Mortgages Are For Masochists

Dogpoet/Michael McAllister MFA Columbia Graduation Imperial Margarine GownYou ever get that whiny voice in the back of your head that says, “Boy, it sure would be nice if life only gave me one, maybe two things tops to deal with at a time?” Apparently life doesn’t work that way!

I know. I’m still processing this, too.

Also: IF YOU ARE A WRITER CONSIDER THE BENEFITS OF RENTING!

Three jobs and an arson are nothing compared to the mortgage approval process. If you recently took time off to go to grad school, work on a book, or engage in nontraditional forms of employment, prepare yourself for weeks and maybe months of financial proctology.

Dig out your bank, credit card, IRA, and 401k statements (yes, Dad, I really have a 401k). Scan and email your tax returns. Check your credit score and try not to give in to despair. Write three-page emails trying to explain the six or seven w-2 and 1099 forms from 2010.  Keep your cool when they say, “Um, that was really confusing.”

Stay near the phone and field each day’s new request. For example, “Can you give us the contact info for the two years of employment before you had this really weird urge for an Ivy League education? Actually,  make that three.”

Also: “Can you get us a copy of your degree from Columbia?”

“How humiliating,” Joe said when I told him.

“Someday,” I said, “I will look back on all of this and not throw up.”

“Even better,” he said. “You finally got to put that MFA to use.”

Little Pink Houses For You and Me

I snapped a dozen pics of the rather dumpy house in one of San Francisco’s most far-flung neighborhoods when I told our realtor Matt, “It kind of smells like old people.”

It was a Saturday afternoon, and the pics were for the Manly Fireplug, who was working at the shop, and the house was the first stop on our first tour.  We moved to the window of the back bedroom, and Matt pointed out at something in the overgrown yard.

“It comes with its own boat,” he said. A decrepit rowboat had been propped against the sagging fence, half-hidden by weeds.

“Architectural salvage,” I said, “People pay extra for that.” Then I wandered into the pink-tiled bathroom (a vast number of the city’s bathrooms, according to real estate photos, are entirely tiled in pink) and snapped a pic of the cracked toilet basin. Then I followed Matt back down the stairs, and he pointed at a sign hanging on the back of the front door.

Both hearing aids,” he said. I snapped the last pic of the house, feeling a little guilty about my earlier “old-people” crack. Ms. Martha had lived here, maybe most of her life. Maybe she’d died here, too.

Back in the car Matt kept asking me what I wanted in a home. Location? A garden? A stripper pole in the living room? I told him that after my husband and dogs, nothing was more important to me than my home, but then I found myself stuttering nervously that I…well…I kind of like a place that’s a retreat from the world, if that makes sense?

Truth was, I was scared shitless. Our first application for a preapproved mortgage had been turned down, due to the fact that I’d taken time off for grad school and to work on my book, and though our second application was supposedly “looking good,” nothing yet was certain, and I felt hesitant about this open house tour, and of real estate in general. I’m a writer with one 98%-finished book living in San Francisco, hardly the Danielle Steele of every banker’s dreams.

We spent the rest of the tour driving around the Outer Sunset, one of the few neighborhoods in the city we might possibly afford. I snapped pics of fake-wood paneling, tandem garages, and asbestos tiles. I snapped pics of illegal basement in-law units, and grimy bathrooms straight out of Folsom Prison. I snapped pics of a 12-room house carpeted entirely in, yes, pink.

But I also snapped pics of polished hardwood floors, Wedgewood stoves, and a back yard with cypress trees and a view of the Marin Headlands. We wandered through empty houses, and houses where the owners scrambled to make the beds in the next room. We wandered past a 12-year-old girl, oblivious to us, video-chatting with friends on a laptop at the kitchen table. We wandered through houses where it seemed nobody had ever lived, tastefully staged within an inch of their lives.

