Fictionery: “Happily Ever After” card from Rifle Paper Co. $5.50

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But here was the thing.

They would not accept their story to end here and now. Seventeen was too young for closing the book, no matter on what note it ended. And how were they to really know if all went happily?

They were the last ones left at the wedding reception, sitting at a table with knocked over chairs and scattered gold confetti and gardenia petals while eating the rest of their wedding cake. They made a list. Where to live, how many children, cat or dog, whom of all they knew would stay in their lives. Having gotten lost and overwhelmed by this list, the Bride stood up and turned the table over, sending the strong gardenia scent up into the air and chunky specks of gold to the night.

Now they were away from this place, taking a cab away to calm her down. Where were they going? Wherever it was, she wanted to make sure it was well worth the torn dress suffered rushing into the cab, the lost long string of pearls from her mother-in-law as it caught in the door and dissolved by beads in the cool wind of June. Holding her hand, the caring Groom leaned over and kissed her brown eyes, closing them shut.  As she stayed this way in a silly, dream-like state, he told her they weren’t that far from where they were heading.

She would soon see that where they were going wasn’t the case. They would stop at where this tale had once began, an intersection off the Market Street by the water and where the pavement from crushed glass twinkled under the bridge light.

In the breeze and amongst night pigeons, and as her flowing tears mixed with the salt of the spraying air, all he could console her with was that despite not knowing where would be next, they always had the happy beginning to come back to.

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Here’s a Prompt… 642 of Them

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Going back to my internship last year with McSweeney’s, I’m glad to still be reminded of the little things I contributed that went a long way, and was caught off guard to stumble upon one of these achievements in the public. Which is that, I’ve contributed some writing prompts into the exclusive 642 Things to Write About: the Young Author’s Edition by 826 Valencia.

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The original series of journals, 642 Things to Write About, is published by The San Francisco Writer’s Groto, a renowned writer’s group with a variety of workshops in the city. Their compilation of offbeat writing prompts from many and famous authors is an amazing book I’d recommend to any writer, beginner to published and refined. But in this edition for the series, the target reader (or writer for that matter) is for the young ones, under 18 and fresh-minded with crazy imagination. And it sure is a great approach on 826’s end. Another founding of local lit legend Dave Eggers, 826 Valencia, simply named after its location in the Mission District, is where youngsters can get all the academic help they can from after school tutoring to polishing up their college essays with help from volunteers… me having been one of them! With this publication, the nonprofit takes their aid one step further in sparking any creativity at an early age. And the prompts selected into this book can bring so much potential, simply the best, out of any young writer. I was glad to do what I can for the cause. 826 reached out to McSweeney’s interns for some suggestions, so I sent in four small prompts on my behalf. After thumbing through the unnumbered but thick book, three of them are nicely grouped together towards the end (okay, maybe one of the prompts was weird and vague). Brief little directives, they can embody so much meaning or inspiration to each different individual who reads them:
• Write about a crow waiting at a bus stop
• Write about a “first”
• Write about a late night drive

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How would you start writing to these? It boils down to how these questions evoke memories or thoughts from one to another. “First” may translate over various experiences; first bike ride versus first time away from home or more gravely, the first death in a family. The late night drive post is a very exciting one I think too, having been inspired by my own drive in the late hours down to Orange County with my boyfriend (of which you can read in this essay). Maybe your own midnight drive for vacation, or a night out gone wrong or going with your mom to pick up someone from a red eye flight at the airport. Isn’t it great, the endless possibilities of just a few little words?

With prompts, your writing never has to be good. You just have to write, and keep writing constantly at that. The more you write, the better you’ll get at honing in on your skills. The randomness of each prompt, as well as how specific they might be, opens many doors for you while narrowing which ones to cross through. With each writing exercise you start to see what works and what needs improvement, and soon enough, what your style is and what inspires you on your own. And for a better estimate of improving, I’ll give you a number: 10,000. 10,000 hours is the time it’ll take for anyone to truly master their passion or skill. That should cover the whole duration of this book, I think?

