Poet of the Month, June 2018
Julia Alvarez is a Dominican-American writer who, according to Wikipedia, currently resides in the Champlain Valley of Vermont. A blessing and a curse! I am also Julia Alvarez, and (after careful consideration) I suppose there are only so many things Julia Alvarezes can do. I am currently in my final semester at Washington & Jefferson College where I study English. I am consumed by singularity, consistently finding a solitary moment rolling around in my mouth for far too long. My writing process is a sink into the self-indulgent sludge, a ridiculous obsession with my own history – all that blood blistering nostalgia and the melodramatic mucus. So be it! If poetry requires absurdity, then kiss the sane goodbye, and crank up the heat. (I’d rather we all melt anyway.)
“The Pantheon in which You Reside” begins with the wilding – an audible, tactile, and scented maelstrom of memory from days spent on the cusp of innocence lost. We move, suddenly, into the present, where things remain, but on the verge of going stale. Silence invades the space between driver and passenger seats. And, for the record, I am addicted to the image of adults devouring candy. The end of the poem attempts to work as a return to the radical, a reminder of the cosmic power at play in acute fixation – the weight held in shared, adolescent experience.
The Pantheon in which You Reside
You were born in a champagne bottle,
let loose with a butcher knife.
Plywood smells and citrus blistered fingertips,
secret something kissing in the basement office.
My hands on your legs felt a lot like a thing I believed in.
It all started with your neck in my mouth.
How it ended up here, and how you were
wearing green, I’m not quite sure.
Now we roll out of the market
and trade malt balls for hard-tac.
In the dark of your parked car,
we’re in the shadows, eating chocolate.
Washing the windows with milky spit
and unspoken forget-me-nots,
we mirror the dull buzz of the radiator.
I am always leaving parts of myself in parking lots,
and some nights the weather is far too temperate,
too mild to taste. But it tastes.
And so, nightfall’s metallic bolts paint your tongue –
Some new and glorious rendezvous held just past your lips.
Your mouth is a cave I crawl into.
Prose of the Month, January 2018
Shawn Mihalik is a novelist, essayist, and the managing editor of Paleo Magazine. Born in San Diego, Shawn initially studied journalism at Youngstown State University, but he dropped out after one year, deciding his talents were better directed at fiction. Since then, Shawn’s short fiction and nonfiction have been featured in various places, both on and off the Internet, and he’s released five books, all published by Asymmetrical Press. His most recent novel, The Dissection of Vertebrates, was published in 2018 and is a deeply personal tale of YouTube, sex magick (with a “k”), and open relationships.
Find out more at ShawnMihalik.com.
A Note from the Author on “The Top 10 Killer Ways to Write a List Post”
I used to be a pretty cynical guy. I’m still a pretty cynical guy, but I used to be, too, back when I wrote “The Top 10 Killer Ways to Write a List Post.” I went through a brief period where I was convinced I was going to be a successful blogger. I dropped out of college, moved to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and, while waiting tables, started a blog. Eventually, I quit waiting tables and spent all my time working on my blog.
Blogs are great; they really are. Everyone should have a blog. Twitter or Tumblr don’t count—in fact, my number one advice to writers: get off social media, buy your own domain name, and start publishing your writing on a platform that you own . . . but please oh please don’t do so with the goal of making money.
Six months later I was dead broke and spending a depressive weekend lying on my mattress (which itself was lying on the floor), ignoring the vociferous pounding of my landlord on my front door by reading the entirety of the Ultimate Spider-Man comic book series and pretending I couldn’t hear anything.
But “The Top 10 Killer Ways to Write a List Post” is not about me. It’s not even really about blogs. Like I said: blogs are great. What we need right now is more blogs—I’m sure of it.
The Top 10 Killer Ways to Write a List Post
So you want to start a blog, I hear. And why wouldn’t you since you know it worked so well for me? I want you to understand that I think this is a wonderful thing. But if you’re going to start writing blog posts and posting them on the internet for all of internet-accessing humanity to see, and if you want this blogging to lead to the freedom and wealth and internet fame that I and countless lucky others have enjoyed and for your blog posts to be read by a large enough group of internet-accessing humanity, you’re going to need to follow certain rules with respect to the steps of writing blog posts and coming up with a catchy blog title and post titles and effectively—what’s the word?—insinuating SEO (search engine opportunization, I think it stands for).
