A Brief Hello With Karl Ove Knausgård

P hoto credit:  WaterstonesTCR

Photo credit: WaterstonesTCR

By Conor White-Andrews

It’s late August, almost September, and over London the sky is a silently shifting collage of whites and grey. It’s still the summer, technically, but the weather outside his window—heavy grey, gentle rain, harsh yellow lights of offices and red tips of cranes burning against the gloom—suggests a changing of the seasons, perhaps a damp fading back into the autumn dark.

Buttoning up his plain white shirt, the man watches the rain. The hotel he’s staying in is in a nice part of town. He could see that when he arrived, having lived in the city before—in neighbourhoods bearing little resemblance to the one he’s in now—but the room is still dingy, basic nonetheless. There’s still a need for both the lamp beside the bed and lamp on the desk, where a plastic white kettle sits alongside red sachets of instant coffee and tea with two white mugs, to be constantly switched on in order to sufficiently light the room.

Adjoining the suite is a small balcony, shielded from the rain by the small identical balcony above, and now he collects the blue carton of cigarettes from the bedside table, the table with the lamp, and lets himself outside. On the balcony it’s warmer than he’d expected—the air thick, humid, heavy—and the man is reminded, again, of the strange turning of the seasons, the gradual then sudden retreat to darkness. But it doesn’t bother him, this fading, as he smokes a cigarette on the small balcony adjoining the room. That’s because it’s merely part of the cycle—an essential element; something he has addressed in his latest book, which he will be discussing later, in a bookshop somewhere in the city. He observes the rain as he would the dust, the grass, and the sun on a dry summer's day.

On the street directly below, a line of traffic—black cabs, red buses, everyday vehicles functioning as Ubers—shuffles forward at a pace too slow to properly distinguish, a series of red brake lights stretching on out of sight. Exhaling, the man drops the cigarette butt from his fingers. Inside, he makes another coffee, his third already that morning, and then checks his phone; his wife, Linda, has not called back. He will call her again soon. His watch shows 9:45, not even 10 o’clock, and he has hours to kill.

In a dingy hotel room lit by two yellow lamps, he has hours to kill. He fingers the metal lighter in his pocket, thinks about smoking another cigarette. He doesn’t though, and instead sits down at the desk. He drinks the last of his coffee—soon, he will want another—before pushing back the screen of his laptop and turning it on. He yawns as the machine blinks into life. His latest project—what it is, precisely, he isn’t quite sure—is saved as a folder on his desktop. He taps at it quickly, twice. The words that appear before him, black against white, form sentences, might even make sense, but the man doesn’t yet know what they mean. That will come later. But in his hotel room, the one in the nice part of town, he has hours to kill, and now it’s important to work. He clicks at the white plastic kettle, and in seconds it begins to scream.

I don’t know Karl Ove Knausgård, and it alarms me that I think I might. As anybody who has even partially read his epic series My Struggle will appreciate, the idea—the mental image—one forms of Knausgård is uncomfortably strong, and arrives in unflinchingly graphic detail. What makes it all the more interesting, however, is that, despite the project being almost directly autobiographical—and heavily marketed as such—as the confession of the century, its autobiographical nature is perhaps its least interesting facet.

Because of a misguided attempt at marginally cutting costs, I was late to the conversation Knausgård was having at the Waterstones on Tottenham Court Road, London, with an American literary agent. The event started at 7 p.m., and I didn’t arrive until 7:40. I took a seat at the very back, sweating and struggling to control my breathing after sprinting wildly from the station. I looked around and there was Knausgård, sitting on a stool at the front. He was smaller than I’d imagined, maybe, but still fundamentally the man I had watched in YouTube videos and speaking in the same thoughtful, considered voice. He was talking about Madame Bovary, gesturing with his hands. He said that Madame Bovary is the definitive novel, that in it Flaubert had captured the very essence of our reality, its textures, and offered it back in the form of words. He said that he had read Flaubert’s letters, and that what fascinated him was how Flaubert engaged equally in every aspect of his existence, how he did not discriminate. Knausgård spoke a little more about eating, shitting, shaving, and the multitudes of everyday life. He did not discriminate.

The talk ended 10 minutes after I arrived. At that point, there were to be questions from the audience, and I was able to ask the second question. There was a pause as the microphone was brought over. Stuttering, I asked Knausgård about structure. I asked him about how he deals with structure, when the books feel so much like an outpouring of strong, visceral emotion. I felt my skin burn as he grappled with my words, possibly wondering how to deal with a stupid question. Then Knausgård, looking at me from his stool at the front, said, hesitantly, that it’s not something he particularly worries about. He said that, as younger writer, he was crushingly aware of writing as a type of performance. He said that for years he wrote with painstaking intent, with a pose, until, one day, it became something else. He likened to it to rehearsing, and told me to keep writing, furiously, until the transition from the internal to the external becomes second nature. In A Death in the Family, he writes, “Writing is about drawing the essence of what we know out of the shadows. That is what writing is about.”

After the event had finished, Knausgård was signing copies of his latest book, translated into English, Autumn. I bought a beer, a Brooklyn Lager, and waited in line. Standing there, I watched as the various people went up and had their books signed. A number of them took photos and selfies with Knausgård, and I thought that he looked uncomfortable; though I am not sure whether this is because I have read his books and feel like I might know him, or because he actually looked uncomfortable. We chatted briefly when my turn came. He was friendly, and wrote, “Keep going!” at the front of my copy. It was surreal, standing before a stranger about whom you know intimate, personal details. I wondered about Linda, his wife, and about how the kids are. I wanted to ask about life on the farm.

But, again, I don’t know Knausgård, and to approach it in this way, I think, is to fundamentally miss the point. He’s a writer’s writer, and his is an oeuvre that engages constantly with the idea, the notion of literature, of writing itself. It’s imperative, it suggests, to look not at the artist, but at the art; at that which cannot be expressed in words being expressed in words. It’s adding form to something amorphous in the shape of sentences, capturing an essence, something magnified by the fact that most of us read his work as translation. His books, through their very creation, subvert our notions of what the form is, and how we engage with it. They are a testament to the power of literature—to its perpetual evolution—and to language as a whole. As Knausgård says, we must keep going.

The Writer’s Bone Essays Archive

The Extermination of Copy Editors

By Matt DiVenere

Copy editors, the silent defenders of the written word, are under attack from multiple fronts and there is nothing they can do to defend themselves.

Was that too dramatic of an opening? Not even close.

When you look at the current state of journalism, copy editors should be the bell of the ball.  Instead, industry giants are rendering copy editors useless—pawns in an unfair game with the deck stacked incredibly against them.

We have been given one of two reasons why this is all unfolding: an industry shift toward more video content and a “lack of readership.” You’ve seen the internal memos being leaked that explain the company’s commitment to “staying with the times” and “responding to our viewers.”

However, the decision to move away from journalism happened a long time ago. It happened very subtly at first. But now that click-bait and video content runs the village, those who seek the written word have become labeled the village idiots.

Although this trend has gone on for much longer than it seems, it’s only come to fruition thanks to the slew of layoffs and restructuring in some of the largest media companies in the world. But there is one group of brave men and women who are standing up for themselves in the only way they know best: through the written word.

If you’re not following what is happening at The New York Times, you should. Not for the reason why you think, however. Yes, it is devastating what is happening to those copy editors. Staff cuts, workload increases, and an overall lack of respect being shown to them make an already thankless job nearly impossible to do.

What happens when our entire society needs information, but has no idea where to go?

