Gentle readers, it’s time I admit things just aren’t working out. Here are the facts: I got canned. A spectacular consulting job on my friend’s film fell through yesterday. Also, my part-time teaching job that made my heart happy—because I enjoyed teaching writing to kids— has “changed” because the non-profit I work for is “reorganizing.” A check for $500 for the TA’ing gig was lost in the mail ten days ago. Rejections flood my inbox. I don’t have an agent. Publishers have not inquired within. I have a surplus of 75 cents in my checking account and I’m driving on fumes. My neck is out. My boyfriend is sick of buying the Friskies. I may be eligible for unemployment.
My soaring career in the adult industry has placed me outside the realm of “easy hire.” Not that I’m hankering for a nine to fiver, but I wouldn’t shake a stick at a parking spot and health insurance right now, so I’m applying for a job at Trader Joe’s. I’m pitching a couple articles to a magazine that pays. If they won’t have me, Jumbo’s Clown Room will. Please don’t be disappointed in me. A girl’s gotta do..
All is not lost.
I got an email from the Michelle Tea tribe at Radar that informed me I had been chosen for the Radar Lab Fellowship in Akumal, Mexico where I would write near the ocean all day and have sit down dinners with literary super stars.
Whose life was this? Radar! It was like being handed a fizzy lifting drink from Willy Wonka’s dance-y hand after a dry, protracted thirst. It was too good. Was this happening? The neglected five-year old in me figured it was a cruel joke, an accident. Soon I would soon receive an apology “oops” email. Then I could cry in peace and blast the Alabama Shakes. But the emails I got were from Beth Pickins and Ali Liebegott asking me, “Have you bought your ticket yet?” and a list: “things you will need to bring to Akumal.”
I went from loser to lucky fucker. After being rejected by several fancy fellowships, I was going to rock Radar Lab. The only rules: work quietly for several silent hours and don’t bug the turtle nests. I dug into my book and tore its guts out and found the narrative skeleton and reconstructed it. I rewrote the clunker scenes—made them rise from the dead. I wrote until my fingers numbed. I wrote for ten hours a day, grateful to honor the work and allow new ideas to develop in a place outside of anxiety, frustration rejection and scarcity.
And it was so affirming to be surrounded by freaks like me. Beautiful freaks like Nicolas Boggs who is writing a gorgeous memoir about James Baldwin and wanted to talk about scene and dialogue and exposition. Freaks like Jennifer Blow-dryer. Her bright essays glittered with sass and refined rough trade. Freaks like Michelle Tea and Ali Liebgott who wanted to chat about characters and endings. Freaks like CA Conrad and Miguel Gutierrez who have orchestrated their lives around creating art and demanded that we rise up to meet them inside of it. Multifaceted freaks like Ariel Schrag and Clare Myers who toy with ghosts, make magic and illustrations. Freaks like Max Wolf and Ali and all of us who long to write a great book so we can write another great book, and another. Freaks who know how to write grants and fucking get grants. The Radar freaks brought it.
Radar granted me permission to soar, regardless of my bank account balance. And for a few days, I honestly felt like I was contributing something of value to the world by writing my stories. New beliefs replaced old ones while swimming in the warm ocean. Beliefs like:
I could be part of something magical like living inside of one of CA Conrad’s poems and feeling empathy for a sand crab fighting for space. After a long day’s work, I could feel pure joy. I could write my ass off all day and be fulfilled.
I didn’t know so many shades of blue existed before condo #8. The turquoise, navy blue and green Caribbean stretched for galaxies. Hot computers sat on counter tops next to Mexican Peanut Butter and homemade tortillas. Headphones weighed down literary and trashy magazines. On the table were piles of notes on real paper and notebooks wrecked with words that seared and killed and kissed.
We came from Philly, NY, Brooklyn, LA and San Francisco with two things in common: a love of prose and a current, meaningful connection to Michelle Tea and the Radar Reading Series. The thunder startled me. Hot wind raged. A sea turtle the size of a Mini Cooper slid onto shore directly beneath the balcony to welcome me at midnight. She dug her mighty oar-fins in the sand right before the storm came. I watched her make sand rain until the real rain pounded down.
I knew about the turtle sanctuary in Akumal but didn’t anticipate being completely obsessed with them. Our resident turtle shepherd, Juan cruised the beach beneath our balcony with his red flashlight, seeking them out. When he released the babies into the ocean, I stood by and watched in awe. Kids ran up to check out the excitement. Juan scolded them, “Get back! Don’t touch them.” He cleared the path to the ocean. Sea turtles are born with the instinct to march into ocean the second they land on sand and also with the instinct to return to their birth beach up to 25-years later to lay their eggs. I was touched by the delicacy of survival while watching them and I wondered how do they know how to get back home after so many years?—how do any of us? Like Los Angeles, hungry barracudas and angry pterodactyl birds wait for the tender turtles’ arrival only to gobble their baby fresh bits immediately. One out of 100 baby sea turtles survive long enough to give birth. I cheered the babies on.
Before lab hours, a few of us hit a 7a.m. yoga class which was a fifteen minute walk into the tiny town of Akumal with mom and pop shops and trinket huts along the road. Kudamundies or “lonely cats” emerged from bushes. They looked part squirrel, raccoon and opossum. They grew bold and soft by the junk food tossed by tourists. They’re known to climb a fat American leg for a cracker if they have to. I wished I had a donut to feed them, but I only had a mug of black coffee. Kudamundies were like speed freaks after crashing from a bender, frantic and focused on the swag.
Needless to say, I found a collection of stray kittens to feed outside the one grocery store. The clerk on her smoke break rolled her eyes. I wanted to snag a cat carrier and bring them all home, but I had to hurry back to condo #8 for lab hours because I will never give up.