Sunday, December 31, 2006

Oh. My. God.

So I go away for a week vacation and what happens?

James Brown dies. Gerald Ford dies. Julia Roberts announces (oh joy!) that she's pregnant again. Dave loses his cell phone.

All my blogger data--my username, my password--disappeared from my mental harddrive.

I just spent over 30 minutes trying to retrieve it. Somehow, I got it into my head that I was an "old blogger," not a "beta blogger." That's because I already have blogger's blank spots, a kind of early senility.

But here I am again. Sigh. Obviously, it finally clicked that I didn't need to 'switch' to the new blogger because I was already there. Duh. And then my information worked in the boxes.


I'm still bummed about the missing cell phone. Not that the cell phone was any great shakes--as phones go, it's the "old phone" that weighs at least a pound. (Remember those first cell phones from the 80s that weighed 5 pounds and were the size of a water bottle?) I'm worried that someone found it rolling around the plane to Providence and thought, hm, free calling to Costa Rica. Andale!

Like the time when, in high school in Mexico City, we discovered that the pay phone outside the principal's office was broken in a groovey way--you could call anywhere on it, for any length of time, and it didn't charge. People lined up to call their friends in Switzerland, Peru, Argentina; some of us had lived all over the world, so the possibilities were endless. It's not that we were pining to speak to these far flung friends and relatives; it was the lure of the "free." Most of us, I think, were pretty "good" (aside from the guys who liked to hold lit cigarette lighters underneath their unsuspecting friends' Levis at lunch, or the date rapers) but the broken phone was an attractive nuisance. It took the Powers that Be (certainly not the principal, Mr. Dingman, a nice but entirely ineffectual man we called Dingbat) at least two weeks to cop to the problem, maybe after someone used it to call in a bomb threat to get out of a math test.

We called Dave's phone a few times, hoping to hear it ring from a pair of pants, or a coat, or the bottom of Jen's closet. Nope. It rang the requisite 8 times before the message came on: "The party you have called has left the vehicle, traveled beyond the service area, or...."

Jen says she's going to think optimistically. The phone is in some dumpster somewhere. It's just a matter of getting a new one.

I like to think it's rolling around under a plane seat and that when we called, twice, it fizzed on the radar screen.


Over the vacation, I read a fun Neil Gaiman novel, Anansi Boys. I liked American Gods quite a bit, and Anansi Boys is just as witty. Gaiman's sense of humor is dry, and sharp, like certain excellent white wines. I found myself chuckling and sometimes laughing out loud, but didn't feel the need to share everything aloud with Dave (or whoever else would listen)--the way I do with Neil Sedaris. Perhaps Gaiman's prose is solid enough, his wit grounded in a flavorful theosophy (wrong word?), to stand alone; I don't have to share it in order to validate the experience. Also, I wanted to hog it to myself.

I also read Dickens' Oliver Twist, A Christmas Carol, The Chimes, and The Cricket of the Hearth. All of the novels and novellas were instructive, in some way, shape or form. I've decided, though, that I prefer the musical Oliver! (one of my childhood favorites) to the novel. Both are cloying and sentimental, but Oliver! is shorter and you can sing along. Most of the time, I wanted to smack Oliver Twist with a two by four for his incredible idiocy. Every time he walked alone out of the house, he got pinched by some evil doer. He should have learned his lesson: always travel accompanied by an adult. The Christmas Carol is always fun, and relatively (as far as Dickens goes) brief. I like the idea of ghosts, the ability to revise the future by reviewing the past, and the main character's comeuppance. The Chimes was just weird. Most of the time I spent trying to figure out just what was happening (lots of innuendo and double speak about fallen women, you see) and then not caring what was happening as I skimmed the surface. Too many exclams! Always a bad sign in Dickens! And an intrusive narrator! Blimey. Finally, The Cricket was an interesting turn-about surprise ending story, the kind that O. Henry later popularized as a "snapper."

Now I'm in the middle of The Best American Mystery Stories, edited by Scott Turow. Excellent so far; none of the stories has been a dud. (Some might be a bit formulaic in their moves, but isn't that what we want from mystery stories, after all? At least for me, a good part of a mystery's pleasure is in following old paths with new characters, or following new paths with old friends.) Andrew M., former student and now JVC volunteer in Philly, complained once (or twice or three times) that most of the Best American Short Stories were spotty at best, and that the "genre" edition BAMS was always a cracking good read. "What's up with that?" he wanted to know. When we try to be literary, we usually lose quite a few of our audience. At least Dickens knew his readers; he can't help it if they've moved on.