Some other favorite prompts I recommend from the book by fellow creative and clever writers are:
• Write everything you know about being human
• Write from a balloons perspective after being released into the air
• You are a superhero’s little sibling. You are just an average kid but your older sibling can lift cars, fly, and break through brick walls. Write a diary entry about the day you learn of their superpowers. Are you excited? Nervous? Jealous?
• Write about a walk or trip you take almost everyday as if it’s in a guidebook to your city. What do you hope people will notice or look out for?
• Imagine a sound that is the most wonderful and the most terrible

So get writing! But if you’re itching to keep on par with getting in those 10,000 hours slowly and surely, do grab this book or any other 642 compilation to get the ink flowing!

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642 Things to Write About: Young Writer’s Edition. 826 Valencia, published by Chronicle Books, $16.95 at http://www.barnesandnoble.com

THE BOYS IN AMERICA: “Sean”

Summer 2013

The fuck was he doing here? More so, “How the hell did you find me, mate?”

He was staring down Sean from the top of the porch, barely dressed in sweats and an old white shirt. You never expected anyone to show up on your doorstep at nine in the morning on a Tuesday.

Then again, weekdays usually were late afternoons of work with BYSI. “Rick said you were out here when you replied to his WhatsApp. Said you were Berkeley.” Cameron bitterly thanked auto-location-tagging for his sacred privacy in a time like now.

“Damn. Well, how’s Rick anyhow?”

Sean covered his eyes with his hand like a visor, squirting through his deeply inset eyes beneath a brooding brow. He could have been British, but he wasn’t. American through and through– really the only person from his old job that Cameron gave a damn about. With his visored position he awkwardly shrugged.

“Good. I don’t know. We’re talking about you here, Cam.”

“Were we?”

“Okay, you know why I came out to you.”

“Cheers! How thoughtful that I was the first one to know, I’m quite happy for you Sean.”

“Oh fuck it.” Sean turned, kicking up some dirt that dusted over Cameron’s sweats as he skipped after him.

Oh come on, mate, you know me taking the piss,” Cameron began again. “Fuck’s sake, I’m just surprised. More like, this is just awkward!”

Sean, still annoyed, fired rather smoothly, “You don’t know awkward– awkward is trying to talk to Dave fucking Madison about why one of his senior coaches have gone AWOL. I was just feeding him all sorts of bullshit when in reality the first thing I heard about just came from Rick two days ago!”

Well,” Cameron paused, now not looking into Sean’s face, “I’m sorry.”

“What are you getting at with all these theatrics?” Cameron sighed, and walking backwards towards the front door he seemed to be retreating again, dropping the unexpected and unwanted confrontation right there on the front lawn.

Let me put some jeans on,” he said in defeat, “I’ll explain, but let’s go get something to eat, eh?”

Peggy’s was an old coffee shop diner on Telegraph right near the overpass that served cheap burgers for the taste of an In-N-Out. On the walk there they two old colleagues fell back into warm waters and talked casually but enthusiastically about random things– the new summer inductees, how close Chelsea got to signing some really good players from Barcelona, if Sean was really that into Jay Z because Cameron had seen his new album sitting in the passenger seat as they passed Sean’s car. They got a small booth at Peggy’s where the tight blue vinyl on the seats began splitting and the laminate was chipped on the edges of the white table between them. Picking up the loaded cheeseburger, Cameron looked deeply into it and professed, “Yep. See here? This is what America is made of.”

“Cholesterol?” Sean smugly said, eating pancakes with bacon drizzled in syrup on the side.

Nah, that was in the 2000s. But nowadays,” Cameron took a sharp bite, “in the present, it’s all about opportunity again.”

“Hasn’t it always been?”

“Well getting what you want. And right away. Well, I’m guessing not for Americans, anyhow. You all still work hard for one shitload of a government that doesn’t hesitate handing guns out over proper health care. Work hard and get rewarded– somewhere down the road, if it ever ends. I mean for us, foreigners, me. America is in fact so quick to open their arms about giving the best to us, warming up to our foreign fantasies of what America is all about. We’ll get things quick from America because all she has to give is her image.”

“Deep.” Sean wasn’t really listening, as his half-eaten pancake stack proved the victor for his attentions. “That’s not true. Think about all the Mexicans struggling to get on here in the country.”

Cameron smiled with a full mouth, and swallowing hard replied, “The only Mexican I really care about is Javé.” They both laughed with this nod to another one of the coaches. Sobering up, Sean got back to the underlying subject of all: “So somewhere in these philosophical thoughts you just spilled out to me I’m supposed to understand that you think it’s simple as that to walk off the face of the Earth?”

