29 August 2012

On the occasion of summer’s almost-end, and of preparing to give a short “what I did this summer” presentation at student orientation this evening, I give you: “What I Did (and Did Not Do) This Summer”:

I did not blog here very often.   I took an official hiatus while at MacDowell for four weeks, and upon return decided that A Limited-Internet Life is A High-Quality Life, when one is trying to write a book, read many books, write short essays, etc.  And to some degree when one is trying to nourish human relationships.   My brain, I’ve learned, is very porous/permeable; screen time takes over/muddles/fatigues mental capacity significantly.  Emotional capacity, too. Some people really do seem to get smarter and more vital via the Internet (see my post about Ai Wei Wei, which is one reason I will continue to keep this blog at all); I seem to get dumber/less human.  Whenever possible, I’ve stayed off the Internet/away from email before 1pm.  Thus, less blogging.

I shelved the book that I was originally hoping to finish writing this summer.  This is hard to even talk/write about.  I will say that my lunch meeting with my agent, where I broke the news, went very well, and I’m thankful that she is the sort of agent who is a human being first (I’m told not all agents are.)  Despite this hard reality…

I started and made sustained progress on a new work of fiction that feels good, and alive, and about which I feel hopeful and more clear-headed. That’s all I’ll say about that for now.

I made good use of the mornings.  My undisclosed, favorite library carrel saw my a** mornings at 8, and I recommend this, writer-friends.  Carpe diem.  Blah blah blah.

I reunited with my mountain bike.  I loved riding around in Peterborough, NH, and getting some exercise to boot.  The bike had been in storage for, I don’t know, 10 years?  Back in the city, I’ve been riding it regularly in Central Park and along the Westside path.  One of these days you may see me huffing and pedaling past you on the street.

I reunited with yoga.  God bless the Harlem Yoga Studio.

I taught a fantastic summer fiction workshop.  The students were fantastic, that is.  Summer is especially fun, because you tend to get a very diverse group – age, life experience, literary interests.  We had more males than females – unheard of!  We had gritty sex-and-drugs stories, 19th century-esque novels of manners, experimental collage prose, YA fantasy, science fiction.  We had someone Skype in from Peru.  We read George Eliot and Garcia Marquez.  The students dug in and respected each others’ work, even when it was clear that they did not “like” each others’ work.  Only in the classroom, I sometimes think (with gratitude) can this kind of fruitful, unlikely-bedfellow magic happen.

I dipped my toe, then my foot, then got waist-deep in an editorial role with The Best New Literary Journal That You Should Know About, i.e. The CommonI blinked, and now I’m an Editor.  More on that soon.  Issue 04 (print version – a gorgeous thing to behold) forthcoming in October, and the launch of a super-enhanced online magazine component kicking off in mid-September.  The Common publishes work that engages/features significantly “a sense of place.”  Props to Jen Acker, Founding Editor and colleague extraordinaire, along with editors John Hennessey, Hannah Gersen, Liz Byrne, and Amy Sande-Friedman.  Contact me if you have work you’d like to submit, for print or online, fiction or nonfiction.

I continued as a staff writer for The Millions, and to develop the Post-40 Bloomers series there.  “Post-40 Bloomers” celebrates One Year!  We’ve featured 12 authors whose first major work debuted when they were 40 years of age or older, including Walker Percy, Harriet Doerr, Giuseppe di Lampedusa, Anna Keesey, William Gay, Daniel Orozco, and others.  Some exciting things are on the horizon for the series in 2012-13; stay tuned, and do get in touch if you’d like to be involved in said exciting prospects.  In addition to the Post-40 series, I wrote an essay on loneliness, and did a Q&A with James Salter.

