Archive for June, 2010

Mat Johnson

June 29, 2010

Here’s today’s intro for Mat Johnson, who gave an awesome workshop and told a great tale during his reading this afternoon. Look him up. Buy his books. Twitter him now.

I met Mat Johnson several years ago when he was teaching at Rutgers University. I was an undergrad at the time, working on Painted Bride Quarterly. And although I never had the pleasure of attending one of his classes, I have this great memory etched in my brain, that I wanted to share as a way of introducing this wonderful author. I was standing in the hall, on the fourth floor, outside one of the English Department offices and I was talking to a bunch of other English majors and professors and we were having this conversation about Mat, as to whether he was going to stay at Rugers, I believe, or return to Bard. Because you know, at that time, (2002-2003) Mat Johnson was roughly 30 years old, his first novel Drop had been chosen as a Barnes & Noble’s Discover Great New Writers selection, Interview Magazine named him a “Writer on the Verge” and his second novel “Hunting in Harlem” was due for release. So, it’s no wonder we were all so infatuated with Mat. And as we were huddled in the hall, he unexpectedly walks by in his chummy,  affable way and he leans in and asks, “What are you talking about?” never realizing we were talking about him. Of course we were all thoroughly humiliated. And the subject was probably “dropped” or changed to something else.

But I think that story illustrates Mat’s great personality, and success as a writer by the amount of respect and awe we as students had for someone that struggled to achieve his dreams.

Mat Johnson’s life, his “story” is an American story- one of a boy who barely passed school with Ds, barely got into a local state college, but eventually realize his potential and began working towards goals. And after several years of international travel, a little poverty, and sleeping on his mother’s sofa in Anchorage Alaska, he was accepted to Columbia University’s Graduate Writing Program where he received his MFA in creative writing and began Drop, a “coming of age novel about a self-hating Philadelphian who thinks he’s found the perfect escape in a job in London.” This novel, published in 2000, was voted Progressive Magazine’s “Best Novels of the Year.” And one in which I, to this day, still recommend.

In 2003 he published Hunting in Harlem, in 2007 The Great Negro Plot: A Tale of Conspiracy and Murder in Eighteenth-Century New York, and in 2009, his first graphic novel, “Incognegro,” the tale of an African American journalist who “passes” as white in the 1930s South so as to investigate the murder charge against his brother, was released. It has been described as “smart, pulpy and fast-paced” by Publishers Weekly.

Mat Johnson  has taught at Rutgers University, Columbia University, Bard College and the University of Houston where he teaches currently. He was also named a 2007 James Baldwin Fellow.

Aside from five published novels, inspiring academic achievements, many awards and a growing number of English major fans, Mat Johnson, as memory serves,  is also a great guy.

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Confession Mondays: Guilty Pleasure

June 28, 2010

Self-help books. I love self-help books. There. I said it.

I want my name back

June 25, 2010

I can share. Especially when it comes to my last name. In high school I sat next to a girl named Kristie Shields and though we had nothing in common (She was a hood, I was a punk. She had crackly, over-dyed reddish hair and crooked teeth; I had poofy 80’s hair; I’d just gotten my braces off ), I still thought it was kind of fun that we had identical last names. Same with Brooke Shields. She was a big star when I was a kid and it was a regular omission of mine to admit we were not related. In fact, my cousin played a similar trick on me of the variety that I’d play on others. He said he sat next to Brooke Shields while taking the entrance exam to Princeton as they were the same age, going into college the same year. Y’know, we sat alphabetically? I believed him. And to this day, I still don’t know if it really happened.

Really, reality, sharing last names: I had the privilege to meet David Shields, author of Reality Hunger, at Thursday’s Writers Conference. L picked him up at the train station and he slept the whole way over, and so our hopes seemed dashed that he’d make a decent presentation of himself during his creative non-fiction workshop. Since this conference started, we students huddle expectantly at the door of the classroom, amazingly high on hopes of being dazzled, blown away, awed, stupefied. We want our money’s worth. We want to be changed, altered, refined, refashioned. We want what the Buddhists want—we want to be in the presence of someone’s supernatural insight that might lead us to a Noble Truth. And when you have one bad experience like we did with Apple, [possibly more about this in a second draft] you start doubting the powers that be. You start doubting the possibility that you have enough money to buy something like that. That maybe, your needs are too wide and too vast to put a price tag on, and that you’re probably not going to get thrown that glimpse of nirvana.

