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While this is still, technically, my very poorly updated and designed website, I do most of my writing and art over at Memoirsofabarista.com and on my two Instagram Accounts: @Thebaristamemoirs and @levijustinrogers. Please like and follow me there if you like!
I don’t do much writing on this website anymore, but I keep it up to make sure it’s easy for any and all literary agents to find me in case they are trying to sign me for a million dollar book deal.
Here are a couple selections I’ve published this past year I’m very proud of:
We moved to Oregon on August 25th 2018 and were met by one on the mildest and most beautiful falls I have ever seen. Fall as in the season, not the water that drops over cliffs—although those are quite splendid and abundant in Oregon as well. We moved into a house off 18th and Killingsworth in the NE neighborhood of Portland. The neighborhood is extremely walkable and within a five minute walk we can walk to Hat Yai (Thai Fried Chicken), Pine State Biscuits, Proud Mary (Aussie coffee shop), Podnah’s (bbq), Barista, Handsome Pizza, Salt n’ Straw (ice cream), The Bollywood Café (Indian)—a plethora of bars I will probably never visit based on my current Dad situation—and a dog store called The Filling Station. I think we ate out every night the first week we were there. The eating out couldn’t last forever though, and so we started ordering a few Blue Apron meals every week to lessen the load of cooking w/ child.
For the first month Portland felt like an extended Airbnb vacay. We didn’t really feel like we “lived” there. But once I started working and Cat started her internship at Randall Children’s Hospital two days a week, a routine began to develop. I had trouble finding work at first and though I am busy now and working more than I’d like to, I have already forgotten that it took me over a month to find a job and have almost forgotten how endless the search once was—a futile time suck of days spent emailing resumes and developing a CV for jobs you may never have a shot with. All the coffee people were confused as to why I was the owner of a coffee roasting company in Utah applying for barista jobs in Portland. I also applied for jobs at Nike and PSU on the whim that they decided to hire a completely unqualified person to do the job. They had no such whims. We’d like to buy a house soon but will probably need to wait until Cat goes back to work as she has the type of jobs that look good to lending companies, my barista job …. not so much.
I finally found work with a coffee shop called Con Leche and Smalltime Roasters—a Mexican-American owned coffee shop in their second year of business that was started initially to raise funds for Dreamers. My main goal has been to help build their wholesale and roasting operation, but I also work barista shifts four days a week at Con Leche—which is a shared space with Frank Wine bar in the South Waterfront district of Portland. I have to work weekends, but this also gives me some flexibility to take Tuesdays off while Cat works at her internship at the hospital.
However, just last week I accepted a position at Sustainable Harvest, a green coffee importing company. I will be working with a woman named Yimara from Colombia as her quality specialist assistant in the lab as we sample roast, cup, and evaluate coffee from around the world—along with helping with some minor logistics. It really is a dream job come true and sort of the next level for me in the coffee world. In February I plan to get my Q Grader, which is like a sommelier or cicero certificate for coffee. I will still be helping Smalltime out on the side but probably drop my barista shifts. The new job at Sustainable will also be good for me because I think I will finally have to quit smoking…but we’ll see.
The move to Oregon has been a combination of excitement and adjustment. Exploring a new city (more so for Cat, less for me) and starting a new job, living in a new neighborhood, new house, new neighbors, friends, and most importantly, family. Though not new, this is the first time in ten years that Cat and I are living in the same state as family. And while the opportunities are exciting, a new move also brings with it a bunch of SLE’s, or Stressful Life Experiences (as this new book I recently bought at the Portland Book Festival called This is Your Brain on Depression calls them) and I still find myself lapsing into similar vices and frustrations I wish I could have left behind in Utah. But as the saying goes, “Wherever you go, there you are.”
Cat misses her friends from Utah and is excited to start work again in the summer, but she is cherishing this time with Evangeline so much. Overall, she is adjusting to life in PDX beautifully.
Evangeline turned six months on November 23rd and now is almost seven months old! Everyday she seems to get more and more active and interactive. She started pulling at our face and nose and glasses and my beard. She pulses her legs, laughs and smiles, and she can practically sit up (though not roll over, not yet). She has been pure joy. Her rosy red cheeks shine bright, and her brown eyes seem to emanate with a purity and light that must be beamed from heaven straight into her little soul. She is 99th percentile in height and whatever is in that formula must be good because she’s growing fast.
