Thursday, May 27, 2010
Tuesday, May 25, 2010
Friday, May 21, 2010
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Friday, May 7, 2010
Thursday, May 6, 2010
While I had very mixed feelings about the Lish event last night, I did take some important realizations away about the kind of writer I want to be.*
When I read about the event, it was touted as a reading, some Q&A, and a party for his new book Collected Fictions. And I’ll be honest and reveal how miserably un-well-read I am by admitting that I knew him only as an editor, not a writer. But a writer he evidently is—or, actually, according to him, was.
I don’t know what to say about the event, really. I have no wish to belittle or deny an older author a kind of swan song tour for what is pretty much a Lifetime Achievement Book, but the evening moved me profoundly and positively, though more for the processing I did after it than the actual event itself.
His remarks were extremely off the cuff. He talked of his friends (many literary superstars themselves), his family, and two times that he choked on accessories he was wearing (don’t ask).
But that very bit—of arriving early to a café in the village at which he was to meet two friends and positioning himself into a striking stance, with a dapper outfit, and a pile of good books, and a glass of wine, and a spot of bread and then choking on the grosgrain ribbon on which held his decorative glasses with no lenses—that was the most real moment of the evening for me. It undercut what did feel like posturing.
In that moment, he seemed to be saying, this is what this night is, this is what a literary career is: so much posturing that at moments you find yourself choking on the ridiculousness.
The off-the-cuffness was charming for a turn, and then it went on and on. I felt even that he was playing with and into our expectations of him—that he was acting out a retired ex-writer and semi-doddering and superfamous type, rather than being his actual self. He finished with a flourish by taking a few questions and then reading … what turned out to be Don DeLillo’s work. AURGGGHHGRRRRR.
By that point, my husband and I were pretty frustrated, so we didn’t wait around to buy a copy of his book and get it autographed, instead proceeding directly to the nearest steakhouse where we bought ourselves a huge ribeye, crab-stuffed mushrooms, sweet potato casserole, two glasses of wine, and a hunk of cheesecake for good measure.
So, what exactly about the evening was so frustrating?
I felt like I didn’t belong. In either the room of his past, around which he wandered during his remarks, or the present room of future fictional giants. I can’t prove it, of course, but there were an incredible number of people who looked young, edgy, urban, and hopeful. Who might very well be, in another 46 years, back at the Mercantile delivering forth their own off-the-cuff remarks.
Initially, it fed a tiny panic that’s been simmering inside me lately: when I read the blog of a friend who is already making a career as both a poet and an academic, each time I hear about the contests others have won or publications they’ve achieved, when a friend casually talks of submitting a panel proposal or an article to AWP or The Writer's Chronicle. All these things happen and I think, Holy GAWD, I am not ready for this. I am not writing enough, submitting enough, thinking enough, proposing enough, and I am certainly not ready for a life of negotiating tenure. A HWJ writer lightheartedly teases me about overediting--and it was just teasing--but it only feeds the fire further: Am I spending too much time on this? Am I investing more of myself than I should be? Will I end up more known for editing than writing—or, worse, not known at all?
But what I took away from the end of tonight is that maybe jumping through those hoops, and trying to jump faster than all the others, all in hopes of arriving at a night like this, where a packed house of people sit, trapped, as I ramble in my way, off-the-cuff … well, perhaps it is just not for me.
I feel famished at nights like this … whereas take any night I’ve stayed up till 2am pouring over submissions or accepted pieces for HWJ, how those nights leave me feeling well-fed. Because that's what HWJ is about: we're going to give you all of ourselves, all our heart, every positive YES! and cautionary query that occurs to us. We are not going to hold back. You are never going to be published as is, I don’t care who you are, what your name is, or how famous you are. We can all stand to improve. And if you think only people who’ve published or literarily achieved more than you should be editing you, we respect that opinion and encourage you to submit elsewhere. Because one should never lose touch with the people who really matter in literature: READERS. And that’s what we are, forget our editorial titles: we are careful readers who want to throw ourselves into the world on your page.
Now, the thing to be said for Lish and for many a successful writer is that they put their art first. That before taking on the projects of others, they took on their own. That writing was fully integrated into their lives, and the roles of Husband/Wife, Father/Mother, Editor/Professor were on par with—or perhaps even slightly sublimated to—that of Writer. That they were very careful with how to cultivate their writerly image: they’ll only submit to interviews with certain publications or they only submit to certain places or even wait to be solicited, etc.
And look at them: totally, undeniably successful.
However, there’s little about that that appeals to me. I hope I always have my hands as deep in the work of others as in my own, because in working with other writers, hopefully we together improve their piece but also make me a better editor and writer. I hope I always have a project that fuels me, that makes me feel passion, that keeps me up at night.** I hope I always write stories, and I hope I continue to submit and be published, and I hope someday I even have a few books and awards under my belt.
But I also hope I never forget what it felt like to be in that room last night, not knowing the names he dropped and frankly not caring. I hope that I keep my humility about me and that I remember that anyone who wants to read my work, consider it, accept it, comment upon it (favorably or not), or interview me is honoring me with their attention, and I should do everything I can to continue to earn it.
* I continue with my uncertainty about whether discussing flawed literary event evenings is appropriate. I certainly don't want to hurt anyone's feelings, foremost. But what is this blog if not my stumbling through events, trying to make sense of them for myself. Also, I could write it all in my journal, but that'd be a bit like whispering into an abyss, where my own thoughts keep bouncing against canyon walls and repeating themselves back to me. I'd rather invite discussion than sit talking to myself. So ... gulp. Until I learn better, here we go.
** In the “inspired” way more than the “under deadline again” way.
Wednesday, May 5, 2010
What is magical about this birthday is that right around my day, I get to usher in several of my closest friends into thirty as well. Because I just used up the last of my original words in the last post, here is part of what I wrote to a dear friend who turns thirty in two days:
From the other side of thirty, all I can tell you is that. You're about to become even more wise, confident, and comfortable in your own skin. Banish the worries you have about wrinkles and white hairs and pain in places you didn't know you had because that is not what thirty is about, girlfriend. It's about being ourselves, and being unapologetic, and not giving a damn what anyone else thinks about it. I mean, we're ladies, we're polite and all, we'll listen, but we know our opinions of ourselves matter most. We are more ourselves than we've ever been. That's what you have to look forward to.
That's what it looked like in pictures. Now for words: