I'm on a roll with the Squarespace! Made a new website for my writing group. Check it out at www.allhappyfam.com.Read More
I taught my first class for the School of Making Thinking last week, and we came up with a bunch of categories for types of dialogue. Because there was no chalkboard in our classroom at the Abrons Art Center, I took notes on a big piece of butcher paper. If you are reading this, can you add any other categories to this list?
- Egging On
- Free Association
- Word Salad
The novel is such an imperfect form. It is the sum total of a zillion tiny fragments, gathered over hours and minutes and years. It is like a wall that has been painted and repainted, and repainted again, and again, but only very rarely stripped. I am on draft 3 or 4 or 6 or something—it's hard to keep track—and still I am finding woefully nonfactual details, mismatched leftovers from several drafts ago that no longer go with the document of today.Read More
As I work on edits to my book I've had to do a find-and-replace for the word "water" several times. Going through the left-hand panel on Microsoft Word I found that the incidences made their own sort of poetry.
An incomplete list:
- The uneven basement floor was flooded with puddles of stagnant water that seemed to be generating clouds of mosquitos.
- What I mean is have you heard the seagulls call at the water’s edge in a gray rain?
- Nude, I filled a pot of water and put it on the stove.
- I picked up the pot with two potholders and lugged it back into the studio, careful not to spill any boiling water on my naked skin.
- The water level rose.
- Hot water sloshed onto the floor.
- I hopped back from the scalding water, perspiring heavily.
- I held my dad’s old meat thermometer in the sink, took the temperature of the water, and waited.
- The rice and water came slowly to a boil, and I filled a short glass with ice and a shot of the cheap Polish vodka I kept in the freezer.
- My eyes watered as I tried not to cough.
- Water and snapdragons spilled all over the concrete floor.
- I washed my hands and splashed water on my face without thinking to take off my glasses.
- A catalog from B&H, a water bill, a reminder from my optometrist’s office that it was time to get my eyes checked.
- When I turned around I saw she’d already wandered in, and was browsing the art books lined up on the raw two-by-four shelves I’d bolted into the walls, noting the pot in the sink, encrusted with burnt rice and full of cold soapy water.
- I could make coffee. Wait, no. I’m out of beans. Water, then.
- Water or vodka. Or tea.
- The penthouse was skylit and wood-paneled, and totally incongruous with the tar-topped skyscape of broken windows and water towers that surrounded it.
- Can I get you two anything? A beer? Soda water?
- Got down on my knees and cleaned deep in the cracks between the poured concrete floor, scrubbing with soapy water until they were mud.
- She said, My rent is five hundred. What? I said, laughing. Do you get, like, heat and hot water that the rest of us don’t have? She raised her eyebrows. My smile faded. That son of a bitch, I said.
- I went back in, leaving the front door open, and washed my face, brushed my teeth, and splashed some water in my hair.
- I’d look out at the glowing city as a ferry went by, its lit windows casting unsteady light on the water’s surface.
- The kitchen was clotted with dishes and pots and pans and glasses, the dining table with ten or twelve empty bottles and plates that held the remains of pie and empty ice cream cartons and scattered utensils and more glasses half-full of water or stained with wine.
- The water was frigid so I let it run.
- The water ran ten minutes and never got any warmer.
- She came back out with two glasses of water and set them on the table. I’m sorry, she said, that’s just not good enough.
- The Pontiac's axels whined and water sloshed in the tires as I eased it through the wide and shallow lake of saltwater between the reeds.
- In the rearview mirror, a stretch of wetlands reached out toward a horizon black and jagged with trees, the water afire with sunset sky.
- A cloud passed and clean white sun flooded the sand, refracted off the water.
- As the pharmacist went to work on her prescription she browsed the aisles, picking up and putting down water wings and sunglasses, vitamins and douches, with fidgety disinterest.
- I flipped through the pages. Glossy color photos of young green forests and beaches at sunset. Waterfalls that had been photographed on a long exposure so that their cascades looked soft and blurred as mist. I said, I hope this didn’t cost you anything.
