Citizen: An American Lyric by Claudia Rankine (Graywolf). Bought this the other day and it’s jumping the line.
The Masks of God: Primitive Mythology by Joseph Campbell. Yeah, still working on this one. I like to read a section, and dwell on it for a while. Makes for slow going, but also makes for deep synthesis.
My grad school friend, Laura Hawley, has a short story out at Junoesq. It’s most certainly worth a read.
Debating whether to buy a season pass to The Last Man on Earth or not.
Started watching Spartacus: Boobs and Sand (the first season) on Netflix. I’ll give it a few more episodes. Lots of boobs in this, and background fake-fucking. It’s titillating, and seems to have some moments of pathos, but I’m not sure there’s much more to it than spectacle at the moment – might be the point though.
My sister and I had our usual music talk when she was in town for a visit from New York, which I always enjoy even if, there she is, in a land of new music, and she’s only sent me two new band recommendations. I was kind of meh on both, so she stopped. Fool. Keep sending them until something hits, dammit.
Now, although I am constantly on the look-out for new bands like Fear of Men, The History of Apple Pie, We Were Promised Jetpacks, and so on, I’m not above admitting I missed the boat on some bands back in the day: I didn’t buy my first Dinosaur Jr. album until a year ago despite a few of their songs catching my attention way back in the early 90’s when they were played on K-State’s radio station DB92 (innuendo and out-you-window. DB92 – I also remember the damn phone number for Pizza Shuttle after twenty years (776 5577 call us now at Pizza Shuttle)).
These days, I’m going back to pick up Superchunk, which I first heard of back in 1995 with the release of Here’s Where the Strings Come In, but never picked up an album until last week. I blame the “Buy it now on iTunes” feature on Pandora Radio.
Now, if someone can get me a copy of Pilate’s (they now go by Pilot Speed) first album Caught by the Window without send me to the Devil (Amazon), I’d be very appreciative.
Monday, my conversation with Lynn Sloan will come out. It was a great conversation, so get ready for that.
I’m working on lining up some new guests. My wish list remains the same as last time.
With Laura taking a personal hiatus while she focuses on furthering her nursing education and getting married. I’m working with a couple of friends to do the Shoptalk episode, as well as create some new content for the Podcast. Keep an eye out for that.
Still working on Far Nineteen. Putting in an hour in the morning makes it slow going, but it’s making progress.
I’ve been dusting off some of my poetry, and going through the notebooks I’ve been filling with stuff that has never been typed up. I may start experimenting with some classic forms as a way of exercising some forgotten linguistic muscles. May play with some cut-ups. Debating if I want to start sending out poems to magazines.
The short story “Dr. Zeus” was submitted to The Missouri Review, but I failed to pull the trigger on the story “Sunny” by the end of February. I think I had a bit of a crisis of confident with that one before sending it out. I’ll do a little more revising and get it out by the end of March.
“The Palace of Winds” was off to the AWP Awards contest last month, but since it is my only completed novel at the moment, I’m still using it to query agents. Anyone have an agent to recommend? I’m scouring the AAR website and the Poets & Writers website, but it feels like a damn dating site, which sucks.
Oh, and I sent The Palace of Winds off to Coffee House Press.
The Opening Shot: Ryan Boudinot writes this piece for The Stranger and it gets fired around the internet by writers and writers who are writing teachers. Among them, it begins to generate a discussion and a host of responses (here’s one that I liked), which I wasn’t aware was happening, and that gets written about at Salon by someone whose job it is to comment on these things as if they’re news. The crowd that took the most offense to Boudinot has even put together a website where they’re cataloging, with something I assume is glee, all the anti-Boudinot pieces that are being written.
So, first thought on those running the anti-boudinot site: they smacked down an asshole, do the really need to catalogue every wrinkle around the ring of his anus? Seems like you’re giving him way too much power over their time and energy.
Other thoughts: He wanted to be provocative. So, mission accomplished. Nothing creates a little provocation like hyperbole and, even better, straight, direct language.
First off, there’s a whole generation of kids who are now launching themselves into college and life who grew up on meds for ADHD, plugged into computers, helicoptered over by micromanaging parents, and bathed in unending concern for the maintenance of high self-esteem. Furthermore, because of the ease of self-publishing they can can flap their self-important gums to anyone, anywhere, at any time. So, frankly, Boudinot’s piece, to me, although cranky, mean, and sometimes misguided (see the bit about wishing some abuse victims had been abused more), represents a certain type of classic literary advice style, which starts like this:
Writing teacher curmudgeon says: “You don’t have what it takes, kid. Go be a plumber.”
The young would-be writer then has a choice: 1) Give up writing and go be a highly literate, well-read plumber or 2) Go prove the curmudgeon wrong by working hard, learning the craft, and writing, writing, writing.
