Saturday, November 14, 2009

Leaving Auckland

So I received a request for a final update to my failed NZ blog experiment, and I couldn't resist the urge to cast one more message into the maw of cyberspace. Here are some recent happenings:

* I finished and turned in the 2nd draft of my novel, tentatively titled "Jericho", which means that my Master's degree is complete. They have this weird thing called "external assessment" in NZ academia, so a copy of my manuscript has been sent to an author in the Midwest named Michael Martone (an author whose work I really respect and enjoy) and he is currently marking it in conjunction with my graduate advisor. I'm pretty nervous about this whole process, but am excited to see what happens. And it feels weird to be able to say I wrote 2 drafts of a novel in less than 8 months. I never would have thought that could be possible. Makes me feel a bit like Steven Seagall, only with words instead of fists and less altercations with bad guys named "Sticks". Now I've already moved on to new stories and am in the initial stages of researching my next novel project. A hint at what's to come: the main character right now is an optimistic, pregnant, eighteen year-old girl. A challenge? You bet!

* I am leaving Auckland in 3 days. I will be flying back in time to Houston, TX where I will be embarking on the next stage of my life adventure. I am excited to be returning to Texas right as the "God Bless Texas" Christmas decorations are going up. And I'm excited to live into the new community of friends that I have in the city! I will be finding work (currently looking for adjunct faculty work) while obtaining my teaching certification. Watch out all you high schoolers with your love of Mormon teenage vampire love triangles and distrust of anything that can't be summarized in one sentence on Twitter. Mr. Gasper, future English teacher and dance instructor (okay, I made that dance part up, but you have to admit, dancing and high school is like chocolate and peanut butter) is coming onto the scene!

* Right now my time is full of trying to pack a year of my life in two suitcases while making time for all the amazing people I've met over the year. It's been cool to have a year in another country to live into the lives of some incredibly intelligent, funny, and gifted people. And it is a good feeling to know that even though it was such a short time, the friends I've made are genuine and I will surely see some of them again (maybe on my return trip to NZ, when I can travel and don't have to sit in a room and type, type, type). Things I've learned about packing: 1. Don't pop the bubbles in the bubble wrap until you're sure you don't need it again. 2. Always pack any soap/toiletries in a separate pocket than the main stuff, and try to keep it in a leak-proof plastic bag. 3. Make sure to pack incriminating evidence (DVD's like Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants and The Notebook) as near to the bottom of the suitcase as possible. 4. Give stuff away. You really don't need to bring that giant singing HSM card with you. Trust me.

*So that's my life. I am sure that when I get to Houston I'll start another blog that I can update once every 3 months. Here are some more recent observations about life in NZ:

* I went to an Italian restaurant called Gina's with some people in my apartment. Apparently Gina's is known for their sexy Italian dude waitstaff. The way I figured this out was from the giant posters all over the restaurant advertising the Gina's calendar featuring a bunch of waitstaff dudes with their shirts off. I was seated pretty much directly in front of a poster of Mr. March. Which is how I realized how much a shirtless dude's chest and stomach really can look like a weird Muppetish face after awhile. It was like MagicEye. Luckily I got out of there before the face started talking to me.

* I have recently discovered the absolute deliciousness of Kiwi fruit and Feijoas in Auckland. They are both ideal fruit in that they taste like I'm eating candy. I'm going to be sad to leave the fruit behind. Can you even get Feijoa fruit in the States? I don't remember ever seeing it.

* I visited one of the volcanic mounds called North Head the other day. This mountain has giant guns on it left over from when NZ thought that the Russians would invade. It's funny to think of anyone invading NZ. It reminded me of a story my buddy Glen told me. Apparently a German U-boat really did land on the south island of NZ during WWII. The reason they landed was because the soldiers wanted to drink milk. So they landed next to a farm and milked a couple cows. One of the German soldiers who was on the U-Boat told this story a number of years ago so someone figured out what farm it must have been at and tried to ask the owners about it. It was still a family farm and they still remembered the day that the cows had already been milked. So maybe the guns on top of North Head are necessary after all. Preventative Measures for the Milking Invasion.

