A New Story on WhiskeyPaper!

I’m super excited to have a story, At the Roller Rink, on WhiskeyPaper today. Maybe I should be more chill about this, and say something like, “I am so humbled to have this site publish my story,” but actually I’m pretty stoked. I think Leesa Cross-Smith is the coolest and I loved her short story collection Every Kiss a War, so it’s really an honor to be on WP.

I’m sort of obsessed with the friendships of young girls at that age right before they start to be interested in boys, when they’re so close and intense that they’re almost romantic. And I’m even more obsessed with the point at which those friendships start to break down, which is when boys and sex enter the picture. There’s always one girl who crosses that line sooner, and that moment of outgrowing a friendship is like squirming in an itchy, embarrassing sweater. And then there’s the other girl, the one who’s holding on a little tighter, who doesn’t understand why things are even changing.

And also there’s rollerskating involved. An an REO Speedwagon song. I’ll love you forever if you read it!

Writing about writing

Here’s how I used to write in college:

Whenever I had a story due for workshop, I’d hole up in the library for an entire weekend. I’d leave to eat and sleep and stuff like that, but mostly I’d just stay there. Some of my favorite college memories took place in an empty library on Friday and Saturday nights (when everyone else was out partying) or on Saturday or Sunday mornings (when everyone else was hungover). Clearly I was a crazy party animal; like, tone it down, college Kerry! Don’t be so buck wild.

I liked sitting in one specific cubby because it was the one of the few where passersby couldn’t easily see what you were writing, and I’ve always hated writing where people can see me. One of my brothers, as a baby, used to hide behind the couch when he pooped, and I’ve always thought of writing kind of like that. It’s a gross process and I need to hide behind a metaphorical couch to do it. In this particular cubby, someone had scratched the words “WHEN I SAT HERE I TOUCHED MYSELF.” I ignored that and tried not to think about some strange college bro’s penis. I was mostly successful.

I’ve always been a slow writer, and my writing process has always been “Start writing one thing, write it for several hours to a day to a week before realizing what you’re ACTUALLY supposed to be writing and then write that quickly.” It’s not an efficient way to write, but it’s my ~*~style~*~ and I can’t change it, try as I might. This means I have a lot of frustrated break time and I often feel like giving up and/or reading something. So that’s what I’d do. I’d write a bit, go find a short story collection or a literary magazine and read a story, go write some more, read another story, repeat, repeat, repeat.

I loved the weekend I spent writing a story for my junior year creative writing workshop while reading every single Miranda July story at the library. This was before her short story collection came out, so her stories were spread out across various journals. I read every story the library had while trying to work out a story about how lonely and sad and directionless I felt. It came out as a story about a girl who worked for a phone sex hotline, and I don’t think I would’ve had the courage to write it if I wasn’t reading Miranda July’s fearless, weird stories about strange women and their strange desires. The story wasn’t really about anything I knew, but the feelings were, the feeling voiceless and small. It felt good to get that out, and it felt like she was holding my hand the whole time and telling me I could do it.

That’s how I wrote everything–with the whole library full of writers cheering me on and giving me hope. I could’ve written stories at my weird, raccoon-infested apartment, but it wouldn’t have been the same.

I don’t write at the library much anymore, but my writing style is still the same. I still read while I write, just hoping the writer will help me keep my head above water while I’m confused and lost and doubting myself. Even if the story or book is nothing like what I’m writing, it helps to see that other people are doing it, too. I might feel like I’m all alone, but I’m not. Not at all.

What I’ve Been Reading

Long time, no blog. I’m still among the living, but (obviously) I haven’t been posting here at Welcome to Ladyville nearly as often as I used to. I was going to write a lot of reasons why that is, but

A) No one cares, and
B) It’s basically just that I work a lot, and that sometimes the internet makes me mad.

But I’m still here, still writing for HelloGiggles and sometimes popping up other places (in fact, very very soon I’ll be able to share something else I wrote!). And, of course, I’m still reading. I promise to try to convert some of the blog posts I constantly write in my head into actual blog posts soon, but until then, here’s what I’ve been reading.

