Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Disorganization Is Not Sexy

I have got to get my job under control.

"Job" and "life" feel pretty interchangeable at this point, but of course they're not. I can lean on others for help with my life. Last night I called my husband from an event in Santa Monica and asked him to make dinner, so I and my guest would be able to eat almost as soon as we got home, and although I felt bad because there was the briefest pause and I knew he'd been at work all day and I was asking him to work some more and he was clearly not really up for it, he did it, because we are married and that's what the spouse does, they help, even when they don't really want to. But for my job I'm stuck with me. Matt can't review books for me, he can't follow up on pitches for me, and he can't apply for awards and grants for me (regrettably).

I had a houseguest for the past several days who has been doing full-time creative freelancing for a lot longer than I have. She is also naturally more organized than I am. She gave me a whole lot of ideas and pointers, some of which I'm going to implement right away (divide work into three categories) and some of which won't adapt to me (visual project planning) (she is an artist, and I can't draw a decent freehand rectangle). While she was here, we visited a heavenly stationery store in Highland Park, and I bought a huge, beautiful project planner, with all kinds of room for whatever I need to keep track of. I haven't figured out exactly how I'm going to use it yet, and I don't want to muck it up with false starts.

In the meantime I'm going back to my old Panda Planner, which I loved for several months, but which doesn't have enough room in its monthly calendar for my purposes. My deadlines are based in months rather than weeks or days (something I learned along the way), and I need the space to plot them out, which little monthly squares don't give me. Since my next three weeks are going to be tightly plotted, though, I'm going to use the Panda unconventionally to set things in order.

The first dramatic step I've taken is to archive everything in my email box before January 1 of 2018. I am a keeper, not a thrower-awayer, so I had 4,000 emails in one mailbox and 5,000 in another. Now that's down to under 1,000 each. I'd like to take it down further, archiving & deleting everything unnecessary, so I can do the "inbox zero" practice that thrower-awayers generally do. The follow-ups are too time-consuming at the moment, and could be much better if I could get a system going.

Yes, I did this to myself. No, I'm not complaining. Not really. I told an editor the other day that I'm running around with my hair on fire, and that's true, but complaining? I love my work. I love my life. I wish there were a bit less of it, is all.

In this week's big news, I will have a review in the Times Literary Supplement this week, and I bought this novelty pillow:

I'll leave it to you to decide which is more impressive.

Out in the world (it's been a minute since I did this):

I extracted a piece of my thesis-project memoir, named it "Boundin'", and reworked it (with editorial help) for Nailed. If you haven't known me for long, or if you happen to have a grumpy opinion about my financial privilege or emotional stability, I recommend you read it. My life was not always so.

I interviewed Carlos Lozada of the Washington Post for sinkhole. We talked through an intermediary, so I didn't get a sense of his personality via email like I usually do, but via his answers he seems like a good, smart, friendly guy.

I interviewed Litsa Dremousis for Books I Hate. She, on the other hand, demonstrated a wealth of personality, and I enjoyed every minute of it.

I reviewed a book of short stories from Bolivia, Sleeping Dragons by Magela Baudoin, for Cleaver. I liked the book. Very economic prose.

I reviewed Sybil Baker's novel While You Were Gone for the Heavy Feather Review. Both Sybil's team and HVR were great to work with and I hope to do so again.

I reviewed The Rending and the Nest by Kaethe Schwehn, a beautiful book, for Locus. This came out in print in the...August? issue, I think, and is just now on the website. It's accompanied by a bitchy little take on a book I really disliked, Moon Brow, by Shahriar Mandanipour.

More to come, including Rain Taxi and, oh, did I mention the TLS?

Friday, October 19, 2018

Close Reading

This week, a piece I wrote appeared in the Establishment. I'm so proud and happy, because that means:

Two to go. 

I've been wanting to write this essay, in one form or another, for years. I hate the book Stoner. Bottomlessly. I hate it for its mediocrity, for its use of the tired cycle of noncommunication --> bad relationships (which is constantly mined for comedy and tragedy alike), and for its prejudices, which are evidently invisible to readers who want to love characters who love literature. I was grateful for the opportunity to disseminate my annoyance to a wider audience.

But I want to reiterate that I got no complaint with the execution of the biography. I'm sorry to be casting shade on a decent biographer.

The original version of the essay I handed in was much longer than what was published. I wrote some paragraphs of evidence-gathering from the biography and close reading of the novel, which I include below for your amusement, in case you're a literary nerd like me. I wanted the opportunity to prove that Williams is a mediocre writer at greater length than I had to play with in the published version. They're essentially out of context, but if you've read the essay, you can follow along.

