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Preview: The Vagnino Monologues

The Vagnino Monologues

"It is better to write something now than everything never."

Updated: 2018-03-05T16:35:02.717-05:00


Open Letter to the Trump Supporter Who Contacted Me About My Star Tribune Article


November 11, 2016Dear Mr. [redacted],Thank you for reading my essay in the Minneapolis Star Tribune about the challenges of teaching during this election. I appreciate you taking the time to reach out and express your views. Most of your e-mail explained why you are supporting Donald Trump for President, and I don’t think it would be productive for me to respond to your opinions on that matter (though I respect your right to believe whatever you want and vote accordingly).However, I do want to engage with your claim that you are “99% sure” that despite my efforts to maintain a politically neutral persona in the classroom, my students knew that I would be voting for Hillary Clinton. I think you may be right, and I want to explore why.It can’t be because of my race or gender, given that 53% of white women supported Trump. And it can’t be because of where I grew up and where my family resides – I’m from Missouri and still have family there, as well as in Florida and Arizona, all of which are red states. So what could have given me away? Let’s get to the bottom of this.Given that I teach at a university, my students could probably guess that I myself hold a college degree, and indeed, it was non-college-educated voters that accounted for much of Trump’s base. So that could have been a clue, that as someone who is not just a product of higher education but also is dedicating their career to it might not support a candidate who appeals to uneducated voters and is being sued for creating a fraudulent for-profit “university.” Could it have been that I repeatedly encouraged them to exercise their right to vote and provided them with information about how and where to register? That might have indicated my leanings, since the Democrats historically are the party that tries to enfranchise voters and not suppress them by doing things like gutting the Voting Rights Act (which a Supreme Court with a conservative majority did in 2013). And since millennial voters did overwhelmingly vote for Clinton, one could argue that I assumed encouraging my students to vote would translate to a victory for Democrats.Or maybe it's that I require them to cite their sources and only rely on credible information in their papers, since Trump proved in all three debates and countless interviews to have little regard for facts. For instance, he said crime in inner cities is up; it’s actually way down. His comments about late-term abortions were fraught with dangerous misinformation. There are many more examples I could cite. I teach my students information literacy and how to back up their arguments with actual evidence – an approach that seems completely at odds with President-elect Trump.But now that I think about it, I think maybe I showed my hand on the very first day of the semester, when I didn’t cordon off a section of the classroom for the students who were “other” (and by other, I mean not white/straight/Christian/able-bodied/cisgender) and disrespect their personhood. Maybe that was when a collective lightbulb went off and they all realized Professor Vagnino does not support Donald Trump. And every day since that I have endeavored to move through the world as an articulate, intelligent, compassionate human being who cares about the welfare of others and the planet-- perhaps that tipped them off. When my students disagree with me or each other, I don’t threaten to put them in jail or deport them. I don’t even threaten to flunk them. My classroom is a safe and tolerant space, and yes, there is a trigger warning in my syllabus since we cover some very sensitive topics that relate to our course theme of mental health.So which of these things was the culprit? I guess we’ll never know. Maybe I just don't come across as a woman who would enjoy a non-consensual pussy grab. But I can see why you think it might have been apparent, my preference of one candidate over the other. And to that, I say: Guilty as charged.Best, Katie Vagnino [...]

So You Think You Don't Like Poetry


If you had told me that a Beyonce visual album would have introduced me to my new favorite poet/poem, I might not have believed you. But here we are, and thanks to "Lemonade," I have discovered this poem by Warsan Shire. Let's just say it hits very close to home.

for women who are "difficult" to love

you are a horse running alone
and he tries to tame you
compares you to an impossible highway
to a burning house
says you are blinding him
that he could never leave you
forget you
want anything but you
you dizzy him, you are unbearable
every woman before or after you
is doused in your name
you fill his mouth
his teeth ache with memory of taste
his body just a long shadow seeking yours
but you are always too intense
frightening in the way you want him
unashamed and sacrificial
he tells you that no man can live up to the one who
lives in your head
and you tried to change didn't you?
closed your mouth more
tried to be softer
less volatile, less awake
but even when sleeping you could feel
him travelling away from you in his dreams
so what did you want to do love
split his head open?
you can't make homes out of human beings
someone should have already told you that
and if he wants to leave
then let him leave
you are terrifying
and strange and beautiful
something not everyone knows how to love.

 Warsan Shire. She looks pretty easy to love to me.

What I Know About Football


For most of my life, my attitude toward football has been indifference mixed with a little disdain. I had no interest in understanding its rules; it looked barbaric and chaotic. Men in suits commenting on the plays. Men on the sidelines calling the plays. Men on the field chasing and tackling each other. Men in bars and on couches cheering. Men men men men men. The only women you really see or hear about are the egregiously underpaid cheerleaders and the wives and girlfriends who make headlines when a player gets suspended for beating them. In spite of this, I have always made a habit of watching the Super Bowl, and sometimes even hosting a viewing party. But that's only because I like spectacle and taco dip. The halftime show is always a shitshow for one reason or another (wardrobe malfunctions! left shark!) and the ads are usually amusing. And let's be real, I will jump on any excuse to entertain -- I love throwing parties. Oscar parties, election night parties, and sure, even Super Bowl parties. When it comes to parties, I don't discriminate. I never cared about the actual outcome of a Super Bowl game -- I would just randomly pick a team to root for, and be only mildly disappointed if they lost. But as Elphaba in Wicked would say, something has changed within me. Something is not the same.I sort of like watching football now. (I am actually watching the Broncos/Steelers game as I write this. Go Broncos!)I know. It's crazy. But I live in Wisconsin, the state with the most notoriously rabid and devoted NFL fan base. Inevitably, I started watching more games -- purely for social purposes. Everyone knows when the Packers are playing. And when there's a game, the streets in Eau Claire are like a ghost down, eerily deserted. Because literally nearly everyone is glued to their TVs. Bars that don't serve food regularly have free food on game days -- crockpots of deliciousness, hot dishes galore, lemon and lime jello shots at the ready.  The more I saw, the more I had to (somewhat begrudgingly) respect the complexity of the game. Because it really is complex. And the athleticism is astounding. It doesn't hurt that Aaron Rodgers is easy on the eyes AND the king of Hail Mary passes. Seriously. So for the first time in my life, I actually self-identify as a fan of a professional sports team. I am a Cheesehead. And I am proud. I am seriously considering buying Packer paraphernalia.Now I would like to show off some of the things I have learned, mostly from watching with people who have been watching football their entire lives. Every game I feel like I learn something new!1. It is important to "protect the pocket." I think this refers to keeping the quarterback from getting sacked before he can throw the ball. The pocket "collapsing" is bad for the offense. I think.2. A football team is really like several teams! There are the offense guys and the defense guys, and the special teams guys like kickers. I JUST LEARNED THIS!  I had no idea the quarterback didn't play the whole game. Mind. Blown.3. People talk a lot about "the line of scrimmage." Important shit goes on there. I'm not sure exactly what. Regardless, "scrimmage" is a fun word to say. Also fun: "blitz."   4. Penalties can be declined. I find this a little confusing, to be honest -- in other sports, I'm pretty sure fouls are fouls.5. Time outs are not just breaks -- they are strategic ways to slow down the game and are often reserved for the final minutes. But the clock also stops during a time out, so I'm not sure how that works. Maybe it can break the other team's momentum? I just know that if a team still has all their time outs toward the end of the game, and they are losing, it's good that they have those time outs. For some reason.6. There are tricks! I just learned about fake punts, when the punt team (another team!) comes on the field, but then instead of punting, the QB runs a play. They fake out the other team, and it's sneaky.7. Everyone is guilty of holding, but the goal is to not get called o[...]

