Monday, May 2, 2016

Dehydration

Another weekend full of writing. Remember how I said
it feels like I'm not digging down deeply enough into my own flesh to write it
? Yeah, I don't feel that way anymore. I bled. It was terrible. I wrote a HALP-type email to a friend, and she conjured up the image of Spongebob and Patrick under the drying lights at Shell City



and yes, that was exactly how I felt at the end of it. I drank some whiskey and played Spider and felt better, but I do not want to write this story again.

I'm going back to it either tomorrow or next weekend to add another short section and assemble it properly, and I think I'll be assembling with scissors and tape. The sections don't go together as I wrote them, and as of yet I don't know exactly how they will.

A talk with Matt yesterday forced me to confront the fact that I'm not sure this piece has an audience beyond the professor who challenged me to write it and maybe two other friends. I don't like the idea of putting my name on it in the public sphere, and Matt likes that idea even less (not because he's interested in censoring me, but because he loves me and doesn't want people picking on me).

I don't really know what to do about this, because I have never been much afraid of revealing personal stuff about myself in the past, but this thing - this subject - it's truly frightening for me. And what I wrote goes beyond me to people I love, which isn't fair to them. (I'm sorry to be vague, but that is the nature of the few subjects I'm afraid to talk about: I don't end up talking about them.) There may be a time for me to revisit this piece as something publishable, or it may be something I can send out anonymously, but in the state it's in, I can't imagine strangers knowing it was me who wrote it.

This is the first time I've ever been in this position. I try to be a warrior on the page. It feels weird to be so profoundly uncertain. I'm uncertain all the time about whether this is better than that or whether I'm doing writing the right way, but to be uncertain about whether it was a good idea to write this thing at all? That's new.

I have half a dozen other things to write - a piece about aging, revisions on the secret project, an academic paper that is little more than an attempt to go to Hawaii, at least one application for a fellowship, an idea that's not fully developed yet but that could be interesting if it doesn't turn out to make me look absurdly arrogant. I wrote a poem the other day, too. I think the transition into summer, and shifting all my brewing energy toward things other than school, may have begun.

In other news, I'm reading this book called I Hate the Internet, because the author is coming to my class tomorrow to talk about a different book and I wanted to read this one before I met him. It's misanthropic and hilarious and cleverly structured and I'm enjoying it. But I don't think it's a book for everybody. I haven't figured out whether its negativity is working for me or actually not working for me, whether or not it's other stuff in the book that is making me like it rather than its overwhelming cynicism.

In other other news, I filled out an application for graduation (with my M.A.) in spring of 2017. A plethora of things could happen between now and then that would push my graduation back to fall '17 or spring '18, but I think I can make it. It's kind of scary, because I don't know what will happen after that. But I also can't wait to see what happens after that.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

God and the Registrar

I wrote like hell this weekend, or like hell was behind me. I wrote a 2,500-word essay about my experiences in the Standard Hotel in downtown Los Angeles during the weekend of AWP, and I wrote pages and pages of the scary story, which I should've started months ago and for which I'm now making up for lost time, I guess: it's coming quickly, feverishly. I'm still drafting, and I don't know if I'm halfway done or one-quarter done or what, but it is very, very difficult to write. It hurts and is hard. Despite this, it doesn't seem to be good enough; it feels like I'm not digging down deeply enough into my own flesh to write it. (I don't think that all writing has to feel like that, but for this one, it does.)

Plus I read an interesting book called Atta, and then wrote two posts about it for the class blog that reminded me greatly of what I do in this space. I'm not displeased with those posts, or with these posts, but I am dissatisfied at the idea that I might be slumping into a pattern rather than pushing myself into new places.

But then this whole spring has been like that. Spring fever. Senioritis. Whatever you call that restless crappy feeling that leads you to play solitaire for hours instead of clearing the clutter off your goddamn dining room table, I've got it. Bad. I hope it's on the verge of passing, because I successfully worked hard this weekend, but that hard work also took place after I stayed in bed hours longer than I should have.

It's just so comfortable. The pattern and the bed.

