Friday, December 21, 2007
It's been a momentous reading year for me, thanks to the 2 hours I spend daily on the subway. And since my focus here is on what resonated for me, I'll talk about these books from memory.
I'm not a journalist, I'm not factchecking, and I'm not writing your bleeping term paper for you either. (So HA! all you dot-edu-ers in my web stats, all searching for book reviews you can turn into plagiarized schoolwork. Do other bloggers have this problem?)
So here's what I read and loved and remembered in 2007, not counting books by people I know, where my reading pleasure was tainted by bias.
LET THE NORTHERN LIGHTS ERASE YOUR NAME. Vendela Vida is almost a miniaturist. This slim novel, the story of a mourning American woman's journey to Lapland, has some of the cleanest, freshest, most compact language I have ever seen. Don't rush through it, though it moves quickly. Savor the cool, tiny chapters and mirrored metaphors. Her precision is rare. This author deserves more attention than she gets.
PAINT IT BLACK. Janet Fitch's fat Los Angeles novel is almost the anti-Vida. Another mourning character with a need for mothering. Only this time a hot, dry landscape, and hot language to go with it. Lush, big narrative chapters, deep character study. The troubled, druggie protag stayed with me long after I put the book down. And I adore Fitch's LA--it resembles the LA I've known and visited more than anything else I've read.
NO ONE BELONGS HERE MORE THAN YOU. Miranda July has nailed the square peg thing. The characters in her acclaimed short stories are hopelessly needy and lacking in social skills. Readers are left with a melancholy longing to connect with other human beings, and a dark conviction that this connection will never live up to expectations. Oh yeah, and it's funny. July's ear for dialogue is one of a kind.
SAFEKEEPING and A THREE DOG LIFE. I am in love with these books. Abigail Thomas has changed the way I think about memoir. She's dispensed with the notion of the singular narrative arc, and tells her life the way real people tell stories on themselves--in fragments, with tangents, and echoes, and repetition, and reframed events, and strategic omissions. SAFEKEEPING tells of her second marriage, and A THREE DOG LIFE tells of her third. Tragedy and bad luck all over the place, but they teach gratitude. I want to write like her when I grow up.
MILK. Darcey Steinke's take on religious phenomena is striking and refreshing, in a world where most literature with spiritual subject matter is either party-line-religious or angry-atheist. In the world of this novel, seeing God is a mystical gift, but we're never quite sure if mental illness doesn't play a role too. Members of the clergy are troubled human beings, with sexual urges, vocational doubts, and conscience.
FUN HOME. Alison Bechdel's graphic memoir made me weep on the subway. And also made me cover the page, riding the train with the Flatbush God Squad, suddenly aware I was looking at pictures of girls in flagrante. Told episodically, it's a bittersweet gay coming-out story. Sweet, the way Bechdel's inner lesbian light goes off from reading French women's literature. Sad, the way her father lived a life in the closet, which turned him into a ball of angst, a difficult person to live with. Brilliant drawings of her childhood homestead, a fixer-upper Victorian, with markers of the 1970's tossed in.
Wednesday, November 21, 2007
NEW Reading Series!!
Friends of Tuesday Shorts are now appearing monthly at the Boxcar Lounge (http://boxcarlounge.com/): Our FIRST phenomenal reading is November 28, 2007, 8:00 PM, 168 Avenue B, East Village NYC.
Please join us and forward to anyone you know. We wanna see your shorts there too!Hosted by Shelly Rae Rich, writer (see http://blog.shellyraerich.com/) and co-editor of Tuesday Shorts (http://myspace.com/tuesdayshorts), the series kicks off with an eclectic group of talent.
And here they are…..
Rusty Barnes grew up in rural northern Appalachia. He received his B.A. from Mansfield University of Pennsylvania and his M.F.A. from Emerson College. His fiction, poetry and non-fiction have appeared in journals like Pindeldyboz, Post Road, and Red Rock Review. After editing fiction for the Beacon Street Review (now Redivider) and Zoetrope All-Story Extra, he co-founded Night Train, a recently reinvented literary journal, which has been featured in the Boston Globe, The New York Times, and on National Public Radio. Sunnyoutside Press published a collection of his flash fiction, Breaking it Down in November 2007.
Linda DiGusta is a freelance writer and artist. Active in the NYC theatre for more than a decade as a director, designer and performer, the inventiveness of acting and collaboration on a screenplay re-kindled her early interest in fiction, and she has had several short stories published in print and online. In the fine art world, she currently has 2 still-life drawings in the exhibition "Lineal Investigations" at the Housatonic Museum of Art, and her assemblages and drawings have been seen in group exhibitions in Manhattan and Brooklyn, including at Art Gotham in Chelsea this month. Integrating art and writing, Linda also writes for and serves as Executive Editor of Resolve40.com, an online publication created by artists in 2005 to present the art world from a fresh point of view. She lives in midtown Manhattan with artist Mark Wiener and their multi-species family. More at: http://www.lindadi.com/ and http://www.resolve40.com/.
Anne Elliott has performed her poetry, with and without ukulele, at the Whitney Museum (with the Beats show), PS122, Lincoln Center, The Poetry Project at St. Mark's, Woodstock '94, and other venues in and out of NYC. Her poems have appeared in Aloud: Voices from the Nuyorican Poets' Cafe, Verses that Hurt: Pleasure and Pain from the Poemfone Poets, and other anthologies. Her fiction has appeared in Hobart, Pindeldyboz, FRiGG, Ars Medica, and others, and she blogs on the writing life and feral cat management at http://assbackwords.blogspot.com/.
Carol Novack, a former criminal defense lawyer and Australian government grant recipient, is the author of a chapbook of poetry, play, collaborative CD and two collaborative films. Writings may or will be found in many publications, including American Letters & Commentary, Action Yes, Del Sol Review, Diagram, 5_trope, Gargoyle, Journal of Experimental Fiction, La Petite Zine, LIT, Notre Dame Review, and the Star*Vigate anthology of best online writings. Carol publishes the multi-media e-journal Mad Hatters' Review (http://madhattersreview.com/), curates a reading series at the KGB Bar, and runs lyrical fiction writing workshops. She'll be a resident at The Vermont Studio Center next year. For additional details, see her blog (http://carolnovack.blogspot.com/).