On Hating Eau Claire (and Elephants)


The railroad crossing on Starr Avenue in Eau Claire will always remind me of the night I came close to driving at full speed into a moving train.   It was the night of the day when I discovered that the person I loved and wanted to spend my life with, who the previous week had been helping me recover from a major surgery, had cheated on me. Had been messaging strangers online and on at least one occasion, fucked one. I thought the pain I felt would surely kill me; the train was just a way to expedite things. As I sat in my car, contemplating (how fast would I need to be going to ensure instant death? Should I unbuckle my seatbelt?) the point became moot – the train finished crossing and I was still breathing. The urge to annihilate myself temporarily abated. I continued on to my destination – the regional two-gate airport to pick up my best friend who had gotten on a plane to be with me after receiving my distressed phone call.Every time I drive to the airport, I have to cross those tracks. It’s a strange sensation to be living through something, right in the thick of it, and still have a sense of how you will view it in hindsight. I still live in Eau Claire, but I already know I will look back on this period (two years and counting) as incredibly difficult. A time when I cried more days than I didn’t, struggled to get out of bed, and tried my best to downplay my misery for my few local friends who were, on the whole, happy and healthy. I can say without a doubt that this trauma has and will continue to transform me in ways I can’t yet articulate. I can only hope some of the changes are positive. Like, maybe I will get a good poem or two out of it. Or maybe if I find myself in a similar situation again, I’ll be better equipped to handle it and won’t consider death by train.I wasn’t miserable when I first moved to Eau Claire. I had a stable teaching job with good benefits. For the first time, I had an office. I was able to afford a one-bedroom apartment as opposed to a cramped studio. And within three months of moving here, I fell in love. The kind of love that announces itself as major right away. Our feelings for each other were so intense that we even had an inside joke that involved elephants – we knew it would be silly to say “I love you” after only knowing each other a few weeks, but we acknowledged that it felt like an elephant in the room because the feelings were so clear, so palpable. So we sent each other pictures of elephants and signed e-mails “I elephant you.” One day I came home from work to find a necklace with an elephant charm hanging from my mailbox. After we started actually saying “I love you,” elephant ephemera continued to be a gift theme—I brought him back a stuffed elephant from Mexico, and he gave me a black-and-white scarf with an elephant print and earrings carved in the shape of elephants for my birthday.Now when I see elephants, I want to punch something.When our relationship abruptly ended, a strange transference occurred that has made living here very difficult: I find that my rage and hurt is now directed at Eau Claire itself, the setting of my most ill-fated love affair (to date, at least). The city feels somehow complicit, like an accessory or co-conspirator. It’s the scene of the crime and no matter what I do, the faint chalk outline of a body (my body) resurfaces, refuses to fade. Everywhere we went, and even places we didn’t go but might have, feels toxic, tainted, ominous. Needless to say, the campus where we both work is a minefield – I could run into him literally at any time. Whenever I see his car in the parking lot, I have to resist the urge to key it.  I know this could have happened anywhere – but it happened here. Would I have found happiness in Eau Claire without meeting him? I’m not sure. It’s possible I still would have found much to dislike about the culture of an upper Midwestern college town. But we’ll never know -- unfortunately I'll[...]

Everything You Always Wanted to Know About My Breast Reduction But Were Afraid To Ask


The above picture is from the goodbye party I threw in honor of my breasts, two days before my surgery. But let me first back up and explain how I got to the point of scheduling said procedure. I have always had a love-hate relationship with my boobs. I don't really remember "getting" them -- I remember not having them and wanting them, and then suddenly they were huge and unwieldy. Finding shirts and bras and dresses that fit became a chore; I spent a fortune on alterations. Before my surgery, I was something like a 32 H. When I looked in the mirror, all I saw were BOOBS. However, men always seemed to like them and I'd be lying if I said I didn't sometimes like the attention my breasts got me. Sometimes my big rack made me feel sexy and empowered. However, I didn't really like my boobs upstaging me -- I would rather men be attracted to my intelligence, my humor. Or in terms of physical features, my eyes or my smile. I never wanted to be flat-chested, but I longed for breasts more in proportion to the rest of me, which is relatively petite. I'm curvy, but short (5'3"). I used to joke with one boyfriend that I felt like a tall, voluptuous women who had been compressed, like a smushed Jessica Rabbit. Like this, but with much shorter legsI read a few articles about women who had gotten reductions, but that seemed too drastic. I talked with one friend of a friend who'd had it done and said she was very happy with the results. Still, for years it was something I only very casually entertained. Then suddenly, in 2014, I found myself with really, really good health insurance and I thought, well, it couldn't hurt to get a consultation with a surgeon. I had gained some weight and my breasts were even more pendulous and annoying. So I went to see a plastic surgeon at the Mayo Clinic in April. He took some measurements and said I was basically an ideal candidate and that getting the insurance approval would be no problem. He took some pictures (they blur your face out, allegedly) to send to the insurance company, along with my file.Side note: I love imagining the guy whose job it is to look at pictures of boobs all day and decide "yes" or "no" to surgery. For some reason, I picture him like this:  "Your breasts are entirely too large, young lady"The surgeon told me it would take 3-4 weeks to hear back from the insurance company and once they green-lighted me, I could schedule the procedure. At this point, I was still not totally sold, but I was intrigued. It seemed like the best time to do it, if I was ever going to -- I wasn't working over the summer, so I'd have plenty of time to recover, and this might be the only time I would have insurance to cover it. In May, I got approved. And weirdly, once that happened, the decision sort of made itself. I historically agonize over minor decisions (Caesar or spinach salad??????) but make major decisions (like moving to Wisconsin) without hesitation and this was no different. I scheduled my surgery for July 1, a Tuesday. I would stay overnight in the hospital for observation and then was told I'd need about a week to 10 days recuperating in bed before I could resume my normal activities. I was most afraid of the pain of recovery -- I'd never had major surgery and it was estimated that I would be under anesthesia for 4 hours. The plan was to remove about 2 lbs from each breast. I was also nervous about compromising my ability to breastfeed (about 1/3 of women can't after breast reductions), but since having a child is not something on the immediate horizon for me, it seemed odd to factor that in too heavily. Plus, some women have difficulties breastfeeding even if they haven't had surgery.   When I called my dad to tell him I was having this done, he said he wanted to come help out -- I didn't think it would be necessary, but in hindsight, it was a really good thing he was there. My boyfriend at the time had just started a new, demanding j[...]

So You Think You Don't Like Poetry


Hello friends....Per usual, I'm busy and blogging has fallen by the wayside. I thought I would take a moment, though, to post a poem that I just discovered, thanks to a student! In my Introduction to Creative Writing class, I asked my students to send me a poem they are fond of and briefly explain why they like it. Most of the poems I have received are familiar to me, but this one wasn't and I am quite taken with it. I think you will be, too.Famous         by Naomi Shihab NyeThe river is famous to the fish. The loud voice is famous to silence,   which knew it would inherit the earth   before anybody said so.   The cat sleeping on the fence is famous to the birds   watching him from the birdhouse.   The tear is famous, briefly, to the cheek.   The idea you carry close to your bosom   is famous to your bosom.   The boot is famous to the earth,   more famous than the dress shoe,   which is famous only to floors. The bent photograph is famous to the one who carries it   and not at all famous to the one who is pictured.   I want to be famous to shuffling men   who smile while crossing streets,   sticky children in grocery lines,   famous as the one who smiled back. I want to be famous in the way a pulley is famous,   or a buttonhole, not because it did anything spectacular,   but because it never forgot what it could do.   [...]

