Tuesday, March 30, 2010
Thursday, March 25, 2010
Monday, March 22, 2010
This is just gorgeous! "Ballet on a pole," indeed.
Saturday, March 20, 2010
Monday, March 15, 2010
There are two kinds of lives possible. One is that of the utterly pulled together and polished author. The kind of person always in control. Who is never guilty of typos. Who revises each thing unto its death, so it can live blameless and perfect on a page in a book on a shelf.
And the other life is that which I spent a long time resisting. A sprawling life was how I used to see it. Messy, disorganized, reaching in a million directions, not content to be full to the brim, spilling over, and over, and over. Typos and interests and thoughts and feelings and thoughtfulness and forgetfulness abound. I’ve come to see that life as an embrace. Now I see it as the writer Philip Graham gently suggested to me: as a chance to fail, inventively, in a million ways, a different one each time but to never take “failure” as a negative thing—rather to see it as an active process of recognizing the ever-undoneness of our work. Of our lives. And isn’t that better? Isn’t that actually even more humble? To acknowledge the imperfections of one’s person and life?
Thomas Lynch, in Apparitions & Late Fictions, is definitely the latter kind of writer. I can sense the trembling sides of his stories, the weak thudding flanks, but how better to at least be filled with life? There is nothing cold, collected, or controlled about the stories. They sprawl, crawl, veer too far in spurious directions, but they also breathe. I can see where the stories that make up this slender volume would get deconstructed in a fiction workshop, but they are not any less good stories in the moments that they do veer away from the expectations of Literary Fiction with Important Capital Letters. It means only that Lynch had the bravery and imagination to experiment. The willingness to not necessarily succeed.
“Catch and Release” and “Bloodsport” are your standard-length short stories; “Hunter’s Moon” and “Matinee de September” are more sprawling; and, finally, the title story of the collection “Apparition” is novella-length at about 90 pages. It is as if, as you go through the collection, each story emboldens the next to be twice as long.
The vividness of detail, the large and importantness of theme, all make me recall other “grand stories” I’ve read and ideas for ones I want to write. It’s exactly what I want in a book, highly preferable to “perfection”—whatever that is, anyway, doubt it exists. I want a story that opens things up, that flings my own imagination open wide and far, that makes me see things that are possible in my own work or allows me to understand events in my own life.
These are quiet and quirky little gems of story. Very small arcs. Lynch’s use of backstory is noticeable but pretty quickly dispatched. His prose is gorgeous, and he particularly wields skillfully the jargon-heavy worlds of fishing, autopsy/funeral preparation, academia, the popular religion book circuit: skillfully navigating between unexplained authenticity (not dumbing it down) and showing readers just enough to get by.
Throughout, what hangs above the heads of these people is death and what one has made of one’s life. Sometimes it is the death of others and sometimes the harbinger of one’s own imminent demise, but either way, all of these living characters are haunted. Lynch’s characters are withdrawn into themselves and stuck inside their own minds and stuck with their own selves.
New Rule: I’m always allowed to buy books at readings/panel events—especially if (a) I liked the writer’s reading and (b) having a book for them to sign will give me an excuse to interact with them.
This may turn out to be an expensive New Rule.
This may turn out to be an expensive New Rule.
First of all, if you haven’t been to Greenlight, GO. It is such a gem of an addition to Fort Greene. Before Greenlight, I was trucking back to Barnes and Noble in Brooklyn Heights and feeling mighty unsatisfied. I mean, if I had to go that far, I might as well go all the way to BookCourt, since that’s at least another indie bookstore–and one, I might add, that also houses an excellent reading/event series.
I strongly agree with Khaliah Williams’s notion that “The sound of an author reading his own work can change everything.” I will add to that thought that the reading/Q&A is also a chance for an author to really stick a foot in it, to turn me off almost completely to his or her work—for example, if she or he is overly cocky or completely incoherent without a charming shyness being the source of the incoherence—but that’s another story entirely.
I had never heard of Tiphanie Yanique before receiving the Greenlight mailer about their upcoming readings, but when the book was described as “a collection of stories and a short novel set in her native Virgin Islands. It's part oral history, part postcolonial narrative, and tells odd and magical stories that are both epic and intimate,” I was sold.
Hearing Tiphanie read and bearing witness to the conversation between Tiphanie and Tayari changed everything. Tiphanie is on my radar now and in a large way. She is a writer after my own—admittedly selective and stupidly public about my selectiveness—heart.
First off, she was a fabulous reader, confident and sure, standing staunchly by her work, unashamed, proud. This is notable perhaps only to me, one of the world’s least confident readers.
Second, in the single piece she read (the title story of the collection), Tiphanie managed to hold up to the light all of my favorite notions: explorations of insiderness and outsiderness, feeling or being Othered, visibility in women and people of color, of needing to overcome histories that tell you your experience is not a story worth telling, a confused notion of “home,” of lacking the culture or language to consider oneself at home anywhere, what searching for where you belong and radically finding it in a person, not a place. “Home is where my husband is,” says Tiphanie. The epigraph to the collection reads: “‘Lead us toward those we are waiting for, those who are waiting for us.’ From the prayer to Saint Raphael, patron saint of lovers and travelers.” Tiphanie explains that this was the notion that tied the collection together for her—that in each story, a character finds his or her home in another character.