Still, it's 25,000 words I didn't have before. And I'm still going. I'm doing about 1500 a day at the moment, but once you're behind, you're behind. So be it! It's supposed to be an exercise in unconditional self-love, so I'm gonna go easy on myself.
Yell at me if you think I've got it wrong.
Thursday, November 08, 2007
I love the insides too. It's a resource book for women looking for fresh audition material. Some of it is from familiar playwrights (both women and men)--Neil LaBute, Naomi Iizuka, August Wilson. Some of it is from people I admire up close--Bob Shuman (also an editor of the anthology!), Kathleen Warnock. And some from legends of monoperformance, like Lydia Lunch and Anna Deavere Smith. It's an exciting collection, designed to push the envelope a little, and I'm honored to be a part of it! My piece is something I thought of as a flash fiction thing...until now...
Wednesday, November 07, 2007
Plus, you know how I feel about plot. I won't re-rant on it today.
This novel, or whatever it is, feels more like a meditation, or rumination. More spiral in shape. The themes are coming through, or I'm digging at them. I feel like it hangs together on metaphor and theme, but not on a horizontal timeline.
One thing I'm learning is I like the 1667 word a day quota. I've worked before with a 300 word a day quota, and now I'm thinking that's way not enough. The bigger quota gets me into the composition-head more deeply. It hurts my performance at work, probably, but it's only for a month, right? All my daydreaming out the window.
The other thing I'm learning is the bigger quota means I absolutely can't reread more than a day's work as I get started on a new writing session. I usually do a lot of rereading and tweaking, in my "old" writing process. The Wrimos say don't reread AT ALL, and I disagree with that. Often I reread yesterday's work and find places where I can flesh out the detail. And if building wordcount is the goal, that helps more than it hurts. But reading back any more than that results in memorizing the prose, which only makes it harder to kill the darlings later. I memorize the cadence of a sentence and then it feels "weird" (for lack of a more accurate word) to cut part of it.
Plus, there's no cutting in NaNoWriMo. That's rule one.
I'll keep you posted. Let me know if you're doing it too!
Thursday, November 01, 2007
Wednesday, October 31, 2007
1. will never be read (not even by me, not even while I'm writing it)
2. doesn't have to be good
3. will not take me years and years to finish
took over my brain. At long last, I will write my "workplace novel." I've got my list of prompts, and I'm on my way to writing some real unpublishable garbage. Go me!! And all you other Wrimos out there. Let's toast to lowering our standards. I'll let you know how it goes.
If it doesn't work out I'll knit something ugly and then unravel it. Same idea...
Wednesday, October 24, 2007
It's actually a little funnier with the sound off, I learned. Try imagining this alternative script:
You already said that.
Don't be a moron.
Meow. ..that wasn't very nice.
You're stating the obvious.
You never understand me.
Oh, not this again.
Why can't you just listen?
I don't know what to say.
Oh, baby, I love you. You know that.
I know. I love you too.
Maybe you have an alternative script to share.
I dreamed last night we had to get our cat Ava a white dress for her coming-out ball. She was such a tomboy about it, and really did not understand the stakes. She had to be prepared for the Catillion!
Thursday, October 18, 2007
From today's Wall Street Journal, check out Andy Jordan, who reaches out to the other Andy Jordans. Ha!
Wednesday, October 03, 2007
A sample of LaValle's no-nonsense advice:
I’m really just trying to say that it’s a mistake to think of Voice (or voice) or writing (and Writing) as a simple question of mechanics. When you read your work you should try to recognize the fact that your Voice is already there. Even just in some early form. Don’t reread and revise with the goal of making this one story better or tighter or publishable (at least not to start). Look at it and ask, Do I recognize myself in here? Again, I don’t mean your literal body or personal history (not necessarily). I mean do you find your sense of humor (or lack thereof)? Your intelligence (your specific kind, not just general IQ)? Your concerns? Your sense of joy and tragedy? These technical issues of dialogue and pacing and phrasing and language are red herrings. They’re actually distractions from the real question at hand: are you making work that is singularly your own? Fiction that, for one reason or another, no one else can produce?
Enjoy the rest of the interview...
Monday, October 01, 2007
Monday, September 10, 2007
My favorite in the collection is "A Terrible Thing in a Place Like This," the one set in a 19th-century slaughterhouse. In his blog, he doesn't exactly tell us where his fiery, rich prose comes from, but he does let us in on the source for the subject matter, the extensive reading he did before composing the story. His initial burst of research, into a specific historical event, uncovered numerous characters and a setting, but he didn't have an entry into the story until he read the local newspaper from the thirty days before and after the event. And the authorial angle he found comes not just from coverage of the event, but from everything else in the paper--the editorials, even the ads--that gave him a real sense of the emotional landscape of the time.
Wednesday, August 22, 2007
I apologize for not keeping you posted on our outdoor cat situation. We still have five. Four are represented here, demanding breakfast. From the left: Rrose, her brother Marcel, and her children, Elvis Memphis and Elvis Vegas. Their brother, Elvis Hollywood, succumbed to a car. Their cousin (we think?) Junior disappeared. Vince, the patriarch, was too close to the camera to photograph this morning. He breaks into the house on a regular basis.
Rrose is getting tamer, and fatter! We aren't trying to touch her, which helps in the trust department. She has decided she likes us, and will now pose for photos in exchange for food. Isn't she beautiful? Look how she cocks her head!
Never mind that they all piss all over the place and irritate the neighbors. Pawprints all over the cars. Garages that stink. Yes, we MADE these cats exist by feeding them! It's a weird existential question. None of them are adoptable, they never will be, no matter how friendly they get, unless you like cat pee in your house. We are learning this with Angus, Vince's littermate, the one we brought inside. Unfortunately, he's way too cute to banish.
But Rrose, I have a special place for her in my heart. Poor thing was skinny and perpetually pregnant, until we got her spayed and eartipped. She's the most timid. She's also the most susceptible to catnip. I love watching her get fat and courageous.
And the kids? The white Elvii? Their dad, a neighbor cat named Yves, is AWOL. Deadbeat. But Marcel was a good uncle. He taught these nephews to hunt and beg like pros. They all huddle in a pile for warmth in the winter. Which is just around the corner.