I'm an adult and I'm not sorry about it


Tonight, out celebrating the birthday of a colleague and dear friend who is somewhere in his early-to-mid 40s (he claims to not know his exact age), we somehow got to talking about romantic relationships and what we want out of them. He admitted to knowing he was somewhat difficult to date, but claimed that for the right woman, he would amend his ways. I simply said I was still searching for a real partner -- an actual companion, an equal, someone willing to put as much energy into a relationship as I am. And after a long pause, he said, "You're really a grown-up."And you know what? I am. And I'm fucking proud of that fact. I don't know why it's become trendy or cool to put off adulthood and maturity for as long as possible. I confess, I am always baffled when I meet someone over the age of 30 who advertises the fact that they're still "kind of a kid." Being young at heart is fine, but perpetually avoiding responsibility and commitment is less cute. It's not even, in my opinion, entirely a gendered thing -- the man-child has become an archetype in various films and TV shows, but there are plenty of women who are guilty of the same thing. They are just less visible in pop culture. My question is, why is it a point of pride to not grow up? (I totally feel like Carrie Bradshaw, posing this rhetorical question) Not growing up = getting to date this doucheI have always felt like an old soul, despite my youthful appearance. And ever since I can remember, I have wanted to be a grown-up. I insisted on reading adult books even when I was too young to understand them. When I was 8, I demanded to borrow my mom's copy of Stephen King's Pet Cemetery. I think my parents were savvy enough to realize that there was no way I could comprehend the inappropriate content, so they let me nobly schlep around the heavy hardback edition and played along with the ruse that I was actually reading it. I was trying but obviously I was in over my head. So I just carried it around because it was An Adult Book and I wanted to be taken seriously as An Adult. Even though I was 8. The same thing happened with the Andromeda Strain when I was 10. I didn't want to read kids' books -- kids' books were for kids. I didn't want to be a kid or be treated like a kid. Now I'm actually an age where I am, legally at least, supposed to be a grown-up. And the kicker is, I actually am! So it's frustrating to meet charming, intelligent men who confess/boast about being "big kids." You know what? I don't want to date a fucking kid. I'd like to date a man. Being an adult doesn't mean not having fun. I have fun all the time. I go out, I stay up late, I still get drunk sometimes. But I self-identify as an individual who is not reliant on any outside support systems (parents etc). In other words, I'm in charge of my shit and I'm the boss of me. I pay my bills, I have a job, I live in an apartment I pay for. But it's not so much the trappings of adulthood that matter. It's psychological -- I think of myself as an adult. Someone who has experienced a lot of stuff and grown into a fully realized human being. I'm not all that nostalgic about my youth -- I'm not sad to no longer be a teenager or in my 20s. You know why? BECAUSE I GREW OUT OF THEM. I am a smarter, better person than I was then. So no, I don't wistfully long for the days of living with Craigslist roommates and eating cereal for dinner. The days when I had a fake ID that I used to buy the cheapest vodka I could find. The days when I didn't have health insurance, when I still had to ask my folks to bail me out occasionally because I accidentally miscalculated my finances and couldn't pay my rent. I don't regret my 20s, but mostly I value them for how they shaped me into the adult I am today. I would never want to live forever in them. That sounds like a nightmare.  Alas, I'm in the minority. So many people, it seems, delight in[...]

A Poem For Autumn


The English department at UW-Eau Claire is lucky enough to count Max Garland, Wisconsin's Poet Laureate among our current faculty. Max is an incredibly talented poet (obviously) and also one of the nicest people I have ever met. The choir I recently joined, The Master Singers, commissioned Max to write a poem for our composer-in-residence to set to music for our upcoming Fall concert. It's just starting to feel like autumn here so I thought I would post it. It's beautiful and if you want to hear it set to music (with a gorgeous cello accompaniment), come to our concert on October 12!October SongShow me the changing light on the riverAnd I’ll show you a portrait of timeIts blessings and burdens and blurring of bordersBetween what’s yours and what’s mineHigh in the arc of the waning seasonThe wild ragged flocks wind their wayBy reckonings older than roadmap or reasonMoonlight, starlight, the land’s old sway.Pay attention to this, cries the moonHow time pares the light away soonThough deep in the sky, constellations and IWill tend to the darkness’s wounds.Rapids are the water wanting to singWind is how cottonwoods earn their wingsIntimations of snow in the field’s afterglowTell more of what’s coming than we want to knowThere’s wealth in the mill and the marketAnd a singular wealth of mindThere’s a wealth of gold in the tamarackThat the lucky among us may findFor the silos wearing sunsets like crownsAnd the oak leaves changing ruby to rustFor the marshes on the outskirts of castaway townsThis is a song for the fugitive dustA song for the fugitive dust[...]

I Can't Tell Yet If I'm Grateful for the Gratitude Challenge


As a means of kick-starting my path back to happiness, I've decided to embark on my own (scaled down) version of the infamous Gratitude Challenge. Despite the recent batch of cheating-boyfriend- lemons handed to me by Life, my spirit will not be broken! I will cheer up by recounting things I am grateful for! Over the course of 21 days!Wait, 21 days, for real? That is a big commitment. I thought this was like a 4-day Facebook thing. I don't know I can stick with the full three-week regimen. But I guess there's no harm in starting....One of the first activities suggested, after taking The Pledge, which I'm not taking because I'm not sure I want to do this for 21 days, is to use the alphabet to make a list of things I'm grateful for. Way to start off easy, Gratitude Challenge. 26 letters in the alphabet and I have to come up with something for each one that I'm grateful for? Well, here goes nothing and no worries if you get bored around letter N.A - Antidepressants because they keep me sane and arguably saved my life. B -  Boston. I'm grateful for having gotten to live there for four years and for my friends there.C- Cats, specifically this one:D- (my) Dad. He's pretty swell.E- Emotions and being in touch with them. Yes, sometimes I wish I could turn off my Big Feelings...but then I wouldn't be me.F- Feminism. Duh. G- Gonzo, my favorite Muppet. He's deeply in love with a chicken. Stay chaotic, my friend. H- (my) hair, which is pretty easy to deal with. A lot of people hate their hair, or fret about losing it. Mine never really stresses me out. Anything that doesn't cause me anxiety = something I'm grateful for.I- the Internet. Are you familiar? It's great! My friend Noah was once recounting to his mother his attempts to find a picture of matzo brei on the Web and she said, "There are pictures of matzo brei online?" And Noah said, "Mom, there are probably pictures of people having sex on matzo brei online." (note: a brief Google image search yielded no results, but that doesn't mean it's not out there somewhere. Different folks et al.) J- Job, as in the fact that I have one (a lot of folks don't) and one that I actually like most of the time and pays me enough to live on.K- Karaoke. Seriously, if I could be a professional karaoke singer....L- Laughter. Few things feel better than a good belly laugh. I crack myself up fairly regularly, either because I'm a narcissist or because I'm funny. Jury still out. M- the Master Singers, the choir I recently joined. My heart is happy when I am singing. Corny, but true. And my Mom, because she reads this blog and if I say I'm grateful for my Dad and not her, I will get an angry phone call. Also, she is a wonderful person.N- Netflix. O- Oprah gifs. P- Poetry. Here's a poem written by a friend's four-year-old that pretty much sums it up: Poetry, poetryI like poetryIt can be about ice creamIt can be about anythingI like poetry Q- Quiche. It's one of my favorite comfort foods, far superior to omelets and much less appreciated.R- RuPaul's Drag Race, aka the best show on television of all time, hunty!S- Sleep. I take my sleep seriously. T- Tough love. It's not always what you want, but it's sometimes what you need. U- Ursula the Sea Witch, because she's the best Disney villain. So sassy! V- Vaginas. They're neat, no? If everyone had a penis, well, that would be...problematic. W- Wine. Duh.X- X-rays, I guess, because yay science? Xerox machines also make my life as a teacher easier.Y- You, dear reader!Z- ....zebra stripes? Because they're fashionable?[...]