I cannot imagine a world where we will question the reporters at the newspaper of record, because that would terrify me. And it should terrify you, too. Where do you turn once your most trusted source becomes null and void? What happens when you have no one to turn to for the truth? For objectivity? What happens when our entire society needs information, but has no idea where to go?

Are you going to believe everything you find on the Internet? Will you believe nothing at all and make up your own narrative as to what is really going on?

Both scenarios are dangerous. Unfortunately, both scenarios are happening right now. We have our political parties labeling news organizations as “fake news” and are more concerned about which way they are politically leaning than what is actually being told. This has sent such a shockwave through the American people to the point where it is now part of the everyday conversation. Instead of trusting a news source and the job it has done vetting the story, the first response is always politically based.

It is the responsibility of a news organization to deliver the facts of the story and to allow its readers the opportunity to start a dialogue and form their own opinions on the matters at hand. It is one of the pillars of journalism in this country. And the facts need to be 100 percent correct, every single time. No exceptions.

By eliminating copy editors and by pinning reporters into a click-bait corner, we are stripping them of their power. We cannot continue down this path. We need to empower them. We need to support them.

So bravo to the brave copy editors at The New York Times. Your stand doesn’t fall on deaf ears. It should be echoed to the masses. Keep fighting.

More Writer’s Bone Essays

Blame Ricky Bobby for CNN’s Retracted Story

By Matt DiVenere

Can we all admit that CNN has had a rough few months? The culmination of it all is the “resignation” of three CNN journalists because of a retracted and inaccurate article on hedge-fund manager Anthony Scaramucci and his alleged relationship with a Russian investment fund that was being investigated by the Senate.

Here’s the problem: Every news outlet would jump at the bit for this story. And, according to The New York Times, that’s exactly what CNN did by publishing this article—they jumped despite the network’s standards team concerns. I would have loved to be a fly on the wall for this meeting and who made the final decision to publish it.

Not too long ago (in a galaxy far, far away), when there was a retraction because of an inaccurate article, there were specific people in the workflow that the newspaper could point to. Yes, this error fell on these strong, veteran reporters and they paid the ultimate price for it.

Forget “fake news.” This is the Ricky Bobby generation. If you ain’t first, you’re last.

But let’s look at the bigger issue at work here. In today’s media landscape, news needs to be broken fast. It needs to be sent out before the ink dries. Well, the Internet ink at least. And when that story is broken, it gets repeated across hundreds of websites and on countless hours of network television.

This isn’t the first time a reporter has gotten a story wrong, and it certainly will not be the last. This need for speed mentality allows for crucial steps to be skipped, sped-up, or done just for show with any suggested changes or results ignored.

Now, I say this without any knowledge on what exactly happened behind the scenes at CNN, but there has to be accountability across the entire industry for articles like this. Especially now when you have the President of the United States spending (clearly) an abundant amount of time and (possibly) resources tracking network journalists’ every move.

Forget “fake news.” This is the Ricky Bobby generation. If you ain’t first, you’re last.

Journalists have always been competitive in nature. It’s just a part of the culture. Throw that competitive streak into a society that thrives on viral news, and you are bound to see people stretch their means to “win.” It’s a broken system and the only way it’s headed is down.

Everything the job has stood for is being dragged through the mud. It’s time to win back our integrity and to boot out anyone who thinks otherwise.

What’s worse is we need this system more than ever. We need it to be fixed, fast. But who will do it? Who can do it?

This is where the story becomes a tragedy for me. If you look at the younger generation of journalists, how will they be taught to succeed? Will the ultimate goal for future journalists be page views and notoriety? Will it be breaking meaningful, well-sourced news or is the race going to be the only driving force in the industry?

There are no easy answers. There’s no overnight fix. This will take a movement and it has to start from within. The scale is tipping against journalists every second. Everything the job has stood for is being dragged through the mud. It’s time to win back our integrity and to boot out anyone who thinks otherwise. It’s time.

More Writer’s Bone Essays

Northern Exposure: Three Weeks in Toronto

By Alexander Brown

It’s three weeks ago, mid-May in Toronto. The temperature is pleasant. Still sweater-weather for some, but I’m in shorts and a t-shirt. I’m in the midst of being cycled off Escitalopram and Bubropion, and an unexpected side effect has caused my body temperature to rise 10 degrees. Any additional layers and I’d have looked like I’d spent the morning sweating it out at a methadone clinic.

My new, mid-tier Nikon DSLR is draped across my good eye, when my bad eye, the one that required an eye-patch when I was young, spots the shape of what appears to be a middle-aged woman moving towards me with purpose.

“Do you have permission to take that?”

My normal, overly polite Canadian courtesies failed me. The preceding 24 hours had been tough. A real Bad Day.

“Didn’t know I needed it.”

“Well you do, people are here to study and you’re making them uncomfortable.”

I looked around the reference library’s atrium and couldn’t match eyes with a single solitary soul.

“Are you sure about that?” Again, a Bad Day had happened.

“You need permission!” She was getting angrier, probably understandably so. “What are these photos even for?”

She liked it even less when I told her I didn’t know.

On the way out the door I stopped at security and asked for permission. They made me fill out a form. Once it was complete a sleepy security guard stamped his permission in dull blank ink and told me to keep it on me as long as I was taking photos. I handed it right back to him and told him I already had.

“So why did you fill it out?” He asked.

“I don’t know.”


A week passes and I’m getting a bit better. My body temperature has slid back into an acceptable range and all I have to contend with is the odd electric shock in my head. The honest-to-goodness accepted medical term for this phenomenon is known as “brain zaps.” They only happen about twice a day. I’m still weary from the Bad Day, but there’s a growing distance to the proceedings.

I’m taking even more photos. I circumnavigate Toronto and parts of Southern Ontario like Magellan himself. I don’t always get the aperture settings right. I’m learning, though. Getting a bit better. Or at least that’s what I tell myself.


Two weeks pass and I’m in the country. The lightning strikes are gone. I take photos of plants, trees, and the sky. There’s very little to do, but no permission forms required.

On cloudless nights I can see the Bad Day has drifted even farther away, its lights only occasionally visible on the horizon. 


It’s three weeks later and I’m here, and again I’m thinking about that woman. She had told me I needed permission. She wanted to know what these photos were for. Why I was taking them.

I couldn’t tell her she was right, that I did need permission, or how I was there because the Bad Day had been my fault; that the camera in my hand had arrived knowing that day would come and that I needed it more than she could ever know.

And maybe she would have understood: she of the inclination to make a beeline across a crowded atrium just because she cared enough to do so. She’d had Bad Days. Probably even Worse Days.

I could have told her everything, but I wasn’t ready.

I took these photos instead.

And as it turns out, I think some of them are pretty good.    

The Writer's Bone Essays Archive

To Live And Write In L.A.: The Ballad of Hassel and Kylo

By Hassel Velasco

Currently working on: HTTAN, And Other Love Stories.
Currently Listening To: “DAMN.” Kendrick Lamar
Currently Reading: 100 Love Sonnets, Pablo Neruda

No, really, don't call it a comeback. It's me. Still living in Los Angeles with no hope of changing that anytime soon. I was also advised against "Flo-writah," and I guess I put too much value into that opinion, but I'm here nonetheless.

What's happened in the last eight months you ask? Oh, you didn't ask...

Buckle-in, I'm going to tell you anyway.