I have yet to read Pynchon's new tome--it's very fat. I'll get to that next.


Happy New Year to everyone!

Friday, December 22, 2006

Christmas Card

We're deep in the snow of Christmas cards and Christmas (mass mailing) letters, and pictures of grown up kids (how did the time pass so fast, and where was I?), and other holiday reminders.

Next to my head are three boxes of cards I bought to send our own missives. They're making good dust catchers.

Why do I feel so guilty as each new card arrives? Why don't I get off my spreading ass and at least send cards to everyone who's sent us one?


Because I'm lazy. A kind of laziness settles into my skin and sinks into my bones that paralyzes me.

Because it's raining today, rather than snowing, a sleety gray rain that's coating everything in the world with blech.

Because tomorrow we're heading off to Boston, then Philly, and we're not packed, the house is a mess, people around here are dropping off Christmas presents and I feel compelled to reciprocate, the cats are insane, jumping on all the furniture and demanding my yelling wrath, I'm still in my pajamas, I haven't had breakfast yet, and Lizzie's scootching to open her presents but we have to wait until Dave gets home from work.

Because I have nothing very exciting to write in each card. I could point everyone to the blog festivals, but then--what if they're not all people I want to invite to the festival? Somehow, I don't think the hyperreligious aunt and uncle in Texas want to read about my problems with happy pills.

Because a kind of holiday inertia (not to be confused with the lazy paralysis described above) has me by the throat.

Because the last place I want to end up is the post office.


We're leaving tomorrow, so I'll be writing again in the New Year.

Happy holidays, merry Christmas, feliz navidad, happy new year, happy kwanza, hannukah, etctera and so forth, everyone.


Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Holidays are the exact wrong time to

try to jump start the writing routine. I'm lucky if I get out of bed in time to get Lizzie to school.

Today, instead of writing, I:

  • worked out (weight lifting, beginner routine, as prescribed by a book checked out of the library and due back Dec 27)
  • watched 3 episodes of BBC show Coupling (like Friends mixed with Sex and the City, with stupid laugh track added; without the laugh track, I'd give it 4.5 stars out of 5)
  • tried to wash the Netflix DVD because episode 3, "The Inferno" (as in "Lesbian Spank Inferno"), gargled
  • showered
  • blow dried hair
  • languished in the bedroom applying make up
  • went to Wal Mart to buy cookie items, as well as more holiday presents that will be impossible to transport in suitcases...
  • made cookies
  • listened to 2.5 tapes of the Umberto Eco The Name of the Rose saga with one ear
  • fixed last two batches of chocolate chip cookies after first two batches came out puddly
  • watched Lizzie run into the house ("Bathroom!"), out of the house ("I'm going across the street!"), and into the house (click--blare of TV)
  • tidied the kitchen
  • washed dishes
  • watched Lizzie run out of the house ("I'm going to roller blade!"), into the house ("I'm going back across the street, but I'm not gonna roller blade!"), out of the house ("Bye! I'll be across the street!"), into the house ("I'm gonna roller blade and then I'm going back across the street. I just came to get my helmet and stuff"), and back out again (slam).
Now I'm writing this. Does this count?

I'm in the midst of a debate with myself. Should I take my laptop on the vacation, Dec 23-31, as we travel to Boston and then Philadelphia, rent two cars, and a hotel room in Northborough, so that I can continue this obsessive writing?

Or should I just take a week off?

Right now, I'm leaning toward the week off. It would make the most sense. I can read, hang out with relatives, not talk about writing, not get all bummed out about politics and academia and not writing (not writing my own stuff, as opposed to this--but wait, this is my own writing, damnit... oh, and now I'm using the ..., which I always tell students to avoid, since it's like falling into the non terminal into infinity echo chamber from Hell).

Week off it is then.

Monday, December 18, 2006

Dear Santa:

When you come to our house, early this year, could you please find the sense of humor I seem to have misplaced? I would also like the ability to

a) turn myself off so that I smile politely but float in a happy place when people get off on topics that wind me up,

b) speak with grace and conviction on such topics before turning myself off,


c) enjoy myself in the moment while visiting relatives.

Please don't spoil Lizzie any more than she's already been spoiled. She gets everything she's ever wanted, either from me, her father, her family and friends, or you. You are her repository for transitory desires. Whatever she thinks she wants, in other words, she adds to a verbal list and promptly delivers to your proxy (me). And then, wha la, she gets it. How in the world is she going to deal with adversity? With desires delayed? Denied? Destroyed?

