Circa Spring 2001. This brief first stint teaching in the classroom deserves mention. I took prep classes for the CBEST so I could pass the math portion of the substitute teacher test in California. I passed and got my first gig subbing at a high school. Let’s just say that passing some standardized test does not prepare you to teach. And when those students are a mere four or five years younger than you, it makes even less difference. I was battling some pretty serious imposter syndrome at that point, so I withered under the pressure; I didn’t return to the classroom for several more years.
novel, toil & sound, creative writing, short fiction, writing life
Job #10: open-concept office, closed for creativity
“They” are a mysterious force in a kid’s life. And because “they” said it was what I was “supposed” to do upon graduation from SJSU, I quit my bar job for a desk job—the integrity of my writing dreams be damned. It is an example in my life where I can clearly see how things would have turned out completely different had I taken the other path. The bar job would have—in theory, at least— allowed me to practice writing during the days. You see, I was young and could have recovered from all the hangovers after shifts to read all the books and write all the stories. At minimum, I should have kept a couple shifts to see how the desk job panned out.
But the desk job sucked all the life out of me—and crushed creativity. I was a technical editor of standard operating procedures at an engineering firm called Therma. For someone with absolutely zero engineering in his background—not to mention, no coursework in technical writing—, the job felt as pointless and boring as it sounds. The things we do for our resumes, our health insurance, and $15 bucks an hour. With the prospect of a bartending job in a restaurant in Santa Cruz, I quit Therma after six months.
The picture was taken around that time and is representative of me at that time. The birdie is directed at “they” who said I was “supposed” to quit the fame and fortune of bartending for the “security” of an 8-to-5.
One-year anniversary giveaway for The Emergent
Goodreads Book Giveaway
by Nick Holmberg
Giveaway ends March 31, 2023.
See the giveaway details at Goodreads.
Job #0.10: Christmas & the Baby Cheeses
This job was not even quarter time. It was the job of many tweens and teens: babysitter. Nothing better than getting paid to watch tv and eat all the ice cream I wanted while I sat on Ben and Ryan.
And it the job was a cultural awakening. The clients were from Wisconsin.
Through learning from my in-laws and Charlie Berens, I have slowly begun to unpack that experience all these years later. The dad would say things like “Oooh, I tell ya. That Don Majkowski isn’t going to cut it.” And Ryan (~4 years old), was already indoctrinated. I know this because one Christmas, he said, “It’s almost time for Baby Cheeses’ birthday!”
The picture is of me celebrating 8th-grade graduation. I would never have made it to that mountaintop if I hadn’t been able to pay for my own Funyuns and chocolate malteds with the cash from my Midwest clients.
The Emergent – a synopsis
“Unknowns can be handled in two ways. You can stay on the beach and watch, imagining what
might—but probably won’t—happen. Or you can offer up your mere physical existence for the
chance to be a part of something bigger than yourself.”
These are among the last words that Kat hears from her lifelong friend, Alma. The Emergent opens at the dawn of the internet era, and nineteen-year-old Silicon Valley native Kat is alone.
Haunted, she wonders if her actions drove Alma-and the rest of her family-away. Soon after
Alma’s disappearance, Kat finds herself in New York City with a new companion. In an apparent attempt to understand why she ended up across the continent, Kat relates her family’s story. Set in places like the shores of Oakland after the 1906 San Francisco earthquake, Depression-era farming communities of California’s Central Valley, and cold-war Santa Clara Valley, the family history and its ghosts also seem to shroud who Kat really is. But a series of mysterious injuries compel Kat to reveal more about herself. Will these revelations save Kat from her past? Or will they forever define her future?
Contact the author for a full tip sheet and to discuss speaking engagements.
a dramatist’s memoir about epilepsy
A grad school pal from my ’03-’04 CCNY days is having a fantastic time doing a bit of a book tour. As an actor and college instructor, he is perfectly suited to engage and teach the public about his experiences caring for someone with a severe illness. And he’s a hell of a writer, too. She Danced with Lightning is a memoir of Marc Palmieri and his family navigating their daughter Anna’s epilepsy over the course of about a decade and a half.