Relationship Remnants


Breaking up is hard to do, but once the dust settles, it's sometimes interesting to take an inventory of what remains. I'm not talking about crap of the other person's you accidentally or intentionally inherited or even stuff given to you by your ex. I mean interests, habits, expressions that you tend to pick up, whether you want to or not, when you spend a lot of time with another person. From my most recent breakup, I leave with a recipe for a Mediterranean-inspired guacamole. The ex made it for me on one of our first dates and it's just too damn delicious for me to never make again. I made it this past weekend for a friend's party and it was gone within minutes; a chef in attendance even praised it. It's not a family recipe or really all that ingenious: it's basically this, but with more garlic and balsamic instead of red wine vinegar. I also must credit this same ex for getting me hooked on Game of Thrones (my attempts to hook him on Masters of Sex and Veronica Mars were less successful) and teaching me how to play Cribbage.I don't know if I imparted any culinary wisdom that he will carry on with him into his future relationships. He often made fun of my creative efforts to make salad dressing (admittedly they didn't always come out as planned). The only thing I can think of, for now, that I can take credit for is introducing him to the best Mexican place in Eau Claire: Taqueria la Poblanita. He has lived in EC for eight years and I have lived here for one, but I still managed to discover a restaurant he had never tried and convince him of its superiority over the competing taquerias. It doesn't have much "curb appeal" but it's super tasty and cheap. I think most of my contributions in my relationships are related to food, now that I think about it. Or alcohol -- probably most of the men I've dated emerged with more knowledge about wine than before. I'm probably most proud of the ex that I got to fall in love with sushi. When we first met, he claimed not to like it and refused to eat it, but further questioning revealed that the only sushi he had ever tried came from his college dining hall. Now he's a sushi fiend, thanks to me. Which hopefully hasn't landed him in the poor house. I realize a Cup-of-Noodles habit would be more financially viable.What did sushi ex give me? Well, he was really into reading recaps of TV shows on websites like Television Without Pity (R.I.P.). Before him, I never followed commentary about shows I watched, but now it's pretty essential to my viewing rituals and I have him to thank. Even when binge-watching shows like House of Cards or Orange is the New Black, I pause between episodes to read recaps (mostly on Vulture now that TWoP is gone). It's a weird behavior -- to read a summary/flash analysis of something I literally JUST WATCHED. But it's pleasurable, what can I say.From the Boston boyfriend, I got a lot of music -- I was exposed to a bunch of bands I never would have discovered had we not dated. And we're on good enough terms that I can still like those bands and not, like, think of him and collapse into tears. He got me listening to Bon Iver, Wye Oak, Robyn, Lucky Soul, the Pipettes, and a whole bunch of other stuff.  He also is responsible for me becoming obsessed with The Room. It's the gift that keeps on giving. He took me to my first screening and explained to me when to throw the plastic spoons at the screen.I introduced him to the best burger in Boston:It's at the Russell House Tavern. It's served on an English muffin. And perhaps best of all, as this picture shows, they give you the option of fries, salad or 50/50. The 50/50 option is so rad because you can feel good about eating some salad with your bacon cheeseburger. EVERYONE WINS. When I left Boston, this ex made me a lovely photo essay documenting him eating[...]

Reporting from America's Dairyland


The other night, when I couldn't sleep, I spent over an hour just reading old posts on this blog. I reached two conclusions: 1) I'm a pretty funny lady. There were things I had written and totally forgotten about that made me LOL.  2) I really should try to blog more - as in, once a week, minimum. So in that spirit, here's a post I started writing six months ago and abandoned -- a rumination on my new life in the upper Midwest. Now it's finished (and updated to reflect that I have now been here - gasp! - a year).This is the state flag of Wisconsin. Seeing as I have now been a resident of Wisconsin for over a year, I thought I should take a look at the flag. According to Wikipedia, it is not highly regarded in terms of design when compared with other state flags (oh snap!). Our motto is "Forward" -- simple, direct. The state seal pictured on the flag "emphasizes mining and shipping." And yes, that's a little badger on top of the coat of arms. Cute!It still seems incredibly bizarre that I live in Wisconsin, to both me and my non-Wisconsin friends and family. But here are five things I have figured out in the one year I have lived here:1. "Wisconsin nice"People here are really nice. Like, crazy nice. They always give you the benefit of the the doubt. Total strangers will offer you a ride at a bar if you're too drunk to drive (I have witnessed this, not been the drunk person, Mom). People will help you dig your car out of a snow bank. The locals take great pride in their kindness, especially in comparison to their neighbors to the west, Minnesotans, whom they claim are fake nice. I don't know a lot of Minnesotans, so I can't really comment.2.The unofficial state condiment is Ranch.Where I come from, Ranch is just a salad dressing. But lo, people dip everything in Ranch here! French fries, sandwiches, chips, their children (well, okay, maybe not that last one). Pretty much anything can be a vehicle for Ranch delivery. Cheese curds dipped in Ranch are especially tasty. Fried cheese dipped in Ranch: It doesn't get much more Wisconsin than that.  3. The water here is delicious!I have no idea why this is, but the tap water here is sooooo good. It doesn't have any weird flavors, no metal/mineral/chemical notes. It's crisp and cold (well, probably because the pipes are super cold) and tastes really pure.4. Beware the HodagWisconsin has its very own cryptid: the Hodag, a mythical (?) lizard beast that lives in Rhinelander. Here is a statue of the menacing creature:The Hodag is now my second favorite folkloric creature, second of course to the chupacabra. Apparently the Hodag is not so much vicious as mischievous, presumed responsible for golf balls that are never recovered, interfering with local fishermen, and other mild recreational annoyances. See, even the state's monster is Wisconsin nice!5. The summers are as lovely as the winters are brutalWhen it finally began to warm up and all the inches upon inches of snow began to melt, I truly felt that I had survived something epic and terrible. This summer, in terms of weather, has been as intensely wonderful as the winter was intensely horrid. Glorious, sunny high-70s days, enough rain to keep everything verdant and some exciting thunderstorms, very mild humidity. Temps dropping low enough at night to turn off the A/C and just open the windows. Now that I know what's coming winter-wise, I understand why people try to soak up every last drop of summer. I'm in serious denial about Labor Day weekend, otherwise known as this weekend, otherwise known as the end of summer. As I embark on Year Two in Eau Claire, it feels both familiar and strange. Sort of like home, but also, due to some recent major life ruptures, a foreign and potentially scary place. But I still love my job, I've made some solid friends,[...]

Another poem


I know it's unusual for me to have back-to-back posts with poems, but I am too emotionally spent to write/reflect, so I must use Dean Young's words instead. It's been a doozy of a summer -- I had major surgery and my heart broken all within a month. The healing from both events has been complicated -- allergic reactions and one incision that refuses to close up, and my heart, well, it continues to beat for the one who destroyed it. I am teaching Introduction to Creative Writing this fall and the task of selecting poems for my students to read has proved daunting only in that there are SO MANY I want to share with them. Some, like this one, I don't think fledgling writers would necessarily be able to really "get" - it breaks a lot of rules (which is why it's great) and it's hard to get away with some of the things Young gets away with here unless you really know what you're doing. From a craft perspective, the takeaways might be inscrutable for beginning creative writers. Some of this poem, I would argue, is filler, is clutter -- but very intentionally so. The effect is that the astonishing lines and images (and there are a lot of them) seem to burst out from the din he creates with the frantic rhythm of his very free verse. And those moments in the poem become all the more transcendent because of how they explode out from the white noise. They are, literally, arresting. Read it and I think you'll see what I mean. Is every idea in this poem "essential"? I don't think so -- except in how the non-essentials make the drama of the jaw-dropping lines all the more impactful. This poem has the power to stop you in your tracks. Enjoy.Whale Watch Sometimes you may feel alone and crushed by what you cannot accomplish but the thought of failure is a fuzz we cannot rid ourselves of anymore than the clouds can their moisture. Why would they want to anyway? It is their identity and purpose above the radish and radicchio fields. Just because a thing can never be finished doesn't mean it can't be done. The most vibrant forms are emergent forms. In winter, walk across the frozen lake and listen to it boom and you will know something of what i mean. It may be necessary to go to Mexico. Do not steal tombstones but if you do, do not return them as it is sentimental and the sentimental is a larval feeling that bloats and bloats but never pupates. Learn what you can of the coyote and shark. Do not encourage small children to play the trombone as the shortness of their arms may prove quite frustrating, imprinting a lifelong aversion to music although in rare cases a sense of unreachability may inspire operas of delicate auras. If you hook, try to slice. I have not the time to fully address Spinoza but put Spinoza on your list. Do not eat algae. When someone across the table has a grain of rice affixed to his nostril, instead of shouting, Hey, you got rice hanging off your face! thereby perturbing the mood as he speaks of his mother one day in the basement, brush your nose as he watches and hidden receptors in the brain will cause him to brush his own nose ergo freeing the stupid-looking-making rice. There is so much to say and shut up about. As regards the ever-present advice-dispensing susurration of the dead, ignore it; they think everyone's going to die. I have seen books with pink slips marking vital passages but this I do not recommend as it makes the book appear foolish like a dog in a sweater. Do not confuse size with scale: the cathedral may be very small, the eyelash monumental. Know yourse[...]