But it does come. It appears in one-liners that we scrawl like maniacs into our notebooks, that read badly after the fact, because in the moment, in the context, it makes perfect sense. “Monotony can be insightful” (Stephen Dunn); “What could be sadder than a clown without a context” (Stephen Dunn); “The essay is….untrammeled access to a person’s conscience” (David Shields); “An essay is not always an exercise in ego…The self has to jump the tracks out of the self…and become bigger than the self. Complacent, self-assured people don’t make good essayist” (David Shields); “The job of an essayist is to have doubt” (David Shields); “You strike me as someone who has a compost heap” (Alexis Apfelbaum).

In the lobby of the library, when L brought him in she introduced him as David Shields, and I said, not so clumsily, but I could have done better, Yes, yes, I’ve been coming across your work all month: Tin House, Creative Non-Fiction, blah, blah, blah. And of course, I mentioned his name and mine. My name is also Shields, I said, almost with a wink like, you and me, we have a connection (I didn’t say that last bit, I thought it). But he turned, sleepily, possibly still trying to wake up from his nap from 30th Street Station, and said, “That’s not my name.”

Not your name? Forgive me for thinking that. But it’s on all your books.

[Insert here story of my name, then go on to discuss fiction and my relationship to it; ramble on about PBQ and “Reality Fiction” and my nearly 20-year belief that the I—the first person is the vehicle for all stories told. Eventually get back to DS and why Shields isn’t his name].

The story is so much more than this awkward moment of me feeling a little irked that someone would take my name and use it– on his books, no less– when clearly he has his own. He’s damn right to suggest that we are hungry for reality when so much of the world and the people in it are phony. Not to say that he… Well, the story isn’t about the vehicle so much as the message. It tells how I go from incensed to exultant in the span of a couple hours.

And it tells that his class presentation, after all, was replete with all the tingly insights and truths I had hoped for. It tells of the moment when I was changed too; when he addressed the audience during his reading, and quoted Kafka’s belief that fiction “should serve as the ax for the frozen sea within us” and then INVALIDATED it by reminding us that there is far too much fiction in the world today and what we desperately seek is REALITY. The story goes on to say how my eyes welled up (that’s what happens when you believe in someone’s argument and have a connection to someone, in spite of their name). And a little moment of Cha-ching pleasantly fell upon me. I got my money’s worth. I had my religious experience. And I decided, then and there, I was switching to non-fiction.

But I’ve run out of time and can’t tell that story right now. I’ll have to log back in to tell it. But Shakespeare was right. “What’s in a name?” I’ll get over David Shields’ appropriation of Shields, but I’ve joined his movement. I’m a fan. Reality Hunger is one of the best books of 2010. I might even be inspired to change my name.

I take back everything I said…

June 23, 2010

Isn’t it ironic?

A teacher, criticized for his own work as having “limited relevancy due to…heavy usage of cultural references,” (see blurb below) criticizes a student for virtually the same thing. A comedic writer, not finding a comedic piece funny. And a classroom full of frustrated MFA students whose tolerance for argument seriously diminished due to an earlier line by line by line by line by line by line…analysis of one student’s 18-page story.

Such was our fate this afternoon, which made me want to take back everything I said the previous day.

Poor, poor Pete G____, whose story kicked ass but who got such bad reviews by Max Apple that I squirmed in my seat with discomfort (I think Prof Apple asked us not to use the word “squirm” to describe a character). This was not the kind of criticism I was talking about. I didn’t want anyone to have to hear over and over again “Your piece just isn’t funny.” “It’s just not funny.” “I didn’t find it funny in the least.”

But Pete’s piece was funny. It was subtly funny, and it poked fun at mass consumerism. Apple said consumerism isn’t funny anymore. It was funny But it’s not now. He also said that Pete never took his work to the next level. “It’s stale,” he said. “It’s not going anywhere.” Adding, “especially not for me.”

So, instead of giving Pete his fair share of a line by line analysis, he opted instead to read something that was “actually funny.”

And it was actually funny. It was “The School” by Donald Barthelme. And everyone laughed. BUt I argued that Pete’s goal was not just to offer a “farce” or a “satire” as Barthelme had done. Instead, he was giving us magic realism, farce and social criticism on consumerism. We shouldn’t compare. Max Apple’s reply? “It wasn’t funny.”