* Okay, I really do have to go now. But I'm sure there will be more updates in the future. I am excited to get to Houston and be back in the land of fast internet and drip coffee. Hopefully I will talk to you soon. Oh, and to la nina de mis ojos: Estoy muy contento y tengo mucha esperanza!

Monday, August 31, 2009

27 Candles

Hi. So it's been a ton of months and I'm sorry. Thanks for the threats (thinly-veiled and otherwise). In my defense, all I do these days is write. It's just easier to write about things not-myself.

Two days ago I turned 27. I've always had a pretty ambivalent relationship with the day of my birth. When I turned two, my gift was my baby brother Luke. So since that age I've always had a shared birthday, which has served as a constant reminder that August 30th is not just my day. It is also Mary Shelley's. And Warren Buffet's.

August 30th falls at an awkward time of the year. Growing up it was always just when school was starting. This meant that birthdays could potentially be clouded by the looming school year. It also meant that there was not a heavily populated pool from which to invite party guests as summer meant loss of contact with many friends and acquaintences. But I think that birthdays, like names, suit individuals. I've always found it a bit hard to have a bunch of attention directed at me (hence my blog problems). I know, I know, I was the frontman of some metal bands for a number of years, but you have to take into consideration that most people who saw us would either look away in fright or be wincing in pain at the loudness, so it still wasn't much attention. So having a laid-back birthday is pretty great. Although every once in awhile it can be tough.

Here are some tough birthdays:
19 - I had just moved to Milwaukee to start my undergraduate degree. I didn't know anyone and when meeting people did not necessarily feel like saying something along the lines of "Hi, I'm Travis. By the way, it's my freaking birthday." A couple people found out and we ate pizza and watched Fight Club in my dorm room. Was a homesick birthday.

25 - I had just moved to Dallas the previous week. My first Sunday there I won a church drawing. My prize was 5 full meals (filled in punch cards) to a restaurant called The Jalapeno Tree. We decided to utilize the meal cards with some of the other guy interns as a birthday celebration. I had the "Arnold Schwarzenegger" burrito. All their food was named after action movie stars, which I was into. However, when we tried to cash in the meal cards, the manager came out and accused us of theft. Apparently the person who donated the cards to the church drawing did not inform management. It was a mess. And I pretty much look guilty 24-7. So that didn't help.

Here are some good birthdays:
16 - Instead of presents, my parents asked everyone to bring me Jolt Cola. That's a true indication of parental love because I think I was wired until the next year. I don't remember much about being 16. Thank you Jolt!

26 - Nothing can be better than a sour cream chocolate peanut butter cake with chocolate ganache frosting surround by peanut-butter fudge bars. I love my sister in law! I think I gained 10 pounds. Then we went out to my parent's land and shot off a crap ton of fireworks. That was the jam!

So the question is, how about 27? 27 was more on the bummer side. I was with people who weren't necessarily good enough friends to tell that it was my birthday. I don't know if that makes sense at all. But that's what type of friends they are, friends I didn't want to tell it was my birthday. And we weren't in Auckland. I thought we were going to be back at a decent hour so I could hang out with some friends, but it didn't happen. Such is life. But I came home late to a bunch of awesome e-mails, phone messages, and gifts in the mail, so the night was totally great! I really love the people I have in my life! And I'm pretty excited for 27. I think it's going to be an adventure.

Here are some pictures from where I was this weekend. I guess it's called the Bay of Plenty region of the North Island. It was pretty, but a bit cold.

So what else is new? I'm writing my face off as usual. I completed my first draft by the end of the first semester and now am elbows deep in the mire that is revision. A tip to any writers out there, be really deliberate in thinking of the POV of your story. It will save you a bunch of work in the long run. But I'm pretty pleased with the directions the change in POV is taking the novel. It is slowly becoming something I would actually pick up and read, which is good.

I know some of you know this news already, but one of the cool recent events in my life is the fact that I have a story called "A Delicate and Lofty Man" that is going to be published by Random House NZ. It will be included in a collection of stories called "The Sovereignty of Words" that is due out in NZ next February. So all this writing and ignoring of the blog is paying off!