These certain rules are as follows:
One: Write your posts like lists because people [italics]love[italics] lists as much as they love sugary deserts like cake and ice cream and certain kinds of pies (pumpkin, cherry, apple, chicken pot). There are a great many kinds of list posts you can write. List posts like Five Ways to Write an Awesome Blog, Five Ways to Make Money from Writing on the Internet, Ten Steps to Growing Your Audience by a Very Large Percentage in Just Only 30 Days, Ten Things I’ve Learned About Life Through Writing This Blog, Five Ways to Kick Ass with Blog Posts, Ten Places Where to Get Free Pictures For Your Blog Posts, Five Reasons to Not Include Pictures in Your Blog Posts (it’s simpler, it looks less cluttered, it looks better, it allows for more white space, your readers can focus on the words).
Make your posts controversial. And flakey. Like the above mentioned picture/no picture conundrum. If the majority of the web is doing one thing, you write about doing the opposite. One important thing to remember is that if you want your blog to stick out, when writing list-type posts, don’t use your normal old-fashioned numbers like 5 or 10 because those are the numbers all the other bloggers use and so they’re over-used and the internet is kind of saturated with them; instead use the less-used numbers like 7 and 9 and 16.
Two: Move out of your parents’ house as quickly as possible because they just don’t understand what blogging is, and while you know you’re going to make it as a blogger, your parents will do nothing but discourage you and your dreams.
The conversation you have with your parents might go something like this:
You say, “I don’t need this college crap, [italics]Mom[italics]. It’s just slowing me down and preventing me from living the life I know will make me happiest.”
“Just what are you trying to tell us,” your mother says as you and her and your father sit in a dark restaurant, you on one side of the booth’s table and them on the other, them sipping wine but you drinking water because you won’t be 21 for a few more months.
“I’m trying to tell you that I’m quitting school, is what I’m trying to tell you,” you say, the exasperation you knew you were going to have to feel during this conversation already setting itself dreadfully upon you. You can just tell your parents aren’t about to like what you’re trying to tell them.
Your parents get this incredulous look and your father says, “What!”
Your father is this balding, fit man, who has worked a difficult manual job his entire life at the shipping center just one town over, every day lifting boxes onto trucks, one after the other, lifting, lifting, bending at the knees and putting the boxes on the trucks over and over again all day, until only just recently when he put in for a promotion because Hey, what the hell? he deserved it after all these years, and so now he still works at the shipping center but in administration. And he’s worked so hard because he wanted to see you taken care of. He’s pretty much paid for your tuition. He’s wearing his only suit tonight at dinner, a dark-blue wide-lapel jacket, pleated pants. His white shirt’s top button is unbuttoned, his collar open, his striped tie a little loose.
“It’s okay,” you tell them reassuringly, moving both your hands in front of you up and down, palms down, as if to say [quote]calm down[quote]. “I’m going to become a blogger and make money on the internet.”
“Oh hell you’re not!” your father says, erupting, just as you anticipated he would. And why wouldn’t he? They couldn’t understand. They don’t get how the world works anymore. It’s not the one they grew up in. We have cell phones now and laptop computers and tablets and Bluetooth devices in cars.
Your mother tries to calm him down because others in the restaurant are staring. “Honey, dear,” she says, “calm down. Others are staring at us.”
“And they should stare at us!” your father says. The silverware and glasses and appetizer plates clank as he slaps a hand down on the tabletop. “They should look over here and see what a lazy daughter I have. They should see what I’ve thrown all my money away for, paying for her education and this is the thanks I receive!”
It’s okay, though, because [italics]you[italics] know things are going to be fine. It’s been fine for every blogger you read regularly, and some of them even travel the world and have adventures.