In fiction workshop today I learned several important things:

  1. Criticism can be harsh and hurtful. It’s all in the delivery. I think too little criticism on something that is obviously in need of it is not good. Nor is too much criticism to the point of the author feeling belittled. Some where there needs to be reality. As Stephen Dunn put it, “Our work here [in class] is provisional. These are poems on the way to becoming poems. Everyone wants their poems adored and that happen now and then…but not a lot.”
  2. Faces don’t “smolder like a freshly lit cigarette” (but I think I already knew that)
  3. Sometimes things aren’t always as they seem. Students can love a piece for one reason, while an instructor can find reasonable fault with it. Both side have merit. It’s your job to pay attention to both.
  4. And lastly: Don’t argue with an old man who’s written five books and teaches at the University of Pennsylvania. Respect him, despite disagreeing with him.

More to come on Stephen Dunn.

“Apple has been compared favorably with John Barth, Philip Roth, and Woody Allen. Although his work has received critical acclaim and enjoys considerable popularity, some commentators think it may have limited relevancy due to Apple’s heavy usage of cultural references. However, it has been posited by some scholars that Apple’s audience is increasingly a younger generation, more sympathetic to his flashy postmodern technique and for whom written language is less meaningful than Apple’s pictographs.” –Taken from enotes

This post is “lovely”

June 23, 2010


Someone said it at lunch. A student. I can’t remember now who. It was a warning to vulnerable, over-sensitive student-writers with flimsy self-esteem: “You gotta toughen up for these workshops.”

Twenty years ago when I took my first writing class at a college in North Jersey run by Dominican nuns, I would have agreed. Sister Bridget was a fairly kind-hearted woman but she’d rip you to shreds in front of your peers if you failed to put together a story with some semblance of meaning. But times have changed and now, successful writers with huge credits to their names (New York Times book review, New York Times Op Ed section, Granta, Harper’s, three published books, etc.) forewarn their workshop groups to be “compassionate,” “sensitive,” and to “discuss the piece’s finer points.”

We don’t want to offend anyone, now. Do we?

Here’s my gripe: The pros, who are all having nightmarish flashbacks of their MFA workshop experiences are applying these nicey nice terms (Great, Lovely, Has Potential) to everyone’s work. It’s not just my stuff that’s “great.” It’s John’s, and Jane’s and Larry’s and even Juanita’s who’s never taken a writing class in her life. We’re all “great,” and “lovely.” And there’s no distinction among us. And while this is great and lovely for our self-esteem (God forbid anyone’s sensitivities are offended) it doesn’t do squat to help us learn, grow or trust the validity of our professors’ opinions.

Granted, I’ve only been to three workshops so far this summer, but inevitably, they all begin with the same recurrent address: “First off, let me say that overall, this was a lovely piece of writing…I really enjoyed the bit about the blah, blah, blah, and I love the way you intuited blah, blah, blah…Also, I think you have a lot to work with here as far as blah, blah, blah goes.” If we’re lucky, the lecturer says this: “I have one criticism…”

Inevitably, when I’ve been workshopped previously, that “one little criticism,” no matter how clearly it comes across (which, usually it doesn’t because no one wants to offend me), no matter if I take notes and write it down in my binder and later, circle it and put arrows around it to mark its existence, goes in one ear and out the other. It evaporates. I’ll tell you why. Because I don’t want to be a writer that has to go back and edit her work. I want to be a writer who delivers a work of art on the first draft. I want to be the diamond in the rough. I want to be a star. And forgive me if I’m wrong, but I think others are like this too. Heck, who doesn’t want to be told that what they’ve created is a flawless shiny ball of fuzzy perfection?

But the trouble is, none of us are perfect and only maybe one or two of us (yes, that’s it) have submitted a publishable piece that has real potential at the moment it is being workshopped. And we as students know this. We have to read all the manuscripts as well and comparatively speaking, we all know what’s crap and what isn’t. So two things occur: cognitive dissonance—we recognize something as being black, but then we are told it’s white, and an internal prompt to follow the herd and be nice too. No one wants to offend anyone else. No one wants to step up to the plate and go against that social construct known as correctness (political correctness, social correctness, etc.). And why should we? We’re taught, so as to bolster our self-esteem of course, that Faulkner’s The Sound and the Fury was rejected 20 times before someone published it, or that no one wanted to publish Bukowski for years. Not only that but the very nature of art and creative writing is subjective. Who’s really to say what’s crap and what’s not? And who am I to be so presumptuous?

