Friday, April 27, 2012

Collection forthcoming from Brooklyn Arts Press!

I'm mega-excited to be included in the catalog at Brooklyn Arts Press, who will be publishing a collection of my short stories in 2013! Founded by poet Joe Pan, BAP publishes the work of both writers and visual artists (including my former teacher, the fantastic Carol Guess!). Their books are beautiful. Click here to read a story that will be included. I can't wait! More details soon . . .

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

The Business of Staying Alive.4: Hanging Out with Gloria Diaz

Gloria Diaz is a girl who knows how to hang out. Over at her blog, Eat-It-All: The Art of Hanging Out, she tells you how to act. One of my favorite Gloria moments was going to visit her in her Washington Heights apartment, and banging on the door without any response as muffled TV sounds came from inside. She had just returned from an oceanside hang-out session in Puerto Rico, followed by a trip to Chattanooga to kick it with the punks. After back-to-back beach time and wild-ass partying (Chattanooga punks do it like no others), Gloria had felt the need to phase into a hardcore Hang Out Type: Solo, and it took me a while to get her up off the couch.

Gloria also happens to be one of my number one apocalyptic dream comrades—precisely because she’s so damn good at hanging out. Who wouldn’t want to see the world going up in flames in the company of a devoted chiller? Gloria is unflappable, dedicated to hanging out at all costs, and even as she’s being sassy, you know it’s only a matter of time before she gets all sincere and deep. Even as she’s saying, “I can’t deal,” her other motto—“The year of living dangerously”—is never far behind. She’s the perfect person to talk to about The Business of Staying Alive, the type who can keep things casual even as she’s gearing up to get ready for the worst.

me: I was just looking at your blog and I have to say I really dig the pic of you hanging out with the tropical foliage.

Gloria: You should. I look good.

me: Hahaha! K, do you want to start by talking about the blog a little? Like, where did the concept come from? And in what ways has it evolved since you started?

Gloria: Sure. I talked about it in my first post a little but the idea was born at the end of an EPIC hang out day I was having with my buddy Janelle. She complimented me saying I was the queen of hanging out and I brushed it off and she was like, "No I am serious. You should write a book about it". And I realized I did want to write a book about it. But that idea seemed daunting so I thought as a beginning point I would start to write about the topic via blog so I could flesh out some concepts and also just to get in the habit of writing regularly.

me: And how has it been?

Gloria: It's been rad!! I use to do a zine and it's nice to have a platform to discuss different issues again.

me: Omg, I'm sorry, I feel so groggy. Hold on!

Gloria: Haha, you're fine. Robo tripping.

me: Hahaha! Have you noticed things being extra dramatic the past couple days?

Gloria: Haha. Yes, I believe we are in a transitional period.

me: Really?!

Gloria: Yes , I think there are times through the year we have to recalibrate and I think we are in one right now.

me: Why do you think that? And is it going to slow down any time soon?

Gloria: Instinctual. Spring cleaning. And things never slow down, this is life.

me: Got it. You just gave me a good segue. How do you hang out with grace in the midst of chaos? For example, do you ever picture yourself hanging out in apocalyptic scenarios?

Gloria: Hmmm, grace in chaos. I think that the world, while beautiful, is fairly chaotic and I like to think that my philosophy behind hanging out is about maintaining grace over all in general. I am not sure what type of apocalyptic scenario you are thinking of but of course I think of the world after "the shit hits the fan" and my place in it. But if it's like the Thunderdome, then I am not sure how I will pull through that because that certainly seems like a stressful life but I would figure it out eventually.

me: So what are some different ways you've pictured yourself in that world after the shit hits the fan? I know you have this tension between city and country living. Do you have any "Escape from New York" plans in mind?

Gloria: I moved to Brooklyn about six months ago and it has thrown me for a loop as far as escape plans. I used to live in Washington Heights right by the George Washington Bridge and it gave me some piece of mind to think if NYC went bat shit I could just walk right out of the city. In Brooklyn I feel a little deeper in the shit. I guess I like to think that I will be prepared for anything and I think inherently my interest is drawn by some sort of idea of post-civilization survival. For example, I took a First Aid class this past winter and I have begun to work out a lot. Part of the working out is I want to look extra fly but definitely part of it is that I want to be ready for anything. I had a friend recently say the same thing to me about their own motivation for working out and in that moment I just wondered if other people have similar motivation for working out or are my friend and I just kinda nuts? But it is not something people talk about often—how ready are you for difficult situations where your actual physical safety may be at risk.

me: It's true. There's kind of a stigma, I think, to being prepared for the worst. Like you're paranoid or something. Do you have a disaster kit?

