Sedatephobia: Fear of Silence

My life is full of noise now: highway traffic, phones ringing in unison, the voices of irate city residents. If you asked my past self what he thought of his future self, I’m sure it wouldn’t be this. But I’m not sure what else he would’ve said instead. I can’t even begin to hypothesize. Besides hopeless or dead, of course. But those are a given.

I visited the Morikami Museum and Gardens this week and the first thing I noticed was the quiet. The heat came second. It’s hard to ignore. I’ve lived in South Florida my whole life and I can never get used to it.

bambootrees

Strolling through the gardens, I thought about this fear of silence many people seem to have. I thought, how crazy. What is it about silence? Is it really just a distant cousin to the fear of loneliness? Is it the sudden break from technology and constant feedback, the “likes” and the pings, where the world opens up and reminds us of just how big it is and how little we are? Why do people sleep with the TV on or the radio beneath their pillow? Why the relentless bombardment to our senses?

morikamiturtles

When I go to sleep, I sink soundlessly. A pebble dropped down a bottomless well. The sleep is often uninterrupted and dreamless. The background noise doesn’t matter. It’s all oblivion or it isn’t sleep.

morikamisozu

Confession: I used to need waterfalls. One of those tapes of running water on loop in my ear.

runningwater

I’m happy I’ve lost those fears from childhood. I don’t miss my dreams waking me. I’m happy I can enjoy silence.

My periods of intense focus on writing have disappeared this past month or so. If I’m a writer, I should probably write. But I’ve read. I thought I should maybe start a Recommended Reading feature here. I love sharing what I love. Back in the Livejournal days (remember those?), my journal was always punctuated by critical thoughts on what I was reading at the time. I was all about intertexuality and really, life as a text itself. I’ll try to do this in the quiet I can find.


2014: The Retrospective

Let’s take a look. It’s (mostly) in a book. This past year, that is.

Professionally, I started a new full-time job that came out of the blue. I applied online and thought nothing of it. Maybe because it happened alongside a very serious city job that had a very involved hiring process and horribly impersonal interview format. However, when I got to the interview for my current job, I felt very confident. I mentioned my writing and editing, I even showed them this blog. I’d never really mentioned my writing at an interview before because I felt it was mostly irrelevant. In fact, my previous supervisor completely forgot I even had a degree in English. But I have my own business cards now and that’s all that matters. Welcome to the real world, Joseph.

I got published in a few more journals, although not as much as I wanted. I entered poetry contests and made it to the final round several times. I got angry at some rejections. I was nominated for the Best of the Net anthology. I started reading for the online literary journal Pithead Chapel, which publishes monthly issues of both fiction and nonfiction. I’m now an assistant fiction editor.

I thought this would be the year of poetry, but it became much more eclectic. Short story collections, graphic novels, essays. Last year I mentioned how I read a lot of women writers and I continued with this trend, albeit unconsciously. I just happened to pick up more books by women. They definitely aren’t scarce. They’re still not winning enough awards though. Speaking of underrepresented voices, one of my posts about literary magazines publishing those who often get overlooked somehow went viral. At least, “viral” in terms of the online literary community. I received kind messages of support from readers and editors, and it continues to get passed around every once in a while. If anything, I hope it helps connect writers with publishers and maybe encourage editors to be more aware of the imbalance and strive to become more inclusive.

I went to Miami to meet Amy Tan at my alma mater. I went to a very intense poetry reading at the Miami Book Fair, featuring Ocean Vuong. I visited coffee houses, local used bookstores, and cozy places to read. I wrote more letters than I ever have before, I’m pretty sure.

There was also a lot of tragedy this year that is impossible to gloss over. There was a lot of public grieving, which you often don’t see. Suicides and shootings. Protests and anger. We can always do better. We should always do better.

Soon enough, I’ll be posting photos of my memory jar from this year too. I’ll spill the contents I’ve collected. This project was fun and I hope to make it a tradition. Stay tuned.

In the meantime, here are a bunch of things that helped to define the year 2014 for me.

