Hey Hustlettes! Well, this week Steph really turned things on their head and decided to ask me some questions about… me! Like I don’t talk about myself enough already, sheeessshhh! But if you insist…
You intrigue me, make me smile, laugh and you truly spark my wonder and make me think. You are a true wordsmith who reveals her truest truth without holding back. Tell us about how writing became the medium you use to express yourself.
Steph, first of all, you flatter me! Thank you for being such a supportive mensch, you’re a tiny little Portland treasure and it’s been such a pleasure to work on this blogging project with you!
I was born in the 70’s and my parents were immigrants who didn’t really believe in tv as a primary leisure activity; so I read a lot, and listened to records often, and as a painfully shy kid who didn’t really fit in at school, I spent a lot of time alone in my room listening to comedy records – or even story/spoken word records, which were kind of still a thing back then – or whatever 7 inches or tapes my older cousins or brother left behind and dancing. I loved reading CS Lewis, Dr. Seuss, Shel Silverstein, Tolkien and pretty much any kind of fantasy. My mother was an ethnic German who taught herself English once she got to the States using flash cards so she could fit in at her Queens high school; she always kept a dictionary open in the living room. If we didn’t know a word, we would look it up. Words were very important in our household.
I first gained an awareness of my own joy in writing to entertain others and express myself in fifth grade. Our teacher Ms. Wexler got our class started on creative writing through a weekly exercise she called “Magic Book.” Magic Book was a free form writing assignment we could complete on our own schedule, and once a week we would bring our Magic Books in to class (mine was a composition notebook decorated with Lisa Frank stickers, WHAT UP OLDS, GET AT ME WITH YER LISA FRANK STORIES!!) and read what we had written to the class. I began writing a serialized story about a sentient cob of corn who went on various adventures each week and encountered other foods and objects that could walk/talk/think, and it was always a hit with the class. It was modeled on Through the Looking Glass, a story I absolutely adored, and I really loved writing it; most weeks I would pour myself into the task. I drew pictures of all the characters just for fun.
After that, I just always enjoyed writing, probably because I had had a positive experience with it as a young person. My best friend and I in high school created our own dictionary of fake words for fun (NERDS!!!!) and as I got older, I got really into song lyrics and poetry. I ended up going to New York University for English and Creative Writing, and sometimes spent evenings at the Nuyorican Poets Cafe for their weekly poetry slams. At one point I even got super into looking closely at the art of rapping, a practice I still consider to be one of the most evolved and accomplished contemporary storytelling arts.
Nothing makes me feel as good as telling a story – spoken or written – and experiencing the person I’m telling it to respond. Life is difficult and can often be confusing, and stories were always an escape for me. In adulthood, they have become a way to reach out and relate to others. I still love story podcasts and listen to them a lot. I recommend Risk! to anyone who has a love of stories and wants something a little left of center from This American Life or The Moth (which are both amazing too, obvs).
You have your own blog, HotTrash: Portland, an informative, educational and hilarious mixed bag of local music events, politically relevant issues and personal, vulnerable snippets of your life. Somehow you take this trifecta and make it the best thing that has happened to me in any given week. How the hell do you do it/how does that work?
HOT TRASH has super simple origins. I moved to Portland from Seattle in late 2014, and one cold Friday night I wanted to go out and do something. I just didn’t know what to do! I looked in The Phoenix for event listings, thinking that I could rely on the local alt-weekly for this as I had relied on The Stranger in Seattle, but there was basically nothing listed. I was like, “Good Goddess, VK, what have you done, where did you move to, some kind of ghost town?” Since I grew up in a city environment, I was always used to entertaining myself with cultural events like concerts or plays even if friends were not available.
A short while later, a new friend told me that you basically had to be “hooked in” on Facebook to the right people to see all of the shows happening in town. So I made it my mission to figure out who those people are, follow them and collect their listings. HOT TRASH was originally just supposed to be an event calendar with a little bit of funny editorial to make it “sticky” on the Internet.
As time went on I noticed that people enjoyed the editorial bits more than they used the calendar. To this day, my calendar gets, like, zero traffic (and I’m thinking about getting rid of it all together with apps like redplaid and Facebook Local taking over the duty of event listings). My parents instilled in me a deep sense of justice; though I wouldn’t call my mom a “feminist,” she was an unbelievably strong woman who gave me a lot of independence and supported all of my wild ideas about what I wanted to do with my life. And I grew up in a racially diverse place in which I had the benefit of meeting and forming all kinds of relationships with people of all colors, creeds, genders, ages and economic backgrounds.
When you leave a place like NYC, you start to notice that the rest of the country isn’t so comfortable with things like racial diversity, women in the workplace, alternative lifestyles and gender nonconformity. So I thought I could use my perspective on these things to speak to an underground element here in Portland who might not feel that they had anyone in the local media whose voice they could relate to. In a ridiculous and only moderately successful act of hubris, as well, I thought I would “take on” the local media and see if I could shake the tree a little bit.