On Thursdays my mom drives down to watch Evangeline as both her and my dad now live an hour away in Hood River. Also in Hood River are my sister Alyssa, her husband Eli, and our two little nephews Eero and Bodie (who were born three days before Evangeline). I chose this picture because they both move so fast you can barely capture it!
My favorite part of the day (besides coming home to E of course) is when I bike to work downtown in the morning. The air crisp and cool. The sun slowly penetrating through the clouds. So far it has barely rained this fall and so I can bike most days. I bike from my house in Northeast down Going, a bike greenway, to Vancouver which is a mini-bike highway. I have found one of my favorite things is mobbing down Vancouver in the early morning with a pack of cyclists all commuting into work. Sometimes there are so many bikers there is even bike traffic and I am forced to weave around slower bikers as faster bikers simultaneously pass me. Often, as I cross the Steel Bridge in the morning, the Willamette River will be cloaked in fog and mist and it feels as if I am biking through the clouds. As I don’t have a gym membership yet, to either a climbing gym or regular old gym, and running with a dog and a six-month old in a stroller just doesn’t sound like fun, biking is my only form of exercise these days. It feels like too much to ask Cat to watch E while I hit the gym for an hour after work after already being gone for eight hours and so biking it is. And I need to do it. Biking = Happy Levi. Not biking= Angry and Depressed Levi.
I write often but have still not had much luck getting anything published on the level I’d like to be at. I’ve been working on a novel for the last few years that is just not working for some reason (my friend Mike says it might be a movie, not a novel, but the idea of spending another few years turning it into a screenplay just sounds exhausting to me). I’ve also been working on various short stories, essays, and perhaps, who knows, a new novel, along with tweaking a memoir-in-the-works. So, lots of projects but right now they’re all iceberg status, as in, lurking large underneath the surface of anywhere public. While my craft is developing, I feel like I still haven’t found my niche, or my voice, or corner, of what to write about. I now know and am doing my best to accept however, that writing is a long journey. I am ten years in so far of seriously pursuing writing and it might be twenty or even thirty years before anything happens with it. I feel as if it’s best to look at writing (for one’s own sanity) not as a career choice or even art form, but as a form of meditation/asceticism/monkish pursuit. On my best days I can view it in this very zen way—as a practice I will work towards regardless of outcome. On my worst days I chainsmoke and drink myself to sleep because the world is a depressing place and rejections and false starts and wasted time in writing is also depressing. So, I am still the same old Levi, for better or worse (even know, I can sense a creeping melancholy in these words in what should be an otherwise happy and cheerful season/letter).
Perhaps the most interesting thing about our moves is that our cat, Waffles, has really gained a lot of ground with this move and transformed from a scared, timid cat into a bold and adventurous one. She used to be afraid of everything, but this move has strengthened her resolve and moral character. Now she is the one who spends all day outside exploring and our other cat, Chicken, prefers the dry indoors. Both of them no longer hide when guests come over and are much friendlier than they used to be. Amelie, our dog, requires more attention and though I never thought I would say this, I find myself becoming quite annoyed with her at times as it seems a dog is the last thing I want to think about taking care of at the end of the day. It probably doesn’t help that for the past couple months her paws have been very red and irritable, and I find myself spending a lot of time soaking them in Epsom salt and shampooing them and making trips to pet stores to try and change her diet so we can figure out what’s wrong with them—yeast infection perhaps?
Anyways, it’s been an exciting year. For the first time in some time, I am looking forward immensely to what the New Year brings as we continue to explore the many opportunities Portland offers Cat and I as well as watch Evangeline grow.
Wishing you all the best this Holiday Season as the New Year approaches.
Hoping that whatever physical or mental demons afflict you will flee into the night like the spell from a Patronus.
