Creative Writing


On August 31, 1999, a handmade bomb exploded in a popular Moscow shopping mall. I was there, and watched rubble, dust, and screaming erupt around me.

Read more about the event and my changing understanding of this experience in an essay over at Pacific Standard.

Two important things I’ve learned since the piece was published:

  • Leaflets from a radical anti-consumerist organization were discovered near the site of the explosion. They read: “A hamburger not eaten to the end by the dead consumer is a revolutionary hamburger. Consumers: We don’t like your life style. And it is not safe for you.” (Any links to that organization have since been refuted.)
  • The video arcade where the bomb went off was called дунамитor “Dynamite.” Oof.

A few exciting updates:

  • My collection of poems entitled “Short-Shorts” was named a semi-finalist in the Gazing Grain Press Feminist Poetry Chapbook contest. I’d been feeling insecure about the work–it’s the most unusual thing I’ve ever written–but now that the collection of prose poems/flash nonfiction (or whatever you want to call it) has been honored in this way, I’m excited to keep sending it out. More information on the winners and the Press here.
  • I’ve become a contributor to the Washington City Paper. You can read my latest book review, about a former Washington Post reporter who covered D.C.’s crack epidemic while himself addicted to crack. This review is probably the first and last time I’ll ever get paid for a piece containing the words “blow job” (you’ll have to read the whole thing to find that), but an excerpt is below:

A new memoir by former WashingtonPost reporter Ruben Castaneda replays some of the lowest points in D.C.’s recent history: a time in the 1990s when cops couldn’t seem to do anything about gun violence, when drug-related turf wars led to scores of innocent victims and intimidation killings of witnesses, when my neighborhood of Edgewood was known as “Little Beirut,” and when some children in particularly stricken neighborhoods avoided gunfire by sleeping on mattresses on the floor.

Expect more from me in the City Paper over the next couple of months, and hopefully I’ll have more good news to share on the essay/poem front.

xo,

TP

A Facebook friend who’d moved to the U.S. from St. Petersburg in his thirties recently posted a frustrated status update in which he complained about a younger writer. This writer had immigrated from Russia as a child, and now wrote an overwrought (in my friend’s opinion) essay about her conflicted identity. His basic point was that since she’d grown up in America, she was essentially American. Her memories of the old country were childish and vague or, perhaps, even second-hand, based on photographs and stories. Not only did she speak English without an accent, she was more comfortable expressing herself in English than in her first language. The only experience of adulthood she’d had was an American experience. Most importantly, Americans didn’t perceive her as “other.” Because of this, my friend said, her identity issues, if not entirely made up for the sake of her readers, were greatly exaggerated. She didn’t face the daily oppression of being treated like a foreigner, of having to distinguish herself from a stereotype that rose like a wall in people’s minds whenever they heard accented speech. She didn’t experience the difficulty of navigating around cultural knowledge gaps that persisted in older immigrants long after they mastered the vernacular of everyday life. So why, my friend wondered, why was she being such drama queen about the difficulty of her bifurcated identity? My friend found it unseemly. Nabokov, he argued, had never made a peep about his identity troubles.

Above quote from Anya Ulinich, in her introduction to Karolina Waclawiak’s novel How to Get Into the Twin Palms (bolding my own).

If her friend is right, I guess I should just stop writing. All my stuff is about complicated identities, but as an American-born daughter of Soviet immigrants, I suppose I have no real reasons to feel such complications. LOL.

I’ll be at Bloombars in Columbia Heights this Sunday from 3-5pm, as part of the PERFORMETRY series, doing my first reading since I moved back to DC about a year ago! I’ll be reading an excerpt from a humorous essay about Los Angeles and food.

More information below, courtesy of Elizabeth Bruce:

 

Join the Feast of Words & Food!

Featuring

PERCUSSIONIST MATT “SwampGuinee” MILLER

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WRITERS ON THE GREEN LINE Colleagues:

NAOMI AYALA

LANETA HILL

DEIRDRE WRIGHT

MAHOGNY HOPE

ANNE PELLICCIOTTO

TANYA PAPERNY

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EXPANDED OPEN MIC:

Bring family-friendly poetry, songs, short fiction to share!

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FREE Homemade Soup, Bread, Fruit & Vegan Dessert!

SUNDAY, December 15, 2013

3:00-5:00 PM

At PERFORMETRY:

Old Poems, New Poems, Your Poems @ BloomBars

3222 11th St. NW – Washington, DC 20010

BloomBars is a family-friendly environment—All Ages Welcome.

