March 2011 Archives

Best of Times, Worst of Times

| Comments (3)

Dear readers, the University of Iowa was lovely.  I had a wonderful time there teaching an intensive, generative memoir workshop last week (during UNL's spring break).  The graduate students were excellent, the Shambaugh House was a lovely and comfortable space in which to teach (my red velvety chair was practically a throne), and my reading at Prairie Lights was really fun.  Prairie Lights staff members Lindsey, Nana, and Jan were great, and where else but in Iowa City would so many people turn up on a cold/rainy/windy/ultimately-snowy night for a reading?  Robin Hemley threw a great party at his beautiful house, and wow, can his wife cook!

Tomorrow, the manuscript of ISLAND OF BONES goes to the University of Nebraska Press.  I'm excited to be making my deadline!  This is a collection of memoir essays about, oh, you name it:  mothering, latinidad, the academy, being poor, not being poor anymore, writing, teaching, love, and so on.  Kind of like a sequel to The Truth Book, but happier.  And thank goodness for that. 

My editor, Kristen Elias Rowley, hopes to be able to bring out the book in Fall 2012.  We'll see.  These things don't always progress according to plan.  And THE DESIRE PROJECTS, thus far, is slated for Spring 2012, which should be a tumultuous year, Mayan projections aside.

However, something very strange and sad also happened in Iowa last week.  I'd just gotten back from a great dinner and then drinks afterward at an underground pub with a graduate student there who is also a friend.  When I returned to my hotel room (far too late), I had a voicemail waiting.  My biological father (Lenny in the opening of The Truth Book) had died. 

I felt absolutely shaken and stunned and sad.  He was young.  It was not expected.  He passed away in his sleep.  He was a kind man.  Messed up in some ways, but kind.  He made an effort.  He reached out to people.  He had a gentle soul.  I've known him since my late 20s. 

So I did that thing I do:  compartmentalized the hell out of it.  Workaholism may not be everyone's coping strategy of choice, but it's been my saving grace on more than one occasion.  I gave my Prairie Lights reading and taught the rest of the week without mentioning it to anyone in Iowa.  I thought, If I say this out loud to anyone, I'll fall apart.  I won't be able to keep going.  I'll have to leave.  I'll be that visitor whose father died in the middle of her residency.  So I sucked it up.  I started to tell my friend, there in the middle of the party, but once her eyes were on me, I couldn't, and I changed the subject.  I got home and plowed through my book manuscript one more time.

So there you have it:  the story behind the story.

Now the Handsome Husband, Greyby, and I are planning to head across states for the funeral service. 

Oh, my heartbreaking, messed up parents.  Stop dying. 




After the Day's Work

| Comments (2)

Like many of you, I've been following the news about Japan with pain, sorrow, and concern.  Such misery and grief--and anxiety, as we continue to watch and wait.  I'm glad that other countries are using this moment as a chance to question the wisdom of building new nuclear facilities, but I'm not sure glad is even the word to use.  Peace on Japan.

Here's some much more local news about friends, colleagues, and happenings.

First, a shout-out to my friend and colleague Rhonda Garelick, whose recent op-ed piece in the New York Times leaps from Galliano's recent bout of verbal cruelty and anti-Semitism to link fashion's and fascism's "cult of physical perfection."  Bravo, and pass the chips.

Next, though it might seem ironic on the heels of Rhonda's piece, file this little splat of fashion limelight under Reasons To Be Terrance.  All this, and writes dazzlingly, too--and he's one of the nicest colleagues I've ever had (at Pine Manor).  We should all be so blessed with gifts and grace.

Me, I'm finishing up my manuscript of personal essays, ISLAND OF BONES, for delivery to the University of Nebraska Press on April first--very exciting, nerve-wracking, panic-inducing, etc.--while packing for a week at the University of Iowa, where I'll be spending my spring break teaching a memoir workshop to graduate students in the creative nonfiction program. 

And I get to read at Prairie Lights, people!  Prairie Lights is a sort of heaven, an icon, a wee paradise for book-lovers traversing the Midwest.  James and I have spent many happy hours there on various trips, and now it'll be a thrill to get to read there.  I may not return to campus with quite the tan that my students will be sporting after spring break, but I'll get to see friends Stephanie Elizondo Griest, Daisy Hernández, and who knows who else? 

I'm also receiving the final batch of essays for FAMILY TROUBLE:  MEMOIRISTS ON THE HAZARDS AND REWARDS OF REVEALING FAMILY, an editing project that some of you saw flopping about in its inchoate beginnings back at AWP in 2008.  Some great pieces from Dinty Moore and Faith Adiele recently arrived, with just a few more left to come.  It's going to be an amazing book--a book I wish I'd had as a graduate student, and a book I'll definitely teach with. 

My research assistant Sindu, a meticulous copyeditor and insightful reader, is helping me tremendously on both of these collections.  Thank you, Sindu!  Thank you, UNL!

