On Grief and Writer’s Block

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Even the great ones are plagued with self-doubt

 

It’s been about a year since my best friend took his life, and in the past year, my writing productivity has largely dried up. At best I could write in my journal, but mostly I looked at the blank page with contempt. When that happens, anguish wins.

I’ve come to realize that I really wasn’t dealing with my grief at all, or even acknowledging it. It eventually manifested into a kind of paralysis that spread to other areas of my life—I wasn’t exercising, I was eating badly, and just going through the motions of daily life, finding it impossible to really enjoy anything. I’m sure that I wasn’t much fun to be around, and I’m impressed as hell that I have any friends left.

The catalyst for change came in November when I hurt my back. After a long weekend at work, working two 10-hour days in a row, I dove into a mindless day of running around, and after getting in and out of the car a dozen times, my lower back just locked.

So here it was, I reached the point where my body was following my mind down the path of non-function. I wouldn’t go so far as to say that I could feel myself shutting down, but I knew I had reached the precipice. I could either figure out how to fight back, or give up. This was the point where I had to put my big stupid ego aside and ask for help.

I’m very fortunate that I found a very nice physical therapist who was very patient with my moody and cantankerous bitching. I’ve also found a very nice brain therapist who has been excellent at letting me vent about a lot things that I’ve allowed to build up. Through this process, I started to look forward to writing again. I finally finished a piece that took me out of my comfort zone, which made me take a long look at my goals as writer.

I’ve written in the past about the threats women writers face on the Internet. With my friend’s death happening on the heels of the Charlie Hebdo shooting, in addition to the fallout from Rolling Stone’s campus rape story, I think some of my grief wandered into a paranoia about what kind of consequences I might face for my words. I’ve largely viewed my writing as a kind of commentary, but I’ve become increasingly frustrated with that role. The source of my frustration is really in how dogmatic a lot of feminist discourse has gotten.

In my view, the Rolling Stone story fell apart because the author allowed herself to put her agenda ahead of getting her facts straight, and the magazine enabled her. Realizing I didn’t want to ever find myself in the same position, I started getting reacquainted with some basics of journalism. Even commentary is supposed to have its information together to make a solid argument. What’s bothered me in the past year is that I haven’t seen enough soul-searching. In fact, I feel as though I’ve seen a deliberate unwillingness to not learn the lessons of what happened at Rolling Stone. When I read some articles, it kills me to see how some authors are contorting information to fit their world view instead of building conclusions based on the information at hand. So I’ve often felt like I don’t fit into a lot of feminist writing—I’m not a socialist, I don’t see every man as a potential rapist; I think feminism should really focus more on policy failures than policing behavior. As I’ve looked at some of my work, I fully realize that I’m guilty of the very same things I’ve just criticized. So if I’m going to gripe about feminist writers not holding themselves to an especially high standard, then I need to start with myself.

I’m at a place where I feel like I’m starting over. It’s both very liberating and incredibly frightening. But for the first time in a long time, I feel some real optimism about my life and my work.

I still miss my friend something awful. I always will. What initially brought us together was a mutual appreciation for old school punk rock, but what made us friends was that we both looked for life off the beaten path. He had a generous spirit, and was probably the least judgmental person I’ve ever met. I wish he made it.

May the road rise with you…

 

Categories: Books, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

How I learned to exile the Kardashians/Jenners from my Facebook feed (Well, mostly)

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“Thumbs Down” by Jaz Jacobi

 

I hate the Kardashians. I hate all of the reality shows. I hate most of what’s on TV, on the radio, and at the multiplex. It’s not that I’m especially negative, I’m just a snob. I don’t just want art, I want good art. When I watch or read the news, I don’t just want to be informed, I want to be enlightened. In short, I’m a very demanding consumer. I demand more than the media wants to give me.

The Kardashian/Jenner clan makes the news a lot, so in my list of news sites on Facebook that I like to read, those people pop up a lot. More than I’d like to see. Far more than is ever relevant to most of my interests. So the question became: how can I read the news I want from sites I like without swimming through Kardashian/Jenner sludge?

With the shared links, there’s a little arrow to the side of them with a dropdown list. In that dropdown list, there is the option to “hide post.” When I found that, I started to “hide post” to every Kardashian/Jenner post in my feed. After a couple days of this, they started to disappear.

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However, all is not well. Sometimes an article about pregnancy risks would feature a picture of a pregnant Kim Kardashian, or an article about transgender rights or health issues would use a picture of Caitlyn Jenner. Then the articles actually about the Kardashian/Jenner tribe would slowly start to creep back. So, it’s something of a cycle, but it is an interesting insight into how the Facebook feed functions.

What I’ve come to resent is that the algorithms Facebook uses to “feed” me articles act like they know what I want to read more than I do. I also dislike how most of what’s being pushed the hardest seems to be the most stupid, or maybe my taste isn’t as discriminating as I like to think. Either way, I’ve found that “hiding” the stuff* that I think is a waste of time has made my social media time more useful. I think if more people were to make use of this function in the same way, it would be interesting to see how the news is tailored in response.

 

*In addition to the Kardashian/Jenner family, I’ve also started to use the function on other corners of pop culture I despise as well—those awful Real Housewives of Bravo, or anything pertaining to Victoria’s Secret.