My story is about the 1972 Republican convention. I started it in Lynda Barry's class, on the assignment to list ten American presidents. So now you know it's not fiction. Yes, I really did shout, "Four more years!" I was caught up in the moment. I was also in first grade.
My politics have changed. My brother's too. For the better, I hope.
Support Opium. Watch their Literary Death Match TV. It's hilarious. And don't hesitate to comment...
Thursday, August 09, 2007
Near the end of Robert Olen Butler's FROM WHERE YOU DREAM: THE PROCESS OF WRITING FICTION, he tells his workshop students:
...when sumo wrestlers are interviewed, they always say the same thing--they barely move their lips--no matter what they're asked, it all boils down to 'I'm going to do my brand of sumo, and I'm going to do my best.' That's it, folks. That's the lesson of the universe.
This, to me, was the book's only big piece of "universal" writing advice; the rest of it focuses on Butler's particular brand of sumo, which (as the subtitle promises) is more about process than analysis, more about heart than head.
Butler's argument, distilled from lectures by editor Janet Burroway, is that fiction can only begin to work if it is coming from the author's unconscious, or "white-hot center." Toward that end, he gives his own method of accessing the unconscious, which involves finding the emotional center of an event--the yearning--then, without naming emotions, exploring concrete sensual details, with a filmic eye.
He shares his own process, even more specifically, outlining his index card methodology. His first step in writing a novel is to sit and daydream out the scenes, without writing them, then jot the basics of each scene on a notecard. Then he plays with the order of the cards, dreams new scenes as necessary. Then he writes the scenes, always in order.
You know me, I always love a peek under the hood. I'm a process junkie, and it's helpful to find more tools for the box. His approach is like method acting: story driven by moment-to-moment motivations, use of sense memory. But, I believe (like many actors have told me), the Method is potentially dangerous if turned into a religion.
The first two sections of the book are, like the good parts of religion, invigorating and inspiring. The first, "The Lectures," gives the basic foundation of Butler's approach to fiction, the writer's "trance" to access the unconscious, the "composting" of concrete memory for future stories. (He suggests journaling in concrete images, not analytic narrative, and you know I love that.) And the second section, "The Workshop," is transcripts of his interaction with students, in which he literally pulls sense details out of them, and stops them when they analyze. It reminds me of Sandy Meisner's book for actors, the next best thing to being in a class. (And by the way, writers can benefit from Meisner's book too.)
But the third section of Butler's book is where the religion-of-the-dreamstate turns dangerous, in my view. It contains full text of three early-draft student stories, followed by Butler's in-class analysis of them. And he judges the stories on whether or not they appear to come from the unconscious. (Like an acting teacher's judgment of "indicating" vs. "living" emotion, if you will.) He encourages students to find moments of "harmonic resonance" in peer work, where they "thrum" with the characters. On the one hand, this is refreshing as hell--you mean we don't have to analyze the POV and rising action crap? And I must admit, in my own work, I've found the most helpful critiques are often simply "I'm feeling _____ now," jotted in the margins of the manuscript.
But writers are not actors. They are not the medium for the finished work. We get the privilege of stepping away and letting the work have a life of its own. Butler the teacher-critic pronounces judgments like this: Story A was written from the analytic mind (GONG!), Story B was written from the unconscious (DING! DING! DING!). And while I agree with his assessment of the success/nonsuccess of these three stories, I find it presumptuous to guess at the writer's state of mind during composition, or to judge the purity of one thinking process over another.
Barbara DeMarco-Barrett, on her awesome radio show, often asks her guests questions like, "Do you write your sentences over and over, or do they just come out that way?" (I paraphrase, apologies.) More often, the guest claims to bang on the work until they get it right. I would argue that the presence or absence of the writer's dreamstate is not necessarily evident in the results. For many writers I admire, it's more trial and error than flow (what Butler calls being in "The Zone").
So my wishy washy recommendation is read this book for the tools and inspiration (inspired about 30 pages out of me! Thanks ROB!), but try not to drink the Kool-Aid. It could be a recipe for writer's block and/or quitting altogether. Sometimes battling with a problematic story is worth it. Sometimes early readers find cool emotions in the work that you didn't feel or intend, and this is a raw material you have authored that you can work with. It's okay to make your own clay. It may take longer, being a "draft writer," as Butler puts it, but so be it. The Annie Lamott-esque "shitty first drafts" need not be composted.
What do you guys think? Can you fake the soul of a story with technique, and if so, is the story any less genuine? Can you make readers "thrum" without "thrumming" yourself? Or, is finding your resonant subject matter the main battle, and the technique thing secondary? Anyone else have a response to this book?
Wednesday, August 08, 2007
The storm bypassed our neighborhood, save some minor flooding, so I walked the dog and went to work, like a normal day. But my train wasn't running. So I took a bus to another train. Then another. No go. Overheard people talking about a tornado, but didn't think much of it until I got home, and saw the mess on TV. Our mayor reminded us that people in the Midwest deal with this all the time, with much more damage and injuries. We were lucky.
Except for the fact that we rely on mass transit. I telecommuted, and had a surprisingly productive workday, with one traumatized doggy at my feet. So I don't have any exciting NY stories to tell. I feel for the people dealing with their auto and homeowners insurance now.
Friday, August 03, 2007
Back to work...
Monday, July 30, 2007
The black and white artwork is rich and interesting. And a couple of the people I met at Tin House have stories there too!
You won't look at I Love Lucy the same after reading Alicia Gifford's "Desilu, Three Cameras." Adultery, impotence, venereal disease, death, and overeating! Interesting three camera technique on the story, too.
And Stefani Nellen gives us a triplet of short shorts, each told in brief scenes. My favorite of the three is "Metaphors; or: A Headless Rat," in which a couple finds meaning for their pairing through imagery, crafting their own story with a fatal selfconsciousness.
I'm pleased to have met these women, and to be part of this issue with them. And the rest of the issue rocks as well. Kudos to editor Ellen Parker.
