Where Has This Book Been All My Life??

Growing-Gills-InstagramFrom Mutha Magazine, great review of a book that is equally great and totally apropos to working parents who are also writers/artists and trying to get shit done on top of trying to get shit done:


Almost as soon as I read this interview, I ordered the Kindle version of Abel’s book and have been reading and working through the various activities. One of the most useful ideas so far for me has been her basic premise: that the anxiety we feel about working on or completing our creative projects rests on dilemmas we have not fully made conscious to ourselves. She writes:

“The real problem comes when you don’t decide, when you don’t at all understand and face what sacrifices your actions (or non-actions) will entail, and instead let whatever happens, happen. In other words, your worst problems result from when you have a dilemma before you, and you don’t face that fact and make the hard decision. Instead you just close your eyes and do whatever occurs to you…which will almost certainly be neither of the competing choices at the heart of your dilemma. … If you plan something, and it doesn’t happen–especially if it’s a pattern–it’s because there’s a hidden trade-off in there that you have not identified and agreed to make.”

This helps explain why my flowchart (which I posted a couple months ago), which sort of intuitively grasped at this insight, didn’t really work: it did not make conscious enough that my mad scramble to do too much, and therefore either not make progress on creative projects or make incredible progress at the expense of health and sanity, turns on a central underlying dilemma: I want to make writing my central contribution to the world, but I also want to be involved in community organizing–in fact, I believe it would be wrong if I didn’t help with community organizing efforts. That’s a pretty juicy, angst-filled dilemma.

What I find most reassuring about Abel’s point here is that, once we do make our dilemmas conscious to the degree that we can then make conscious decisions about how to spend our time, we will be able to handle the emotional discomfort that arises:

“The problem is not enduring the discomfort of the trade-offs that come with a decision. You’re tough. You can handle it.”

The Story of PoopReport Dave (Extended Version)


I’m in the car with Xochitl, driving her to soccer, when the radio begins playing the muscular opening riff to Pat Benatar’s “Hit Me With Your Best Shot.” And I recall:

Before you were born, when I was living in California and going to grad school, I was heavily involved with this website called PoopReport.com. It was run by a guy named Dave—PoopReport Dave—and the purpose of the site was pretty much exactly as it sounded: people posted stories about pooping, usually quite hilarious ones. Given that my dissertation research was about the scatological, I of course found this fascinating and wonderful. I wrote a paper about it and everything, which ended up being published in an online cultural studies journal. It was the first paper I ever had gotten accepted for publication and I worked all summer on it, even though I didn’t have anything I had to do that summer beyond work part-time for the Chicana/o Studies department as a research assistant and could have just chillaxed. But I was 23 at the time and completely obsessed with being an academic-in-training. I had no children, no family nearby and no close friends, having just moved to California. The guy who would become your dad stayed up all night playing text adventure games and making endless tweaks to his graphical user interface, so he wasn’t the kind of person who was going to stop me from driving myself into the ground writing my PoopReport paper like 24/7. By the end of the summer, though, I had written the paper and submitted it to the journal—I have to say, it was really good—and it was accepted, forever after cementing into me the idea that if you only worked punishingly and relentlessly hard enough, you could force good things to happen! Yay.

A year went by in which I sat in my empty, undecorated, shared teaching assistant office posting to the PoopReport forums as I waited for my undergraduate students to visit my office hours, and as I did I made friends with people all over the world whose forum handles were things like Pooper Scooper, Doniker, and Three Ply (my own handle was Poopshipdestroyer, after the song by Ween). As summer cycled back around, there came over the wire some exciting news: PoopReport Dave was swinging through San Francisco that June, and would I be interested in meeting up with him and other members of the California caca contingent? Boy oh boy would I!

We made plans for all of us to meet up at a bar, and I drove down from Davis to San Francisco, where—being from South Texas—I thought it was weirdly cold for summer. I was a little early, and for some reason had gotten it in my head that we would be congregating outside the bar first until everyone had arrived and then moving inside as a group. And so I waited for people to show up—10, 15, 20, then 30 minutes. I grew increasingly more anxious, and finally after almost an hour there on the curb, I found a pay phone on the street and called PoopReport Dave. The year was 2004, so although most people had cell phones, pay phones were still fairly plentiful for those without cells, such as myself.

When Dave answered, I was taken aback both to realize that he’d been inside the whole time with everyone else, but also at his brusqueness. He didn’t apologize for the misunderstanding or express concern that I’d been waiting or say anything welcoming at all. Instead he sounded indifferent, even irritated, as though I was the one who was late. I felt confused and a little hurt, but brushed it aside.

