Friday, June 17, 2016

Announcement: Workshop!

I would say "Come one, come all," but the room I'm using can only accommodate 10 people. So...come one, come nine more.


Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Useful Tangents

Here are some things that are true.

1. I've been reading Kathy Acker over the past week. I was strongly encouraged to try her about three years ago, but when I read about her work, I was put off a little and worried it wouldn't be for me. I've chosen to read My Mother: Demonology, a novel from 1993, and although I'm not really sure whether I like it or not, it has given me two big gifts.

I wrote the secret project (aka the Ceremonials project) largely inspired by Florence Welch and my own ideas, but in the back of my mind was this movie I saw some years ago about two French girls at a boarding school who had a sexual affair. The movie was made from a book that had, I remember reading on the internet, some of the most purple prose ever written or taken seriously as literature. That was absolutely all I remembered about the movie/book, so as much as I wanted to look it up and compare it to what I'd written in the secret project, I didn't know where to start. Well, Acker's book mentions the Radley Metzger film Thérèse and Isabelle and then uses it to go on useful tangents of her own, and I went THAT'S IT. That was the movie/book that I had slightly in my mind as I was writing the secret project.

As I look at YouTube videos of the film, I'm a little embarrassed that I took so much, mood-wise and setting-wise, from this film without actually remembering it by name. I was thinking of the school in the film when I created the Cartwright School, and I was thinking of the seriousness with which the affair between Thérèse and Isabelle is portrayed when I assembled Amelia's relationship with Corisande. I did a bunch of stuff that the movie doesn't do - supernatural stuff, obsession stuff, mythology stuff, closure stuff - but I'm still kind of pulling at my collar about the similarities. Perhaps, in acknowledging them, I can get off the hook a little.

Here's a link to the last twelve minutes of the film. There's nudity in it, and it's fairly ponderous, but if you've read the secret project, it might look slightly familiar. (I couldn't find a trailer of decent quality.)

The other gift is a series of photographic images that have been surfacing in my mind as I read, none of which have anything direct to do with the book, but which continued to appear as I continued reading. I am going to do everything in my power to make this a real, in-the-world photography sequence with myself as subject.

Lately (past six months or so) I've been feeling this odd instinct that I need to involve my body in my creative life. I didn't know what to do with that until Acker's book started giving me these pictures. I don't know when or in what final form the images will exist, but I don't want to forget their urgency. I took notes. I approached a collaborator. I'm hoping for the best.

2. I've 90% decided to teach a writing workshop in July. If you're local to Los Angeles and you want to come, please email me, kcoldiron at gmail, so I can gauge the interest of people I don't actually know. Just a li'l email, maybe that only says "me", after which you can continue to lurk and be shy.

3. I had a strange dream over the weekend that I think, ultimately, was about privacy. I wrote down a bunch of notes on it. I woke up with the sensation that, as a writing idea/project, it could be something big, but I realized in reading my notes that I Love Dick impacted me more than I thought and I don't want to just copy others' ideas. (See above.) I'm feeling the need for a big writing project, after setting down a plethora of little ones over the past year or so, but my waking thoughts about it might have been wrong. It would be absurd and philosophical and have to do with family and home as well as art and the body and privacy. I have a main character, which is the most important thing.

There's a small idea I want to work out on the page first. It has to do with a dog and a bicycle, movement in space and time, and - this only crashed into what I had put together over the past week - The Sound of Music. I wrote some pages on it over the weekend, but I don't know if they're any good and I'm worried that I don't have enough for a story-length story rather than a flash.

And I'm waiting for something to come to me so that I can write about male regret. That might happen in ten years, though, so I'm not waiting very avidly.

4. In fact, I counted: in the past year, I've written three short stories, three personal essays, and three weirdnesses that blur the lines between essay, fiction, memoir, and criticism. (More threes.) That doesn't sound like a lot, but it's enough wordage for a collection, and the ideas that came out in there were pretty intense.

5. I have no pictures to go with this post, so here's a photograph by Garry Winogrand that I like a lot. Click to embiggen. Catch you on the flip side.


Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Testing the Waters, or: Help Me Figure This Out

Sooooo, I have something I want to do this summer. But I need the help of others to do it.

I want to teach a writing workshop.

The workshop would be called "Getting Unstuck", it would be in Encino, it would last for three or four hours, it would happen on a Saturday or Sunday in mid-July, and I would charge $20 per person. The point of it would be to help attendees learn strategies for getting unstuck as writers, whether the stuckness is because of a block, because of a fork in the road, because of some kind of lack in the toolbox, whatever. The format would go like this: We introduce ourselves and maybe do an icebreaker, I give a prompt, the attendees write for some limited amount of time, and then we share and talk about what worked and what didn't. This process would repeat itself with several prompts. There would be a break in the middle and I'd bring snacks. I would cap it at ten attendees, and those ten people could be any kind of writer - prose, poetry, whatever. Attendees would not be reading each others' work, like a table/group workshop, but reading their own (if they like) + listening to me, like a how-to workshop.

