Friday, June 23, 2017

Ten Books That Mattered: Part Five (Humblings)

1. C.S. Lewis - The Chronicles of Narnia
2. Sue Townsend - The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole, Aged 13 1/3
3. Stephen King - Carrie
4. Blake Nelson - Girl
5. Anaïs Nin - Incest
6. Dorothy Herrmann - Helen Keller: A Life
7. David Foster Wallace - Oblivion
8. Edna O'Brien - The Light of Evening
9. John D'Agata & Jim Fingal - The Lifespan of a Fact
10. Lidia Yuknavitch - The Chronology of Water
A few years ago, my mentor, giving one of her lovely, lazy-Susan-like lectures, explained that when she first read Moby-Dick at a young age, she decided she would never write another word. She despaired of ever writing anything as good as Moby-Dick and thought it would be better not to write at all. Of course, she went back on this decision, and - having read her work - I can tell you that we're all richer for her change of heart.

Some time later, in another class, she re-told this story, and I told her that I'd read Moby-Dick since the last time I heard it, almost entirely because of this story: I didn't want to miss a book so extraordinary that it made her feel incapable of writing well.

"And what'd you think?" she said. "Pretty good, right?"

"Yeah, pretty good," I answered. We chuckled over the understatement.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Seven Things

1. Wanna see something interesting?

Behold, my statistics on Duotrope:

Click to embiggen because Blogger's photo UI is still very, very stupid

In the past year, 10 short stories have been rejected and 0 accepted (0%). Two essays have been rejected and two accepted (50%). I attribute some of this to the market for short fiction being fierce and oversaturated and in general, far harder to make headway in than the market for nonfiction - the general stats on Duotrope, not just mine, tell the tale. But also...maybe I should cut my losses on short fiction altogether. Maybe it's not where my future is.

2. I've been slogging away for a couple of weeks on a book proposal. Man, do I ever not want to do this ever again. There's no better way to lose excitement about your work than to explain it over and over in slightly different ways each time. Feedback about it has been positive, though.

3. On a single day last week, I had a publication, a rejection that amounted to a huge disappointment, and an acceptance that amounted to a big deal. And my friend won an award. And I spent all afternoon at work with high nerves waiting for a meeting, only to be told nah. And then my period started. It was a weird day.

Contemporary proof. 

4. Last week I paid for a writing retreat in Santa Fe for October. I have never been to Santa Fe, although it's been recommended to me by a variety of people with good taste. I'm going to drive, which I'm really, really looking forward to; it's 12-14 hours, and if I was younger, I'd power through it in one day, WOOOOOO, but I will turn 36 that very week, so I am old and crusty and I'm going to take two days instead. I'll stop overnight in Phoenix on the way there and in Flagstaff on the way back, so I'll see two different paths through Arizona. My apologies to Tucson friends, but it's extremely not on the way.

For some reason my heart is yearning toward a particular retreat in Spain in April of next year. I don't know the people leading it, and I have never met anyone less interested in international travel than myself, but since I read of this retreat I can't stop thinking about it.

5. Eating less is hard.

6. Over the weekend, I wrote a little and read a lot. Lately I've been reading 250-350 page books almost exclusively, instead of a mix of long books, shorter small-press books, poetry, etc. Mixing it up is nicer than what I've been doing, because even if it's short, finishing a book always feels like an accomplishment. Reading half or a third of a book in an afternoon just isn't the same. I seem to have run through a great many of the poetry books on my TBR list, so now I'm stuck with short stories if I want to read short books. (No offense to the writers of those books of short stories. They're just not my favorite thing to read.)

Also over the weekend, I saw this remarkable film, which gave me the same impatience I always have when watching documentaries but which hit me in all my sweet spots: film, human lifespans, historical loss, palimpsests. I adored it. I really needed it, too, because it's become my habit to play Montana solitaire on my phone when almost anything is on the television, and it's not a habit I like having picked up. Dawson City: Frozen Time is pretty slow, but I had no choice but to watch only it. Having to expend my full concentration on it reminded me how much more pleasurable it is to expend full concentration on something rather than part here and part there. The following evening's reading was interrupted far less often than usual by Facebook checks.