Maybe I should invent a reason to punish her? Make her suffer? Doesn't suffering build character?

That's what Dad always believed, anyway. And look how we turned out.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

I need a routine, and a God played by Bob Newhart

I need a schedule for my life so that I get more writing done.

It's easy to see correlations between exercise and writing. I get up in the morning, roll out of bed, slam down on the alarm, and shuffle off into the basement. I get on the treadmill, or the recumbent bike, I watch whatever TV on DVD's come from Netflix*, lift some weights, maybe, get sweaty. Then up here for breakfast. Shower. Motivate Lizzie. Out the door for both of us.

I should get up, roll out of bed, slam alarm, write. Then shuffle off into basement, etc.

At present, however, I get up at 5:45 to leave by 8:30. Slow in the mornings around here. No action is economical. If I added writing to the mix, I'd have to get up at 5:00. Or even 4:45.

Sounds like a big fat hairy excuse even as I type it. "If you really wanted to write," my mother says in my ear, sweetly, "then you'd make the sacrifice."

"And it wouldn't be a sacrifice," says another sweet voice in the brain. "Because you love it. Right? Isn't that right? You love writing."

I visited a therapist for a while during my last mid life crisis, at least until he decided to retire and move to Florida. I complained that I get caught up in life drama, in people being their own stupid petty selves, etcetera and so forth. Why don't I just write? the therapist wondered. Well, I said, that's just another huge stressor. Procrastination. Avoidance.

Therapist Man arched a Bob Newhart eyebrow, fiddled with his pad on his knee. "I thought that you'd love to write. All writers love to write."

Do we? If his innocent comment hadn't thrust me into an existential whirlpool leading to the hell of despair, I might've been able to muster the beginning of an answer.

Okay, so part of me does love to write. Otherwise, I wouldn't be doing this right now. Instead, I'd be getting dressed for church. Or watching TV. Or reading Oliver Twist.

But another part of me hates it. It freaks me out. There's too much riding on it? It's lonely? It's crushing? It points out all of my inadequacies? It makes me want to become an alcoholic? Words are never enough?

Shit. I have no idea why the act of writing is sometimes, lots of times, like praying to a God I'm not sure exists (or a God who, disgusted, abandoned the universe eons ago). There's something comforting in it. Addictive.

But it also seems silly, and totally pathetic. Like David Brent's frantic attention-getting antics around Tim's desk. What if God just arches an eyebrow at the camera, as if to say "Fuck this noise. I'm outta here," gets up from his desk and walks away?

Of course, I work out, and work out, even though I'm stuck with this body for good and all. Any changes are purely cosmetic, and fleeting. And yet, I continue.

*They're ignoring my list right now, skipping over Homocide and sending The Office. Can't really complain. I need comedy at the moment, especially comedy that deals with the petty ridiculosity (not a word but apt here) of human beings in the workplace. Watching Ricky Gervais, aka David Brent, contort himself like a psychotic clown makes me laugh on an existential level. I can trick myself into thinking that I don't work with such clowns. That we aren't all pathetic losers just under the skin.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Knitting vs. Writing

What different brain cells are used when I knit, as opposed to when I write?

I'm wondering, because for years I've let the knitting, the crocheting, go. I used to put together long, involved projects--bags made out of fine cotton yarn in many colors, afghans, sweaters, scarves. At the same time, I wrote my dissertation, a few poems, and so forth.

Now, it seems that when I do knit, or crochet, I don't have the brain space to work on writing. Even this is coming hard tonight, after making two hats today. And starting a scarf (that will probably never get finished. I'm terrible at finishing).

Maybe it's just a confluence of things: yarn work, pesky cats, vacation, some reading of Dickens (Oliver Twist) and some listening to The Name of the Rose (heavy brain drain no matter how it's sliced), the fact that we watched two musicals tonight (Jesus Christ Superstar and Hair), two days off from blogging, a crashing Firefox program (when it doesn't load, I give up and shut down, don't write anything here), and a kind of hangover from finishing the semester.

I don't know why I spend money on yarn projects. Most everything I make is semi-ugly. The furry scarves I've made for the last few years have all unraveled on my friends, or gotten lost at the backs of their closets. I start projects and never finish them, and when I go looking for needles to start a new project, I find half finished squares of indeterminate use all over, tangled into themselves and all the needles. Looking at all that mess, I get the same knotted feeling in my brain that I used to get in years 2 and 3 of dissertation writing.