I don't need help with the content, because I know a lot of strategies for getting unstuck. What I need help with is discovering whether I should and could do this - whether I could get ten people in the room who are not just friends desiring to be kind, and whether me teaching this workshop seems like a good idea at all (the me part OR the content part).

Would you go to it? Would you spread the word about it to people who might want to go? Would you listen to me for short periods across a few hours of writing and sharing and thinking?

Tell me. And in the meantime, I'll just be thinking of this cat as my mascot for the whole endeavor.


(If $20 seems too low to you, remember that I have no advanced degrees, that I've never taught a writing workshop before [although I have taught yoga workshops, which were priced a good bit higher], and that writers are poor. So I'm not really accepting feedback on that. If this one's successful I'll hike the price.)

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Elena as Opposed to Elena

Over the long weekend I finished the third book in Elena Ferrante's Neapolitan series. I'd read the first book in just a couple of large gulps, but the second one took me a little longer due to school, timing, whatnot. The third took me from Los Angeles to Chicago and part of the way back on three plane flights. I'm going to start the fourth right away; I can't help but devour. But this post is mostly about a single thing I perceived in the second book. (If I said all I had to say about these books, I'd be blogging about them for weeks.)

It is not fair to say that, since starting My Brilliant Friend, I'd been proceeding on the notion that the first-person narrator of the novels, named Elena, definitely was Elena Ferrante. The notion I had was not precisely that the entire book is 100% a roman à clef, top to bottom, everything true. However, the books are so vivid, their detail so minuscule, their characters so woven together, everything so thoroughly of a piece, that I thought at least I was dealing with a Proust situation, where certain details are different but mostly it's just the shape of the author's life. Her global audience knows almost nothing about Elena Ferrante, and the nature of these novels supports her privatizing herself, in a way. That is: we don't necessarily need to know about Elena the author because we know Elena the character so well.

Multiple assumptions helped me to go forward into the second book with this idea in mind, that the novel was not a novel as much as it was a mild fictionalization. I assumed that Elena the author was the same age as Elena the character, and grew up in the same era. I assumed that no one could write these books from scratch, without pulling them mostly from life. I assumed that whatever she'd done to fictionalize these characters was tremendous authorship, but still not whole invention.

At the end of the second book, Elena the character publishes her first novel. Elena the character is in her early 20s, and the year is 1968 or 1969. This was the first moment when I definitively knew that Elena the author was not taking the books altogether from life. Elena the author's age is unknown, but she published her first novel in 1992. Obviously, something has been altered.

After doing this math, my reading experience changed, and I felt personally disappointed. (This is a stupid reaction, I know, but bear with me.) I had been wondering how much in the books was true and how much was invented, and wondering how Ferrante was capable of such sorcery even if it was mostly true and only a little invented, and so on. Instead, now, I felt as if the ground had shifted, was unstable. If this one aspect of the book - crucial in character development, thematically critical - was fictionalized, what else was? Some things? Everything? I didn't know, suddenly, when before I'd thought I had a handle on it.

In reality, nothing changed. I was foolish to think I knew anything about Ferrante's endeavor (at her desk, I mean), or about her life, only because I'd read the childhood and young adulthood she'd shaped for me in about 800 pages.

This is not Elena Ferrante. But it could easily be Lila.

Isn't that interesting, that I felt unstable because of my own perceptions of the book changed? Not because the book itself changed in any way?

Whether we want to get into the metaphysics of readership and writership or not, I thought it was worth noting that there was an actual pinpointable moment in my reading experience where it was no longer possible that Ferrante was writing about herself. At least, this moment was when the average reader with an internet connection knew that the author wasn't writing about herself with total factual accuracy.

In my view, this only intensifies her achievement, which is already lauded as one of the most remarkable in contemporary literature. If she's made these books up, completely, I'm staggered. The way the characters grow and move and change around and with each other, and the way the characters' movements demonstrate the books' thematic underpinnings, seems too real, too consistent, too true to be fiction. There's melodrama in the reappearances of certain characters, but it's always believable melodrama. There's a cast of dozens and there's depressing consistency in the way the cast ages and matures (or fails to); there's mundane tragedy via deaths and degradations.

If this is absolute fiction, it is indistinguishable from witchcraft.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Paper Dioramas

I've been reading two books simultaneously (by which I mean a couple of hours with one book, and then a break, and then a couple of hours with the other) over the course of the past week: I Hate the Internet, by Jarett Kobek (male), and I Love Dick, by Chris Kraus (female). The writers are not similar in background, and the books are not similar in tone, but I wondered whether, if I slapped them together analytically, they would make some kind of lightning.


It's sheer coincidence that I'm reading them at the same time but I noticed that one is titled with hate and the other with love, and that these abstractions in the titles correspond to the stereotypical behaviors of the genders from which the titles spring.

What else? Well, Kobek's book is cynical to the point of misanthropy. Kraus's book is blackly optimistic, in that the prose betrays optimism even while the larger arc of the plot entails hopelessness. Both books are strongly thematically tied to communication and express this awareness in form; Kobek's is the experience of internet surfing in continuous prose form, while Kraus's is largely epistolary. The engine of both books is obsession: Kobek's with 21st century culture, and Kraus's with a single human love object.