- But my mother. Jesus, my mother. Waterworks the whole fucking time.
- I vomited until I had nothing left. My throat stung, my eyes watered, my hands trembled.
- He began talking very quickly: I was minding my own damn business—listening to a little music, heating up a little water to wash up—when I hear this fucking banging on the door.
- In the dark basement they stepped into a lake of inch-high, half-frozen, stagnant water and a thick layer of stinking smoke.
- The day we had no more hot water, no more heat, that was bad. The day I found roaches in the kitchen, rats under the bed? That was worse.
- The East River is not actually a river at all, but a saltwater tidal strait, all quick dark current glistening under bridges and out to sea.
- In our little castle on a hill we are beholden to several simple guidelines: we must feed the children, of course, and keep them warm in the winter, and provide running water so that they may wash their grubby hands.
- I got as close as I could to the water and looked up and out, skin prickling.
- I kept turning to go, then stopping myself—no, not yet—and turning back toward the water.
- The waterfront property he wants to convert to luxury condos is, unfortunately, infested with tenants and other animals.
- I walked home in a daze, through the lush tree-lined streets of the Heights, down the hill, toward the water.
- They were all drawings and paintings on paper. Many had been done in simple charcoal, but some had been done in tender watercolor, or had wrestled with streaks or splashes of gouache.
At some point, after teaching creative writing for a few years, I decided that for many writers flashback is a crutch, and made a big stink about how I don't like it. I tried to be funny about this, and to roll my eyes at myself when I said so, but basically my message was: don't use flashback within the context of a scene unfolding in present action. It breaks up momentum, and short-circuits the story, telling us things we could fund out in a separate section or in exposition.
Recently, though, I received this question from a student, quoted below with her permission…Read More
One of my newest projects is this weekly newsletter, through which I send out writing prompts. I started it as a way to offer prompts to students and former students, and I've been gaining subscribers, albeit slowly.
Recently, after the desperately dispiriting election, like so many artists I'd been trying to come up with ways I might engage more seriously with political resistance. Over the weekend I had a conversation with a friend about how freedom of speech and freedom of the press are integral to democracy. Today, after reading about the crackdown on the free press in Turkey, I posed this question to my newsletter subscribers: What would your own act of political resistance be? How, in a country without first amendment protection, would you be punished for it?
I have no real answers to the question of how artists today can or should join our national political conversation. But writing this prompt, though it was a very small act, felt like a start.
I've been working on another round of edits to my manuscript. Most of them are mechanical, but today I hit on a meaningful one. For context, here's what precedes the relevant lines:
She lowered herself clumsily to the floor and sat with her knees pulled up to her chest, her back against a kitchen cabinet. I sat down beside her. The rubber floor covering was shaped like honeycomb, and though the rest of the kitchen was Ajax clean, in all its hexagonal reticula there were accumulations of dust and hair and crumbs and onionskins. Pressing her fingers to her eyes and face, Kate began to shake. When she spoke her words were warped by sobs. I want to die, she said. I want to die.
I felt almost physically ill. I felt unprepared and wrong for the occasion. I was a baseball glove at a black tie dinner. A floor-length gown on a boy scout.
Those last metaphors hadn't ever been right, and I knew it. This morning I came up with a couple of replacements. Now it reads:
I was a bicycle helmet at a football game. A book of knock-knock jokes shelved among memoirs.
So. Much. Better. Am literally sighing with relief.
In 2018 I will join the ranks of some of my favorite writers when my novel is published by Scribner. I cannot understate how big a deal this is. It is, by far, the biggest thing that's ever happened to me. I'm excited, I'm nervous, I'm honored, I'm thrilled. I can't wait for what comes next.
Several months ago on this island I love, I wandered into a windy chapel on top of a rock surrounded by ocean. It was not long after sunrise and harsh winds shook the windowpanes. I opened a book at random and read the following prayer:
May all that is unlived in you blossom into a future graced with love.