Gloria: I don't!! I am just up to a First Aid kit and a "go bag". In actuality I wish I had a better supply of back-up food and water. There is a stigma—or people think it is a joke, but for those of us who have been through natural disasters you know that shit is very real. But perhaps also people are uncomfortable with their own mortality and just laugh to brush off the idea that they should be ready for anything. Because reality is that your life can change in a minute.

me: So you've lived through a natural disaster. Was that in Florida?

Gloria: Yes. I was living in Pensacola, Florida and we got hit with a Category 5 hurricane.

me: Can you talk about that a little bit?

Gloria: Yes, it was in 2004, the year that several large hurricanes hit Florida and the Gulf Coast region Hurricane Ivan. Me and my housemates at the time decided to ride out the storm. You have to understand hurricane culture in Florida and the Gulf Coast—it is really about brushing it off and riding it out. So we rode it out. But I think that mentality has changed since that year for Florida and after Hurricane Katrina.

me: Yeah. So talk about that culture. People are taking precautions even as they're riding it out, right? Like stocking up on food and boarding up the windows, etc?

Gloria: Yeah, there is that. What used to drive me a little nuts about people being prepared for disasters is that everyone waits until the last minute. So every major hurricane the local news is just showing images of long lines at stores and empty store shelves, of people rushing out to get water and flashlights. Hurricane season is the same time every year, people!

Things like having water and food are just more ways to make your life comfortable after the storm because the water may not be clean enough to drink or access to food may be affected depending on the roads, etc.

My parents have about twenty gallons of water and a week’s worth of food at any given moment. People take some precautions, especially boarding up windows, etc., but really, folks at risk are those who live on the coast or near large bodies of water—the risk is drowning. I think people think about the winds, but one thing that blew my mind about my experience in Pensacola is the damage the water had done. Flooding the whole downtown and just really damaging infrastructure in a way that the town was recovering from for years to come.

me: Ok, you mentioned earlier the psychology behind not being prepared: people not wanting to confront their mortality. I know you've been kind of on a spiritual quest lately—is this too embarrassing for me to bring up? Is seeking a spiritual path part of acknowledging this end we'd rather not think about? Do you feel like, similar to stocking up on food and water, it makes the inevitable chaos any easier?

Gloria: Yeah, let's get deep! People's spiritual beliefs are a complex thing. Certainly
there are people who use their spiritual practices as an escape from reality. So I think it can be used to escape the idea of one's own mortality, for example the promise of an eternal life. But I think that if practiced correctly you would use spirituality to face the reality of being here and being human. Like being prepared with food and water for a storm—it doesn't make the experience easier, per se, because seeing your whole town get torn up and the way the storm affects people's lives is an intense experience. But it makes the coping with that event easier, like you have something to eat. So for me, spirituality holds a similar importance, it helps with the coping. It doesn't justify, negate or change the severity of the situation.

me: Love getting deep. Ok, I know on your blog you've stressed the importance of adaptability (Rule #1: Always do what you never would have thought of doing, especially if you have an in). You've also talked about nomadism, which I think requires being pretty adaptable. You have some nomadic plans coming up in the next year—do you wanna talk about these and how you're getting ready to adapt?

Gloria: I am making moves to leave the country because I have not done that since I was five and it's about damn time. But other than that, I am planning on visiting towns where I have large groups of friends and visiting for a time. I wanted to spend part of this year spending real intentional time with long-distance friends and be part of their day-to-day lives, even if just momentarily—helping them with whatever projects they have going on. Really, the main thing I am doing to get ready to adapt, besides saving up money, is letting go of my doubts and fears about being 33 with a master's degree and taking time for myself to just be a punk. It is hard to let go of what society says about you when you choose to live your life the way you want it. But I have followed my gut so far and shit has been awesome, so fuck it. Being able to have the type of life that requires adaptability is a gift.

me: True! Ok, last question: When you finally decide to beef up your disaster kit, are there any "luxury" items you're going to put in there? Like anything to boost your morale in the middle of all that shit hitting the fan?