Other important events. I visited my girlfriend Emily in Texas in June. Her parents graciously opened up their home to me for two weeks and I had a time full of awkward movies, chocolate covered pretzels, fine art, One Tree Hill, Phantom of the Opera, Matt Chandler, playing Legos and making rock faces with the Schwartz's, going to church, eating great food (including homemade avocado ice cream), getting my flesh burned off in the Texas sun, watching a shark eat a plane, being inspired by a movie about an Evangelical potato farmer, and overall immensely enjoying my time with Emily. The two weeks went by way too fast, but that seems to be how time works in my recent life.

Come November 17th I will be leaving Auckland. I will be moving to Houston to work as a teacher (adjunct faculty at a community college). I would appreciate any prayers and good vibes. It is exciting to be moving forward once again, and I'm extremely confident in the direction my life is moving.

Right now I'm sitting with a near-hairless cat on my lap. Her name is Rags. I'm watching her and Bruno (a chihuahua) for my friends Zak and Janie. There's nothing more peaceful than a purring cat on a lap. Even if said cat is a bit wrinkly and weird looking.

Okay, that's some of my life at the moment. I will try to have another update soon. Bring on the cupcakes!!! (I'm a sucker for positive reinforcement!)

*Edit* It has been brought to my attention that I made it sound like I already have work lined up in Houston. This is not the case, I just have a particular path I am moving down at the moment. With the line of work I am pursuing, there is not really the option of lining up work this far in advance. So I can use those prayers and good thoughts! Sorry for the confusion.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

"You must have been depressed"

Today I went to the NZ post office to turn in my application for my IRD number, which is some type of THX-1138 style number I need for tax purposes. One of the documents I had to show to the teller was my passport, and my passport picture is not very representative of present-day Travis. The picture is from my junior year of college 5 years ago when I had black hair down to my shoulders. In the words of Brodie, I looked like a punk rocker from the 70's. In the words of the post office teller, I must have been depressed.

Things have been a bit rough recently. Last weekend my grandmother Gigi passed away from a fast-acting cancer that was literally just found a month or two ago. It was unexpected, but luckily most of my family was able to see her and say goodbye. It was frustrating to be stuck half the world away and not have the same opportunity to say goodbye to Gigi, but I will always have my memories and those marks that she left on my life as my grandmother. I remember riding with her in their puke-green VW bus (covered in conservative bumper stickers of course) and having it stall out in the middle of Cincinnati rush hour traffic. I was young and fatalistic and was pretty sure we were about to be murdered by some irate, offended, in-a-hurry motorist stuck behind us. But Gigi was a firecracker and all the honking, swearing, and finger-waving didn't phase her at all. The scene really impressed on me at that early age what peace amidst adversity could look like. Oh, and we definitely have a picture of her wearing a clown wig and wielding a butcher knife. That one's pretty scary.

I completed my first semester of classes so now my month will be dedicated to the novel, as well as a couple of short stories. I knew rewriting was necessary to make the first draft coherent, and now I'm elbow deep. It will be nice come June 28th to hand in at least the structure of the novel--it's ghost or larvae or shadow. Here's the first couple of sentences (remember, work in progress):

"The morning began with a headache that prayer couldn’t fix. It pulled at my face and I felt like my skin was stretching against my skeleton, ready to split if I moved my mouth into a frown or a smile."

I know, I know. Cheery stuff.

Otherwise my life has been pretty low-key, which is nice. I've been bowling and discovered a Denny's (which is just as bad as you would think, half-a-world in the future doesn't change anything). I tried Dim Sum with my friends Teale, Brodie, and Karen the other day. I wouldn't have thought I would be eating fried squid again after my whole dissecting-then-eating squid experience in the fifth grade, but it was actually pretty good. I liked the concept of being able to sample tons of different type of food. Reminds me of the Old Country Buffet days with Johnny and Ben, although much more exotic (and fresh, haha).

Here's some other stuff.

