ChiIL Mama's elated to kick off our Bodacious Book Blitz with a special guest this morning. We're stop #10 on The Zinester's Guide to New York City's Virtual Tour.
I first met Ayun 20 years ago in Chicago. Back in the day, she was in a well loved, low budget theatre troupe, The Neo Futurists. Every week they would perform 30 plays in 60 minutes under the title Too Much Light Makes the Baby Go Blind or TMLMTBGB. They've long since moved from Live Bait Theatre, to a home of their own, and they're still running weekly shows today.
Ayun was already a talented writer and actor back then, but she's best remembered as the one who bared her navel and made a pretty convincing bagel, with her hands cupped around her belly button. Her talents have only expanded from there. She moved to NYC 15 years ago, and since then, she's given birth to 6 books, 1 zine and 2 humans. We're here to check out her latest project, ZG2NYC.
If you give ZG2NYC to some lucky friend or significant other this holiday season, they just might get all excited and take you there with 'em. Today we have the author here to give you the inside poop on this irreverent, funky fun, wholly analog guide to NYC.
Hey Ayun. Welcome to ChiIL Mama. We've got a few questions for ya.
1. ChiIL Mama--Our artist friend, Melia, a transplanted Chicagoan, now in Portland, claims there's a magic portal network linking New York, Chicago, and Portland. The same people tend to pop up in those far flung cities. After visiting my sister, Maia, in Portland and discovering her neighbors (kids Gaia and Apollo) were acquaintances of ours who had played at our home in Chi Town, I'm a believer. What do you think?
Ayun Halliday--Hmm, could be some sort of mystical forcefield flowing from Quimby's to Reading Frenzy to Bluestockings...
A more workable version of the Bermuda Triangle, to be sure.
2. CM--Now, the publisher of Zinester's Guide To New York City (or ZG2NYC) actually lives in Portland and is presently moving on up and out of his ant infested trailer. Why choose a publisher on the other coast? How did you hook up?
AH--Microcosm has been distributing the East Village Inky for years, and I was always impressed by how they pay right away. For a while there, they were making stickers, too, and we would barter zines for custom-made East Village Inky stickers. I guess the respect was mutual, since they approached me to see if I'd be interested in wrangling this particular giant gorilla. After talking to a friend who had published a book with them, I felt I had a pretty clear-eyed view of what to expect.
And while it might be a mistake to be represented by an agent on the other coast, it doesn't matter where the publisher is based, as the editing gets done in cyberspace, even when the publisher is a short subway ride away. Actually, it was kind of a good thing that those guys weren't based in NYC, as it forced me to be extremely participatory in fact checking the fact checkers, who had no reason to suspect that something may be amiss when, say, a Harlem listing directs the reader to take the F to 2nd Avenue.
3. CM--I remember e-mailing you for insider tips on non-touristy stuff to do, when we were heading to NYC years ago. Did you get a lot of that over the years?
AH--Yeah, it's' pretty constant. And that too was a good tip off that this was a project I might enjoy. I could be on deadline or late heading out the door, and even then, I could not stop myself from responding in detail. I could never just say, "The Rubin Museum" and leave it at that. I always felt compelled to flesh it out a bit, offer recommendations of places to eat, and nearby bars and parks, shops that sell used accordions, upcoming events just in case you happen to be in town on this weekend or that weekend....
4. CM-- I love the participatory nature of ZG2NYC. The front cover is full of fill in the blanks for personalizing and documenting quirky and useful facts from your foray into The Big Apple. There are squares for ravishing things I ate, 5 revolting things I saw/smelled, An incident that made me want to get the hell out, and something I learned about too late, to name a few. I also thoroughly enjoyed the Safaris section! The cartoons/graphics and the hand written teal categories along the bottom of the pages also stand out. Do you have any personal favorite elements of the book?
AH--You have instinctually gravitated toward my VERY FAVORITE parts of the ZG2NYC!
5. CM--Now that the book is a done deal and irrevocably in print, do you have any regrets? Maybe there are things you included you wish you could take back or things you skipped and would love to squeeze in?
AH--Always. And it's like an icicle in my heart every time I learn that one of our listings is closing, or worse, being forced to close. Today for instance, I was horrified to learn of the Mars Bar's pending demise. I'm going to the MOTH Story slam at the Nuyorican tonight, and I told my friend, you're going to have to let me drag you here and buy you a drink. It's bittersweet to know that the ZG2NYC is not only the last wholly analog guidebook to NYC, but also the last guidebook to have the pleasure of listing that squalid, inimitable piece of NYC history. Now it really IS history.