So You Think You Don't Like Poetry: Happy Birthday, Nabokov edition


Today is Vladimir Nabokov's birthday and it's also National Poetry Month, so I'm celebrating both by posting a poem of my own (!) that was recently published in Measure.Nabokov and his wife Vera shared a love of lepidoptery (collecting butterflies) - and he drew butterflies alongside his inscriptions in first editions gifted to her. Their relationship is legendary -- in a recent article in the Atlantic entitled "The Legend of Vera Nabokov," Koa Beck considers how Vera's support and devotion to her husband's career impacted his success. They are the original power couple; think Claire and Francis Underwood, replacing politics with literature and minus the murder and creepy threesomes.Vladimir died in 1977; Vera, not until 1991. I wrote this poem in grad school as I tried to imagine what she did with all the butterflies after his death. Vera vs. the Butterflies The eastern side of every minute of mine is already colored by the light of our impending meeting.All the rest is dark, boring, you-less. – Vladimir Nabokov to his wife Vera, 1937She had already lost himand now his winged darlingswere hers to keep or kill.She shared his fascinationwith fragility and flight,but walking in the woodsalone, armed with the nethe had given her, notingeach abandoned chrysalis,unusual flecks of blueon a Parnassius apollo,she knew they had to go.A book suggested pinchingthorax between thumband middle finger to snapthe exoskeleton for a quickdeath, but she couldn’t beartheir blood on her hands.Suffocation in a kill jar –too inhumane. She decidedfinally to freeze them, let the airdo her dirty work. Watchingtheir wings pulse to stillness,she imagined his delightat the sudden flutterof company, diaphanousprologue to their reunion.V & V[...]

A Tale of Two Voice Teachers


At one point in my life, singing meant everything to me.Nowadays, it plays a peripheral role. I sing in the shower and in the car and semi-regularly at karaoke bars in whatever city I happen to be living in. I have joined some non-professional choirs over the years. Nothing too serious.But once, it was my world -- it was the first thing I remember being good at. Before I knew I could write, before I knew I was reasonably intelligent, I knew I could sing. I knew it even before my first music teacher, the lovely Diane Ladendecker, told me I had a nice voice. It's the first skill I recall feeling like I just had-- as in, no one taught it to me. I somehow magically just could sing Happy Birthday correctly. I could hear a song and sing it -- and it did seem like a miraculous gift.As a child, I sang not just in the school choir, but in community choirs as well. Choirs that had real paying gigs. And then I started doing theater -- specifically musical theater and opera. So once I hit high school, it seemed logical to start taking voice lessons. And of course, I wanted to take them from the best teacher in town, the teacher with the best reputation: Sheila Dugan. Her name was spoken in hushed tones among child performers and their parents. She was expensive. She didn't agree to work with just anyone. She had to agree that you were worth teaching to take you on as a student. But as far as I was concerned, there was no one else from whom I could possibly study voice. So if she was willing to work with me, my parents said they were willing to pay for it.I owe a lot to Sheila Dugan. She taught me that singing is all about breathing. For the first three months, we did no singing-- only breathing exercises. My tone was too airy and I had no breath support. She taught me how to focus my tone and sustain -- she taught me how to control my instrument. She was tough on me but I appreciated it. She helped me turn raw talent into real skill.Sheila Dugan is still, I believe, revered among St. Louis singers. Many of her students have gone on to illustrious careers on Broadway. She's the real deal. She's also, however, the person who almost managed to make me hate singing and give up on it entirely. I left my final lesson in tears, convinced I had no talent whatsoever. I started working with Sheila my sophomore year of high school, but the trouble started my senior year, when I wanted to enter a vocal competition sponsored by the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra. The competition was open to anyone between the ages of 18 and 35 not enrolled in a vocal performance program, so clearly winning would be a long shot. My high school choir teacher encouraged me to enter not because she thought I could win, but because she thought it would be good experience. To compete, you had to prepare two songs in non-English languages, so she also said it would be a great excuse for me to expand my repertoire.At my next lesson with Sheila, I told her I wanted to start preparing material for this competition. And Sheila was aghast and appalled. She told me that I had no chance and I would be wasting everyone's time. She said, "My students enter these competitions and win them. If you want to enter, I will not allow you to list me as your vocal instructor. I have a reputation to uphold." She also told me that I was her weakest student, that she could line up all her students in a row and every one of them could outsing me. She actually said those words, exactly. My memory of this afternoon is crystal clear.It was my last lesson. I was shattered. To this day, I don't understand why she had to be so, well, mean. I stopped taking lessons. I didn't enter the competition. I never saw Sheila Dugan again.Next fall, I went to co[...]

The Mysterious Origins of My Feminism


Let me share a little secret: I honestly can't remember when I started self-identifying as a feminist. A few years ago, I remember a friend in Boston saying that my feminism was one of my defining characteristics, that I was one of the most feminist women he knew. I was surprised and flattered, but mostly surprised. It's not like I'm all that active in the community and I know of a number of women whom I consider to be more hardcore about their feminism (such radical feminist Ti-Grace Atkinson who is celibate because she's heterosexual but thinks all heterosexual penetrative sex is a form of rape. Now THAT's extreme feminism). And yet, I can't deny it -- when tasked with choosing a theme for my writing course at Emerson, I immediately chose gender. Well, actually, first I chose the Women's Movement, but switched to gender in an attempt to be more inclusive and less political. Gender is the theme of the course I currently teach at UWEC. Many of my students are pleasantly surprised at how much they end up investing in the topic and comments on end-of-year evaluations like "This course opened my eyes and made me see things differently" warm my heart. But then, of course, there are a few comments like these:"If you are going to teach a class on gender, get an instructor that isn't biased to one side of gender issues.""I feel the proffessor [sic] pushed her feminist views to [sic] much""Theme seems sexist; the professor's personal views were apparent throughout"   Cat's out of the bag, y'all. Turns out, I'm a raging feminist! My students have figured it out!But wait -- is that so bad? Let's be clear, I'm teaching writing and critical reading, not Women's Studies. And I do believe I keep the focus on those skills. But is it really the worst thing in the world for a teacher to have an opinion? I mean, if I were a racist, I could see the problem. But being a feminist simply means I think men and women should be treated equally. Is it such a terrible shortcoming that my students have picked up on the fact that I'm a woman with some views about things? If I were gay, would I need to hide the fact that I support gay rights? Surely no one would say I would need to present "both sides" of that issue -- i.e. bring in some hate speech just for the sake of balance. So yeah, I'm a woman and I support equal rights for women. (And for the record, I use texts in my class from the IWF, an anti-feminist conservative org, and "equity feminist" Christina Hoff Sommers, whom I personally loathe, so that seems pretty balanced to me). I don't hate men; my best friend is a man. I'm dating a man whom I love very much. The world is full of awesome men. I just think women should be respected as human beings and valued based on the same qualities as men, namely their abilities, compassion, and character, not how hot they look in lingerie. We live in a world where shit like this exists:  and yet many of my students, both male and female, think feminism is obsolete, no longer necessary.The fact that so many people put so much energy into making feminism seem unappealing to young women is precisely why it is so necessary. Duh.But where did my own feminism come from? My mother is not a feminist. She certainly didn't try to shield me from Disney or girly girl stuff. I wore tons of pink. I told everyone I wanted to be a princess when I grew up. I actually once, in second grade, cried because I wasn't blonde and blue-eyed and my name wasn't Crystal. True fact.I remember first feeling what I'd now identify as feminist outrage in high school when the philosophy behind my school's dress code was explained to me in terms of sexy outfits (spaghetti s[...]

