27 November 2012
The past couple of weeks has been quite the whirlwind. The launch of Bloom has been wonderful—lots of enthusiasm and support, not to mention some choice press from the New Yorker, the LA Times, Flavorwire, and The Atlantic (coming soon: a bloggy thing on Bloom at the HuffPo). Today I got a mini-orientation to the wonders of Twitter; which I sort of get, in theory, but only superficially at this point. At any rate, Bloom is at this point something between a magazine and a community, and it’s that community part that needs to engage at both Facebook and Twitter; and if you know me/have been reading my blog, you know that I’m, uh, not the best person to make that happen. But we’ll figure it out.
All this to say that with editorial plates spinning, a novel in-progress, teaching, continuing to write for The Millions, and basic life-care; writing here with any regularity is The Thing That Has to Go. I’ll be signing off for a little while; but I’ll be back. In some form or another. Things have a way of continuing, even as they cease…
(p.s. I’ll keep up my Reading List page, mostly for my own visual record.)
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 Common. I 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.
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.
6 August 2012
Thanks to Wendy S. for introducing me to Irish writer Mary Costello‘s debut story collection, 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.
30 June 2012
I had hit a dud streak in my reading; Anna Keesey‘s Little Century saved me. Really enjoyed it and hope you do, too. My review at The Millions. (Note: I don’t normally write reviews; when I write about books, I more just pontificate and/or relate the book to other things I’m thinking about. Something about Little Century made me want to actually look more closely at its strengths; I was surprised that I liked it so much, for various reasons.)
2 May 2012
At The Millions today, this month’s Post-40 Bloomer, poet Spencer Reece. (Actually, this is April’s feature, but it took me longer than I’d expected to write, so it’s only posting today.) Take a look – Reece’s story is exemplary of the post-40 bloomer, I think, in all its life-living, art-making richness.
One thing I did not manage to cover in my piece is the fact that James Franco, when he was a film student at Yale, approached Reece, who was a Divinity student there at the same time, about making a short film based on Reece’s poem “The Clerk’s Tale.” I was focusing so much on studying Reece’s poetry, that I decided not to watch the film; I thought it would take my mind in a completely different direction I didn’t want to go.
But, in case you’re interested, here’s a synopsis and some stills, from Cannes, where the film was a closing night feature.
9 April 2012
That’s right, not a typo, post NINETY.
Thanks to Nick at The Millions for alerting me to this:
96-year-old novelist Herman Wouk has sold his latest novel to Simon & Schuster. The Lawgiver follows the production of a movie about Moses through “letters, memos, emails, journals, news articles, recorded talk, tweets, Skype transcripts, and text messages” sent between characters.
Not his debut, obviously, but still. If blooming is understood as “peaking,” this is quite an impressive late-life peak.
9 April 2012
This is old news now, but I was reminded of it when dining with a friend last night and singing the praises of our favorite roasted vegetables (broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower)…
I’ve already written about the unjust rap that spinach gets, i.e. reading a literary work being compared to “eating your spinach.” Last week, Justice Antonin Scalia repeatedly — 9 times, according to the NY Times — compared the health-care mandate to forcing Americans to eat their broccoli.
“Could you define the market — everybody has to buy food sooner or later, so you define the market as food, therefore, everybody is in the market; therefore, you can make people buy broccoli?”
Well why not make people buy broccoli? Prices would go down, health will surely go up, in which case health costs across the country will go down. Green vegetables for everyone!
I understand that it’s a slippery slope, but we’re being “mandated” by the government to do plenty of things that are “good for us” — don’t smoke, go to school, etc. I mean, in a world where 10 year-old girls are sold into sex slavery, there’s something a little absurd about living in a country where people would be up in arms if told to eat broccoli.
7 March 2012
Harriet Doerr, author of the National Book Award winning novel Stones for Ibarra, published that beautiful novel – her first – at the age of 74 (she also went back to college to earn her BA at the age of 65). She wrote, in a personal essay called “The Tiger in the Grass,” about speaking at a writers’ conference:
I explained my late start as an author after forty-two years of writing “housewife” on my income tax form. These years without a profession, from 1930 to 1972, were also the years of my marriage. Hands were raised after my talk, and I answered questions. The final one was from a woman who assumed, incorrectly, these were decades of frustration. “And were you happy for those forty-two years?” she asked, and I couldn’t believe the question. I asked her to repeat it, and she said again, “Were you happy for those forty-two years?”
It was then that I said, “I never heard of anyone being happy for forty-two years,” and went on, “And would a person who was happy for forty-two years write a book?”
I love the complexity – which is to say the honesty – of Doerr’s answer. I love the “incorrectly” coupled with the answer she gave the woman. We want things to be simple, to be this or that; they never are.
I’ll be writing more about Harriet Doerr for our Post-40 Bloomers column at The Millions.
1 March 2012
I can only report that something did happen and it happened all of a sudden. Other writers have reported a similar experience. It is not like learning a skill or a game at which, with practice, one gradually improves. One works hard all right, but what comes, comes all of a sudden and as a breakthrough. One hits on something… It is almost as if the discouragement were necessary, that one has first to encounter despair before one is entitled to hope.
I have four of Percy’s books on my shelf and haven’t read any of them. He’s been on my must-read list for years. Not sure what the hang-up is. At the moment it’s (lack of) time, but I’m newly inspired to get on it.