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.

Online Personas and Fiction: PixelVixen707, UltraNeko

Ever since I first started writing on the internet, I’ve had my name out there in some form. Not necessarily my full name and all my personal information, but simply my own perspective and who I am as an individual – I’ve always attached my own identity to the words. I’ve never seen the point in remaining completely anonymous or creating a separate fictional persona for myself.

But some people do these things all the time. I remember once coming across a story in which a blogger confessed to creating a female fictional persona for a freelance writing project that caused somewhat of a stir. The handle of his female character was PixelVixen707, and she was a video game critic. Her blog became somewhat popular and people grew quite attached to the character he wrote as. He gave this girl, Rachael Webster, a life of her own: an art therapist boyfriend who worked at an asylum, a home in New York, tattooes and purple hair. Her criticism was linked to other video game sites because it was often very insightful and intelligent. So, naturally, when the blogger revealed his true identity, many people were very angry that they had been writing to someone who wasn’t “real.” They felt duped because they had grown so attached to her presence.

I actually got to experience this feeling firsthand – though still a bit vicarious – through a similar situation. A few years ago, there was a video game blogger that went by the internet handle UltraNeko. She made weekly video reviews on Youtube, in which she played through a game for about an hour or so (edited down, obviously) and showed her reactions. Her personality and enthusiasm was pretty infectious (her show was actually called “Sadie’s Game Infection”). She often dressed up as characters, and even got to interview some really well-known voice actors. After a while though, she stopped. She suddenly told everyone she was on a hiatus. People waited for a long time, but she never returned. Many suspected she was pregnant during this time, and started spreading pretty malicious rumors about her. An internet troll created a Twitter and wrote as if it were her talking, often making very racist remarks and saying that she was really an actress that was just in it for the money. People were also upset because they had sent her donations and video games for her to review. Her Youtube was eventually shut down completely and no one heard from her again. No one had conclusive evidence for why she left and whether or not she was just a fabrication. Obviously, many people were upset by this. I know I was. But was I upset by the fact that Sadie may not have been “real” in a sense (if those particular rumors were true)? Not really. I guess I was more disappointed by the fact that I would no longer be able to watch her really entertaining reviews and playthroughs, even if they were partially fictional. I imagine I would have felt the same way if I had read PixelVixen707’s blog from the beginning and learned she wasn’t a person either.

Back in the Livejournal days, I remember there being a journal that was supposedly written by twins who were in love with each other. It told of their abuse and how they had to hide away their incestuous affair, and it became fairly popular. Although it seemed so obviously a fictional blog to me, people continued to follow along anyway and leave them comments, giving them advice whenever they needed it.

There are all kinds of motivations for creating these characters or for being an anonymous internet persona. You can be more bold, you can exaggerate, you can impress…and sometimes, you can even get paid for it too. You can be anyone – you’re only limited by your imagination, in this sense.

Despite having always been obsessed with fiction, I still haven’t tried this out. It’s pretty funny how I don’t feel the need to lie or fool around like this like others have. I suppose I’m still caught up with the extremely egotistical idea of owning my words and reminding people that I’m my own person with my own thoughts.

Sleeping Through Hurricanes: Daytime Dreamscapes

When it comes to the dream life, I don’t remember anything at all. It’s never really been a part of my routine like it is for other people. When I sleep, I don’t move and I don’t wake until it’s morning. I’ve slept through hurricanes before.

I always think it would be a curse to be one of those people who always remembers what their unconscious stirs up every night. My mom used to have a recurring chase sequence in her dreams that drove her crazy for over a decade. I have a lot of friends like that too and I feel somewhat sorry for them. One of my friends seems to always dream about killing people in a really graphic fashion, which unsettles her quite a bit. When I sleep, I like having that absolute oblivion. I don’t want cracks of light and colors creeping in. Or murders and dismembered body parts, for that matter. I want to forget and I want sleep-death.

On the other hand, it could make for good storywriting. A lot of writers and artists have worked dreams directly into their style and aesthetics, and I really love when that happens. I love the effects surrealism can have, despite the fact that I wouldn’t know anything about it on this more personal level. I like how things suddenly become more figurative and how worlds have the potential to run parallel or bleed together.