Act 1

With what seemed to look like my last two weeks in Los Angeles, my hope for finding an inexpensive place to live was rapidly escaping. I had come across a couple of apartments within my price range (and 3 percent of those were not crack houses!). The problem I encountered often was this ludicrous belief that in order to rent a place, you had to also put down a deposit equivalent to two white tigers and a blood diamond.

I don't get it...and I don't think I ever will. With a week to go, a place opened up, a bit outside of my price range, but fuck it, I had already ordered the blood diamond and didn't want any negative feedback on my eBay account.

Oh, I forgot to mention I also got something to try and warm my cold dead heart. His name is Kylo. He has big ears, a bigger heart, and he likes to party. Here's a picture.

And yes that's a Hawaiian shirt.

He's a fan of Bark-a-Ritaville. Get it...

Act 2

My place was slowly coming along and becoming my own. Kylo was settling in, getting along (somewhat) with the cat. I was surviving and this city wasn't going to take that away from me. Scratch that, I mean this city was going to try its very best to take it all away from me like a studio that's no longer happy with the seventeenth draft of "Giraffic Park," starring Amy’s recently birthed calf Tajiri. (Production on hold.)

At the end of 2016, Kylo got sick and so did my computer. I made the mistake of thinking a seven- to eight-month old puppy wouldn't be curious about a garbage bag and its melted chocolate contents at the bottom. I was wrong, but luckily he recovered and I still had my blood diamond. Not for long though. One computer logic board failure later and poof! I had trouble picking up my computer from repair because of my lack of funds (the blood diamond market is very saturated), and this in turn caused me to miss an important deadline.

Goodbye, HBO. Oh, hello, rent...

Life has a weird way of bringing you back down from the clouds.

Act 3

So, by this point 2017 had gotten off to a dreadful start, but I kept my head up. I kept working and soon enough I found myself up for a promotion at work. A promotion I had applied to and been turned away twice before. But this time it was different. I was prepared and I knew the role. I had been living it.

Life has a weird way of bringing you back down from the clouds. As Leo (Leonardo DiCaprio, to strangers) would tell you...amazing work doesn't always pay off. And like Leo prior to 2016, my work was overlooked and I was turned away once again. It's just the way life goes.

Maybe I'm not meant to succeed, maybe I'm the person pushing the people around me to succeed. Maybe I'm a better “Best Supporting Actor” than a lead. I do somewhat feel like the perpetual silver medal. Everyone's back up plan. But, hey, let's keep this going. Can't quit now. And if I am going to the worthy sidekick, I’ll be the Christoph Waltz of second bananas.

I wish the circumstances were different, but for now, I am glad to be writing again. But at least my high maintenance roommate lightens up the mood when I need it! 

Remembering Carrie Fisher

Photo courtesy of  Star Wars' Facebook page

Photo courtesy of Star Wars' Facebook page

By Sean Tuohy

Last year, Writer’s Bone attempted to feature Carrie Fisher in a 30-minute phone interview regarding her career as a script doctor and novelist. Unfortunately, the interview never happened, and we're saddened that we'll never get to hear more of Fisher's riveting, and often self-deprecating, stories.

On Dec. 27, the world lost a great actress, writer, and mental health advocate. Fisher’s lightning-fast wit, paired with her self-loathing brand of humor, charmed audiences, and she brightened a movie screen with just her presence. 

In between acting, Fisher became a sought after screenwriter in Hollywood and a beloved novelist. As blunt and honest as she was in person, Fisher was more so on the page. Her books, The Princess Diarist, Wishful Drinking, and Postcards From The Edge, were all honest and upfront about her abuse issues, her stalled acting career, and being an icon in the nerd community (and, let's face it, the galaxy at large).

When a script needed work, Fisher was often called in to save the day. She helped production on many films, including “My Girl 2,” “Coyote Ugly,” “Outbreak,” and “Lethal Weapon 3.” She also adapted Postcards From The Edge into a film starring Meryl Streep and directed by Mike Nichols.

Fisher could have easily skated by on her Hollywood pedigree (she’s the daughter of actress Debbie Reynolds and singer Eddie Fisher) and her iconic role as Princess Leia. However, she evolved into much more, which is why social media has been flooded with heartfelt grief.

Carrie Fisher was a writer, an advocate, and a role model, but, most importantly, she was herself. Always.

May the force be with you, Princess. You will be missed. 

Thanksgiving 2016: The Kid in the Pernicious Penny Loafers

(Photo credit: Anthony Quintano)

(Photo credit: Anthony Quintano)

By Gary Almeter

Years from now, when I’m facing the firing squad, I will remember that distant evening when my wife and I walked to the Upper West Side to observe balloons inflate.

I will recall on that unseasonably warm November evening—Thanksgiving Eve 1999 to be precise—that we headed out from our East 81st Street apartment and walked through Central Park to the Museum of Natural History.

We were newlyweds, having been married four months prior, and this was our first Thanksgiving in Manhattan. We found the entrance to the designated viewing path and, along with about four zillion others, watched as giant polyurethane Peanuts characters, the Honey Nut Cheerios bee, Rocky and Bullwinkle, and Betty Boop get filled with helium.

Thousands of people, from every direction and with neuroses from every page of the DSM-IV, merged into the designated viewing path (hereafter “DVP”) at its origin, like human tributaries toward a giant festive river. The DVP meandered through and among the helium inflation process for all of the balloons that were to float down Broadway the following day.  

While in the DVP, meandering with my wife amidst the autumnal reverie, I was kicked in the head by a boy riding atop his father’s shoulders. I saw him out of the corner of my eye. He didn’t do it on purpose. It’s just impossible to sit on top of your father’s shoulders and not have your feet head level with the person in front of you.

I was soon kicked again and turned around to look the offenders in the eye. The boy was about 3 or 4 years old, a little too big for piggyback rides, but, in light of the circumstances and our surroundings, was not completely out of the realm of acceptable human behaviors. The boy was wearing penny loafers, argyle socks, brown cords, sweater, and a puffy vest. His old man was dressed similarly, but with a shirt, tie, and blazer. They both looked me in the eye and said nothing.

I turned back around, however, I began to eavesdrop on them. The boy’s name was “Larken” and the father would say it twice every time he said it. For example, “Look over there, Larken, it’s Tommy Pickles from ‘Rugrats,’ Larken,” and, “Oh my gosh, Larken, it’s the Cat in the Hat, Larken.” These were all exclamations more than mere observations, as though each balloon was being inflated exclusively for Larken’s benefit and enjoyment. 

After Larken kicked me in the head again, I turned around to confront him. The conversation went like this: 

Me to Larken: “Larken, please stop kicking me in the head.”

Larken’s father (dumbfounded, as though no one in the history of Larken’s short stupid life had ever suggested he was anything but flawless): “Larken isn’t doing it on purpose.” 

Me to Larken's father: “Be that as it may, Larken still needs to stop.” 

Larken’s father: “Be that as it may, I can’t make his feet not touch you, buddy.”

Me to father: “Yes, you can.”

Father to me: “I actually can’t, buddy.”

Me to Larken: “Quit it, Larken.”

It was then that my brand new wife pulled me away from the conflict. I think she and Larken’s father, and probably Larken himself, knew that I could have kicked Larken’s ass. I would have too. Thanksgiving or no Thanksgiving, 4 years old or 40 years old, I don’t give a fuck. Anyway, we scurried through the DVP and away from Larken and his father. We probably missed the best balloons. 