Everything's...Gonna Be Alright?


This image, by Christopher Clark, has been my desktop wallpaper for about a year and a half now. I saw it exhibited as part of Cooper-Hewitt's "Graphic Design: Now in Production" show in May 2012. I was at the time gearing up for another major life change; I had decided, despite having a good job and being in a stable (at the time I would have probably said "good-ish") relationship, to uproot myself from Boston and move back to midwest after over a dozen years on the East Coast.I felt stuck. I felt like I was going through the motions. While I loved my friends in Boston and was successfully supporting myself, something was not clicking. So I moved to Chicago. And as I wrote about nearly a year ago, I got very very depressed. I was lethargic, I felt utterly purposeless. On days when I didn't have to be anywhere, I stayed in pajamas and ordered pizza (and not even good pizza! I'm talking Dominos, which, when you live in Chicago, is a travesty to consume). So Clark's typographic art - the clash of the beauty of the image and its sad, sober message - really resonated with me. I looked at it a lot, when I was trying to convince myself to write poetry, or blog, or even just write a damn Yelp review, anything to get my brain functioning, to reconnect to my writing self.Tonight, for the first time since May 2012, I am thinking about changing my desktop wallpaper. Because something kind of incredible and unexpected has happened and the message no longer strikes a chord.On July 15 of this year, I got a phone call that changed everything - an offer to teach at the University of Wisconsin - Eau Claire. I was a little terrified; until Eau Claire, I had only lived in major metropolitan areas. You know, places with amazing restaurants and good public transit and culture around every corner. I read Eau Claire's Wikipedia page and was not sure how I would fare in the Horseradish Capital of the World, population 65,000. Now, I know 65K is not tiny -- but compared to Chicago, it feels pretty podunk. When I visited the campus, there was a deer hanging out in the student parking lot. But it was a good job offer and I didn't have much going on in Chicago -- part-time teaching gigs supplemented by hostessing at a trendy late-night dining spot downtown. I loved living in Chicago but nothing was tethering me there, so once again, I decided to just move. My contract was only for a year, so I figured if I hated Wisconsin, I could always move back to Chicago after the school year.I have now been here for 4 months. I have no plans to leave anytime soon. It actually feels like home to me, the girl who couldn't wait to live in NYC after graduating from college. The people I have met here feel like lifelong friends. I love my job and my colleagues. I love my little weird one-bedroom apartment. I love my "new" car (new to me - it's a 2004 Honda Civic. Her name is Loretta.). I am writing again. I'm singing in the shower again. Something inside tells me I could really be happy here, for a while. Forever? I'm not sure. I do miss some city stuff (mostly ethnic food and liquor stores that are open past 9pm and not having to drive everywhere) and I have yet to experience true "Wisconsin cold," but if I can stay here and keep teaching next year, I absolutely will. Oh, and another really unexpected thing: I'm in love! With a wonderful man who makes me so, so happy. I have been in a lot of different kinds of relationships over the years that offered some of the things I was looking for, but always with some compromises. I had pretty much given up on certain things and was starting to believe that if I wanted to get married and have a family, I w[...]

So You Think You Don't Like Poetry


First, a confession: I haven't been writing poetry lately. I haven't been in the right head space. Which is an excuse, I know, and not a very good one. I actually just felt ready to reread some of my thesis (a collection of 40 poems) and I'm surprised that I don't hate it all. There are poems in there I feel ready to revisit, perhaps revise. (Yeah, I know, they are supposedly "done" because they were part of my thesis, but a lot them aren't really done. And when is a poem done, anyway?)So I read this poem today and I loved its negativity, its concession of futility. It's a downer of a poem, for sure...and yet, because it's good, it made me feel good. Counter to the message of the poem, the poem's very existence made me happy. I love reading good poems! I love that people are still writing good poems! Whenever I find a new poem I admire, I feel hopeful even if the poem's message is darkly Hobbesian, a.k.a. life is brutal and short and the world we live in is terrible. Natalie Shapero, the world is a little less terrible with this poem in it.Not Horses What I adore is not horses, with their moderndomestic life span of 25 years. What I adoreis a bug that lives only one day, especially ifit’s a terrible day, a day of train derailment orchemical lake or cop admits to cover-up, a daywhen no one thinks of anything else, least of allthat bug. I know how it feels, born as I’ve beeninto these rotting times, as into sin. Everybody’sbusy, so distraught they forget to kill me,and even that won’t keep me alive. I sharemy home not with horses, but with a little dogwho sees poorly at dusk and menaces stumps,makes her muscle known to every statue.I wish she could have a single day of   language,so that I might reassure her don’t be afraid —our whole world is dead and so can do you no harm.[...]

Reasons Why I'm a Feminist This Week


Last week, I had the pleasure of getting to hear a personal hero of mine, Jessica Valenti, speak. She gave an inspiring and powerful talk that reaffirmed all the reasons that I call myself a feminist and am proud to do so. In my teaching work, I meet a lot of young, intelligent women who are hesitant about the label, usually because they imagine it means they have to stop shaving their legs and start attending man-hating rallies. Or just get a lot more pissed off about stuff. As Valenti noted, a quick Google image search confirms these stereotypes - the first subcategory that comes up is "angry." Valenti began her talk addressing this issue of young women not wanting to call themselves or be called feminists. And then she explained why she was a feminist THIS week, as in, the recent events that fuel her to do the work she's doing (which is blogging about women's & gender issues for The Nation and generally being an awesome activist role model).So I'm going to steal a page from Valenti's playbook and tell you why I'm a feminist this week.1. The reports coming out of Emerson College (where I went to grad school) re: their failure to take sexual assault reports seriously. This is the case on far too many college campuses -- administrators prefer to handle the matter without actual police involvement, and as result, rapists get wrist-slaps and the female students brave enough to come forward and report their assault end up feeling traumatized all over again.2. On a related note, this well-intentioned but highly problematic Slate article by "Dear Prudence" columnist Emily Yoffe, which implies that if college women get less drunk, they would get assaulted less frequently. So if you're drunk, you're kind of asking for it, maybe? A firestorm of debate has erupted over this piece (and some great satire, like this piece that reverses the genders and advises men to drink less so as to not end up raping women), and while obviously underage binge-drinking is a problem in its own right, suggesting causality (as opposed to correlation) is dangerous and dumb. If you need a refresher on causality vs. correlation, this graph does a good job:  3. Speaking of rape culture, this video by an Indian sketch comedy group is the best thing I've watched on the internet in a while. It's funny and also incredibly disturbing. allowfullscreen="" frameborder="0" height="315" src="//" width="420"> 4.  The fact that Plan B costs $50. I don't know why that's bugging me this week, but it is -- it's legal without a prescription, which is good, but it's not exactly in an accessible price range.5. Finally, I came across this over the weekend when I was perusing a website listing 100 easy Halloween costume ideas.                          53. Gift box or Christmas gift (suggested for a young girl)Emphasis mine. I'm really dying to know why this is a great costume for little girls -- to further remind them that they are a prize waiting to be unwrapped? Sounds a lot like the subject of Valenti's 2009 book, The Purity Myth, which was also made into a documentary. Watch the trailer here: allowfullscreen="" frameborder="0" height="315" src="//" width="560"> Young women shouldn't grow up thinking that their self-worth and their sexual identities are intertwined. Your decision to have sex or not have sex does not impact your value as a human being. The whole mythos surrounding the hymen is out of control - [...]

