Tag: Long Beach

Interviewing Skills, New Published Work, and “I am freaking poet”

Today, as a freelance writer, I had a busy day.  I interviewed a state senator, Alan Lowenthal, and candidate for Congress.  My profile will be appearing in the Long Beach Post.  We had a great conversation at the Daily Grind Coffee Shop off Los Coyotes, and I talked with him and got to know him as the grinders and espresso machines babbled.  I’m looking forward to interviewing Gary DeLong as well.  I’m really excited to talk with him.

Here’s one thing I’ve learned so far as a freelance writer, when in comes to setting up interviews.   (Oh yeah, right now I’m listening to the Ramones.)  You have to be really persistent, but you also need to come across casual and understanding that the person you’re trying to meet is very busy.  So, in order to get these interviews, I had to stay on it.  You have to plan in advance.  And you can’t, ever, give up.  There are many tactics to take.

For example, I was having a really difficult time getting an interview, even a comment, from a government organization.  So I talked with someone, and this person said, email them and say that you’ve tried several times, and you would love to have their perspective, but you will run the story without them.  Well, I did what the person suggested, and I got a response in a few minutes.

But in the beginning, be friendly, casual, understanding and persistent.  And don’t be afraid to ask the tough questions.  I think, at first, my biggest mistake was asking too many tough questions in a strong voice.  So, it’s a balance. You don’t want people to stop talking to you.  If you’re a freelance writer, or you’re even thinking about it, you should start at this site: freelance writer.

Another thing that happened today was I wrote a new piece at the OC Weekly about video game soundtracks: Top 5 Nintendo Soundtracks.  That was fun to write.  I’m learning to spot trends in results and write pieces accordingly.  I have started to see results.  Oh, I read a great article this week on Twitter and how to increase your twitter following.

Also, another funny thing happened today.  I was trying to set up an interview with a doctor for a piece, and she was pretty political.

“Don’t worry,” I said.  “I’m bipartisan.”

“That’s what everyone in the media says,” the woman said.

“I’m not the media,” I said.  “I’m just a poet, trying to make money.”

That was a funny exchange.  I guess I don’t really see myself as a journalist yet, but I need to start seeing the world as a journalist would, because the world, our environments, is our commodity.  Stories are everywhere; I just need to pull them out of the air and make them work. Narratives are all around us.

So, this week, be on the look out for another piece at the LA Weekly.  It’s on Joseph Mattson — a great L.A. writer and his book Empty the Sun.  It will be in the print issue Thursday, and it will be kicking off something great at the weekly.  I’m excited.  I hope you’re excited. Goodnight everyone.

The Monkey Mind — Reminding Myself About Patience & Anxiety

Today was a strange day for freelancing.  I don’t know how to exactly describe it, but I was actually busy, and I didn’t have time to work on my memoir.  I hate when I can’t work on my book.  It’s frustrating.  It feels like I cheated myself.   Well, in regards to the book, I was told to read “Monkey Mind” by Daniel Smith.  It’s another memoir, and it is in the vein of Augusten Burroughs.   The most obvious reason being that the memoirs are set in Massachusetts, and they both deal with issues of mental illness — specifically anxiety in Monkey Mind.

It’s funny, because Smith points out that anxiety is something that we all deal, but everyone deals with in one way or the other.  Anxiety is almost as individual as our fingerprints.  For example, Smith’s anxiety, so far, seems to be about his life slipping out of control, one event at a time.  But it’s obviously much more deeply rooted.  And I look forward to the rest of the book.  He has a hard time walking down the freedom trail in Boston.

But anxiety, well, it’s something I deal with too.  Right now the biggest anxiety I’m dealing with is my writing career.  Will someone like my writing?  Will an editor accept my pitch?  Once they accept my pitch, will they hate my writing?  Will I receive the check before rent is due?  These questions can barrel out of control.  I can fly down a cliff and find myself churning and churning in a widening gyre of self-deprecation and insecurity.

That’s the thing though.  In order to really make freelancing work, a life as a writer, I have to continue to learn to manage this anxiety.  Not having the security of a full-time job is sort of freaky.  At any moment, you can be tossed aside like yesterday’s trash — or maybe a more relevant metaphor is recycling, except I wouldn’t be reused.  So, yeah, trash is still the best.  But part of it is learning, as always, to accept things are out of my control.  So how in the world do I handle that?

