Issue 7: Art that keeps you emotionally afloat
With limited roaming beyond my home, the place I frequent most is (surprise) the internet. Digital spaces can quickly become homogenous and even tedious or tiring to participate in. But every now and then, I see something that turns the medium on its head and I love seeing how creativity can take shape even in the most unexpected places.
In June, I attended a Zoom poetry reading/fundraiser for Equality For Flatbush where I saw my friend Cindy read some of her work. I was really struck by the sensory detail in her poem/Yelp review for Lincoln Fried Chicken:
the spices and chicken grease, dear reader,
is your heart running like my heart is running?,
do you agree that hunger is a teacher
and this abundant oil is just stunning
Last week, she posted another poetic Yelp review for The Magician at The NoMad. Even though I haven’t been able to use Yelp—or to be honest, Foursquare—in many months, it was still transportive. It was so subversive to take a place usually inundated with complaints about food authenticity and customer service and turn it into art.
Then in July, I was scrolling through Instagram when I saw a post from my friend David. It was a sheet of white paper with headlines written in colorful marker. Among them: “New Poop Incentive Plan.” It was the first edition of The Daily Kina, a daily publication about/for David’s daughter. (She is also the publisher.) Some months later, it’s still going strong and brings a smile to my face, reminding me that hyperlocal news is very much alive and delightful.
To me, these provide the opposite feeling of doomscrolling. Pleasurescrolling?? Whatever, I’m rolling with it. So in today’s newsletter, I wanted to share Q&As with Cindy and David about their respective projects and how they think about their creative processes.
Q&A with Cindy Tran
What inspired you to start writing poetic Yelp reviews?
My first poetic Yelp review was for a coffee shop in Minneapolis. I remember ordering a chemex with a light roast and enjoyed it so much I felt compelled to translate the experience aesthetically. A rating and an evaluation didn't seem fitting for this translation. It touched me that the barista spent so much time describing and making the coffee, so why not write something touching in return? I love the way Aracelis Girmay phrases our brief relationships here on earth:
Listen to me. I am telling you
a true thing. This is the only kingdom.
The kingdom of touching;
the touches of the disappearing, things.
How does the format of Yelp reviews influence your writing?
In a few words: a general audience and explicit length constraints. When I have trouble working on other poems, I sometimes turn to writing "reviews" to shift my focus back to physical details, such as business signs, the facial expressions of workers, the way a door opens and closes. This process usually helps me return to my writing with questions like "Who is my primary audience?" and "What other details can I include?"
How have your reviews/poems changed over time?
My reviews have become more subversive; they ask sincere questions about our values, our relationships to consumption, and the assumptions we make about what we receive or deserve.
In parallel, my poetry has become more physical, intimate, and vulnerable. I used to have such a hard time hiding what I wanted to say behind ambiguous references and loosely related imagery. Now that I've read and written many reviews and poems, I often think about how natural and needful it is for us each to address a sadness and lengthen the life of a joy. We do that by telling the stories of our experiences.
What's your favorite poetic Yelp review and why?
Whenever I see the word favorite in a question someone is asking me, my mind fills up like a desert after a rainstorm, and I find myself at a loss for an answer.
So I will answer this question in another way: my favorite poetic Yelp review is the one that opens a reader's heart just a little bit bigger than it was before they read it.
Cindy Tran is a 2019-20 Emerge-Surface-Be Fellow at The Poetry Project. A recipient of fellowships from Poets House, The Loft Literary Center, and Brooklyn Poets, her work appears in SLICE Magazine, AAWW’s The Margins, and Copper Nickel, which gave her an Editor’s Prize. In her free time, Cindy writes Yelp reviews, hoping someone will search for a pork sandwich, and find her poem about sandwiches and racism. Find her online at cindymtran.com or Instagram.
Q&A with David Yee
What inspired you to start The Daily Kina?
As with most good projects, a healthy dose of ennui draped over a foundation of anxiety. Being trapped in an apartment in April as two adults with a three-year-old has been a pretty intense affair. Our family had gotten sick at the end of March (most likely COVID-19, in hindsight), and I think it jolted me into paying closer attention to our kid's inner life, which helps me cope as a parent in a couple helpful ways. Principally, it's amazing to be able to watch another human being develop skills, language, and interests—and you want to document that. But also, it's just a lot of energy and confusion in a small space, and having a place to vent about all of it in a way that leans into the absurdity of the situation feels healthy. The inspiration to draw the paper was our experience and recollection of this moment, but my friends on Instagram (where we started sharing it every day) kept saying that it was a thing that was keeping them emotionally afloat, too, which is how we got to doing it as a newsletter.
What's the editorial process like for an issue of The Daily Kina? How does the addition of the newsletter now play into it?
