In The Wizard of Oz, Glinda says to Dorothy after the Wicked Witch of the West threatens her about the ruby slippers: “Keep tight inside of them — their magic must be very powerful or she wouldn’t want them so badly.”
Later after the witch has gone, Glinda tells her, “I’m afraid you’ve made a rather bad enemy of the witch.”
Bitch, the only reason why Dorothy kept those shoes on was because you told her to! You made the witch hate her! I think Glinda is one sneaky little cunt and I’m going to explore this thought further.
Roger S. Baum is the great-grandson of Frank L. Baum, the man who wrote The Wonderful World of Oz which was later adapted as a small film you may have heard of: The Wizard of Oz.
In the sixth grade, my Mom and stepdad took a trip to Vegas. They met Roger at a book-signing the MGM Grand was having in their Wizard of Oz gift shop. Mom was in awe of Mr. Baum and because she is a great Mom, she picked up his latest book Dorothy of Oz for me. Additionally, she had him sign the book. She told him that I was an aspiring writer and the man wrote a two-page message to me encouraging me to keep writing. To keep my imagination even as I grow up and become a very serious adult. This book and his advice to me was my most prized possession. My Mom was the person who introduced me to the world of Oz when I was very young. It is our favorite movie, which is an understatement. Then in the 8th grade, right before high school we moved to a different house in a different city. The book got lost during the transition and I haven’t seen it since 1998.
Sometime last week I got a crazy idea in my mind (keeping it secret for a while) and as research I’ve begun reading all the Oz literature I can get my hands on. I’ve started with the original Wizard of Oz script, which was fun because I have seen the movie enough times to know entire monologues by heart.
Reading the script reminded me of that signed book and how I have kicked myself for fourteen years for losing it. So, last night on a whim at around 2am, I emailed Roger and asked him for another signed copy. Stay tuned because something magical has been set in motion…
And as I’m getting ready to go back to New York after being gone for two and a half months, it still really rings true for me.
“I got this for you”, Marivel said. She put a bottle of Veuve Clicquot champagne on the kitchen counter.
“For you,” she said.
The Christmas party was booming by that time. The tree was decorated NOLA style, with purple and green lights. Four peacock feathers stuck out of the branches making it the chicest and/or craziest looking Christmas tree I’d ever seen. Party guests mingled in the garage that was the home of the now infamous open bar. In the kitchen whipping up desserts and snacks, opening more bottles of wine. Drinking more bottles of wine. In the dining room sampling the 100% homemade “Around the World” menu, everything from latkes, to pizza, to sushi, to samosas, to enchiladas.
I was holding the champagne bottle, completely mesmerized by the label like I am known to do, when I saw Shawna’s eyes widen.
“I’ll take that!” she said as she snatched the bottle out of my hands. “Come with me,” she said, directing Marivel and I to her room.
“I don’t want anyone but us to drink this bottle. Let’s have a toast to NYU,” she explained.
“Wait! Let me grab my mom and Taryn”, I said. I wanted them to have the moment with me.
When I got back, two other people whom I had only met that night had joined the private party. They came with cups, so Shawna said it was okay for them to be there.
The toast itself was quick, right to the point. One person who came with the cups gasped when he heard ‘NYU’. “Woooooow!” he said with an excited and drunken elongation of the vowel.
We talked about not being snobbish about living in Brooklyn. Talked scholarships and grants vs. loans. We talked about me not wanting my mother to come and visit right away (was I joking? I’ll never tell.) We talked about how fast March would get here. My mother thanked Shawna and Marivel for writing my letters of recommendation for me, and it was around this time that the tears came. They weren’t full-on crying tears; they were polite tears that just hung onto the corners of my eyes, making the room and my loved ones a bit blurry. I remembered to pause and take it all in.
I am the most proud of myself when I remember to savor what is happening around me. When I remember to live in the moment. To take a deep breath. There are things I want to take with me to New York that don’t go in a suitcase.
[photo, my own]
It was maybe my third week or so living in New York. I met a friend for burgers in Madison Square Park, and as I walked home I got so caught up in the city streets that I didn’t realize I had walked right passed 14th st, where my first New York apartment was. I got to 18th st when I realized my mistake. Before that I had stared, creepily but discreetly into a brownstone apartment somewhere off 8th ave. It was that vision, that image of a typical New York apartment that had set me on the exact path that I found myself on that night. The city was still so fresh and new to me.
