Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Twos and Twos and Twos

I try so hard to be publicly apolitical. Because of my family, the long and bumpy journey I've had toward the values I hold now, the huge variation in how other people's values are formed, the many places and socioeconomic circumstances I've lived in and the different kinds of people I've known. I'm a strident feminist, but I'm not a strident liberal or a strident conservative, and I never have been, and I have no interest in it. I'm too invested in how other people see the world for that.

I put this on Facebook last night at 10:40, after it looked like Hillary wasn't going to win Pennsylvania. A friend asked me to put it in a shareable form. I hope it brings you comfort.

--

Listen. Shh, shh. I know. Listen, my love.

That sound is the crack of a mighty heart. A nation that does not know itself: an intelligentsia too hypnotized by the lightshow inside its own skull to know what lies beyond, in the great outdoors; a proletariat too lost and desperate to know anything but its own wailing - that things used to be different.

Things used to be better.

Things used to be united.

No. Never true.

We are born by dividing ourselves, infinitely, cell by cell into zygote and fetus and infant. We come to be in twos and twos.

We do not unite by agreeing with each other, or by fooling ourselves that we agree with each other by listening to echoes. That is Narcissus starving by the pool. We unite by hearing each other, reaching out to each other. We hold hands across the void. We speak and listen and that way, we walk on. We die alone, but we walk together, always. Why, tonight, do we choose to weep and walk alone?

Any mother of more than one child does not care who started it. She wants to see her children embrace, not claw at each other for victory.

These words might taste bitter to you now. But how did we get here? We divided, we strutted, we cliqued up. The people who have left Westboro have left because of patient talkers on the other side of the aisle, not because they were ignored or shouted at.

This is an ache you are hearing. It is a howl from the heart of this terrible, wonderful place. It is a demand for a hearing. Why such insistence? Did you ever wonder? What chamber has echoed to them, and to me, that we are all so ashen at the proof of this howl?

The willfully deaf cannot empathize even with shouters.

Listen. Shh. Listen.


Monday, October 31, 2016

Books! Books! and Additional Books!

This evening I did a little book-shifting in an attempt to force this apartment to make sense. (Yes, it's over a month since we moved in and no, I haven't finished emptying boxes and organizing and tidying. That's just how it is.) On the shelves in the second bedroom, the books pile two-deep and sideways, and yet there are empty shelves in the living room. So I moved all my Marilyn books and most of my film books to the shelf next to the TV (get it? *finger-gun click*). And now the shelves in the bedroom groan a little less.

Click to embiggen if you're nosy like me. The Marilyn books are mostly in shadow, which is not terribly helpful for the purposes of this anecdote, but getting a decent picture would mean moving the lamp, and eh all over that.

At first I couldn't find the smaller Marilyn books, the paperbacks, and as I was scanning the shelves in the second bedroom, awareness of all of the books on the shelves that I've read - most of them - flooded in, overwhelming me. The plots of them, or the stories, or the arguments, or the characters. And memories of where I got them all: which ones were gifts, which ones were finds on used bookstore shelves, which ones I stupidly bought full-price in hardback because I was just that obsessed with Sookie Stackhouse. I read that and that and that. Oh, and that. Oh, man, Matheson was such a better writer than I imagined he could be. Ooh, I was in no way ready for radical feminism when I bought that Sadie Plant book.

Pictured: A shelf that makes no sense yet, because I haven't organized the bookshelves throughout the apartment like I organized the one above, and no, that's not driving me crazy at all. But this was one of the shelves in view during my little epiphany. 

This sensation - an awareness of the sheer wealth inside those covers and hence inside my head - ran counter to what I usually think and feel when I look at a shelf of books. Namely: the nag of my own mortality. The intolerable truth that I will not be able to read them all; that I will not live long enough for that; that no human lifespan is that long. But seeing what I've already consumed, appreciating the heft of it, knocked me back a little. Maybe I haven't read all I want to, but I have read many, many books. And perhaps, for just a moment, I can be satisfied.

I've read all of these, except for the big gray book, which is The Best American Short Stories of the Century, which is really more of a reference book. And it elevated my monitor very nicely for a while there. 

Books have seen me through so many years. The books in the bedroom, in particular, but books in general. I don't know how people pass through a life without reading passionately and addictively. I honestly do not know.

The To Be Read shelf. I arranged a bookcase near the kitchen largely for this purpose. 
And finally, an acquisition at the Iliad today. I'm not sure I have a sincere intention of reading this, but I couldn't resist.
Could you? 

