2013: The Retrospective

I might say 2013 was the first year I felt my age, even though I didn’t feel that way in the beginning. High school drama has faded. College was a blur, a TV channel blinking scenes in and out. Coming of age might just be a cough. The throat is cleared, the page can close.

Maybe it is also because more people in my life call me Joseph now, instead of Joey.

There were firsts, coming late: first nosebleed, first time travelling alone, first full-time job, first Pushcart Prize nomination, first romantic interest.

I read mostly women writers to level the playing field. By now, you all know it’s still a problem that half the human population is being overlooked in publishing. It’s surprising. What wasn’t surprising was how easy it was for me to take it to task, a simple lesson in being more mindful of what we consume. And I still have plenty left over sitting on my shelves for the upcoming year.

A few:

bookhaul1

I got more into podcasts because my job allows plugging in as long as we are plugging away. There is Other People, as usual, but also Literary Disco. Books can, and should be, funny. Books can be a party. And of course, there’s Welcome to Nightvale.

I started thinking more about how video games and writing are both important to me, how integral to my formative years. How I grew up with both, alongside each other; how they informed my imagination and creative endeavors. I thought about how they can intersect, how they can both be very important to identity. There are games being made like dys4ia and Depression Quest and Gone Home. I wrote an essay for Sundog, which is maybe the most intimate thing I have published. I am still getting used to this nakedness.

For the new year, Melissa gave me the idea of keeping a memory jar. I don’t think anyone who knows me would consider me a very sentimental person, but I like this idea very much. Getting a big jar and collecting bits and pieces throughout the year to remember it by. Ticket stubs, seashells, pictures, buttons, quotes. It’s like keeping another kind of journal. Maybe it would also force me to be more of observant and aware of what is happening around me, kicking me out of any bubble I am prone to curl up in.

I wrote down resolutions too, which is not something I believe too strongly in. But, as I mention, I’ve already begun working on them. I’ve set myself a Goodreads goal.

I need to make a new mixtape. Maybe my throat has cleared of those days of advanced placement classes and aggressive acne, but the music stays.

Books:

Quiet by Susan Cain
Rise of the Videogame Zinesters by Anna Anthropy
Summer by Edith Wharton
A Room of One’s Own by Virginia Woolf
Heroines by Kate Zambreno
Frankenstein by Mary Shelley
Stigmata: Escaping Texts by Hélène Cixous
Bluets by Maggie Nelson
The Member of the Wedding by Carson McCullers
Unclean Jobs for Women and Girls by Alissa Nutting
Invisible Cities by Italo Calvino
Mother Ghost by Casey Hannan
Light Boxes by Shane Jones
Winter’s Bone by Daniel Woodrell
We the Animals by Justin Torres
The Marbled Swarm by Dennis Cooper
My Vocabulary Did This to Me by Jack Spicer

Films/TV:

Downton Abbey
Upstairs, Downstairs
The Perks of Being a Wallflower (again)
Ghost World (again)
My Mad Fat Diary
Girls
Black Books
Parks and Recreation
The Royal Tenenbaums
North Sea, Texas
Bridegroom
Battle Royale

Music:

“Hot Knife” and “Daredevil” by Fiona Apple
“My IQ” by Ani DiFranco
“Closer” by The Tiny
“Royals” and “Tennis Court” by Lorde
“Don’t You Touch Me” and “I’ve Been Alone Too Long” by Soko
“Mother, Mother” by Tracy Bonham
“Lights” by Ellie Goulding
“Lungs” by Chvrches
“All Your Gold” and “Lilies” by Bat for Lashes

Misc.:

Lady knights
Boy witches
Haunted doll houses
Praya dubia and deep-sea creatures
Satin bowerbirds, salamanders
Confessional and fantastical poetry
First-person point of view
Self-destruction as renewal
Memoir-criticism and essay-reviews


2012: The Retrospective

It’s winding down and I can take a breath. Unlike the past few years, I feel like I’ve charted out some kind of evolution through what I’ve collected. I feel as though there has been more progress than paralysis. I’ve gotten better and bolder. I’ve grown more confident in my words, to the point of where I could allow myself to submit them to magazines for the first time. I learned about the process of waiting and the subsequent sting of rejection, but I didn’t let that deter me. I kept at it until I found good homes. I’ve published short fiction, reviews, essays, and poetry – both online and in print. Some bookstores in Austin have a poem of mine on the bookshelves. And I still have more writing forthcoming in other places after the new year rolls around.