-Levi (And Cat and Evangeline and Amelie and Chicken and Waffles)
I’ve had a couple conversations with folks in the last two weeks that have made me think of something I haven’t thought about in some time. So here goes a couple things I’ve been thinking about re Church. This does not have to do with one specific church or denomination but with many American churches as a whole. For those who don’t I grew up conservative Evangelical and have had a tenuous and messy relationship with it for some time. It becomes exacerbated at times by nationalist politics and a bunch of other crap, but it’s still there, and as much as I’d like to toss it, I can’t.
I probably won’t respond to all your comments so feel free to make a voodoo doll out of me and stick pins it. Or just ignore this post and watch it drift away into the annals of Facebook algorithms.
1. The Veneer of Openness
While most churches claim to be open, accepting, and loving, there comes a time when you’ve been in it long enough that you realize this acceptance is superficial. Sure, many of those in power claim that you belong regardless of one’s doubts, sexual orientation, questions, interpretation of theology, etc., but when it comes to really belonging, participating in leadership, etc., many churches expect these people to have it dialed and lined up with church hierarchy/leadership. And while I believe many of those who claim openness exist are doing so honestly, it seems the funnel of belief always trends towards a certain dogma and black and white theology I cannot get behind anymore. I think churches have the right to define their own theology and set up whatever lines and boundaries they want. Just don’t claim to also be accepting of everyone. Often this acceptance is a veneer, acceptance in principle only, but if you believe that person’s lifestyle is wrong or that person’s theology is wrong then how much can you really accept them? One often finds that this openness is a closed system in which things are relegated to binaries–male/female/good/evil/conservative/liberal/pro-life/pro/choice/protestant/catholic.The world I interact with is too complex for such simple reductions (just my phenomenological experience though). This black and white theology or all-or-nothing thinking can also become a cognitive distortion leading to extremist beliefs.
2. Grace Covers All, (Except Your Theology)
This was recently pointed out to me by a friend who I’ve had numerous conversations with over the years who has also left church for the time being but who I think has the precise intellectual ability to put things in terms I’ve never thought about. So, while many evangelical/protestant Christian profess a theology of grace, this grace will cover one’s actions but not one’s doubts and/or “errors” in theology by those in power who claim to have a corner on the capital T truth. So, if you’re a married man who cheats on his wife but you’re also a neo-calvinist who is a an otherwise good guy and one who repents–grace covers you. But if you’re married man who doesn’t cheat on his wife but has a slightly more liberal view of scripture, well, then you’re an apostate. Grace does not cover you. I speak in reductionary terms merely to prove a point (and use neo-calvinist for a reason, because often these are the types of churches that seem “edgy” and cool with a bunch of tattoed dudes getting microbrews after church) but is really nothing more than some patriarchal conservatism. I already see your point coming about how churches have to have some structure and theology to function–whether it’s the Nicene Creed or some other catechism–so point taken, and I agree. But my questions is does grace cover errors in belief as much as errors in action? Because it seems, from a certain vantage point that one is more important than the other. Am I going to hell because I don’t have the “right” beliefs? It sure seems that way when you start bringing things like this up.
Anyways, I don’t read much Christian lit anymore but I guess you could say some of these ideas are inspired by Richard Rohr, Peter Rollins, and other contemporary (primarily women) authors who have existed outside the primarily male zeitgeist for many years. To say nothing of the racial disparity.
I feel dialogues on the internet never go well but if you have any thoughts lmk. As much as I hate the internet/social media if other avenues and venues remain closed to certain POV’s then people are going to take the dialogue elsewhere.
Every other year for Halloween I attempt to write a scary story for fun. This one came to me based off a Thrillist list called “The Creepiest Urban Legend in all 50 States.” I give to you: The Escalante Petrified Forest Of Utah. Legend has it that folks who steal petrified pieces of wood from the park end up cursed. Enjoy.