Thursday, October 13, 2016

35 Bullet Points for a Fulfilling Life

Today I am 35 years old. In celebration, I'm going to Catalina and going without my cell phone or the internet for the day.

I also assembled a list of 35 things I've learned / ways of life that I recommend investing in. At first I thought it would be hard to come up with 35 of them, but in fact it was not. I actually came up with 36. I hope you find them useful, whether you're older, younger, wiser, or more naive than I am. And I hope you have a wonderful next trip around the sun. I'm planning to enjoy mine, because most of it will not be in 2016, which for so many has been hilariously bad.

FOREMOST: Life is choices, my dear. Quoted directly from Ann Landers's daughter Margo. This applies to just about every situation. You always have a choice, as a human being, even if both sides of it are bad (i.e. die or give in to the Emperor). You are responsible for what you choose. I think of this approximately eighty times per day. Everything else is secondary, which is why there are 35 additional lessons, because a) I cheated and b) I couldn't bear to make this lesson just one of 35.

The rest are in no particular order. Here's something to listen to while you read:



Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Real Question: Is Workshop Always Stupid?

Yesterday I had the good fortune to need this article as a reference to a friend who was asking my opinion of MFA programs. Give that article a read if you haven't read it, or even if you haven't read it in a while. I'll wait.

Back? Okay. I love that article. Four years later, I still think of it a few times a month. For a variety of reasons.

1) What the writer reveals about herself. At the time the article was new, the Observer blog said more or less what I have to say about what the writer reveals about herself in the course of the article. But it was said much more unkindly than I would have said it. Some of what the writer revealed was deliberate, but a whole lot of it was not. In brief: you're not over it, girlfriend.

Pictured: Joshua Ferris with workshoppee

2) The nature of the MFA. Evidently, the MFA is not just two years of protected time and space for writing. It's also a hotbed of drinking and sex and gossip and petty power struggles. Yulgh. There are other ways to do it, of course - namely, the way Ferris evidently did it.

...he was a man obsessed. While the rest of us were screwing around with our crushes and debating whether or not to use our middle initial when published, he was writing. I mean really writing, all the time, sometimes a rumored fourteen hours a day.
The connection between Ferris staying away from happy hours and Ferris landing a huge book deal with his first novel seems to have been lost on the writer. She notes that "[h]e cared more about his own writing than he did about me - than any of us, really - and wanted only to achieve his goal of becoming a successful writer" but she doesn't seem to realize that's why he achieved the goal. Not because he was a blessed golden boy all along, but because he wrote while everyone else was playing Spin the Bottle. Instead of crying in and about workshop, he fucking worked.

3) Workshop is stupid. Either Ferris didn't articulate it very well, or the writer couldn't see far enough past her own experience to understand, but workshop is pointless if your writing is better than your peers' and this article presents that plainly.
“Well, she needs the criticism,” Josh said earnestly. “I’d love that kind of a workshop. I’d welcome that kind of feedback.” 
This from the golden boy whose stories had been universally praised, lauded even, who’d never had one negative thing said about his writing.
Yeah! Which means he never had a chance to grow as a writer in the workshop environment! He hasn't gotten the help that being eviscerated in workshop actually is. That's what he meant when he said he'd love it. He wants to grow

However, the writer is simultaneously too sensitive and too thick to appreciate evisceration. She takes it personally and argues back. (This is not a good strategy.) But she also fails to comprehend that it's all to the betterment of her writing, and that she needs to be as hard on her work as the eviscerators her creative writing professors and peers are. 


To recap: workshop is not helping Ferris, who is too advanced for the class to be able to tear him up, and workshop is not helping the writer, who is too immature to use what she's given. So who is workshop helping? 

[cricket] 
[cricket] 

4) School is school, not the world. 
As we left the workshop, a friend said, “You were totally vindicated. Totally.” 
“Yep,” I said - and then it was over. The moment and then graduate school. It would be years before I realized that almost none of it, at least what had happened in workshop, mattered at all.
Indeed. What matters is whether you can get in your chair and do the work. Which Ferris did. 

4a) The MFA is maybe sort of terrible. Not just because of #2, or because it's full of workshops and see #3, but because:
Maybe the first workshop, when you all don’t know one another so well, but then you hang out, you drink, you make out, you realize you are competing with one another for the prize of attention and praise and connections and publication, you have inappropriate crushes on people who are not available but act like they are, and yes, hello, all of that taints your views of other people’s work.
Let's unpack. a) Hanging out, drinking, making out, and inappropriate crushes are pretty dumb reasons to spend two years in graduate school. You're wasting resources: professors' time, writers' time, your time; universities' money, your money; your liver, your talent, your lovesick heart. b) Competition for attention is an alluring race, but running that race over and over is not a mature way to move through the world. Grow up. c) Connections and publication, on the other hand, are limited and practical resources, but if you really think that shouldering other people aside and brown-nosing for access to them will not be seen through like a window by the people with the connections, you are an idiot. Write well. "Write so blazingly good that you can't be framed."