Books:

The Isle of Youth and What the World Will Look Like When the Water Leaves Us by Laura van den Berg
The Diaries of Anaïs Nin, Vol. 1 by Anaïs Nin
This Is Paradise by Kristiana Kahakauwila
Birds of America by Lorrie Moore
Crush by Richard Siken
Burnings by Ocean Vuong
The Lions by Peter Campion
Poetry and Commitment and Tonight No Poetry Will Do by Adrienne Rich
An Untamed State and Bad Feminist by Roxane Gay
Every Kiss a War by Leesa Cross-Smith
Seconds by Bryan Lee O’Malley
Hyperbole and a Half by Allie Brosh
This One Summer by Mariko and Jillian Tamaki
The Empathy Exams by Leslie Jamison
The Penguin Book of Witches by Katherine Howe
Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage by Haruki Murakami
Fleshtrap by Magen Cubed
The Self Unstable by Elisa Gabbert

Literary journals:

NANO Fiction
Hobart
Provocateur
Rattle
Atlas Review
Black Warrior Review
The Pinch

Movies and TV series:

Cowboys and Angels
Heathers
(again)
The Big Lebowski
Girls (again)
Dallas Buyers Club
The Grand Budapest Hotel
Marina Abramovic: The Artist Is Present
Portlandia
Bob’s Burgers
Ergo Proxy
Return to Oz

The Wind Rises
The Fifth Element

Video games:

Broken Age
Gone Home

Dark Cloud
Shin Megami Tensei: Persona 3
Child of Light
Bravely Default: Flying Fairy
Sims 3
Costume Quest 2
Puppeteer

Music:

“The Gypsy King” and “Tristan” by Patrick Wolf
“Floating City” by Tori Amos/Y Kant Tori Read
“Spellwork” by Austra
“Black Cat” by Ladytron
“Magic Rabbit” by My Brightest Diamond
“Experiment IV” by Kate Bush
“Red Right Hand” by Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds
“Chandelier” by Sia
“Completely Not Me” by Jenny Lewis
“Words as Weapons” by Birdy
“Tous Les Memes” by Stromae
“On Ira” and “Comme ci, Comme ça”  by Zaz
Everything by Lorde (again)
Everything by PJ Harvey
Everything by FKA twigs

And now, onto the 2015 resolutions:

  • Find some kind of physical activity that I don’t hate completely and follow a routine
  • Eat healthier
  • Find a place of my own to settle and build a nest
  • Learn some French?
  • I could always read more
  • Submit to lit magazines more often

The Year of Poetry

Poetry month came and went. I did it right by reading tons of it: John Ashbery, Charles Bukowski (my first ever, if the internet can believe that), Adrienne Rich (all-time favorite still), Peter Campion, Juliana Spahr, Angela Sorby, Richard Siken, Ocean Vuong, Campbell McGrath. I think I may just extend it to make 2014 my year of poetry, much like 2013 was my year of women writers. It looks like it’s headed that way regardless.

About a month ago, I met Amy Tan. She was at FIU, my alma mater. The university presented her with the Lawrence Sanders award for her contribution to literature. I first read The Joy Luck Club in high school, one of the books that inspired me as a teenager to take writing more seriously. Her fascination with an indomitable mother figure also resonated. Her speech at the ceremony was funny and heartfelt. She discussed the idea of the writer’s brain being more porous, having less barriers. Her husband of 40+ years was in the audience with their little dogs in a bag. The next day was their anniversary and they were heading out to Key West to celebrate. Ms. Tan talked about the Dry Tortugas and how she wanted to swim with the sharks. She signed my copy of her newest novel: To Joseph, joy and luck.

I didn’t go to AWP this year, even though I’d been invited to do a reading at an off-site panel that focused on videogame writing. I’ve actually never been to AWP. It’s on my bucket list though. From what I’ve gleaned from Twitter, AWP always seems like a huge frenzy that causes a lot of exhaustion. But hopefully fun exhaustion. I would especially love to meet some of the editors from the literary magazines I read. And of course, maybe I’ll even bump into some writer friends that, up until this point, I only internet-know.

Speaking of internet friends, thanks to some help from Adam, I was recently able to start a Goodreads author page. You can now become a fan of me. Oh wow. It might make it easier since my blog posts will also update through Goodreads now. If you’re into that. And of course, my constant barrage of books.

In the past couple of months, I’ve managed to stumble upon a few bookish places in tight little corners of South Florida. I am always on the lookout–especially since there are hardly any bookish places within my immediate vicinity. I sometimes feel so culture-starved.

secondedition1

secondedition2

One of these places was Second Edition Books. I went with my sister, who is always up for an adventure. She bought some Shakespeare, I bought some Lorrie Moore. There were shelves and shelves, stacks and stacks. It was crammed full. The bookstore provides a very homey atmosphere–rustic interior and leather armchairs. We sat in them and looked for the Great Catsby, the bookstore’s mascot. Catsby the cat lounges around the books. My sister pointed out that he also has an Instagram with a huge amount of followers.

coffeehaus1 coffeehaus2

Another place I found was the Undergrounds Coffeehaus. The first thing I noticed: it’s not actually underground. In fact, you have to climb stairs to get to the door, where it warns you that no illegal substances are permitted beyond the threshold. Already I think we’d found a place with a distinct personality. Inside, there is a playful kind of chaos: board games set out on tables, shelves of books against walls, knick-knacks scattered all over. It seems like a good local hangout spot for artists and youth with that kind of alternative edge. Tattoos and green hair. They serve tater tots and lots and lots of different coffee and teas.