And yet, this is our business. This is our life’s work. There is standard in the industry that, as students, we need to know if we are to attempt to reach it. My guess is that Obama will not “gently suggest” to McChrystal that he should resign. My guess is that Ben Bernanke got where he is by virtue of a lot of hard knocks and struggles, not by a gently cresting sea that propelled him forward with “First off, let me say that overall, you’re a lovely person…”

Bullshit.

In yesterday’s workshop I felt Big Brother was watching, controlling what we said and how we said it. And we were not given enough credit for trying to be humane on our own. We were forced into using words like “lovely,” “great” and “nice,” even if we didn’t mean it. Everyone was on guard. Even men like ______ held back their idiomatic language and bold criticism that for an entire year, inspired me to work harder and strive for better.

I am not suggesting that we denigrate or disparage individuals. There’s no place for “you suck.” But work is another matter. Work cannot be taken personally, despite the fact that it is the product of the individual. Work is in the public realm and when you put it there, it is up for criticism.

There was this kid yesterday whose piece was about to be discussed, until we were reminded to be nice. He spoke up and said, “I can take it,” but by then it was too late. Instead of a more accurate discussion of his work, he got the “this is lovely” version. And to add insult to injury, everyone talked it to death out of nervous energy. Truth is, it wasn’t bad. If he held his focus, if he removed the immaturities and judgments in his voice, if he tightened up a few parts and expanded on others, it would have read better. Would he believe me amid the phoniness that ensued? Could he trust anyone brave enough to tell him the truth? I don’t know. I hope so. Because that’s what will make him a stronger writer. And if he’s able to identify with and trust the judgment of people whom he admires, he just might be led in the right direction.

Teachers have an ethical responsibility to students not only to foster an environment conducive to learning, but to tell the truth. We need to know when our work works and when it doesn’t. The problem is, no one wants to suppose that there is one truth or that they have the right to judge. And maybe there isn’t one truth, and maybe they don’t have the right to judge. But someone needs to step up to the plate an offer up what’s known as an OPINION. Because there is a standard of good writing, and opinions count, and if a teacher is not willing to cultivate someone’s work, a student has to be willing to seek out the truth, even if it hurts. As for me, I’m looking for the truth in magazines. One thing I can be sure of is that the publishing industry isn’t afraid to tell me if my work sucks or if it truly is lovely.

Fabulous

June 22, 2010

Write, write, write; read, read, read…bleary-eyed and catching up on a few essays to be workshopped tomorrow. And so begins the week of the Summer Writers Conference.

What did I learn? Loads. Forthcoming.

But first, a quick tale of high highs and low lows.

I don’t know what it is about the human brain that can churn out what it thinks is a great tale, see it on the page and believe in  its perfection only to be told by a group of trusted readers that x  is wrong, y is wrong and z is wrong. How is it that we cannot see the errors and omissions of our own work? How is it that we can make such seemingly obvious flaws? Not sure. Don’t have answers.

But having workshopped Fertility again, after this second draft, I feel as though I am closer to a more publishable version. I just need to sit down with one person that I trust and work it out, almost line by line. Is that so hard to do. I feel as though there’s only so much I am capable of figuring out on my own, piecing together from student comments.

Oh, but I did love Jewel Parker Rhodes. She was vivacious, exciting to listen to, to watch, to experience. And she taught us a gazillion things: the difference between a melodrama and a tragedy (something I should have remembered from undergrad), how to take responsibility for your characters’ lives, actions and decisions, and that there are obvious “breaks” in tone as a story rises and descends. That a writer must giveth and taketh away. Keep the lid on things, so to speak. That what is not spoken is just as important as what is. And that most good novels are character driven. I can’t wait to read her book “Yellow Moon.”

Her feedback on Fertility was priceless- “You came so close,” “You almost pulled it off,” “It’s a fucking amazing story,” “But you need to tighten it up,” “You need to recognize that it has the potential to be a tragedy; instead you gave us a melodrama,” “The real tragedy is the untold backstory of her husband and what she’s losing,” “Expose it.” “The protagonist is so conscious about everything, and yet completely blind.” “That’s the irony.” “Everything’s there, you just need to know what to do with it.” “This story can be so much shorter,” “Cut it back, but bring forth the important stuff,” “Keep the lid on things.” And so on.

So, it will be my job to write out questions and try to get answers: So, there should be no confrontation in the supermarket then? At all? But what then?

Revision is a bitch. Back to the drawing board. And yet, it is during the act of revision that we learn of our limitations or our talent. I feel as though I am indeed stuck in the former, trying desperately to hurdle my way toward the latter.