Music I've been bedroom dancing to:
Phoenix - Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix
Grizzly Bear - Veckatimest
J.Geil's Band - Centerfold

Skywriting, grandparents, yelling, records, robots, crayfish, the Prairie River

A Book of Paris Review Interviews. John Gardner is particularly insightful (he's the reason I picked up the book). Check it:
"The writer's job on the other hand, is to be radically open to persuasion. He should, if possible, not be committed to one side more than to the other--which is to say that he wants to affirm life, not sneer at it--but he has to be absolutely fair, understand the moral limits of his partisanship."

Vertigo by WG Sebald. Sebald is probably one of my favorite new discoveries. I am impressed with the multiple textual "dreamscapes" he is able to seamlessly weave and traverse within his novels. And he is a genius at portraying dread.

Okay, I'm out. Back to the books. But here's a picture of my converted 70's hotel apartment complex. Don't worry, it's not run by a Bates.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Have you ever heard of lucid dreaming?

Hi, I'm back with the promised update.

A couple weekends ago I participated in New Zealand's "48 hour Film Competition." I was on team Africa From Russia which consisted of various friends and acquaintances; most are in the film production program at the Uni. We received the following information at 8:00 pm on Friday evening and had to write, shoot, edit, and hand in the 2-7 minute long film by Sunday at 5:00 pm.

Genre: Horror
Character: Alex Puddle, who is an exaggerator
Line of Dialogue: "It doesn't fit."
Prop: A Rock

My role was writer/initial idea guy. We had a group meeting for a couple of hours where we discussed what scares us and what type of horror movie we were interested in making. We all agreed on an atmospheric, ambiguous horror. Then my teammate Zanna and I worked until around 4:30 in the morning on a script involving bad dreams, lucid dreaming, Scotch on the rocks, Peanuts references, and murder. Over the next couple of days the rest of the team shot the script. I was able to see it at one of the competition screenings last Wednesday. It looked pretty polished, had a great soundtrack (supplied by my bro, Dead Luke/Varlot Tarsod), and confused the audience to no end. But that was to be expected. I'm pretty much a snob.

Here's an exceprt:


Your turn. I’ve told you my deepest, darkest dream—now I want to know yours.





Yeah, what kind of monsters did you have to conquer?


It’s a short one. I’m on a hotel balcony, I don’t know where. I’m smoking a cigarette and I’ve got blood all over my face. But for some reason I know it’s not my blood. A man walks by below me and I feel like I know him, but I’m not sure if I should wave. Usually I do.

I've run into my first real snags in the novel recently. There is a ton of revision and rewriting ahead of me, which I'm not super excited about, but the themes of the story are developing nicely. The characters are all slippery and weird, which is exactly what I want.

Other things I've been rocking recently:
Matt Chandler - Emily turned me on to him. Some pretty amazing preaching, honest and authentic and damn funny.
All The Real Girls - David Gordon Green nailed the slippery nature of volatile relationships in the midst of growing up
The Aleph - Jorge Luis Borges is suffocating me with his circular library of texts and time
Licorice Tea - The sweet after-taste spin-kicks my tongue into full-on party mode (think Spud MacKenzie in my mouth!)
Open House - A story about stealing drugs during home-tours I just cranked out on Saturday. Another excerpt:

It was supposed to be the crowning achievement in our “parade of homes” extravaganza that was more circus than parade. We were the carnies slithering through the crowds marking the idiots for exploitation while copping quick feels on their nubile teenage daughters. At least that’s what I imagined.

We could only travel in groups of two, even though there were more of us. Two was a manageable number, a couple. I was with Terry, who I think cooked P in an old railroad car he had gutted and hauled up a hill somewhere. But maybe not. He sure acted like he cooked P, and he had this wheezing laugh that reminded me of squeezing the wooden bellows when I was a child.

News of Awesomeness:
I just found out that my application to be a TA next semester was approved. I will be leading two classes of 20 students each in discussions of all things creative writing. It is a 252 course, so the work load will be intense, but I can't wait!

Hang tough, friends!

Thursday, May 7, 2009

For my sister...

Yes, I know I've been bad. Really, really bad. But you have to understand that I'm pretty much writing a constant stream of words as it is, not to mention all the words I have to put back in my head. So cut me some slack. Or don't. Just quit sending the swine flu over here in retribution.