By the same token, I don't know why I spend time on poetry projects, either. I can't finish those, and (as some readers have said, and these readers' voices tend to linger long after their bodies have disappeared) they are semi-ugly.

Penelope stitched and unstitched her sampler, putting off the suitors and waiting the long 20 years for Ulysses to get back from his adventures. When he finally arrived, disguised as an old man, she didn't recognize him. She made him do tricks to prove himself--and in a rage, he pulled down their matrimonial bed. Or something like that. Maybe, getting a look at what she'd been waiting for, those long 20 years, raveling and unraveling, she thought no fucking way.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

What happens when I get up in the morning and think Today I'm going to write my own stuff?

I end up doing everything else in the world: grading essays; running hither and yon to buy Christmas presents, or mail them; attending the ever popular "go to a meeting" dance (it's a line dance that goes around and around in a circle); visiting a friend's classroom; lunching at the Caf to use up my three "free" hits of the semester; lifting weights; driving Lizzie to swimming, gymnastics, or dance class; picking Lizzie up from the afterschool program or her school newspaper meeting; watching television off the box; watching TV on DVD... Imagine that sentence indeed trailing off into the ether of forever, ad nauseum.

And do I ever write?

No. Most of the time I simply revise. I open the file with the full intention of printing it out and sending it away and. And. There I am, four hours later, ass flat, poems 1-30 in various stages of disarray. It's the same impulse that makes me rearrange the furniture, again and again. What? Am I hoping for the perfect arrangement, the one that will scream God's name?

I just realized something, typing that. The perfect arrangement = death.

Okay. That's enough self motivation for this afternoon. Time to drink wine.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Kyle and Me: Beat Like Red-Haired Stepchildren

Hey, Kyle --

What a shit couple of days it's been, eh? Really sorry about what happened with your poem. I didn't want you to find out for a while, at least until the end of the week, when finals are over.

As I wrote in the last post, "Gather Round" isn't my favorite of the two poems. I like "Look Both Ways" better--love the last image of the whistling coffeepots in basements. Sweet. But "Gather Round" is as good as anything else in the magazine this issue, an issue that you slaved over. I know, because I saw you slaving. And it looks fabulous.

So there are a few literal minded readers who have managed to misread your poem. The comment to my last post is a wonderful support for what you're trying to do, though. You should take it to heart, rather than what the rabble has to say.

Indeed, we project onto others our own demons. We scapegoat. We find reasons to be mad. Rage, after all, is delicious.

And we are, as a country, shockingly illiterate. I don't mean that we can't read. Lots of us can read the words on a page, one after the other, and get a sentence out of them. But few of us can actually read the nuances there, the subtext, the hidden meanings.

Why? Many of us are lazy. Fearful. Full of slithering, whispering demons looking for a way out.

My time in Mexico taught me, more than anything else, what it means to be an American, both here and abroad. How are we viewed? We're loud. We're demanding. We refuse to speak the language of the country we're visiting. We dress funny (wear shorts when its clear that no one else, no one native, is wearing them), carry expensive cameras, and tend to buy cheap trinkets from the natives, crass bling that we actually put on our heads or around our necks like DUNCE signs. We're condescending. We're negative. We say things like, "Man, Mexico sucks." We look for Burger King and McDonalds and Kentucky Fried Chicken. We drink and drink and drink and vomit and pass out.

Okay, so I'm totally stereotyping. But some of my Mexican friends used to dress in shorts and Hawaiian shirts, and wander around the Zona Rosa in Mexico City, stopping people on the street to say, in their best faux American accents, "Pear DOUGH nay, la playa?"

For them, that was the height of hilarity.

I'd come back to the States and, when I met people and told them I lived in Mexico, they'd ask: "Do you ride a burro to school? Do you have floors in your house? Do you speak Mexican?" One boy said, "Oh, yeah, I've been to Mexico. I think it was Albuquerque or something." When I explained that, no, I lived across the border, as in another country, he looked at me as if that country was Mars, and that in Mars we must spray shit mist on people when we talk to them.

So I've had an axe to grind about prejudice (I lived in AZ when they wanted to pass that racist 'English Only' bill, a bill that, as far as I know, they keep trying to get on the ballot) and ignorance since I could formulate words into lines and call them poems.

How do we, as red haired step children, bound to get beat as soon as we open our mouths, get people to listen to what we have to say?