For all his talk, Cameron didn’t really know how to yet formulate a reason for his actions. He slouched back in the blue booth, slowing his thought. “Not walk off,” he began, “but just get away and see what else I might accomplish out here. There’s still so much to do, and I’m chained to EYSI.”

You’re not chained. You’ve been with the company for three years now. You’ve seen lots. And trying to come back now for a fourth spring and summer is seemingly impossible now with this little dip of yours. Well, even so before your disappearance your fourth chances were slim.”

“I’m well aware of that. And so, why would I want to go through all that tedious processing again? The London overnight, tucked in tailored suits, awkward answers to the U.S. Embassy over questions that are complete bollocks. I can’t. I’ll just have to not go back home for quite some time.”

In the long run however you’ll get caught,” Sean replied, “and deported. And it’s goodbye USA. Nothing works out the way you want it, ever. Don’t be stupid, Cam.”

I just gotta avoid authority,” Cameron resolved. “You know, dodge the cars, not get in fights. Seriously, fuck the police!” Sean laughed. Cameron didn’t like it.

Well, basically you’re telling me the plan is to keep your time here focused on just avoiding cops. Avoid the public then. Avoid life. That’s the reality, and you know I’m right and that you’re being stubborn.”

The waitress brought them both new cups of coffee and neither of them spoke until their coffees were fixed. Sean dribbled some creamer in his– Cameron was still warming up to the institution of coffee and especially after the incident with Nick’s hazelnut, opted for more sugar in his cup of straight black. Thought of that time sparked the same panic he had in that moment.

How long has it been?” he asked Sean.

Just a week,” he replied. “As far as anyone’s concerned, told them you’ve been sick.”

“Wouldn’t Madison know though? As in, he’d check in with Stacy and John?” Then he remembered that his host family, the Redmonds, had been gone half the month on a cruise soon after he moved into their Danville home. Housesitting, or sick to everyone else.

Good thing they’re away still,” Sean acknowledged. “Nothing to tell.”

There really was, wasn’t there?

“Fuck. Just give me a reason Sean. A fucking good one at that please? Why should I?”

They could hear the SFO- bound BART train pass somewhere south and out of sight, the bullet right before hitting its target at the MacArthur station. Then passing into silence, more nothing. From anything. There was nothing to getting back into the game, Cameron realized.

A Particular Place: Slideshows of Berkeley, CA, an Inspiration

Berkeley7Berkeley is the wildcard of the East Bay, usually the seemingly black and white part of the Bay (chaotic and urban Oakland versus the idyllic suburbs from Orinda to Concord and Castro Valley). With Berkeley, it’s a  tame but certainly not boring spot of the Bay, most consider it just a small-scale San Francisco on the other side of the bridge. I love it, even for its hippie rep, but beyond that (c’mon, Telegraph Ave is only one street of many in the city). I love the spirit and liveliness of every street corner and shop and home you encounter. Back in 2007-2010 was the time I spent the most in Berkeley, and the things you could see here! I had to write about it, and that’s how I produced my first novel The Muse Land.

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The Muse Land, now being reconstructed as The Boys in America, is set in scattered parts around the Bay, but a great deal of the story is in Berkeley, where my protagonist, Cameron, settles down in after leaving his native England to work soccer camps in California. He’s made a right decision in that, because it truly is a wondrous place to find whatever it is you’re looking for out of happiness or inspiration.Berkeley3

Berkeley is really chic and urban for all the pleasant right reasons, and I was very glad to see that Refinery29 created a shopping and dining guide on their San Francisco domain for the up-to-date fashion and lifestyle website. It lists some spots I’m well familiar with, and some new and up-and-coming little boutiques and eateries I know that I must see for myself!
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Here from the article i’ve noted two spots I have written about in my novel: The Claremont Hotel Club and Spa and The Cheeseboard Pizza. They’re long-standing monuments of this city, from the elegant roaring 20’s facade of the grand Claremont which you can see right from the freeway nestled in the green Berkeley Hills, to the always crowded and quirky pizza-menu Cheeseboard with few seating so that most diners have to illegally take to the grassy island in the middle of Shattuck Ave to have a mass picnic with friends or strangers. Both are places I clearly identify in my story, and once I’ve finished revising and you all get the chance to read it, I hope that they, along with other parts of the city (such as the Berkeley Marina above) really move you and make you see not just the beauty in San Francisco, but all around the Bay Area, too.
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Matt overlooking sunset on the Bay Area , two summers ago. The fog that sets over the entire San Francisco Bay Area is truly magical is best seen from the Berkeley Hills along Fish Ranch Road.