Here are some glimpses from my life the last month:

1. Village Hall Dance.

I went with my friends Zak and Janie up to Zak's hometown for a weekend. It was a family friend's 21st birthday, which is a pretty big deal in NZ, so we attended what was essentially a barn dance in a village hall. There was fiddle music, the chicken dance, traditional dances, and a bunch of homeschoolers, so it felt like being back in Wisconsin!

2. Mordor

During our Easter break I went on a 3-day hike with my Canadian friend Brodie. We decided since we were in LOTR ground zero, that it would be fitting to hike through Mordor. It was the right choice. We trekked through a beautiful, at times alien, landscape that seemed to completely change ever couple of miles. Our bodies were sore, but we had a great time. Brodie even found spots for text messaging. Ahh nature.

Since we had a lot of time together, I was able to learn some new facts about Brodie. My favorite Brodie fact: he was once ejected from a WWF event. Apparently he really didn't like one of the wrestlers, so he threw his Big Gulp soda at him as he taunted the crowd, hitting him right in the face. This did not please the wrestler too much and he came into the crowd, grabbed Brodie by the shoulders, shook him a whole bunch, and then tore his favorite Canuck's shirt right down the middle. Brodie was promptly ejected from the arena. This is the type of story I wish I could tell my grandkids some day.

3. Writing

I think I'm going a little crazy. I have to have the first draft of my novel finished by June 28th. The date looms in the distance like a huge Texan storm cloud.

4. Reading
The Rifles - William T Vollmann
The Savage Detectives - Roberto Bolano
We Love Glenda So Much - Julio Cortazar
Less Than Zero - Bret Easton Ellis
The Inner Life - Thomas a Kempis
Lost in a Book - Victor Nell

5. Music
Lots of Elvis
Arcade Fire - Neon Bible
Okkervil River - The Stage Names
Kiss - Very Best Of
Lots of 50's love songs and girl groups
Dead Luke - The Black Plague in Mono

Most Recently: An awesome mix cd from Emily

6. Friends
How we hang out: Team Fortress 2 at a 16 person LAN party, dancing at Boogie Wonderland (complete with disco balls and light up dance floor), LOST, poetry readings, Indian Food, Film, Gossip Girl, Shakespearean play starring Ethan Hawke

This weekend: 48Hour Film Festival (I am a writer for a competing team)

More to come...

Friday, April 3, 2009

Recent Ramblings and Rumbling Grumblings

Please have mercy on me. I've been getting my elbows dirty with the novel whose first draft is due on July 1st, and I'll admit, I've neglected some things, this blog being one of them. I promise to inundate you with enough mundane details to fill an empty canister of mixed nuts from this point on. Forward!

Novel? It feels like one of those epic, summer-camp tug-of-wars (guys vs. girls) where each side is evenly matched and dangling close, a little too close, to that huge mud pile in the middle. But I'm writing, every morning. And I'm trusting that I just need to keep up the momentum. I've enacted the "no looking back" policy, which at times feels essential for the upkeep of my sanity. Here's a sentence from somewhere in its depths:

"The background was painted in vibrant, neon colors, like a t-shirt from the 80's, and an assault rifle had been stenciled in the middle, its black shape a disorienting contrast to all the color."

Auckland life has been fast-paced and busy, it's hard to believe that I've already been here two months (with only 7 more to go). I participated in a reading a couple weeks ago that went well, although I think despite my practice I still read a little too quickly. But I did get to read about Bruce Springsteen, teenage parties, and throwing bricks through windows, so it was a good time. It didn't necessarily fit with some of the other readings (ie poetry about picking apricots), but there's strength found in contrast.

I'm a card-carrying member of the Auckland Film Society, which means that my friend Bea and I attend a rare, hard-to-see art film every Monday evening. The last couple of weeks have been dedicated to a Polish filmmaker named Lech Majewski who came and presented one of his films. Best part of the Q&A was when someone asked him how long it took to complete the film. His answer: "My whole life. A seed is planted and soon it grows." Seriously. You can imagine what the films are like. I'm just excited to see Tarkovsky on the big screen. It will be amazing.