We went to Berlin.  Last year it was Buenos Aires.  We continue on our low-cost-of-living-cities tour.  In Berlin I discovered that I like beer – good beer – a lot.  German Schwarzbier (black lager) especially.  We learned about bokashi (for our compost bin) from our friend Shu-lea Cheang, whose multi-media installation on composting opened while we were there (a mail-order bag is on the way!).  I ate way too much pork (in a good way).  I turned the corner on coffee vs espresso (espresso!).  I learned how to hand-roll cigarettes.  We saw a lot of great contemporary art – at Documenta13 in Kassel and the many museums in Berlin.  I met the lovely, talented writer Madeleine Thien (thanks, Manju, for introducing us), who inspired me in so many ways.  Oh, and we did lots of touristy things, too.

I started, and am continuing to prepare for my Voices/Visions of Childhood & Youth seminar.  And I’m pretty excited.  The reading list is even better this year than last year.  (Will post here once it’s final-finalized.)

I did not garden very much.  Between MacDowell, and teaching, and travel, it didn’t happen.  Green beans and lettuces, yes.  Tomatoes, not so much.  Not yet, anyway.

I watched all of Season Four of Breaking Bad.  In one week.

It was a good summer.  I’m pretty tired, though.  Deep breath as school gears up and we teachers and students all turn into pumpkins.

Happy End-of-Summer!

 

19 August 2012

I have more to learn about Walter Gropius’s/Mies van der Rohe’s Bauhaus School of Art, but this visit to the Bauhaus Archives Museum in Berlin has piqued my interest.  A commitment to functional beauty — a school devoted to it — is something we probably consider overly idealistic, and past its time now.  But is it?  As both a writer and teacher, I hope not.

An excellent exhibit and amazing building/gallery space.

14 August 2012

At The Millions today, my Q&A with James Salter, on the occasion of the release of A Sport and Pastime and Solo Faces in e-book format, by Open Road Media.  I re-read Solo Faces last month and admired it even more: that signature omniscient narration is not only unusual, but simply gorgeous in its confidence, its simplicity.

If you missed my profile of JS in Tin House last winter, you might enjoy this Q&A, the intro to which rehashes a little of how I first came in contact with Salter, back in 2010.  It’s been a great privilege to interact with him.  At 87, he’s having an inspiringly productive year, filled with the recognition and acclaim he deserves.

9 August 2012

Despite myself, I can’t seem to dredge up any repulsion or disdain for this. The truth is I’ll be there (next summer, i.e. the new, delayed release date) with bells on.

6 August 2012

Thanks to Wendy S. for introducing me to Irish writer Mary Costello‘s debut story collection, The China Factory.

The China Factory

At The Millions today, my review/profile/interview with Costello.  It’s a weird form, I admit, and probably unkosher in the criticism world — but somehow, to me, it feels right.

3 August 2012

“Life is much more interesting when you make a little bit of effort.”  –Ai Wei Wei

It’s been a while since I’ve posted here.  Summer slump, I guess – but also, actually, high productivity in other areas of life.  I’ve been off the Internet in the mornings for the most part, and limiting email and screen time to about an hour or two hours a day, contained.  It makes a huge difference, in everything.  My brain much clearer and more focused on things like, you know, making words on a page, and reading words in books — without all that cerebral-adrenaline-bursting (to use a super-technical term) wigging me out all the time.

But I just saw the Ai Wei Wei documentary — NEVER SORRY – (see it!) and was inspired (inspired!  This doesn’t happen all that much anymore, sadly) by how crucial blogging has been for Ai’s activist goals.  That daily blog post was everything to him: you could feel that in how he talked about it, how he treasured that blog, how he felt the reality of wielding truth against lies with every word; until the government shut him down.  At which point, Tweeting became everything.  In China, there is no taking for granted the ability to communicate freely and truthfully; a world without free speech, without a venue for plurality of opinion, is just not something we can fathom here.

In other words, I was struck by the simple truth that those of us who write — whatever it is we write — are empowered.  I’m ashamed to admit that I have never much thought of it that way.  It’s a good perspective check.  It’s a huge perspective check.

The hours in the day are still limited, though.  And my brain increasingly a sieve in the face of screen ubiquity.  But you have to make the effort, Ai said.  Life is much more interesting when you make a little bit of effort.

 

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