With that in mind, and with my fingers crossed, I write the following: This is the last installment of my novel-related Google searches, because I have finally finished my novel. (Again.)
Saint John the Divine peacocks
fox and hedgehog
police precinct DUMBO Brooklyn
hair bands, the Melvins
ArtExpo New York
Pentax camera models
To celebrate 20 years of publishing, the Baltimore Review has launched a series on its blog called Milestones, and they're asking previous contributors to write short (no more than 750-word) essays on the theme. As a previous contributor (they published my short story "The Installation" in 2013), I was eligible to offer something. I am happy to say that they published my post, a meditation on writing, the body, and tugboats. Take a read.Read More
Coffee & Cigarettes, Jim Jarmusch
Kids in the Hall VHS tapes
rats' nest; shirt cardboard
burning a photograph (video)
minimum wage 1992
popular perfumes 1992
by what margin did Bill Clinton defeat George H. W. Bush?
nickname for George Washington
common small animals Netherlands
Dutch diminutive ending
Dutch folklore ghosts
legal requirements taking a student off school grounds
memory retrieval alters
children's toy wire beads
My cousins, who live in a beautiful house down the street from my own, asked me to house-sit while they were on vacation. I decided to take the opportunity to take the week off from work, and make some serious progress on my book. I'm calling it my self-imposed writing residency. The conditions:
- Primary activity must be writing.
- Each morning must consist of work on the novel (afternoons may consist of other writing projects).
- Secondary activities lasting more than 10 minutes must be related to writing (e.g. submissions, outlining, free-writing, reading/research).
- No Gchat, no more than 10 minutes of social media per day, no texting for fun (only for logistics purposes).
- Daily activities must be (b)logged here, for the sake of accountability.
Are You My Mother?
best-selling coffee table books 1980s
faux wood paneling 70s material
1992 major sporting events December
Either It's Love or It Isn't lyrics
anatomy of an analog telephone
Massachusetts Yellow Pages
how many cigarettes are in a pack?
Czech boy names
Just one thing: getting your contributor copies, then opening the table of contents to find that you're in the same issue as one of your heroes.
I just received word that a new short story of mine will be published in The Iowa Review! It will come out in spring or summer 2017. That seems like a lifetime away, but the wait will be so worth it. The good news comes on the heels of a rejection from the MacDowell Colony. Why do I ride this rollercoaster? Oh right, I ride it for love.
Sometimes when I'm having a lot of feelings it helps to write a sonnet… or two. I got the idea from my wonderful poet friend Lawrence. What I love about sonnets is that the rules are so strict, they almost force you to get emotionally organized. Also, it doesn't take long to dash one off—maybe half an hour—so even if you don't end up with a great poem, you do get a pretty satisfying creative-emotive quick fix.
So all you want, you say, my love, is peace.
And peace from what? I think I know: from me.
Quiet’s out of our reach. My mind’s a feast
of fury, pain, despair, anomaly.
I think about you leaving me for her:
the perfect and imaginary girl.
Some poised wry nerd who’s able to infer
the meaning behind all your words’ tough whirl.
But then, eventually, I realize
that you don’t want companionship or smarts.
A woman, you're afraid, would terrorize
you with her wild whims and desperate heart.
So I guess I’ll be alone and hectic
since I cannot be your antiseptic.
I look to you for reassurance when
I’m feeling lost or desperate or odd.
You tell me not with typing, not with pen.
You couldn’t, not with words, not with a nod.
My desperation, boy, it goes beyond
you, beyond myself. It’s metaphysics:
We all of us are spinning free, no bond
to keep us held together. I’m seasick!
I’m queasy with aloneness! I’m afraid
that everything you’ve told me’s been a lie.
Maybe there's no real reason to unbraid
myself from you, and yet I fear we'll die
without achieving greatness, not through love.
To think I thought I fit you like a glove.