Monday, August 9, 2010

If Pinocchio only knew......

I recently did the WRDB World Records Show at Joe’s Pub. The record I set was most ice cream cones stacked on my nose- while telling lies:
The idea for this record originated from a Radiolab interview with …… who has given up lying completely. I decided to follow his example, only instead of successfully cutting back on lies, I’ve become more aware than ever of all the white lies I tell- unnecessarily! To help me give up lying I’ve made a list of “the most common lies I find myself saying” here goes………

1. I have a black man’s penis.
2. Of course I remember you!
3. I’m so sorry, my phone died.
4. My boobs are real
5. Oh I’ve been tested
6. I totally speak Latin.
7. Yes, I did sleep with Don Rickles in the Spring of '94 and it was HOT.
8. Sorry, I'm completely stoned right now.
9. Really, I've never tasted chocolate.
10. I have a pony named Norbert.
11. I was just in the neighborhood.
12. You know that song, "She Bangs?" Yeah, it's about me.
13. I don't remember you telling me that.
14. Puff daddy is shopping my band.
15. I can eat anything I want!
16. After I published my book I was able to quit my restaurant job.
17. This is my real vagina.
18. Be there in five.
19. Yeah, it’s designer.
20. I would…..but this is my last piece.
21. The character of Tony Soprano was based on me.
22. I have perfect credit.
23. I understand what that means.
24. Helen Keller just called to tell me I’ve been looking really good lately.
25. I yoddled in Helen Hunt’s canyon.
26. I’m sorry, I didn’t realize you were using that.
27. I fooled around with a unicorn once and I’m still horny.
28. I’m not secretly proud of that joke.
29. I shower daily.
30. Of course I’ve heard of that band.
31. Oh no! I forgot my wallet.
32. It’s okay, I forgive you.
33. I’m really happy with the way my life is turning out.
34. It’s on airplane mode.
35. Trust me this is harder for me than it is for you.
36. I didn’t google you.
37. Your baby is soooo beautiful.
38. I liked him before I knew he was famous
39. I never sit on public toilet seats.
40. I’ve never pooped.
41. We can keep it casual. I’m really independent anyway.
42. This’ll only hurt for a second.
43. Uhhhh my dog has terrible gas right now!
44. Don’t worry it’s not contagious.
45. This is not what it looks like…
46. Oh, we’re just friends.
47. I was born with it.
48. I shot JFK.
49. Don’t I know you from somewhere?
50. Now that I’ve written this list—I will give up lying forever!

(special thanks to help from Anaheed, Shaina and Michael!)

If you liked this record- check out the other record I set on St. Patrick’s Day—Most birthday party hats worn at once:

The New York Regional Mormon Singles Halloween Dance: Clarified!

People often ask me if [The New York Regional Mormon Singles Halloween Dance] is a book about Halloween. Sadly, it’s not, it’s named after an actual LDS church dance that I’ve attended every year for the last nine years that takes place in Manhattan. That being said, I LOVE Halloween. My favorite thing about the bizarre holiday is what it does to my imagination. Like how I felt when I read [The Wind Up Bird Chronicles, One-Hundred Years of Solitude, or Where the Sidewalk Ends] for the first time. And even as an adult I can get completely lost in the making of an original costume. Hours will go by and I will still be hot-gluing.
Although, using my imagination has never been difficult. I grew up in a very inventive home, thanks, in part, to my father. He had a way of making our home a party. On one occasion, he came home from a boring day at the office and yelled, “Line up, tallest to shortest.” He’d seen this in The Sound of Music and had been using it ever since.
All five of us kids lined up against the wall.
“Do you guys know what cereal killers are?” he asked.
We shook our heads no.
“You guys are the cereal killers!” he said emphatically.
He piled us into the van and drove us to Fred Meyer. While he bought us masks, gloves, and squirt guns, we each got to pick out any cereal that we wanted.
From there we headed to several of his friends’ houses, assembling in a clump on their doorsteps while Tina, my oldest sister, rang the bell.
As the door opened we cocked our squirt guns with one hand, and held up our cereal boxes with the other: “Hands up,” we yelled. “We’re the cereal killers!” Then, at my father’s instruction, we went into his friends’ houses and forced them to eat cereal.
It’s only when I tell stories like these to friends that I realize exactly how bizarre my childhood was
Celebrating Halloween fit right into this insanity. We were encouraged to dress however we saw fit: Earwax, an ink stain, or a melting iceberg, nothing was off limits.
The best costume I ever came up with was in fourth grade. We were having prawns for dinner one night in early October when the idea came to me. I’d taken all the discarded prawn heads and put them onto my fingers and I was chasing my younger sister around the house when I caught a glimpse of myself in the hallway mirror. With prawns for fingers I looked like the most magnificent witch. I decided to replicate this look for Halloween, only I went even further. On top of prawn fingers, I had a pointy witch hat, painted green face and I added a jumbo pickle for a nose. Best costume ever award… here I come, I thought.
I was genuinely surprised when all the Minnie Mouses, Batmen and Rambos, didn’t get it.
“That’s disgusting,” the Little Mermaid informed me.
“You smell,” a Transformer said.