Gloria: Lube. And some really fly finger nail polish!

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Writing In Public

In Gore Vidal’s Myra Breckinridge, which was published in 1968, the title character/narrator observes “…to write in public in the electronic age is to commit an antisocial obscenity.” This, of course, was years before ubiquitous personal devices, before it became a social norm to check in on facebook and check out of the physically proximate: those who may be asking you how you’re doing or trying to take your coffee order or warn you of an approaching bear.

So why does writing in public still feel so dangerous? I’m talking about writing, not pressing buttons, I’m talking scribe, the act of leveraging a pen between three fingers and moving it along a surface. Why is it that when I walk down the street and get an idea and try to record it by putting pen against paper against the wall of the nearest building, it feels like an alarm is going to go off?

There’s a reason why writing can mean graffiti. Even when a piece of paper separates your pen from the building’s wall, though, cars slow, necks crane. Heads shake? Why would you have an idea, people wonder, and why would you use someone else’s property as a means—however indirect—of capturing it?

Or am I just that self-conscious? In reality, how can anyone care? This is a tension I’m used to, the one between wanting to be read and wanting to be ignored. That’s why I lock myself in a room to write: some day someone will read this, some day this will be public. Just not right now. This thing is too fragile right now, will shrivel in the sunlight, will shrink at the sound of sirens.

The public realm is not one of creativity. That’s why performance art is both so compelling and so disparaged. Keep that shit in your books, in your ipods, plug it into the zeros and ones that compose your blogs. Our range of creativity, by design, is limited.

All around us is a culture on autopilot, made manifest in the landscape, one that repeats and re-repeats the same mistakes, that is “created” and re-“created” not for us to exist in or bounce off of but rather for us to stick to our path and turn a profit for a select few, who then hand a cut over to our legislators, who in return shirk their responsibility of creative solutions, as do we, this is, after all, a democracy, and it’s our duty as its citizens to stay informed, and we see via our personal devices that drones will now populate our own skies as well as those of our enemies, that the cameras now trained on us are there to keep us safe.

Creativity, when not in service of making these dudes a buck, is not good for capitalism. So stay numb. I know I do. When outside, I avoid interaction, and thus potential confrontation, whenever possible. And when I go to bed at night, rather than interrupting my eight hours and taking the time to write down my dreams, I wake in the morning and, first thing, I let them flee my mind. 

Sunday, April 15, 2012

New Work in The Collagist!

Issue 33 of The Collagist is out today, and it features three pieces of my flash fiction. One of the stories, "Tammy and the Amaranth", inspired the collage below. I'm excited to be included in The Collagist once again! To read my story "Warmth" in the December 2011 issue, click here.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Sneak Peek at RUNX TALES #3!

Here's a glimpse at a comic I'm working on right now: a visual take on an interview I did with writer Jincy Willett. Jincy's books are drily humorous yet compassionate, and when I talked to her, she discussed her view of the universe as inherently slapstick. Joining me for the interview was my friend Jennifer Derilo, pictured here with Jincy and I as an ominous pie hangs overhead. This piece will be included in RUNX TALES #3, which I hope to have out this summer!

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Interview with Stephen Boyer!

My interview with writer/performer Stephen Boyer is up at SFCB Blog. Stephen was involved with the People's Library at Zucotti Park, and is the motivating force behind the OWS Poetry Anthology. The anthology includes contributions from luminaries like CA Conrad and Ariana Reines, but also prides itself on its inclusiveness: not one of its submissions have been turned away. He is currently trying to fund a print edition of the book—which has grown to 1,000 pages!—and talks about the process. 

Monday, April 9, 2012

San Pablo Avenue

The following essay was written for a collaborative Occupy Oakland poster that's part of a group art show now hanging in Rise Above Gallery.


San Pablo Avenue is an arterial that either begins or ends in downtown Oakland. It is one of the oldest existing roads in the East Bay, and was named Camino de la Contra Costa by Spanish colonists. In the pre-freeway US, it served as the fastest way to get up and down the opposite coast and was called the Lincoln Highway, and then US 40. Long-haul motorist amenities cropped up around this time, and portions of the street began to feel a bit like Vegas. You still see the leftover motels from these days: clustered just north of downtown are the Moor, the Twin Peaks, the Silver Dollar, the Isabella. Some of these are abandoned and others now serve as residential hotels. They’re so era-inappropriate, they look like they could vanish any day.