A year prior a friend and I had a serious, intense conversation about what I wanted out of life (there were tears and pizza and wine involved) and I had this vision of an apartment much like the one I peeped into. I wanted that, I told her. And I’ve told the story too many times now, it’s redundant. I was lost in a strange city, one that I had never set foot in before committing to a life there. I didn’t even realize the freedom that would come with that decision. Once while laying in the sand on a beach in Montauk, I told a new friend that the first time I came to New York was the day I moved my whole life there. His eyes lit up and he smiled as if I had just performed a magic trick in front of him. It was the first time, maybe ever in my life, where I realized I felt proud of myself.
You don’t have to be brave to move to New York and you don’t have to be brave to move 3,000 miles away. You just need to be a little bit crazy and a lot eager. It helps to have money. It helps to know at least a few people in the city that way isolation and loneliness do not kill you. It is entirely possible to spend an entire day at Bryant Park, surrounded by millions of people and feel entirely invisible and alone. Sometimes that is exactly what you’ll want. To be left alone around other people. New York can give you that.
It helps to force yourself out of your apartment, even on the coldest day in January when you make the mistake of not wearing leggings under your jeans. The cold air will feel like a thousand knives on your skin. It helps to keep the plans you make with your friends, no matter how tempting a Frasier marathon on Netflix in your pajamas seems. It helps to go for walks. Those same annoyances that make you roll your eyes and curse under your breath on the subway and on Broadway will help take you out of your head. At least for a little while.
Go to the park (any one will do) and just sit. Observe. Put on your headphones and play Broken Social Scene way too loud, or take out your headphones and listen to 34th street parade on by you. Eat a $2 hot dog on the steps in front of the NY library. It’s okay if your favorite bar in all of the city is located in Times Square. It’s okay if you actually really enjoy sitting down on a bench in the middle of the sea of tourists too busy looking up at the buildings and the lights to see where they’re going. Ignore the first guy you went out with when you got to New York who had already been living there for six months when he says not to look up at the skyscrapers because “you’ll just scream tourist.” It’s okay to look up (the buildings practically beg you to) and it’ll be okay to never see him again.
It’s okay to leave New York when you feel like it, when you just need some fucking peace and quiet. When you just need to fall asleep to crickets and silence instead of constant sirens and wannabe rappers spitting verses up and down Amsterdam Ave at 1am. Just make sure when you feel like it, when you’re ready and when the thought of being away feels like a kick to the stomach, that you get yourself right back.
[This picture of me as a baby has nothing to do with anything, but look at how fly I was at six months old.]
I am not writing again. What the fuck! Writing is the worst thing that has ever happened to me. Just last week I blabbed on and on about how much I needed to write because it was self-care and how much writing means to me and blah. I guess I wasn’t paying attention. Probably Breaking Bad or Cheers was on in the background when I wrote that. Sorry.
Actually, I have been writing. Every morning I get up, usually pee or throw some water down my throat and then walk-zombie like down the stairs in my Mother’s house, and write three longhand pages of whatever the hell I want. I can’t write the pages in bed because I’ll want to sleep instead of writing them. It is important that I remove myself from bed to write the morning pages. Usually those three pages look like this “I hate this shit. Why do I have to do this. Oh god oh god oh god. Ugh, two more pages of writing FML.” I call this writing the “morning pages” because um, I do them in the morning I guess and also because this book that I am reading The Artist’s Way calls them that too. I first read this book about three years ago when I was 25 and a bigger dummy than what I am now. (Can you imagine?)
You don’t really read this book, more like you work through it. It’s basically a “recovery” program for blocked creative people. How fucking Californian do I sound right now? Whatever. It’s broken down into twelve weeks and there are writing exercises and you take yourself out on play dates and shit. The play dates are important, the author says because, essentially our artists are children. So like you go out and do fun things like roller skating or dress shopping at a secondhand store or you go buy yourself some comic books if that’s a thing that you would enjoy. The whole purpose is to have f u n and the author warns that it should be expected that your killjoy side will want to wiggle its way out of having fun. Isn’t that weird? I thought that was weird, but she was right. I have not gone on these outings more often than I have gone.
Once I did go. It was about two years ago. I was living in downtown San Jose at that time and I borrowed my Grandparent’s car ( a beige van, a certified pimp mobile whatwhat) to drive to this arts and crafts festival the city was having. The festival was fun. I went alone because the book says going alone is mandatory. I remember eating Mexican corn on the cob on the steps of an old historical building. I wanted to buy a print of a framed picture of the Brooklyn Bridge but it was out of my budget. Instead I flirted with the guy who was selling them and told him that I’d just gotten into NYU. Anyway, if you find yourself blocked as a writer or want to do more creative things in your life, pick up The Artist’s Way, by Julia Cameron. (Big shout out to my generous friend Elissa Wald for gifting me the book after my previous copy went missing.)