I felt the nervous, competitive energy of a house crammed full of prospective buyers – young couples and Chinese families, and more than a few start-up types – all of us pretending not to see each other as we tried to picture the living room in a different color.

After five or six houses I felt giddy and exhausted, a headache gnawing at the edges of my vision. “You have an interesting job,” I told Matt. “You see everyone at their absolute most stressed, teetering at the edge of sanity.”

The next day we got word that our loan application had been preapproved,  and the thing I thought couldn’t happen was now possible. Or near-possible. I felt superstitious and unrelieved.

“I’m getting an ulcer,” I told the Fireplug, who had been through real estate insanity in New York and San Francisco, and who, let’s face it, was the more stable, profitable, loan-worthy of the two of us.

“This is nothing,” he said. “Remember what I said. Roller-coaster.”

And I’ve flown off the tracks, full-out OCDing on real estate sites, my already-fractured attention span splintering atomically, unable to focus on anything else. I am writing this partly to distract myself from the fact that Matt is right this moment touring the house that has reached the top of our list, a house we’ve only seen in professionally-staged online photo galleries,  in another far-flung neighborhood, a house I want to believe is solid, a house we can both picture living in together, getting older and more crotchety, needing at first one, then two hearing aids, hanging notes on doors to remind ourselves of all the things we’d otherwise forget.

How to Write a Book

Mule Dogpoet Michael McAllisterOr One Guy’s Seven-Year Journey as a Mule

I was recently asked to speak to a writing class about my book, which gave me the chance to reflect on what’s worked for me, and since I sometimes get emails asking for general advice, I thought it might be useful to share a little of my experience. I’m entirely aware that by posting this, having finished only 97% of the book, I am seriously tempting fate and derision. But this will fuel me through the last 3%. Pride’s a useful motivator.

Fill the Well
I spend a lot of time on the Internet, for work and for not-work, clicking from one shiny object to the next, and I invariably walk away from the computer feeling dazed and stupid. I can think of maybe a handful of movies that fuel me creatively. Often, the theater. The last season of Breaking Bad. But nothing fuels me like reading, and by reading I mean books. Sometimes all it takes is a page or two to fill me with the courage to return to my own imperfect, unfinished story. Do more of whatever fills your well and less of everything else. Guard the well from celebrity gossip sites, shiny objects, and Facebook barbarians.

No, Really
Another plug for books but from a crankier angle. Expecting people to read your writing when you can’t be bothered to read other people’s books is just plain rude. Read a lot, of everything. Otherwise you’ll go years operating under the delusion that everything you write is brilliant and original and destined to be turned into a four-film franchise starring Daniel Radcliffe and Meryl Streep.

Your Muse is a Flake
Waiting around for inspiration will never get you to the end of your book. Some of my best writing came only after I forced myself to sit at the computer and endure for an hour the thick, fuzzy-headed despair of having nothing in the world to say.

Don’t Wait for the Shack
I once read an interview with a well-known writer who leaves his house every morning, walks a hundred yards to a little redwood shack on the far corner of his wooded property, and spends the next eight hours undisturbed, writing and sipping tea from his lucky mug while the occasional acorn falls on the roof overhead. Oh, how I want that shack. I have no shack. I’ve been working on this book for seven years. For one year, when I had more money, I rented a private office. But I also wrote at home, in bed, at my desk, and on the couch. I wrote on my husband’s couch, on a chair passed down from his grandfather, and in the basement of his shop. I wrote in a tiny Manhattan apartment with a view of an airshaft. I wrote in three different rooms at the Columbia University library and a public library at the Jersey Shore. I wrote at the Hungarian Pastry Shop, Jumpin’ Java, Cafe Flore, and a dozen other coffee shops. I wrote on airplanes and in two different borrowed houses in Palm Springs. I wrote at every job I’ve ever had. You may have a fantasy shack, too, somewhere in your future, but what are you going to do in the meantime?

Your Portable Pal
Carry a little notebook, or your iPhone, a place to scrawl the words, ideas, and sentences that you’ll otherwise forget. No, you won’t remember.