Friday, July 27, 2007
Friday, July 20, 2007
I've been keeping a daily journal for a year, using a method I learned in Lynda Barry's Writing the Unthinkable class: every morning, I list ten images from the day before. The theory is that writing about my state of mind is unnecessary--the images will evoke the state of mind. So instead of giving you photographic images of my trip to the Pacific Northwest, I'm gonna do an experiment and share the way I really remember stuff. (And I promise my Sasquatch pics in a later post.)
So here are some highlights from July 4-15, not necessarily verbatim from the journal...I'll omit some names for privacy's sake.
1. Cul de sac with Mount Si looming in the background. Neighbors set off fireworks. Many of them wear matching red white and blue tie dies. Loud rocket shoots up, then bursts into falling parachutes. Kids scramble below to catch the parachutes. Most land on the roof of the family who is out of town. Toddlers cover their ears.
2. Dad shares some of the jokes he uses to warm up the singalong before the Sunday church service. "Why didn't Noah go fishing from the ark? He only had two worms." Bible Study, Dad calls it.
3. My stepmom's gorgeous raspberries. I help her pick them, trying for the higher branches. She makes a salad with raspberries, mango, homegrown spinach, and chicken, arranged in a thoughtful composition on the plate.
4. Walk with Dad to a sphagnum bog. I hear a birdsong I remember from childhood. (Wood Thrush, I later learn. Listen!) A picture is posted to teach visitors about mummies in bogs. Dad talks about sitting in cafes, researching and writing a sermon. I think we are alike in this habit, needing the pen, and books, and solitude.
5. Chipping away at Francine Prose's Reading Like a Writer. I find it hard to change gears and go from one example to the next. Her insights are worth the effort. Makes me want to reread Carver, and find the essays of Woolf.
6. A morning hill walk. Two young does watch me from a nearby berm. I get close enough to see how skinny and hungry they are. Worms venture across the sidewalk under my feet; some don't make it, dehydrate under the July sun.
7. Over dinner, my stepmom tells me about relatives who did subsistence farming during the depression. A kitchen garden, and enough livestock to keep them in eggs and milk. The next day, I watch her water her healthy garden. Weeding is not a big chore for her. She does it automatically, as she passes by, almost a way of greeting her vegetables and flowers. They seem to love her back.
8. Road trip from Snoqualmie to Oregon, just me and Dad. We stop in a country cafe in Centralia for lunch. So many obese people around us, I'm a little afraid to eat the food. I buy a rubber chicken to bring home to the dog.
9. Visit to my mother's sister. She tells us that for good luck, on the first of the month, her first words on waking are "Rabbit, rabbit, rabbit," before she gets out of bed over the footboard. I resolve to do this from now on.
10. My aunt takes us to walk a labyrinth of a friend of hers. It's a Chartres design, paved in rough stones, and she and I walk it barefoot. The surprise of turns, it always surprises me, the trip to the center and back is not what it looks like. Soft, Corsican mint in the center, a pillow under our feet. We talk about my mom, how she would have loved this.
11. A Welsh Corgi plays the piano for cookies.
12. I attend my first Unitarian Universalist service. After the sermon, there is a period for commentary and/or rebuttal from the room. One man quotes a philosopher: "I have not told the truth until I have contradicted myself."
13. Dad drops me off at Reed College for the Tin House conference. We bring my bags up to my dorm room, and laugh about how it's like dropping me off for college. We never did this then, so it's a 20-years-delayed experience. My room is a third floor garret with three beds to choose from. He prepares his opera scores to study on his drive home. I wave as he drives away, I feel a pang of goodbye.
14. First class session with Steve Almond. He tries to guess who wrote which story. He nails the first four or so, freaking us out a little.
15. Reading by TC Boyle, with the on-campus lake as a backdrop. Several people have dogs in the amphitheater. One, a Willie lookalike, rests his chin on the seat in front of him to listen. Another, a border collie, barks during the applause. Boyle dons a beret and reads a story about a Beats groupie.
16. Breakfast discussion of the stone critters on top of our dorm. Are they owls? Beavers? That night, a mammal glide-swims in the lake behind Karen Shepard as she reads from her new novel. Afterward, I ask the sound guys if it's a beaver. No, they say, it's a nutria. It must be a nutria on top of the dorm! I can't wait to tell hubby. Nutria! I manage to catch a live one up close, he's swimming in the twilight.
17. People are blushing, disagreeing in workshop. Emotions are high but it feels productive. Almond pushes to the emotional core of the story. People seem to be trying to help without babying the writer. "It's so vivid!" Almond says, but asserts that vivid is not enough. He wants the characters to enter an emotional danger zone. My ears are wide open.
18. Several other conferences are concurrent at Reed. I eat lunch with a skinny young man from another group who has loaded his tray with sandwich, salad, soup, dessert. He gets ranch dressing all over his mouth. I'm fascinated with how he eats, can't concentrate on the homework I am trying to read.
19. I take early morning walks to a cafe in Woodstock, where they have easy chairs. I drink my latte and write in my journal. Nearby, two hipsters collaborate on a crossword. "What kind of cheese is in lasagna?" "Woody or Arlo?" I resist the urge to call out suggestions.
20. I sit in lecture next to a very talented 21-year old. She is holding her own, with people twice her age. We talk about how she researched the setting for her story. I am amazed she did it through books and movies. "I'm so shy," she worries, but I'm not worried for her. "I think we all are," I say, feeling the need for Paxil myself. A room full of writers? It will take a few days to get comfortable.
21. I flirt with some sassy crows on my morning walk. Toss them pieces of apricot. They yell at me as they fly out of my way.
22. Salad bar is exactly the same every day. Carrot and celery sticks, iceberg and spinach, cauliflower, cuke, cherry tomato, cottage cheese, hard boiled egg. Sticking to the diet, but it's monotonous.
23. Steve Almond gives us chocolate in morning workshop. I partake. I have to. He's an expert.
24. I sit in the balcony of the air-conditioned lecture hall for Aimee Bender's talk on show and tell. She leads off with a Lynda Barry cartoon. I feel high, up here, like one of my new crow friends.
25. A classmate is lost in thought at breakfast, spoon resting on her mouth, the morning before she is "up" in workshop. Later, before class, I take a walk with her around the lake and we talk about how she turned her own experiences into her short story.
26. Random guy from another class joins our lunch group and tells us about his sex life. I learn the definition of the Pittsburgh Platter. I feel a little sorry for Pittsburgh.