I addressed my issues with crippling anxiety and sadness, which is hard if you’ve become so used to a cycle. The help I received loosened the tightness in my chest and gave me the space I needed for myself.  There was less static and it allowed me to ease into my own skin, slowly. I didn’t know things could move forward. I reached out and made new friends. I talked to more writers and people who were interested in what I was doing. I found myself stepping outside and not being as afraid to see what might happen.

Usually my New Year’s resolution is to simply not have any resolutions (in fact, you can read about last year’s retrospective here, in which I bring this exact thing up) because they are usually silly or unrealistic, but I’m going to break that tradition for this upcoming year. Instead, I’m going to try to think of it as just another one of those short-term lists in order to keep my head together. It is not so hard and not so unreasonable.

Goals:

  • Read more books than I read in 2012
  • Publish more writing than I published in 2012
  • Try out internet book trading via something like Paperbackswap, which seems fun
  • Start a new online literary magazine, inspired by places like >kill author and PANK
  • Become a Goodreads author and/or librarian
  • Maybe get a very small tattoo, if I can finally decide on something
  • Move more, before my muscles completely atrophy
  • Update this blog with a snazzy new theme
  • Find a better near-future amidst the economic uncertainty of the far-future

And now, this year’s collection.

Metropolis Night by Jacklyn Laflamme

Books:

I Kill Giants by Joe Kelly and J.M. Ken Niimura
Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro
Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? by Edward Albee
Demian by Hermann Hesse
Mysterious Skin by Scott Heim
Zazen by Vanessa Veselka
The Writing of Fiction by Edith Wharton
The Dream of a Common Language by Adrienne Rich
If on a winter’s night a traveler by Italo Calvino
4.48 Psychosis by Sarah Kane
Einstein’s Dreams by Alan Lightman

Films:

Barton Fink
Leon: the Professional
Masculin, Feminin
Une Femme est une Femme
Mary and Max
Amarcord
8 1/2
Melancholia
Public Speaking
All About Eve
Citizen Kane
Kiki’s Delivery Service
Brave
Norwegian Wood
Grey Gardens
Shame
Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?
The Secret World of Arrietty
The Borrowers
The Hunger Games
Misery
The Perks of Being a Wallflower
Submarine
Paradise Now
We Need to Talk About Kevin
Clueless
Moonrise Kingdom

Music:

“Oblivion” and “Genesis” by Grimes
“Every Single Night” by Fiona Apple
“Teen Idle” and “Oh No” by Marina and the Diamonds
“Soft as Chalk” by Joanna Newsom
“Catgroove” and “Booty Swing” by Parov Stelar
“Je Veux” by Zaz
“24” by Jem
“Air War” by Crystal Castles
“Strict Machine” by Goldfrapp
“Obedear” by Purity Ring
“Old Friend” by Sea Wolf
“Gallows” by CocoRosie
“These Days” by Nico
“Turn the Wolves” and “Halo” by Lotte Kestner
“Rid of Me” by PJ Harvey
“Human Behaviour” by Bjork
“Into Black” by Blouse
“Sunshine” by Little Dragon

Misc.:

750words
Duotrope and Submittable
My 8tracks, always
Going back to paper and letters and writing in little brown notebooks
90s reminiscing: point-and-click adventure games, Roller Coaster Tycoon, Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego?, Sakura Gelly Roll pens
Pumpkin pancakes
Anxiety workbooks
Nathaniel Branden’s “scandalous” relationship with Ayn Rand
Watching Divorce Court after school with my sister
Writing Spaces
Bright Wall, Dark Room
ReadLearnWrite
Underground NY Public Library
Kickstarter indie projects
Feminism, gaming culture, and Anita Sarkeesian
The Prisoner