In high school, we had to keep a dream journal for my creative writing class. I ended up having to make everything up simply because I could never remember my dreams. Sometimes, there were scraps or residual images, but never enough to assemble a story from. One of the stories I tried to turn into a dream was of an ancient temple (everything was grainy or sepia-toned, no colors) that I was desperately trying to navigate. It was like a labyrinth and I was completely lost, running and running until a flood eventually carried me away to the exit. Or maybe it wasn’t an exit and I actually drowned instead. That was the moment when I was supposed to wake up.

I wonder if it is possible to navigate that temple for myself again while asleep. I’ve heard of lucid dreaming and the possibility of taking control of the plot yourself, but I wouldn’t know anything about it. It seems like an art completely lost on me. I also read a study once that somehow found a positive correlation between daydreaming (thinking creatively and critically) a lot during the day and sleeping well (and dreamless) at night. So, I suppose, it broke people down into daydreamers and nightdreamers, travellers of the conscious and the unconscious.

Maybe I’m just one of those insufferable daydreamers whose waking life is enough like a dream–or navigated like a dream–that nightdreaming is seen as irrelevant or stale by comparison. Maybe the borders are too strongly sealed off and it can’t bleed through (sorry, Mr. Murakami) and my unconscious knows its place. It knows how I suddenly wouldn’t be the pilot (or the author) anymore and I’ll lose my grip quickly. But then again, most of my time seems to be spent on thinking about things like labyrinths and floods anyway.

Little Ghosts and Their Graves

Back when I was a teenager, I didn’t care very much for other teenagers. I only had a handful of people I could stand to be around and I sometimes even questioned if this time was ever well spent. I really wanted to find more people who I wouldn’t just tolerate, but could appreciate. Fortunately, online friendships were becoming more of a regular part of adolescence, with the advent of social networks like MySpace and blogging places like Livejournal. So I dove in and created my own profile on both. Mostly, I just started adding people from my school because they were adding each other anyway, and we would comment on each other’s awkward pictures and posts in our journals—whether or not we actually talked in real life. It was strange, I suppose, when you look at it in retrospect. I also noticed how some people were adding other people they didn’t even know and I started doing it too. In fact, my best friend and I even made a contest out of it at one point. I remember how I ended up with over 8,000 “friends” on MySpace because of it.

I didn’t plan on it, but some of these friends ended up staying for a while. Some of these friends ended up getting to know me more personally and more intimately in ways that people in real life couldn’t and still probably can’t. Maybe it was partially because I was a writer, and because they were learning about me exclusively through the written words I chose to put down on the screen and I liked that better. I can’t really articulate myself in real life properly anyway, or can’t find the energy to do so. I felt more authentic, I felt like I was more interesting. I’d started writing to people more regularly and I found some pen pals. I wrote letters to people across the sea and across time zones. And, of course, I still do.

Of course, on the other hand, some of them vanished completely. What can you do? The internet allows you to pull the plug at any time, it allows you to cut people out that try to force their way in. It lets you become a recluse. You can rise like the phoenix in sporadic bursts, or you can reinvent yourself completely like some other kind of mythical creature. It’s up to you. I remember a girl who would joke with me about a boy who wore only Abercrombie and Fitch and had orange skin and thought he was God’s gift to humanity. I remember a boy who was into photography and read everything I wrote. I also remember another girl who had a best friend that killed herself when she was only fifteen, and it was during this time that I knew them both online. This suicidal girl with dark hair and polka dot shirts, she wrote to me a few times. Her friend didn’t suspect anything and her family was in complete shock. She was really gone—both online and off. And even though I never knew her in real life, something was suddenly missing. Her friend wrote poems about her and I tried to console her as best as I could. Her profile turned into a memorial. These severed connections still make me sad, even though I may have been only a small part of their lives. Maybe nothing at all. Sometimes I play a pathetic game with myself where I try to remember as many of these little ghosts as I can and wonder how much they’ve forgotten.

But my longest friendships have also been like this. They started with a click and a conversation, or a mutual friend who thinks we would get along. Is this so different from real life? Isn’t this a part of it anyway? Or has it not become real enough yet? We may never meet and we might be too far away, but we share ourselves through our letters and photos and videos. I don’t think our relationship is any less real than anything else just because we can’t hug. It would be nice to spend some time together and play some video games and browse the bookstore shelves, but I also like just being able to read those who matter and share with those who decide to linger.