Cut and paste

June 16, 2010


This is a year of Facebook status updates. I hope to create something of substance from it. Or maybe I’ll do nothing to it. Maybe it reflects the life of a girl as is.

I am in a miserable mood. The Born Again down the street just told me, Jesus’ll make that misery go away. I wanted to tell her, But he kinda put it there in the first place. Not that I want to blame God. But who else is responsible for devising human nature?

I’ve been buying light bulbs from the blind for 3 years now, thinking I was helping a needy organization…turns out it was a scam.

Something you never see in the suburbs: a man bringing his own canvas tote bag to the grocery store.

Homeowner’s insurance in NJ has gone up and coverage has gone down. Nice. Be sure to reassess your home to see if you can get lower rates. And don’t be afraid to pull the ‘ol “I’m switching to Geico” bit.

Can anyone see this post? I’m not able to see anything anymore. Can you see me? I feel unseen.

Why am I hoarding coat hangers?

The news is so depressing lately.

I finally bought our train tickets to Cordoba.

Mango Shrimp salad with black bean and corn salsa.

Avocado, oats, banana and almond milk smoothie…

Are we still in the Postmodern era, or have we finally come upon something new?

I’m evesdropping on an economics professor who’s saying the dollar is taking a dangerous dive in the coming months, and to invest in copper.

“The greatest medicine is the emptiness of everything…”

So…it’s onto Lolita, next, where I’ll sink into a deep depression over my leg hair for the next week…

It was a desultory look– she was so desperately drawn to the smallest hint of attention– that absorbed her and set her obsessions in motion…

Having yet another bout of cognitive dissonance.

You were mountains and oceans. I was deserts and forests.

When we were newer it was all about cities. Paris. Madrid. New York. San Francisco. But this was the last stretch of living and we both agreed it was more about natural landscapes than sprawling conurbations.

We drove west on impulse. We wanted to see the desert, as if it were a marker of how far we’d come, not only in our travels, but our lives.

Sun. Bones. Hair swirling east behind us. Peels of laughter from the shadowy caverns of our happy insides…

Last night’s dream (possibly soon to be reality): Doug and I, due to the poor state of the economy, joined a cultish flock of millions that sold peanut brittle and tobaccoless cigarettes

I always said I would get off my arse and do something with my life when the rotation of the earth alters, the length of the day gets longer and the poles shift their location…Now what?

Grade papers, run, read…

Note to self: do not go running right after eating Shwarma. Bad idea.

You know you’ve hit an all time low when you take the “Which Steel Magnolias Character Are You?” quiz on facebook.

Today was the day I should have stayed home.

Today is the day I actually get out of the house.

I’ve been eating 6 pieces of veggie sushi and 6 pieces of shrimp tempura sushi every day for the past 5 days. At $9.00 a day, that’s $45 a week and $180 a month. Maybe it’s time to revert back to PB&J.

Spinach and egg omelette with baked sweet potato fries

Goal of the day: I will not waste time doing meaningless things…like writing dissertations on pigs in blankets, teaching people about the nonlinear notion of time or applauding neck tattoos. Really?

Apples, dates and pistachios. A vitamin. A kiss from my two sons. The belief that life is replete with with goodness…

I think I just saw the Dalai Lama in a Jeep Cherokee at the corner of Stokes and Lenape.

Loving the warm night and palm trees every where

I love all the Pat Robertson comments coming up through the feed

Considerably more grounded today than yesterday.

More important than old Halloween candy, I just learned that our spacetime universe is being created one planck length at a time as we twist and turn in the available branches of the 5th dimension…

I never thought grad students complained about the thickness of a book or the fine print of a novel…until I became one very whiny grad student. The Rhetoric of Fiction: 550 pages…really?

I love that the terrorist dude plead not guilty.

Taking the long, traffic burdened drive to work today.

Off to the city to wander like Bohemians through vintage shops and art galleries.

“For last year’s words belong to last year’s language, And next year’s words await another voice. And to make an end is to make a beginning.” ~T.S. Eliot, “Little Gidding”

Smoked trout pate

Up early to heat up car and move it for plow guy; then, it’s off to Homegoods, Wholefoods and Target for last minute crap with mom and kids, only to end up back in the kitchen for more food prep.

Breakfast. Workout. Shower. Teach. Race home. Pack. Head to Bear Creek Mountain Resort for company party. Drink too much. Sing Patsy Cline’s Crazy. Say things I’ll most likely regret. Go to bed feeling self-conscious, sheepish and bloated. Wake up early. Get massage. Eat cleansing breakfast. Come home.