I’d like to say that I stood up for my costume, but I didn’t. I ate the pickle, since I was never one for wasting food. And then one by one I pulled each prawn head off and tossed them into the garbage can. Their beady little black eyes looked up at me, Don’t leave. It was time for the all school Halloween parade. I had no choice but to go.
My little brother, dressed as a tree-frog, spotted me walking at the front of the parade.
“What happened to your costume?” he ran up to me and asked. Wearing an oversized green t-shirt with green plastic kitchen gloves taped to his hands and feet he looked more like an amoeba than a tree frog. I gestured for him to go away.
“Didn’t you want to be a witch?”
“I am a witch,” I yelled.
“Then where are your hands?”

It’s moments like these that make you love your family more than anyone else. And it’s for moments like this, that holidays were invented.

The Art of Storytelling!

Today I’d like to write a little bit about the art of storytelling. While my career took off when I started performing at The Moth or for This American Life, I began telling stories in elementary school. I was a chubby kid and I had a hard time making friends. Until one day when I told a story to a girl in my class and she actually laughed. Next thing I knew I was pimping out this gift, telling stories to every person I met in exchange for friendship.
It wasn’t until I met Elizabeth Swados [The One and Only Human Galaxy, My Depression, At Play] that it occurred to me that I should do something with these stories. During my senior year at NYU, Elizabeth Swados, or Liz, was brought in to write and workshop a show with twelve students. I was one of the lucky twelve.
Our first assignment was to tell a story about a sexual experience from the perspective of our parents. While the other students were sharing crass or explicit stories, I sat in my seat wondering how I was going to pull this off. I wanted to complete the assignment, but I didn’t want to disrespect my lovely Mormon parents. When it was my turn to share, I, in my mother’s voice, told a story about the most romantic thing my father had ever done for her.
“It’s not your typical romantic story,” I began, using my mother’s softer voice. “But here goes: I was in the hospital and I’d just given birth to your sister Julia. It was a very hard and a very messy labor and soon as the baby was born the doctor and nurses rushed her out of the room. Gary followed close behind, leaving me completely alone.
Once they were gone, I looked down at my body. I was physically exhausted and my lower half was covered in blood and fluids. All I could think was, I don’t want Gary to see me this way, I look awful. Just as I thought this, your father walked into the room. He took one look at me, scooped me up in his arms and carried me down the hallway to the nearest shower. The nurses were yelling at him to stop, but he ignored them. Fully clothed, he walked into the shower and he bathed me.”
Any way, I shared this (one of my parent’s more private moments) with the entire class. After class Liz pulled me aside, “You have a gift for telling stories,” she said, “Have you ever thought of making a show out of your stories?”
From that day forward, I’d get out of class early on Fridays, go to Liz’s house, sit on her giant blue couch and tell her stories. During this time, and over the course of an eight year mentorship, Liz taught me a great deal about storytelling. These are the two lines from Liz that I find myself repeating the most: “Just tell the story,” and “Don’t be coy.”
As I transitioned from being a storyteller to a writer I discovered how much patience and discipline it takes to put your thoughts on paper. And while the writer’s medium took a lot of adjusting to, it’s still about the basic art of storytelling. To quote the host of a Moth Storyslam, (The Moth is a storytelling series based in New York, I highly recommend their free podcast []) “Start on the action, have a clear beginning, middle, and end, and show a character who fundamentally changes from start to finish.”
In addition to this basic outline and Liz’s advice, the following quotes have inspired me as I write:
“First Thought, Best Thought” – Chogyam Trungpa, Rimpoche
“Notice what you notice.” Allen Ginsberg
“The natural object is always the adequate symbol.” – Ezra Pound
“The Mind must be loose.” – John Adams
“Maximum information, minimum number of syllables.” – Allen Ginsberg
“The unspeakable visions of the individual.” - Jack Kerouac
“Subject is known by what she sees.” – Allen Ginsberg

I also love the Essays [Politics and the English Language and Why I Write by George Orwell]. And while it’s straight out of Hollywood, I actually really like the book [Story by Robert McKee].
If you have any favorite quotes on writing please feel to post them below.