Swallow Your Pride
I was a coward in college, afraid to commit myself to literature, and I chose instead the wildly practical major of sociology. I spent the next ten years feeling insecure about my education, and still it wasn’t until I got into Columbia’s MFA program that I began to see just how little I knew. Workshops and peer feedback can be valuable, but having someone take me through 100 books, page by page, sometimes sentence by sentence, and show me how each writer put together a story, was the single best thing I’ve done for myself as a writer. You don’t need to commit yourself to a Master’s degree. Take an extension class. Download a lecture from Yale. There’s no shame in being taught, and those who tell you otherwise are idiots.

Join a Cabal
The greatest unexpected benefit to grad school was the little group of writers from my program who landed here in the Bay Area after graduation, a group I still meet with every month, over five years later. We started out as a book club (first selection: Madame Bovary), but then one day my husband referred to the group as “your little cabal,” and it stuck. We exchange work, gossip, job leads, literary agent horror stories, and the occasional awesome news of a book deal. We also talk about Downton Abbey, Battlestar Galactica, and eat a lot of Salt and Pepper Kettle chips with french onion dip. They danced at my wedding, and I’d be lost without them. Again, you don’t need an MFA program for this. Find writers through workshops, local lit organizations, or Craigslist.

Be Accountable
Writing is a pain in the ass. The beautiful story you imagine in your head, by the time you get it on the page, is a pale monstrosity. You will want to do anything in the world but the thing you most need to do. You will wash the dishes. You will vacuum every room in your house. You will cut your toenails and then vacuum some more. Unless you are in school or are an incredibly important author with a publishing house editor waiting for your next chapter with bated breath, you’ll need to create your own deadlines. Form a cabal. Find one friend. Exchange work.

Be an Ass
Despite what the world thinks, talent only takes you so far. Only the mule-headed endure.

Everybody Hurts
I did research in the Manuscripts, Archives, and Rare Books division of the New York Public Library, where I went through old correspondence files from The New Yorker, and learned that the magazine rejected every single famous writer you could think of many, many times. It doesn’t matter who you are. You will be rejected. Be a mule.

Let It Brew
I have a friend, a well-respected author with three novels under his belt, who hates revision. He works by slowly moving forward, perfecting each sentence as he goes along. I can’t work that way. My first drafts are hideous. I don’t know what I think or how I feel about something until I start writing about it, and even then it takes time, sometimes a few weeks, or months, or years, till I get at the truest insight possible. I have to let each chapter sit, like a tea bag in a cup of hot water, letting it steep, stirring it around seventeen or eighteen times, doctoring it with milk and low-calorie sweetener, or, fine, yes, actual real sugar if it’s the only thing in the house, till it’s right.

It Matters
I routinely forget to follow my own suggestions, but eventually I remember. If you’re plugged into contemporary culture (and what 21st Century writer isn’t?), you will frequently fall into black despair over the future of books. Our fragmenting attention spans. The publishing industry death spiral. The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills.

But listen. Writing still matters. To a lot of people. There will always be readers who want to get lost in a story, learn about other places, or step inside the skin of a total stranger. Readers willing to have their minds changed and their hearts broken. Readers quietly thrilled by beautiful language. Readers who find, within the pages of a book, a voice that articulates the things they’ve always felt but could never express. Readers who feel, at the end of a book, less alone in their fears and mistakes. I can’t list all the reasons why people read books, or why literature is important, because there’s too many of them, and most of the fun is figuring out, book by book, your own reasons. Why you need to read, and why you need to write.