This event stays with me. I think about that kid with greater frequency than is probably healthy. I don’t do chin ups while listening to Iron Maiden with the hope and expectation of one day exacting my revenge on Larken, but I do think about it nonetheless. Every Thanksgiving Eve, in fact. (Along with the blessings, my children, the good Lord above, the cornucopia, and the blessings again, and the joyfulness, and the turkey.) 

Larken is about 21 years old today. Where is he? Does he go to an Ivy League school? Why do I assume he’s attending an Ivy League school? Where does he live? Where did he live in November 1999? Did he and his mother take the train into the city to meet his father after work? If so, from where? Connecticut? Pelham Manor? Larchmont? Manhasset? Some other gilded zip code?

I thought about him shortly after Sept. 11, 2001. Did he lose anyone he loved? If so, who? Was he scared? Ambivalent? Does he play sports? Lacrosse? Squash? Baseball? Does he still wear penny loafers? Does family still visit the DVP on Thanksgiving Eve to watch the balloons being inflated (and kick other unsuspecting patrons in the head I’m sure)?

What the hell kind of name is Larken, anyway? If I Googled and researched the scant information I have on Larken, would I be able to locate him? Do his parents love him? Does he have siblings? Is he loved? When did he lose his virginity? Is he gay? Straight? Bisexual? Out?  Transgendered? Is he a birther? An anti-vaxxer? A vegan? 

I am learning that I have a very low tolerance for people who were born on third base. I have zero tolerance for people who were born on third and think they hit a triple, but I do reserve some tolerance for those merely born on third. I assume Larken was born on third base—a safe assumption in light of the fact he was wearing penny loafers and had a smartly dressed father who looked at me with eyes that registered nary a thought, hint of analysis, or a modicum of a possibility that he would ever apologize.

How corrosive is this lack of tolerance? I’m starting to wonder, especially in light of recent electoral events that put on display kids of a famous father who genuinely think that they are superior (genetically and intellectually) to other people. That really bothers me. More succinctly, it is an injustice. I was in New York City teaching kids, many of them sons and daughters of undocumented workers who took the Subway over an hour each way to and from school, went home and took care of their siblings, and did their laundry and cooked their own meals while the parents worked. The third base kids likely would not last a day doing all that. 

When I was little, my family had a plaque featuring an old Native American proverb hanging on our kitchen wall. It said: “Grant that I may not criticize my neighbor until I have walked a mile in his moccasins.”

This hung near the heating register, over which we stood on winter mornings to get warm, so it was the subject of a great deal of analysis. We asked questions like:   

  • “Mom, if you walk a mile in the neighbor’s moccasins then do you have to walk back to give the moccasins back to the neighbor?”
  • “What if you and your neighbor have different sized feet?” 
  • “Who wears moccasins in Buffalo in January?” 
  • “What if it’s raining and you ruin the neighbor’s moccasins?”  

Later, while teaching English in New York, I taught To Kill a Mockingbird and highlighted the passage, “You never really know a man until you understand things from his point of view, until you climb in his skin and walk around in it.” 

I don’t hate Larken. I don’t think I do anyway. I don’t know for certain that he is an asshole, but the warning signs were there in November 1999. It’s not his fault his parents named him Larken, bought him penny loafers and a puffy vest for toddlers, and didn’t demand he stop kicking people in the head.

But I have never walked a mile in his moccasins or his steel toe penny loafers of torment. While the Native American proverb is silent as to penny loafers, it would seem that it might be applicable. Luckily, for all of us, empathy is a learned skill. 

Essays Archive

Remembering Gwen Ifill

By Daniel Ford

Gwen Ifill, co-anchor of “PBS NewsHour” and moderator of “Washington Week,” died yesterday at the age of 61. 

Ifill was a trailblazing journalist who brought warmth, dignity, and class to a profession that doesn’t always reward those qualities. As a young journalist in New York City, I admired Ifill because she wore her passion, objectivity, and intellectual curiosity on her sleeve, and never failed to bring a smile and kind personality to even the most rancorous debates and discussions.   

Our nation is entering an era of uncertainty, one in which press freedom could be severely curtailed or discredited. As television critic Daniel Fienberg said on Twitter, “This is not the time to lose journalists of dignity, integrity, and professionalism.” My hope is that Ifill’s steadfast adherence to journalistic principles will provide a blueprint for aspiring journalists so that our citizens don’t forget, abandon, or abolish the American ideals people like Ifill embodied so brilliantly. 

During one of the talks below, Ifill says something that sums up everything I believe about journalism and the American experience. She was promoting her book, but was more eager to hear from the audience. She says, “I’ll turn it over to your questions because that’s how I get to learn stuff back.” Ifill understood that true learning comes from listening, which is why it’s imperative that you take time in the coming weeks and months to listen to her words and thoughts regarding our political system and today’s news media. We’re going to need to learn an awful lot in a hurry. 

Gwen Ifill, you will be sorely missed. I hope we live up to your classy example. 

Iron Ass: What It Takes to Keep the Writing Dream Alive

By Daniel Ford

Author and journalist Tom Shroder gave a fitting description to his Pulitzer Prize-winning grandfather MacKinley Kantor during our recent podcast interview: “He just had this iron will and a steel butt.”

Shroder’s The Most Famous Writer Who Ever Lived features a wonderful story about Kantor doggedly typing out a novel during a stormy sea voyage with one hand while his other held down his typewriter. I’ll echo Shroder’s own reaction to the tale by saying, “Jesus.” Odds are I’ve looked at least 50 tweets since I started this piece, and I’m on solid ground.

I typically don’t give a lot of thought to why I’m a writer. It’s just what I do. It’s what I’ve always done. The impulse to put words to paper is the first thing I think about when my caffeine-deprived brain wakes up in the morning. And if I don’t do enough writing during the day (which is often the case, sadly), then it’s the last thing I feel guilty about when I finally pass out well past my bedtime. The iron will Shroder mentioned allows me to keep at it, even when the steel butt isn’t quite willing or able.   

As often happens when you sit down with an old friend you haven’t seen in more than a decade, you learn things about yourself that prompt you to reflect on your life through a different lens. Stephanie Schaefer and I were in Nashville recently, and we had the opportunity to share a few cocktails with someone I knew from high school. He couldn’t get over the fact I was still a writer. He complimented my work, as well as Writer’s Bone’s success, and I was self-deprecating to the point I thought Steph’s eyes were going to lodge in the back of her head. He mentioned that he always wanted to write a novel and that he couldn’t get past the first chapter of anything he started.

Even with him puffing me up, I couldn’t help but think of all the notes cluttering my Moleskin notebook, and the typed pages featured red cross-outs and dejected notes in the margin. My unfinished work outweighs my published/finished work by several oil barges. During my trip to Nashville I came up with an idea that has Sean Tuohy salivating, yet, it sits in my text messages like an unwanted pile of week-old McNuggets.

I do feel proud of stories like “343” and “Cherry on Top,” but I view them more as next steps in my evolution as an author. I’ve conditioned my mind to think about what’s next rather than what’s been. Otherwise, I’d get bogged down in all the ideas that have slipped out of my mind, and all the tossing and turning that occurs while trying to tune out (or tune into) characters that demand their stories told. So it’s less an iron will and more of an anxiety-filled compulsion whose rewards (not monetary, of course) are so intoxicating that you could never imagine stepping off the literary roller coaster ride you’re strapped into.