6. CM--When people ask me for my favorite thrift store or best little coffee house, old man dive or greasy spoon, I always hesitate even if I eventually come clean. There's always that niggling fear that if I rave in print about how great something is, then it will implode from it's own popularity and not be so cool anymore. We used to write about our local favorite hard rock burger place, Kuma's Corner, till they got discovered by the world at large. It's a few blocks away but with a line out the door and hour waits for food, we can never go anymore. Be honest, did you give people one off info or leave out some true gems for fear they'd be overrun?
AH--Jenna Freedman's listing for Joe's Bar reads, "I won't tell you my favorite bar, for pretty obvious reasons, but Joe's on 6th St between 1st and A is pretty good, too."
And when we invited members of the Bushwick Book Club to perform original songs inspired by the ZG2NYC, that was a recurrent theme. Dan Costello and Rachel Devlin had verses about favorite, unnamed spots like the little Italian restaurant where they got engaged, which led to a chorus of, "I'm so glad it's not in the guidebook!"
And Phoebe Kreutz, whose song was perhaps the very dearest of all to me, sang about not wanting to share her secret, cool spots with visitors for the very reasons you mention, but also realizing that when she travels, she really hopes that others will share their favorites with her. I really relate to that, and so, like Phoebe, I'm one of those who gives up the goods. It's the hospitable thing to do.
I would also say that the converse is also true. I contributed a couple of entries where I was like, "Oh no. What if the cool kids think this a dumb, touristy place and I'm a clueless dumb dumb for publicly liking it?"
7. CM--I've heard you say that you detest the terms mommy bloggers, parenting writers, momography, etc. I'm with you there. The condescending tone mainstream media uses to denigrate intelligent, humorous writers who happen to pop out the next generation is annoying at best. These "mommy" writers have ever growing numbers, serious readership and are a force to reckon with. How can we educate, enlighten and overthrow the mommy marginalization?
AH--Probably by adopting a Fuck You and Your Stupid Labels stance. That said, there's a need to network and market one's work, so if one's blog is named one of the Top 50 Mom Blogs by Moms Today dot com, and this honor comes with a badge featuring a curly haired stick figure surrounded by hearts that one is expected to display on one's blog...
Back in HipMama's heyday, the (childless) tattoo artist Johnny Thief was contracted to design a logo, featuring a female motorcyclist in tight leather a helmeted, checkered-flag-waving baby in her sidecar. That sort of visual attitude is helpful, but even then... Neal Pollack was practically roasted on a spit for the cheeky tone he chose when writing about his experiences as a father. If you're not being infantilized, your crimes are apparently compounded, judged guilty without a trial for perceived hipsterism
I think the best revenge is probably to write about one's experience in a political, social, and pop cultural context. Katie Allison Granju and Ariel Gore are prominent here. Anyone who pigeonholes those two as 'mommy writers' is making an ass out of him or herself.
8. CM--You're just a few years farther down the road of alt-urban-artist childraising than I am. At 7 & 9, mine are still mostly happy to trail around to all the multicultural, music fest filled, alt. arty happenings I love. Have Inky and Milo revolted yet?
9. CM--What projects do you have in the works right now?
AH--Erica Perl and I trying to figure out if there's a way we can work together on an epistolary novel for middle readers, whereby she writes one character and I write on character. I think it would be hot stuff, but we live in different cities, have two kids apiece, and are prisoners to different publishing schedules, so just in case, I'm also hatching a plan to write a semi-sequel to a graphic novel I've got coming out this summer, or whenever Paul Hoppe finishes the illustrations.
What I really want to do is power up my pen and finish East Village Inky #46. I've been typing a lot on this virtual book tour, and my tennis elbow could use a rest.
10. CM--In our pre press for this interview, I theorized that maybe you have mastered the art of cloning and made a small Ayun Army to do your bidding. (...something like The Kiss Army with a lot less makeup). How do you get it all done?
AH--My apartment is a mess. Greg is an extremely participatory father. I don't have to drive my kids anywhere (that seems like a real time eater). I don't have much access to TV. I have a proven inability to look at real estate listings. I haven't really done anything about Xmas. Also I don't wear makeup. Perhaps most significantly of all, I enjoy both the creative process and the thrill of the DIY publicity hunt. I've been at it for over a decade now, so things that once seemed challenging feel less so now. And it's never far from my mind that I am one of the lucky ones, whose good fortune it has been to see her work in print. That sense of gratitude, and the occasional daymaking comment from a reader who took the time to write puts the lead in my pencil for sure.