Well, I just got back from a run.  I’ve blogged about this before.  But I also have Heron and my dog, Hendrix.  They’re remarkable.  Then there is Long Beach.  Then there is Los Angeles County.  Then there is the entire state of California and the Western United States and the entire country and the small little blue orb floating through an infinite and beautiful galaxy.  And I can spend my nights standing on the cliffs in Belmont Shore, staring at the port, the Queen Mary, the tiny, sliver of a moon resting just about the ancient ship’s smoke stacks.  The orange glow in the background.  The silver metallic ocean.  The sky.  I am temporary, unfortunately, but so are my problems.

So back to Daniel Smith.  The whole book is about dealing with anxiety, and one thing I’m sure of, it’s a life-long practice.  Maybe this post is just about reminding myself about patience.

Should have some new pieces coming out this week.  I’m looking forward to sharing them with you.

Can I Pay for that with a Poem?

Right now, I’m sitting outside of my apartment listening to Miles Davis’ “A Kind of Blue.”  Hendrix, my dog, is watching the night’s sky, and I’m taking a break from a piece I’m writing on the LA poet laureate.  I need to take a break and kind of think away from the page, away from the assignment, to reorient my thoughts.

So, I’ve been trying very hard, over this last month, to find ways to make writing pay.  To use words as commerce, as funding for a life.  But I find myself, right now, wondering about poetry.  It’s a form that I love, but it’s a form that no one, hardly, will pay for.  And I have found that I’ve been writing less and less poetry.

Well, what is the point of poetry?  What is the point of writing it?

When I was in graduate school, I thought about switching from a concentration in Fiction to Poetry.  But in the end, I sort of thought about poetry in a similar way to a hydrogen car.  Lol, let me explain.  The way I understand a hydrogen car is that the by-product of the reaction that takes place is that water is produced.  All this machinery working hard to power an automobile, to have an object move us around the grid, and it produces water — the building block to life.  I sort of thought about poetry in that way.  That when I was writing fiction, the machinery pumping, the byproduct was poetry.  That I would find the poetic moment by working at something else, and it was difficult to force that moment.

But now that I am out in the world, trying to survive without graduate school, I am starting to realize I had it all wrong — poetry is the goal.  It is a job that is “unproductive” and financially suicidal, but it provides me with so much spiritual satisfaction.  When I find the poetic moment, today, it strikes me as something so valuable and rare that it almost startles me.  I want to keep this in my life.  I want to cultivate these moments rather than allow them to startle me.

So, the other night, I found one of these moments at 2:00 a.m. when I was looking for a cab somewhere just outside of Downtown Long Beach.  I called a cab about a half an hour earlier, and I was staring at my phone, waiting for them to let me know they arrived.  I needed to get home.  It was way too late.  So, finally, my phone rang, and I bolted out the door and stepped outside to find the cab.

Nothing there though.  I kept walking down the streets, looking for the cab.  It was late.  The neon lights from a liquor store were blinking like eyelids, and I was lost.  I didn’t even know what street I was on, and, suddenly, I was struck with a sense of fear — was I in a dangerous part of town?

I looked around to gage my surroundings.  A woman walked out of the liquor store, banging on a pack of cigarettes.  I looked into a puddle, and I saw a reflection of the sky, the few visible stars mirrored in the water, when a car drove through it, scattering the parallel world.  I looked up, and I noticed the actual stars for the first time in nearly three weeks.  And across the street, two men were sitting on a bus stop, rapping.

I was no longer scared.  Then the cab pulled up and brought me home.

Whether or not I was successful in relating the significance of that moment, it was something I treasure, because most of the time I’m just rolling stones up a mountain and watching them fall back down.  I treasure the moment that meant nothing and everything at the same time.

Never Say Sorry — How Sunday Breakfast Almost Went Horribly Wrong

About two months ago, standing outside of Eggs Etc. in Long Beach with Heron, my friend Stan Clouds, and Clouds’ fiance, and I experienced something you would never expect on a Sunday morning.  I don’t know how else to describe it than to tell you the story.  The following paragraphs are taken from my journal:

Today, I went to grab breakfast at Eggs Etc. on Redondo Avenue in Long Beach.  We were waiting in line, watching hummingbirds fly into hibiscus, while Stan Clouds told us how he proposed to his girl in South Korea.  Well, his girl is from South Korea — a country where their citizens work much longer hours than Americans — and then Clouds started to tell us that in Korea, no one has manners, and it took some adjusting for him.