Performetry is a project of Sanctuary Theatre’s Performing Knowledge Project

Suggested Donation: $10 for adults (children free)

 

Made possible by support from Poets & Writers & the DC Commission on the Arts & Humanities

On a panel about memoir at the annual Association of Writers & Writing Programs (AWP) Conference this past March, Stephen Elliott loosely quoted Michelangelo:

I carve to set the angel free.

And now, months later, the quote—which originally read “I saw the angel in the marble and carved until I set him free”—finally makes sense.

A few years ago, I kept trying to write (the one)(the only)(the one to negate a need for any future) essay about my complicated Russian-American identity, my dual nature, about growing up as the only American-born child in a Soviet émigré household. Around the same time, I was trying to write (the one)(the only)(the one to negate a need for any future) essay to explain my complicated relationship with Judaism.

In Boston (the host city for this year’s AWP), our conference hotel was off the Green Line ‘T.’ Like that line—sometimes more like a surface-running bus, sometimes more like a train—I can pass in two worlds. Yet I (often)(always) feel like an outsider. A writer watching on the sidelines. Eileen Myles once told me, “In all your travels, you feel like an alien, don’t you?”

It occurred to me that there (doesn’t have to be)(can’t be)(shouldn’t be) only one essay from me on either of those subjects. Those are stories that need to be told, like an angel clawing its way out of marble. I need to carve away at them little by little, from different angles, with different tools, to set some stories free. New anecdotes and pieces of evidence will surface and accumulate as I live longer and find new ways to write.

I feel freed and a bit unbound.

Love this reflection on work, life, writing and optimism from Emily Gould:

Last weekend I talked to a friend who has a books-related job. This woman wants to be a writer. I mean, she is a writer, but not of books, yet. And she’s not exactly, at this particular moment, on a career track that will lead her closer to the goal of writing books. She is really young and has plenty of time to swerve.  But at some point she’ll have to make a decision about whether she wants to continue to work at her fulfilling, stable job that she’s great at or write books, because there isn’t enough time in the day, no matter how early she wakes up or how late she goes to bed or what kind of productivity-enhancing software she installs on her laptop or how much hygiene/fun/personal life she neglects, to do both. Or enough time, I should maybe say, to do both well. Some people are superhuman and can do both well. But such people are very rare, and that pretending they’re anything but rare just makes everyone else feel bad, so let’s actually just pretend they don’t exist. They functionally don’t exist. She told me it’s taken her a long time to figure out that she carries around a lot of resentment towards people who make their entire living by writing.  Although she has a close relationship with at least one such person, and so she knows firsthand that making your whole living that way can make you crazy. So it’s not like her resentment is predicated on a fantasy: she knows both ways of living have their pitfalls/can make you crazy. But the bottom line is that one way of living results in books and the other, mostly, doesn’t.

[…]

What made my first year of full-time freelancing so happy, besides not ever having to ride the subway during rush hour, wasn’t anything specific about what my workdays were like. I wasn’t accomplishing much, I was wasting a lot of time, and a lot of the time I was bored.  Most days, my work did not go well and I felt dejected about my actual writing. But I still felt good and hopeful, because all these potential paths seemed possible. Everything seemed possible. Unpleasant things had happened to me but I still had never been majorly unlucky.  This sense of infinite possibility was like a drug; hooked on it, I clung to it even after it should have been clear that I needed to move on, I couldn’t just stay poised to do something forever.

My latest article is up at The Jewish Daily Forward. It’s a profile of a prominent community leader in the predominantly Russian neighborhood of Brighton Beach in Brooklyn, NY. I’ve been working on this piece for ages, and I’m so happy to finally have it see the light of day.

An excerpt:

Located on the main stretch of Brooklyn’s Brighton Beach Avenue, among numerous Russian delis, Russian-language bookstores and a shuttered Russian travel agency, the Brighton Neighborhood Association stands out. Its window is one of the few on the block with signs predominantly in English, and it’s one of the few storefronts near the elevated tracks of the B and Q trains that doesn’t actually sell anything.

This doesn’t stop people — and definitely not elderly Russians — from strolling through the glass front door, unannounced, on a regular basis. Some mistake the office for a thrift store and start lifting up, one by one, the porcelain and enamel elephants, gifts from friends and other tchotchkes on the desk of Pat Singer, founder and executive director of BNA, a not-for-profit social service agency in Brighton Beach, a neighborhood that stretches for one mile along the Atlantic coast.

Singer has to break into her limited knowledge of Russian to shoo them away: “Not magazin, this office! Not for sale, nooo! Get your hands off my desk!”

The full article is online here. Also in print. Not sure where they are sold, to be honest. Try your local synagogue?

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