Kobek's novel circles queasily forward, like the path of a gaggle of gnats. Kraus's book doesn't have significant forward motion except in time. Her character's obsession progresses, but that seems to be a movement inward and downward rather than forward. It's a cloud that spreads. And time is of the essence in Kraus's book - the date is mentioned every couple of pages at least - while time is treated quite casually in Kobek's novel.

And the truth is, I don't especially like either book.

I Hate the Internet is so bilious, so all-critical, that it's like reading the comments section for dozens of websites all strung together. The cords that bind it into a genuine book are explanatory - one concept (or noun) after another, paragraph after paragraph, page after page, explained in the narrator's condescending, negative, polemical voice. It's funny, often, and quotable, but it's also rude and heartless, and that gets tiresome. The author visited a class of mine some weeks ago, and I couldn't help but ask him if the person who hated the internet was himself, was Kobek, rather than an invented voice. He said no, that he meant it to be a kind of hateful little teenage boy voice. That offers a little redemption, in my view, as does the book's humor, and its equal-opportunity criticism rather than excepting this or that concept as OK. But it's still exhausting to read.

I Love Dick is much less hostile, but I harbor a distinct lack of belief that it's going anywhere. It's extremely well-written and thoughtful and intelligent, but it feels self-indulgent and a little pointless. Like I'm reading the author's diary rather than her work. I'm much less farther along in it than in the other, so maybe this will change, but at the moment I feel like she might be wasting my time.

I will keep reading, though, because both books share a rare quality: subversiveness.

One of my pet theories is that there is so little actual subversive art in American culture at the moment that we can barely recognize it when it appears. It's what's so good, and so crucial, about South Park: no matter the target, the treatment South Park gives its subjects is subversive. Sparing nothing, unafraid, free of sacred cows of any kind. For class I read Kobek's novel Atta, which is a false autobiography of one of the 9/11 hijackers, and I recognized it, too, as subversive art. It's a 9/11 novel that's funny, and a book that makes human a national symbol of inhumanity.

I Hate the Internet is bound to piss off everybody who reads it about something, because it holds nothing as sacred, nothing as objectively true or fine. That is subversion. I Love Dick is unafraid of revealing all the wackadoo crannies where we hide our obsessions and fantasies, unafraid of turning a marriage inside out and showing its oozing viscera. That is subversion.

Forcing you to sit uncomfortably and stare at a series of assumptions on which you've relied (we are all mostly sane, we are all mostly good, most of us are hiding nothing, most of us are safe in our skins), only to find that they have been paper dioramas all along: that is what subversive art does, and that is what both of these books are doing in different ways.

It's rare. It's necessary. It's not just polemicking or ideologuery. It upends the table and then stands there and asks you if you really want to set things back the way they were.

Do you?

Friday, May 20, 2016

One Writer's Experience at AWP

In March I attended the 2016 AWP (Association of Writers & Writing Programs) conference in Los Angeles. It was interesting. I'm going to write about it as if you, the reader, are a writer who is considering going to AWP in a future year and you need help deciding whether or not to go.

Well, I'd go, unless you don't like crowds, in which case definitely don't go. It wasn't packed like a concert (no sardine syndrome), but it was packed like an amusement park (astonishing in the sheer number of people around you). I read that 12,000 people were at this particular AWP, and I fully believe it.

But yeah, I'd go. For these reasons:

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Crotted Cream

(ha! finally got to use that pun!)

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Observation: I really go out of my way to avoid other humans when I'm doing laundry, checking the mail, taking the trash out, etc. Something about chores makes me want to accomplish them totally alone.

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Semester's done. Papers are all handed in, classes are all attended, professors are all thanked, readings are all clapped at. I feel anticlimaxed. I was not much stressed at the end, there, but many of the people around me were, so I got stressed by proxy.

Is it dumb that I can't wait for the fall? I'm looking forward to getting some stuff in my personal life back on track this summer, and reading for fun, of course, but there's so much to be excited about come September. The aforementioned people around me who were stressed, I imagine they don't feel this way.

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No writing news right now. If inclined, this week I'll do up an essay I've been considering for a while. No significant fiction ideas at the moment. I have a thematic idea, but no realistic skeleton to hang it on, and I'm not sure I'm wise enough to write it yet anyway.

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In March I bought a five-year diary, a little book with a few lines of space for each day of your life, five sets of lines on every page. There's room for little more than impressions, or recordations, or maybe one thoughtful thing. I have tremendously enjoyed keeping it. I don't go back and read it, like I do most of my diaristic writings, but I'll be interested to see what happens when I'm a year in, and I'm reading, you know, this day one year ago.

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I am a thorough failure at budgeting. Most recent purchase:



I MEAN. YOU TRY TO RESIST THAT. I needed a backpack anyway (sort of).

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I'm still planning to write an AWP summary post, I swear. The topic feels dated, so I keep deciding to write a post about the current stuff instead, and then it feels even more dated the next time. But it will happen.

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Last weekend I spent a not insignificant amount of time in my big pillow napping and reading intermittently. I'm trying to feel guilty about this indulgence, but I can't. It was bliss. And now I have a bunch of catching up to do.