“It’s not rude,” Clouds said.  “It’s just cultural.”

I wanted to know why manners were unnecessary.  I wanted to know why passing conversations were a luxury.  I wanted to know how to react when pleasantries and manners were stripped away.  Excited, I wasn’t just talking with my lips; I was talking with my hands.  And I suddenly became aware that I had smacked someone behind me.

“I’m sorry,” I said.  Turning around, I became aware that the person I had hit was a rock of a man.  He was wearing a red T-shirt with rips at the shoulders, and he was bald.  He didn’t respond.  Just stared me down.

“I’m sorry,” I said.

No response.

This mountain of a man kept starting at me, and I could see in his eyes that my identity was not a reality, that he was looking past the corporeal, that he was blinded by the other side of sanity. He continued to stare at me without responding, without a casual, “No problem.”

So again, “I’m sorry,” I said.  I still received the same blank stare as if he was about to pounce, taking aim on my face with his fist.

Meanwhile, cars were driving by on Redondo, passing with a burst of wind; people were eating their breakfast; plates of eggs and banana pancakes were dropped in front of hungry patrons; and this man was using his eyes to scan my soul.  He walked right up to me, and his face was about a few inches from mine now.

“Don’t say sorry,” the man said, reaching out his massive hand.

Then I took his hand in mine.

“Don’t ever say sorry,” he said.  His stare penetrated deeper.  “I’ve traveled all over California.  Been all around.  And I know what sorry really means.  I’ve been sorry before.”

I let go of his hand, but our eyes stayed locked.

“What you did,” he said, “was no reason to be sorry.”

Then we let go of each other’s eyes, like two dogs feeling each other out.  Then he turned and walked away.

I looked back at Heron and my friends, realizing how close I was to real trouble.  Realizing that this man was living in a mechanical world.  Realizing that he understood more about forgiveness than I could know.  Realizing that I had never, truly, been sorry like him.

“I thought you were about to die,” Heron said.  “So glad you’re safe.”

Then the hostess called our name, and we sat down to eat pancakes and drink coffee, while the man walked on Redondo Ave.  He was now shirtless — a rogue prophet.

**********

That moment always stay with me.  It was almost like I was on a crash course with him to teach me a lesson.  If it was a dream, then he would be an archetype.  And I’m not sure why I think about him today.  Maybe I need to remind myself never to be sorry for the choices I make.  I don’t know. I’ll never forget that day.  The man wasn’t in our world — he was clearly sick — but I’ll always remember, “Never say sorry.”

New Piece in the OC Weekly

When I first moved to Southern California, I was living, briefly, in Huntington Beach with Heron and two of our friends.  I remember sitting in the living room and telling one of my friends — let’s call him Stan Clouds — that I was going to find a way to write a story for the OC Weekly.  He believed it, and he was encouraging.  We even spent some time trying to figure out a way to write a story about him.

Well, a year has gone by, and my buddy has moved.  He’s living somewhere in the northwest.  It’s funny how things change.  It’s funny how people move.  It’s funny how you can never know the direction of where things are going when you start.

But this morning, I biked down to 2nd Street in Long Beach to do some work at a Starbucks, and I opened up the OC Weekly to this:

To the Long Beach community, the closing of Berth 55 is an important story, and I was very lucky to help give this issue some attention.

Let me dive a bit deeper.  I wanted to share with you a piece of writing that always resonated with me.  I’m going to paraphrase.  What I’m about to share comes from an essay by Ralph Waldo Emerson.  My buddy, Justin Dennis, told me to read this back in college.  Well, in that essay, Emerson writes, remember I’m paraphrasing, imagine yourself as a boat on the open sea.  When you’re on the open sea, you have to zig zag on your way to your destination.  If there is enemy ship near you — or even a dreaded pirate — you can’t go in a straight line, because your route will be predictable and you’ll be in danger.

Continue reading “New Piece in the OC Weekly”