Writing (and publishing) is often presented as easy – especially by the self-published – and, quite often, the good writers make it all look effortless. Furthermore, writers don’t tend to correct the reading audience’s illusions of what the writing life is really like out of simple politeness. If a reader believes we spend our days staring out the window at beautiful skylines and sunrises, diddling our muses and drinking good coffee while wearing silk pajamas, it can often seem like a special kind of rudeness to say to that reader, “No, actually, I get up at 5 a.m., shivering from the cold because I have the furnace turned low in January to save money, drink a cup of cheap coffee while I try to bang out a paragraph or so in the dark before I have to take a shower and go to my soul-sucking day job for eight hours.”
Yes, not every MFA candidate is going to go on to become a writer. And yes, as a lot of the critics of Boudinot have pointed out, every student should be treated with respect and compassion. But, the writing teacher is doing a lot of them a complete disservice if that teacher doesn’t tell those would be writers that if they can do something else, do that something else. Those MFA candidates who do end up doing something else probably didn’t have that mysterious X factor needed to be a writer. Those MFA candidates who hear the go be plumber speech and secretly say to themselves, “Fuck you, I’m doing this and I’ll show you.” Those are the ones who will keep working even after years of bad coffee and freezing mornings at the writing desk. And, a chunk of them, will be the ones that Boudinot didn’t think were “Real Deal” writers in his workshop.
Talent is subjective. Discipline, obsession, determination – whatever combination of natural inclination and learned habit is needed – are the elements of alchemy. The writers who keep to that after hearing the go-be-a-plumber speech can erase almost all of Boudinot’s other rants in that piece.
Thought – Boudinot’s sections on complaining, and being a serious reader. Those are just silly. Some people complain to relieve the stress of doing the thing. Around my family, if you don’t hear someone complaining about a chore, you know they aren’t doing it. If you hear someone mumbling and grumbling about cleaning the bathroom, doing the dishes, taking out the trash . . . they’ve got the sponge or the toilet brush or the bulging trash bag in their hands. Yeah, that’s not true for everyone out there, and I’m not trying to defeat a good generalized argument with my personal exception, but still . . . I thought that was silly. Now, about being a serious reader? I grew up in Western Kansas, I had a library card, my parents bought me books, read to me, etc. I’ve still not read Kafka’s Metamorphosis. I didn’t read Tom Sawyer or Huckleberry Finn until grad school. See, there was no one giving me direction as a kid. No librarian took me under her wing and fed me books, my teachers were working to keep the bottom of class on pace with the top of the class and since I fell somewhere in the middle, got mostly forgotten. I rarely failed, but I also rarely showed any interest in such a way that they thought to challenge me by giving me anything other than fragments and short stories by canonic writers. So, I read randomly, science fiction, fantasy, comic books, and pop fiction when I finally started reading the books my parents bought me. By Boudinot’s standards I didn’t become a “serious reader” until college, and I’ve got a lot of catching up to do, but I’ve also learned that reading can’t be treated like an obstacle course: Read Huck Fin by age 12, Mody Dick by age 19, re-read them at 30 or whatever.
Now, a thought on the abuse thing that everyone is all upset about. Yeah. That’s just overly mean to say someone should have been abused more to make their memoir more interesting. However, in grad school, some friends in a workshop had this particular experience: a student chose to write a semi-autobiographical novel about her childhood. As a child, she was sexually abused and that played a major part in her novel. The novel was written in the first person. Now, the class, after reading the abuse section for the workshop, began to comment that the narrator’s voice seemed to shift its tone and vocabulary level when the abuse scene came up. The narrator went from sounding like a 12 year old to sounding like a wise, 35 year old therapist. Now, this student already had a habit of arguing every point of criticism as it was voiced, and as the class discussed the tone of the abuse scene, the student got more and more agitated, finally collapsed in tears and wailed “But this really happened to me!” All discussion of the story stopped, and the teacher moved on to the next student’s story.
If you haven’t figured out what happened there, here’s the deal: this woman was using her MFA workshop as group therapy, and the constructive criticism of a problem in her writing got mistaken for a criticism of the veracity of her personal experience, and so she shut down all discussion. The class was trying to get her story to a place where the pain and confusion that a child feels at being abused would have the strongest impact for the reader, but this student couldn’t separate herself from her fiction enough to see the fiction wasn’t working. If a writer can’t separate personal critique from literary critique in a workshop, then it is indeed a problem for the workshop leader. Suddenly any discussion of a semi-autobiographical novel, or a memoir, turns the fellow students in the room from would-be writers into unpaid psychoanalysts and makes any discussion of the text about the author instead of the text and its success or failure at communicating the author’s intentions. In other words, the class purpose shifts from “help me be a better writer” to just plain old pathetic “help me.” And really, it would be cheaper for that writer to go see a real therapist than to enroll in an MFA program.