March 2010 Archives
Here's the word:
"A middle-aged married man whose indiscretion in a men's bathroom forces him to re-evaluate his chosen life becomes a surprisingly sympathetic narrator in this potent debut." --Publisher's Weekly
"If you're looking for a smart, engaging, witty, sad and unusual book about the complicated nature of family and love, try Tom Mendicino's Probation. You'll be glad you did." --Bart Yates
"If David Sedaris were cast as Willy Loman, it might sound something like Probation. Andy, a sharp-tongued traveling salesman, gives us the life events that led to his being taken away in hand-cuffs, and the hilarious and agonizing self-inquiry that follows. Snarky yet profound, it is a bold examination of the destructive effects of a life spent in the closet, reported with a Carolina twang." --Vestal McIntyre
If you'll be in the vicinity, the reading's at the Barnes & Noble at 2289 Broadway & 82nd Street at 7:00 p.m. Congratulations, Tom, and good luck!
Anyway, I'm always pruriently curious about other writers' processes, especially writers I admire, which is why the arrival in the mail of Writers and Their Notebooks (U of South Carolina, 2010) this week was such a gleeful occasion. Edited by Diana Raab, it includes short essays by a variety of writers about how they use their notebooks. It's divided into sections: "The Journal as Tool," "The Journal for Survival," "The Journal for Travel," "The Journal as Muse," and "The Journal for Life," and includes writers as varied as Kyoko Mori, Dorianne Laux, Michael Steinberg, James Brown, and Sue Grafton (yes, of detective-novel fame). I really enjoyed essays by the lovely Wendy Call, whom I'm lucky enough to know, and Mark Pawlak, whom I don't and to whose work I'm happy to be introduced. From Wendy Call's essay:
The introduction and apparatus promise to be helpful, too, and the book as a whole is a good model for me (as I continue to plod through the process of editing a collection), because it's well organized, clearly focused, and useful.Every writer has her obsessions--one of mine is nest building. I'm fascinated by the ways we create the physical and emotional place called home. It is built one stick, one glinting thing, a single thread at a time. Dorothy Allison calls her writer's journal "a witness, a repository, and playground." My journal has a similar range of purpose. It is a wailing wall, a laboratory, and junk drawer.
If you already use a notebook, Writers and Their Notebooks offers a variety of new ways to employ it. If you don't, it might convince you to give notebooks a try.
Believe me: you're not the only one who wonders how to interact or what that brief phone call meant. Read Mitchell's thoughts from the other side of the desk here.
It's cold and overcast outside but cozy in our apartment. The walls are splashed with swatches of yellow, gold, and orange paints we're trying out in the living room, the ficus has recovered from the trauma of being moved and is putting out baby green leaf-shoots, the rosemary plants are loving the windowsill, and I'm busily writing my pieces for two panels at this spring's AWP Conference in Denver. If you're there, I hope to see you!
For the first time, I'm dragging the handsome husband along, so if you spot a beautiful man wandering lost around the bookfair, point him in my direction, would you? (I mean, just in case.)
Speaking of the husband, my lyric essay about his body (yup) is coming out any minute now in the latest issue of Seneca Review. I'm told Adrienne Rich has a piece in it. Apparently, the contributors' copies are just about to go into the mail, and I can't wait to read mine.
How it happened is that one of the guest editors, the lovely Ralph Savarese, invited me to write a piece for a special issue on the body. I knew Ralph had taught The Truth Book at Grinnell, so I kinda sorta guessed he might have wanted a piece that dealt with The Body in those terms, but I honestly, really didn't wanna write another piece on the abused body, the molested body, etc., etc., etc.--I just wasn't in the mood. So I sent one piece about manufacturing artificial hip joints in a factory in West Virginia, which was my first job in high school, but they rejected that one. So then I wrote about loving my husband's body, which happens to be an awfully nice specimen of the genre. And to my surprise, they took the piece.
James and I have been together for--dear God--about 18 years now, and we'll celebrate our 15th wedding anniversary in April. Because of my background (sexual abuse, philandering father, etc.), I was not especially prone to monogamy when we met, and I had to learn how not to run away. Love taught me staying power. 18 years is a long time with the same body. (Don't guffaw, Faye S.; I know we've got nothing on you and Marv. I'm just sayin.')
Here's a snippet:
The essay is called "Vesper Adest," which is the opening line of an epithalamium, a wedding poem, by Catullus. It means, "Evening is come," and of course evening is when the bride and bridegroom get to finally head off to the bridal chamber, but I think it works nicely with the idea of getting older, too. (I do cringe a little at the pretension of titling something in Latin, but I really liked the doubled way the phrase worked with the subject matter: celebratory, elegiac.)Famous men have always written of the beauty of women, how poignant or pitiable or repulsive its twilight is, how the loathsomeness of pleating flesh drives them to withdraw their shrinking love and find someone fresh, a girl smooth and buoyant with promise.
For me to gaze back, then--to see the man's aging body; to fail to loathe it, and not to fret about my own: is that a radical act? A strike against fascism? I don't feel bad about my neck.
In upcoming events, poet Meg Kearney will be reading here in Lincoln on Thursday, March 25th at Nebraska Wesleyan. Meg is the director and a founder of the Pine Manor low-residency MFA program in creative writing, for which I happily taught for three years. Her poetry is moving and wonderful; I always loved the readings she gave at Pine Manor, and I'm looking forward to hearing her again on the 25th. Her reading's at 7:30 p.m. in the Callen Conference Center, which is at 5000 Saint Paul Avenue.