When I write HT:P! I wear little pieces of my personality on the surface, and I exaggerate them. Yes, I curse a lot in real life, but not as much as I do on HT. Yes, I believe in agency over one’s body and doing what makes you happy with it, but on HT I’m like, over the top slutty for the fun of it and to celebrate sluttiness, a part of myself that in adulthood I have come to love and embrace. Sometimes I am definitely those things in real life, but not always. People are more nuanced than that. But by freeing those little-forbidden thoughts onto the page, I think people can relate to me because we all have those little-forbidden thoughts. But, like, also I’m sick and tired of bullshit – political bullshit, economic bullshit, violent bullshit, racial bullshit, bigoted bullshit, misogynist bullshit, and all of the bullshit that flavors our current world. So I write about that, and I think people can relate to that as well.
You are a music lover.. that’s an understatement, but as a music lover tell us what excites you about music, what you love to listen to and why.
My favorite artists are Sufjan Stevens, Nada Surf, Queen and a local band called SeepeopleS. Those are my staples, my bread and butter, and I love them because no two songs are ever the same; they take risks but stick to a melodic core that abides by the general rules of songwriting… verse / verse / chorus / verse / chorus / bridge / chorus. They’re all also very lyrically deep and I crave emotionally challenging content that is written well. But I love all kinds of music including punk, heavy metal, classical, indie rock, pop, hip hop, rap, acoustic and even outlaw country. I freaking LOVE Waylon Jennings, but I also love Drake. I listened to a ton of REM when I was a kid, and when I was in high school and college, I followed Phish and the Grateful Dead all over the east coast. I’ve seen Bjork at Radio City Music Hall and Lou Reed at Carnegie Hall and The Beastie Boys at Hammerstein Ballroom. Concerts fuel me and give me an escape.
When I was a kid my parents would cook dinner on a Saturday night and fill the house with music while they cooked, then dance with each other after dinner was done. They listened to a lot of Harry Belafonte, Frank Sinatra, big band stuff like Tommy Dorsey, Abba, The Beatles and a LOT of polka and other kinds of Eastern European music. I used to call it “polka night” and it embarrassed the shit out of me when friends came over. But these days I’m grateful I was exposed to so much different stuff as a kid.
Music can both transport and transform. When we think of a “song of the summer” it’s not just the song we love – it’s the feeling of freedom that we get any time we hear “Summertime” by DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince. The cozy feeling we get when we hear “All I Want For Christmas Is You” by Mariah Carey. Music creates a mood, it takes you to another place. I love patterns and music is exactly that – a pattern in which to take comfort, and the fun of anticipating the next change or shift.
But music is also an inflection point for community. There are moments when I’m singing along to a song at the grocery store and pass by someone who is doing the same. There are moments at a bar or a restaurant when a song comes on and you sense this feeling of recognition with another person that they also “get” the song that’s playing. It’s that feeling of saying “Houses of the Holy is hands down the best Led Zeppelin album” and having the person you’re talking to say, “FUCK YES IT IS,” and feeling vindicated. Music brings people together, to loosely paraphrase Madonna.
You are one of those epic women who I truly admire and think of often. Your writing makes me laugh so hard and keeps me so in tune with what’s going on, whether it’s fun or serious or both.
You’ve been writing the Hustle and Flow Blog and I want to say thank you so much for keeping it real and raw and not acting like everything is opaque Lulu Lemon stretch pants and perfectly blended smoothies around here.
What has your experience been like writing for the blog?
I just had this conversation with someone! So, interestingly enough, writing this blog for Hustle and Flow has become a form of therapy for me. It’s a chance to center, touch base with myself and find out what’s on my mind, what I need to talk about or express in any given week.
The thing about people is that you can’t decide who is where you are emotionally at any given time. You can turn to your significant other or a friend and express yourself, but who knows if they’ll resonate on any given day with what you need to say. With this blog, though, there is always someone who gets what I’m saying. And that makes me feel safe and validated and like I’m not alone.
It also helps me stay centered and humble. Sometimes the urge to shout your feelings just comes up, and I get this amazing opportunity to write it out. And then I’ll go back and read what I just wrote and be like, “hey… that’s not right. Those aren’t really your feelings, that stuff is reactionary and borne of fear or insecurity.” So then I can revisit, and rewrite, and in the process, I get closer to my true self. I have this absolute gift of a moment in which to negotiate with myself in a true way, to find out what I really mean, what I really want, where I really stand. It’s an opportunity for self-examination combined with discipline: there’s a deadline, and a person I have committed to. So my exploration can’t get too wild. And sometimes I think that these kinds of boundaries give rise to the most valuable information when it comes to self-reflection.
So thank you, from the bottom of my heart, for giving me this chance. I love writing for you and for every student at Hustle and Flow and for the Internet at large. What a gift! It’s a rare circumstance and I’d be remiss in saying that I didn’t sometimes take it for granted – I definitely do. But I always come back to home, come back to the tether that drives this union: community, family, friendship, love and unconditional acceptance. For that, I am eternally grateful, because it has shaped my life in a positive way that I could not have anticipated back when I was writing stories about cobs of corn.
Thanks for reading everyone, and I’ll see you in the orange room soon!! XO