Three: Find your niche. “Niche” looks like it should be pronounced like “Nietzsche,” so don’t get confused here. I’ll explain what a niche is:
A niche is a thing where you write about a topic and only that particular topic. Except that when I say “only that particular topic,” I don’t necessarily mean that you only have to write about that particular topic—you can write about whatever you want, as long you write about your niche most of the time.
Example of niches:
- Cooking and recipes
- Productivity and productivity systems
- Vintage Moleskine notebooks
- Cell phones
- Apple Computers
(Regarding exercise and diet: if you choose either one of these as your niches, you had better make sure beforehand that you are in pretty amazing shape yourself because nobody likes to take that kind of advice from people who don’t look like they should be giving it. If you aren’t in shape, that’s okay too, but just frame your posts as if you’re on this amazing life-altering journey the ultimate goal of which is perfect physicality and you want your readers to follow this journey with you.
Also, regarding diet: Paleo and Vegan seem to be the only diets worth writing about on the internet these days.)
Four: So you’ve quit school and your parents have disowned you (is what you tell everyone even though they—your parents—still call you daily and ask if you need any money and are you eating and can we help and we’re worried about you), but that’s okay because now you live in Portland or Boston or Seattle. Now technically you’ve spent all your money getting there and on a brand new MacBook Air and Merino wool pants, but you’ve been writing all about this, and people actually find it somewhat interesting, and so you’ve got like almost 50 whole subscribers at this point, which isn’t so bad. By the end of the month you’ll have even more and will even be making an income from your blog.
Five: Two months in, you’re couch-surfing in Portland and spending most of your day in coffee shops, writing a lot. You’re writing something around 2,000 words a day, and you end up publishing anywhere between 500-1,000 of those words around noon just after you drink your day’s second green smoothie. You’ve received some initial criticism of your blog’s first several dozen post’s spelling and grammar and use of HTML, but you’re definitely getting better. You write every morning in the coffee shop, and then in the afternoon you read other blogs, the blogs of the bloggers who first inspired you to blog, and you watch important web videos like catchy new dance songs and TED talks. Someday maybe you’ll give a TED talk. Or at least a TEDx talk.
Six: Step six is one of the most important steps in writing a killer list post, and step six is: Practice Yoga. Every evening here in Portland or Seattle you go to this little yoga studio on the corner of one of the hippest streets in town. The place is small with wooden floors and pink or blue yoga mats spread out at regular intervals, but the instructor is calm and kind and wise and certified and has been a yogi for almost three years. The practice is donation-based, which is great because your income is small and trickling in slowly because, like a digital version of the box with a slit in the top that sits by the door to the yoga studio, you’ve placed a donation button on the sidebar of your website and at the bottom of your posts, which occasionally people click on and give you a couple bucks, which you can access in a few days after the bucks have been transferred to your bank account. You can afford yoga and smoothies and vegetarian food and to save a little so you can get an apartment in this city or buy a plane ticket to the next city you’re thinking about maybe moving to, because this city is sort of used up, blogging-wise, is the blogoshpere’s consensus. Sometimes you practice yoga on your own in the park. You wear special yoga pants. You have sex with the yoga studio’s yogi three or four times.
Seven: Now you can afford your own domain name, which admittedly you should have purchased from the very beginning, so you purchase one. Your blog’s url no longer ends in .wordpress.com but in .net, which is just far more professional. You’ve also purchased domains ending in .biz., .co, and .es. You pay for hosting now, too, because your RSS and email subscribers when counted together total over 1,200. It’s still not the best, but it’s a following. You tell your parents how happy you are. They say they still don’t understand what you’re up to, what this blogging thing is, exactly, and how you’re able to earn a living, and they don’t actually even subscribe to your blog, you suspect, but they’re happy you’re happy, just be careful, they say.
Eight: Write an ebook.