Reporter Leo Biga has just finished interviewing Amelia Montes and me because of our pieces in An Angle of Vision: Women Writers on their Poor and Working-Class Roots, edited by Lorraine López. He's writing a piece for El Perico, a bilingual newspaper in Omaha. Six or so of the writers included in the collection are Latina, so it's very cool that word about the book will be getting out to the Latin@ population here in Nebraska. Thanks, Leo! Thanks, El Perico!
We've just been reading Wide Sargasso Sea in class, so my mind's on how a dominant voice--backed by money and the power of the metropole--can erase and madden someone else's truth.
And how generous Hegemony is with its answers! Here are just two that scratched their fingernails across my brain this week.
David Denby, reviewing Roman Polanski's The Ghost Writer in the March 8, 2010 New Yorker, refers in passing--admiringly--to Olivia Williams "one of the rare actresses who seem more intelligent and beautiful as they get angrier." Just in passing, mind you. It's not his focus; it's an aside.
But pause. Let that sink in. So . . . the majority of actresses, then, seem more stupid and ugly as they get angrier? Do women in general, David Denby? (Is it any wonder that so many women have trouble expressing anger directly?) Is that true of male actors, of men?
On to #2. Nathaniel Rich, who turns all of 30 tomorrow, is perhaps surprisingly young to be the senior editor of fiction at The Paris Review, but then, he's had unusual opportunities. His father is Frank Rich, who writes for the New York Times; his brother Simon writes humor for the New Yorker. He grew up in Manhattan and graduated from Yale. He worked at the New York Review of Books straight out of college.
Hegemony. Money. The metropole.
Why does this matter to you, writers? Well, at the Paris Review, a most desirable publication venue for any writer, Nathaniel Rich serves as the decider, the gatekeeper. His taste determines what gets into the journal's pages.
So I found it rather fascinating to stumble across this window into his desires. It appeared in Canteen Magazine this January in what Rich's own website describes as "an autobiographical nonfiction piece." Its title, "Over Ernest," suggests that it's looking back at youthful folly; that the author's early infatuation with Hemingway is now outgrown. Still, its opening paragraph is fascinating:
While being fellated by a native woman.There was a time—not as long ago as I’d like to believe—when I imagined all novelists as Ernest Hemingways, hero-adventurers who shot tigers, fought in wars, seduced wild-eyed women, gambled their life savings at high-stakes poker, won duels, lost duels, and wrote frantic bursts of prose while standing upright in their rented rooms in Havana or Saigon or Beirut. I didn’t fully understand the standing-upright part, but I had read that Hemingway worked this way. At first I figured it had something to do with the immense ferocity of the act; surely he was too wired with genius to sit down at a desk. The more I thought about it, though, it occurred to me that the reason Hemingway wrote standing up was to allow a woman (his muse, no doubt) to more easily “inspire” him while he was in the midst of his demanding labor. This image—of the great writer madly scribbling masterpieces while being fellated by a native woman—haunted me. If this was the writing life, who wouldn’t want to be a writer? . . . I had just turned 21 years old.
Gentle readers, we recently read and discussed in class an excerpt from Madwoman in the Attic, that groundbreaking work of feminist criticism from the 1970s. The students were shocked by the wildly sexist things that the nineteenth- and twentieth-century male writers said about the blood-congested male drive they saw as essential to writing works of literary genius.
How backward, we all said.
Yet here we go again, in 2010. (Hey, it's working for Avatar.)
Okay, so Nathaniel Rich was young and oversexed when he fantasized about Hemingway. Okay, so surely the essay will later take his younger self to task--I couldn't tell, because Canteen only excerpts the first page. (Invited to read more--by subscribing, at $10 an issue--gee, I declined.) Okay, so it was 9 whole years ago.
But not as long ago as I'd like to believe.
Always modest, Lorraine says she's still stunned and ecstatic. It's going to be a whirlwind until March 23, when the winner is announced. Wow!
Regarding the issue of representing latinidad, Lorraine says that she "intended to produce stories for [the colllection] that would shift the focus from the performance of ethnicity that essentializes cultural experience. . . ." The L.A. Times includes a lengthy passage from a lovely 2-page interview, which you can access in full at BkMk's webpage for the book:
Lorraine's also co-editing a new collection, The Other Latino, that addresses this very issue--the expected performance of Latina/o ethnicity--from multiple perspectives. It's due out next year from University of Arizona Press.
Q: Your collection has many Latino characters, and they all interact with characters from other backgrounds. Did you intend this bicultural or multicultural dimension of the book from the start, and do you think Latino writers face any special challenges in writing about Latino characters and culture for today’s varied literary audiences?
Lopez: This is a complicated question, and I thank you for asking it. For me, I did not set out to do more than explore characters beyond their cultural definition. As mentioned, I wanted to avoid that performance of identity that essentializes cultural experience. I am not interested in providing the usual themes, characters, and props that many associate with Latino literature. These do not characterize my experience as a Latina, so why should I artificially simulate such things to validate stereotypic notions? I can think of no reason to do this, except to gratify expectations of others....
I am not out to give anyone (including myself) what he or she might be expecting. In speaking to other Latino writers, I find that we similarly resist gratifying expectations that our characters perform in culturally expected ways, say, rolling tortillas, bopping around the barrio, or gathering wisdom from a sweet abuela. More and more, Latino literature is evolving away from such stereotypes, and becoming more interesting and challenging in the process.
In the meantime, lift a glass to Lorraine!