Thursday, March 24, 2016

My New Necklace

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Bedlam Is Dreaming of Rain

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, March 8, 2016


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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

Thursday, March 3, 2016

Bits and Bobs

--Read this. It's a lovely shortcut through common/rookie mistakes people make with submissions.

--I want to see Hamilton so badly that I may have half-convinced Matt to buy season tickets at the Pantages. I have virtually no interest in the other six shows of the season.

--I know I said I needed to rewrite a great deal of the secret project, but I had no stamina to do so until someone else read it. I gave it to Matt, and he read it last night. He got slightly misty at the end, and said nicer things about it than about anything else I've written. I think that might matter more to me than whether anyone else likes it.

It topped out at 17,000 words. That is not a book; that is not even really a novella. It's a long short story. But it goes through so much territory that it still feels to me like a book when I think of it. I don't know whether I will rewrite enough to make it longer (I had hoped for 30-40,000 words, novella territory), but the only reason I hope it will get that long is not to be laughed at when I present it as something that should be in its own binding, rather than stuck in with other stories. That's a dumb reason to compromise the project, a mercantile reason. So it might stay where it is. Matt gave me one (very good) suggestion for revision, but otherwise he didn't seem to think it needed radical effort.

Despite my New Year's resolution to present some of the project in a class, it's not going to work out for this semester, just for practical reasons like word count and consistency and whatnot. A professor offered to read it for me when I went to see him in office hours. I was flattered (and a little dizzy), but it's not ready for that yet. I'm not sure I'm ready for that yet.

--And I was pushed by the aforementioned professor into committing to an incredibly frightening story by the end of the spring. Like the Kathy Ireland thing I wrote last winter, it is weird, but unlike the Kathy Ireland thing, it has political dimensions that make me nervous as fuck.

--I started a new polyphonic story that is going in unexpected directions. It's kind of hostile. I hope it works out. And quickly; it needs to be ready by the 15th.

--Going back to "nervous as fuck", I sent out a highly personal story to a goal magazine after my friend Katie gave it (the story) a glowing review. For the first time ever, I'm in this position of half hoping they'll want it and half hoping they'll turn it down. I want to get it in the world, but I'm slightly horrified that it could be in the world.

--My friend Kathleen is involved in a wonderful illustration project (as she always is). Check out this campaign, after which her pictures will go into what looks like a great, fun, needed comics anthology for kids. And here is my favorite thing she's made recently:

I love the way she here communicates dialogue without writing dialogue. Plus, there's a bit of Reepicheep in there, who seems to come up exactly as often as I'd like him to in her work (namely, all the time). I think that's probably Puss in Boots, but I prefer to think it could be Reepicheep, with an odd furry tail. It's the stylishness with which his hat was clearly swept off moments earlier.