The envelope was addressed to Escalante Petrified Forest State Park, 710 North Reservoir Escalante, UT 84726. The man put the small chunk of wood inside, weighing just under twelve ounces, ripped off the strip of paper covering the glue, and folded the envelope at its crease. He unbuckled his seat belt and got out of his truck, the hood bent in, an SUV smoking next to him. The same SUV that had just t-boned him at the intersection. The man began limping to the post office, his ankle sprained, a small spot of blood running down his temple. His collar bone broken. He heard someone yell behind him. He kept going. His resolve had never been stronger to mail an item through the United States Postal Service. He continued down the sidewalk, his cowboy boots clicking. He turned left at the intersection, then right, past a Chevron. The Arizona sun beating down. The smell of car exhaust and dry October grass. The blue roof of the Post Office came into in view. It’s white and blue sign. He continued through the parking lot, entered through the double set of glass doors. Opened the mailbox slot for small envelopes. Dropped the envelope inside and collapsed on the recently polished floor of the Page, Arizona Post Office, red smearing against white.
At first they thought it was another rock. Reds, yellows, oranges, blues, and blacks swirled in a ring of creamy white like a brightly colored geode. But it wasn’t of course. It was a petrified piece of wood. This chunk of wood had five points and measured four inches thick, with a slightly larger diameter. The bark was frozen. The surface polished. The weight light as a leaf.
Carmela picked a small chunk off the ground first followed by Ahmed, Mireya, and eventually, Brennan, even though the sign at the trailhead had strictly warned not to disturb the ecological surroundings in any way, including the theft of fossilized pieces of wood, which was strictly illegal.
“Finally! Only took three miles of walking,” said Carmela, holding the rock against the sun.
“I know,” said Ahmed, “I didn’t think we were going to find any.”
The four of them slung their packs down gulped down a bunch of water.
“Can’t wait to take this home and show Lisa,” said Mireya.
“No!” shouted Brennan. The three of them looked at him, startled. “Drop the wood.” Brennan dropped the small chunk he was holding where it fell on the red sand.
“I just remembered. These rocks are cursed.”
“They’re not rocks.”
“I mean wood, this petrified wood, people steal it and then weird shit starts to happen to them. They get in accidents, go bankrupt, get mysterious illnesses, break their collarbones and shit.”
“I don’t believe you.”
“No, its true, I read about it in the news. People will even mail back the piece they stole to the park to break the curse.”
Carmela snacked on a granola bar.
“Guys seriously, put the rocks down.”
“Fine okay,” said Ahmed. “We just wanted to see what they looked like in person. I mean that’s why we drove and hiked all the way out here right? To see a petrified forest and petrified wood?”
“Yeah, of course. I just mean, don’t take them home.”
The four of them sipped on water and munched on some crackers, cheese, and trail mix. The sun began to descend, clouds began to roll in casting a shadow over the sage and juniper. The heat of the early morning began to dissipate into the late fall afternoon. The air turning cold and crisp. The shadows descending. Halloween a few days away.
“Well, shall we?” said Ahmed, grabbing his bag.
The rest of them grumbled their agreement in unison.
“You guys first,” said Carmela. “I have to use the, um, facilities.”
As the three of them marched on, Carmela walked around the bend in the trail, turned to make sure they were gone, and picked up one of the pieces of petrified wood and placed it in her pocket. The four of them wound back down the trail. The return journey mostly mostly downhill, taking them less time. They climbed into the Jeep and sped off back towards home.
Nothing would happen, Carmela thought, riding in the back of the Jeep. She was sure of it. She thought her dad would appreciate it. Her dad. Who lived in Page Arizona. Her dad. Who was always wearing cowboy boots that clicked on the pavement.
I did this reading at the Utah Arts Festival festival two weeks ago (and my final MFA reading) and had someone request it. As I haven’t been able to publish it (or my book) yet, I decided to throw it up here. So, enjoy! It will fill you with so much happiness. And darkness.
The Night is All
“Tis no ease to rise on a grey day. The devil holds fast your eyelids.”
You lie in bed trying to get up. Trying is not the right word. You could get up at anytime. You are not physically incapable of getting up. If say, a fire started, or a bomb exploded down the street, then you would get out of bed immediately. But, neither of those has happened yet this morning and it’s unlikely they will. Perhaps the more accurate phrase would be, “You lie in bed, postponing getting up until the last possible second.”
It’s Tuesday, eight o’clock or so. You’ve already decided you will be arriving late to work this morning and so you continue to lie in bed. Your body feels weighted down with iron, lead, and steel. Eyes glued shut. The fact this is just a feeling and not a reality does not matter to your brain. There is zero motivation for removing the covers.