Okay, that's not fair. That bike and I are clearly victims of sudden mudslides.
Or snowslides, I can't quite tell from the coloring. Some kind of slide. 

I made a list of the books I'm going to read this summer after school is over (at a minimum).
Cat's Cradle (Vonnegut)
I Love Dick (Kraus)
Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay (Ferrante)
a David Shields
Don Quixote (Cervantes) (this is 2016's Big Book)
a Georgette Heyer
a Roxane Gay or two
Remembrance of Things Past (Proust) - not sure how much further I'll get
I Hate the Internet (Kobek)
Chelsea Girls (Myles)
Just Kids (Smith)
People Like You (Malone)
The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle (Murakami) 
And I picked out the classes that, God and the registrar willing, I'll be taking in the fall. Even though I'm kind of tired of school's grind, I'm nevertheless pretty excited about what I'm taking next.

Scratch that. I'm not tired of school's grind. What I'm tired of is feeling as if I can't get down to business on any of the stuff I need to do for school. I'd be happy for the semester to keep going on and on, peaking and falling and peaking again, but I'm tired of the squeeze of it, the sense that I don't actually have time to do all the things and then also relax as much as I need to so as not to go mad.

And, frankly, I'm pretty tired of student stories. That's not very kind, but it's the truth.

If I can sustain the work spirit that put the spurs to my ass this weekend, then I'm going to revise some of the secret project and give it to a professor who (kindly, generously) offered to read it. I hope I can do that before school officially ends, or I'll be emailing him over the summer, which is creepier than I want to be.

This summer I might try to teach a writing workshop. I haven't forgotten my New Year's resolution about that. We'll have to see which gets the best of me: ego or insecurity.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Dignified and Sensible

Gaaaaah how did this happen it's been weeeeeeks.

I know how it happened: I haven't been able to gather up my thoughts enough to write something dignified and sensible. I've been taking notes for the last six weeks on my ideas, but none of them have been productive for this space. I've been writing some creative engagements with the experimental novels & other art I'm absorbing in one of my classes, but they are short and weird and I don't know what to make of them.

That's representative, I think. My energy of late has been scattered, and invested in the wrong places. I haven't been feeling it at work lately, which makes work a chore; I've been treating myself to laziness at home, which brings me pleasure but no satisfaction. I need to get down to business on three separate creative projects before the semester ends in about three weeks (!!!), but I failed to do this last weekend and I'm discouraged.

Personal is stuff going on that's distracting me, too.

Meanwhile, I'm still gathering up the fallen fruit from AWP. I met some amazing people - some of them far more impressive on paper than I knew when I hung out with them. I keep getting more and more books in the mail. A dear friend of mine, her literary star is rising like the sun at the moment, and I'm proud of her and frankly a little proud of me for not being jealous of her.

Here's a couple of things gifted to me by my best class this semester.

Something about this video gave me intense visual pleasure - aside from the intellectual pleasures of it - and reminded me of how much joy I took in film back when that was my main squeeze. Matt...did not love it, so if you don't, either, you won't hurt my feelings.

Oh, it has strobe effects, so epileptics beware.



The next one there's no need to watch from beginning to end. This fellow, Alvin Lucier, recorded himself speaking a brief monologue, and then played that recording into another recorder, and then played that into another recorder, and so on and so on until the sound of his voice became completely distorted. Eventually the recording is only the resonant ambience of the room rather than a recognizable voice. Skip through and see how it feels to you. It gave me food for thought for days. Really, I'm still thinking about it, and I don't expect to stop.


Thursday, April 7, 2016

Fragmentary Disorder

WOW there is so much.

I went to AWP. I workshopped a story that I kind of hate and it was well-liked. I went to an insane reading featuring some of the most interesting women in the nation. I caught a cold and failed to finish reading three! THREE! of the books assigned for homework in the last month. (Three! Who even am I?) I was awkward to Kelly Link and I hugged the writer of one of the best essays I've ever read. I spent way too much money and I can't wait to get my next tattoo. I had an epiphany or three. My apartment is messy and I (finally) don't give a hoot. I found out that at least one L.A. rooftop hotel bar has weird little waterbeds and is just as douchetastic and horrible as you might imagine, unless you're there with a clutch of badass women. I am itchy and miserable about all the ordinary job/school/cooking things in my life, but I am so happy to be living the life I have.