27. More hard boiled eggs. I'm living on them, now, dipped in Dijon mustard.
28. Lecture. Jim Shepard picks through Raymond Carver's short, "What We Talk About When We Talk About Love," line by line, looking for subtext. It's a precise, planned vivisection. He paces at the front of the hall, doesn't need the mic at all. He wears a blue bowling shirt. I annotate madly.
29. Steve Almond's tee shirt collection impresses us. "Chocolate Boy." "Fictional Character." A picture of the pope smoking pot. He reads, in the amphitheater, a collection of responses to right-wing hate mail. He's at home on the mic. "Condoleeka!"
30. At the participant readings, classmate shares a piece about a gay man having sex with a woman as an experiment, and the surprise of the woman's fragility, the "vestibules" of her body. I can't stop quoting it.
31. I dream a woman is pulling off the roof of our house, without our permission. We are roofless. We put up a blue tarp, like folks in New Orleans, hope it will be sufficient.
32. In the lecture hall, the border collie falls asleep on my feet. She's a service dog, and she enjoys some popularity at the conference. When she "applauds" with us, I realize she has been jolted awake by the clapping, is barking in confusion.
33. Stephen Elliott lectures on using your life as subject matter. He points out that once Jonathan Lethem allowed himself to "cheat" by using concrete memories from his own life, he was able to produce what many view as his masterpiece. Giving oneself permission is the hardest part. Elliott recommends if you write about people in your life, you should make them beautiful. Then you can say anything about them and they will not object.
34. I go into a clog store on Milwaukee and try on $135 mary janes. I love them but not $135 worth. The salesgirl has a shaved head and snake earrings. "You have beautiful stuff," I say as I leave. Then I realize she must have thought I was flirting.
35. Antique store. Bought old Childcraft encylopedias, a blast from my past, for research. Worried about the book-heavy suitcase. Bought some stranger-family photos too. One pic, a rough bunch on a camping trip, dated 1916, with axes, rifles, huckleberry buckets, and a dog. They could be my ancestors. (I will scan and post. This one's a keeper.)
36. Annie Proulx reads a story about the Devil. Later, the sky turns red, and there is lightning. I find shelter with three women and we watch the storm, talk about our writing practice and how we find feedback, systems for making writing groups work, book clubs for writers. I don't crave Paxil any more.
37. Take Friday lunch off campus, at an organic place up the hill. They have dinosaurs on the tables. A baby with a fauxhawk. Then I poke around an Episcopal Thrift Store, my touchstone. Retired ladies, tea sets, tee shirts.
38. I keep walking by an apparent anarchist house in Portland. Dandelions and spent fireworks in the front yard. Tall frankensteined bikes in the back. Very Burning Mannish.
39. Push tables together to eat dinner with my online friends from the Zoe community. We give gifts to one of us who has just gotten married. We pass around coveted advance copies of Charles Baxter's new essay book, The Art of Subtext.
40. Colson Whitehead reads from his new novel, set in 1985, kids in a beach community left to themselves for the summer. He dissects their insults, using a visual aid, building phrases like "fake-Adidas-wearin' motherfucker." He does a full rundown of frozen convenience foods of the era, including Weight Watchers and Stouffers french bread pizza.
41. I'm not "up" in my workshop until the last day, Saturday. I've fainted at these things before so I work on prevention. Some of Steve's chocolate, some water, some quick aerobic exercise in the hall. The discussion is helpful. Almond suggests I take away the "scaffolding" on the story. It hits a nerve, in a good way. I don't faint. I'm grateful.
42. Long talk with a classmate about her novel, about a woman who can communicate with animals. I want to read it.
43. Charles D'Ambrosio's lecture on conflict. He lists signs of conflict-avoidance to look for, like the character who "watches" or "wishes" he/she said something. Suggests when you're painting in a limited palette, sometimes it's good to take a wide, bold brush. It's what I need to hear and I nearly cry as I scramble to write it all down. Later, people talk about the talk's nonlinear chaos, but it felt very linear to me. Maybe this is how I think.
44. The last reading: Abigail Thomas (who I can't wait to read), DA Powell, Charles Baxter. Baxter says "Don't you love the dog?" and competes very well with many distractions--the nutria moving a log behind him in the lake, the pink sunset. He reads from a new novel, in which the protag's young child calls himself "queer."
45. The last night's dance. I take a leap and put on makeup for the first time all week. Hard to do, since we don't have mirrors in the room. I boogie with a new female friend and we admire the dance stylings of Stephen Elliott in his bright orange sleeveless shirt and heart tattoo. He knows how to work it. Several classmates have just been introduced to his work, and are staying up nights reading his new book.
46. Last breakfast, and I get a chance to tickle Josie Almond's fat toes. "Am I invading your personal space?" I ask. "She has no boundaries," her dad says. He plops her on his shoulders and she grabs hold of his hair, then pushes his head aside so she can grin at all the adults at the table.
47. My cousin picks me up, and takes me for a hike, a lake east of Vancouver. Red poison oak in sunny patches. We hear that birdsong again, and she does a good imitation of it. I haven't seen her in years, and she looks just the same. She takes me to her house, and plays piano for me. I swoon over a Mendelssohn piece. She plays with a gentle touch, and lots of feeling for the melody.
48. My cousin gives me a tour of her garden. Perennial flowers, mostly--lilies, monarda, echinacea--and lots of bees. I take pictures. Her cat follows us, but "it has to be the cat's idea." We share notes on cats. A rabbit visits and snacks on the flowers. I tell her about our aunt's "Rabbit, rabbit, rabbit" ritual. "We do that too!" she says. Later, her son calls, and she and her husband both run to the phone, eager to hear about his experiences at ski camp.
49. Benadryl. I'm falling asleep before I even get on the redeye flight at PDX. Snooze the whole way to JFK, am surprised at how early the sunlight hits my face.
50. Big barks from Willie, hugs from the guy I've been missing, a shower, and back to the office. Feels weird to be wearing a suit again. 400 emails. I dig in.
Thursday, July 19, 2007
Meanwhile, I met Linera Lucas at the Tin House Workshops, and she just tagged me! Okay, why not, I'll play.