One sentence that I wish my editor hadn't advised me to cut, which is not part of the close reading, but is a more general critique on white male criticism: "Perhaps if I didn’t read every book with the underlying question of do I exist in this narrative?, I wouldn’t notice the substandard roles women tend to play, either." That's the question under everything I read, and it's a profoundly important question at this cultural moment - not just for me, a white woman, but for anyone who's not a cis straight white male.

There's more news from me, but it can wait till next week. Enjoy!


Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Never Yell Help Unless You Really Need Help

The past handful of days has been kind of bonkers and I am not handling it well. I'm behind on almost everything: reviews, interviews, reading, pitching, volunteering, editing, applications, my personal life. The only thing I'm up-to-date on is publicity via social media. Which probably isn't a good thing.

Here is the news:
  • sinkhole, in their generosity, has put me on their masthead as contributing books editor. I wrote a special bio just for them.
  • I found out that my name and review are quoted in the paperback for Red Clocks.
  • My piece on Medium has racked up 20,000 views.
  • I wrote an op-ed of sorts about the Stephen Elliott situation, and it got me a flurry of messages and shares and conversation. This is the first time I've been in the vanguard of thinkpieces about a cultural issue instead of tagging along behind.
  • My friend Ryan mentioned me in his podcast, the Coolness Chronicles.
  • A close family member has been impacted by Hurricane Michael and I am worried. 
Here is the further explication of that news:

Thursday, October 11, 2018

Week On

I'm gradually learning that I do best at this freelancing thing when I work week-on, week-off. Like, last week I wrote one or two reviews every day, knocking out a massive pile of assigned galleys. But this week I can't bring myself to write anything, and I'm reading, sleeping, and tending to other responsibilities instead. This schedule seems unworkable in a field where deadlines don't happen on a biweekly basis, but my brain gets quite mulish if I push it. And there are professions that run week-on, week-off, so it's not unheard of.

It would be nice if my brain was more cooperative. I'm reminded of when I started teaching yoga, and I figured out that a profession which relies almost entirely upon the consistency and strength of one's body, which is a changeable, inconsistent actor even when one is young, is a taxing, stressful profession. It's a different thing than a profession which requires your body to be present; you can come to work at an office job with a twingey knee and virtually nothing will be different. As a yoga teacher with a twingey knee, everything is different. This goes for athletes, too, and dancers, and people who otherwise employ their bodies for 90-100% of the work of their profession. You live in your primary workplace all the time, and the livelihood that your body represents gives you a strange relationship with the flesh you inhabit.

Now that I'm in a profession that uses my brain as entirely as teaching yoga used my body - a profession where I can't go to work and pretend to be interested for half the day but am really just marking time, where I have to truly think for every minute of the time I'm doing my job - I feel similarly stressed and taxed, and hadn't acknowledged it until, well, right now.

I think that's why a schedule is shaking out, almost involuntarily, where I'm doing that 90-100% thinking work only half the time I'm alive. Otherwise, I might collapse. Perhaps saying that my brain is uncooperative is wrong; its resistance could be keeping me from becoming a pile of unthinking goo.

All that said, this has been a pretty interesting week for me as a writer. Two reviews on which I worked unusually hard went live, along with a few other less labor-intensive pieces. An article I previously wrote as a blog post was featured on Medium, and the soil it turned over had all kinds of horrible creatures living in it. If you're not a member of Medium, I think you may not be able to see the comments left on the piece by members? Or something? Trust me, though - it isn't fun. (For a sample, see the comment on my previous blog post.) The negative feedback characterizes me as everything from "misandrist" to "borderline psychotic." One guy tried to convince me that I needed to see my own teenage experience in terms of the feelings of the boy I was with. Mmhmm. The positive feedback was nice to hear, though.

As for the hard-work reviews:

I wrote a review of Tana French's latest novel, The Witch Elm. I used the review as an occasion to write about a cultural/feminist theory I named the Lucky Loop. I made three charts to accompany the article. The Mantle ran two of them, and this is the third:

French's novel illuminates all the issues I pulled out in this piece, so it's not so much me coming up with these ideas as packaging them, but I'm proud of doing that, anyway. The charts were surprisingly fun to make.

I'm a Tana French superfan, so the argument exists that I might have spent the entire last year working insanely hard to build a portfolio as a book reviewer just so I could get her book earlier than its release date, for free. I can neither confirm nor deny this argument.