One last note on this magical place: should you EVER set your sights on settling down here in Berkeley, take note of the lovely little streets and microhoods made up of the city’s most characteristic and beautiful bungalows. From craftsman houses to idyllic English cottage styles, the housing in this city has been one of the biggest influences in my story. I’ve always gone to Berkeley Homes which features prime real estate of gorgeous homes with charm to look for settings throughout Boys in America. Even if it’s out of your reach to consider owning anything, let alone as a post-grad angsty twenty-something like myself, just to dream about owning one of these remarkable places keep me inspired. Look local, explore local, because the best ideas come from the world outside, the world just within reach. The world that’s in fact, right where you are: home.

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collage images via Refinery29.

 

 

“Burns”

Kelly liked to burn her arms with the butts of the cigarettes.

It wasn’t much of a thrill to Cal, but his knowing was a sort of initiation into the act. It usually happened on Thursdays, sometimes Sundays, always her calling first. She liked Cal’s place because there was a balcony, with rotting wood and wilting plants in teal clay pots that belonged to Cal’s girl, but mostly that the balcony was on the top floor away from the views of any of the other apartments.

Daylight savings had just happened—that night she called there was light still in the sky. Stepping through the threshold onto the cramped little balcony she nodded approvingly to the pink sky and said to Cal, “It’s a good time, tonight.”
“Guess so,” Cal replied, closing the door softly behind him. “Liz sleeps like a rock. Work’s getting to the both of us, I tell you. Good thing about her coming home early is rest. Not me.”

“No kidding.” She grabbed the carton of Camels from under one of Liz’s pots.

“Uh huh. I gotta let some old college bud of mine come around the place to sit and talk good shit about life and how unemployment’s being a bitch.”
Kelly’s laugher was rough and slightly shook the shot glasses in Cal’s hand. It didn’t match her posh cleaned-up Amy Winehouse appearance in that polka-dot dress she was wearing. “It’s not being a bitch anymore!” she started. “I got a contact from a temp lady this week, honest. Something over in San Mateo at a packing place. Assistant, receptionist, or slut one of those.”
“You reply?” Cal poured Jaeger into the glasses and handed one glass—and with a lighter—to Kelly.

“Fuck no. I’d have missed today.” She pulled her bracelets off and over the scars that were well concealed beneath the beads and bangles. She lit up, and after a few calming smokes she stuck the stick directly onto the last infliction that was barely scabbing. She gave the same cigarette to Cal, who snatched it and lightly tapped the lit end onto his upper arm.

“It calms your nerves, makes you want to eat less,” Kelly was saying after a drink of the Jaeger, “but we take it to a whole new level. Of all the things people say about smoking, they don’t beat this.”
Maybe it was the nicotine. Or the ash. The fire was small, and perhaps that was really why the pain wasn’t so harsh upon the skin. After a second tap on his shoulder, Cal looked to Kelly, who was stroking her left arm anticipating her turn. It was charred, it seemed, pocked with raw and rough lesions. Cal’s looked natural, like moles. As Kelly went on cursing the temp woman, Cal wondered about the extent to which his arms would start showing.

Liz started to see the changes. “Holy shit,” she exclaimed one breakfast, pulling his arm back from the espresso machine. The scab was rising through the sleeve of his white v-neck. “I know that’s never been there before, babe.”
He pulled away, rushing to put the ground beans in and over-filled the filter. “I swear that too. Saw it this morning, maybe a bug bite.”

“Hope to God it is so,” Liz said stroking the arm softly.

He made sure Kelly came after dinner that week, as Liz would be out for the night babysitting her sister’s boys. It was a better night; Kelly was more focused, rather enthusiastic. He did the usual two, she maxed at seven. But on his last one she leaned over and kept his hand in place, making sure the butt got deeper and pressed longer against his arm. “It’s a tension release,” she said rather excitedly.

Two weeks passed, and Liz saw that the bump wasn’t gone. Coming home from work, Cal was checked a voicemail from his doctor. “You called Dr. Martin?” he asked to Liz, coming out from the bedroom.