The ceiling fan spins above. The two tiny chains dangling beneath clink intermittently. Light filters through the curtains. The cat is lying on the bed. Your dog, Amelie, is furiously licking her butthole at the foot of the bed. You are twenty-eight years old but you feel like you’re thirty-eight.
Your wife, who you married at the age of twenty-four and lost your virginity to and love very much and who is all together better person than you, has left for work. There are no kids. There was almost a kid last January. They would be due about now, in this searing heat of August. But they evaporated some time ago, around February.
Life, it turns out, is not so simple.
If only it were. If only everything was seamless, balanced, and smooth. If only the problems of existence were all serotonin levels and neurology that could easily be tweaked. An adjustment made to one’s theology or philosophy. If only, though it might seem strange to say, it was a simple matter of being an alcoholic or a sex addict. If only one could just believe or, conversely, rid oneself of belief. If only all of this could all be explained through a book, or a lecture, or a pill, or an intervention.
You would happily go after more anti-depressants, therapy, A.A., S.A., meditation, a book or two, prayer, a Masters degree in Divinity or philosophy. If only then, you’d be set and could go about the rest of your life.
Wouldn’t it be nice.
Yet you cannot isolate one part of yourself from another, because it’s all connected. Life … is complicated. It’s beautiful and tragic and complicated and connected. All at the same time. And yet it’s amazing how this simple fact is often overlooked, brushed over. In politics, in theology. In mental health and war and daily interactions.
How we eschew complexity for simplicity every time.
So, you have these personal problems of faith and doubt and marriage and mental anxiety, which you cope with through bottles of whiskey, packs of cigarettes, and daily masturbation. Because these problems are bound with other, bigger problems: the wars and greed and infidelity and injustice you see while watching the news or within yourself. Summed up in as simple and complicated of a phrase as, “The Human Condition,” as college-sophomoric and Camus as that sounds. Or perhaps, more specifically, this problem lies in the inability of compartmentalizing the human condition. To turn on the news and see a story about another mass shooting, another black man dying on the street, another boat of refuges drowning atop the Mediterranean, another few hundred Syrians shelled by the government, and not have this news plunge you into a deep, seemingly-eternal darkness for the next several days or even months.
You have this filter you cannot get rid of. You cannot see yourself in a healthy and objective way. You cannot look at your relationships with others, or the world in general, in a healthy and productive way. All there is, is darkness. Bodily compression by the weight of all this metal.
This dark weightiness, this compression, filters and taints all you come into contact with. Like constant sleep deprivation.
Who knows though. Maybe you’re just in your twenties. Or maybe this is an early midlife crisis. Maybe it’s your loss of faith. The transition from youth to adulthood. Maybe it’s just depression, pure and sweet. But you know that it has to do with this, The Why. You are paralyzed by The Why. Why is there something rather than nothing? And what are we to do about it, this Human Condition of ours? And why are you always so fucking existential?
You cannot, as many people do every day, push away this concern—when you go to work, when you are at home, when you are at a soccer game, when you are out at a bar celebrating a friends birthday.
To you it all hinges on this Why.
And everyone, appears to be offering their simple solution to this question, taking the form of political or religious ideology, or merely entertainment and distraction: Another self-help book, another sermon, the latest superhero movie, the next sports championship, the next president of the United States. Everyone has their answers or their opiate. Rather than genuinely seeking an answer, many people profit off this question even.
No one, really, seems to care. Pastors. Politicians. To really do the work on issues that are ambiguous and complicated and that require—to use a seemingly outdated word—longsuffering. No. We want everything microwaved, digitally compressed. Sanitized in clean, tidy boxes. We are just humans after all.
The God you have served faithfully for so many years is now gone. And it’s strange, to have a belief system that—though imperfect—for years consisted of a plan, some arc of justice. A foundation of faith that has also seemingly evaporated.
Your framework for the world is collapsing: The navigation of marriage and the unexpected adult responsibilities it brings. Some unexpected deaths. A suicide or two. A miscarriage or two. Your own addictions. Your malfunctioning brain. The world presented through media news cycles. You have experienced the complete and total loss of any romanticism or expectations you had for this world.