The Power of the Human Spirit Can Bite Me

The publishing industry moves at glacial speed. So while I wait the requisite four to eight weeks for agents to lay judgment on my work, I have more than a few hours on my hands, hours in which I have to point my obsessive nature in some direction. It’s best when I can get it pointed towards writing and not, say, BigMuscleBear.com. But most of the time I just find trouble. For a while I trolled the web, hunting for more literary agents, tracking book deals on publishing sites and in general making myself sick with anxiety. I’d count the number of memoirs published by famous people versus the number published by non-famous people (Not encouraging). Or I’d read the one-sentence descriptions accompanying each book deal: follows the author’s journey from adored high school athlete to violent, drug-dealing wife beater and, after several suicide attempts, his miraculous recovery, revealing the overwhelming power of the drug to destroy and the power of the human spirit to override the journey towards destruction. I’d roll my eyes at the cheesy, life-affirming pattern they all seemed to follow, then of course wonder if my own book did the same. Cue despair. I’d wonder if I should tinker with my book to make it more marketable. Then I’d swing 180 degrees and say, “FUCK THE MARKETPLACE! FUCK YOU, YOU WHORISH FUCKERS!” It all felt like a flashback to when I was waiting for word on grad school acceptances. Then I turned off the internet and found serenity while writing a television pilot. Then I picked up my book again and tinkered with it. Then I wrote this. Welcome to my head. I don’t recommend it.

Waiting

So January pretty much sucked. That’s as articulate as I can be on the subject. I don’t know why I was surprised at how tough that month turned out, considering recent heartbreak. But surprised I was, and while nursing a mildly annoying cold I logged more hours on Playstation 3 than I’d care to admit. Makes sense though; for a while you can be a different person, in a different world, working towards concrete, clearly delineated goals, all in the comfort etc, etc.

Playstation 3 also distracted me while I waited a few weeks to hear back from friends who were reading my book. Fortunately the feedback was all I could have hoped for, more or less, and now comes a fresh round of waiting. Today I mailed my book to the first literary agent on my list of potentials.

These days the big publishing houses won’t even read manuscripts unless they come from an agent. You could go the self-publishing route, an option that’s become much more viable in the past couple of years. But I’m a writer, not a businessman, and I could use somebody on my side to navigate the industry.

When looking for an agent, they suggest casting your net wider than one at a time. But for this first guy I’m going off my gut. One of the fringe benefits of getting my MFA at Columbia was its proximity to the publishing industry, and I met more than a few agents at horribly awkward cocktail parties. Imagine seventy desperate, insecure, socially awkward writers pitching their books to six agents. It was like six chunks of meat dropped into a shark tank.

But this guy I liked. He had a great reputation, a good sense of humor about the industry – which seems almost necessary these days – and he said he’d like to read the book when I was ready. I’m about as ready as I’ll ever be.

I sent him the first 50 pages, standard practice, with a letter that attempted to condense my 300-page memoir into a couple of sentences. And now I wait as my envelope works its way through the pile on his desk. We’ll see if he likes it enough to request the rest of the book, in which case more waiting…

I can’t quite begin to express the significance of this moment. I’ve been writing this book for over five years, and over that time I have gradually transferred all of my eggs into this one basket, fueled by little more than daydreams, blind hope, and the conviction that this is the only thing I’m really cut out for in this world. I’ve done what I can, now the rest is out of my hands.

More Info on the Workshop

I have a few irons in the fire now: the book; the reading series; the workshop; and I’ve made it to the third round of hiring for a new writing job, too. All this and a quick trip with the Manly Fireplug and some of his family, to Carmel, a very pretty resort town down on the coast that doesn’t let you eat or drink on the streets. Whenever I end up someplace surrounded by the wealthy I feel a little bit like an anthropologist, observing the habits of the locals as they golf and shop at Bulgari.

I’ve been hearing from more people interested in the workshop, so I’ve gone ahead and planned out the dates. There’s still room left, so if you’re interested, read on:

The Barbershop Writing Group

Barbicide Logo
I will be leading a private, eight-week writing workshop starting in May of 2009. Drawing upon my own experiences as a writer, as well as my experiences with the MFA program at Columbia University, I’ve focused the curriculum on the memoir and fiction genres, though other genres, and all levels of experience, are welcome. Each week we will look at an element of craft (character, theme, scene, dialogue, etc) and discuss the work of two workshop participants in a relaxed, focused atmosphere. At the end of the eight weeks, participants will have the chance to take part in a public reading at Joe’s Barbershop, in the Castro district.