1. We have to post these rules before we give you the facts.
2. Players start with eight random facts/habits about themselves.
3. People who are tagged need to write their own blog about their eight things and post these rules.
4. At the end of your blog, you need to choose eight people to get tagged and list their names.
5. Don’t forget to leave them a comment telling them they’re tagged, and to read your blog.
8 Random Facts About Me:
1. I share a birthday with the adorable and talented Thom Yorke. I wish that meant more than it does.
2. I have been known to fall asleep in my dinner. My loved ones know to pull the plate away.
3. I once had a phobia of shrunken balloons. Now I can look at them but not touch them.
4. I fell for my husband the first time I ever saw him. He had dimples. He was wearing a red union suit under his blue jeans, and he used a red handkerchief.
5. I don't mind flying but getting TO the airport on time really freaks me out.
6. I don't suck at miniature golf. I suck at all other sports.
7. I am totally faking it at my job. I have a feeling I am not alone.
8. I collect Hello Kitty paraphernalia.
And I'll tag the following not-eight bloggers, but TOTALLY WON'T BE OFFENDED if they don't participate, because I'm here to have fun, not to harrass:
Rob Lenihan (The Luna Park Gazette)
Christopher Lee (Dada to Prada)
Cheryl Burke (The B List)
Virginia Vitzthum (I Love You, Let's Meet)
Carol Novack (I am not who I think I am or is it whom?)
Todd Colby (Glee Farm)
Chartreuse Velour (Lengths of Comfy Verdure)
Tuesday, July 03, 2007
One more thing before I go away. I am moved to tears when I hear the first amendment aloud, as preached by Reverend Billy. It is poetry.
So some cops don't like hearing it in Union Square. So Scooter doesn't go to jail, and Billy is kept overnight. It's clear to me where the people stand. Behind Billy.
My favorite part of this clip: the recitation of the amendment doesn't end when Billy goes into the NYPD van.
The night in jail may have been hell, but I was glad to see him on the front page of my Metro paper on the subway this morning, putting the odd back in God.
The good news is I'll bring a camera, so if I happen to see Bigfoot or any other wildlife, I'll do my best. I'll take good notes at Tin House and report back if anything is reportable, but probably upon my return.
Monday, June 25, 2007
First, if you are in NY any time soon, see the Richard Serra show. Yes, it is a little scary. All but about five of the pieces could easily crush a person flat, and they feel like they are about to topple. I’m surprised the new MOMA building can stay standing under all the weight. But the rusty patinas are gorgeous. The interiors are echoey and evoke many feelings besides fear—some reminded me of walking through canyon washes in the Anza Borrego desert. Others felt sheltery, like forts I built as a kid, out of sheets and furniture. (Only way, way, heavier.)
It helped that my husband and I were able to go to a “private” viewing (one of the perks of working in finance) in which most of the attendees were clustered around the free drinks. We ignored the drinks and spent nearly two hours with the Serra pieces, having them mostly to ourselves. I discovered, as my husband parked inside each and looked (he is known to sit and look at ONE PAINTING for a full hour…) that walking the perimeter of each of the big steel walls was the best way for me to get a feel of the spaces. Like walking a labyrinth for meditation. The edge of the walls took me inside and out of the structures, and the walls bent and curved over my head, flowing in and out like massive breath as I moved around them.
Feeling like art adventurers after the MOMA experience, we decided to drive up to Dia: Beacon on Sunday. My husband fell in love with the Donald Judd pieces, painstakingly-crafted plywood boxes. I felt a surge of feeling on the messier stuff, especially Joseph Beuys’ stacks of felt and copper, and his hat hanging on the wall. And both of us (separately—again, I walked off and left him with Agnes Martin) lost our shit over the Michael Heizer holes in the floor. Perfect, geometric steel holes in the cement. Like the anti-Serra. Worth the price of admission just for the Heizer. Also worth the admission to see big galleries devoted to big art, with lots of natural light coming in from above.
Interesting how my husband likes to stand still to look at art, and I like to keep my feet moving. I never named it before, but that’s what seems to happen. (I majored sculpture and intermedia/performance in school, and he majored in printmaking and painting. Relevant?) Anyhoo, all forms of art appreciation are legit, and I’m glad we have a system for consuming a museum. It works for us in our foreign travels too. We meet up in the cafeteria, or something.
We didn’t see the whole museum, had to come home and spring the puppy, and were a tad paranoid about Gay Pride traffic. Turns out we had no trouble getting through Manhattan, and the dog’s bladder was spared (and our floor). I only wish the cats were as disciplined.
Friday, June 08, 2007
Saturday, June 02, 2007
BUT, this little slice of nonhuman life follows several of those writing-teacher rules about plot (and I therefore recommend watching the whole thing, if your stomach allows):
1. Have your characters act according to their nature, not do what you would rather they do, or what you would do if you were them.
2. Have the (legit) desires and needs of Character A fall into natural conflict with the (legit) desires and needs of Character B.
3. Put your characters in real jeopardy. (Especially the cute little one, if you're in Hollywood.)
4. Drop in a big surprise or two. It provides shape. But make it logical.
5. Let it be funny, even if it's not.
Thursday, May 17, 2007
The garden was recently at risk of being paved over for parking, but efforts of the community saved it, according to their website.
I'm in love with New York, this week anyway.
Wednesday, May 16, 2007
I'm finally getting the hang of some of my camera settings...here are some visuals from my trip there last weekend with visiting friends. I'll let the place speak for itself.
Saturday, May 05, 2007
Wednesday, May 02, 2007
Anyhoo, in keeping with my "All For the Best" post, I found myself sighing over a picture in the newspaper today of a volunteer who got Adrian Piper's "EVERYTHING WILL BE TAKEN AWAY" hennaed onto his forehead, backwards, so he can read it in the mirror. My colleague at work found it depressing. I suppose it is. But it also, curiously, lightens the load. I pinned the photo up over my desk at work.