Well, one good way is hold up a mirror and make them mad enough to want to beat us.

Rock on, woman.


Monday, December 11, 2006

Irony, Persona Poems, and Seeing Red

I got into a tiff at school today with a full professor who I'll name Dr. Q.

Our literary magazine just came out and contains a poem by one of the editors, a persona poem from the point of view of a KKK type white male bigot, calling all "likeminded" others to join his wretched cause. In the tradition of Browning's "My Last Duchess," the poem hopes to expose the man's evil through his voice, his hatred, his assumption of divine right.

It's not my favorite poem by this writer--when I first read the poem, I thought the point of view character was too flat, a cartoon caricature rather than a "real" person. In short, I thought the poem was too didactic. You might as well write "Bigots are evil."

Apparently, the poem is actually too subtle for some readers, including--to my shock--Dr. Q.

Picture this: I'm in my office collecting portfolios and final essays by email, downloading them to my computer, surfing on Facebook, generally enjoying the slowed-down pace of finals week.

One of my colleagues dips in. "Has anyone said anything to you yet about that poem in Graphos?"

"What poem?"

"You know, the one about the white supremacist."

"No. What's up?"

"There are a bunch of faculty all irate about it. They think it's a horrible, racist poem that has no business being in our literary journal."

"What? That's a persona poem. It's ironic. Who's the moron who's reading it literally?"

Dr. Q replaces my colleague in the doorway. He's tall and his hair sticks up, so he takes up even more room. He leans in. "This poem is completely inappropriate. It's a terrible racist poem that is entirely inappropriate for a college such as ours, that espouses human dignity and equalith for all people."

My entire body ignites in one fell swoop. I swivel in my desk chair and face the doorway. "It's a persona poem. It's ironic," I say.

"I'm shocked that you would print this poem. Students have come to my office to complain about this poem. International students who already feel as if they don't belong here. They read this poem and they're hurt and offended. They think it's putting them down yet again. It's terrible. It has the N word in it. It's full of hatred."

"I'm shocked that you're unable to read on a metaphorical level. I'm shocked that you're reading on a literal level."

"I thought it was ironic at first, and I tried to explain that to these students. But they said, how? How is it ironic? And I couldn't explain it."

I'll admit it. I wanted to get up from my chair and shout in Dr. Q's face. What are you doing teaching literature? If you can't explain irony, if you can't discuss persona, what good are you?
Instead, I tried to justify the poem: the writer is a woman of color. Who, if not she, has the right to use the N word? Who has the right to turn the language of the oppressor against him? And isn't it the professor's duty, his job, Dr. Q's calling, to explain how literature, how language, is as damaging as fists? Isn't this a teaching opportunity that he's calling "inappropriate"?

What about Faulkner? Now I was just lobbing balls at his head, trying to get one to hit. What about Browning's poems?

"This poem is not literature. It's entirely inappropriate. I have no way to judge the context. It's irresponsible"--I'll admit, I hate the word "irresponsible" when it's applied to something that I, as advisor, have allowed (tacitly) the students to print--"not to put something in the journal to explain that the writer is responding to an assignment, to create a voice that's entirely opposite from her own. I can't know that. Reading this, I can only see this voice, this hateful voice. And these students can't read metaphorically. English isn't their first language. They're going to feel attacked."

Blah blah blah. I can't represent everything that Dr. Q said because, I'll admit it, I'd gone into red nova by then. I felt that he was attacking me, as the advisor, my student, as the author (saying that she can't write about the attacks that she feels lurk under the most bland of white facades, the entitlement that many supremacists feel when they urge their compatriots on to acts of hatred and exclusion), the poem, as "irresponsible" and "inappropriate," and literature in general, as being metaphorical, and thus capable of misreading and misinterpretation. I just wanted to get his head into a vice and crush it.

Now that I'm no longer seeing so red, I'm wondering why I felt so angry. It's not as if I thought the poem was fabulous. I do think the writer of the poem is pretty fabulous, and she'd just been in my office with a Christmas present. I know how much work she put into getting the current issue out by finals week. I know that she would be, will be, devastated to learn that Dr. Q, or any other Dr., for that matter, was stomping around reviling the poem. And no doubt Dr. Q was equally bearish about his own students, the ones who didn't get irony and were offended by the literal words on the page, because they couldn't imagine a context around it, any distance from the speaker.