Yes, Please by Amy Poehler
It feels silly to even talk about this book, because if you want to read it you’ve probably read it by now. But IT IS SO GOOD. It’s funny, but it’s mostly full of advice that will make you remember you should be more of a badass at all times. Amy Poehler reminds me a lot of my friend Lauren (more about her later), who takes less shit than probably anyone I know. If Lauren doesn’t want to do something, she isn’t even going to entertain the possibility of doing it. She recently told me, “My favorite part of being an adult is not doing what I don’t want to do and saying no frequently.” And she does! It’s truly something to behold, as well as a philosophy all of us could take to heart. Anyway, we should all be more like Amy Poehler and Lauren and just not ever take shit from anyone. Remember that Amy P. quote from Tina Fey’s Bossypants? “I don’t f*cking care if you like it?” I think about that all the time. This was a really bad description of Yes, Please, but you should just read it.

Texts from Jane Eyre by Mallory Ortberg
This was funny! If you read The Toast or The Hairpin, then you’re well acquainted with the Texts From series. I read somewhere that this book is still fun to read if you haven’t read the source material, but I’m going to respectfully disagree with that. I’ve read a good portion of the books covered (back when I was an English major/bored high school student), but I had no idea what was going on in the texts about the ones I hadn’t read. If you read a lot of classics but also enjoy making fun of them, this is a good read.

The Girls from Corona del Mar by Rufi Thorpe
Lauren recommended this book to me, and I trust Lauren’s book recommendations more than I trust anything from anyone else. This book is a fine entry into the genre of Sad Girl Lit, which is a designation I think I made up. I love books that spend a lot of time inside young women’s heads as they navigate truly tough or terrible experiences. This book reminded me a lot of Lorrie Moore’s A Gate at the Stairs, a book I was so disturbed by that I vowed to never read it again (it’s not actually that disturbing, I’m just irrationally affected by Lorrie Moore). Much like AGATS, The Girls from Corona del Mar features upsetting scenes that will HAUNT YOU. In a good way. Sort of. It also features a lot of stuff about motherhood and traumatic childbirth, which I love reading about for some reason. Lauren also interviewed Rufi Thorpe, so go read that right now.

Ugly Girls by Lindsay Hunter
This is another recommendation from Lauren. I wasn’t lying when I said I read whatever she tells me to read! This is just a Lauren appreciation blog now, sorry. This book is so weird, upsetting, and good and I still can’t stop thinking about it. You know how men often write books that highlight how our bodies are just sacks of meat? I’m thinking of Chuck Palahniuk here, and I realize you might not know what I mean, but this was supposed to be a quick roundup. I always thought I didn’t like that kind of book, but it turns out I don’t mind if it’s written by a woman! So I guess I’m just tired of reading a man’s POV of women’s bodies and sexuality. Ugly Girls gets pretty, well, ugly. It’s also wonderfully creepy and there’s a sense of dread that gets louder and louder the more you read, which is one of my favorite things in a book.

Feel free to let me know what you’re reading and I promise to be back soon!

Maybe I Should Just Burn Them All

When I was moving my boxes of books and supplies up to my new home office, I found my box of journals. I’ve kept a journal off and on through good and bad (mostly bad) since fourth grade, so it’s a pretty big box. There are notebooks of weird writing attempts from college, my 7th grade complaints about how terrible junior high was (the most terrible), stressed out and desperate post-college writing, and truly over the top dramatics from high school. A few Saturdays ago, I sat down on the floor to go through the box. I was excited because I thought I’d come across all sorts of crazy, hilarious memories and spend the whole evening laughing. I was ready to have a good laugh at Kerry of the Past’s life, while also realizing that I’ve always been a precocious yet lovable weirdo.

Instead, what I found out was that I’ve always just been super weird and depressing. If anything, I used to be even more weird and depressing. Nothing about my weirdness is quirky or cute; mostly, it’s just annoying. I am a horror, and it took reading through almost 20 years of journal entries to realize that.