Third, there is Tiphanie’s person. She swears freely, which we know is a quality I like, but holds that, palm up and balanced, with a notion of herself as a “Church-going writer.” She is not a difficult personality or writer, doesn’t hold herself as an eccentric or an artistic type with a more edgy/sensitive temperament. “I’m not one of those writers with processes,” says Tiphanie. “I don’t need, like, a glass of Chardonnay.” At her reading, she was the absolute opposite of aloof, warmly speaking with anyone who wished to speak with her. Which might be explained by what she bubbled forth with during her Q&A: “I like people. I really like people. I know that’s weird to say. But some people only like a few people.” This quote was in answer to a question about how she gets her story ideas—she gets them from people, but not just from eavesdropping or stealing their experiences, but by listening, talking to, and being with them. She is funny and has such a grounded sense of both humor and self that she can combine the two. Relaying an anecdote of a high school teacher who told her there were no black philosophers, Tiphanie turned to her audience and very matter-of-factly said: “I got enough shit going on. I don’t got a daddy. Can’t I at least get a black philosopher?!” If I hadn’t already been in her pocket, I would have climbed up and in for that honest gem of a moment right there (especially the daddy comment, as we all know I have daddy issues)--and for her gentle defense of this teacher to the audience who had audibly grimaced at the teacher’s mistake. Listen, she told us. He was wrong, but he was trying to encourage me. He said, there are no black philosophers, so why don’t you be the first?
Finally, I admired with all my self her confidence in her self, her writing, and the particular pushes and pulls within her history and self: the colonization of the U.S. Virgin Islands, being a woman of color, and the internal self censor. As she explicates in her essay “My Superhero Secret,” she has utterly learned to trust her own voice and defend her own self: “It’s about being able to protect your own incredibleness when it seems others can’t accept it. It’s a private joke. It’s a quiet knowledge to hold above people when you feel they’ve kept you down.”I've not gotten to crack the spine of How to Escape from a Leper Colony, but it's on the top of the bedside table pile. I'm sure this won't be the last time I write about such a talented and inspiring writer--especially after being introduced to her in such a perfect setting and way. Thanks, Greenlight. Thanks, Tayari, for being an excellent moderator. And thank you, most of all, to you, Tiphanie, for writing what you write and inspiring the way you do.
I’ve been having some misgivings about blogging negatively about the work of others. Not that I think my opinions matter to (a) the public at large or (b) the writers themselves, but these feelings have followed neatly on the footsteps of the entry about Veronica and Shoplifting. So, just to get it out of the way, I hereby apologize, heartfeltedly, to the authors of those books, although I do thank them for writing their to-my-mind flawed books, such that I could stupidly blog about them, feel bad about it, and then uncover a larger, more interesting question about the conversations we as artists/intellectuals can/should not have.
Here is how the argument goes.
Me A: Well. I have opinions, and this blog is a reflection of them and me, and this is what I started a blog for: to process everything in my life, the writing, the cooking, the growing up, all of it, so why should I hold myself back now?
Me B: Because it isn’t nice.
Me A: Everyone has opinions.
Me B: But, interestingly enough, not everyone feels the compulsion to blog their opinions. I maintain: if it isn’t nice, maybe you should just keep it to yourself.
Me A: But if I am trying to live a literary life, shouldn’t I be practicing my critical eye and voice? Part of that life is reviewing the work of others to see what has been tried and what has been accomplished. I need to practice
Me B: Do you really? Or is the Internet just allowing you the certain vitriol mixed with just enough anonymity/facelessness that you feel bold enough to stir shit in a way you would never do in person?
Me A: Ooooh. Touche.
Me B: That’s right, bitch.
Me A: But what about any publicity is good publicity?
Me B: But what about "do unto others?" Would you have them do this unto you?
Me A: You're really "on" today. Were you in high school debate or some shit? Perhaps while I was stuck in detention for that D in biology? I mean, shit. You make me want to give up on today and just go back to bed.
So. I don’t know.
Let me be clear: I NEVER, EVER think it is okay to launch ad hominem attacks. I never want to be guilty of having said negative things about a person’s person. I don’t even want to be guilty of having said negative things about a work, without clarifying that this particular work didn’t do it FOR ME. Specifically. Because I am the arbiter of only my own taste.
Other authors, what do you think? And more importantly what do you DO in your literary life? Is it career suicide or bad camaraderie to discuss negatively the work of others?
Saturday, March 13, 2010
Dinner last night=
"concrete, with all the focus on surface details, with no sentences devoted to thoughts or feelings, and I think that results in a kind of themelessness, that , in its lack of focus on anything else, the theme becomes , to me, the passage of time."
you write and you rewrite until one day you stop majorly rewriting as much and decide (not know) that you're done. Whatever length it is, it falls into one or another category.