Oh, and Star Wars. Yeah. Whee.

Art by Paul Fricke

I want to put together a genuine AWP breakdown post, for the sake of at least one friend who wanted to know how it went down, but this will not be that. This is more of an "I'm still planning to blog here, I swear, but my life is hilariously messy and I need to find the narrative thread buried under piles of tote bags and book swag" post.

This is easily the least troublesome cold I've ever had. 3/5 stars, would get again if I had to. But it's making me tired and cranky and bad at concentrating and socializing.

My solitary goal for the Association of Writers & Writing Programs conference, or AWP, was to get as many tote bags as humanly possible. I got seven over the three days. Win! I also got a pile of books, and the advice I got to wait until the last day to buy books was correct. None of the presses wanted to ship their stuff back home, if they were located elsewhere than in L.A., so there were fire sales and how. I did very well.

I also saw many extremely famous writers and met a couple of them. I learned that prose chapbooks are indeed a thing, more so than in years past, which is encouraging. I drank free wine.

I am ready to revise some sections of the secret project after feedback from two readers. I definitely want to clip out its imperfections, but I want to do that without "fixing" it to any mainstream specifications. I hope I'll be able to set aside some time for that this weekend.

In general, my life has slowed down after a freaking insane March couple of months 2016 so far. (So, again, if I had to catch a cold, now is the right time.) I am having that old sensation of wanting my time back, looking forward to summer and no school schedule and reading piles of books. At the same time, I'm panicking slightly because I'll actually be halfway done with my MA after this semester, and then what?

Then what?

I want to apply for a crazy long shot Bay Area thing (again), and I'd like to teach workshops. But beyond that - and this was shored up firmly by the experience of AWP - I just want to write books. I want my life to go into the next phase, the phase where I can write books and see them in print.

I don't know how to do that yet. I thought I'd know, or be at the halfway point of knowing, by now.

Anyway. Stay tuned! Much more about AWP and other writing things to come.

Thursday, March 24, 2016

My New Necklace

Last weekend I went to San Luis Obispo, and in the course of playing tourist, I found a necklace that moved me enough to spend more than I could really afford. It's a box locket on a heavy chain, and this is what it looks like.



No one has asked me to look inside it. I think this is because it appears to be an ornament on its own rather than a locket. This is what's inside.



I had hoped that I would be able to sit and look at this message at moments I needed it, but the chain's not long enough and the locket can't be positioned the way I imagined. Instead of feeling like a comfort, the message feels like a secret. I like that, too. It's just not what I thought it would be.



The necklace is heavy. The more I think about it, the more this feels appropriate. The heaviness of inhale and exhale, the heaviness of continuing to exist. Breath is not a lightness, not something to bear easily.


The woman who sold it to me said that she got it at an estate sale, that it's from the 1950s. I'm not sure I believe that. What's carved on the inside doesn't feel like a 1950s sentiment, and the design is wrong for that era. If it was once ornamented, and stripped down later by a jewelrymaker who put the message inside, sure. The silver could be old.

The hinge isn't very precise, so the edges impact each other and clink a little when I walk. It doesn't jingle happily like a different necklace I wear most days.

Nearly nothing about this ornament is what I thought I'd get when I spent more than I could afford on it. But it's what I have now. It's different, but it's still good. That is the nature of the endeavor, of the inhale and exhale. Very little is predictable. Most things are bearable, even if heavy. Some days it's a noisome burden. I sit with it, I read it, I carry it with me, I keep it close to my skin.


Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Bedlam Is Dreaming of Rain

This past weekend, I wrote the polyphonic story, and off it goes to workshop today. Eh. I kind of hate it, a little, though I like parts of it very much; I have no idea what my classmates are going to make of it; and I'm glad as hell that it's off my mind. That is, I'm glad it's outside my head, because the idea has been teasing me for months, and I'm equally glad my major assignment for that class is officially handed in.