You are a big romantic. You were a big romantic is how you say it now.
So, you seek an answer that, deep down, you are not sure exists. And this, more than anything, terrifies you. And though others might think this is all just some heady-philosophical-mumbo-jumbo of someone-who-just-needs-to-get-outside-a-little-more, you cannot stress enough how life itself might hinge upon all this, lying in bed.
This, right here, is what we call the rumination-death-spiral of depression. This is home. This interior self. And home is a prison. It’s almost like there’s no way anyone could ever know you, unless they also existed inside this head of yours. Let’s be honest right up front however, depression itself does not make one the most reliable narrator, especially when one’s experience of the world is mediated by a constant, cerebral, critical filter—objectivity, reality, sails right away.
Each day goes like this: Coat lungs in cigarette smoke. Bath liver in alcohol. Pump stomach with pizza. Glaze eyes with movies and Netflix and iPhone scrolling.
You’re not even interested in sex. The window for sex, due to falling energy and the side effects of Prozac, is somewhere between fifteen minutes and an hour a day. And even then sex feels like work. An errand. Going to the grocery store. Something you’re supposed to do. The release is nice, yet the release can be achieved through cruder means. By jerking off onto the top of your thigh through your boxers, for example.
When you’re not in despair you’re just really fucking irritated with everything. With your partner. Your job. Everyone you come into contact with. Staring at the walls in your warehouse workspace like a damn mental patient. Depressed, but thinking, Motherfucker, I got shit to say. Shit to do.
The only thing you really enjoy is getting a little drunk and falling asleep at night to Lord of The Rings on the couch.
And so you live in this moment, this tension of The Why, every day, and you realize that the way things are going leaves one with only two choices: One, to find some way to make your life sustainable, or Two: To end your life. These really are the only two options.
And you realize, on this specific morning, lying in bed staring at the ceiling fan—the cat, the dog, etc., that where you are now, here—depressed and beyond despair, but calm, not trying to be dramatic—this is the gulf those who commit suicide do not make it over. Cannot bridge, for whatever reason. It’s like a revelation this morning. You suddenly understand this why. And you’re still lying here, in bed, in your head, unable to convince yourself to simply get up. You try to tell your wife all this, but you don’t want to overwhelm her or anyone else for that matter. And so, even though you have a wife and friends and a great family, it doesn’t matter, because in your head, in your body, in your soul,
you are alone.
And it’s this mental strain, this inner confliction, this never-ending mental battle, which is the real nightmare, your archenemy, the Holy Grail of an answer you seek.
And it’s almost surreal being here, in this bed, not even hung over for once, occupying this mental space, this no man’s land, between life or death, this tension of existence, and you wonder how you will push through this tension, or not, which happens each morning you wake up.
How you are going to make it through.
Or how you got here in the first place.
Thursday and Friday were long full, days. I took the C train from the Kingston-Throop station to Bryant Park each morning, had workshop at the Casablanca Hotel from 8:30-11, quick break for lunch, then went on a tour at the New York Public Library on Thursday, followed by a seminar on Writing Performance, a lecture on Revision, followed by an open mic. Friday I went to a lecture on The Novel in the afternoon and then a reading at the Cornelia Street Café and KGB bar after a quick coffee and sushi stop in the West Village with my new writing friends Tom and Carolyn. After the readings Friday, I attempted to go to a show at the Comedy Cellar, but I had no reservations and didn’t want to waitlist so instead I went to The Grisly Pear, a B comedy club a couple doors down (pretty sure Pete Holmes filmed an episode of his HBO show Crashing here). The comics were still good.
After some two stiff drinks at each place I was feeling pretty toasted and so took the train back to Brooklyn, weaving down the sidewalk as I walked back to the Brownstone I was staying at.