And my new editor for THE DESIRE PROJECTS sent me a copy of Denise Mina's Field of Blood, which is why I'm now using wee as a modifier about everything.  (Read it and you'll see; it's addictive.  Wee bastard.  Wee lassie.  And what does bint mean?) 

Nothing like having a young, poor, ambitious Glaswegian girl who's worried about her fat tummy all the time as the protagonist of a novel.  She's a "copyboy" (ah, the casual sexism of the 1980s) who wants to be a journalist, and the guy who asks, "Who's that fat lassie?" when he first sees her is the one she ends up in bed with (after quitting her solid, dull fiancé).  Very happily, I might add. 

I have to say I loved it.  Very well written crime fiction, if you're in the mood for that.

And wasn't it nice of my editor to send it?

Lastly, my friend Barbara DiBernard has just been awarded the Louise Pound-George Howard Distinguished Career Award here at UNL for a lifetime of stellar teaching, research, public service, and administration.  She started here as a James Joyce scholar but moved her teaching and research into LGBT and disability issues and is beloved by generations of grateful students and colleagues; my friend Kim (who owns Indigo Bridge Books, which I'm told I rattle on about incessantly) still vividly remembers the class she took from Barbara long ago.  I visited Barbara's women's lit class this morning to talk with her students about The Truth Book, which they'd been reading, and had a wonderful time. 

Barbara, you'll be so missed when you retire this spring.




Index Cards

Authors use index cards for all kinds of things:  to track ideas, to plot novels, to jot down random lines that might, with luck, turn into something later.  In my office at UNL, where I do not do any creative writing (can't manage it; too industrial, too public), I use index cards to post little statements that motivate me and keep me on track. 

Here are my current favorites, in case any might possibly be useful, inspiring, or comforting to you:

Fearlessness is the first prerequisite to a spiritual life.

Every sin is an attempt to fly from emptiness.
~Simone Weil

All growth is a leap in the dark, a spontaneous unpremeditated act without the benefit of experience.
~Henry Miller

The most perfect technique is that which is not noticed at all.
~Pablo Casals

Where any view of Money exists, Art cannot be carried on, but War only.
~William Blake

I never feel age.  If you have creative work, you don't have age or time.
~Louise Nevelson

Yes, it took a certain courage, but as a writer one has to take the chance on being a fool . . . yes, to be a fool, that perhaps requires the greatest courage.
~Anne Sexton

And this last one, my personal favorite:

There is no reason, no need, to make a contest out of anything.
~Cheri Huber


Mujeres, Start Your Engines

| Comments (2)

VIDA: Women in Literary Arts recently released the results of its count.  If you haven't seen these handy pie graphs of the ratios of men to women published in major publications, check them out.  As Amy King writes, "We know women write. We know women read. It’s time to begin asking why the 2010 numbers don’t reflect those facts with any equity."  Always suffer a mild bout of gender depression after reading Harper's or The New Yorker, no matter how good the issue is?  VIDA offers you the stats to support your queasy feeling.  Peruse.  

Got theories?  VIDA offers a forum where you can send in your own thoughts about the gender disparity in publishing and reviewing. 

Of course, the editors of these featured journals haven't accepted this critique of their gender politics lying down.  Carolyn Zaikowski deftly takes on the rebuttals

In local news, the big immigration symposium, Diverse Faces, Shared Histories, is all set for this Friday at the Great Plains Art Museum.  Major folks like Nicole Guidotti-Hernández and Mary Pipher will be speaking.  The evening reading at the Sheldon will feature readings by yours truly, together with Amelia Montes, Ricardo García, and Fran Kaye.  Fun to read with a group!  More like a party. 

Another cool campus event will be on Wednesday, March 16, when my friend Jeannette Jones will be reading and signing her terrific scholarly book In Search of Brightest Africa.  The reading's at 7:00 p.m. at the UNL Bookstore in the student union.  Jeannette's great, and so is the book.

In other very local news, I'm super-happy to have won this year's UNL Sorensen Award for outstanding teaching in the humanities.  They only give out one a year (and it's kinda ka-ching, when most teaching awards are little more than a handshake and a certificate), so I'm popping the champagne.  Many, many, many thanks to Gerry Shapiro, who nominated me, and all the faculty and students who wrote letters on my behalf. 
If you're interested in poetry and latinidad--or just questions of ethnicity, identity, and writing--then check out this amazing new project by Francisco Aragón, the Latino/a Poets Roundtable, featuring Maria Melendez, Blas Falconer, and nine other great poets.  I'm looking forward to reading it slowly.  There's a lot to take in.

Lastly, faithful readers, my contract for THE DESIRE PROJECTS is being negotiated as I type.  (Love you, Mitchell the miraculous agent!) 

Does this excitement make me nervous, scatterbrained, unable to focus, unable to eat?  It does. 

Am I dying to tell you?  I am. 

Am I prudent enough to wait until the ink is dry? 

Just barely, lovely people.  Just barely.