so much older I just assumed he was taking a fatherly interest in me (how naive I was to think men older than 40 thought 18 year olds were off limits). It became clear that he had other ideas when he told me that his last girlfriend had been 17 and that he liked a girl to be a lady on the street and a tiger in the sheets. Yes! He actually said that. This was pre-cell phones so I just prayed to all the gods in the pantheon of gods I'd ever witnessed in any house of worship that he simply drop me off at home and not take me to the Bronx where he said he lived. He did simply take me home but not before scaring me and making me vow to myself to never get into a car with a man again. I didn't tell my mother but I immediately called a friend and she yelled at me to be more careful. I was. I tried to be. When we don't talk about these things we think it's just us or that these are isolated incidents, but they happen to women all the time and not just when you're 18, 19, whatever. In the fall I took a yellow taxi home and after some idle chit chat the cab driver said that I was very sexually attractive and that if a man didn't think so, not even viagra would help. Men can't possibly think that this feels like a compliment--there has to be a part of them that knows that this feels like a threat, even if that knowledge is subconscious, it's there, and still, they say these things.

Read the interview. She's great.




Thursday, January 1, 2015

Psychedelic Strangers on a Train

Last Spring I began reading Patricia Highsmith's Strangers on a Train, which is probably better known by the film adaptation Hitchcock made. I joked, "I'm reading Strangers on a Train. When does Hitch make his cameo?" I'm not above recycling my own jokes.

One of my favorite things to do when writing is invent fictional names for things like books, or bands. I have three connected stories, two of which feature a book called Psychedelic Strangers. It doesn't take much of a leap to make the joke, Psychedelic Strangers on a Train, which would actually be a good title if I published the three stories as a novella. You can't copyright titles but let's just say I got dibs on this one, okay?

I recently invented a cocktail named after a fictional character on twitter. It's called the Duchess. I have tested this drink and I can tell you that it is delicious. I brought a thermos of the cocktail to the movies yesterday and my enjoyment was heightened by the clinking of the ice and the slightly illicit sips I took as I watched Inherent Vice. I was a bit worried about the movie because I thought Paul Thomas Anderson's last film, The Master, was a snore. Really. How could you make a movie about a cult that dull? Another joke: if I was a male narcissist I would definitely start a cult. The thing is, one of the major components of starting any sort of cult is creating acolytes, usually through procreation. This is much easier for men to do--they just have to spread their seed and bam, new cult members (which is probably why many more of them lead cults; are men more prone to sociopathy? that could also be a factor). Women get pregnant and then they're out of procreating commission for nine long months. So, I won't be starting any cults any time soon.

I really enjoyed Inherent Vice. I want to see it again because there was so much going on. Things started off with Can's "Vitamin C", which just set the tone for the rest of the film. Though it must be noted that it's very unlikely that any of the characters in the film would have been listening to Can in 1970. Johnny Greenwood did the soundtrack and he included some in-jokes, I think. Maya Rudolph is in the film (she's the director's partner) and Greenwood included a Minnie Riperton song in the film (that's Maya Rudolph's mother). I only know all that because my ex told me that fact several times in the past. Facts are fun! Here's some more musical conspiracy theory action: Johnny Greenwood played on Pavement's last record, Terror Twilight. Stephen Malkmus covered Can's record, Ege Bamyasi (it was a record store day vinyl release but you can find it online), the record that "Vitamin C" is on. Later in the film, the Association song, "Never My Love," plays during a scene where Joaquin Phoenix's character is sucking down nitrous. Stephen Malkmus used to cover "Never My Love" in the early 2000s, when he started getting more obviously psychedelic. (I've uploaded Malkmus's cover of "Never my Love" here.) Anyway, after the Pavement reunion shows in Central Park these guys were selling balloons filled with nitrous gas and we saw people getting fucked up on their way out of the park. These are just things I thought about on top of everything else going on in the movie.