And most importantly d) don't buy in to the social bullshit and you won't get bias in the way people workshop you. If they come at you with bias anyway, that's not helpful feedback, and the person is a crummy workshopper with bad karma if they let personal bias shape discussion of the work.

This whole paragraph comes out of immaturity. If this is the environment of an MFA program as well-regarded as Irvine's, why the hell would I want to get an MFA?

5) Yes, there's a difference between men writing and women writing. Or, there's a difference between decent people and relentless people. Or both. 
What was I doing during this time? Cocktailing. Vaguely writing, working on a story collection that would go absolutely nowhere.  Taking care of my sister during her bout with cancer. 
Time shunted from writing into caring for her sister: I seriously doubt that Ferris, or Updike or Steinbeck or Pound, would remove himself from his career in letters in order to care for a family member who needed him. But then, I doubt that Rebecca West or Katherine Mansfield would have, either. Maybe this is one of those cases of gender tendencies making the situation look sexist and unfair, while the non-gendered differences between kinds of people lessen the reality of that sexism and unfairness a little bit. Because "vaguely writing" is not the way Ferris was writing in grad school. And it wasn't the way Karen Russell wrote in grad school, either, I'd bet. And if you can't do better than write vaguely in grad school, you won't be able to do it out in the world, either. That I know for sure.

6) To sum up: write without regard to others if you actually want to be a writer. Don't invest much in workshop, one way or the other. Don't waste energy hating people who don't notice you because they're living their lives. And behave well enough to your fellows in grad school that they won't write bitchy articles about you later.


Thursday, September 15, 2016

In Which I Fail to Slay (But Do Get Home)

I don't know where else to put this.

Last night I went to see Beyoncé at Dodger Stadium. The night divides into two parts: the actual concert, and the complete disaster I encountered in trying to get home.

Concert:

From where I sat, Beyoncé was about three inches tall, but even at that distance, I could feel the force of her charisma. She is a queen. We all knew that, but it was still remarkable to feel her power unroll toward me. The concert was this odd, careful mix of giving herself to fun and strength and artistry on stage + a stage show crafted and calculated to give you goosebumps, predictably, every 90 seconds or so.

She used her hair like an aspect of her costume. She sang as beautifully as anyone ever has. She has the best smile since Marilyn Monroe.

But MAN. There were 50,000 people in that stadium, and almost all of them sang along with every word for two full hours. It couldn't drown her out, nothing could, but the audience was 80% of what I heard. The acoustics sucked, because it's a ballpark and not the Hollywood Bowl. And all the surrounding business of going to a show of this magnitude turned me off so badly that I don't think I'll ever go to another one.

She only sang about half the words of a given song, letting the audience sing the rest. Instead of feeling like a cheat, this felt to me like it was tied up with her performance persona: the whole show seemed like a continuous give and take of energy. She was giving us all she had, but she was getting all that back from us at the same time. We were each doing our half to make the show be spectacular. It was like kung fu: the transfer of energy to your opponent with least trouble and injury to yourself.

The materialism was outrageous. T-shirts were $45 apiece. I didn't plan (in terms of outfit) for the stadium to be as cold as it was, so I ended up buying a sweatshirt...for $85. Outrageous.

She also sang weirdly abbreviated versions of all the songs. I don't think she sang a single song all the way through; instead it was like verse-chorus-chorus-next song. Like a medley that moved through most of her A catalog. Breaks in between medleys for costume changes, like six or ten of them, an unnecessary number of costume changes.

Can you see actual-size Beyoncé? Her hair is a white blob, and she's kind of to the right of what look like three stairs.

Some of the numbers were stunning. She used a shallow stage full of water for "Freedom", and it was way beyond any concert I've ever seen in terms of innovation and impact. But on balance, going to a concert like this showed me that I don't really need to go to concerts like this, that I'll do better listening to records and watching official footage on YouTube.

Disaster:

Saturday, August 27, 2016

A Peek Back Through the Salt Water

I just got home from a session in a sensory deprivation tank. For those of you who've never seen that one episode of The Simpsons, it's a tank filled with salt water in which you lie there and float in total darkness and silence until someone comes and gets you out.