Look, for all of the above reasons, writing is an insane profession that you have to be half-crazy to want to aspire to be in it. The following passage from Hassel Velasco’s “To Live And Write In L.A.” series is about love, but it could easily refer to writing:

You could also beg for mercy, and let life put you out of your misery before love sinks its razor sharp claws deep into you. I had been avoiding this scenario for as long as I could, but I found myself entering the arena again, yes, naked and unarmed, locking eyes with the beast and hoping it wanted to devour me as much as I wanted it to. However, I learned that there's no use in living a life without love, there's no point in living if you're not willing to be vulnerable and be eaten alive. You don't really live until you're ready to die.

(By the way, Hassel, that series ends when we say it ends. Vive la “To Live and Write In L.A.!”)

The other day, author Nicole Blades offered up sensational advice to aspiring authors, which serves as the perfect ending to this rambling start to what I hope will be a continuing essay series:

“Find your voice and rock with that.”

And so I shall.

The Writer’s Bone Essays Archives

A Mother's Notebook: Inspiring the Next Generation of Writers and Readers

Photo courtesy of  Jimmie

Photo courtesy of Jimmie

By Catherine Kearns

When I was younger, I enjoyed buying school supplies. It wasn’t because I wanted the coolest folder or newest backpack (I used the same red JanSport for years). The fact was I loved knowing that the notebook I was holding would become part of me for the next eight months. It would contain all the new ideas and theories I would learn over the course of the school year. These pages would be filled with my own handwriting. I could look back on these pages and be reminded of the time I spent in class, the memories that were made, and the lessons that were taught. Granted, some pages would be filled with doodles and quotes, or be ripped out and used as notes (I always hated the small pieces of paper that got left behind after ripping out a page—small imperfection in an otherwise neat notebook), but mostly that notebook would reflect who I was.

One could tell what kind of student I was just by glancing at the pages. My handwriting was neat and seldom would you find a mistake hidden in the words (I was not against rewriting an entire page for one spelling mistake). I took copious notes, even in classes that took their lessons straight from the textbook. I used highlighters while studying and made random comments in the margins. I was a student who enjoyed the lines of my notebook and took great pride in filling those pages with what I thought was most important.

Well, I haven’t bought a notebook in about 10 years. Damn…that makes me feel so old.

Anyway, this year I found myself buying my son his first notebook for kindergarten. When he was born people constantly told me that the time will fly by—that before I know it he will be all grown up and ready for the world without me. And, in the hopes of not sounding clique, it’s truly hard to believe that this moment in his life has arrived.

He will no longer sit with me at lunchtime or help me around the house as I scramble to keep things in order. I won’t hear, “Excuse me, Mom,” or “Mom, can you help me?” a million times a day. The bathroom sink will remain dry because he will not be there to soak the entire thing every time he washes his hands. His brothers will have to learn to entertain themselves without his constant rules and guidelines (my oldest is very much like me). But the hardest thing to accept is that part of me will be leaving the house every day, and I will have to survive without it seven hours every day.

I will constantly be wondering: Is he having fun? Did he eat his lunch? Is he listening to the teacher? Did he remember to wash his hands?  What is he learning? Did he forget his lunch box again? Questions I am sure that he will answer when he gets home—or he will just respond “good” to everything and act like nothing has changed for either one of us. But I will need to wait till pickup to find out these riveting tales. Let’s not forget the fact that he is five and chances are the stories will be filled with holes or exaggerated drama, which means I am still missing out. Not cool.

And then I am reminded—he will have a notebook that he will carry with him all year, allowing me to venture into his world and watch him grow. Of course, he wanted the coolest "Star Wars" notebook available (can’t have a school year without Kylo Ren and some badass Stormtroopers) but either way, this notebook will help fill in those hours when we are apart.

I will be able to watch his penmanship improve. Read sentences and thoughts he created without having to ask me what he should write. There will be drawings depicting his imagination and doodles that only make sense to him and his friends. His notebook will show me what kind of boy he is becoming, because, let’s be honest, he is no longer a baby. I will know just from looking at the pages what areas he still needs my help in and which ones he has figured out all on his own.

The pages will be his own. He will be the author and I will become the dedicated audience waiting patiently for the next chapter to begin. Let’s do this Connor…I will forever be your most dedicated reader.

The Writer’s Bone Essays Archive

To Live And Write In L.A.: And In The End...

By Hassel Velasco

Currently working on: “Sessions”
Currently Listening To: “Tell All Your Friends,” Taking Back Sunday
Currently Reading: Killing Yourself To Live, Chuck Klosterman

And In The End...

I've avoided writing about this next topic for a while, as it's one I don't necessarily think people like reading about. To this point, I had substantial evidence that the topic didn't exist, or it just wasn't for me. In the first season of “Mad Men,” Don Draper describes love as something ad-men created in the 1960s to sell pantyhose, and for the longest time, I believed it. Los Angeles didn't do much to flip the theory on its head.

It wasn’t until recently that I met someone who proved Don Draper wrong. She changed the way I thought about the dreaded subject. I started falling for her, and I knew I was in trouble. The hardest part about falling in love is putting your entire being in this vulnerable chariot, handing over the reigns of your heart to someone, and trusting them not to crash said chariot into the walls of the Coliseum.

You see, I find becoming lovestruck and being in a relationship is a lot like fighting in the ancient Roman arena. Life, for the sake of this piece portrayed by the Roman hierarchy, puts you in the Coliseum against your will because you have no say as to whom you fall for or how you do it. You're forcibly placed in this battle, often naked and unarmed, with other suitors as you fight to escape with your life. Love strips you bare; it’s the beast tearing you apart as the crowd cheers every attack. If you're lucky, you succumb to this terror, you let the beast have at your very being, and you indulge in the pain of every bite.

You could also beg for mercy, and let life put you out of your misery before love sinks its razor sharp claws deep into you. I had been avoiding this scenario for as long as I could, but I found myself entering the arena again, yes, naked and unarmed, locking eyes with the beast and hoping it wanted to devour me as much as I wanted it to. However, I learned that there's no use in living a life without love, there's no point in living if you're not willing to be vulnerable and be eaten alive. You don't really live until you're ready to die.

So, with this city as a canvas, we painted a beautiful piece over some time. I began to think things could change and began thinking about this city differently. Things looked brighter and Los Angeles somehow seemed smaller. Chuck Klosterman once wrote:

"We all have the potential to fall in love a thousand times in our lifetime. It's easy. The first girl I ever loved was someone I knew in sixth grade. Her name was Missy; we talked about horses. The last girl I love will be someone I haven't even met yet, probably. They all count. But there are certain people you love who do something else; they define how you classify what love is supposed to feel like. These are the most important people in your life, and you’ll meet maybe four or five of these people over the span of 80 years. But there’s still one more tier to all this; there is always one person you love who becomes that definition. It usually happens retrospectively, but it happens eventually. This is the person who unknowingly sets the template for what you will always love about other people, even if some of these loveable qualities are self-destructive and unreasonable. The person who defines your understanding of love is not inherently different than anyone else, and they’re often just the person you happen to meet the first time you really, really, want to love someone. But that person still wins. They win, and you lose. Because for the rest of your life, they will control how you feel about everyone else."

And fortunately, or unfortunately, for me, I found her. I found that person to redefine and challenge everything I've ever thought about on the subject. To put it a different way, I found this one bowl of chicken pot pie, which happens to be the best chicken pot pie I've ever had. And regardless how many different chicken pot pies I have, every single one will compare to this one, and every single one will fall terribly short.

So why write this now? I don't have an answer for that other than my need to put into writing this experience. We reached the end of an amazing road, but before we parted ways I had one last great Ted Mosby like idea. If you knew you were getting your leg chopped off tomorrow, would you spend your last day being sad or would you take your leg out for one last spin, do things that you otherwise wouldn't do?