I don't mess around with drugs, and my only psychedelic moment when I was in a psychedelic rock band was the time I pulled a muscle right before a gig and decided to take a muscle relaxer. I forgot that not only would it relax my leg muscle, it was going to relax my brain. My friend, no stranger to drugs, saw me and told me I seemed really relaxed. I was! My band mate always used to tell me to slow the tempo down and that was not a problem that night. I practically had to crawl onto the stage. But drugs are something people assume you mess around with if you're in a psychedelic band. No matter that the sound has more to do with effects than pharmaceuticals. I dipped my toe into internet dating and I got matched with someone who asked me what psychedelic rock is. I was feeling uncharitable that night and immediately unmatched from the person. I am sure he was nice enough, but I don't have time to explain something that a simple Google search can tell you.

I highly recommend this article from Harper's about a psychedelic mushroom murder. It's amazing! And in a weird reversal of the norm, the film actually made me want to read Pynchon's book, so that's what I'm doing now. The movie itself struck me as something like Hitchcock's Vertigo if he had directed a '70s psychedelic noir film (with the distance and filter of knowingness and nostalgia--the mint green rotary phone read as "phone"). I'm sure it's not a stretch to say that it was intentional.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Review: Dunkin' Donuts Croissant Donut

In homage to J. Robert Lennon's Reviews, I will review the Dunkin' Donuts Croissant Donut. (P.S. His short story collection, See You In Paradise is out today, so buy it!)

 The Dunkin' Donuts Croissant Donut comes in an individual box. That means you've got a premium product on your hands. (Edit- The Statue of Liberty on the front of the box is my "I Voted" sticker. I'm in NYC so we get to brag about Lady Liberty.)

It's election day. You might have heard someone bragging about voting. Not in person, but on the Internet, where most bragging is done these days. I had to call in sick but I was determined to do my civic duty, so I went to my polling place which is a predominantly Caribbean church a few blocks from my apartment. My neighborhood is changing. I know that my non-white neighbors rightfully believe that all of me is part of the problem, but because I am part Asian, I'll be honest and say I only feel about 50% guilty. That's the thing about being bi-racial Asian-- you get to have only 1/2 of the guilt, but also only 1/2 of the privilege of being white. Not that my neighbors see it that way, nor should they. When I notice new white people in my neighborhood it's always the amused and knowing Asian half of me that's doing the noticing. It's that same part of me that shakes my head and says white people, with a range of inflections depending on my mood and the level of inanity I've just witnessed. So, though my neighborhood is changing, the majority of the voters at my polling place were elderly black men and women, and the atmosphere was full of earnest excitement. A poll worker was happy to give me my sticker and I was proud to take it.

Since I had that smug glow of accomplishment that only liberal voters get when they do what people should do as a matter of course, I decided to diminish it by going to Dunkin' Donuts to try the new croissant donut. A few words about Dunkin' Donuts. This is the kind of place I like in theory rather than practice. I like the folksiness of the dropped 'g' and the apostrophe at the end of the word dunking. I like that there is a special sign in the Dunkin' Donuts by my job that advertises bananas. I especially like the giant replica coffee cup that stands on the roof of my workplace Dunkin' and is a beacon to the drivers on the BQE. Do I like the coffee at Dunkin'? No. It's terrible, but their iced tea with lemon is a good cheap hot weather beverage.

Now for the croissant donut. You know you've just purchased a premium product because it comes in an individual box and it costs $2.71 cents, which is almost $2 more than a regular donut.






What is a croissant donut? If you judge by the photo, you see that like a regular donut it is glazed, but look at that cross-hatch section. It has layers like a croissant. To be more specific about this donut, it is a hexagon, with glaze on the top and sides, but not the bottom. I didn't like how the glaze cracked when I sliced into the donut because I imaged that if I actually ate this thing the way Dunkin' had intended me to eat it, by biting right into it, I would have gotten crumbs of glaze all over my face and down the front of my shirt. This inferior glaze spoke to the freshness or rather the lack of freshness of the donut.

I alternated bites of donut with coffee, tea, and orange juice. Tea was clearly the most complimentary beverage for this donut because the tea cut through some of the sweetness. Coffee also works but orange juice is too sweet.