“How do we talk to ourselves at night in the dark? Each on his bed spoke to himself alone, making no sound.” – Charles Reznikoff

Bad Dates Anyone?

I just got home from a bad date. And while it’s always reassuring to consult books like [The Big Book of Bad Dates, by Jo Renfo] or my personal favorite [Love is Hell by Matt Groening], I also love a more literary bad date. For example, there’s the bad date in [Franny and Zoey] or Augusten Burroughs’ romance with a crack addict in [Dry]. I enjoy reading about other people’s bad dates because they make my experiences seem more bearable.
Unlike the authors I mentioned above, my dating failures all stem from the same predicament: I’m trying to stay a practicing Mormon in New York City and have a love life. Because there aren’t very many Mormon men to choose from in the city, I’ve dated primarily non-Mormons. Only because I don’t have sex before marriage the longest relationship I’ve been able to sustain in NYC is 4 weeks. And that’s only because for two of those weeks the guy was out of town.
And so, after having a lot of No Sex in the City, and yet another bad date, I’ve decided to compile this list:


1. Recently I was on a date with a party promoter. He ordered whiskey. I ordered water. Which would’ve been fine except that our pushy waiter kept trying to get me to sample the wine, the sake, the specialty cocktail etc. Finally my date interrupted him, “Don’t give her such a hard time, she’s a Mormon, Mormons don’t drink.” We both laughed, until it dawned on me,
“Wait a second… Did you know I was Mormon, or were you just making a joke?”
“What?” he nearly choked, “You’re a Mormon?”

2. While out on a first date, I found myself defending my decision not to have sex before marriage for the one-hundredth time. “You’re putting the pussy on a pedestal,” my date interrupted, “Sex is a totally natural function. It’s as normal as picking your nose.” He proceeded to dig one finger in and out of his left nostril while smiling suggestively.

3. I was thrilled when a guy from church actually asked me out, that is until he picked me up in his mini-van. As we drove to dinner, I glanced back at all the empty seats and felt overwhelmed by the enormous pressure, He wants me to someday fill this. Dinner wasn’t any better. When I told my Utah born and raised date that I’d been living in the city for nine years he looked at me in shock and said, “Do you at least know how to sew?”

4. After just kissing the same guy three weekends in a row (without ever explaining that I’m a Mormon and my limit is first base) my date got tired of waiting and slid his hand up my shirt. Instinctively, I tensed up.
“You’re so uptight,” he whispered into my ear, “I mean, come on, did you and your last boyfriend even do anal?”

5. And last but not least: I was asked to dinner by a famous French Director.
“You’re a Mormon?” he asked, as soon as I arrived.
“Can you have ze sex?”
I was surprised at his candor. “No,” I answered.
He looked at me in disbelief. “Well if you can’t have ze sex, what can you do?”
For simplicity’s sake I took my left arm and lined it up under my collarbone, “Nothing below here,” I said. I lined my right arm across my knees, “Nothing above here.”
“What about your armpit?” he asked, “Can your boyfriend do anything he wants to ze armpit?”
I thought for a moment, “Yeah,” I said optimistically. “My boyfriend can do anything he wants to my armpit.”
“This is good,” he said, “He can stick his penis in and out of ze armpit, and if you grow hair it is almost like a vagine.”
My jaw dropped. “Is it too late to change my answer?”

Now that I’ve shared a few of my disastrous dates with you, I ask, no, I beg you to share a few of your worst dates with me (it’ll make tonight’s bad date worth all the agony). Do you have any terrible, awkward, or offensive dating stories to share? Please, do tell.

P.S. My one consolation after returning home early is that at least I get to spend more time with my puppy. This is Carlos and I hanging out at home.

(As featured in the picture, I wore an awesome vintage sweater with music notes on it. My date took one look at my sweater and said, Uhh, jazzy, in a voice that made it very clear he was not a fan).

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Hello from the great beyond!