Things started out with plenty of promise. On January 20th, 1996, I began my journals with a declaration of self:

“This is the first page of this diary. Hi! Here is some stuff about me:
I like to read.
I don’t like gym.”

Both statements would remain true for the entirety of my childhood (and presumably for the rest of my life). I also appreciate that I said hello. I was nothing if not polite.

Things took a turn for the weirder soon, though, when I wrote the following entry:

“Today I got a phone call from somebody that said they were my secret admirer. I hung up. I think it was just one of my friends.”

Did I get prank called in the fourth grade? I did! I’d actually mostly buried that memory, but the pink polka dotted pages of this diary brought it right back. I still remember the bitch who did that and then sneakily tried to ask me if I “got any phone calls” the next day. Smooth as always, I just said no. I was pretty much the James Bond of fourth graders. I still won’t add that girl on Facebook.

Writer’s block quickly found me, however:

“I don’t have much to write. It’s only morning. I’ll probably have something to write later. Like I was saying, just give me some time–I’ll come up with something to write.”

I get it, Young Kerry. The insistent pressure to get words on the page! Whether it’s a work deadline or a self-imposed journal deadline that you get strangely defensive about, the struggle of the writer is all too real.

My January 29th entry proved that my anxiety about completely inconsequential things was there from a young age:

“Today in school, I forgot my assignment book. It was terrible!”

How did I even deal with the stress? But it wasn’t all lost assignment books and prank calls. There were good times, too, like on February 14th:

“Valentine’s Day! The dance was cool. All my friends were there. The best Valentine’s Day of my life!”

You want to know why all my friends were there? Because we were in the fourth grade, and dances happened during the school day. They didn’t have any choice. It’s sort of impressive that it was the best Valentine’s Day of my life. Even better than third grade? Impossible.

I have a lot of affection for fourth grade Kerry. She was weird, she wrote a lot (even when she faced immense pressure from her journal), and she was steadfast in her hatred of gym. If only all of my journals had been so sweet! Things quickly took a turn for the “Oh, God no” when I got to junior high and high school. First, I talked about boys approximately 95% of the time, despite the fact that most of my male classmates were dirtbags, and not even the sexy kind of James Dean (or even James Deen) dirtbag. Just, like, the kind of guys who call people “retards” and don’t read books and DEFINITELY do not care about a girl who spends most of her time writing in her journal about how much she hates gym (that didn’t go away until I took my last gym class in freshman year of high school).

And in college? Well, let’s just say that’s where things got really bad. Frankly, my college journals were so bleak that they actually made me wonder if I was depressed at the time and just didn’t know it. Why was I always so sad? Why was I never excited about any of my classes? Why was I so hung up on that dirtbag I dated, the one I was totally in L-U-V with even though he wasn’t going to college and listened to a lot of Avenged Sevenfold and smoked and liked to drag race for fun? Oh, because I thought he was really hot? I was 18, so pretty much all we did was make out in his basement and I considered that, like, a solid relationship, but that didn’t stop me from journaling my weird little heart out about him. He was, truly and objectively, very good looking in a dirtbag sort of way. Reading through my journals prompted me to look him up on Facebook and his face is now swollen in the way of a guy who drinks too much, which he probably does. To quote a poem he has definitely never read, nothing gold can stay.

Even the parts of my journals that made me laugh also just made me sort of sad. My best friend and I used to keep lists of our “inside jokes” on the backs of my high school journals, and I was so bummed to realize that I couldn’t remember 98% of them. Some of them are so strange-sounding that I did actually laugh out loud. Behold:

-Sarah Ferguson ponders terrorism (how this could have even tangentially related to a joke, I don’t know)
-The Avril Lavigne of mental illness (again, I don’t know)
-Mr Beans and his magical early 90′s sweater (I guess our guidance counselor just wore weird sweaters?)
-Jayne’s Sam’s Club Membership (nope)
-Paul, Ringo, and George Michael (wait, this one was because one of our friends truly thought those were the members of The Beatles. I still do find that funny!)
-Spandex Hippie (?)
-Slow-hedge (??)
-Stephen Tyler (literally, just the name of the Aerosmith frontman was written on the list. ???)
-”I Can’t Spell Furnace Boy” IMs Cat (okay, this one I do understand–we made fun of this kid because he couldn’t spell furnace, which sounds mean, BUT IN RETROSPECT he was a high school boy, which is to say he was terrible, and I guess he IM’d one of my friends and that alone was funny to us? I DON’T KNOW)

Some of the items on that list were essentially just random orderings of letters that made no sense to me. Funny, but also depressing. Actually, reading my journals in general was depressing. The act of going through them ruined my entire evening by reminding me that I’ve always been an incurable, sad weirdo. I guess some things never change.

I like to read. I don’t like gym.

What I’ve Been Reading

What have you guys been up to in our long period apart? I went to the Bellville World’s Fair and ate apple rings. I went to my 10 year high school reunion (uneventful, but I did have chicken wings). I went to IKEA for the first time with my family and I didn’t even eat meatballs even though clearly I should have. I’ve been listening to a lot of Judge John Hodgman and Bullseye and eating approximately a ton of apples because, you know, fall. I’ve been sort of trying to unpack some boxes but mostly I’ve just been working. But also, I’ve been reading! Here are some of the books I’ve read recently.

An Untamed State by Roxane Gay
There’s a reason everyone’s been talking about this book–it really is that good. It’s about a kidnapping, which is already something that stresses me out so I probably shouldn’t even have read it. But good luck putting this one down once you start it! It’s extraordinarily violent and disturbing, and it features by far the most upsetting, graphic depiction of sexual violence that I’ve ever read, so keep that in mind. But nothing’s gratuitous; the book is all about trauma and living through things, about how people get through the worst possible stuff and what happens when it’s over. Nothing about this book is cheesy or simple. It features some truly complex people, and I don’t mean the type of characters that people say are complex because, like, sometimes they’re gruff but actually they have a heart of gold! These are people who are racist but also save your life, or people who love you but still make the worst choices. This book just knocked me out.

Landline by Rainbow Rowell.
Okay, let’s get a little bit lighter. This is a book about a magic, time-traveling phone. Well, the phone itself isn’t time traveling, but it lets the main character talk to a past version of her husband. I just try not to think about time travel too much because I’ve never understood it. I liked that this book was about marriage and the importance of committing to your relationship. Does that sound boring? Don’t get me wrong, I love a book about people falling in love, but I also like a book that is upfront about how marriage can be a lot of work, not all of it fun work, and how that relationship is ultimately more important than anything else. Sure, this one was pretty cute and funny, but clearly I took some additional meaning from it. Which reminds me that An Untamed State also featured a complicated marriage!

The Ship of Brides by Jojo Moyes
I read this one for review and was pleasantly surprised by how much I liked it. I love books that are set in all-female environments (convents, homes for unwed mothers, all-female boarding schools, the house in Little Women) and while this wasn’t technically an all-female environment, it was all about the ladies. I feel like this book would make a great movie, definitely one that I would watch when I was sick. This is one of those books that will make you be all, “Women used to have so few choices!” and then you realize that things are still sort of the same.

The Next Best Thing by Jennifer Weiner
Working in television sounds terrible. That’s probably not the moral of this story, but that’s one of the lessons I learned. Jennifer Weiner books are always compulsively readable and they will always make you feel pretty good. This one features a disabled object of affection, which is so rare that I honestly don’t know if I’ve ever read it. Apparently this book was inspired by Jennifer Weiner’s time working on that ABC Family sitcom starring Raven, of “That’s So” fame. If that’s not enough to make you read this book, then I don’t know what to tell you.

What have you guys been reading lately? I’m currently trying to work my way through the National Book Awards longlist, although I’ll probably give up once I hit a boring one. I’m on An Unnecessary Woman right now, and so far so good. The narrator loves books and hates America. If you have any suggestions, let me know in the comments!