If I weren't restrained by deadlines, I might have tried to do something a lot more difficult with this story: create a narrative solely through [pages and pages of] disconnected sentences that represent the thoughts of a half-dozen or so characters. Instead I did a little of that in between three longer fragments (less than 1K apiece), and ran out of time/patience/other intangibles to go deeper and further with a truly shattered narrative. If I don't run out of time again, this true polyphony may be how I revise the story before the end of the semester. Dunno. Depends.

This morning on my run I listened to Lydia Davis read a story of her father's on the New Yorker fiction podcast. I continue to learn all kinds of useful what-I-am-definitely-not-as-writer-and-reader from listening to this podcast, and today was no exception. But the combination of Lydia Davis and the above paragraph makes me think I should read some of her work and try again on the true polyphony. She knows a shattered narrative better than anyone I can think of.

Spring break is next week, but two of three professors have piled on the work, so I think I may actually be busier than if I had to go to class. Two long books, a presentation, a lot of studying. I'd hoped to get started on the scary story, which will be very hard to write (hence the name), but it may not come to pass.

That's all I have today. I'm looking forward to catching up with my life in late May. In the meantime, this is in my head, even though fire season is at the opposite end of the year.


Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Lodged

This past weekend I went to Denver and took part in a one-day workshop with Lidia Yuknavitch. I also reunited with some Midwestern friends I met last fall, which was lovely.

The workshop itself was interesting. I was thrilled to sit in a room with Lidia again, to have her tell me what to do on the page again. I was excited and intimidated to meet all the wonderful writers who attended, many of whom have just published a first book or are about to. But my experience did not match up with what seems to have been the preponderance of the experiences of the other attendees.

Sadly, the prompts did not speak to me significantly. I could see and hear from the others that the prompts worked extremely well for them, but I got little of use. Structurally, I got TONS of useful stuff, because the way Lidia teaches revision and self-mining, the way she insists on letting the work lead you instead of the other way around, is utterly refreshing, a potent reminder that writing is not done only in one way. If you are stuck, she will get you to put words on the page, guaranteed. But the prompts themselves brought me material that was distracted or irrelevant or just not up to par. Or even stuff that I've never thought it necessary to write about.

I actually consider this good news. I mentioned last week that I'm in the early stages of two stories, a polyphonic one and a scary one. They're really all I can think about in terms of writing (aside from the secret project, which is in the reader/feedback phase and thus I'm dying a thousand deaths and trying really hard not to think of it every second of every day). My mind is pointed quite specifically at those two stories, so introducing more ideas into that space led me to crappy, distracted work rather than work that had long needed dislodging.

See what I'm saying? It was a great workshop, but I was at the wrong moment for it.

However, I'm crazy glad that it worked for everybody else. There were a lot of writers in liminal spaces in that room, women who were between books, or ready to begin but uncertain as to how; people who were changing their professional ideas of themselves; ideas that did need dislodging. I was one of fifteen and thus it wasn't that important how I, individually, coped with the prompts.

--

Reading has been a weird journey lately. I was reading the second of Elena Ferrante's Neapolitan novels at the same time as all the other reading for my classes, and then I finished it (more on that in a post to come soon), and now I am stuck with schoolwork only, right at the moment when I'm reading one of the hardest and most interesting books I've ever read: Cyclonopedia, by Reza Negarestani. It reads like a book of literary theory composed by a professor who has completely lost his marbles. It's taking me - I did the math - six times longer to read this book than it normally takes me to read books. But it's having an effect I wouldn't trade in for all the Georgette Heyer novels in the world. It's madness, but it's mind-expanding; tedious, but not tiresome. It makes me feel like there are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamt of not just in my, but in any philosophy.

I owe so many emails to so many beloveds. But after a highly social weekend, I basically wanted to forget that other humans existed for a little while. After Matt picked me up at the airport, I crawled in my bed with the iPad and a bag of trail mix and my notebook and Cyclonopedia, and I didn't come out until dark. It was the greatest.