Walking through Madison Square Park yesterday evening, I stopped in my tracks to look at the new site-specific work by sculptor Roxy Paine. His stainless steel denuded trees, gleaming in the fading sunlight, interacting with the newly-budding real trees around them--I had to take time to take them in. You can get close to one of them, which already has dog pee making a patina near the base. I'm so jealous. And grateful I got to see it in person. This is what sculpture is supposed to do. I haven't been floored by formalism like this in awhile. If you are in the area, don't miss this stuff. I don't think it's a permanent exhibition. (And you carnivores can eat one of the city's best burgers at the Shack while you're there.)
If you're a Wagner fan (which I am, despite his politics), check out The Tristan Mysteries, Lincoln Center's latest. The video clips here are worth a look. Hold your breath. Sigh.
And if you need to take your breath away with a belly laugh, check out pics of a bear reading Tao Lin's work, courtesy of 3AM magazine. Thank you, Mr. Bear. I only wish I had been there to hear him read.
Tuesday, May 01, 2007
I rented Godspell as part of my research for the new novel, where I delve into the folk Christianity of the 70's. Boy, I did not expect my reaction. At first I could not stop laughing. How goofy, the hippies painting on their clown faces and roller skating and playing their slide whistles! How fun to see it in the NYC landscape I know well now, these songs I learned backward and forward when I was a kid, a kid who had never seen these big landmarks in person. There's Lincoln Center! There's Central Park! Bethesda Fountain! Look at the angel, immortalized again (and more ironically) in Tony Kushner's Angels in America!
Then I start freaking a little. I mean, it's really goofy, and I realize that I was drawn in by the clown thing when I was little, the white fluffy-headed Jesus with his Superman shirt and pompom shoes and painted-on tears. The language is a little opaque, and I didn't understand it, not really, the way I didn't understand Shakespeare or hymns or the liturgy or even the Gospels I heard weekly in church. (And the songs in Godspell use the words from the Episcopal hymnal...) But the slapstick is what I lived for, back then, that's what I understood: the mime stuff, the happy-hippy feeling. Was this a big part of my religious indoctrination? And if so, what, exactly, did I learn?
For one, I got the basics of the parables. But I couldn't watch them now. Too much clowning, too much overlay. I had to fast-forward through the silly voices and hey-kids-lets-put-on-a-show thing.
And then there's this number, "All For the Best," filmed on Manhattan rooftops, including a finale on the unfinished World Trade Center. I'm feeling vertigo, and sorrow, watching the fast vaudeville-style dancing up there, too close to the edge, and the song's lyric: "don't forget that when you'll get to heaven you'll be blessed."
Did I believe in heaven? Was this part of my kid theology? Do I now? And do you have to die to find it? Or, as I would rather think, is our life on earth so full of possibility that it might just be heaven already?
Just seeing the towers brings flashbacks of my own daily walk through those buildings, fixtures of my landscape for the years I worked downtown, and the day I stood below and watched them burn and fall, watched people fall too. The film uses the towers as a symbol of wealth and what you "can't take with you." The antithesis of heaven. The message, which I did get when I was little: wealth and luck on earth mean nothing. But is that too pat? How has the meaning of this film changed, now that the city has, now that we've lost our happy-hippy innocence? Or our Wall Street business-as-usual innocence?
Does this mean I shouldn't be grateful for my good luck? My wealth, relatively speaking, in the global scheme of things? It does bring home one thing--it's all fragile. Jobs, things, and people come and go. What can I hang onto? Should I even try?
Or, is that what makes it heaven, life here? That it is fragile? Is heaven allowed to be fragile?
I rented Jesus Christ Superstar too, which was a much better fit for my current state of mind. Judas is the guy I identify with. The one who resists the groupthink. It's not enough to just follow and trust. You have to think about what you're doing, independently, even if doubt is a part of that process.
Monday, April 30, 2007
Being in foster care has its challenges. For one, the permanent residents are very possessive with their toys. The canine siblings will whine and growl if you even walk near the tennis ball. And older felines can be grumpy as hell, cornering you under the couch, evicting you from laps and food bowls, strutting around the house like they own the place, even spraying the doors to prove their point: hey you! You're temporary! I'm PERMANENT.
Luckily, I have a mentor here. Angus came in from the scary outdoors too, and he's been giving me pointers on how to make this gig last. The key is, you don't have to be pretty. You just have to be entertaining. Leaping across the room is a good start. Bugs are good targets--nobody owns them. (And if you catch them, you earn not only applause, but a tasty snack too!)
Play your cards right, and you'll earn nicknames, like Tomboy. Or Avis--she tries harder!
And if you strike a certain pose on the bed, and everyone runs into the room with cameras, you'll know you've done the job right.
They won't even stay mad at you for digging a fort in the box spring. You're in. You can crawl under the covers tonight with your foster mom and purr to sleep in her armpit, confident you've gone from temp to perm.
Hey, does this quilt make me look fat?
Thursday, April 26, 2007
While at Monkeybicycle, I happened across Charlie Anders' story, "Can I Just Point Out How Not Racist I'm Being Right Now?" which made me guffaw.
And Lungfull editor Brendan Lorber has a thorough rant in NYFA Current. Topics include the stream running under his basement, the unforgivable side of literary heroes, poetry readings with one attendee, guerrilla readings in ATM booths, and more.
Monday, April 23, 2007
Or, did they simply not research the production before bringing their school group, then panic, fearing parental complaints? If that's the case, way to set a good example for the students. I mean, there's a preview link on American Repertory Theater's website. Daisey's colorful language (which is mild, by HBO standards) is right up front. If these kids are so tender and virginal, wouldn't it be worth a few minutes with YouTube before purchasing tickets?
I read a summary of the incident on Return of the Reluctant and, not being familiar with Daisey’s work, I thought, so, must have been something wild, eh? Like yams on a naked butt? Or Jesus in piss? Or Jesus in chocolate? Or self-mutilation? Or cross-dressing? Or machines made of dead animals?
Nope. He used the word “fucking.” That’s IT. And even that’s a guess. You can watch the incident here, and guess for yourself. It’s actually hard to tell why these people were being so passive-aggressive and rude, and none of them had the courage to dialogue with Daisey and explain exactly why they were walking out. Anyone else feeling a little faint? I mean, back in the 80’s everyone actually was doing weird shit. A few folks still are (and still move me to tears) . But Daisey seems like a regular guy. AND, his performance appears to be a genuine, candid, almost innocent inquiry into our culture, the kind that anybody can relate to. At least I thought they could.