The answer was pretty simple for the both of us. We went to a movie, we went bowling, we took one last trip to Disneyland, and then later in the night struggled to say goodbye to each other. I held her in my arms knowing this was likely the last time I'd do it. I held her hands and let her know how important she is to, not just me, but also the world. Saying goodbye is not my forte, and who knows how long this emptiness will last.

As for this city... As for Los Angeles…

This seems to be the cherry on top of the ice cream that was my life here. With a lease coming to an end and my inability to find a new place, it's maybe a good time to bid the City of Angels a fond farewell and head home. Maybe it's time to start a new chapter in my life.

And to the person who changed everything, if you happen to be reading this, nothing will change how I feel about you. You are by far one of the most amazing human beings I've ever met and you have an incredible life ahead of you. I hope you can find what you're looking for and I hope you're happy. I hope things turn out for the better and I hope I someday read about the wonderful things you're doing and the people's lives you'll impact. You deserve the world and I hope you get it.

"And in the end, the love you take is equal to the love you make."

Maybe The Beatles were wrong about that one…

As for me, I don't know if this is my last post from Los Angeles. “To Live And Write in Florida” doesn't have the same ring to it. Is “Flo-Writah” taken?

Essays Archive

To Live And Write In L.A.: Pokémon Procrastination

Photo courtesy of  Sadie Hernandez

Photo courtesy of Sadie Hernandez

By Hassel Velasco

Currently working on: Untitled Beatles Project
Currently Listening to: “Views,” Drake
Currently Reading: Yes Please, Amy Poehler

Pokémon Procrastination

I've been trying to come up with a good excuse for my absence from my essay series last week but I'd rather be honest and inform the masses that I am now a Level 13 Pokémon trainer. Yes!

It was inevitable. I was a child raised by the card game and Saturday morning cartoon series. If you're not familiar, a Pokémon is a fictional animal-like creature that you train to battle for sport. And yes, now that I put it down on paper, Pokémon training sounds a lot like a mixture of Van Damme's “Bloodsport” and what Michael Vick went to jail for. Lucky for us the "Pokémon Go" battles end in faints and not fatalities.

As you can imagine, Los Angeles is a city filled with shattered dreams and PokeStops. (FYI: PokeStops are places of interest where you can retrieve items or get mugged depending on the neighborhood.) I spent some time around the city chasing these fictional creatures while avoiding real world deadlines. As of this writing, I have a little under a week to finish a half-hour radio play, an hour-long drama, three Web series episodes, and a short bio. But those can wait, right? I've been waiting my entire adult life to catch a fucking Squirtle in the wild, and I'm not about to pass up on the opportunity.

So last weekend a friend and I went out for what we thought would be stroll around her neighborhood and maybe dinner and a movie. But not only is she a nominee for greatest human, she's also just as much into Pokémon as I am. Lucky me. We walked to a couple of PokeStops nearby but after a drink and some coffee, we decided to drive to Malibu and catch some water Pokémon. While in Malibu I got an email to bring me back to reality. It reads, "Don't forget about the deadline to apply to [redacted] writers fellowship." My reply: “Is that a Psyduck?! We're pulling over.”

I realize that maybe Pokémon has steered this "get me on a show" train in the wrong direction recently, but sometimes distractions make things better. They relax you, and let's face it; procrastination is my field of expertise. I do realize there needs to be some context to what I'm preaching. For the sake of being somewhat productive and trying to move you out to Los Angeles and hunt Pokémon with me, I should provide you with some information. Here are the top Writers Programs and Fellowships in the business. Most of these provide a fantastic first step to your future lavish life of Pokémon hunting on your private yacht in Saint-Tropez.

The submission time for many of these differ depending on the one you choose. Before submitting your masterpiece, make sure to register your script with the writer's guild and make sure to follow the submission guidelines to a tee. A misstep by you means your script ends in the shredder.

So with all these deadlines looming I looked at the time on my dashboard, it read 3:30 a.m. I looked up from my phone as she continued to look for Pokémon, I quickly realized we were not in Malibu anymore. We were in Santa Monica. A look on the map showed the amount of Pokémon on the Santa Monica pier far outnumbered the amount of Pokémon trainers (FYI: people playing the game). So what do two adults with day jobs decide to do at this early hour in the morning? We parked the car and headed to the pier to find another 200+ people running around catching Pokémon. In the words of the great 21st century poet Drake, "What A Time To Be Alive."

Essays Archive

To Live And Write In L.A.: Alexander Hamilton on Wheat


By Hassel Velasco

Currently working on: Untitled Beatles Project
Currently listening to: “Hamilton,” Original Broadway Recording

Currently reading: Alexander Hamilton, Ron Chernow

Alexander Hamilton on Wheat

"Hey man, who would you say is your favorite Founding Father?"

That was a question I was asked on the Fourth of July by my "Sandwich Artist" at Subway. Immediately after picking my sandwich, the choice to pick a favorite Founding Father was inherently more difficult than the choice between wheat and Italian bread. At first my response was:

"Can I have a footlong carved turkey on wheat?"

But as he began crafting my sandwich I really began to think and quickly responded,

"Well, it has to be James Madison. The Father of the Constitution."

He seemed to acknowledge my response and thought about it before answering,

"Did you want this toasted?"

"Sure... “ I said. “Thomas Jefferson was the principal author of the Declaration Of Independence"

"So that's a yes on the toasted?"

Since January I've been on a whirlwind ride of emotions listening to “Hamilton,” the Broadway musical written by Lin-Manuel Miranda. The more I listened to the hip-hop-induced tale of our independence, the more I found myself compelled to read the biography that set this crazy idea in motion. I picked up the book about a month ago, but just recently started reading it as a result of my new friendship with the sandwich artisan.

There aren't many people in the world who would think of turning the West Indies-born Founding Father’s life into a musical as a result of reading Chernow’s bio; let alone use hip hop and R&B influences to tell the story. Miranda has managed to do something every middle and high school social studies teacher has tried to do but miserably failed. He managed to grasp an audience that would otherwise shrug at the thought of learning about our own history. He made it modern. He allowed the sounds of America now, to tell the story of America back then. And let's face it, the bars every character "spits" are as, the kids would say, "straight fire emoji."

Miranda just finished his run as Alexander Hamilton in the show, and tickets for his final performance surpassed $20,000 on StubHub (a small price to pay to watch someone make history by re-telling history). LMM (we're on that friendship level where he doesn't know who I am and I don't know him personally but I still like to call him that), I want to personally thank you for doing something to expand this country's knowledge of its own; I want to thank you for doing it in such a creative way, a way that only a creative genius like you can. But most of all, I'd like to thank you for showing an aspiring Hispanic writer that success is achievable through hard work, perseverance, creativity, and mad rhymes. From the bottom of a theater kid/history geek's heart, I thank you.

So as I continued reading and thinking about the question my "subrista" asked, I felt I had a new answer. Alexander Hamilton is the Founding Father I would most like to be, and therefore, my favorite Founding Father. He was the first Secretary of the Treasury, established the national bank, authored a large portion of the Federalist Papers, died in an old fashioned duel, and spat mad rhymes. Move over James Madison, Hamilton just took your place at the top.

So with my newfound favorite, I went back in to see my friend, the one who set this thought train into motion.

"Alexander Hamilton!" I shouted in rejoice.