Bright College Years


Two weeks ago, I celebrated the 10th anniversary of graduating from college by attending my reunion in good ol' still-crime-stricken New Haven. It was, in a word, surreal.Compared to the 5th year reunion, this weekend was way more chill. There were some similarities -- mediocre food, weird/amazing dance parties (see above photo), pretty low-shelf booze considering how much we all spent on tuition (not to mention spent to attend the damn reunion -- $225!). You see some friends you've stayed in touch with, a few that you haven't and are genuinely delighted to reconnect with even though because of Facebook you know about their new job/spouse/baby/book/sexual orientation. And then there are tons of randos -- folks you literally haven't thought about for ten years and those you never met at college. In other words, complete fucking strangers. But that's okay, that's what the open bar is for.But after only five years out, reunion felt more cutthroat; many of my peers were in law school or med school, or in the throes of applying to one or the other. We all looked relatively the same. Few had married and there was maybe one baby. We were all basically the same amount of mature at 27 that we were at 22. And instead of just being pleasantly filled with nostalgia, I remember actively longing to still be in college instead of working and paying bills and dealing with shitty Craigslist roommates.Not so this time around -- now we're in our thirties. Lots of my classmates have "settled down," so to speak. A few are even on their second marriages. Instead of bragging about careers, we have funny stories of failure to share that we all can relate to. Because despite our expensive degrees, we fucked up as much as any other 20-somethings and now we can admit it and have a good laugh.I appreciated the more mellow vibe. And instead of apologizing/justifying my career choice, like I felt I had to do at the last reunion (one person literally said, "wow, that's so brave!" when I said I was getting my MFA in poetry), I fully owned up to the fact that I am a poet. And instead of snickering, people seemed supportive and curious. Despite not having a ring on my finger or a pregnant belly (babies were THE must-have accessory of this reunion), I felt okay about my life.     Of course, no Yale reunion would be complete without a ton of a cappella singing. Whiffenpoofs ranging from age 27 to 90 performed, and my senior women's group sang a few songs as well, despite the alumni association's utter inability to provide us with any concert logistics. And speaking of singing, I'm proud to say that I was able to refrain from drunkenly wailing Adele's "Someone Like You" to my college sweetheart, who was there with his wife.  College boyfriend on the left; the guy on the right is my current roommate. Picture taken Sept. '99. I still have those pajama pants.I also finally learned the words to our school song, "Bright College Years," and have to admit, they resonate a lot more now.Bright college years with pleasure rifeThe shortest, gladdest years of lifeHow swiftly are ye gliding byOh, why doth time so quickly fly?The seasons come, the seasons goThe earth is green or white with snowBut time and change cannot availTo break the friendships formed at Yale.In after years when troubles riseTo cloud the blue of sunny skiesHow bright will seem through memory's hazeThose happy, golden bygone days.Oh let us strive that ever we   May let these words our watch-cry be,Where'er upon life's sea we sail:For God, for country, and for Yale! When you are a Yal[...]

Top Ten Ways to Blow a Skype Interview


1) Watch porn simultaneously on your browser with the sound on

2) "It's a good thing you guys can't smell my breath!"

3) Casually sip a glass of wine during the interview

4) Introduce the interviewers to your adorable cat

5) Do the interview from the bathroom at Starbucks ("The wifi signal is really great in here.")

6) Live tweet the interview with hashtags #thisinterviewblows #skypemydick

7)Make a joke about the camera adding ten pounds

8) Talk about how Chat Roulette helped you prepare

9) Fall asleep

10) Google-stalk your interviewers during the interview and creep them out by asking personal questions

**Note: This post was inspired by my first actual Skype interview this morning, during which I did none of the above. I did, however, greatly enjoy not wearing shoes, but kept that information to myself.

Ok, maybe I also didn't brush my teeth. Don't tell.

That Silent, but Troublesome G


I *think* I have blogged before about how I deal with people who feel compelled to comment on the, er, unusualness of my last name. (It's not that I'm too lazy to check, I'm just blogging from my ipad and can't figure out how to search through my old posts. TECHNOLOGY.) The name for this blog encapsulates my philosophy of embracing the obvious word my name resembles, instead of trying to deny it. I've gotten pretty steely about it, but still, when I have to spell my name for anyone, in person or on the phone, I feel a nervous twinge that the person will either a) laugh or b) think I'm crudely pranking them and get mad. But overall, I have been impressed with customer service folks -- they must see a lot of crazy-ass names and be trained to not react.In the category of Words Your Last Name Can Look Like, mine is pretty bad. On the plus side, it is memorable. And it's become enmeshed with my identity -- when people think of me, they think of my whole name (or so I've been told). Katie Vagnino. Even my closest friends and ex-boyfriends have admitted to this phenomenon of being unable to just think of me as "Katie."I used to think about changing my name -- really, just getting rid of the "g". Back when I was fantasizing about being an Academy Award-winning actress, on the cover of People Magazine's 50 Most Beautiful People issue, I saw my name appearing as KATIE VANINO. My father, when he ventured briefly into the world of winemaking, got rid of the "g". I guess he worried no one would want to drink vagina wine.I really can't imagine getting rid of the "g" now -- it's grown on me. However, there are moments when it's a little annoying. Like when I applied for a Wikipedia account and requested the username KatieVagnino and got an e-mail telling me that my username did not comply with their username policies. Here's the entire e-mail thread, for your amusement:On Sun, May 12, 2013 at 9:19 PM, <> wrote:Many thanks for your interest in joining Wikipedia. Unfortunately the username that you have requested does not comply with our username policy, and so I am unable to create this account for you.Please take a look at our username policy ( and choose a different username. You may be able to create the account with the new name you have chosen yourself at If so, I wish you all the best and hope you enjoy your time on Wikipedia.If you are still unable to create the name yourself, we will gladly process your new request here, and I look forward to hearing from you again with your new choice of username.From: [] On Behalf Of Katie VagninoSent: Monday, 13 May 2013 1:46 PMTo: accounts-enwiki-l@lists.wikimedia.orgSubject: Re: [Accounts-enwiki-l] [ACC #99734] English Wikipedia Account RequestIs my last name, Vagnino, considered inappropriate?  I'm very confused. I just requested my name as my username: KatieVagnino. Katie Vagnino is my name.I guess new username choice would be KatieV2013. But Vagnino is my last name, not an offensive word, and frankly, I find it a little offensive that you think my name is an inappropriate username!Please respond,KatieFrom: "User:Callanecc" <>Date: May 13, 2013, 7:53:50 AM CDTTo: "'Katie Vagnino'" <katie[...]