Saturday I slept in till 9. Justine made coffee. I chatted for a bit with her then headed back to the City for lectures from Steven Salpeter from the Curtis Brown Literary Agency and Kevin Larimer, the editor in chief of Poets and Writers Magazine. I finally had an afternoon off so I walked uptown for a quick rest in Central Park, stopping for a late lunch at Rue 67, a French-inspired restaurant. Many people, thousands really, were all strewn on the lawns shirtless and in bikini tops in the middle of the Park, soaking up the Saturday June sun of one of the first hot days of summer. I tried to take a nap but just more or less just closed my eyes for a moment. After a quick stop at the horrendous Central Park public bathrooms, I took the R back downtown to Third Rail Coffee to prepare for my reading. The sun and humidity slowly wrapped me in a blanket of sweat and dizziness.
I read that night at the KGB bar and knocked it out of the park. Then I went out for drinks and food with everyone after. It was a great day. And, also my birthday.
Sunday was a bit more depressing. It was agent day so after a morning of workshop where I got some good feedback on a novel about Utah I was starting, we had a brief orientation on what the afternoon would look like. We’d all line up in a queue in front of a specific agent and then have four minutes to pitch them our book. Then we were told we’d either get a card or email, or simply a polite, “No thank you, this isn’t for me.” I felt nervous, but ready.
I pitched my book:
“It’s More Like Horror is a memoir about youth, faith, and depression,” I said. “It’s about depression in everyday life and follows me on a journey from Denver to Portland to Salt Lake City as the romantic ideals of my zealous evangelical youth are met with the realities of death, suicide, miscarriages, and a loss of faith.” But the first agent merely looked at me blankly and said, “Memoir’s are tough.”
There were ten agents in total and around half were only interested in genres I didn’t write in, so I skipped them completely. Pretty much all of the agents said the same thing: The idea was interesting but memoirs were tough to sell unless I had a crazy platform or insane writing credits. One gave me some good feedback to focus on the story of leaving my faith rather than depression, as depression was a subtext of the story. I thought this was good advice but at the same time, my story wasn’t some salacious tale of leaving a repressed religious community, although, who knows, maybe that would sell if I were to frame it like that. Suffice to say the afternoon was discouraging. Good feedback and learning experience I guess, but no one was all like, “OH my god, send me this book now!” So, now I am left once again to rethink my book, a book I’ve already spent nearly five years on. I may just be too young to write a memoir at this point. That’s how it goes I guess though. As Scott, one of the main faculty of the program told us in a good debriefing/motivational speech/boxing analogy, the next day: “You’ve put the gloves on, you’ve stepped into the ring, now you better expect to get hit. Then you keep punching back.”
Monday was our last day. One final workshop and lecture followed by a reading at The Half King, a bar in Chelsea underneath The Highline where we heard a hilarious piece by Rick Moody, some moving poetry by Tim Seibles and some excellent fiction from both Scott and Shanna.
I took the A train back to Brooklyn, packed, passed out on the couch, and woke up next morning to head back to SLC via JFK.
It was all in all, a fantastic trip, though I may need to hibernate for some time in a cave alone so I can sleep, process, and rethink my writing. I also may need a new liver transplant. But hey, it’s all-good, I’m one stop further down the tracks to becoming a professional, published writer. It all takes time.
Tuesday. June 6th.
I left for The Writers Hotel Conference at 2:57 p.m. from Salt Lake City, Utah. Cat and I stopped by the ATM to pull some cash, then we drove the short, fifteen minutes or so it took us to reach the SLC airport. The air was hot and dry, nearly 90 degrees, and the sky was blue, almost too much so, and I found myself looking forward to the humidity and greyer skies of the Northeast.
I arrived to the airport early, way too early, and so had almost two hours to kill, as leaving at 3:00 p.m. from the Salt Lake City airport on a Tuesday only takes about 15 minutes to get through security and walk to your gate.
I bought a Jamba Juice and then walked through the airport trying to find the last remaining smoking room of the airport. For some reason, though you cannot drink beer higher than 3.2% on draft in ALL of Utah, you can still smoke at the SLC airport. I tried Terminal D, where my flight was leaving, first, then made the longer walk to Terminal C. No luck there either. So, I walked even further to Terminal B where I knew for sure there was a smoking lounge. To my surprise, after nearly twenty minutes of walking, the smoking room was now gone. In it’s place was a brand new power outlet charging station with the three rows of blue vinyl seats. I took a deep breath. That’s fine I thought. I’ll survive, it’s only, what 5 hours to NYC? I actually wasn’t worried as I had cut down to 3-5 smokes a day and so going five hours wasn’t a big deal. Still, I was disappointed I had just wasted 45 minutes walking through the airport in search of a tobacco fix.