Despite the building of Interstates 880 and 980, San Pablo remains a street that is there to move cars, and thus a kind of terrifying place to be outside of one. It may no longer be a highway, but it’s still used to rapidly traverse long distances. It was built that way, and so it remains, despite the large volume of pedestrians who frequent the street.

The thing about the Interstate system is this: in order to compensate for the enormous divides it has caused in our cities—the increased distances and fortress-like walls—it should serve as a quarantine of sorts. It should free us from the drudging onslaught of traffic. A culture that cared about people would have recognized and dealt with this problem decades ago. But we’re not a culture that cares about people.

While it's important to make sure everyone can get where they need to go, freedom of automobility should not have such a negative impact on those who are in less of a hurry. In the early part of the 20th century, a streetcar ran between Richmond and Oakland on San Pablo. It soon suffered the sinister demise all US streetcar systems did. Years later, the 72 bus line was put in place after an MTC study found that it would be cheaper than installing light rail. 


Pedestrians on San Pablo tend to be marginalized—often because of poverty, addiction, physical and mental disabilities, and a dire lack of resources to deal with such issues. These problems are made worse by the street’s hostile landscape: “We don’t give a fuck about you” is (literally) driven home on a daily basis. This sentiment affects every sense and, because it’s mapped onto the environment, is swallowed whole. Intersections, which seem designed to kill those who try to cross them, amp up an already drastic culture of nihilism. People recklessly walk in front of traffic because of a) a complete failure of safe pedestrian crossings and b) low, low stakes for those navigating a landscape that continually reminds them of how little their lives are worth.

San Pablo’s deadly intersections are rampant. One example (which I wrote about in a Letter from Pedestrianica), is where Isabella crosses San Pablo. A recent Transportation for America report states that nearly 7,000 pedestrians have been killed in California in the last decade, the great majority of who were people of color and the elderly. San Pablo and 55th, in particular, has been named as an intersection where pedestrian safety is neglected. The more marginalized stretches of San Pablo further south, however, are less likely to receive such scrutiny, as those with any civic power would never physically encounter such spaces.


As the city of Oakland sinks millions of dollars into an incompetent and fascistic police force, thousands of citizens go without their basic needs fulfilled. The California Hotel, located at San Pablo and 35th, is notable historically for serving as venue for musical legends ranging from Billie Holiday to Sam Cooke, Little Richard to Mahalia Jackson. Today it serves as low-income housing, yet its tenants are in a constant state of uncertainty. The past few years have seen a labyrinthine series of shady financial disasters involving the city and several nonprofits, resulting in threats of building-wide evictions. This past month, the hotel’s storefront was boarded up with a sinister amount of expensive-looking wood. There are asbestos warnings posted, but no one spends this much simply to protect the public’s health—especially when the public is people walking up and down San Pablo. This wood looks like wood somebody bought expecting to make that money back thousand-fold. EBALDC, the development organization who owns the hotel, has already displaced the Howie Harp Multi-Service Center, a resource for the homeless formerly located on San Pablo and 18th. EBALDC’s development plans for the California Hotel claim that 25% of its units will be devoted to “low-income” housing.

Causa Justa, the group who helped organize the California Hotel’s tenants when they were threatened with eviction, has been kicked out of the building to make room for these renovations. They have since moved down the street to an abandoned church, a powder blue building with a rotted plywood ankh where its cross once was. This building is listed for sale with the following perk: COMPLETED ARCHITECTURAL DESIGNS AND ALL CITY-APPROVED PERMITS FOR A 6-STORY CONDO-RETAIL DEVELOPMENT WITH UNDERGROUND PARKING ARE AVAILABLE.

What good is housing when it’s always on the brink of being seized? About as good as a sidewalk that would rather you didn’t walk down it.


There are current efforts to re-imagine the uppermost part of Oakland’s San Pablo—53rd through 67th Street—as the San Pablo Arts District. The concept even has its own Wikipedia page. Any time a name is thrust upon a neighborhood like this, though, it’s really hard not to call bullshit. Some generalizations: Historical districts mean an erasure of embarrassing history. Arts districts mean an erasure of anything un-“art”ful. In other words, forget about the neglected and the trampled. Tramplings aren’t pretty and they don’t make money. They aren’t things you can put on a banner and hang from a streetlight.