Tonight I went to Hell Pizza with my friend Andrea since I had a Friday night craving. I haven't really seen that many pizza joints around, but this one was pretty good, for hell. I had Purgatory, which was feta, spinach, onions, and some kind of pepper. Andrea had Limbo which was bleu cheese, sun-dried tomatoes, and carmelized onions. I learned that I prefer Limbo to Purgatory. They also had deep fried corn nuggets. If only we could have consumed vegetables like that growing up!

Up top you'll see a picture of my wall. I've lived with blank walls too long already, so last Saturday I picked up some magazines and decorated a bit. Don't worry Madie, your picture is still hanging up, now it's right above my window to remind me of sunshine and warmth on rainy, cold mornings.

Speaking of cold, my room features a window/vent thing that is permanently open in my bathroom. This means that my room is pretty much the temperature that it is outside. And it has been pretty cold at night. I did enjoy the fact that my room was completely fogged up after my shower, it was like I was in a swamp. Minus the ROUS's.

That's enough for now. I do have some adventures coming up since I have a two-week vacation for Easter. Here are some hints. Barn-dancing. Mordor.

Now I'm going to watch a movie. I'm not going to say the name of the movie, but I'll give you the tagline. "Laugh. Cry. Share the Pants." It's up to you to figure it out. I'm hoping it will make a good, light, semi-weird, kind-of-creepy-to-watch-alone Friday night movie.


Friday, March 13, 2009

Snack Attack!

I think one thing I'm learning about myself is that I like to try weird food. Today I saw "Burger Rings" at the grocery store, which apparently are Burger Flavored Onion Rings. I almost got them, based on sheer ridiculousness. Then I had a vision of what my evening would like like after consuming the burger rings, and it was kind of like The Road Warrior, only in my stomach.

But I did grab some NZ snacks to share with my friends Bea and Andrea tonight. And I thought I would offer you my snackspert impression of Auckland's cure for the munchies.

Here's the lineup:

1. Signature Range's Chilli (they spell it that way) & Lime flavored tortilla chips
2. ToffeePops
3. Hokey Pokey Squiggles
4. Home Brand Party Mix

My assessment:

1. The Tortilla Chips: Actually Pretty Good! I've had lime flavored chips before and they can be pretty zesty, but these have a nice, laid-back flavoring so that the corn really comes through. Perfect for those nice, laid-back evenings maaaaaaaaaan! Post hackey-sack feed food!

2. ToffeePops: Muy excelente! It's basically a cookie with a layer of caramel covered in dark chocolate. The Pop part of the name probably comes from the fact that I could Pop a whole bunch into my mouth right now! That or the fact that they make the shirt buttons Pop after too many.

3. Squiggles: There's this flavor that I keep seeing all over the place (candy, ice-cream, cookies, etc.) called Hokey Pokey. I have no idea what Hokey Pokey is, so I decided to get some Squiggles which are advertised to be centered around the flavor. Well, I tried one and it tasted sort of butterscotchy. I still have no idea what Hokey Pokey is, but the cookies are alright. I prefer ToffeePops. I'm not sure what I'm supposed to be "shaking all about" in terms of this Hokey Pokey stuff. Maybe it's best not to know.

4. Home Brand Party Mix: I think Home Brand is kind of like a NZ version of "Sam's Choice." That should have been my first indication. The second should have been when I pulled out, I kid you not, a marshmallow milk can. Hmm. So I ate it. And guess what. It was as appetizing as it was visually appealing. I think I'm going to stay away from the Party Mix in the future. Here's a visual review:

In review, NZ snack food = acceptable for playing hours of Call of Duty while wearing Xbox pants. In other words: success! Except for weird marshmallow creations.

In other snack news, I definitely ran across a pack of "Starburst Rattlesnakes." At first I thought to myself "How can we not have these in the US?!?!" Then I looked more closely and realized why. They looked pretty phallic. Fruitily phallic?

Also, Andrea pointed out that what I bought at the grocery store today (since I had already done my "real" shopping earlier in the week) was ToffeePops, Squiggles, Gummies, Chips, an energy drink, and light cream cheese. I told her it's 'cause I'm on a diet.

PS As you can tell, my Star Wars shirt has not been forgotten. Now I'm off to the Toshe station to pick up some power converters. Heart!