“I don’t know what to do,” she said, sitting down at the kitchen table and burying her face in her smooth, porcelain arms. “Hasn’t it been any concern for you?”
“Bites take time to heal—”

“Bullshit, just bullshit. It’s scaring the shit out of me how it’s gotten worse, and you still think it’s gonna go down.”

There was a long pause. “I’m not going to see Dr. Martin,” he firmly said.

“You could die from this,” Liz spoke softly. “You uncle didn’t he find something like—”

“Don’t be fucking dramatic.” He couldn’t be at the place anymore. He grabbed the keys and walked out.

Kelly was sure surprised, but not in any distress over her lack of accommodating a guest. The room she rented was pretty minimal, white lumpy beddings and a black wooden bed against gray walls where she’d hung some magazine clippings and photos. The only real colors to the room were her red pillows and yellow ashtray—flowing with burnt out butts.

Cal said nothing, only sitting at the edge of the bed and rolling back a sleeve. Kelly had been doing it already herself before his arrival. “Just one more,” she said.

“I can wait.”
He’d forgotten in a matter of minutes, listening to Kelly go on and on about the sensations she was just getting, sipping coke from the can and amusing at the legends before her. Film stars, mafia crooks, Victorian London gentlemen in their humble clubs out playing pool and sitting by fires—they all shared the joys in the cigarette. It got Cal thinking, and he never really thought during these sessions.
“And what joy do you share with them?” he finally asked her.

She flung her head back and smiled. “See those guys, they had to take it in. With us, pal we take it on the outside. I’m not getting killed, I’m not.” She paused on her own words, continuing, “There is joy in smoking, as there is pain. There’s the pain in the burn, the sharp pinch of it and the fire searing into the flesh.”
“Uh huh.”

“I’m amazed Cal. You never once asked why I’m into this shit. You’ve always been a pal, and you’re still one. I’m sure as fuck going downhill, and you, you’re going down with me.”
“I’m not going down, Kelly.” He started thinking—missing—Liz at the apartment, alone and worried endlessly about Cal. She didn’t even know Kelly existed.

“Yes you are. You never questioned me once, but you took interest to the butt. We do it ‘cause we know there’s better out there. The pain of something so small and scarring as the cigarette doesn’t compare to what good awaits us. This is rock bottom, and the burns say so.”

Cal didn’t stir. His hand moved to his shoulder, pressing onto the raw flesh that was charred. He stood up, about to leave—his arm sleeve was still rolled up.

“So soon?” Kelly asked, looking surprised.

“I uh,” he began to answer, “I need to make an appointment with my doctor.”

“You’re not staying for one?”

He stopped, turning around to say, “I guess just one.”
He flipped the cigarette around and took a drag before stepping out.

 

This was always a story that even now I find difficult to come to terms with. Its shortness, the darkness and play on the concept of smoking– as troubled as I get over this story I am equally proud of it, proud for stepping outside of that comfort zone you seek as a writer, making it all the more difficult to cope with, I guess.

Leisurely Sunday Musings.

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Happy Sunday! It’s a nice day, finally one whole weekend off which I’ve taken advantage of to just write! I’ve finally began my New York essay, and it’s so exciting, particularly after finding the right form in which to tell my story. As I’ve been writing about the story over these past two days, I am determined to post by Friday, and I’ve discovered something quite useful for any writer to do. Tap back into those senses, revive your passion and inspired self of past moments in method writing. Like method acting I guess, in which by all means necessary you fully come into your starring role. I’ve realized how much of a method writer I am, not just for works like this but in my actual job too. In copywriting for a variety of trending collections, pumping yourself up means a load of Wikipedia research and web surfing. When I had to write about pineapple products I changed my desktop default to a cheery pineapple print. When it came to cats, I listened devotedly to Nyan Cat. If you want to sell a product, get as excited as you would want your consumers to get, that’s the best way I can really justify this weird approach to writing at work. Keeps you on your toes.