I have to say that the only croissant-like thing about this donut is the illusion of flaky layers. Sure, there are layers, but they don't have the buttery crunch of a good croissant. So you have something that's no better than your average yeast donut, but decidedly inferior to the average croissant, and at a greater cost.

Would I buy this product again? Am I drunk? No? Then definitely not. Anyway, when I'm drunk I'm more apt to want french fries. To give you a good indication of how good or how bad this product is, I wasn't even tempted to finish it. There is still 1/4 of the croissant donut sitting in its individual box, not living up to its potential, growing stale; a cheap metaphor for our current moment.

Here's White Fence covering Johnny Thunders' "You Can't Put Your Arms Around a Memory"



And here's a great little essay from Aquarium Drunkard on songs that give you a glimpse of recording studio shenanigans, using Al Green's amazing cover of the Beatles' "I Wanna Hold Your Hand" as an example.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Superstitious

I interviewed writer Victor LaValle for Electric Literature. We talked about his Grand Unified Theory of Fear among other things.

Halloween is one of those things that often seems more fun than it actually is. I went to the 99cent store to buy toilet paper (that is only notable because my mother stockpiled enough so that I haven't had to buy any since July and it is now October) and I glanced at the Halloween costumes and said, "I bet there's a racist costume," and lo and behold there was a geisha costume and a fu manchu-like costume. I wasn't burn-it-all-down angry, I was just shrug-your-shoulders, that's-fucking-typical annoyed. I had this idea that if someone asks me what I'm supposed to be I'll just start singing "Listen, the Snow is Falling" and if they say "Oh, Naomi Yang" I'll say "Fuck you, I'm Yoko. We don't all look alike!" and if they say Yoko I'll say, "Fuck you, I'm Naomi Yang. We don't all look alike!" I look like neither of them.

My favorite Halloween was the time my friends and I went to a haunted house upstate. We waited in this long ass line and they played a black and white movie to help us pass the time. When I got close enough to the film projector I started making a shadow puppet so it looked like my hand was cupping and scratching the balls of the man on screen. The guy running the projector yelled at me and said, "There's kids here!" My friend's boy friend was really embarrassed but listen, it was past 10 o'clock. If parents let their kids stay up that late, a little shadow fondling is the least of their problems.

This seems as good a time as any to share a story of mine, "Superstitious". It's about an uncanny visit to a healer.

This song, "Superstitious," by Elisa Ambrogio is really good. Naomi Yang directed it!






Mr. Noah Lennox AKA Panda Bear released a new single, "Mr. Noah"






 Slicing up eyeballs?
Panda Domo cannot be contained.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

No more books?

I interviewed writer J. Robert Lennon for Gigantic Magazine. You can buy a copy. It's about humor. He also has a book coming out in November, See You in Paradise. It's funny and affecting. Read it!

And another book I loved was Rainey Royal by Dylan Landis. It's about a girl who grows up in a falling apart Greenwich Village brownstone with a free jazz musician dad who's built a cult of acolytes around him. The book takes place in the 1970s, but it captures an atmosphere anyone who grew up in NYC in the 1980s will recognize. That time is long gone and is moving further and further out into Bushwick or Ridgewood, or wherever culture ends up living in this city. I walked around Manhattan this summer and realized I will probably never be able to live there again in my lifetime. I had 26 years there. I guess that's enough.

Two songs:
Ex Hex, "War Paint" check out that solo

Seeing Ex Hex at Glasslands. They're closing. Pretty soon we'll have to go to gigs in Long Island.

I'm really into this Purling Hiss record, Weirdon, but Drag City actually makes you buy their records (no DL codes on vinyl!) So check out this teaser. If you get the record, I'm particularly fond of the last song, "Six Ways to Sunday". I'm seeing Purling Hiss play a warehouse near a cemetery in the netherlands of Bushwick or whatever. I go to these places and all I can think is "where the fuck am I?" I'm bringing a friend because I don't mess around in NYC on Halloween.

The window at the recently shuttered Shakespeare & Company bookstore on Broadway. The graffiti reads, "No more books?"