Rather than create a destination, why not a place to exist? And exist with dignity. Somewhere that honors its history, that respects those who currently populate it and who make it what it is. Somewhere that makes sure each of its residents has a home, that when they leave that home, they know they’re in a place that gives two shits about them, and in case they don’t know, they can leave if they want to, they can get on a reliable train cheaply, and with ease. Somewhere that doesn’t desperately cater to yuppies in an attempt to become their playground. Because there are other ways of re-dreaming a neighborhood besides simply banishing blight.


The longstanding businesses up and down San Pablo need to be respected, despite their lack of boutique-able appeal: Scend's, the Oaks Club, the Bank Club and Wally’s Cafe, Victory Furniture, Seng Son Marble Granite, and others. Many of these businesses are owned by people of color with deep-reaching roots in the East Bay. They may not get the glossy attention and city backing that ventures like the weirdly named Popuphood do, but the only meaningful way to revive San Pablo is a plan that doesn’t ensure their obsolescence. Oakland, rather than force-feeding condos or jewelry stores, needs to make sure its citizens’ basic needs are met. The arts will flourish organically once the lower levels of Maslow’s pyramid are put in place.

San Pablo Avenue consists of neighborhoods, not playgrounds. And despite its blight, the street is not a wasteland. Rather, it’s full of life; the cars that zoom on through are the deadest, dullest part of the whole equation. Why throw ourselves in front of them to make them stop? 

Friday, April 6, 2012

WE ARE THE THERE Tonight at Rise Above!

Oakland's Rise Above Gallery shows off the work of Miriam Klein Stahl this month, and the opening is tonight from 6-9. It includes collaborations with Gabby Miller and Scott McPherson, as well as the Together Occupy project. Together Occupy began with a design by Miriam, which she silkscreened with her class. Then Gabby coordinated the printing of variations on it with me at Mills College and again with Blake Riley at Arion Press. Now a variety of artist have used the poster's blank space to produce a series of imaginary propaganda collaborations. 

My own collaboration focuses on San Pablo Avenue, and includes a fold-out essay in pencil. The essay touches briefly on the street's history (it was once the East Bay's main coastal highway) and talks about what it means when we say places are being re-envisioned (i.e., gentrified). It looks at the current state of San Pablo, focusing on its walkability, along the lines of a Letter from Pedestrianica. Read the essay's here!

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Letter from Pedestrianica.5

From where I stand, here on this corner, waiting for a pause in the constant stream of traffic, I’d like to propose the abolishment of the button we must press in order to safely WALK. What would such a world look like? It wouldn’t be Pedestrianica, that’s for sure, but rather a weak imitation. Pedestrianica isn’t reformist, it is utopian. But my refusal to take that superfluous step toward the WALK button is, funny enough, a first step in building up a walkable world.

The WALK button is an absolute slap in the face to the pedestrian. Are we Pavlov’s dogs, city planners, is that how you see us? You’ve already created a terrain in which the pleasure of walking is but a footnote, if that. And then you go and implement this device that has no function, besides that of making us wait.

The WALK button does not hasten the changing of the light (as it should, it absolutely should). Is it there as a placebo for our frustration, as something for us to hit? Does it take any more energy for the WALK sign to appear automatically with the green light? Why offer us a false sense of power we do not have? 

If we approach the light after it’s already gone green, and didn’t notice when it changed, we have to wait another complete cycle in order to cross. And the ultimate Pedestrianican indignity: We must veer from our paths in order to press it.

Having to step behind light poles to push the button can obscure us from the view of turning cars. Making every passerby press a useless button is also a good way to spread infectious disease. And if our arms are full, the WALK button gives our burden an awkwardness we don’t deserve. It is the cars who are the awkward ones, who must circle in search of a place to rest; pedestrian movement should never be impaired by the motorist’s lack of flow. 

In case you need reminding, here’s a partial list supporting the supremacy of the pedestrian: cars smell bad, are loud, take up way too much space, are deadly (they killed nearly 7,000 pedestrians during the last decade in California alone), and rely on fossil fuels that are the cause of endless wars and drastic levels of pollution in every corner of the world.

Pedestrians, doo doo doo, are just out for a walk. The lights should bow before us when we approach.