Welcome To My Bed

Big Ups

In honor of finishing the edits on my first book, I'm taking a challenge posed to me by my dear friend Emily Carroll and rattling off, in no particular order, the ten writers Pelican couldn't exist without.

Emily Dickinson

We share a first name, and a history of secretive behavior, and our hearts' burial in Amherst. Dickinson is the first poet I loved as a child, specifically and especially for her "I'm nobody" poem. I went through a phase circa middle school when I was convinced I was from outer space, and feeling connected to another "nobody" is probably what inspired my impulse to record--I wanted to be like Emily: bent over her desk, claiming space through language.

Sylvia Plath

I read The Bell Jar for the first time much earlier than anybody would've let me had they known how I was spending my pocket money. I still have that copy, all my favorite passages underlined in pink, then black, then green, as I read and reread again and again. I became a huge admirer of Plath's poetry in college, but my connection with Plath will always be rooted in her prose and how simultaneously delicate and hysterical she was in her descriptions of a girl too deep into her own mind. I was that girl at 11; I'm that girl now. I go back to The Bell Jar time and again, and I always find some new moment where she shakes me by the shoulders saying you are only seen so far as you can see yourself.

Virginia Woolf

I was nineteen, forgive me

I was nineteen, forgive me

I have a now-illegible text tattoo of a quote from Woolf's Orlando on my ribs: "if we survive the teeth, we succumb to the waves." It's pulled from the passage when Orlando wakes in the night transformed from man to woman, where the narrator steps back from the narrative to muse on the difficulties of accurately telling a story. No matter how you write, your biases will always get the better of you. But Woolf goes beyond her biases by asking more questions that she can possibly answer before the end of an essay or novel or life. In my mind, her prose is unparalleled in excellence, but her heart is what matters most to me. Her characters are so frequently overtaken by the world around them, and I see myself in that surrender every time.

Ali Smith

If you haven't read Hotel World, begin there. My beloved fiction professor and thesis advisor Nell Arnold gave me this book as an assignment for one of her classes and I think about it constantly. Smith's play with tense and perspective is a joy for any admirer of experimental writing, but the true joy of her work is that she doesn't sacrifice earnest for technical backflips. If anything, her talent for manipulating mechanics only makes you feel more deeply for the scenes and stories she makes.

Rebecca Lindenberg

Love: An Index lives beside Hotel World as the only other book I urge all of my writing students to read. Both experiment with narrative in surprising and satisfying ways, but Lindenberg's poems are unique in that they are at once an archive of a personal story and a meditation on memory as the most personal of all storytelling acts. For us to remember anything, we must mark it somehow as ours, and Rebecca's poems are just the right marriage of the deeply personal and the curiously intellectual.

David Foster Wallace

Since we're talking indices and intellect, Foster Wallace seems a natural place to go. The summer my father died, I read Infinite Jest during interminable shifts manning the espresso machine and crepe griddle at a truly horrible cafe that very few customers ever patronized. All of our food was rotten, all our espresso pre-ground, and I had all the time in the world to flip back and forth from main text to endnotes to main text to earlier passage to next chapter to why the hell am I reading about puppets for this many pages and then suddenly I was crying into my coffee. People criticize Foster Wallace for being willfully inaccessible, but I really enjoyed the novel because it forces you to remember that a book is a narrative made physical--that you must interact with an object to access the story you're trying to understand, and that the object might end up being as difficult to deal with as the people it is cataloging.

Leo Tolstoy

It's getting awfully pretentious in here, but hear me out one second more: my first year of college I took a class called "The Bodies of Leo Tolstoy" taught by Polina Barskova, who also happened to be my advisor. The course was gorgeous--we talked about the physical descriptions of war, aging, family, and sex in his work--but the fact that my presence there gave me Polina as an advisor is the true reason Tolstoy makes this list. My father was having health problems again and I was thinking about dropping out of school. Polina frowned at me during one of our dozens of meetings that semester and said, "If you leave, you will never come back." It felt very Russian, but she was also very right. That small push for me to stay put kept me in the community I was beginning to build for myself as a writer, the one that made me a poet and pushed me to the point of telling a lot of really scary stories about myself in my work, many of which produced early drafts that ended up (after countless revisions) in Pelican.