7. There is so much bad news in the world that I want to fall out of it altogether. Every day, recently, something has happened that's either tragic or epically disappointing. Is it my duty to be a good citizen and notice these things, or is it my duty to protect myself from nervous breakdowns by letting go of noticing? The latter has been my strategy for some years now, but the bad news encroaches, crushes, and I feel more lost than usual.

Friday, June 16, 2017

Next Up: Bricolage?

Right now, as I write this, you can read a written collage I assembled at the Collagist. I am thrilled about this publication, for so many reasons that I need a list:
  • I ever want to cast more light on Mega-City Redux 
  • My friend Julie wants everyone on earth to read Other Powers 
  • This is the first written collage piece I've ever made, and it found a home in a (terrific) magazine called the **Collagist**, too cool 
  • The Ride of the Valkyries is about female power, and it's commonly associated with male power, and that is dumb and annoying and I want to reverse it 
  • I managed to say something important and interesting about feminism in a way that looked new to me 
I assembled the piece without much method, except for trying to shift from source to source with a fairly regular rhythm, and stretching out with my feelings, as Obi-Wan exhorts me to do. I chose these three sources because they seemed to have something to do with each other in my head - no greater or lesser intention than that. I plucked out portions I'd marked as I was reading, but I had many more than are in the finished piece. I trimmed based on what felt right. 

My favorite part is "[blank sentence]." It's so very Magritte. 

Earlier this week, Entropy published my most recent interview in the Books I Hate (and Also Some I Like) series, with the redoubtable Lynn K. Hall. I had fun putting this interview together, and I assuaged my guilt about not having read her book at the time I started the interview with gulping it nearly whole when I sent her my follow-up questions, and then confessing to my failure, and then salving the guilt with a positive Amazon review. 

I highly recommend her book, and not just for people who commonly read this kind of memoir. It's a tightly written piece of work, a model of structure and efficiency. Beyond the book's craft, Lynn's story is phenomenal and necessary.

Lately I've been brewing ideas without executing them, and submitting work all over, which is my favorite phase to be in. Brewing feels so necessary and correct, and submitting work reminds me that I have indeed written things, which makes me feel accomplished. Actual writing phases are filled with uncertainty and the feeling that I'm floating through life without really living it, which sucks. Brewing and leaning on finished work is nicer. Of course, I risk treading water too long in the red section of this handy diagram.



Now that school's out (for summer / for ever) (?) I'm reading a lot. But the pile never seems to get smaller. I've started a sub-pile beyond the "to be read" pile: the "READ THESE NOW YOU JERK" pile, composed of friends' books. It's also pretty tall. 

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

I am tired of this

I have a vision of each shooting incident like a flame, a small deep whoosh like when the paper in the back ignites, before you can feel the heat or see anything; the soundless eating lip against the newspaper more blue than orange, blackening, hot but not dangerous until it reaches your fingers; spurts on this side and that side and in the middle and at the south and north and east and west until sparks fly from sea to shining sea and it all alights, combustion unstoppable then, even wet wood will catch and sizzle and dead matter will fly up the chimney and then nothing will remain, cinders, smoke, no living leaping flame, no spark, soot and ash waiting to be cleaned until spring comes and birds nest in the flue.

I have a vision of this place in flames.

McDonald's signs cracked and half-fallen. Starved Calvin Klein models graffitied and torn. Statues muscling each other out of city blocks, until their foundations decay and they topple.

Topple, Rome. Burn. All cities burn, eventually. I wrote that once.

Yesterday's heroes tomorrow's enemies today's talking heads. Flap flap flap flap flap. Birds nest in the flue.

