Sunday, April 14, 2019

An Honest Post

There's a lot going on in my writing world - perhaps too much for me to organize my thoughts into one place. I feel like I haven't written an honest post here in a really long time. As the number of people who pay attention to my work grows, I find I'm holding my tongue more and more. I didn't think I'd ever want to do that, but that's where I am. Here's some honesty, though not about everything I have to say.

I've now had the same conversation with my mentor three times: I tell him I'm feeling weird and stressed, and he tells me to stop reviewing books and focus on my essays & fiction. This last time, I ended up hunching in his office chair repeating "I'm gonna, though," in a small voice.

Yesterday, I found out I'm (maybe) up for an opportunity that would give me more visibility than ever before. It's book-crit-related. It's not The One I've Been Waiting For, but it's a big deal, and I think I want it.

Day before yesterday, it dawned on me that I could go about my next book in a different, more immediate way. But I'd have to have the time to commit to it.

Three weeks ago I went to AWP. It was great. I had good reason to be as nervous as I was, because my writing life & reputation were at stake in a more significant way than when I went three years ago. But it was fun. I did half or less of what I probably should've, but I met more than half of the people I wanted to meet. And I got to spend time with my non-bio sister, who doesn't live next door to me for reasons neither of us understands.

I came home for a day and then went to Iceland for the Iceland Writers Retreat. Without casting any aspersions whatsoever on the conference, its planners, its faculty, its attendees, or the nation of Iceland itself, I did not have a very good time. I shouldn't have done two conferences in a row, absolutely, but it was also just the wrong conference for me. I saw only a small part of the country, and I want to go back, for a longer stretch, to see more of it. Iceland is weird. Beautiful too, but mostly weird. I'm talking about the land, not the people; the people are lovely, if somewhat difficult to get used to. The mindset is really different from America.

The secret thing I've been mentioning in my to-done recaps for a couple of months is that I'm on the submissions committee for a writing residency. It's reasonably rewarding, but I can't believe how much work it is. It's slushing in a concentrated time period, and very few of the submissions are low-quality enough to deserve a quick no. I'm learning a hell of a lot, and I'm glad I said yes this time, but I doubt I'll do it again unless there's pay. The work is coming to a close in the next month and it'll be a big load off my mind.

My gig at Barrelhouse is going great, I think. I spent a good deal of AWP time hanging out with the main Bhouse crew, and they're terrific, and I think we understand each other well. Kamil and I aren't yet ideally organized, but a routine and procedures are starting to come into focus. As a curator, I have a lot of freedom there, which I love.

Yesterday I drafted an essay that's been some months' work in the making. Even though I'm proud of what I did, the assignment feels tenuous, so I'm crossing my toes that the editor will like what I did.

I threw out a ton of lines for interviews in the last three weeks, in Iceland and at AWP. At least ten people I have to email and write questions for. I hope I haven't lost track of them all.

How I see the ecosystem of books and writers in the English-speaking world continues to mutate on the daily. I'm starting to feel like I have my arms around it, the different strata of publishing and publicity, the cycles of criticism and creation. I think the time is approaching soon when I have to choose a corner to work in, rather than trying to do a little of everything. There's more money in mainstream publishing and criticism, but I like indie books so much better. Way back when I started doing this, my goal was to cross the two worlds and write a column about indie books for a major publication: a small-press column for the Post or the Cut or something. That goal feels naive now. I find it no less necessary, but it seems so much less likely, now that I understand the lay of the land.

Guy Laramée

Major publications and major presses are one closed system, one ouroboros, and indie presses and indie pubs are another. They don't cross into each other very often. I hate this; it's the thing I've enjoyed learning least and resisted hardest, of all the things I've learned in the past eighteen months. I can't fix or break this system, straighten the circles out so they stop consuming only themselves. It's impossible for one person to do that, and maybe it's simply not how the art world works.
Sidebar: Some years ago I watched a documentary about Green Day and the musical of American Idiot, and in it, I learned that Green Day isn't really friends with other bands. It seems like the punk cohort rejects them for being too pop, and the pop world rejects them for being too punk. I've seen this play out in politics, too, over the last three years, and AnzaldĂșa noted it in Borderlands. People who live in a crossover zone, rather than being accepted by both sides, get rejected by both sides. What a crappy phenomenon. End sidebar. 
But I do hope to live in a few different places, bringing good books to people who will like them, no matter what circle they dwell inside.

