self-published

I like to think that only the kind of people who would choose a freshman seminar called [Literature of Capitalism], that demands one essay per week, would spend finals season publishing a satirical yearbook for a class with 17 students.

It was conceived as a “what-if” parody to a book we were assigned to read that week, initially only an off-hand comment to a hysterically excited Irene who happened to sit right next to be by no design on that Thursday, after which Easton looked at us, unamused, and asked to share in the joke. Irene almost told him about it, but I stopped her because nothing sounds worse than an idea that doesn’t see the light of the day. Better to publish the book and give it to him as a goodbye gift, instead. So we kept it quiet, and I thought we had forgotten about it, or mutually shared a silent agreement that we were never to talk about it again.

But Irene was serious about it, or at least serious about the idea of collaborating with me on a book project, because after many false starts with her stumbling into my room, half-sober (or not at all), and obnoxiously announcing that we were going to write down ideas, it was this yearbook parody of the course that we eventually went back to. Three weeks before the final day of [Literature of Capitalism] we began work, but by work I mean conceptualizing in the round table of dining halls, laughing more than brainstorming, at the brilliance of the idea, and at how offending it’s going to be, but mostly at its brilliance, of course.

We had planned out such a good work schedule that unfortunately nobody followed. Irene was going to write, and I was going to do everything else required to compile a book/ magazine. Irene was very good at procrastinating and I couldn’t do anything until I had read her pieces, because she hates word limits and I had to work around what she writes. Three weeks dwindled to one and a half week, during which I got tired of waiting and started hounding Irene closely to write. After one long session in her room where she was writing and my role in that session was simply to make my presence known, I met up with Chase and convinced him to join the project too. It was late at night and frigid cold and The Strand in front of us was shutting off its lights; we were sitting at the bench outside a coffee shop bouncing ideas off each other. After the publication of the book Chase asked me why was it that I picked him to be part of the project, and I said,”It’s like my work, except I’m not doing any work because you’re doing it.”

And it’s true, this whole project has been so satisfying exactly because the people involved in it share what I see. Effortlessly. There was no need to go into elaborate tangents to explain the fundamentals of what I wanted; we went through that in a flash and went straight into customizing skyscrapers and amusement parks of ideas. It was wonderful. Irene stayed in her dorm and didn’t go to class to write. Chase and I went to Wall St to do some photography for the book; we cleared the sheep tourists and pasted the original book Where the Money Grows all over Wall Street: on the head of the Charging Bull, at the foot of George Washington, on this plaque of a praying man.

That part of the project was fun, but it got a little stressful toward the end, especially when publication date was Wednesday and by Monday only about less than 50% of the book was done, and one of the two scarce writers I had was breaking down on an ill-timed existential crisis.

Irene was supposed to write the chapters on the people in the class; and Chase was supposed to write the chapter on Irene, along with a mock syllabus timeline. I kept saying that if they pulled all-nighters to finish their parts I will have to pull an even later all-nighter to compile their parts. Knowing them for the procrastinators they are, I had set an artificial internal deadline in advance for Tuesday, and was of course unsurprised when on Monday we couldn’t make it even as we gathered in Irene’s room in a frantic rush to write (or at least I was frantic, the two of them were in ‘good places’) and edit. But despite the unimpressive productivity that night I experienced a very brief, very fleeting Jack Kerouac moment. “Look at us,” Irene had said,”We’re the quintessential hipster writers.” Writing like our lives depended on it and going to happy places in order to write.

On Tuesday we were almost done. On Wednesday there were last minute edits; both Irene and Chase were done with their parts, and by this point I felt like I could puke if I had to do another layout or change anything in my InDesign document that I had been looking at for days on a stretch. We somehow ended up in the corridor outside the Goddard classroom where we had our weekly seminars, sitting on chairs we had dragged out of the classroom or, in Chase’s case, sprawling out on the floor taking a nap. Irene was happily watching me edit in fascination, and I just wanted to puke trying to meet the 5pm deadline (even though it was me who set this deadline).

At 6pm we rushed out of Bobst library to get to the NYU Bookstore to get the book printed by the self-printing machine, but the person in charge wasn’t there. We made a mad rush to Barnes and Noble, only to find that the guy in charge would be leaving in an hour, and is there any way we could come back tomorrow?

Either Irene was a great talker/entertainer, or the look of despair on my face looked like it could kill, because the guy stayed an hour and a half past his shift to help us print out our books. The test copy didn’t turn out so well because I got the dimensions wrong, so I pulled out my laptop and frantically accounted for the bleed, praying that my speed doesn’t come at the cost of screwing up the whole spread, because in design if you change one thing, everything changes.

But then the second book came out perfect, or at least I didn’t have enough strength or objectivity to deny myself the illusion of perfection. Irene was certainly happy enough, having sat on the floor reading a children’s book while I edited because “let’s be real, I can’t help you”. Three hours later, the conceptualization we had had in our heads for weeks were safely in the physical form of books.

Chase had said,”Remember when a week ago this was just an idea?”

Now it is sitting on my shelf.

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