The next day we would hang out together again, driving through the Napa Valley area along with his sister, but it was even more uncomfortable. For reasons I couldn’t understand, PoopReport Dave and I just didn’t jibe in person: his brusqueness, coupled with his stories about all the happening things happening in Brooklyn, made me feel uncool; and I felt shabby and completely out of place in fancy Napa Valley. After stopping at an upscale little grocer for some picnic items, Dave and his sister went to a winery for some samples, which compounded the awkwardness since I don’t drink. Afterwards we sat outside in a big green Napa Valley field in the California sun for our picnic, but by that point my anxiety was so bad that I couldn’t eat much, just some chips, and I remember developing a nervous tic—I kept feeling the urge, after each greasy, salty chip, to reach up and wipe my hand on the shoulder of my sleeve—of which I was hyperaware but somehow unable to control. I was pretty sure Dave and his sister noticed too, and I was so embarrassed and felt like such a freak that I cried humiliated tears all the way back home to Davis, my PoopReport dreams dashed on the rocks of IRL reality.

That’s not the point of this story, though. The point of the story is that, at the end of the night in the bar in San Francisco, the group of us got up for some karaoke.

“We should sing a poop song,” someone declared, and we perused the bar’s karaoke directory to see what could possibly fit that bill. Finally Pooper Scooper stumbled upon it.

“I know!” she said. “Let’s do ‘Hit Me With Your Best Shot.’ But whenever it says ‘shot,’ let’s everybody sing ‘shit’ instead!”

And so we did. And that, Xochitl, is what I think about whenever I hear that song.

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Revisiting IT

09101700411Last weekend a group of us joined millions of other horror geeks for the opening weekend of IT, a cinematic re-imagining of the 1990 TV movie imagining of Stephen King’s epic, 1,000-page novel, originally published in 1986.

I was quite excited, as was my mom, a King mega-fan, just like the throngs of other King fans nerding out in the Alamo Drafthouse theater over their bottomless popcorn bowls and adult milkshakes. Not only is IT is my favorite King novel, it was the topic of the first chapter of my doctoral dissertation, which grew out of an undergraduate English paper that kinda sorta set the whole shit crit thing in motion. In that respect, IT is arguably the heart and soul of what became my academic career (such that it was). IT is where it all began, this quest to understand how we imagine embodiment and what that says about the society we live in.

All of this renewed interest in the film—and by extension the book—has also renewed regrets that I never did anything with my dissertation, but also stirred a small hopeful feeling that maybe it’s still possible. So, I wanted to post the chapter here not because it’s in any shape to really be published in its current form, but just to make a first incremental little baby step in the direction of finally doing something with it. Cuz after all this time, I still believe in that project, which is also to say that I think what King is doing and saying in that novel is important and revealing.


From the Bedroom to the Bathroom: the Scatological Horror of Stephen King

In 1989, when I was 10, Stephen King was the shit, figuratively. My mother understood this and maintained an ever expanding library of King novels on a special shelf of the living room bookcase; my best friend Sarah understood this and was forever reading King in and out of class, further whetting my curiosity. Unfortunately for me, the King shelf at home was off limits, since my mother, as much concerned parent as she was avid King fan, felt that his novels were not for the impressionable eyes of children.

Why not? I asked, intrigued. What’s so bad about Stephen King?

Too much profanity, replied my mother with mysterious finality: case closed.

Or not—because she had never spoken so enticingly, and I would crave the quiet Saturday afternoons when, my parents off running errands, I could carefully slide King’s hefty volumes from their place on the living room bookshelf and curl up on the couch, one ear cocked for the sound of the garage door. My particular favorite was It, an epic tale in which a group of preadolescent outcasts bands against a shapeshifting, sewer-dwelling monster—in part because the novel was satisfyingly profane in all the ways I had hoped. Full of ess-words and eff-words and killer clowns whispering seductively from inside storm drains (the kind of storm drains my grandmother had warned me to stay away from during heavy rains because, she said, you could get sucked down below) It made good on both my mother’s enthusiasm for King and her proscription against him.


Me and my mom, with Pennywise on the horizon. Dude, I was so fucking pissed that my mom declined to wear her “World’s #1 Stephen King Fan” shirt, which she in fact owns, even after I instructed her multiple times.

At the time I understood this proscription literally; too much profanity meant too much swearing. Yet in retrospect I see that her injunction made a more subtle distinction as well. In saying, Do not read King because he’s profane, my mother was also effectively saying by contrast, but you’re free to read Conrad and Faulkner and Hemingway and DeLillo if you choose—canonical, literary writers, in other words—the implication being that while these authors wrote works that were just as disturbing as King’s novels (if not moreso), they presented this disturbing content in such a way that at age 10 I could not readily understand or even recognize it. My mother’s injunction thus implied a distinction between an imagined realm of “real literature,” in which writers presented disturbing content covertly, shrouded in layers of complex metaphor or formal experimentation, and the world of popular fiction, in which the text was bald and eviscerated, its meaning gutted and exposed for the apprehension of all—even, or especially, children. This injunction did not state, Don’t read Salinger because you won’t understand him; but rather, Don’t read King because you will.

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