Nine: Well now things are tricky. Your ebook initially sold very well, like surprisingly, insanely well, surpassing the highest sales you could have possibly expected, a relatively unknown blogger like you. It started when you sent a review copy of your ebook (in ePub, mobi, and PDF formats) to this one popular guy in your niche who’s been blogging for years and whose readers number over a million, and he actually read it, and for some reason he liked it and wrote a post about it praising its simplistic but refreshingly clairvoyant approach to a tired topic (you’ve managed to stretch a paltry 8,000 words into 114 digital pages with a clever use of whitespace and creative layout which you claim you did to make each thought more poignant and reflect-uponable), and some of his readers bought it and some of the other popular bloggers who were initially inspired by this guy also bought it and wrote about it and their readers bought it, and so in the first week something like 15,000 people bought and read your ebook, which you priced at $2.99 and sold on your own website using various plug-ins so that there would be no middle-man, and so you made almost $45,000 in seven days, and your sales comparatively died after that and you sold maybe 50-100 copies a week after that, but you had at that point enough money to relocate and so for the hell of it you moved to Japan because not many people blog from Japan, you noticed. By the time you’d purchased your ticket to Tokyo and arrived there and converted a portion of your funds to the local currency and found an apartment (which was no small feat; it was expensive and you had to pay cash upfront for several months), you had spent about half your money (because you had also invested in a new computer and a tablet and a fancy backpack to carry your belongings and two pairs of barefoot-style shoes and expensive tea and a Vitamix once you moved into your apartment and you eat almost all of your meals out because not purchasing cooking equipment cuts down on your “overhead”), so you needed some surefire way to bring in more money. Another ebook. And with the sales of your first ebook came new subscribers to your website, so you were confident your next book’s sales would be plenty high. You wrote the next book (6,500 words in 80 pages, with pictures this time, which pictures were taken with a new camera you bought upon arrival in Japan and were edited with the latest version of Adobe’s Creative Suite) in three days, rehashing much of the material in your first book, and edited it hastily. Feeling bold, and knowing that information only you could provide should be priced appropriately, you sold the book for USD $30 (because the majority of your readers were still American despite your location change). The book sold dismally and so you lowered the price, but by now the reviews had come out and the reviewers almost unanimously seemed appalled (because they just didn’t [italics] get it [italics], you argue) and you only made a few thousand dollars and within months the whole operation collapsed around you and you were unable to support the quality of life you’d set up for yourself and your permanent address was still listed as your parents house and suddenly now you have to pay a large amount of taxes on the income you made and then spent and you don’t even have enough money for food, which is why now things are tricky.
Ten: You wander the streets of Tokyo. This is it, you tell yourself—you’ve [quote] made it [quote]. You’re the talk of the blogging community. Other bloggers write about you, asking question’s like Where has she gone? and Whatever happened to her? Every few days, someone buys one of your ebooks. You can’t afford vegetarian food anymore, so you start eating cheap meat. You’re suddenly now eating worse than you did before you started blogging, because back then—was that really only months ago?—you still didn’t eat fast food, even though you were a student and most students ate fast food, because your parents always made sure you ate better than that, but now you’re eating fast food. Fast food is cheap in Tokyo. It’s only so many yen.
You still have your laptop. You’ve tried to sell your fancy tablet, but nobody cares for that particular brand in Japan, so would it really even be worth it, you ask each time someone offers you a small amount. You should sell it anyway, though, because of food.
You sit in this coffee shop connected to wifi—which you have to pay for here, a few bucks an hour, and so you don’t connect often—and you open up your email. There’s a message from that yogi you slept with, a link to the yogi’s latest blog post, the title of which has the word “Tantric” in it. There’re several emails from your parents, who it turns out did subscribe to your blog and read each and every post and are concerned now because they haven’t seen you post in a while. Are you okay? Where are you now? Are you still in Japan? Please, call us? Do you need to come home? Do you need money? You’ve got a bunch of mail waiting here for you. We can pay for your ticket home, honey, just call us. We love you. We hope all is well. Your grandma was asking about you just the other day. Why don’t you give her a call sometime? Here’s her number in case you no longer have it. Stay safe. Email us. Where are you? What’s new? Where are you? We love you. We love you. We love you. Where are you, honey? Please, at least let us know you’re safe.