I’ve found that one way to get myself to write is to read other writer’s work. This is an efficient tactic for me because of jealously. So often I read something and think “Oh my god why didn’t I think to write that SON OF A BITCH!” or “She (it is 9 times out of 10 a she – sorry, men) is so good at words. I want to be that good at words.” The jealousy or envy leads to me writing. Usually just to prove to myself that I still got it. (I still got it.)
This morning I read some Roxane Gay. She writes for one of the best sites in the world, The Rumpus (check out her posts here). She is an absolutely phenomenal writer. So smart and eloquent and funny. It’s important to me to be funny in my writing, so I am a big fan of her prose. I am probably going to spend all day today reading her stuff.
A few other notable (or not) stuff:
I haven’t been writing.
I’ve been in California all summer. I’ve swam and drank beers in red plastic cups, and worked on my tan. “Working on my tan” really just means floating in the pool, face and cleavage and shoulders exposed and bobbing in the water. These are the only body parts that have browned.
I’ve watched a lot of real life crime documentaries. Monsters fascinate me. I’ve realized that if you really want to kill someone and get away with it, you shouldn’t use a gun because of ballistics. Guns leave too much evidence behind. Should probably use a knife or an ax if you want to get away with murder. Murderers often don’t think these kinds of things through beforehand. They think they do, but then they slip up because usually they are committing a crime of passion and can’t think straight. I feel like if you’re gonna kill someone, you need to be perfect in your execution of it. (I just wrote this entire paragraph with a straight face.)
I finally started watching Breaking Bad after months and months of not understanding the references I saw all over the internet. It is a nearly impeccable television show. Flawless acting and writing. I am sorry if you don’t agree. I canceled a date with someone who told me that Breaking Bad was “overrated.” I don’t feel bad about this. Can you imagine the type of shit he’d make me watch? Two and a Half Men probably. I can’t live with that.
My Grandma has become my drinking buddy. I usually go over to my Grandparent’s house on Friday nights. Grandma will either cook or we’ll wait until Mom gets home from work and order takeout. Usually pizza. Grandpa will either sit in his recliner or “do paperwork” (haven’t figured out what that means exactly) in his office, or annoy my Grandma by flipping the television channel between novellas and sports highlights. She likes rum and cokes. Usually she has two, but when I come over she’ll indulge with three or four. Maybe my superpower is bringing out people’s party side. I’m fine with it.
There was maybe a week late in June when I was writing a short story a day. I’d pick a random website, usually something on Tumblr with a lot of images, choose a picture, and base my story on that image. It’s a classic writing technique. Something I used to do a lot early in my 20s. Usually the stories were awful. Made no sense. Had no real plot or sense of direction. I knew that none of this mattered as long as I accumulated pages. But, writing is fucking hard. I haven’t really written anything except smart ass one-liners on Tumblr or 140 characters worth of tasteless jokes. If I’ve written anything good in the last month or so, it’s been in tiny increments that I will usually delete the next day.
Hemingway famously said “There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit in front of a typewriter and bleed.” I get nauesous at the sight of blood, so. Not writing is easier than writing, until that stops being true. I’ve written my whole life out of what felt like necessity. Over time I developed this irrational but believable fear that I was no good at it. That somehow I wasn’t smart enough to be a real writer. I’ve never been published, so the irrationality seemed plausible. If I was truly a good writer, wouldn’t someone have noticed by now? Wouldn’t the New York Times have published that thing I sent them? If I was truly talented, wouldn’t someone pay me to write by now?! Once I calm down I remind myself to join the club, dummy. Keep going, dummy. The only reason why I haven’t been published has nothing to do with being talentless (I am talented. Only recently have I been able to say that without cringing or rolling my eyes), and everything to do with the simple but hard to swallow fact that I haven’t been writing.
Writing, for me, is self-care just like exercise is self-care. Eating leafy greens and drinking plenty of water is self-care. Sitting down in front of a typewriter (laptop), popping a vein, and bleeding on the page is self-care. No matter how bad it hurts, no matter how much I’d rather stare blankly at my Facebook newsfeed (oh someone is talking about their child’s bathroom habits again, HOW UTTERLY FASCINATING), I have to do it. I mean, I suppose that’s not true. I suppose I don’t HAVE to write. I could just not write simply because it’s hard and painful and requires a lot of work, but then who would I be? I already know the answer to that question.
– Do everything for myself. Radical independence.
– Eight hours of solid sleep is a pipe dream. Five hours, in between waking up once or twice to throw a glass of water down my throat or to pee, is fine. I can survive on that.
– Employment activities. Hustle.
– Write three pages of long-hand every day. Don’t worry about “being in the mood” for it or not. Just do it.
– Talk to people.
– Go for a walk.
– Stay away from men.