Zadie Smith

Her narrators mytholigize like no other, and of that I'm so envious I could scream. But specifically, she ranks on this list because of The Autograph Man. The novel is about the rituals we take on in memory of what we've lost, and also the ways we sabotage ourselves instead of finding healthy ways to process grief.  It's a beautiful, hilarious, essential read for anyone who's lost a parent. I read most of it on the commuter rail back and forth from Providence to Boston and wept openly, glaring at any stranger who dared interrupt my very intimate relationship with the book.

one of my own fever dreams

one of my own fever dreams

Haruki Murakami

I would follow a cat down a well for this many an day. I don't care if you can make bingo cards from his personal vocabulary of tropes. I don't even care that I couldn't finish 1Q84.  I love him for dropping the surreal into the most normal of circumstances.  I love him for manipulating the same conditions and coming up with endless fever dreams. Hardboiled Wonderland and The End of The World is one of my favorite novels of all time for how deftly is rediscovers the human mind. Can our own memories lay dormant inside us? Certainly. Can we admit those dormant memories are ciphers for all we see and know about the world? That's much harder to face, but a concept important to me beyond words. I wish I could've given that book to my father. He would've adored every page.

Art Alexakis

Yes, I am blaming my debut collection on the frontman of Everclear. I said it in an interview for a forthcoming issue of Profane, and I'm going to say it again here: listening to Everclear as a grouchy adolescent made me realize that it's possible to be angry at your family while still loving them ruthlessly. You can expose the pain they've caused you and claim them and you won't tear yourself in two with the effort of either. Seeing the whole picture--the mess and the joy of being bonded by blood--is what makes family so important. I know that there are plenty of poems I've written that make my family unhappy or uncomfortable. I've already had countless conversations about many of those poems as they slowly see the light of day. But I also know that my family is proud of me for telling our truth, even the ugliest sides of it. Which isn't to say I'm not terrified of my book's birthday. I know there are more hard conversations to come. But I'm willing to have them, because telling the whole story is worth all the hard conversations in the world.

Things About Lifestyle Blogs That Make Me Uncomfortable

Blogging has become ridiculously big business, and perhaps rightfully so.  We spend plenty of time online digging for images of what we aspire to be and nuggets of crowd-sourced wisdom.  But there is a certain breed of blog that smacks of privilege by its very existence: The Lifestyle Blog.  Lifestyle blogs package expensive living as "attainable" with DSLR photo shoots and Polyvore sets and mood boards and endless hemming and hawing about how best to decorate your exorbitantly over-priced studio apartment.  They are often run by models or model-looking "average" people with a taste for designer furnishings and shopping habits that necessitate keeps several off-site storage units as second and third closets for seldom-worn petticoats and out of date handbags.  This regularly updated army of webpages is a monument to conspicuous consumption that, though at times a welcome distraction from the death and destruction that is endlessly discussed on more serious-minded websites, has veered towards a "let them eat cake" mentality that makes me feel really gross.

Here's looking at you, internet.

Here's looking at you, internet.

I should preface this list by saying that as a rule, I try not to read lifestyle or fashion blogs, at least not those dedicated to clothes with an eye to the label name drop, or lifestyle for lifestyle's sake.  My time on the internet is best spent reading literary magazines or social criticism, not taking in the finer points of home decor or the latest in platform shoes.  But there are a few lifestyle stops I've read for years now because of eye candy photography and interesting copy that I am just now abandoning, and here's why.

Recycled Content

I've read the "blogger tips" post about how revisiting/re-posting content from your archive is a great way to keep from getting overwhelmed by your regular posting schedule or getting content you're proud of to readers who have joined your audience after the original post date, but if you find yourself defaulting to this trick of the trade more than once a month, I am going to delete you from my RSS feed.  Ever since blogging became a business ( firstly, WHY THE FUCK, and second, monetizing your boring idle thoughts makes me gag), plenty of creativity went out of the internet writing game.  When you're writing over a thousand words at least three times a week and trying to stay relevant, perhaps it becomes difficult.  Perhaps I am simply unforgiving.  But it really sticks in my craw when I notice a blog repackaging old material as some new revelation that will totally change your life.  It is just as bad as when Cosmopolitan runs their 800th permutation of the "Blow Your Man's Mind" article that acts like nobody knew blow jobs exist.