But now as I write about New York, there’s never enough Gershwin and Ella Fitzgerald crooning “Manhattan” with each part I pen. I’ve surrounded my desk too with all the lovely and delicate souvenirs I found over in Manhattan, too, in trying to retrace all the senses I felt when I was still there. What I love the most about New York was the idea I’ve always had of it, the place I would read about (Tree Grows in Brooklyn!) and see in old films come to life. It was a different place, of course, when I went to visit, but traces of the past lingered in the emerald trees stiff and sprawling with age, and the brownstones scattered throughout the city. And the always humming of the strangers who come and go and never stay long to realize the little impressions they’ve made on the whole of this place– that’s never changed. Romantic New York. That’s what sings to me.

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Postcards, poetry, all paper memories from the Big Apple.

Recently have become fascinated with images of Gibson Girls. It falls in place with Progressive-Era New York I love so much, and there’s just a simple elegance about their appearances and the way they’re illustrated by Charles Dana Gibson. It’s weird to think that at one point this was the standard set for the thousands of American girls, just like any celebrity of today would set those exact same standards. Nowadays beauty and ideals are projected from one individual rather than an idea, like the Gibson Girl or the 1920s Flapper Girl who would soon follow. Such a melting pot for beauty diversity and acceptance means the fading of thousands of girls looking the same, striving for the same effect as THE It girl. It’s a good thing no two girls are alike now. But for the bygone eras like this, there’s just something fascinating about them and especially how they were depicted in the media as one unique individual alone. Take a look at the illustration above by Charles Gibson of the girl at the seaside. In the caption he chose for that particular drawing, OF COURSE THERE ARE MERMAIDS, he’s setting the tone for a mystical being as this type of girl, one where’s there more that meets the eye. I like the contrast of the Gibson Girl persona, she’s a sweetheart who is all but, a working girl and free-spirit, an independent soul with graces and charm to mask her playfulness and self-ambitions.

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I grew up reading about my Gibson Girls, in stories like A Tree Grows in Brooklyn and Anne of Green Gables. Childhood books forever stay with you, and coming of age stories like those two inspire my works today. Those classics were my YA of now, and that’s probably why, save for Harry Potter, I’m not a big fantasy reader. I praise the genre and love the idea of fantasy worlds being the prime example of the imagination at its finest, but I’ve always been about realism. In a way, it’s so easy to write about fantasy worlds that anyone can build from the ground up. I find the challenge in the real world, making the ordinary become the most fascinating stories to tell. Works like Brooklyn and Anne showed me that even the most complacent events in our small lives can give you the best material for extraordinary tales, without witches or mythical creatures all the time. I relate more to realism because it’s real, it can happen to anyone, you. There’s hope to be found, and a hope in any story is great, but one in a world that’s just around the corner from you is even greater.

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All the feels of life come from within this book.

Back to writing. Or maybe I’ll pick up Anne of Green Gables again?

Advice from the Field From David Eggers

My internship at McSweeney’s has long ended. But from that experience, despite setbacks I had (i.e. my stupid computer which was broken at the time I acquired this internship), I definitely gained some ground as a writer— what to focus on and how to make it all work.

EggersHWAHSome of these things I’ve learned came directly from the big man at McSweeney’s himself. He’s definitely one of my favorite writers and I’m happy that he’s reestablished San Francisco’s mark on the literary scene with all the great works his publishing house has given us. It’s a shame I only recently just bought an actual book by him– I’ve read A Hologram for a King and A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius, but How We Are Hungry is the only book I own of Dave Eggers. God, his short stories are fantastic. Quick reads that run through your mind the entire day, prose that’s so short but concise in each sentence that moves along to the next. My favorite story so far is just “About the Man Who Began Flying After Meeting Her,” and it’s not really even a story. It’s a thought process, the one we all have when we’ve found the One. The One? And that’s exactly the point of this purely simple love story. As you can see, How We Are Hungry is the gateway title into that colorful and striking world of Eggers; truly recommend it.

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One meeting with Dave lead to some pretty basic but enduring truths to being exactly the writer you want to be:

  • DON’T GET FANCY. If you see an opportunity to publish, no matter how small (Tumblr what), go for it. Let go of waiting around for The New Yorker or Vanity Fair to pick up your work.
  • TAKE TIME OFF TO LIVE. If you go straight into an MFA in writing, what can you write about? Dave said to take a year to do shitty jobs, travel, see things usually outside your experience— and it will always give you something on which to write your Masters’ piece.
  • SHOW YOUR WORK TO PEOPLE. With spilling out an entire piece at once, you risk ending up with a whole bunch of mess that’ll take longer to edit and revise. Periodically showing peers in a workshop your drafts make the writing process even more enjoyable than strenuous.