Daisey handled it with aplomb. He initially reacted in anger, charging through the already-elastic fourth wall, then appeared to relax, and managed to use humor to put his paying viewers at ease. He put me at ease too, by the end of the clip. The stage crew kept their heads and cleaned up quickly. But on his website, he admits to being rattled, and even afraid of his audiences now. I would be too.
Friday, April 20, 2007
That smile! Which sneaks out, disarmingly, in his pauses. And that poem, "the MFA in hamsters," which had me in giggles today, but left left a melancholy aftertaste. A fresh voice not to be missed. It's rare, for me, to have such an emotional reaction to such a deadpan delivery. His inquiry is relentless. He holds up a funhouse mirror, and dares us to peer in with him, nervous laughter and all, to see the animal versions of ourselves.
Wednesday, April 18, 2007
Can I do a roundup of what other people are doing that jazzes me up?
I just took a peek at the Spring issue of FRiGG. This is a harmonic convergence of writers I already dig. Or dug. Check it out! Daphne Buter's language is so idiosyncratic and interesting. I can't read enough of her. And Nadine Darling, and Myfanwy Collins, and Brian Reynolds...some of my favorite voices.
Speaking of writers I dig, I don't think I ever gave a shoutout to the latest issue of Smokelong Quarterly, either. (Or did I? Am I too lazy to check? I meant to, when it came out.) Kudos to guest editor Alicia Gifford. She picked a good crop of breathless, rhythmic prose. I especially fell into the offerings by Rusty Barnes and Tod Goldberg. (And Goldberg should get a medal for inventing the term fucktard, which I don't think he uses here, but is worth mentioning.)
If you feel like plugging in your guitar (or ukulele) and collaborating with Jonathan Lethem, check out his Promiscuous Materials Project. This is free love for art. He offers up his stories for filmmakers and his lyrics for songwriters. You can hear what people have done with his lyrics, including John Linnell of They Might be Giants. And also a choral group! Lethem's song lyrics are good. I hear melodies when I look at them, which is a positive sign. But more than that, I love his courage in putting the stuff out there and letting us participate.
If live art and discussion is what you want, come to Bowery Poetry Club with me on Saturday April 21, for their afternoon mini-symposium, curated by Anne Waldman and Tonya Foster, Pulling it Down: The Aesthetics of Common Ground. Their all-star lineup will talk about the politics of editing, and the implied politics of nontraditional forms. By the way, did you know BPC has a podcast now? For those of you who want a virtual NYC experience. After you listen to the poetry podcast, just imagine walking out the door of the club, seeing CBGB's shuttered, the glittery highrises next to welfare hotels, and the new Whole Foods on Houston, where the robotic female voice says, "Register nine. Register nine," like something out of a seventies sci fi flick. But Walt Whitman lives! In spirit.
(I walked through that Whole Foods on the day they opened, sampling foods offered by out-of-work model/actors, listening to The Pixies full blast on my Ipod Shuffle, filling up my salad bar tray. Oh my god, it was good, but so indie-bourgeois. If only I did not crave their fake chicken salad.)
And if you're in NYC next week, don't ignore the Pen World Voices festival. Many events are free, if you are. (Some are midday....ach! Day job!) Last year they podcast several of them; I'm hoping they do the same this year. Regardless, Pen is an organization worth supporting; they are on the front lines for free speech, which is especially precarious in the current environment, here and abroad. One of the best ways to foster compassion is through literature, especially literature in translation. Why is it treason to publish Iranian poets in the US? This is the crux of many of our problems, in my opinion. OK, soap box done.
Monday, April 16, 2007
I'm working with an outline, which I said I wouldn't do, but given my diagnosis of plot as my weakness, I really have no choice. No outline would mean a meandering, 200,000 word novel, that still might not be salvageable at the end of the day. This one looks like it will be around 70-80K. Maybe I'm turning into a short novel person.
Now it's time to do some more research.
Friday, April 06, 2007
Told in present tense, the memoir has a simple premise and framework, which allows Shulman to ruminate and digress in interesting directions. It starts with a radical, if not original, personal experiment: at age fifty, she lives a summer alone in an island cabin in Maine, an hour's walk of beach from any civilization, without electricity or phone, the only water from the rain collected in a cistern. The idea is to get some focused time on a writing project, a goal all of us can identify with.
But early on, the plan changes course:
...for the first time ever, I allow myself the reckless thought that it might not matter if I write or not: with no one here to judge me, discovering what exactly I will do may be a more interesting project than writing a book.
What follows is a season of trial-and-error lessons involving the stuff of her immediate surroundings. With the help of Euell Gibbons books found in the cabin, she learns to forage vegetables and shellfish. She takes time gathering and preparing (beautifully described) meals for one. She wears what is comfortable and available; she consumes the college readers in the cabin instead of the books she brought along. And this new, improvisational approach to sustenance is nothing short of an awakening. This long period of solitude teaches her to appreciate "long thoughts." And time isn't as limited as she once believed: "...the more lavishly I spend time, the more I seem to have, like the wild leaves I pluck for salad which grow more lushly the more I pick."
Leaving the magic summer behind and returning to New York City proves challenging for Shulman, who has been deeply involved in the women's movement for years. How can she tell her friends she craves solitude now more than solidarity, without triggering anger and worry? She keeps dried seaweed in her home kitchen, and other island mementos, but they don't bring back the feelings she had when she was there. A Buddhist friend gives her a shot of perspective--the island taught her to pay attention to her surroundings. And this can be done in the city too.
Shulman returns to the island many times over the course of this book, but also takes us to the Rocky Mountains, New Mexico, and Europe, and into the cold war of her New York apartment, where she is struggling through a divorce. The cabin on the island becomes a frame for a bigger story, a guiding metaphor for how she chooses to live, which involves plenty of "long thoughts" and healthy self-study.
We readers get to witness a person making peace with who she is, with what she can control and what she can't, and falling in love with the world around her, crags and all. And as the natural resources on her island become tainted with encroaching civilization, her reaction is not despair and panic, but flexibility, and humble inquiry.
Many thanks to Barbara DeMarco-Barrett for introducing me to this exciting voice. I highly recommend her podcast, Writers on Writing.