Link Round-Ups

If I am reading your blog, it means I have an internet connection.  If I have an internet connection, there is a good chance (at least nowadays) that I have a Facebook accoun, a Twitter handle, a Tumblr, or some combination of the three.  This doesn't even begin to cover k-holes like Pintrest.  If an article sparked your interest, that's great.  Post it to one of the aforementioned sites that are all about aggregating knowledge into some weird, internet-based knowledge oversoul.  It most likely does not belong on your blog, especially if it is just a dumb gif of a kitten scratching at a carboard turntable or the most recent music video from your favorite culturally irrelevant musician.  Why not, instead of a weekly link round-up, fill in the holes in your post schedule (you know, the one plagued by thrice monthly re-posts of old ideas, as discussed in figure 1) by writing responses to the articles you found so interesting?  The logic of this pet peeve follows the same template as my earlier observation: if you have nothing new to say, you should probably not be talking in the first place.

Gushing About Celebrities

If I wanted to hear about how much somebody loves or hates a certain famous someone, I would be reading a tabloid (or the fabulous weekly tabloid round-up, by the equally fabulous Molly Lambert at Grantland).  What grosses me out the most is that a certain blogger I used to think was pretty fly went on a rant several months back about how toxic tabloids and celebrity are to our self-image, but continues to go on strange tears about how much she loves hanging out with Betsey Johnson or publicizes Will.I.Am's bizarre, nonsensical business ventures alongside a glut of photobooth pictures she took with him at some exclusive event.  Betsey Johnson, I can condone.  She is a self-made lady who has made a multi-decade business out of her unique point of view, something a lot of bloggers would like to claim they are also doing.  But Will.I.Am?  The very existence of that man's career disgusts me.  Somebody uses a computer to make some vacant robot sounds and then slaps his face on the front of the single--boom, radio hit.  Lady, he doesn't need your blog shilling for him.  He already makes billions of dollars being boring without your weird I-stood-next-to-a-famous-person outburst helping him along.  Stick to writing about your actual life, not the "important" people you swill drinks with at sponsored parties.

I'll Tell You About My Fabulous Trip Later, Don't Worry!

Yes, you have a dedicated readership that is genuinely curious about where you have been, why you went, and what you did there.  But there are better ways of whetting an appetite than posting a single selfie and a brief blurb about how you just soooo jetlagged and promising to post later in the week.  If you know you're traveling but want to keep posting regularly, maybe you schedule content like anyone who has ever used basic blogging software?  Or you could simply forego posting until you have the energy to write something worth reading.  Even worse than the So-Tired-Travel-Post is the Sponsored-Advertisement-of-Hotel/Airline/Product-From-My-Trip post.  I don't care about your boutique accommodations or your upgrade to extra-super-luxury-first-class or your BRAND NEW Clarisonic.  Know why?  Because somebody paid you to tell me about it.  These posts are the same things as those "articles" in women's magazines featuring the Latest, Greatest New Product that say "paid advertisement" in gray, unobtrusive font the hope you won't notice at the top of the page.

Print Media is Dead, So Buy My Digital Book!

This is where my writerly cynicism really bubbles over and lights the whole goddamn stove on fire.  If you want to write about design or fashion or decorating or whatever else on the internet, go for it.  If you want to use your successful blog to leverage book proposal, be my guest.  There are internet writers I deeply respect who've done exactly this, and to great succes.  (Take a look at Orangette for an example of a blog that made that crossover with aplomb and class to spare.)  By the same token, there are plenty who decide to digitally publish, and that's cool too.  The market is diverse!  People read this shit on their phones now anyway!  More power to you with that Kindle Single!  That being said, no book you have written is worth upwards of $100 for 12 chapters of blog reiteration, and more if you buy the chapters singly.  If you have so much faith that you will make bank off what you have to offer your readership, write a book proposal and shop your ideas to possible editors.  You already have your internet celebrity making you at least semi-bankable.  Bypassing the publishing system is just aiding in killing the literature you claim sustained you as a wayward teenager.

It's possible I'm just easily offended by blatant pandering, money-grubbing and/or laziness when it comes to what I've been reading, but then again, I'm not the target audience of these blogs anyway.  To put it another way, the books that make it onto the best seller list are rarely the most timeless books of a given year.  The same seems to be true for blog content: the viral posts are hardly vital to the fabric of our culture.