Beth Griffenhagen, Author of Haiku for the Single Girl, Shares Her Tales of Plight
Have you heard of Haiku for the Single Girl? It's a new book written by 29-year-old Beth Griffenhagen, who, when not penning haiku, spends her days in the marketing department at Murray's Cheese. We talked to Beth, who happens to be having a big launch party tonight at the powerHouse Arena (drinks, cheese, and Cheetos will be served, and haikus will be read).
Tell us about the inspiration for this book.
I was out with a girlfriend who had had a boyfriend break up with her out of the blue. She was having a hard time. We were getting cocktails and dishing about how men are dumb. As I was walking to the subway, I got a bag of Cheetos because I was hungry, but I didn't have anything to wipe my hands on, and you know with Cheetos you get that dusty stuff all over your fingers... I had a dingy, crappy purse, and I just spread it on the purse, thinking, "Cheeto dust, what a beautiful phrase." I was walking home alone, and it was all kind of pathetic...but I thought, I just had so much fun, I'm eating what I want, doing what I want -- this is great! Something clicked in my head:
"I walk home alone,
Bag covered in Cheeto dust.
Should this depress me?"
And you thought you'd do a book, then?
I thought I'd start a blog, that girls could write their own haikus, and that it would connect girls with similar experiences. Then I went to wedding and was telling someone about it, and that led to connecting with a literary agent. It was not meant to be a book originally.
How long did it take to write?
I think we ended up with a little over 80 haikus. Those were written over about a year, often in spurts. Cynthia, the illustrator, really brought everything to life; it's like she was pulling the pictures from my brain. She actually used to live in New York and now lives in Connecticut with her two kids and wonderful husband. She said that her single NYC life just came rushing back to her. You really never forget. She didn't know what a thumb ring was, though -- she was like, "Is that a sex thing?"
How long have you lived in New York?
I've been here for 5 years. I'd been living on the north shore, in Massachusetts. I came to New York to go to NYU to get a masters in psychology, and when I graduated I was trying to get jobs at a preschool, working with kids, related to my degree, but no one would hire. I'd worked at a small food shop in Massachusetts, and Murray's is like cheese royalty. When I saw they were looking, I had to apply.
What's your dating life like here?
I pretty much never go on dates. You go on those pseudo dates, where it's not like he asked you out, but it's like, you're at the same place at the same time. And I've had a few brief relationships, a month, 2 months, here and there, but nothing serious the whole time I've lived here. There's a lot of talk about how New York City has too many single girls, but I think it's just that I haven't met the right person.
"On the kitchen floor
We fucked loudly, more than once.
Take that, married friends!"
But you want to fall in love and have a family and all that?
I think if I met the right person. I hope to fall in love and start a family and be married, it all sounds great, but it's not like going to college to pursue a degree. It has to be right. I think you have to just be as much yourself as you can and develop yourself. I haven't ever done internet dating, but it just doesn't feel right because you have to be invested. It's like interviewing for a job. At some point, it might make sense.
Is every haiku a true story?
Almost every haiku in the book has a story, but that's not to say they are all strictly autobiographical. It's kind of like a universal experience, you know, where people will say, Oh, I know, that happened to me! i'm really surprised at the level of shared experience.
Do you have a favorite one?
Cheetos dust I'm very attached to; that's the origin story and it cracks me up. Also the first one:
"I feel its approach
Inevitable as death:
Were you a haiku-writer -- haikuist? -- before this?
I really love words, and as a kid I read a lot, like Roald Dahl, Shel Silverstein, anything humorous and quirky and clever. But I had no experience writing haiku. I like the structure, to set something up and knock it down. They're all 5-7-5, that's the most important thing. I think there are some that are a little bit of a cheat, the internet dating one has the best structure. I love haikus now! I'm kind of obsessed. When they're good they're so good. It's like reading a gorgeous short story.
What's next; will you go back to your original blog idea? Or another book?
I have a blog and website, HaikufortheSingleGirl.com. I post there at least once a week, and I do "Haikusday" -- haikus every Tuesday. But this book was accidental, I was just lucky! There's nothing new planned right now.
It's been an amazing opportunity. I'm embarrassed to tell people about it sometimes, there's a little bit of an eye-roll. But I think the book is awesome and transcends the hipster undertones.
What do you think of the book as commentary on the plight of the single lady in New York City?
Looking at it as an entire collection, it is a bit sad sometimes, but I wanted the overall tone to be hopeful and celebratory. It's definitely funny, poking fun at the sad parts of single life, but also, showing the happy parts of single life. There's a lot to love about being a single woman, and there are parts of living life as a single woman that are different than being in a relationship. It's worth talking about and acknowledging how it's unique.
And you have a big book party tonight!
I love throwing parties, I throw a big party every year in my apartment! I'm very excited. Of course, Murray's Cheese will be there, and we'll have adult beverages. For the book end, we're going to have a haiku session -- it will be men reading one haiku apiece that they've chosen from the book, and I'll tell the story behind them. Also, people will be writing their own haikus, and I'm going to read some of my favorites.
What do you most want people to know about Haiku for the Single Girl?
Everyone is having similar experiences. A lot of women are looking to find the balance between leading the life they want to live, but also acknowledging that sometimes it's lonely and sad. You can take charge, and at the same time, you can feel like you want to share it with someone.
"The single girl's life
Is not a Cathy cartoon.
It's much funnier."
*All haikus from Haiku for the Single Girl.