Maybe you need a little more structure, or feedback for your writing, or maybe you just need the company of a few other writers now and then. Maybe you don’t even feel qualified to call yourself a writer, but you’re willing to take a risk and try to put down a story or two. Maybe you want to pursue work that will bring added meaning to your life.

If you live in the Bay Area and think you might be interested in taking the workshop, send me an email. Feel free to spread the word to your friends.

Workshop Details:
Thursday nights, 7:00-9:30 pm
Eight Weeks, starting May 7th (skipping June 4th), ending July 2nd
Location: A comfortable home with a view in Corona Heights, above the Castro, near Buena Vista Park
Cost: $280

About the Instructor:

Michael McAllister, a veteran of writing workshops, attained his Master’s in Fine Arts from Columbia University, where he was awarded the Hertog Fellowship and the Dean’s Fellowship for his writing. He’s been published in various literary magazines, like The James White Review, Long Shot, Evergreen Chronicles, and Fourteen Hills. The Minnesota Center for Book Arts published a limited-edition chapbook of his poems, Jack on Jack on King on King, designed by the book artist Inge Bruggeman, in 1996. He is currently finishing a memoir, an excerpt of which appeared in the anthology From Boys to Men, from Da Capo Press, in 2006. He has authored the blog, Dogpoet.com, since 2001.

* * *

“Michael McAllister has a natural gift for literature. He is a talented writer, a careful reader, and a sensitive listener. He puts his fellow writers at ease, and his humble, modest nature hides the fact that they are in the presence of a truly wonderful writer.”

- Brian Eule, author of Match Day: One Day and One Dramatic Year in the Lives of Three New Doctors

“Michael McAllister is a master storyteller. He knows the grand and humble aspirations and failures of his characters, how they speak to one another, and how they move about in the world. These are the sensibilities he brings to others’ work—a sharp eye for story and a keen sense of character. But above all, he listens—to the writer’s intentions and to the work itself.”

-Miranda Weiss, author of Tide, Feather, Snow: A Life in Alaska

Shirtless Bowling

I’ll admit to a little selfishness when I finally saw the Fireplug’s new shop after its renovation. Of course I was proud of him, but I immediately pictured putting the space to my own use, namely for the publication party for my first book. Then the Fireplug suggested that I have a reading there with some of my fellow grad school alums who’ve landed out here on the West Coast. Since half of them are already published, with books out, it seemed like a great idea.

And originally I considered the space incidental, merely a nice place I could get for free. But when I talked to my friends, they were most excited by the prospect of reading in a barbershop. The more I thought about it, the more I realized that they were on to something. Most readings are held in bars and coffee shops and bookstores. I’ve never heard of one in a barbershop. So there’s an element of originality, and the kind of hook that could get some press. Which, believe it or not, is already happening.

The barbershop is both irreverent and casual, which I want reflected in the series, and the shop and the series both will play off the idea of community. Plus there won’t be any espresso machines frothing milk during your reading, so it retains a sense of diginity. Or as dignified as we get around here.

I’m going to start it out small, maybe once a month or every other month. But keep the caliber of writers high.

I was pretty excited about this idea, at least for a week or so. But then I had a conversation with a friend at the gym the other day which cast a bleak new light upon my plans. I was on my way in as he was on his way out, and we stopped to chat.

“Where are you off to?” I asked him.

“Boys with Balls,” he said.

“Excuse me?”

“It’s a gay men’s bowling night. You should come, it’s a lot of fun. Everyone takes off their shirt, and we drink beer and…”

“You what?”

