Monday, April 30, 2007

How to Stay Adopted, by Guest Blogger Ava Barr


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

Worth Clicking and Reading

I found Myfanwy Collins' story "The Daughters, " new at Monkeybicycle, getting under my skin. She captures well what the body understands before the brain is old enough to judge.

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

Groupthink at its Most Passive-Aggressive

This incident is giving me a sick feeling in the pit of my stomach. In Cambridge, of all places, monologist Mike Daisey had to stop his performance while a group of 80+ self-righteous, smug people got up and walked out. One of them had the audacity to step onstage and pour water on Daisey’s handwritten outline, effectively halting the show while Daisey’s crew cleaned up. It is one of the weirdest acts of deliberate cruelty I have seen in awhile. The obvious question—did these God-appointed asswipes premeditate this whole thing?

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

My New Favorite MFA Program

If you haven't checked in on Tao Lin lately, do! His two new books are coming out in May from Melville House , a simultaneous release of the novel EEEEE EEE EEEE and the collection BED. If you haven't had the experience of hearing him read, here's a sample, from the legendary KGB Bar (& thanks to 3AM for the link):

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

ART Marches On.

We're all depressed by what we're seeing in the news. Ready for a break? Can I just do a jig because it's National Poetry Month? Am I allowed?

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

Milestone 50,000

Well, folks, sorry I've been posting so little. Word number 50,000 of my new novel, ALMA, just wrote itself! I'm still having fun, keep waiting for the other shoe to drop (ie get stuck running in the wrong direction...). SO superstitious, I'm knocking wood all over the place.

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

Alix Kates Shulman and the Long Thought

A recurring motif in Alix Kates Shulman's memoir, DRINKING THE RAIN, is that of a younger woman paying close attention to an older one. One day on the beach, with her friend Margaret, ten years her senior, Shulman notes: "I study her aging body to see what's coming next for me." And later, Shulman befriends a younger colleague, Clara, "despite the twenty-year gap in our ages (or perhaps because of it: she wants to see what's coming, I want to know what's new)..." My experience reading the memoir falls into the same category, and the book has proven to me that some of life's most enlightening and exciting experiences happen in middle age. If this is what's coming, bring it on. The book is a thoughtful and hopeful meditation on the gifts of aging.

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.

If you're interested, Alix Kates Shulman will be giving a lecture at NYC's National Arts Club on April 17. The topic is one dear to us writers: how she turns one life into multiple narratives.

Monday, April 02, 2007

Streaming Audio!

I know this is elementary to some people but I feel like I crossed a line, figuring out how to add streaming audio! I'm still amazed that the internet can do this! I dug through my archives and put some selections under the new "Streaming Audio" link on my sidebar. (Decided not to put it up front since it may be a slow-loader on some systems. And warning, not safe for work.)

What will be next? I'm learning HTML forms in my spare time, so who knows? Reader surveys, maybe?