So You Think You Don't Like Poetry


In one of my first grad school poetry courses, I came across a Muriel Rukeyser poem that struck me as rather perfect -- simple, elegant, and effortless-seeming -- the kind of poem you instantly understand and enjoy reading the 1st time and the 1,000th time. I've continued to read her and the more I read, the more it seems downright criminal that she's not more well-known. At the AWP conference last week, I picked up a nonfiction book by her called The Life of Poetry. It was published in 1949, was out of print for a while, and then reissued by the Paris Press in the mid-90s. I started reading it on the plane home and it's mind-blowing. Everything she says about poetry is so relevant, so topical for today even though it was written over 60 years ago. She makes a case for why poetry is a cultural necessity, something all human beings need, and might in fact be the very thing that saves us from ourselves. So I'll share two of her poems with you here-- the one I discovered back in grad school, "Yes," and one I read for the first time last week, "Coney Island," which is awesome because I LOVE Coney Island (I've written a poem about it as well, though it's not as good as this one).YesIt’s like a tap-danceOr a new pink dress,A shit-naive feelingSaying YesSome say Good morningSay say God bless–Some say PossiblySome say Yes.Some say NeverSome say UnlessIt’s stupid and lovelyTo rush into Yes.What can it mean?It’s just like life,One thing to youOne to your wife.Some go localSome go expressSome can’t waitTo answer Yes.Some complainOf strain and stressTheir answer may beNo for Yes.Some like failureSome like successSome like Yes YesYes Yes Yes.Open your eyes,Dream but don’t guess.Your biggest surpriseComes after Yes.  Coney Island Coney Island, Coney island,No need to let me know,No need to tell me soI need you now to show me…Show me what’s under the counter,Show me what’s under your skin,Show me the way to get outAnd I’ll show you the way to get in.Show me life, show me lives, people in dives,Show me yells, show me smells, and grimy hotels, Clams, yams, lobster and shrimps,Sand, candy, panders and pimps,Show me bim, show me bam, bamboozle me,Booze me and use me and foozle me,Show me rides, show me slides, people in tides,Show me money, show me funny, show me the sea,                                                             You, show, me.[...]

How the Other Half Flies


Let me start by stating something obvious: Flying sucks less when you're in First Class.Is the captain pouring coffee?I never fly First Class so I had forgotten that it was any different. I am pretty ambivalent about flying in general -- don't hate it, not scared of it, but certainly don't love it. Sometimes flights can be excellent for being productive/getting work done or catching up on reading. But sometimes you end up next to a crying baby or a chatty weirdo who wants to play 20 Questions.When I was kid, I flew First Class a handful of times with my parents on long flights. The first plane ride I recall was when I was 6 and traveling to Switzerland. I sat next to my mom in the roomy leather TWA (R.I.P.) seats. I don't remember much about the flight, but I do remember receiving a chocolate-covered Oreo before take-off (presumably a bribe to keep me on my best behavior during the 7-hour flight) and thinking that the tray tables that came out of the arm rest were funny-looking.Ever since I've been buying my own airfare, I have always opted for the cheapest seats available. I don't have long legs, so I don't even splurge for the EconomyPlus extra legroom seats. Just good ol' coach. With the rest of the non-rich plebes. I have to admit, I didn't get the allure of First Class -- we all arrive at the same destination at the same time. Okay, the First Class people get to get off first (and get on first, but I don't see the advantage of that. I want to minimize my time breathing recycled air in a confined space). And I suppose the ratio of lavatories to people is better, since they have their own bathroom that's off-limits to the masses.  However, due to the generosity of a friend, I was able to experience First Class as an adult. And while I still don't think the extra expense is worth it/necessary, I have to admit, it made flying enjoyable as opposed to just a way to get from A to B. First of all, the getting-on-early has the perk of a free pre-flight drink. That's pretty nifty. Though if you get something alcoholic, you have to down it pretty quickly, which may lead to regret. Also, in First Class, the flight attendants make a point of knowing your name. It's like Cheers, at 35,000 feet. Pretty much everything in First Class is free. Oh, and blankets and pillows are still available, like in the old days. Speaking of the old days, apparently First Class used to be much more glamorous. A friend recalls on a flight to Hawaii watching a stewardess (they weren't called Flight Attendants back then) carve a prime rib roast right in the aisle mid-flight. That was sometime in the late 80s. Hot food is pretty much non-existent on most flights nowadays. And if there is food, it's not gratis.My conclusion is that I think my money is better spent on things other than first class airfare. Traveling is already mighty expensive (remember when it was free to check a bag?) and for a little more comfort for a few hours, it doesn't seem justified unless you have truly disposable income. Still, it was a fun glimpse of the other side of the blue curtain. Which, for what it's worth, I agree with Kristin Wiig that it should be kept open "because of Civil Rights."    [...]

Happy Valentine's Day


Single or not, gay or straight, young or old, I think we can all agree that this is a quality love song:

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If you have a special someone, I hope that he/she is more attractive than Lisa/Johnny and that you have lots of rose-petal-covered sex tonight.
And if you have no idea what I'm talking about, you need to rent or buy Tommy Wiseau's 2003 classic film The Room as soon as possible. If you purchase it from the official movie website, he'll sign it for you! Trust me that this movie is the gift that keeps on giving.

Jalapeno Hands


This person is in for a world of painLast Sunday, I experienced pretty severe pain due to my exposure to capsaicin, the compound in jalapeno peppers that makes them hot (and has been weaponized into pepper spray). Apparently, it was not wise of me to de-seed and slice two dozen giant Whole Foods jalapenos without wearing gloves. Thus I bring you the latest chapter in my unusual medical misfortunes (which have included a kidney stone, an allergic reaction to jellyfish and a bellybutton cyst).My Super Bowl party was a classic Katie Vagnino hapless debacle even before the kick-off. As usual, what started out a small, low-key event escalated out of my control. The guest list went from less than six to ten people, and the menu expanded from just chili and chips, to chili, 9-layer dip, cornbread, guacamole, and bacon-wrapped jalapeno poppers. I really needed a sous chef. Especially when around 3pm, it dawned on me that when I had looked up the kickoff time online (6:30), that was in EST. I keep forgetting that I no longer live on the East Coast, you guys. So at 3pm, I had TWO hours before my guests would start arriving, not three. FML.I lowered my head and got chopping and initially, I was making good time. I got the chili on first, then made the guac (one of the 9 layers in the dip). Around 4:30, I started prepping the poppers, figuring, we could eat them at half-time (they only need about 15 min in the oven). I cut up about 6 of them and then remembered that I hadn't yet put on any make-up. I know it's the Super Bowl and whatever, but I did not want to receive guests (some of whom I had never met) without my face on. So I washed my hands thoroughly (or so I thought) and went to the bathroom. Oh, VANITY.You can probably guess what happened next -- I accidentally touched my eye and all hell broke loose. My face turned splotchy and red, my right eye clenched shut, and yes, I started screeching. My BF Chris was there and immediately got online to find the cure: milk. I needed to put milk IN MY EYE. Somehow, we managed it as a team effort -- I dribbled enough in that the pain started to abate. Then predictably, the doorbell rang. Party time!I opened the door with a giant milk stain on my shirt and my right eye still swollen shut. Fortunately, my guests were gracious enough to not run away in terror.  You would think the absurdity ends there, but it doesn't. I abandoned the poppers for a while, but the unfinished task bothered me. Those jalapenos had gotten the best of me. I had promised in the Facebook event invitation that there would be jalapeno poppers. SO GODDAMMIT, I was going to finish. I just wouldn't touch my face.So I made them. And they were delicious, stuffed with a cream cheese and spicy mustard blend, and wrapped in bacon. They were gone in minutes. Everyone enjoyed the food, drank beer, watched the game. After a rocky start, the party ended up being okay, more than okay. Then about an hour after everyone left, my fingers started tingling and not in a good way. Tingling transitioned swiftly into burning and a Google search of "finger burns from peppers" confirmed that I had "jalapeno hands." There were dozens of sites where people told stories similar to mine -- chopped or handled jalapenos and had burning hands as a result. But the problem was the everyone had different suggestions as to how to best relieve the pain. Based on internet suggestions, I tried so[...]