The editorial process starts with my wife, Laurea, and I taking notes in a shared document whenever Kina does or says something that we want to remember. I scrub through all of that early in the morning, turn it into four headlines (six on Sunday), and bust out the washable markers. Doing the page body is mostly an exercise in space management, drawing simple stick figures to illustrate, and greeking in the rest of the page. I spend some more focused time drawing Kina's portrait (which is its own little exercise in amateurism) and finish out the rest of the header, the date, and the price—Kina suggests a new one every day, and which has become progressively and absurdly more precise as time has passed. I take a picture of the finished front page on the trunk by our bed, and post it for friends.
I decided to write a newsletter for the folks who aren't on Instagram; the editorial process of that is a little freeform and likely to change with time, depending on how much mental stamina I have. (A daily newsletter is a real investment, I have learned.) I always try to address the top headline with a short essay, but that sometimes devolves into a rant about either toddler life or pandemic life. Occasionally, I'll add an aside about one of the secondary headlines and a little self-praise for a great portrait or otherwise-clever illustration. I generally do that work in a thirty-minute window right after Kina goes to bed. Subscribers will usually see the newsletter in their inboxes at about 9:30 PM—which seems like a sub-optimal delivery time, but you get what you get.
You've noted that The Daily Kina is to get away from your job at an actual newspaper (and is first and foremost for you, your wife, and Future Kina). But occasionally, you do include actual current events. How do you address balancing that with more light-hearted, everyday topics?
There are days in which it is evident that a headline about potty training is insufficiently reflective both of what is going on in the wider world and of what we will want to remember twenty years from now as a family. This has been the case a couple of times—most notably in the wake of the murder of George Floyd, for which that day’s The Daily Kina served as a moment of reflection on how to talk to children about racial justice. It's honestly difficult these days not to address some of what's happening in the world (even as I acknowledge that one role The Daily Kina serves is as an escape), but I try to remember that Future Kina is the reader I care most about, and I try to put myself in her shoes—what would she want to know about this time, in hindsight? How can I acknowledge that she lived through this? What was her life like in this moment? What would I want her to know that we believed?
What's your favorite issue and why?
It's so hard to pick. There are some classics from before the newsletter existed, including a weeks-long investigation into a mysterious electronic toy ("OAKWUL"), owned by one of Kina's friends, that turned out to be a cash register. In the couple of months since I started the newsletter, a few stand out. There's the longish newsletter I wrote on inequitable access to water features in playgrounds. Another has my favorite poetic headline ("What Do You Do During the Day + Night? During the Day, With the Sun, and During the Night, With the Moon?"). My favorite portrait of her is on "Kid Doesn't Like Wrong Kind of Cheese" (also, probably my second favorite headline).
David Yee is an engineering leader with experience in everything from tiny startups to huge companies in the worlds of journalism, music, and art. He is Executive Director of Engineering at the New York Times, a cofounder of the @foodshirtfriday account on Instagram, and the Assistant Managing Editor of The Daily Kina. He can be found on Twitter as @tangentialism, and writes intermittently at tangentialism.com.
- Novelist Jami Attenberg is doing a 1-week August edition of #1000wordsofsummer this week!
- Apply to the Asian American Writers’ Workshop's fellowship for The Margins, a yearlong program for emerging Asian diasporic writers based in NYC. Submissions for two special editions of AAWW’s The Margins are now also open.
- “Finally Write That Short Story” by Curtis Sittenfeld
- I enjoyed this episode of Slate’s Working podcast with Jasmine Guillory about how she writes contemporary romance. It pairs well with this Thirst Aid Kit episode that’s all about romance novels and the tropes we love and hate.
Recent reads & other media
I finished Amanda Rosenberg’s essay collection about living with bipolar II, That’s Mental, and Kay Redfield Jamison’s memoir, An Unquiet Mind, which recounts her life as both a clinical psychologist specializing in mood disorders and her own experience living with bipolar I.
I splurged and bought the entire first edition, out of print Addy Walker American Girl series on eBay. I was more of a stuffed animal kid, but I loved these books. I’ve been slowly rereading them and am in awe of how much unflinching historical detail they contain.
My friend and I watched the new Netflix dance movie Work It which was what you’d expect from a Netflix movie—fun but not exactly the most believable plot or well-written dialogue. My biggest issue was that the main character dances in so many collared shirts buttoned all the way to the throat. I CRINGE!! I watched all of What We Do in the Shadows on Hulu and can’t recommend it enough. It’s a mockumentary following the antics of dumb, bisexual vampire roommates on Staten Island. As energy vampire Colin Robinson says, “Coworkers die. Vampire roommates—they’re forever.”
Note: Book links are connected to my Bookshop affiliate page. If you purchase a book from there, you'll be supporting my work and local independent bookstores!
~ meme myself and i ~
Music edition! Toad singing Chandelier is a religious experience. Pitbull is a lyrical genius. Debating learning how to play this on the piano. The best workout song. i-hate-myself-for-making-this__FINAL.mp3.