The Best Thing of All

I have a simple question for you: What is the best thing you’ve written?

I’ve been asked this before, but I always find myself unable to respond. Was it the short story I won an award for in college? Was it the first time I ever got paid? Was it the unfinished, self-indulgent fantasy novel I let my friends read in pieces on the bus ride home? Was it the children’s story I made out of construction paper for my mom when I was just a kid? Was it that even more macabre retelling of the Cinderella story? Was it a random personal journal entry that I wrote in a fit of angst late one night and never let anyone else see?

I’m never sure, and it doesn’t help that I’m always changing. It doesn’t help that I’m always reading and writing, and most of all: going back and revising. The books I like are always changing and the way I write is always changing. My creative writing teacher in high school called me a Romantic (not lower case, not the same thing! she says), a creative writing professor in college thought I was reading too much Virginia Woolf, another professor appreciated my newly discovered minimalism. I’m like a literary chameleon, and I’m always confused how anyone can find something they call a “voice.” I seem to be unable to settle into a style or a genre. I can’t get comfortable or cozy with what I’m working with. I want to write essays, journal entries, poetry, short stories, children’s books, adult fiction novels; I want to play around and laugh, but sometimes I want to unsettle and creep around; I like to dance around in tangents and I like to cut it straight down the middle. I never feel cohesive because each new opened document sits by itself and doesn’t want to have anything to do with the others. My issue has never really been the actual writing process, but just figuring out where to get started with all the sorting and rearranging I have to do.

Am I just a curious wanderer or am I really completely lost?

Maybe this question isn’t so simple if you write a lot, but I’ll still leave it out there. Or let’s rephrase it like this: Is there any particular piece that keeps coming back to you?

The World Elephant

I’ve been following Allison Hipple’s writing for some time now. Her blog has always been full of fantastic things, and I’ve always felt safe there. Recently, she decided to record some of her poetry readings on a CD and send it out to anyone that wants a copy. She’s saving up for a trip to Europe right now, so you can give a little back if you want (or perhaps do a trade-off and send her a copy of your own writing?). I expect interesting literary experiments to happen in her travels. Maybe someday there will be a book from those experiences? I really need something of hers on my bookshelf too.

I received her CD the other day and have listened to it a few times already. She’s a very careful observer, and it also helps that her voice is like a lullaby. She reads her words very slowly and clearly. It’s been like therapy. She drew the cover art too, which features her world elephant at the center.

She also wrote me a note, and on the back of it, she has her own official stamp: an elephant and a quill. Fun fact: I also have soft, feminine hands that people have written poems about.

Black Sheep

My sister hasn’t read much of my writing, but she does seem to like to ask me how much is about her. She laughs and calls herself my biggest inspiration. I’ve told her how I’ve written about her before, sure, but she likes to annoy me about it every once in a while anyway. She’s a person who reminds you again and again that she’s there and won’t be leaving very soon.

Last night, when we were going for a walk, my mom turned to us and remarked how we were the artists of the family. Where did we come from? I asked. She doesn’t know, she said. But there you have it. Paula has always been about the visuals and the aesthetics, and I’ve always been about the fantasies and the theories. Paula likes fashion and design, shininess and volume and bright colors, drawing and painting and photography and the process of capturing nature. I’m into books and fictional characters, subtlety and softness and sepia understatedness, ideas and alternate realities and mixing up fabrications in hopes of maybe going beyond just the plain truth. We are quite different in what we make and how we do it, and we are quite different in spirit.

But there’s still a kindredness. Sometimes, we make things together anyway and collaborate. Sometimes I do write things about people like her. Right now, I’m working on a poem and a short story about a sister who likes shiny things too, and her name is Raven. Glitter boots and feather boas and cupcakes with silver sprinkles.

Sometimes she draws things from books that I’ve read, like this:

And books that she’s read:

2011: The Retrospective

I never do New Years’ resolutions anymore (setting little goals scattered throughout the year seems a bit more reasonable and attainable), but it’s nearly the end of the year already, and instead I decided to do a retrospective collection of the things that made it worthwhile.

Of course, there have been things that have made it not so worthwhile as well. There have been issues dealing with post-college unemployment, despite trying to apply for some small odd jobs here and there, as well as a few writing/editing jobs for small presses that could’ve been really interesting and exciting. There has been literary loneliness and reclusiveness, and confusing periods not dissimilar to adolescent identity crises in which I really wanted to go back to school just to discuss books with people again. There have been periods where I didn’t know what to do at all anymore (and still do), which have brought on severe panic episodes and moments where I suddenly found myself bolting out of bed. There was a lot of yearning for the nineties, to go back to the way things were, back before high school, to regress and exist when things “used to be good, you know?” And alongside these periods throughout the year were some illnesses and serious surgeries for other family members as well.