Since the book’s recent publication, I’ve seen many people posting on social media how they could not put Marc’s book down. They must be of stronger stuff then me. Marc, a playwright of several produced dramas, writes with the dramatic tension that one would expect of, well, a dramatist. The ebbs and flows of terror that Marc depicts in his narrative were so evocative that I had to pace myself: death of a child and ruined marriage a definite possibility at every turned page. I could only read one chapter per sitting, experiencing Marc’s anxiety and helplessness in the face of the medical mystery that was Anna’s disability. This isn’t to say there aren’t moments of levity in this story (e.g. Marc’s concerns about being illegally in possession of medical marijuana; adolescent Anna’s mild Tourette-like symptoms brought on by the lesion buried in her brain). And there are moments in the story that are truly relatable: the life of the artist needing to juggle jobs while finding time to work on the next piece of writing.
Marc helps the reader understand that all things worth caring about take a hell of a lot of hard work, endurance, and faith. And for Marc to keep pressing forward in the face of such uncertainty would have been a far more daunting trial without a multitude of friends and family supporting him.
The Big Holiday Read
I’ve experienced 25 books this year. Granted, one of them was a children’s book. And much of my consumption consisted of audiobooks (can’t let my commute to work get in the way of a good story!).
But with a couple weeks off and my manuscript with the designer, I thought I’d try to reach 30 books by the end of the year by reading the hardcopies of the following books:
Mad at the World: A Life of John Steinbeck by William Souder (120 pages in as of now; if you know me at all, you know JS is my jam)
The Last One by Fatima Daas (debut novel from a French queer Muslim woman)
The Samurai’s Garden by Gail Tsukiyama (recommended by Aunt Dayle)
One Man’s Initiation: 1917 by John Dos Pasos (how is it I’ve never read any Dos Pasos? This is his debut; I’ve asked Santa to bring me the USA Trilogy)
This Side of Paradise by F. Scott Fitzgerald (rounding out the debut novel semi-theme, not quite sure how I missed reading this one over the years)
What would you recommend for my 2022 booklist?
Queen Lizzy is Unimpressed
Nic and I linger over breakfast during the autumn, entertained by the squirrels playing, forgetting where their food is, getting fat. We root for them to make it across the street, cheer when they’ve lived to cross another street. It’s the same every year here in the Midwest. This year, however, those little rascals seem to be particularly abundant. And this means that squirrel demise is on the rise: hawks, cars, falls from trees, loose power lines dangling from our utility pole listed as the cause of death in the coroner’s report. More than usual, the dead rodent this year dots my consciousness like spilled ink. Or a spreading pool of blood, as it were.
I once knew someone who, for religious reasons, travelled with a shovel in the trunk of their car, giving roadkill dignified ceremonies for undignified deaths. I was never sure how this person got their PhD—or ever made it to work on time: stopping for every dead animal they drove past. I am fairly certain this person did not grow up in the Midwest, where the accidental slaughter of wild animals is part of the landscape.
I do understand the sentiment, though. So on the several occasions in the past year when a fallen (but completely intact) squirrel lay lifeless in the street in front of my house (victim of a slippery utility pole or its stray electrical current), I have scooped up the rust-and-beige body with my yellow snow shovel and transported it to the wooded areas behind the property. I don’t go so far as to bury the poor bastards; but in my mind, it is more dignified to return the little guys to nature; at least then all the fat that they worked so hard to pack on in the closing days of autumn will not have been for nothing. I mean, isn’t there more dignity in being a snack for a turkey vulture than to be a pavement Jackson Pollock, innards forced out of either end?
The latter seems like a waste (unless you’re a diehard art fan), while the former seems to serve a purpose.
Just the other day, I transported the second little body of the week to the long grasses just beyond the 3-foot fence at the back of the yard, an offering to scavengers or worms. And today I worked from home. My office commands a fantastic view of the park, the capitol building seeming to sit atop the tree line. Backyard tree now with bare limbs, I had a clear view of a well-fed red tail hawk. We’ll call her Queen Lizzy.
In the past couple years of mostly working from home, I have never seen Queen Lizzy in our tree; she lives in the park trees a good 100 yards distant from my office window. She is graceful, soaring high on warm drafts in summer and darting at lower altitudes in winter. So to see Queen Lizzy not 20 yards from me—her white breast contrasted with her brown feathers and the gray day—brought my work to a grinding halt.