I got home and I immediately wanted to come here and write a post. And it's not just because I seem to have taken August off from this blog, totally without intending to, and I miss writing here. It's also because, although this sensory deprivation session did not do the things I expected it to (give me cool hallucinations, allow me to drift into a semiconscious state, open up my chakras, make my brain shut up for 60 short minutes), something it did do was help me to look back. I've spent most of this summer looking forward, particularly as it's been closing up in spectacular fashion, like a fireworks show after a mediocre baseball game. I've needed to focus energy on planning and looking forward and have not spent a lot of time examining what's passed through my mind and body of late.

As soon as I started looking back, I felt the need to record the ride I've been on in the last three months. So here we go.

June:

--The Little Mermaid live at the Hollywood Bowl. Jodi Benson singing "A Part of Your World". Rebel Wilson being amazing. Susan Egan live. Etc.

--Friend home from a year of graduate school in England.

--First session for Tom Servo tattoo. Three hours.

--The Amazing Kathleen in town and on my couch. Meals at Ink and Yamashiro and In-n-Out. Visits to LACMA and the Museum of Jurassic Technology. It was so fucking hot that weekend that we couldn't hike or go to the Huntington, but I made her promise to come back so we could do outside things.

--Aimee Bender and Brian Evenson reading at Book Soup in downtown.

--Dental appointments: 2

July:

--First writing workshop led by me.

--Lidia Yuknavitch and Cynthia Bond reading at Chevalier's in Hollywood.

--Co-worker's sort-of baby shower, which I sort-of helped plan.

--The Killing Joke in the theater.

--Second Tom Servo session. I think another 2.5 hours.

--Weird Al live at the Hollywood Bowl. Matt's birthday.

--Dental appointments: 4

August:

--Sufjan Stevens live at the Hollywood Bowl.

--Star Wars Marathon at the Ace Hotel.

--Laid-back live music party in Santa Clarita.

--Sign lease for new apartment.

--Buy new car.

--Try sensory deprivation tank.

--Start second year of graduate school.

--Dental appointments: 4

Also this summer:

--Got multiple responses on the secret project, leading to all the feels

--Got news about a writing fellowship I didn't get, but I did get put on the alternate list for, which I choose to see as good news (more on this in another post, possibly)

--Got a book review published, first time ever

--Got an acceptance for a fall issue of a litmag, more news on that soon, I hope

--Got two? three? rejections, still patiently waiting for responses on a few others that matter a lot to me and the wait's driving me crazy on the days I allow myself to remember it

--Got raise, plethora of new responsibilities at work

--Hired three new people at work (one of them not my responsibility at all, the other two hired personally)

--Coped with Matt working 80+ hours/week for most of the summer; have not yet been buried alive under books and undone dishes

--Read 23 books, give or take a few

--Two doctor's appointments

--And a partridge in a pear tree

SHARE IF YOU GET IT!!!!!!

None of this is intended to show off, because Lord knows I don't understand how I went to the Hollywood Bowl three times this summer if I did not somehow trade lives with someone richer. Some of the perks (car, deposit for bigger apartment, new teeth) derive from Matt's insane work schedule, and what we materially gain from it, but honestly I'd rather have my husband around than have him make more money.

Also, I know people who would look at this list and go yaaaaawn, because they are busy like this all the time, seeing concerts and traveling and Doing Things on the regular. That is not me. The list above represents 200% more concerts than I generally go to in a season, and a great deal more time in the dentist's chair than I like to spend in a given decade.

In looking back, I see a worthwhile, busy, challenging, fascinating, transitional summer. And I see I ought to be proud that my health has not declined while doing so much. Other things have slid (mostly housekeeping), but I am still getting almost enough sleep and I haven't been sick, mentally or physically.

I have a post on brew, but not on tap yet, and I hope I get to it before the end of next week. I'm going off-grid for Labor Day, on the same writing/yoga retreat I did last year. It's going to be pretty splendid if my teeth don't get messed up again. I just hope nothing else happens between now and then. Enough has happened to me recently, I think. Enough.

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Big Questions Circulate

As I write this, it's Sunday afternoon, my favorite time to sit at home and watch stupid movies. Instead, I'm sitting in Panera eating a chicken salad sandwich with a knife and fork. Every now and then I move my right arm and wince.

I know how I got here, but the utter discomfort with which I inhabit my body is still way beyond the norm.

1. The fake acrylic teeth covering my own make it risky and extremely unpleasant to bite into anything. Everything gets cut into small pieces and shoveled into the way-back of my mouth. I've been eating a lot of soup and I think I'm becoming anemic.