Put your hands over your face before the camera snaps a picture. Open your mouth in a wail. Learn to do this before you are seventeen. Later, but not too much later, look for your open mouth on CNN. Look for it every two or three days. Look for it on routine anniversaries. Silver and gold. Carbon steel, the anniversary metal for these occasions. A common amalgam. Melted together and left to set in a mold, which is then shattered to create a death-object.

I have a vision.

It is kinder than the truth.

Monday, June 5, 2017

Notes from Here to the Ocean

If you have ever pulled the car over to set down an idea, you are a writer.

Blew a kiss to a jacaranda in bloom.

Perfectly tilled dirt. A machine has been here, farming.

The word arroyo untranslatable.

Hand to my own throat, fingers spread. The fragility there. Breakable breath.

"Table Song" : pious brother to your vices / You were shunned and burned your cradle



A decapitated palm tree looking like a violation. Unusual violence. Shaggy beneath its headlessness. The trimline ladder-high.

The shape of a woman with a latte, gazing.

I missed when it rolled over to 10,000 miles because of "Mary" and the scenery : the sugar rush / the constant hush / the pushing of the water gush



Precious water.

Driving, really driving, moving across the land at speed, as liminal: between waking and sleeping, between here and the ocean, the minutes after waking from a nap on the sofa, when the entire body glows with contentment.

Recognizing this feeling. Oh, it's love, I am in love. The voice murmuring to me over waves, dripping, that voice. Not that kind of love. Like poetry. Like music: the guitar rising in my heart, the piano rippling across my ribcage. I had forgotten falling in love could be nonsexual, nonromantic.

See myself as a streak of light blazing down the highway. Colors of the dawn.

Come around the last curve and there she is, spread out, stretched out, burning a thousand candles.

C'est vous, Los Angeles. Every love song is for you.

Shake my hair back, a happy animal. Take, take me home.

Friday, June 2, 2017

Ten Books That Mattered: Part Four (The Span of Everything)

1. C.S. Lewis - The Chronicles of Narnia
2. Sue Townsend - The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole, Aged 13 1/3
3. Stephen King - Carrie
4. Blake Nelson - Girl
5. Anaïs Nin - Incest
6. Dorothy Herrmann - Helen Keller: A Life
7. David Foster Wallace - Oblivion
8. Edna O'Brien - The Light of Evening
9. John D'Agata & Jim Fingal - The Lifespan of a Fact
10. Lidia Yuknavitch - The Chronology of Water
If you've looked at this list and been curious about why a biography of Helen Keller inspired me so, today's post is for you. This book doesn't really go with any of the others. I mean, of course it does, because a life lived in books is a tapestry wherein every last thread depends on all the others. But this book is a straight biography, carefully researched in fact and detail, which puts it alone on the list; the language of it had nothing to do with what it meant to me; and its inspiration and influence weren't about a young, developing mind (#s 1-5) or an early, developing writer (#s 7-9).

Everybody learns about Helen Keller at some point before high school, I think. She's a part of American mythology: a girl who was born with every reason to feel sorry for herself, but who persevered beyond the pale in order to connect with other people. I don't remember why I chose to read a full-length biography of her, because I never had any significant interest in her aside from the natural awe and curiosity anyone might feel when they first learn of her existence. But for whatever reason, I picked up Herrmann's book at the Bowie Public Library at some point in my mid-20s, and won from it a new perspective.

I've been trying to talk and write about this for a number of years. I drafted this post for weeks. I'm not sure I've got it down satisfactorily, but this represents my best effort.

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

May Miscellany

As usual, once I write enough organized, one-topic posts I wind up with a bunch of smaller thoughts that need a place to go.

1. In finishing out the last semester of my graduate degree, I did two public readings and two semipublic readings. They were terrific. I love giving readings and I will miss the opportunity to do it. I guess I either need to join somebody's reading series or start a series of my own.