Severe mood disorder day.

I’m officially done with green tea.

I gave up coffee for green tea because of stomach problems with coffee, but green tea is worse!

The hellish nightmare of Christmas shopping is officially over.

More raw delights: In a food processor: 1/4 cup of raw pistachios, 1/2 cup pitted dates, a dash of salt. Blend until crumbly, then sprinkle over a bowl of fresh cut apples

At Macy’s in center city watching the Christmas light show

I don’t feel like reading another damn word.

This post is dedicated to Funky Donnie Fritts.

In the midst of a mild fit of aggravation over having to rake leaves on a Sunday.

NYC today with Doug.

Lunch at Zinc with Jan (this is the official last post about food, unless of course I eat something amazing at Zinc and feel compelled to tell everyone about it).

I promise to refrain from anymore food posts for the next several days.

The single, stressed out, working mother’s dinner for three: scrambled egg sandwiches with ketchup.

I will never eat a turkey & brie sandwich with a side of lobster bisque again.

Making an investment in fixed fantasies.

Pressured into changing my profile picture.

A little Annie Dillard today.

To the polls

Shepherd’s pie, baked pumpkin seeds, apple cider, family & friends and loads of candy…

Act important and gain respect for being successful, even if you’re not.

The Antioxidant Packed Breakfast Smoothie: One cup of soy milk, 1/4 cup fresh squeezed pomegranate juice, 1 banana, a handful of blueberries, raspberries and strawberries, spinach leaf, dandelion leaf, broccoli sprouts and one scoop of Whey.

Grading a million papers and calculating quiz averages today. Booooooor-ing.

POLL: Should Tracy have her 6th grader vaccinated for H1N1/Swine Flu?

Many divine moments in the span of sixty seconds.

ASk yourself: is my update relevant? Does it appeal to the reader? If you answered no, hit DELETE

Atomically we are mostly empty space.

De-baptizing people with hairdryers.

Don’t write stories in your head at one a.m. just because you have insomnia.

Hiking through Valley Forge today with my wonderful, sexy boyfriend and our kids.

The blurry haze of a fever

Spoon feeding myself some tough love

Kinda looking forward to tonight, kinda not.

Alchemically challenged.

I so long for the day that I don’t have to dependent on certain things to sustain me…

Forced into being a night owl tonight, but for a good cause.

Yes. Done reading and commenting on all grad fiction. I officially have a free weekend.

is talking to Luscious on the phone and painting her nails.

is seeking solace in a heating blanket and 20 pillows.

is trying to create a future update that is relevant and exciting.

needs to take a break

is going to grade one more paper then head over to Cindy’s with a bottle of Shiraz in my hand.

Facebook as escapism is no longer working for me

Back to sushi diet.

Offsetting my anxiety with the Tallest Man on Earth.

is enjoying some good ol’ fashioned escapism.

Despite the misinformation that’s being passed around, I still buy organic.

Love, Love, Love…

is writing a sestina.

is drinking cheap Spanish wine with Doug and watching the Phils.

is happy to be here, posting away.

almost cracked her head open when the garage door fell on her. She so wanted to post an update from the ER but thought that might be a little melodramatic

feels like her head is in a pressure-cooker.

teaches her first class today.

is perturbed that she didn’t realize Kristy was in Wyoming.

is wearing a metaphorical bullet-proof vest today

‘s constant baking of pies and cookies is a ruse, designed merely to avoid real work.

is spooked by the noiselessness in her house and in her head.

has recovered from some pretty bad, rural American conservative jokes against women and watching poor little cows get hog-tied, or whatever.

Can I die if I take a shower during a thunderstorm? I really need to get ready to go out, but I don’t want to die.

Chicken don’t clap.

has just enough time to post this update.

just finished Amy Bloom’s short story “Sleepwalking.”

and her kids are addicted to Arrested Development

is the Maddening Obscurist.

feels the weight of September upon her.

is revisiting Prince’s 1999 album.

and her mother are now addicted to the creamed corn casserole…Obesity, I hear you calling.

thinks it’s probably a bad idea to take her son to the the dentist during his current coughing craze.

is frustrated (this update has nothing to do with sex).

is listening to the cicadas this morning.

is going to bed in the rain.

wants nothing to do with paint.

is writing.

just ran into JC on his lunch break (no, not Jesus Christ; that was yesterday).

probably won’t make it to her 9:30 class at the gym this morning because her son refuses to wake up.