2. I got my Tom Servo tattoo finished on Friday. The anesthetic goo I used beforehand didn't really work, and it felt like my skin was being flayed off by the end. I think I actually have bruising. This is not the fault of my artist, whom I love and who just wants to put beautiful work on me, but the pain has stayed fresh a bit longer than usual.



3. Our air conditioner broke on Saturday afternoon. It's been in the mid-nineties (Fahrenheit) for the last few days, and it easily gets that hot in our apartment even on less-hot days because of the way the sun falls on our roof. On Sunday I tried as hard as I could to cope with the climbing temperature, the increasing sensation of being in an oven, but when no one had come to fix it by 2 PM and it was actually ninety actual degrees in my apartment, I gave it up and fled to Panera. I was sleepy and hot and immobile at home (anemia? carbon monoxide? hysteria of the skin?), and I felt better once I'd been sitting in a civil temperature and had some smoothie and a sandwich in me. Even if I did have to eat the latter with a knife and fork.

4. The L.A. neighborhood where I live is the closest one in the city limits to Santa Clarita, where a massive brush fire has been raging uncontrollably for the past few days. The sky looked like this on Saturday:



(See the harsh bright-sun shadows on the building across from me? And the scary wrath-of-God sky at the same time? That's Los Angeles. It is the strangest place. I don't want to live anywhere else, though. That very night, Matt and I went to the Hollywood Bowl to see Weird Al as a birthday gift to him. It was very, very hot, but I always have so much fun at the Bowl, even in crappy seats. Outdoors is the best place to hear music.)

The point is, the proximity of this brush fire makes me more uncomfortable than the usual fire-season hubbub. It troubles me. I have friends who are displaced and worried about their cats.

I just cut my pickle in four pieces before I could eat it.

It is a weird time.

Maybe all this weirdness in my body explains why I have, more often than usual, been having The Snap-Back Sensation here and there throughout my days. Do you have this? A moment of consciousness where you suddenly feel all the intensity of being alive in the world, the tug of gravity on your bones, the friction of clothing and air molecules on your skin, the genuine oddness of inhabiting a vessel made of meat? It's like someone has metaphysically slapped you upside the head to get you to stop your hysterics, and whammo, you are ALIVE. All these big questions circulate in your head, which can be disorienting if you're in the middle of doing something else. What even is consciousness? Is consciousness distinct from the soul? Who decided that sentience should live in this strange decaying thing enveloped by a flexible, delicate substance that no one can properly replicate as yet?

Why did our air conditioning break on one of the hottest weekends of the summer? Why does it take three weeks for a laboratory to fabricate my new veneers? Why was I blessed with a whole booth at Panera to myself when usually Matt and I are shoved into a table in the corner?

There's big weird stuff going on in the wider world, too, in case you haven't noticed. It's not my responsibility to think or write about those things too critically, but sheesh. Tragedy or farce or both, depending on your perspective and what lines on the map you live inside. I do not know what is up. I just want things to be normal again. Chicken Littledom is not my favorite place to live.

Some small news about writing: I got an acceptance, which per my usual policy I won't say much about yet, except yay. I'm trying to put together a collection based on a weird idea that continues to be fruitful despite itself, and if I had the wherewithal to sit down and be physically comfortable long enough to put words on the page, I think I could do it. I revised the secret project a little and sent it to another round of readers.

That's all for now. The fall semester approacheth. Maybe by then my body will feel a little more like my own.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Tooth Truths

Yesterday I sat in a dentist's chair for two hours while they chiseled off the plastic coverings on six of my teeth and the enamel on two more. I was floating on an echoing, delicious, acid jazz-filled cloud of nitrous oxide the whole time, so I couldn't have cared less. (I don't think I've ever had nitrous before. I would remember. The experience reminded me why I stay a strict distance away from drugs: because altered states are everything I want to be, and I would never stop if I ever started.) This is the second-to-last step in a journey that started when I was a very young girl, allergic to non-tooth-staining antibiotics, and continued through adolescence, when a different dentist chiseled off the stained enamel on my teeth with NO drugs involved (I still have vivid memories of the smell, the sound, the sensation), through estimates of how much it would cost to replace the decaying plastic that stood between my bones and everything I ate and drank and smiled at, through a patch job in Maryland, through worrying at my wedding that my unpretty teeth would be noticeable in pictures - and into mid-August, when porcelain with which I'll be buried will be affixed in eight places in my mouth.

That's a defamiliarization-ridden way of saying I'm getting my plastic veneers replaced with porcelain ones. Yesterday was the first session, where they stripped off the old stuff. I have a picture of what my teeth looked like under there, taken at my hazy request, but given the commonality of dental phobias, I'm not going to insert it here.