“We take off our shirts. The bowling alley is closed, it’s a private party, and we all just hang out and drink beer…”

“That is the gayest thing I have ever heard of. Shirtless bowling?”

It’s the kind of thing which will end up on The Simpsons someday. I don’t know what it is about gay men, that we find it necessary to take off our shirts whenever we gather in public. But the Nouveau Muscled are like the Nouveau Riche, displaying all of our wealth with brazen tackiness. I suppose it’s just a matter of time until I end up shirtless bowling, too. You can’t fight these things.

Now that I have to compete with shirtless bowling, the prospects for my Barbershop Reading Series seem unclear. For about two minutes I thought about making the series shirtless as well, but then I couldn’t think of a single writer I’d like to see half-naked. Literature and muscles rarely come together. Sometimes I wonder why I try so hard at both.

Attack of the Little Paper Ticks

Writers, or their egos, tend towards fragility. The making of art seems to require that kind of sensitivity, or oversensitivity, depending on your perspective. Certainly our significant others may wish, now and then, that our skins were just a tiny bit thicker. But it we had thick skins we might not be driven to reconcile ourselves to life through art. We suffer, suffer I tell you! And so do our gay lovers.

Part of that fragility is the occupational envy of our peers’ successes. Nothing draws out our knives quicker than a popular and successful friend. There’s the universal thrill of schadenfreude, of course. But beyond that is the simple and pervasive fear of declining resources. Accurately or not, writers operate under the assumption that there are only so many enormous book advances, grants, and medals to go around. And one little precocious Jonathan Safran Foer, snapping up the lion’s share of the literary world’s love just a year or two out of Princeton, can set our collective teeth on edge for months and years to come.

The internet is fertile ground for schadenfreude, and I myself fall prey to this fragility all the time, gleefully clicking from one snarky book review to the next, leaving the computer after these sessions feeling bloated and nauseous. But in one area of my life, the area in which I expected my skin to stretch the thinnest, I’ve somehow developed a strange case of generosity.

I’m talking about my fellow students in the MFA program at Columbia, particularly in the nonfiction genre, where I concentrated. Two years have passed since I left New York, and word of my peers’ book deals and publications keep trickling back to me, and yet I have greeted the news without that familiar fear taking root within me. Instead their success has only given me greater hope, faith almost, that my own book will somehow find a place in the world.

The Cactus Eaters

Much of this is due to my familiarity with the authors themselves, all of them quite lovely people. Last week I attended a book reading and signing by my buddy Dan White (no relation to Harvey Milk’s assassin, as far as I know) whose book was published last year, a book that I was lucky enough to read in early draft form in workshop. Dan’s generosity and self-deprecating humor naturally deflect writer’s envy. And he made it even harder to dislike him by bringing to the reading an element of show-and-tell, complete with his trail fanny pack, scanned copies of his crazy journal, and an annotated map of the Pacific Crest Trail, complete with little paper ticks glued to the spot in Southern California where they feasted on him and his then-girlfriend.

Of course I indulged in moments of true selfishness during his reading, imagining myself up there in his place, reading from an actual bound copy of my book, fielding questions from an attentive, bordering-on-adoring audience. Sue me.

But indulging these fantasies during the creative process is dangerous. Thinking too much about the book’s reception, rather than the craft of the book itself, can pretty much guarantee artistic failure.

So last week with the Manly Fireplug I imposed a moratorium. No more talking about the book’s future. No more speculations on how it will be received, or if any doors would open for me after its publication. I took it one step further, into reality,  insinuating that he might end up with a husband trapped in literary obscurity for the rest of his life. For some reason he stuck his ground.

I’m mulling these issues because I promised myself that I would finish a rough draft of the book by the end of the year. The first draft is utter and complete torture for me, and so abysmal in quality that I would rather upload my “Should Have Put a Ring on It” dance routine to YouTube, than show anyone my rough draft.

Plus I’m kind of difficult to deal with when I’m in first draft mode, so the Fireplug deserves a break. Luckily I’m on track to meet the deadline.