When I opened my quarter-pounder with cheese meal (no onions) there on the bun was a crucifix. Unfortunately the only thing left of it to sell on ebay is this photo as the stigmata was eaten right along with the medium sized fries it came with.

Is going to say yes.

If anyone can give me five valid (operative word “valid”) reasons why we shouldn’t accept Obama’s health care reform I’ll shut up already and kiss your arse…

is back to reality, and the pile of bills is proof.

is starting the detox diet… tomorrow.

is rearranging the thoughts in her head.

wants to know what’s up with all these earthy-crunchy types going out into the Alaskan wilderness to build eco-friendly, sustained homes. Why not just do it to your own home instead of BUILDING MORE HOMES and junking up the planet further…

was reading Cosmo last night and appropriating sexy phrases for turning a guy on; one of which was “Wow, your penis is so big.”

remembers when she used to count the hours, then the minutes…

is paying unusually close attention to Liz’s posts, so as to prevent her from making egregious and unwarranted grammar mistakes.

and her sister-in-law spent the day with three sick children– until we all decided to leave the shore and come home.

s drinking good wine and having a great conversation with Jan, Nuria and Jody out on the back porch.

is up early for a teacher training seminar today. Home and missing the shore already.

had fun playing in the puddles last night, remembering the big flood of ’91 at the crack house.

has been entertaining, feeding, yelling at, laughing with and caring for 4 boys down the shore, all of whom are currently into wearing AXE deodorant.

is loving the salty, breezy, cool, quiet night…

My heart is so small it’s almost invisible. How can You place such big sorrows in it? “Look,” He answered, “your eyes are even smaller, yet they behold the world.” ~ Rumi ~

is hours away from a two-week vacation on Long Beach Island.

wonders when the word “surfeit” will be hers.

wants to know why triangle man hates person man, why’d they have a fight and why’d triangle man win???

regrets eating a HUGE chocolate muffin for breakfast 😦

s eating a HUGE chocolate muffin for breakfast and looking for a blueberry pie recipe online.

is challenging the status quo today

“But then when he had got settled at the hotel, and they had started their little pattern of cafe life at the Eckmühl-Noiseux, there had been nothing to write about- he could not establish a connection in his mind between the absurd trivialities which fi

is in a hotel room in the middle of nowhere.

has NOT smoked for 638 days, 10 hours, 49 minutes and 19 seconds (21 month anniversary).

is getting ready to make the tortilla española and cue the flamenco

isn’t ready to let her children grow up. Yeehaw for stunted growth! C’mon…who’s with me????

almost sent a love letter to Jan H instead of Doug H. Oops! Too many H’s in my “inbox.” 🙂

is her own worst enemy.

has counted the days of clouds and rain and knows the sun has had its fill of time-off and will soon be back again…

is dreaming of Marrakech…

is awaiting the arrival of her hot boyfriend.

is tap dancing on her own last nerve.

is re-reading The Sheltering Sky

might do something in the sun today.

is slowly coming back to life…

The Manzanares

June 16, 2010

This is a revised piece

There is a river that runs through Madrid. It’s called the Manzanares, and he’s right. It is ugly.

“It’s not the Seine, y’know.”

“I know, I know. But I’m curious. There’s got to be something to see. Can we go anyway?”

“No, there’s nothing to see. It’s ugly and you have to take the Renfe Cercanias.”

But I don’t mind taking the Renfe if it gets me out of Vallecas.

So, I go alone and he’s right. It is ugly. Maybe he told me to get off at Principe Pio. Maybe it was Puerta Del Angel. I can’t remember now. But I wind my way through orangy brick tenements, with green, mangled awnings before I see the river and make my way to the Puente de Segovia. It’s nothing to see. And I cross, pretending it’s the Pont Neuf or the Pont Alexandre III in Paris. I practice pronouncing the line in my head that some day I will speak if I ever go back: Je suis a la recherche d’ une personne du nom de… And I remember the nights I stood at the Pont St. Michel at three in the morning, soul kissing the American after dancing all night at Le Balad’jo. It hurts to do this. But the Manzanares is ugly, and I am useless and apoplectic when it comes to finding beauty when it isn’t there. I’m not creative enough. The water is black. The air is cold. And there are huge concrete cinder blocks left like debris on the sides of the bank.

I head back down the understated arc of the overpass. It’s late in the afternoon and I don’t want the Spaniard to worry. But I’m lost—I miss the turn at Calle Caramuel and keep heading down Antonio Zamora instead—looking for the entrance to the Metro, wandering down a street where a Gitana sings an unknown song of sorrow, tremulous and pulsating, from a terraza draped in laundry three flights up.