Instead, here's a guinea pig wearing a sombrero. 

I have so many thoughts and feelings about how this all went down and is going down that an essay about it is certain to come out of my fingers (and I think I just wrote a paragraph of that). You'd be surprised how much personal history is wrapped up with my teeth, how strong my opinions are about what I'm paying to have done to my smile. But for now I simply want to explain, to those who know me in real life, why I'm so grumpy today and why I'll be eating a lot of room-temperature soup and smoothies for the next couple of weeks.

The "temporaries" they gave me are really just an acrylic mouthguard that was melted onto my teeth. The hygenist compared it to Lee Press-On Nails, and the comparison is apt. It looks a little weird (especially up close) and feels awful. According to my dentist I can pretty much eat like normal, but doing so feels dreadful, so I'm going to stick with soft, swallowable-whole foods for as long as I can stand it.

That's all for today. Take a moment, whatever you're currently going through, and be grateful that your yesterday did not involve the procedure I had yesterday. I would not wish it on anyone.

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

How Did It Go?

Last Saturday, July 9, I taught my first writing workshop. By popular demand, this post will break down that experience.

In brief, it went well. I had four attendees, and all of them were friends of mine, although only two were friends of each other. My agenda ended up shorter than the allotted time, but I added something on the fly that I think was actually more popular and useful than the planned activities. Funnily enough, the only pre-anxiety I allowed in about the workshop was "what if I have too much time and not enough activities?" In reply to that anxiety, I said, well, I'll make something up and do better next time. Et voila, that is what happened. Way to knock out that anxiety, me.

At first I was disappointed that the attendees were all friends, that I had no friends-of-friends or total strangers who wanted to learn from me, but I realize that my name is not Elizabeth Gilbert. And if the publishing butter-churn has taught me nothing else, it's taught me that you have to build a platform in order to find success in these kinds of ancillary writerly activities. Ultimately it was probably better that everyone in the room walked in expecting to support me and have a good time rather than expecting to be impressed by me. (This cool thing happened, too: my friends found each other interesting. I watched it happen. I was so pleased by this, so personally gratified. It makes me look forward to big parties with a bunch of friends who don't know each other rather than dreading them.)

So many people gave me encouragement ahead of time. I felt like I had a little cheerleading squad. I'm not saying that to show off, but instead to express amazement and gratitude. I had no idea when I announced the workshop that so many people across the country would remember when and that I was doing it, and would drop me an email or a Facebook post to say good luck and woot woot. It was pretty fantastic.

In completely unrelated trivia, I own this movie. It's terrible and awesome. 

And a similar number of people have been asking me how it went. The most useful conversation I had about how it went was with my mother, who teaches when she's not revitalizing scholarship on early print technologies. She asked me how this workshop varied from teaching yoga. I told her that teaching yoga tired me out, because I felt like I was giving myself away, whereas this gave me energy because the attendees were offering me their ideas and effort. I felt like we were sharing in each other's creativity, and I was just guiding. Part of this might be influenced by the radically new-to-me pedagogy I saw in action last semester in Dr. Higgs's class, but hey, so much the better.

I felt like we were doing a group project, but I was in charge, telling everyone which way we were going and calling out the purpose of each exercise. Which, for me and my ego, is pretty much the ideal situation: we're all making something together, but I'm the boss. (It would be dishonest to ignore this unpalatable insight about myself.)

The other thing I told Mom was that it was a lot easier to tell when the attendees didn't like what I was doing with them than it was in a yoga class. In yoga, you have to read body language and interpret breathing sounds in order to determine if the students want to murder you for including standing split or asking for another vinyasa. In this situation, the tale is told by people's faces, or whether/how they are putting pen to paper, or how they greet your request to hear what they wrote. It was much more obvious how my ideas were greeted. Reading the general energy of the room was harder than with yoga, or my intuition on that is really rusty.

Seems legit

Mom asked me about the different levels of mastery in the room and how that made a difference when teaching either thing. I said that in a writing workshop I was able to direct a broader conversation about too-hard or too-simple or irrelevant concepts, while in an all-levels yoga class I'd go over to a beginning student and give individual help or direction. The different levels and approaches in the room were a little challenging for me to cope with in the writing workshop, but in a yoga class they can be physically dangerous to the student. Navigating the problem in these two contexts just seemed different rather than one being preferable.

In the end, two of the attendees cried, so I'd call that a successful writing workshop. I'm only sort of joking. Writing cuts deep. It's supposed to. I had so much fun that I want to do it again as soon as possible, but I don't know where I'm going to scrounge up more friends to come, so I think I'll wait until the fall. Anyone interested?