But there have been many really nice moments too, which is always worth sharing to keep your balance: such as making new friends online (some that I even got to meet this year in real life) and going to my very first concert in Miami with a band I fell in love with. I spent a lot more time getting to know my sister: helping her with Physics homework, giving her ideas for her artwork, playing Harry Potter video games, listening to the Scott Pilgrim soundtrack in the car, reading Ethan Frome aloud together so she wouldn’t fall asleep. I spent some time cooking with Mom and writing stories for Nana. I spent some time with friends, which is always a nice excuse to leave the house, even though I wish there was more of it. Mostly, there are just friends scattered everywhere: I’ve kept up with my really good friend Melissa in Orlando (watching Jeopardy! on Skype together and helping to keep ourselves sane), I wrote letters to my friend Thea in Wisconsin, I helped my friend Genie from New Zealand procrastinate on her thesis (and she’s helped me procrastinate in other ways), I started a secret blog with my friend Zying that is just between the two of us.

I made some new pen pals and talked to fellow writers. I managed to get myself motivated in times of dejection and insecurity, and sometimes inadvertently inspired others as well (reading through some old things online, I always find that kind of surprising—to look over some of these messages I’ve gotten). I pushed myself to finish writing projects (Letters for Burning, my collective effort ended up being over 100,000 words long). I learned a bit more about the publishing industry and the art of editing, I found new book blogs and literary journals to possibly submit to, and of course, I discovered great new books and music and films.

Sharing is caring—this is not everything obviously, but here are some things that defined 2011 for me, and maybe they’ll interest you too.

Black Hole by Charles Burns
The Scott Pilgrim graphic novels by Bryan Lee O’Malley
To the Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf
A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan
The Heart is a Lonely Hunter by Carson McCullers
Not Simple by Natsume Ono
Blood Music by Greg Bear
The Realm of Possibility by David Levithan
The Complete Stories of Flannery O’Connor by Flannery O’Connor
Feed by M.T. Anderson
Ethan Frome by Edith Wharton
Midnight’s Children by Salman Rushdie

Son of Rambow
Exit through the Gift Shop
Run Lola Run (AKA Lola Rennt)
In the Mood for Love
The Dreamers
American Splendor
Rabbit Hole
La Vie en Rose
Ghost in the Shell
Au Revoir, Les Enfants
An Education

“After the Rain” & “Constant Surprises” by Little Dragon
“Boy Lilikoi” by Jónsi
“Down by the Water” by PJ Harvey
“Black Sheep” by Metric
“Sadness is a Blessing” by Lykke Li
“What Else is There?” & “Circuit Breaker” by Röyksopp
“Pavlov’s Daughter” by Regina Spektor
“Lions!” & “Quiet” by Lights
“A Cause Des Garcons” remix by Yelle
“Comme des Enfants” & “Berceuse” by Coeur de Pirate
“Belle à en Crever” by Olivia Ruiz
“Je suis un Homme” by Zazie
“Rolling in the Deep” by Adele
“Soldier of Love” by Sade
“Parting Gift” by Fiona Apple
“Basic Space” & “Islands” by The XX
“Video Games” by Lana del Rey

My 8tracks mixes
This American Life
The complete Daria DVDs
Jónsi and Alex
Pogo’s remixes of the real world
Simon Amstell’s standup
American McGee’s Alice games
Myers-Briggs personality tests
Baby chameleons
Kate Beaton
Other People

Dear Cami Park,

I never knew you personally or even about your online writing presence until it was too late. It’s already been a year or so after your passing, and it was Anaïs who first introduced me – she wrote a tribute to you on her blog about how much she misses you and your words, how she’s still in disbelief that there won’t be anything new. Since then, I’ve gone through your archives several times and have voraciously eaten up all of your short short fiction and poetry. And, since then, your words still linger in my mind from time to time. It was pretty extraordinary how immediately taken in I was. You were colorful, you were haunting, you were even hilarious. From reading all the other comments and tributes, I wasn’t entirely alone in the way I felt, and it’s obvious how you were a big supporter of other online writers as well.

It’s a shame I never got to speak with you. Nonetheless, I still miss you anyway. I miss the fact that I never got to know you, and I miss the fact that there will be no more writing. I miss the fact that I will never be able to have a book of yours on my shelf.

Your poem, “Eating Heart,” seems so eerily relevant now, in retrospect:

Rare is best. Let it
hit fire, and it becomes tough,

A still-beating heart
imparts an unrealistic optimism. Its
flavor will be strong, of blood
and salt.

The heart that lies like a stone
in your hand should not be used
for cooking—

Bury it in the farthest corner
of the yard. Place over it a large rock,
to protect the animals.

When you awaken with a pain
in your breast, you know your heart
is almost done. Serve with rosemary,
for remembrance.

Some other favorites of mine:
1. Windowers
2. Slut Whore
3. Everyone the Same But Not at Once

Thanks for your words, Cami. Your writing will always have a special place at this blog.