I started writing my book at the artist colony Yaddo []. When I arrived I felt very young and out of place, as though, at any moment, I’d mispronounce something and out myself as a non-literary genius unworthy of the slot. My fears were confirmed the first night at dinner. I turned to the writer sitting next to me and politely asked, “Where in New York City do you live at?”
To which he replied, “In a sentence that doesn’t end with a preposition.”
I left the dining room with my tail between my legs. He later explained that he was trying to set me up for a joke and that I was supposed to have come back with, “Where in New York City do you live at, asshole?”
We obviously weren’t reading from the same script because instead of this sassy line all I saw were the stage directions: Stand up. Clear your plate. Get the hell out of there before you say anything else stupid, asshole.
As luck would have it, writer Andrew Sean Greer arrived my third day at Yaddo. While Andrew’s books [Story of a Marriage, Confessions of Max Tivoli] reflect a more serious thinker, the Andy I know and love is into throwing mash-up dance parties, exploring hidden rooms in the Yaddo mansion, and hiding 5lb. dumbbells in my lunch box. We became fast friends.
One day, several weeks into my residency, one of the poets (a huge fan of Sylvia Plath) told Andy and me that the room Sylvia Plath had once occupied (where she’d completed her first volume of poetry [Colossus]) was going to be vacant for a night. We decided to hold a Sylvia Plath sĂ©ance.
At midnight, holding copies of [Ariel], ceremonious candles and a ouija board,
seven artists snuck into Sylvia’s old room.
“We invite the spirit of Sylvia Plath to join us. Is there a spirit with us now?”
The indicator on the ouija board moved to YES. As a Mormon I was taught not to meddle with things like ouija boards, the game “light as a feather” or chanting Bloody Mary in a bathroom mirror. And so instead of participating I’d offered to be the group scribe.
“Identify yourself,” a poet asked.
“S,Y,L,V,I,A, P,L,A,T,H,” I wrote each letter down.
“Sylvia, tell us about your process?” one of the poets began.
“Is confessional poetry dead?” another poet piped in.
Perhaps it was the fact that six people were holding the indicator, or perhaps the last thing a dead person wants to talk about is their work, either way the indicator went from letter to letter without ever spelling anything discernable. Until all of a sudden, it stopped completely and then started again with newfound vigor.
“E,L,N,A, E,L,N,A, E,L,N,A,” the indicator moved quickly from letter to letter.
“Guys, this isn’t funny.”
“We’re not doing it.”
“Then why is she spelling my name?”
“Do you have a question for Elna?”
“What is it?” I asked Sylvia.
The indicator spun in three full circles and then stopped for good. The poet’s tried calling Sylvia back, but it was pointless, she was already gone.

Half an hour later, walking back to the mansion with Andy, I forgot all about my piety.
“Let’s get the ouija board from the parlor, go back, and find out Sylvia’s question.”
“This sounds like the beginning to a horror film,” Andy groaned.

A few minutes later he was humming a different tune, “We’re here to conjure the spirit of Sylvia Plath… again.”
The indicator started to slink forward.
Andy, unsure of how to conduct, made a face, “Who’s here?” he asked.
“S,Y,L,V,I,A, P,L,A,T,H.”
“Well isn’t that nice. Sylvia, do you still have a question for Elna?”
“What is it?”
“A,M, I, A,M?”
A part of me was certain that Andy was putting me on, so when she asked this particular question, it startled me. Unbeknownst to Andy, I used to repeat a mantra to myself everyday: I am what I am.
“Are you asking me if I am who I say I am?”
“Yes,” I answered, “Why?”
“I, A,M, Y,O,U.”
“What does that mean?” I started to panic. “Do I have a mental illness?”
“R,E,L,A,X,” the ouija board finished.
“Is she being sarcastic?”
“No,” Andrew offered, “I think she means you need to relax into yourself.” He turned to face the ouija board, “Are you saying Elna needs to relax into herself?”
“Told you.”
“But what is it that I’m supposed to do?”
“Help? How? What am I going to be?”
“Nice?” I looked up at Andy, “That’s all? I’m going to be nice?”
“Do you have any other advice for Elna?” he asked.
“L,O,V,E,” as soon as she finished spelling this word, the indicator moved down to the, “GOODBYE.”
RELAX, HELP, NICE, LOVE. Sylvia, known for her intense metaphors and avid description, had become a little general in the afterlife.
Whether it was the real Sylvia Plath singling me out, or Andrew Sean Greer imparting ghostly wisdom, I keep a note card on the bulletin above my desk to remind me of this evening:
“R,E,L,A,X.”-Sylvia Plath