The blank stare on his face indicated he wasn't as excited and/or forgot who I was and what he had asked me.

"What can I get started for you?"

I looked at him, hurt and forgotten.

"Actually, I already ate I just came in to tell you who my favorite... You know what, let me just get a footlong carved turkey on wheat flatbread."

He begins the sandwich.

"Did you know Alexander Hamilton died 212 years ago today?" I asked.

Another blank stare.

"Yeah, pepper-jack cheese is fine," I said.

Essays Archive

To Live And Write In L.A.: Fahrenheit 117

Photo courtesy of  Fabio Rossi

Photo courtesy of Fabio Rossi

By Hassel Velasco

Currently Working On: Untitled Beatles Project
Currently Listening To: “Nellyville,” Nelly.

Currently Reading: One Hundred Years Of Solitude, Gabriel Garcia Marquez

Fahrenheit 117

Being from Florida, I'm no stranger to warm weather. I'm no stranger to humidity either. I'm not even a stranger to an alligator dragging a small child into a lake. I recently came across a picture of a crane chasing a child, and the caption read, "Florida is pretty much a real game of Jumanji." I couldn't agree more. Florida is not that bad (okay, it's not the worst), but there is one thing I never experienced in Florida, 117-degree weather.

Oh, Los Angeles. I enjoy the consistency in your weather. I enjoy the 329 days of summer, and the 36 days the other seasons get to share. But sometimes, your actual summer feels like the inside of an oven past the preheat stage.

One hundred and seventeen degrees is no joke. Early last week, the forecast for Sunday and Monday seemed like the forecast for the surface of the sun. A high of 102 on Sunday, and 108 on Monday. The following is a recollection/survival guide to heat waves in the City of Angels.

First thing’s first: Upon moving to Los Angeles, get an apartment with central air conditioning. Spend that extra dough. It'll help you stay sane during the summer heat waves. And if you can't get an apartment with central AC, look for an apartment with an AC window unit that works. No AC is technically an option if you'd like to suffer from a heat stroke. I don't know, maybe you're into that.

Secondly, during these hotter than hell days, try activities that'll keep you indoors for the most part (unless you don't have AC). On Sunday, I thought it'd be a good idea to head down to Anaheim and go to Disneyland. *Aggressively shakes head* It wasn't. At 9 a.m. the temperature was above 90 degrees and I had forgotten my sunblock. Sunburnt Hassel could now be a spokesperson for SPF safety.

I've heard about people going hiking and going to the beach on Sunday. I can't begin to talk about how bad an idea that is. Actually, scratch that, hiking is always a bad idea. The beach is a possibility because the Pacific Ocean tends to be colder than your unaffectionate stepfather. Dipping into the ocean is probably very refreshing. I might need to try that next time.

Even when you're indoors and enjoying the air conditioning, sometimes Mother Nature likes to throw a fast one and kill your modern technology. The AC at my place of work broke on Monday around midday. It was 117 degrees outside and 96 degrees indoors. Everyone became delirious, and my only option was to play Nelly's “Hot In Herre” on repeat for about an hour and a half. My apologies to my co-workers. It must have felt like being kicked in the groin.

Lastly, enjoy it. It's the small price you have to pay for living in Southern California. It's not a blizzard, it's not a hurricane, and it’s not an earthquake. It's just dry heat. Sure, Florida has gators, humidity, and the inane inability to prosecute someone for murder, but it's my home state. You know what they say, better dead in California than alive in Florida. All of my Florida friends will love reading that.

So to recap:

Step 1: Air conditioning

Step 2: Stay indoors

Step 3: Stay out of Florida ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

To everyone in Florida: Love you guys, be back soon.

Essays Archive

To Live And Write In L.A.: Chasing the Sunset

Photo credit:  David Marland

Photo credit: David Marland

By Hassel Velasco

Currently Working On: Untitled Beatles Project
Currently Listening To: “E. Von Dahl Killed The Locals,” The Matches
Currently Reading: Diary Of An Oxygen Thief, Anonymous

Chasing the Sunset

After a week away, I'm back writing another piece for this essay series. I had written seven different entries last week but was unhappy with the results. So I did what any responsible writer does. I erased all of them, drank a couple more pints of Guinness, procrastinated, and went back to sleep.

This past Saturday, I attended a concert by a band I had shrugged off 10 years prior. Back then I was a 20-year-old kid who hadn't missed a Vans Warped Tour since 2004. I remember hearing about a band called The Matches, a pop-punk band from the Bay Area. I remember listening to their first album and not thinking much of it. In retrospect, I feel I crossed off a lot of bands back then just based on what would make me look cooler. So anything my friends weren't into, I wasn't into by association.

Saturday started of like your normal Saturday in L.A. A 7 a.m. call time for a Web series I got cast in. One of my favorite things about working on a set is watching people walk around and, ultimately, watch their entire life stop in order to get a better look at what's going on. People will slow their cars down to a crawl just to get a glimpse of what's being filmed. It's surprising to me that people are not used to it in the film capital of the world. Considering the episode being filmed was mainly centered on a big fight, the cast kicked ass and we finished a couple of hours early.

Later that night, I stopped by a bar called The Monty, and was immediately drawn in by the giant buffalo head in the wall. I proceeded to have a couple of pints before heading into the concert hall. (Note to music lovers: check out a band called Sharp Shock, a great three-piece punk band reminiscent of late ‘70's punk rock.)

The Matches' performance that evening left a resounding, "Why the fuck did you not listen to them before?" thought in my head. I found myself questioning the choices I made 10 years ago. What other things did I pass on that might be worth a second glance? Are anchovies really a good thing on pizza? (Update: they are still disgusting.) How about books? Maybe Atlas Shrugged isn't that bad. (Update: it's fucking terrible. Read the first five pages, gave up, and almost made my best Bradley Cooper “Silver Linings” impression by throwing the book through my fucking window.) How about the beach? I hated the beach a decade ago. (Update: with the right company, it isn't so bad.)

On Monday, I decided I wanted to watch the sun set into the Pacific. Although I've been in California for three years, I've never witnessed the sun tuck itself into the ocean. Accompanied by a good contender for best human, I decided to go to El Matador State Beach and wait for the sunset. It's taken me 30 years to realize how much I love reading a book on the beach, something I would have definitely would have shunned years ago.

We very quickly realized we had an issue. El Matador State Beach faces slightly southwest. The sun was setting a bit north of where we were, so with a half hour to go, we decided to get in the car and find a spot where the sun would potentially bathe in the frigid Pacific waters. We began driving north on the Pacific Coast Highway. As we drove around the mountains that hugged the shoreline, we realized we were getting closer. I was getting excited, things that seemed stupid, dumb, not worth my time as a younger men, were all things I enjoyed doing now. I even had an idea for a book: Chasing the Sunset. (Editor’s note: Copyright protection does not extend to titles, so you’re good!)

Around the next mountain, we found the sun and its final, daily descent. One more thing to knock off the to-do list!  Five minutes to sunset, here we go, just one more turn.

Wait, is that a naval base?

Is the sun setting on top of it?

Who puts a naval base way out here?!

Where did the ocean go???!!!