Perched 15 feet up in the tree, she rotated her head 180 degrees each way. Then she spread her wings, quickly alighting on the 3-foot fence below. For several minutes, her head was on a swivel. She could not believe her good fortune, or she didn’t want anyone to see what she was about to do, or was looking at me incredulous at the stupidity of whatever animal she was hunting.
In a flash of brown-red-white, she hopped into the grass below, flew a few more feet and landed. It didn’t seem likely that the squirrel corpse I had laid there the day before would still be around: fox and coyote sometimes saunter through the park and they surely would have caught the scent of an easy meal. So I assumed Queen Lizzy had made a fresh catch of some living thing and was waiting for it to gasp its last under her death talons.
My curiosity got the best of me, as all I could determine from my vantage was that she was just standing over the body of her kill. I figured if she was startled by me, she could take her meal elsewhere in those death talons. I was a mere 15 yards from her when I stopped at the back fence line. She did not fly off immediately. Her dignity had suffered a blow: she was embarrassed for having thought the squirrel was alive, mortified to have been seen with a squirrel she herself had not caught. More than anything, though, she was unimpressed with my offering.
Queen Lizzy flew off, mumbling something about how dining al fresco didn’t mean the meal had to be cold, too.
a white dude’s reading list for white folks
This is my non-exhaustive reading recommendation list for white folks. In no particular order:
- Men We Reaped (2013) by Jesmyn Ward
- Native Son (1952) by Richard Wright
- Passing (1929) by Nella Larsen
- Invisible Man (1940) by Ralph Ellison
- Their Eyes Were Watching God (1937) by Zora Neale Hurston
- White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism (2018)* by Robin DiAngelo
- An American Marriage (2018) by Tayari Jones
- The Water Dancer (2019) by Ta-Nehisi Coates
- We Need New Names (2013) by NoViolet Bulawayo
- The Nickel Boys (2019) by Colson Whitehead
- The Residue Years (2013) by Mitchell S. Jackson
- Becoming (2018) by Michelle Obama
- Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass (1845) by Frederick Douglass
- Erasure (2001)* by Percival Everett
- The Sellout (2015) by Paul Beatty
- How To Slowly Kill Yourself and Others in America (2013) by Kiese Laymon
*-not yet read; it’s near the top of my to-read list
A humble list of resources and black American perspectives
[You can read Part 1 of 2 here]
Racism in America is like dust in the air. It seems invisible…until you let the sun in.
No matter a person’s political affiliation (is there any such thing as an apolitical adult anymore?), they are likely to have one of four frames of mind about rioting:
- they understand it and condone it as a last resort of communicating outrage;
- they understand it but don’t condone it;
- they try to but don’t understand it and don’t condone it;
- they willfully remain ignorant and don’t take the time to try and understand it
The common denominator with all of these mindsets is that they belong to people who believe that rioting is not an ideal method of communication.
Today (and in the coming weeks, months, and lifetimes), white Americans have yet another opportunity to choose a riotous or non-riotous future:
- The status quo (which continues the unending cycle: invisible racism turning into visible racism, which leads to peaceful protests that often turn violent, followed by blaming and distracting from everything but the root cause; the last phase of the cycle is apathy)
- Most importantly, learn what it means to be an ally. As my friend Melissa Roshan says, LISTEN! Assume only one thing: that you don’t know a goddamned thing about the daily injustices of systemic racism. Take action based on cues from people of color.
- Support and volunteer for political candidates who increase diverse representation in government, as my friend Dan Knewitz has been doing in Minneapolis for several years.
- Donate to organizations like Ethel’s Club so that the voices will be given to “artists, creators, and practitioners working to empower people of color… doing positive work in their communities.”
- Donate to after-school programs or schools with missions like Comp Sci High in the Bronx, where my old friend John Campos and the team of educators have made advancements in career opportunities through educational accessibility for under-served populations.
- No White Saviors
- The Conscious Kid
- Brittany Packnett
- Austin Channing Brown
- The Loveland Foundation