Friday, July 8, 2016

Cue the Berets and the Wine

A few weeks ago, I submitted the Kathy Ireland story to a market, and almost immediately I got an email back from one of the editors asking me whether I considered it fiction or nonfiction. I had no idea how to answer this question. The real answer is for us to sit around with wine, in our berets, and talk until someone has to go pay the babysitter. But that's stupid and pretentious and inefficient to tell an editor, someone who probably just wants to forward my submission to the appropriate slusher.

By wordcount, the Kathy Ireland story (let's shorten it to KIS) is nonfiction. Most of its 1,600 words consist of me narrating about film and my experience at an opera, and all of those parts are either true or my true opinions. Then there's about 500 words of fiction: two sections of me imagining the interior thoughts of Kathy and of Meryl Streep.

After I finished writing, I wasn't sure myself whether it was fiction or nonfiction. My tendency is to think that a shred of fiction, of the intentionally invented, paints the entire work with that hue of literary endeavor. You apply Photoshop to a picture, bang, it's Photoshopped; you can't be a little bit pregnant. On the other hand, the KIS is, really is, nonfiction, for the most part, in a way that's important to me. I strained to tell as much of the truth as I could in the KIS, in a way that was new to me when I wrote it last spring but which has become closer to a default mode as I've written more stories like it.

I still call it a story in my mind, because calling it an essay would be disingenuous and calling it "this weird thing I wrote" is not very professional. When I describe and/or submit it and similar stories, I've been calling them "hybrid essays", a pretty and approximate term that doesn't mean all that much outside of academia and a small cadre of writers like Maggie Nelson.

A growing part of me is simply uninterested in how work like this is categorized. I'm interested in what other people will say about it, but in an intellectual rather than a personal way (like, cue the berets and the wine, I got no babysitter to pay). I don't have much invested in the labels that gatekeepers will put on the KIS and work like it. I get the need for that kind of labeling, because I know firsthand that it's impossible to figure out where to find Maggie Nelson in a given bookstore. Such labels, failing all else, are a practical necessity. I'm fine with that, I comprehend that, I haven't a whisper of anarchy in my personality and you couldn't convince me that there should just be a single label of BOOKS under which everything is tossed alphabetically. Definitely not.

But how I think of myself as a writer just isn't involved in such a calculation. I always try to tell the truth, and whether that's a literal truth which has a set of, let's say, journalistic standards to which I need to hold myself, or a life-truth that is best communicated using situations and characters and ideas that I made up - more and more, now, it's all the same to me.

What I have to say seems to demand that I cross the streams. So be it. I read Nelson's Jane: A Murder last week, and it felt so much richer for combining poetry and nonfiction, much more so than a normal prose book about the same material would have been. That's something I could stand to hear about my work.



But it won't be said about the KIS anytime soon. It got rejected by the market that wanted to know what I considered it.

My reply said that by word count it was nonfiction, but it did have a little fiction in it. And I apologized for not being able to answer the question properly. The real answer is that I want the reader to consider the work herself and tell me what she thinks. What I think of my work is unsurprising; I live inside my head full-time and am reasonably aware of my opinions. What others think of my work is much more interesting to me.

In fact, I'm extremely curious to know where other writers and readers draw the line between fiction and nonfiction. Do you, too, have this idea that one stitch of fiction makes the whole hem fake? Do you think that essays which stretch the truth, like John D'Agata's famously do, should be named fiction instead?

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!)

--

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.

--

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.

--

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.

--

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.

--

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



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

--

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.

--

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.

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Fully Fused

Part of last weekend was spent like this:

click to embiggen

Oooh, panorama feature. This time really do click to embiggen,
the size of this is just silly and the carpet looks weird. 

I was at work on the scary story. Which turned out to be like 20% fiction. Everything else was personal essay, film criticism, and Southern wives' tales. Oops?

Something amazing happened in this story that I didn't know was happening until I cut it up. I had to cut it up because the sections weren't flowing into each other smoothly and I couldn't figure out what needed to go where until I could look at all the pieces together, instead of looking at them on the computer screen in the order I'd written them. So I cut them up and then I grouped them together by...category, I guess? I put the parts about Django Unchained together, and the parts about Gone with the Wind together, and the parts about my youth together, and the adult anecdotes together, and the fiction together, and the wives' tales together. When these sections were grouped, something became visually clear: I had written three sections of each category, and there were six categories.