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word.

“The Night Mountain”

Highway 152 is scary.

In the moonlight just as 11 PM hits we’re still in the dark, driving in it and sitting in it as you turn up The Wall. This isn’t a road trip, not right now. Against the yells of Pink Floyd I’m traveling along a nightmare.

But you’re here this can’t be bad. And you’re silent, excited and know something I don’t. We’re really kept in the dark. But I’m starting to see it is an elegant dark. This is a stretched shadow over what I can make out in the shapes trees, hills, and the sky itself– things not new, but only in daytime. The road ahead is narrow and how this gray Dodge travels along it, I think think of skaters cutting through the ice like silk to whir round and round and carve figure 8s.

I want to sleep, but too excited to close my eyes into familiar blackness, sound blackness that confirms rest. The one outside my window is a whole new world, having never been on 152. It is scary, and I vaguely recall how we got to here. There was an exit from 101 just as we got to Gilroy, then narrow roads passing badly whitewashed barns that in the daylight ran plenty with cherries and peaches and almonds to sell. There is still a ways to go for Orange County, and so in the after hours we drive to save time and daylight.

Take it all in, because I really can’t be sure when I’ll do this again. This is a first for going 300 miles away in years– on my own. I don’t want to leave the Bay Area, but I know after a long four years of devotion to college and the unseen forces of chaos that followed with it, I want to go away. Asking and asking and reasoning with parents who feel uncomfortable about the distance– being out of reach from their protection and care– pays off. And I won’t blow it. I remember always to take in everything that happens here.

The now is what’s outside the windows of this car, pitch blackness and a winding road through trees and faded dead signs confirming mythical destinations beyond. The road can go like this all night, and it will all look different, each sign and turn and groves of trees we don’t see but are.

Then it does get different. Really, different. I know this was when “Hey You” ended; he’s debriefed with me how Pink Floyd is always a must for long trips, and especially for the night.

“It’s coming up,” he’s telling me, both hands on the wheel and eyes straight ahead to watch whatever’s next projected by our headlights. “It’s a brief silence and then this noise will come at you. It’s supposed to sound like sirens and a crash. You won’t really like it, but how am I to know that– just giving you a head’s up.”

“Alright.”
“It’s supposed to be what happens in the moment of that track.”

I’ve always known Pink Floyd, and a few familiar songs passing through old rock radio stations to get to my alternative. My late freshman English teacher said little, taught much– I blindly attributed his mystery to the big posters of The Wall and Dark Side of the Moon pasted high on the back ceiling.

I’ve known them. But I did not understand anything about them until now.

As we wait for the clash of the song the shapes appear. Ghosts are accepted as white specters, but really they’re black. Maybe I’m not seeing ghosts outside the car but the shadows of some things equally haunt, more so because of the shrill vocals piercing the air. Compared to most of the harder, racing metal he listens to, this is getting me. Its slow, aching music. Music that seems too perfect like a dream– after all this now feels like a dream as what I see grows and consumes the blackness. A mountain, it must be a mountain– it shoots into the air and I see that peak against the moonlight like a lightning strike. Amidst the hills we’ve come to here, at the base of the ghost in whom we try to evade in our gray car along a path that shakes around its claws. I won’t forget that, the shapes and jagged, vicious silhouettes against the only light in the sky, like a chorus stuck in the head. It is possible to hear nothing else but the blackness outside. You hear the wind, whispers, the sounds of other cars on unknown journeys and then the music becomes you, your thoughts, emotions. Only you hear them because they’re only inside you. It happens right then.

We’re away from that place now. The shadows have made it over the hills and here I see all rest at the crystaled shores of a sea. I know it’s not that, it’s the reservoir my map told me would soon appear. The feeling of it is endless, a soothing sheath over a frightening land.

And then I’m not alone. He’s still here, attentive to the road which has lightened. We never hear the tumultuous clash of the song. We’re onto a softer tune, and the track goes on like silk, like this sea below the road. I do know this song. I sing to it and we both become comfortably, perfectly numb.

When I roll the window down a burst of coolness fills us.

 

In celebrating a second year together with Matt, this is an essay written last summer just after we’d been on our first vacation time together: a road trip down to Orange County and in the middle of the night to get a head start of our weekend. I love you Matt!