 

Categories: Art Star, Fashion Schmasion | Tags: , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Recovery 

I sprained my back, and I’ve largely spent the last month feeling like a turtle that’s been flipped over. Today was the first day I really indulged in some tough, sweaty exercise. I have a lot to catch up on. 
  

Categories: Uncategorized | Leave a comment

The Bros love David Foster Wallace. So what?

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Recently, both Slate and Salon have run pieces discussing the newfound love that young white men seem to have for David Foster Wallace. Perhaps the attention is because of the upcoming movie about the late author, but I also think it speaks to the snobbery of the authors of those pieces. I think that Wallace’s appeal has transcended the inner circle of literary geeks should be cause for celebration, not squeamishness. I would much rather see an exploration of why these young guys have taken an interest in his work, and how they connect with it.

That is, if they’re actually reading it. Both articles argue that most if the copies of the 1,088 page Infinite Jest being sold to all the young dudes are for display purposes, as a kind of intellectual peacocking. I know I’m treading into some weird waters with this, but I haven’t read any of Wallace’s fiction, only some essays. In those essays, I found him to be an empathetic, sensitive, and passionate writer. Based on that alone, I’d like to see more young men actually reading his work, and cultivate a similar curiosity about the world around them–and a similar ability to see the world beyond their own noses.

Author’s note: This has been edited since the initial posting because I was too tired and cranky to do a second draft.

Categories: Books | Leave a comment

As a former barista, here’s why I think Starbucks’ #RaceTogether is a terrible idea

It's eSpresso, not eXpresso

It’s eSpresso, not eXpresso

As I have mentioned before, I have spent the bulk of my adult life working in the food industry, most of it spent dealing directly with the public. The horrible, stupid, ignorant public…

When I first read about Starbucks wanting their baristas to engage their customers in talking about race relations, my first thought was, “How in the pragmatic hell is that going to work? When I wasn’t waiting on people, I was supposed to be stocking and cleaning. It was my job to caffeinate the customers, which meant that a lot of them weren’t ready for an involved conversation until after they finished their coffee. And frankly, I didn’t give a rat’s patootie about their thoughts on life as it was.”

And a lot of those customers were jerks anyway. Not all of them, not even most–the majority just wanted to get their coffee and go, and they did. But a significant proportion of which made the job feel like the store could be mistaken for a zone that straddles the Fourth and Fifth Circles of Hell. Occasionally, those terrible were customers were racist toward the few black people I’ve worked with, one of them being a drunken nutbag who was thrown out by the manager after his verbal abuse made a 17 year-old black girl break down in tears.

I did have some regular customers that I look back on fondly, mainly because they also worked in the mall, and we were united in our disgust with the general public. I know this sounds like an utterly bleak view, but the reality is, anyone who works with the public long enough will come to loathe them. This is largely because a lot of people lack empathy and can’t see the world beyond their noses. Also, a lot of customers don’t realize that we’re at work. We’re not being nice because we like you, or kissing your butt because we think you’re wonderful. We’re performing happiness to provide a comfortable atmosphere to make it easier to sell you stuff.

This Starbucks initiative is also very telling of something else: the disconnect between the suits in corporate’s ivory tower and the people who actually work in the stores. I first came to realize this disconnect because the layout of the particular store I worked in was incredibly poor–it was as though they anticipated all their baristas would be 6’5″ and weigh 120 pounds. (It’s worth noting that the store I worked in still exists and has been remodeled, and appears to be more functional.) But there’s also a disconnect between what Starbucks thinks it does and what it actually does.

The classic European coffeehouse has, historically, been the domain of thinkers and artists. In Lauren Stover’s Bohemian Manifesto, she writes, “In Vienna, writers took to coffeehouses like Beatniks to bongos. Cafés started stocking writing supplies. Out of coffee? Out of paper? Out of ink? No problem. Some writers even gave the café as their address and received mail there…The intellectual and creative activity sizzling inside coffeehouses led many political and religious leaders to believe them to be hotbeds of rebellion and decree them illegal.”

Café Central in Vienna

Café Central in Vienna

I can’t help wondering if this old school café lust for life is what Starbucks is trying to cultivate or emulate. If they are, it’s too little too late. Starbucks is responsible for turning a place that was once a haven for society’s free thinkers into a fast food empire. It’s no longer a viable place for conversations that require patience, nuance and empathy, which race certainly does.

If Starbucks wants to go out of their way to make sure their stores are safe havens for people of all races, and all other walks of life, then good for them. Forcing the issue isn’t, I think, the way to go. When I discussed this with a friend who worked in another (now defunct) chain, he said that if this initiative had been proposed in his store, he could see the more redneck element of their clientele lecturing him on the “evils” of political correctness.

The best thing Starbucks does is offer a good cup of  coffee and an occasional sanctuary in a world gone mad. Also, free wi-fi. So I would implore Starbucks to do what it does best. But as a writer, I certainly wouldn’t turn down free paper and pens.

Starbucks does Paris.

Starbucks does Paris.

Categories: Food Nerd, Racism Is Still With Us | Leave a comment

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