Ceremonials is getting closer to galleys.

What else...I'm trying. I'm trying so hard. I'm not doing as well as Yoda would like, but I'm trying. I'm spending too much time on my phone, and not cleaning up the apartment basically at all, but I'm going outside and exercising some, and eating well, and I set time aside for friends. I need to do better at tracking my time, and at banging out the lame tasks instead of putting them off until they're so imbued with dread that I can't even think about them.

Sometimes I think I need to adopt a System, like the ones Kathleen showed me at the end of last year. But Systems keep me going for a few months at best, and usually more like a week or two, before I get complacent and elect to fly on the seat of my pants. It takes long enough for seat-of-pants to stop working that I can't convince myself to keep using the System instead of breaking from it. Scribbled to-do lists work okay, not great, and that's all I seem to be able to keep to in the long term.
Sidebar II: I do not recommend having a brain that works in too many directions to outsmart. Sometimes well-meaning people send me "Hack your brain!" articles and I'm like, tried it, no dice. My brain always sees through the hack. I'm not saying I'm a super genius, but the evidence says my brain is unhackable. End sidebar. 
Facebook has burned me a few times recently so I'm spending more time on Twitter. Neither is what I really should be doing, but I marvel at how different they are, how each presses different joy buzzers for me. Very little will break the hold that either has on me. Like any addiction, I have to want to stop, and these sites are benefiting me in ways both healthy (job stuff [way more than it seems], keeping up with people I care about) and unhealthy (scrolling, snark, jockeying for popularity).

The to-done lists I've been posting have really helped me, because they demonstrate exactly how much work I do in a given week. I've gotten uncomfortable with them being the only thing on the blog, though, so I'm not sure whether to continue them. Posting something publicly that's of the most help to me seems a little silly.

The rest is about recent publications. However, I'm going to stop posting reviews and interviews here unless they really matter to me for some reason; there's just too many. You can follow me on social media for those, and my newsletter rounds them up once a month.

I wrote a recap of AWP for Book & Film Globe. I felt uncomfortable with this assignment, thinking I had to cover AWP more thoroughly than I wanted to, when all I wanted to do was wander in the bookfair and hug people I knew. So I more or less turned that into the recap.

I wrote a long piece about Best F(r)iends, which I liked more than any other film I saw in 2018. It found a happy home at ASAP/J, which has been wonderfully supportive. The structure of this essay was unusual for me, because it forms a straight line without circling back, something I never do anymore. Visiting the same idea repeatedly with different context each time (stepping in the moving river over and over) is my favorite way to write, but in this case I just barreled onward, hitting paratext, then star studies, then the total dullness of contemporary film.

Also, of note: twice this year, a publication has strung me along for six weeks before rejecting my piece/pitch, which then becomes unpitchable because it's no longer timely. This is a terrible thing to do to a writer. It happened with this piece in a way that induced not just frustration but also sorrow. I had high, invested hopes.

After the string-along, and then after the round of "no thanks, not timely," I pitched it to six or eight places at once. ASAP accepted (kind of gradually), and a few days later, another place sent me a very abrupt "yes, and my edits are coming tomorrow." When I wrote to say sorry, accepted elsewhere, but I'd be happy to write something else exclusively, they said no in a VERY snippy way. Since I don't hear back about 80-90% of my pitches, I'm gonna assume you don't want it if you don't write me back. Ask whether it's still available before you do edits, guy. Freelancing isn't exclusive unless you commission.

Also, don't string writers along for six weeks. I understand editors are busy and time passes quickly, but it's a rotten thing to do. It impinges on us both practically and emotionally.

Stay tuned for whatever comes next in this space. It feels wide open at this point, so your thoughts are welcome.

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