Son of a bi…

Essays Archive

To Live And Write In L.A.: A Day In The Life

By Hassel Velasco

Currently Working On: Untitled Beatles Project
Currently Listening to: The Beatles, “Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band”
Currently Reading: The Complete Beatles Recording Sessions: The Official Story of the Abbey Road Years 1962-1970, Mark Lewisohn

A Day In The Life

Recently, I was asked what my favorite Beatles song was. I didn't have an answer. I couldn't even narrow it down. Moments later, I was asked what my favorite Beatles album was and I had an even bigger issue picking just one. I did what any sane person would do. I created a Beatles playlist that ended up being about 118 tracks long. I had to find out which song out of the 200-plus songs The Beatles ever recorded was my favorite. I had to pick an album. It was no longer acceptable to answer these questions with an "I don't know" or ¯\_(ツ)_/¯.

So I took the long weekend to drive to some of my favorite Los Angeles spots and try to figure out this conundrum like any of the other Silver Lake/Los Feliz-inhabiting hipster hopefuls.

I started on Sunday because Saturday was taken up by work (bleh). I began with what I consider my least favorite Beatles album, “Yellow Submarine,” on my way to Iliad bookshop in North Hollywood. It's ironic that it’s my least favorite considering I have a yellow submarine tattooed on my right forearm, but hidden in this album is one of my favorite songs. See the list below.

Next, I took the short drive over to Republic Of Pie, a pie/coffee shop in North Hollywood. Here I sat and listened to some of the earlier Beatles albums (“Please Please Me,” “With The Beatles,” “A Hard Day's Night,” “Beatles for Sale,” “Rubber Soul,” “Help”) while enjoying the most bomb-ass slice of banana cream pie. The covers recorded by The Beatles in their earlier records, like the banana cream pie, are also bomb-ass. The songs are great time capsules for the music that influenced the quartet. Full disclosure, I listened to as much of these albums as I could because I couldn't stay at a pie place for long without consuming massive amounts of pie, which would lead to potential heart failure. Moving on.

The drive to The Last Bookstore in Downtown Los Angeles, like any drive in the city, featured long and time-consuming traffic measuring more than 10 miles. It’s worth it because the bookstore is one of my favorite places in Los Angeles. I can easily spend an entire day lost in its maze of books. Although parking is limited to whatever you can find in the area, it’s by far the best book destination in the city. (Pro tip: use the restroom before you get here. There is no restroom in the store, and public restrooms in Downtown Los Angeles are pretty much non-existent.)

I listened to the entirety of “The White Album” while book browsing. It's unfair to compare the earlier Beatles records with the band's later work. As revolutionary as The Beatles early records were, the foursome become a completely different monster once they halted all touring. “The White Album” is a testament to The Beatles extensible, but different, musical talents, and thus the beginning of the end.

I finished Sunday night with a drink at a bar called The Griffin in Los Feliz. A mythical venue, The Griffin was one of the first bars I visited when I moved out here. You can frequently see it as the exterior shot of the bar the characters of “New Girl” frequent. It's on the way to this bar that I came to the realization that “Let It Be” may possibly be my least favorite album. I drove home that night listening to “Revolver,” which is, in my opinion, the turning point in the band’s recording process.

On Monday, I decided to frequent my usual spots. After some errands in the Northridge area of the Valley, I drove to The Americana, a shopping center with my favorite Barnes and Noble. I began listening to “Abbey Road” on my way there and continued once I was nestled into a corner of the third-floor patio. I think “Abbey Road” is to The Beatles what Quentin Tarantino believes “Inglorious Basterds” to be...a masterpiece. How George Martin managed to keep John and Paul from killing each other is beyond me, but the result is an album that I can listen to from beginning to end without skipping a single song.

Finally, I ended my Monday night by having my traditional dinner of two Guinness pints at a bar in Van Nuys called Ireland 32's. It’s an Irish dive bar with live music almost every night. After finishing “Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band” it was time to narrow things down. Working on this Beatles project has me focused on the pre-“Revolver” Beatles, so I haven't ventured out passed that album in quite some time. After listening to and evaluating the music as well as certain go-to spots around Los Angeles, I find myself associating these albums to these particular spots. I also painfully managed to narrow down that playlist to 20 songs.

Where You Once Belonged

Iliad Bookshop = “Yellow Submarine”

  • Underrated, filled with a couple of good surprises.

Republic Of Pie = Pre-“Revolver” Albums

  • Very good, can't have enough, but too much can potentially lead to a heart condition.

The Last Book Store = “The White Album”

  • A maze of talent and individuality you can get lost in. Can't take a bathroom break in-between.

The Griffin = “Revolver”

  • A turning point; a familiar, yet refreshing, take.

The Americana = “Abbey Road”

  • Lots of flashing lights, so much going on, but you can't help but get lost in its melody and charm.

Ireland's 32 = “Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band”

  • I get by with a little help from my friends. (Guinness, Jameson, etc)

Top 20 Favorite Beatles Songs

  • “I Saw Her Standing There”
  • “Tomorrow Never Knows”
  • “Hey Bulldog”
  • “Here Comes The Sun”
  • “Don't Pass Me By”
  • “The Ballad Of John And Yoko”
  • “Happiness Is A Warm Gun”
  • “I Want You (She's So Heavy)”
  • “Something”
  • “I've Just Seen A Face”
  • “Because”
  • “Within You, Without You”
  • “Paperback Writer”
  • “Rollover Beethoven”
  • “Dizzy Miss Lizzy”
  • “I Should Have Known Better”
  • “Helter Skelter”
  • “Dear Prudence”
  • “Strawberry Fields Forever”
  • “Blackbird”

Top 3 Albums

  • “Abbey Road”
  • “The White Album”
  • “Revolver”

Essays Archive

How I Found My Sanity (and My Coffee Cup) in the Written Word

By Catherine Kearns

Where is my damn coffee cup? This question crosses my mind about five times per day. Today, after having searched all the obvious places I normally leave it (microwave, laundry room, and on top of the bathroom hutch) I decided to check the kitchen cabinet. And what do you know…my coffee cup sits clean and safely in its designated space. At times like this, where I completely forgot not only washing the cup but drinking the contents that once swished inside, I can only smile at myself and be glad I found the cup at all.

A little over a year ago I decided to quit my job and become a stay-at-home mother. Before, most of my daily concerns centered on performance goals and budget completions—I used to be a yield analyst for a digital company in New York City—but now, I spend my days with three amazing boys who call me “Mom.” And because of this rather recent change, my daily struggles have shifted and I find myself dealing with misplaced coffee cups, trying to remember whether or not I brushed my teeth, and leaving wet clothes in the washer (which forces me to wash them again in an ongoing vicious cycle). 

When I was working I had time to read books on my commute and perhaps even jot down a few lines for a short story on slower days. I have a degree in journalism and, like most graduates, started a career that had nothing to do with writing (somehow I became a numbers person), so these small moments of literary freedom felt refreshing. For me, the written word has the power to balance out my sanity. It opens my eyes to other words (I read mostly fiction) and allows me to see myself clearly whenever my fingers grace the keyboard.

Now, I read mostly picture books and write notes to my son’s Pre-K teacher. My subway commute has been replaced by trips in the mini-van as I take my kids to school, doctor appointments, playdates, and family events. Please know that I do not say this with disdain but with great love—leaving my job was the best decision I’ve ever made. My family is my world and my children have brought a whole new meaning to my life. 

But I have realized something during my transition into a full-time mother—my desire to write has not left me. Yes, my time is more limited but we all have excuses. What I write may mean nothing to some and a world to others and I accept that. There is a good chance that the words I string together are complete crap and make sense only to me, but, again, this is okay. Writing is not about impressing others or inspiring a revolution. It is about personal growth, expression, and clarity.

So no more excuses; I’m going to write. I will write for me. For my children. For my sanity.  

Full Essays Archive