I realized recently that I’ve made countless references to the book, but I don’t know if I’ve ever actually described it. And summing up my four hundred-page labor of love/hate in a couple of pithy sentences makes my skin crawl. But I’ll say this much:

It’s a memoir about my family, spanning twenty years, from when both of my parents came out of the closet, up until my mother’s death in 2002. It follows my family as it fractures and divides and takes new shape, as each of my parents end up settling down with same-sex partners who themselves were also previously married, with kids. It describes the fall-out of these events on me, who eventually also came out, and my brother, who turned out straight, and became, in more ways than one, the black sheep. You know, basically the story of your modern all-American family.

And as I work my way, in the rough draft, through the year 2000, arguably the worst year of my life, I fall prey to all kinds of fears. That I won’t be able to write about some events with enough distance to turn them into art. That it will sound like an undigested therapy session. That it’s all one big boring cliché and that (the worst fear of all) I will write a mediocre book. Not a bad one. A mediocre one.

This neurotic energy often greets the Fireplug when he comes home from a long day at the barbershop. Which is why I like to finish writing in time to make us a decent meal, so that for a few minutes I can feel the satisfaction of a finished creation. Which means bye for now – I have a date with a steak and a bunch of arugula.

Old School or Just Plain Old

This week marks the seventh anniversary of my blog. I do like the number seven, and I can say with all sincerity that dogpoet has made my life much richer, if also more, well, complicated. And I mean that in the best possible way.

Since the anniversary always falls at the end of the year, it usually finds me in a state of reflection. Or more reflection. If that were even possible. And as another year comes to a close I feel the urge to do something with all of the questionable wisdom I’ve accumulated, besides sling drinks part-time.

I’m in the early planning stages for a private writing workshop to be held in 2009. I’ll be drawing upon my own experiences as a writer, as well as my experiences with the MFA program at Columbia University, as I design the curriculum. The workshop will focus mainly on the memoir genre, though writers wanting to work in fiction or other genres are more than welcome. All levels of experience are encouraged. Click here for more details.

If you live in the Bay Area and are interested in the workshop, send me an email. I will be working out the details as I get a sense of participants’ schedules and goals. Feel free to spread the word to anyone who might be interested.

And since it looks like I will be reading again at a public event in February, I’m compiling an email list for those who’d like to be informed of such events. You can send me an email as well. I will only share your address with some close friends in Nigeria.

Fair warning: if you come to a reading and heckle me the Manly Fireplug will cut you.  Everyone else will get birthday cake. Or virtual birthday cake. We’re in a recession.

Ciao, Cactus Eater

Ciao, the Movie

This past summer I was fortunate enough to catch my friend Yen Tan’s new movie, Ciao, at the Castro Theater during the San Francisco Gay and Lesbian Film Festival. And though I had rock-star seats, sitting with the director, Jeff, and the Manly Fireplug in the center of the packed house, we later lost Yen to the adoring crowd of film fans and media, for good reason.

It’s a wonderfully funny and bittersweet story, and if you’re in San Francisco or Berkeley you can catch the movie again during its theatrical release. Screening times and locations here, along with a listing of upcoming cities.

The Cactus Eaters

And as long as I’m whoring out one friend, let me do another. My buddy Dan White, who went through the Columbia MFA program with me, and with whom I had a couple of workshops, had his amazingly funny and poignant book, The Cactus Eaters: How I Lost My Mind and Almost Found Myself on the Pacific Crest Trail published recently, to much acclaim. And all of it is deserved. Imagine if Woody Allen and a reluctant Diane Keaton got lost hiking, and you’ll get close to the exuberant, neurotic energy of the book. I always looked forward to reading Dan’s workshop submissions, which should tell you something, considering all of the submissions we had to read during those two years.

He’ll be appearing at the Mission Bay Branch of the SF Public Library tomorrow, December 10th, 6:30 pm.