That's the amazing part. I didn't know that I'd done that. I didn't do it on purpose, didn't think "oh, I need one more anecdote to make three" or "oh, I need one more category to make six" - no. I wrote it in a messy, disorganized fashion and it just came out in multiples of three.

As Matt said to me once, and as my brain has been saying back to me at appropriate moments ever since, humans like threes. And I know that I tend to arrange my writing in threes, on a variety of levels. But I had no idea that I'd be capable of doing it unconsciously.

It's kind of like that time I put a ticking clock in act three of a novel I was writing without even realizing it. But there's a crucial difference: that ticking clock thing was derived from a lifetime of movie training, and this threes thing is not. It derives not from external stimuli, from other storytellers explaining to my subconscious how stories are told, but instead from me, from the writing brain that tells stories the way I see fit to tell them.

I find this exciting. I find it humbling. I want to jump up and shout in jubilation and then lie down on the floor and cry with relief. Because - in case I haven't said this in a specific enough way, and if you haven't gotten the impression from this blog, if you've been reading it for a while - I think I've learned that artistic prowess grows in cycles rather than in a straight line.

At first, you create per instinct, and unless you're some kind of preternatural talent, your instincts are good and your toolbox sucks. Then you pick up some of what's in the toolbox, and you create per a mixture of your instincts and your tools. That's even worse, because the raw power of your instincts is blunted by the tools and the tools are employed awkwardly because you are new at using them. There's this long apprenticeship where the quality of those two elements twiddles up and down, and it's awkward, for you and for the people who read your work, because this is sincerely the best you can do but it's not terribly good.

You have breakthroughs, small and large ("suddenly", conflict, recursive sentences, organicness, scenes, the truth and trial and absolution of "omit needless words"), but you don't feel like you're moving forward. You feel like you're moving in circles. Because just when you think you've learned something, it's pointed out to you that you don't know that thing at all. You think you know how to write a sentence and then you read Edna O'Brien. You think you know from postmodernism and then you read Moby-Dick. You think you know how to do a fragmented, multi-perspective narrative on a single event and then you read Mary Gaitskill and you really, really want to crawl under the floor and die.

Repeat. For years.

And then you come out the other side of something, some cave-cum-tunnel where you've learned that you do not care about the rules of writing, or the toolbox you need to write, or the way Freytag insists that short stories always are. You begin to do the thing from muscle memory, and it feels as terrible and wonderful as it always did, and it feels about the same when it's finished  (="Yeah, I guess so") as it did somewhere in the middle when you learned to stop loving every word you put on the page. But people tell you it's different. People tell you it's good. They stop kindly being quiet and they start effusing, and their ideas to make it better seem good instead of irrelevant.

At this point, instinct and toolbox are fully fused, and they're a creature of their own. They constitute muscle memory. They're the hamster on a wheel that spins the engine of your work. You do the dreaming on one end and the transcribing on the other end, and you dialogue with the draft until it's what you meant it to be. But the instinct, the power of your voice and no one else's, plus the toolbox - that dual entity is the strongman that's going to lift your work out of mediocrity.

It goes around and around, still. The strongman needs constant training to lift heavier and heavier concepts. The hamster is not actually going anywhere, even if she runs long enough and fast enough to power the world. There's no Freytag in the actual process of writing, I don't think. You just keep finding the same problems and fixing them, finding problems and fixing them; this applies to everything from editing your sentences to coming up with something to write about in the first place. Circular, not linear.

The point of that whole tangent is to say that when I found those threes in the scary story after cutting it up, I realized that my instinct and my toolbox had formed a viable life form at last. I wrote the piece somewhat artlessly, without worrying about how it would be received or whether it was Freytagian or any of that. And yet the toolbox gave the piece rhythm and quality, while instinct gave it symmetry and imbued it with my particular voice and style.

The author, in Downward-Facing Line Edit 

It was very, very hard. Not the hardest thing I've written in terms of labor, but certainly the hardest emotionally. I kept having to stop writing and shake out my trembling hands. I ate less than usual. It was like being really hung over: that feeling of wanting to die just so it'll end, and knowing you have to wait it out, but having full awareness that the current sensation could not possibly be worse.

I don't know what happens now to this piece, because I'm hearing from readers that it's extraordinary but I am not comfortable sending it out. My professor's going to read it (as well as something I've been considering writing for three years, it's the final project for a class), and maybe he can give me some direction.

It feels good to have it out - empowering, both personally and professionally - but I'm also slightly at loose ends for what comes next. As I said last week, I have a few little projects on my plate, but nothing that's as intense, or as important to me, as this was.

There are always more cycles to come. More circular, asymptotic movement toward mastery.

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.