When I’m not exploring books nooks or working now, I write letters–actual paper and pen–in order to fill the void where the incessant blogging would be. If you wish to start an exchange, you can let me know at lettersforburning@yahoo.com. I promise I won’t burn them–not this time.


Shutting Down, Opening Up

Recently, I’ve had a few things of mine published: “Soft Power,” in One Forty Fiction (Twitter-sized stories) and “Playing Female,” in Monkeybicycle. I hope you enjoy them.

It’s also been around a year or so since this blog’s inception, so I decided to give it a makeover (if you hadn’t noticed it already). I updated my writing and reading sections too. The literary magazine I read for, Hobart, also got a really beautiful upgrade. They’re trying to update the site with more regular literary goodness.

I’ve been writing a lot more regularly now too, due in part to the genius that is 750words. It motivates you to write at least 750 words (oh really, now?) a day. It’s been pretty successful, I would say, even though sometimes I don’t get to 750 words exactly. You should really check it out, especially if you’re someone who spends a lot of time on the internet like I do.

Lately I’ve also noticed that a few literary magazines I really liked have come to a close: Dark Sky, kill author, and American Short Fiction (although someone else may possibly take over). Sad day. If you know of any good ones that are just starting, please let me know. Help to fill the void.

The other day, my sister and I went to an art show at Studio 18, where we saw a few local artists talk. There was an artist my sister really liked, Jacklyn Laflamme, who does a lot of psychedelic creatures and big teeth. There was also this community project that we were a part of, where we were given little squares to paint.

My sister had two squares on that wall and I had one. I am not an artist by any means, but it was fun to see. There was wine. My sister said she felt like Dr. Niles Crane. I agreed.


Writing from Home

Home has always been more strange than familiar.

This is a video clip I found while going through old stuff on my computer today. It shows my sister throwing rocks into the lake by our house. You can hear Nana laughing. I’m also laughing to myself right now because the clip is actually labeled “WhatWeDoforFuninFlorida.mov” in my videos folder.

I make fun of Florida a lot. I was born here and I’ve lived here all my life. It’s quite a strange place to live, to be honest, if you don’t know anything about it outside of your occasional trip down to Disney World (or any of the other theme parks) or to Sanibel Island for the nice beaches. Although, if you watch the news enough, you might know something about how often people get murdered too. The perpetual heat makes people do crazy things, I think. I also live in one of the most popular counties (and attended one of the most overcrowded universities), so it is the very definition of hot and crowded.

Karen Russell, author of Swamplandia!, often uses Florida as fodder for her fiction, spinning it into her own mythology and an eccentric ensemble of characters. I write about it sometimes too. I write about neighbors and neighborhoods a lot, and hurricane parties. I remember writing a short story once about a gated community where the neighbors all gather outside after a hurricane has passed them over. That’s one unique experience that I’ve lived through quite a few times. It’s an interesting experience seeing all the people gather into the streets – sometimes people you hardly know at all – and sit down together to share some lunch, games, and conversation.

Other than that, I write about escape too. I think about leaving. Really, there isn’t much here to see besides all the housing communities, shopping plazas, and miles and miles of sprawl. I sometimes wonder how things would’ve been different if I grew up in a city in New York instead, which is where my parents are from. How different it is there. I wonder if I would’ve grown up into a writer at all. I say this because, as a child, boredom and an overactive imagination were a potent combination, and Florida – despite how much I pick it apart – has proven to be the perfect place to grow something like that. New York would’ve made the process almost too easy, maybe, for something like that to happen. Maybe all the color and culture would’ve been too much – there would’ve been less reason for me to write as a kid because the stories would be happening to me instead of me having to make them up for myself.

Edit: I received a comment about this post elsewhere discussing how I was implying that people who come from the city are more likely to have a weak imagination, which is obviously not true. Plenty of great writers come from such environments and I didn’t mean to insinuate that. This post is more speculation about my own personal trajectory.