Reality Fiction

June 15, 2010


SO, last night was a night alone–completely alone–no kids, no boyfriend, no friends, no nothing. And quite honestly, I enjoyed the heck out of it. People who can’t be alone shock and amaze me. And it’s not that I make very good use of my “me time”: Dr. Phil and Intervention marathons are sadly as wild as I get.

But I did read last night; that’s a big plus.

There are several things I’m reading- Ron Rash’s Serena, Mat Johnson’s Hunting in Harlem, and then several lit mags: Creative NonFiction,  Glimmer Train, and Tin House, the latter of which was the only thing that interested me last night as it had a great interview with David Shields who believes in “tell don’t show” when it comes to fiction.

Interesting! If you know anything about fiction writing, as students we are told the opposite, that “show don’t tell” is the first rule of writing and so, our fiction ends up looking like this:

Carey studied the frozen dinners. He’d had turkey and dressing for the last four days, so salisbury steak would be good for a change. But did he want the Big Man’s or the regular?

A scent teased his nose. Not the overwhelming smell of fish and frostbite, but a fresh smell, like the smell of skin just out of the shower. He glanced sideways and saw the most perfect arm he’d ever seen in his life. Long, slender, graceful, full of sinewy muscle and smooth skin. His eyes followed the arm to the shoulder and then the head. Her head. A head covered with long blond hair and containing a face that made his heart stop.

“Hi,” she said, her voice rich and melodious.

Carey’s mouth didn’t work. He tried to return her greeting, but only a grunt came out. He tried to smile politely, but his face erupted with a grin as large and toothy and goofy as a cartoon character’s . . . (taken from: Inspiration for Writers)

The above, of course, is a bad example, and yet, it illustrates nicely what most of our fiction looks like. Shields is saying that “fiction” hasn’t caught up with our contemporary culture which is a blend of reality and fiction and that most literature is egoless because it “shows” action, rather than tells of what the mind is thinking, what the emotions are feeling. The subconscious, he argues, is what is most desired and what can be exposed in literature and yet no one is doing it.

I’m sure I’m bastardizing his philosophy, but what I find greatly fascinating is that when I worked with PBQ I kept pushing for what I called “Reality FIction.” KVM thought I was nuts. But my point was to expose a reality in fiction that no one seemingly wanted to read. Bad literature. But the reality was, as far as submissions to the magazine went, there was more bad stuff than good. And if we were to portray “reality” this is how we would do it. Not only that, but i wanted to publish the cover letters. Marion got me. KVM didn’t. Nice to know another “Shields” gets me.

He will be speaking and reading at Rutgers for the summer writers conference. I can’t wait!

On reading…well

June 11, 2010

I’ve started reading grad stories/submissions for the Writers Conference and praise be ta Jesus, I found two really good, inspiring  short stories in the batch. I’d rather not post names, lest I offend anyone, but i will say that both submissions had a very strong voice, I was able to visualize their characters and the story lines were both simple and direct. There are probably only three, maybe four students whose work inspires me. I find that number shockingly low for a grad program. But then again, that is based on personal taste. I’m sure there are other writers in the program whose work is admired by a group of their peers.

At any rate, I’m relatively pleased with my submission (Fertility) although my biggest fear is that the main character “Elaine” is not clear enough and the story line is not smooth enough. Is there enough build up from the point she becomes annoyed with this woman and her bag to the point where she plans to attack her? Is it believable? Is her personality consistent? Do I ramble too much?

What I really liked about these pieces I read last night was their consistency and creative twist- where their story lines went. I often feel my topics are not creative enough, my vocabulary or the way I put words together is not strong enough, and that I lose my way in a piece. It’s very hard for me to maintain the same voice throughout a piece, especially when i go back and edit and interject new stuff.

But Lauren Grodstein said something very important last semester: If you’re not writing well, you’re not reading the right stuff. And it’s so true. I feel as though I have not found anyone since Annie Dillard that inspires my own voice. The trouble is making time. My list of responsibilities is long: take care of kids, earn my paycheck, manage household, train for triathlon, read grad submissions, write my own stuff, revise, plan trip to Spain, spend time with D, time with family, friends, and so on. Corners have to be cut. For now, it’s reading good stuff- if and when I find it. Until then, I will continue shuffling through graduate work in hopes of finding a gem.