I fell asleep after take off, waking up shortly after somewhere above Wyoming. I tried to read and write some, but I was distracted so after one chapter of The Sympathizer by Viet Than Nguyen, I turned on the movie Silence by Martin Scorcese, about three priests/missionaries who undergo a crisis of faith while witnessing in 17th century Japan. It was a film I’d wanted to see, though watching it in flight for my exciting conference put me in an altogether dourer mood than I wanted to be in. This, coupled with my lack of nicotine, taxi-ing for thirty minutes on the JFK runways, a twenty-minute wait to get off the plane, another ten minutes to walk through the airport, and another twenty minutes to wait for my bags while my friend Justine waited to pick me up, was a bit of a killjoy.
No matter though, I was in Brooklyn, NY! To counter the coffee I drank on the flight I drank some bedtime tea at my friend’s Cole and Justine’s Bed-Stuy apartment. I fell asleep somewhere between 2:30-3 in the morning Eastern Time, which meant it was only around 12:30 for my Mountain-Time-zoned tuned body. Outside, there was no noise as the dull glow of an orange streetlamp cast shadows through the one bedroom apartment.
Wednesday June 7th.
I slept in Wednesday and too the train to Dumbo, Brooklyn where I had a bagel and a macchiato from Brooklyn Roasting Company. I tried to go bouldering at a place under the Manhattan Bridge, but some film was being shot and the boulders were closed. I then rented a Citi bike, biked over the Manhattan Bridge, and had a Cubano with my friend Luis on the rooftop of his Lower East Side apartment.
The first reading was at a bookstore called the Kinokuniya bookstore across from Bryant Park. We heard readings from Said , Roxanna Robinson, Shanna McNair, and Scott Wolven. All terrific.
We then went out for informal meet and greet at the Algonquin Hotel. I chatted with people from Texas, Norway, London, and Delaware (honestly, I don’t think I’ve ever met anyone from Delaware). I had expected the price of the drinks to be insane but I was struggling to find a word more intense for the price of the cocktails, of which I had two and clocked in at $16 and $18 a piece. The minimum price. Holy money. Two of the T.A.’s for the conference, Erica and Adeeba, offered to give me a ride home as they too were staying in Brooklyn. So, after paying my exorbitant tab (at least the drinks were strong) I rode with them to Greepoint. They asked me about my book and life and I had a hard time explaining it to them (of which I knew I needed to do a better job of as I was pitching the book to agents Sunday). When I tried to explain how marriage was hard and life was difficult and how my religious upbringing influenced everything including my depression, I think they got the feeling I was headed for divorce or suicide, though they themselves had asked the overtly personal questions. Ask and you shall receive. Next time, I will do the more socially acceptable human thing and speak in platitudes like “Yes, marriage is great! It’s hard but good.” I learned that night that any other answer begs to be misinterpreted by the questioner.
I should have gone home and gone to bed as I needed to leave my house at 7 to get to the conference by 7:30, but I was in New York and my friend Nick invited me out and I couldn’t say no. So, I met him and his partner Pearl at Irene’s in Greenpoint and we watched the rest of the Cav’s/Warriors game. Here the drinks were cheap and I got a PBR and a well whiskey on the rocks for $9. Now, that’s more like it. After two rounds I headed home and was met with the news that G was cancelled for the remainder of the night and the bus was the only option. I was a touch drunk and so decided to Lyft, which also turned out to be more expensive than I thought because of the price surge. The ride took longer than I thought and because of all the drinks I had to use the bathroom. Once home, I fumbled around for my keys desperately needing to pee, like immediately. The keys or my hands holding the keys wouldn’t work and as I was standing there on the Bed-Stuy stoop, I felt a warm sprinkle emerge below my waist, slowly turning into a constant, warm stream spreading out in two divergent trails making their way down the steps. As Taylor Swift says, “Welcome to New York.”