For the final GRS (Graduate Reading Series, which I've been co-running at CSUN all year), I read what I most wanted to, which meant I read a piece of the secret project, a poem (!) about hawks, and my manifesto. It meant a lot to me to get to read these things in front of an audience, particularly an audience that's known me for a long time but might not have heard/read this stuff of mine. I got positive responses.

Beyond my own experience, it was wonderful it was to hear my dearest Jesse read his poetry for the first time in well over a year. His work is so good, SO good, and I needed it.

For the first semipublic reading, I meant to read a piece of the revised final project I did for that class, and instead I ended up speaking sort of extemporaneously and reading a piece of this blog post, which had nothing to do with the class, and I don't really know how I ended up there but it made sense at the time. For the second semipublic reading, I read the start of the second chapter of the Casablanca novel I've started writing (did I mention that here? I'm writing a novel about Casablanca), and I think it went over fine.

The final reading was for 698D, my capstone/"thesis" class, and I was nervous for the first time in about six months. I'd been at a microphone easily a dozen times in the meantime, but this one, wow. My hands trembled. The reason was the material. I decided to read some of my hardest stories: the codex for why I will never live in New England again, the time I cried over a Banquet frozen dinner. I was afraid of being so vulnerable. Which is weird, because vulnerability doesn't usually scare me, but...I don't know. I was such a different person when I went through all that. Which explains itself, kind of; I wouldn't be who I am without crying over that Banquet dinner. Yet if this material wasn't interesting, or worth hearing, maybe that meant I was not an interesting or worthwhile person? [gestures with flappy hands] Whatever. I read the hard thing and I don't think it went as well as GRS but it's over and fine.

2. There's been some literary-world kerfuffle about this article, which says you HAVE TO HAVE TO write every day if you want to be a writer. No, you don't. I didn't even click on it when I started seeing it around last week, because no, you don't, and people who say that are locked into thinking there's One Right Way to do writing. Few things exist with One Right Way attached to them. I sat and stared at the wall and thought about this just now for several minutes, and drilled on down to things that are the same for everyone, like bodily functions, and even then I can't settle on the idea that yes, there's one right way to urinate and all the other ways are wrong. Human beings always have a choice.

But that is very far off the point, which is no, you don't have to write every day. I don't. I do, however, take writing seriously, which is the practice I think is truly important if you want to be a writer, and which practice I believe looks different for everybody. Consequently, in about two weeks I'll have another publication to tell you about. Take that, dude on Salon whose books I've never read.


3. I had to cut this out of my post about Girl and Incest:

In the suburb where I lived during high school, there was briefly a bookstore in the same plaza as our local music store/safe haven, Record & Tape Traders. I don't know what the deal was with this bookstore, whether it was an indie or an overstock seller like Crown, but I found there one of the most unusual books I've ever read: Exegesis, by Astro Teller (who, the internet tells me, now runs Google[x], which surprises me not at all). I bought it because the cover was nearly black, with an imprinted :) on it, and that looked interesting. I imagine the book would seem very quaint now, because it's about AI and takes the form of emails and instant messaging, all circa 1997, but at the time its form and subjects were totally new to me. It was one of those books that drops out of nowhere and back into nowhere. It's never come up anywhere else in my life, and in the middle of a high school curriculum it was exotic indeed.

4. Augh, I forgot to tell you about this interview with Gayle Brandeis! It was the most fun one yet. Two more interviews are on their way.

5. Somehow I have become a person who asks for, and receives, ARCs (advanced reader copies). I don't know how. It's a delicious mystery and it makes me feel very fancy indeed.

6. Related to this, I've become convinced that the best way to be a writer in the world is to lift other writers up. I've had a lot of good luck in the past two years, but I've also tried hard to spread the work of others out in the world: giving small-press books away to people I think would like them, sharing poetry and essays around, telling people about writers/friends I know that I think they should know. Every victory for every writer I know is a victory for me, too. I don't know which way the karma is flowing for me, but I don't really think that's the point of karma. 

I guess this is networking, in its truest sense. But it seems to be going well.