I also wrote a detailed review of Shelley Jackson's first novel in years, Riddance, the subtitle of which is The Sybil Joines Vocational School for Ghost Speakers and Hearing-Mouth Children. The rest of the book is as elaborate as the subtitle. Opinions have varied widely on it; Publishers Weekly starred it, while Kirkus called it tedious. I loved the book, but I predict a lot of people will buy it because it sounds cool and then will never finish it.

Otherwise out in the world:

I reviewed a remarkable anthology, So Many Islands, for sinkhole. I doubt I ever would have read a sentence of writing from most of these people if not for this anthology, and some of the island nations from which the writers hail I'd never heard of. If you're a traveler and/or you like anthologies, pick this one up; it's good.

I did a kind of book profile, including some quotes from the author, of Barbara Barrow's The Quelling for an interesting website called the Inquisitive Mind, or In-Mind, run by a very nice pair of PhDs. I found it via Googling magazines similar to Psychology Today (PT did not respond to my pitch). I thought that profiling the book for an audience interested in psychology would do better for the book than a regular review. It was an extremely readable book with wild conflicts, and I'm watching the author with interest.

And I wrote a regular review of Donald Quist's first story collection, For Other Ghosts, for the Arts Fuse. This is the third-to-last story collection I plan to review for quite a while. It was very good! I'm just not the right reviewer for short stories.

Thursday, October 4, 2018

Natural Causes

There's a dead fly on my monitor stand. It's been there for weeks. I think I haven't moved it out of some morbid urge, well-buried in most circumstances, to be aware of dead things, of the brevity of life - particularly for a fly, which lives a few days at best.

Despite this dead fly I can't bring myself to remove, I don't like taxidermied animals. I went in a shop once that was full of desiccated lizards, pinned insects, frozen furred creatures. I don't know how this shop was categorized in the retail world, because the only thing that bound all of its wares was death. A friend came with me. She is an artist and I think that she was not squeamish because she saw so many of the things in there as useful references.

I was squeamish. I saw life, flattened out and lost for butterfly after butterfly. The furs hanging on the wall once quivered above warm flesh. I did not like being in there. Uneasiness hovered like a greasy wad of dark matter in my gut.

We project peace onto our dead, when, most probably, what is there is nothing. Does a fly have a soul to be at peace? It's a husk, there on my stand, a carapace, decaying dryly. A cheap life, I think, but it meets the scientific definition of life. And who's to say that life genuinely lies along a spectrum of value? Flies are better at flying than humans are, even if we're better at thinking. Probably.

Maybe the fly reminds me that my existence is small, too, and I ought to write faster. Maybe I'm vaguely worried that if I try to remove it the fly will disintegrate and bits of it will get caught in the wire mesh of my monitor stand. Then there will be a mess, when at present there is an assembled carapace. (The fly must have died of natural causes, because I did not kill it.)

Or maybe I'm a very lazy housekeeper and I'm coming up with high-minded reasons why my attention drifts to this dead fly when I'm sitting at my desk, writing, and the real reason is that the time is long past for me to slide it onto a piece of paper and drop it into the trash, and it embarrasses me that I haven't done this yet.

I don't know.

by Karl Addison

Out in the world:

I worked extremely hard on a review for LARB of Sjón's three-novel trilogy CoDex 1962. It was not an easy book to review, given the wide differences between the literary tradition I understand and the one Sjón is working from; in addition, there was just...a lot going on with the book. I was profoundly uncomfortable saying even the mildest bad things about it, because it's been so revered across the world. But my editor supported me, and it's important to me to speak as I find, as a critic. If I don't, I oughtn't be a critic.

[Sidebar: this book + Stormwarning has engendered for me a strange little specialty in criticism of Icelandic literature. I have two more Icelandic books on my desk for review, and I've requested one more. A happy, if unexpected, development.]

I reviewed Amy Pence's hybrid poetry collection [It] Incandescent for the Bind, an outlet that's quietly doing terrific and unusual work. The review I wrote is itself a hybrid piece, and I'm very satisfied with it. I liked Pence's work so much that I also interviewed her for Books I Hate.

Bits and pieces of my interview with Alice Hatcher didn't make it into the final version, but I still wanted to get them out there, so I posted them on Medium as "outtakes."

One bit of ego inflation I want to share. Last week I was browsing the internet for information on when the third installment of the Encircling trilogy would finally come out in English, and I discovered that, when you click on the second book's page at Graywolf, my words, from my review, are blasted above the book's summary in huge letters. My heart flipped over when I saw that.

There's good stuff coming in October; I've filed seven reviews in the past couple of weeks, so once those get through editing they'll start rolling out. Also, a piece for the Establishment is coming soon, and it has outtakes I'll probably post here. I'm incredibly excited about that one. I hope you'll like it, too.