Wednesday, April 6, 2016

ON LOS ANGELES: AWP, PYTHONS, AND WAX


Last week, I went to #AWP16 in Los Angeles, California to represent Carlow University and our MFA Program for Creative Writing. Needless to say, we had a blast! We got to speak to a lot of potential applicants, spread the word about our program, and by the end of the conference, all of our materials were gone and I had a list of inquiries triple from what I had last year. Our hotel wasn’t too far away from the conference center either, so I usually walked the mile+ back and forth each day, and it was really relaxing and quickly became something that I started to look forward to each day. All in all, I became a big fan of LA in no time at all.

Naturally I did some networking and book buying while I was there, too. I got a great collection of poetry books from Black Ocean, one of my all-time favorite presses for dark surrealism, and I also picked up some pieces from WriteBloody Publishing, Third Man Books, and Two Sylvias Press. The gods of dark prose must have been smiling on me that day, because I also ran into some friends while I was at the conference and got to say “hi” and have a chat with Leza Cantoral, Christoph Paul, Weston Ochse, and Cameron Pierce.

Outside of the conference, I was determined to do a TON of sightseeing, and one of my best friends, Ryan DeMoss, was in town, so the two of us ran around the city and caused debauchery like only we know how. The first night there, we hit up an Irish bar (Casey’s) and had the absolute best bartender. He let us sample a ton of Irish whiskey, and he also belted out some Tom Waits which was much appreciated! We bar hopped a bit more the next day and had some existential conversations about religion and the idea of paranormal activity, and when my mind stopped spinning around ghosts and god, I enjoyed one of the best batches of sangria that I’ve had to date (and I make a pretty mean batch of sangria myself, so I was definitely impressed!).

Friday night consisted of a trip to Little Tokyo Village where I had my first experience with Green Tea Mochi. The sake wasn’t a new experience, but it was thoroughly enjoyed nevertheless. Prior to that, we ate at Justice Urban Tavern and dined on oysters and mussels after a failed attempt to find a voodoo priest on Olive Street. Turns out he was in Nigeria, but that’s a story for another time.
But despite all of that, Saturday night was really when the trip hit its high points for me. I pretty much ran back to the hotel from the conference, changed my outfit, and jumped in a cab to head straight for the Museum of Death in Hollywood. I was so excited and had a ton of expectations, but when I got there and started to make my way through it….well, let’s just say I was very surprised by my reaction to everything. Now, you folks know me. I’m morbid, dark, and a have a definite passion for the beautiful grotesque, but this collection of madness and murder hit me hard in a way that really made me uncomfortable. Don’t get me wrong—I loved the display of mourning jewelry, and I thought the evolutionary practices of death and funerary/autopsy equipment was fascinating, same with the oddities chamber, but the way that murders were celebrated gave me some emotional distress, and that’s saying something, because I’m genuinely interested in the idea of psychological torment and madness, but I don’t/ can’t fathom the idea of celebrating it. I’ve listened to Al Carlisle speak about his experiences with the Ted Bundy case on numerous occasions, but I’m not walking around with a Ted Bundy pin on my backpack. I guess I’m just a little disturbed/intrigued by the line of fascination/idolization and where those lines are drawn. It’s certainly given me a lot to think about, and for that reason alone, I think the museum is a huge success. I would highly recommend checking it out… just be ready. It’s intense in a lot of different ways that you might not be expecting. For instance, the Heaven’s Gate exhibition really hit me hard, and at one point, I even turned at Ryan and said something like “I’m having a lot of feelings and I think I have to go.”

And go I went. Straight to the bar.

Ryan and I ended up at Loaded next, and well, proceeded to get loaded—just kidding (kind of). We had a few drinks and then met fellow RDSP author, Maria Alexander and her fiancé for dinner. I was so happy that Maria Alexander and I were able to touch base and spend some time together. Her and her lovely fiancé met us at Miceli’s, which is this gorgeous Italian restaurant off of Hollywood Blvd, and we definitely spoiled ourselves there. I had some of the best pizza I’ve ever had, and then followed it up with some tiramisu…which Ryan and I were supposed to share, but I’m pretty sure I mostly ate it all (sorry I’m not sorry, Ryan!). There were discussions of BDSM, princesses, and corsets while we listened to opera/ jazz, and when we left, we left with happy hearts and full bellies—both definite signs of the best friendships.

To cap off the night, Ryan and I walked down Hollywood Blvd to look at the stars, and then somehow while doing that, we managed to hold a python, get tattoos, and end up in a wax museum at midnight.

Overall, it was a really wonderful trip both professionally and socially. I think traveling is so important in life because it broadens the mind and the soul in so many different ways, and it allows us the intimate space to get to know ourselves better. I’ve been working a lot on self-growth lately, and as such, I journaled most of the trip. Through that, I found out something important about myself: I’m spontaneous even though I plan things in my life meticulously. If my heart feels good about something, I’ll do it. No questions asked. That alone shows me time and time again that I’m driven by my heart, and that while I take a logical approach to life, in the end, it’s not about the best decision financially, academically, etc., but rather it’s a decision about what’s going to make my heart happy and give me reason to wake up and smile in the morning. For instance, never in a million years would I have imagined that I would get a matching tattoo with someone. It’s not me… at all. But it was in LA, and it was with Ryan. Now when I wake up and see it, I chuckle and think about us running into that tattoo parlor on whim. It makes me smile (when I’m not forgetting it’s behind my ear while drying my hair in the morning), and because of that, even though I didn’t necessarily plan to do it, or even have the money technically saved up to do it, it was the right decision to make, and it remains to be so.
Los Angeles taught me that I’m a hopeless romantic, that I see (or can see) the good in every situation (even if I tend to fixate on the bad sometimes), and that in the end, my friends will always have my back and be the best pick-me-ups a girl could ask form.
Cheers to LA, Pythons, and Wax,
-Stephanie M. Wytovich