Swimming Through the Cesspool

I was having a conversation with a game developer friend of mine recently (aspiring – still learning the ropes, and there are many of them) about the problem with stagnation in the video game industry. It’s sort of funny how often you see a lot of people talking about these enormously successful game franchises with such blatant contempt – even gamers themselves who actively play them. A lot of what is being churned out again and again by these immense companies is the equivalent of completely forgettable action movies, he says to me. Where are the other genres? Where are the games that are trying to push the medium forward? How will games ever be taken seriously if they keep resorting to formulas and tired tropes that seem to cater mostly to twelve-year-old boys (or men who think like them)?

Although the games industry has its own set of problems to confront, I don’t think this one is particularly unique. Because, just like all other forms of media, there’s always going to be copious amounts of entirely forgettable, expendable trash. Most of it will be mindless escapism because that’s usually what people want when they sit down with a piece of entertainment – an enjoyable respite from reality. A lot of it will also be safe and rely on formulas because people who sink so much of their time, money, and energy in creating it obviously want to see it get something back. Familiarity is often the ideal because there’s less chance to offend and challenge the audience. There’s less risk-taking because creators are just too afraid (especially if they’re aspiring) or too comfortable (if it works, why not keep milking it?). Movies and television suffer from this issue too.

But I get it. It’s easy to get lost in the cesspool sometimes and forget that there is also incredible art out there too. I think it’s extremely important to point out what things need to change in all media in order to make any progress (in the case of my friend’s problem: why aren’t there more black protagonists in games?). These challenges need to be acknowledged. But it’s not enough to just talk about it – we also need to make our own books, movies, games, and share them with others as much as possible. I think it’s much more important to focus specifically on what you enjoy most (and what you’re good at) and to never apologize for these passions. If there’s a relatively unknown book or movie or game that you’ve fallen in love with, tell your friends about it! Spread the love. Help make it seem worthwhile and get it the recognition that it’s due. Don’t just criticize – create as much as you can yourself. If you have a friend like I do that needs some help getting the word out, share it with anyone who you think might give a damn.


Carousel #2

Lately, I think I’ve been getting a better handle on posting things more regularly to this blog, which is a good thing. This week, I thought a lot about names and identity and how that relates to my own writing, as well as my own personal tastes and reading habits. I’ve also got a few writing assignments to work on and a short story done that relates to the things mentioned above (which was actually just a coincidence). Hope you enjoy this week’s stops.

  1. A place where people try to one-up you on what you’ve been reading? This video clip makes Portland seem less like just a strange place on the other side of the country and more like a completely different planet.
  2. Surreal short short story: Thieves.
  3. I read a fantastic essay by Kathleen Alcott on names and why naming is so important to our identity and who we are as writers, especially.
  4. A hilarious short story about a woman giving birth to a laptop: Angela’s Baby.
  5. More Angelas appear!: Continuing with my Jean-Luc Godard run, I watched Une Femme est une Femme, suggested by Angela, who shares her name with the main character. It’s quirky and very amusing. You can watch the memorable book scene on Youtube. Although, the subtitles are far from perfect from what I can tell, unfortunately.
  6. There was this gender breakdown of the biggest literary journals that got a lot of writers and editors talking. And it got me thinking about the continuous cycle of social injustice and my own personal reading habits.
  7. My dear friend Nikki started a blog chronicling her adventures in professional floristry. It reminded me of my own little garden I had as a kid, and how I aspired to be a botanist once, before I even had the idea of writing a story instead.
  8. My other friend Tracey now posts her artwork online, and it’s all incredibly lovely. It’s been amazing to see her journey as both an artist and photographer. It also reminds me of how frequently jealous I am of people with such beautifully precise spatial skills – something I have always lacked entirely.

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.

Books:
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

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

Songs:
“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

Misc.:
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