I think that, as in many things, my narcissism was also engaged. As an undergraduate, I loved the persona poem. I loved to show up the first person narrator as unreliable, to kill with ironic distance--like Flannery O'Connor, say. I have a soft spot for the disgusting point of view character. So I wrote my own persona poems with the N word in them, after living for awhile in the south, and growing up with a stepfather from the south, in order to show up that kind of genteel hatred. Get your reader to identify with your narrator, and then show that narrator to be infected with evil, with hatred, and thus activate your reader's shame. Your reader's complicity in that violence.

That's why I thought the poem in Graphos didn't quite work: I never identified with the speaker. He was just evil from the get-go, and got more evil as the piece went on. I was safely on the other side of the glass wall from him, not part of his particular hell. A more disturbing poem, a more nuanced poem, would make me complicit in his evil.

But my first semester at Johns Hopkins' Writing Seminars, where the students are stronger, faster, able to leap capital T in a single bound, my persona poem tanked just as surely as my student's poem tanked with Dr. Q and his one-dimensional readers. I was shocked then, too. My fellow workshoppers said that the poem was racist (a girl watches and objectifies an African American on a bus; the African American, leaving the bus, gives the girl full eye contact, breaks the girl's reverie, saying, "Whatchu lookin at, bitch?"); one of them, quivering on the edge of his seat, implied that I was a horrible person for bringing the poem to the group. That I should be punished for putting such thoughts on the page. Only the workshop leader, a famous and graceful poet, came to my defense. "I think this poem is meant to be ironic," he said. "It's a persona poem. The trick comes at the end, when the narrator realizes what she's been doing, and her entire behavior becomes suspect." But that wasn't enough, we all concluded. If readers couldn't get past the first part of the poem, couldn't move past condemning the speaker and conflating her with me, and see the ironic distance created by the end, well, then it failed.

So I burned that poem. Especially after making love to a man for the first time and finding, the next morning, that poem on his dresser: "Ugly ugly poem," he'd written across the bottom.

Dr. Q couldn't know all this history, this context, when he stood in my doorway and half shouted that the poem was "inappropriate" and "irresponsible" and bad.

But he does know, now, just what I think of readers who can't get--or teach--irony.

The Little Friend

I'm reading Donna Tartt's novel right now. I checked it out of the library and started the first pages before I realized/remembered that I'd already listened to most, if not all, of the novel on tape. In the car. Last year sometime.

But reading it on the page is a new experience. I remember vague outlines; it's the texture of the novel that's been lost.

Harriet, one of the central characters, fascinates me. I wonder if she's the character Tartt identifies with most. Harriet is a brooding, "pedantic," bull-faced 12 year old. She meets the world with a scowl, hands in fists.

The novel takes place in Mississippi, and drips with Southern hopelessness, humidity. As I read, I am thrust back into that year we spent in LA, New Orleans, Metarie, the vicious ankle biting insects, the crab grass, the putrid sewage canal in the back yard. Tartt's prose is muscular, detailed, without being precious or ornate. Though a few of the characters have become, with age, the maiden aunts that haunt Southern fiction, the fiction itself doesn't have the fragile, mothballed flavor of them. Thank God.

Perhaps the most fascinating aspect of the novel is the fact that it's a kind of mystery. Harriet is trying to solve her brother's murder--her brother, Robin, was hanged in the back yard when Harriet was less than a year old. Twelve years have passed since the event and it remains unsolved; no one in Harriet's dysfunctional family wants to talk about the subject (they will remember Robin in technicolor, even embellish, embroider, his memory, but they bristle and keen when provoked with the actual murder). Harriet decides to take matters into her own hands.

I want to write such a story. I'm about a quarter of the way into the novel--Harriet has decided that she knows who murdered her brother and that she will enact a severe penalty: death--and delighted that I have three-quarters more to go before the end of the journey.

I'm enjoying this novel, on the second time around, more than I did Tartt's first work, The Secret History. I have to confess that Tartt is a genius, of sorts, at getting me to invest myself in her narratives. I had such a vivid reaction (negative) to one of the characters in her first novel that I can't get him out of my head. I've conflated him with a bad boyfriend, as well as with the (in)famous Ezra Pound. That novel took place in Vermont. The Little Friend is set in MS.

How does Tartt do it? Has she lived in both places? It would seem so, since her intimacy with setting (a setting that doesn't serve simply as a backdrop to plot, or character, but as instigator for them) is rich, layered, convincing. (A brief Google reveals that she grew up in MS and then went to Bennington for college, where the writer in residence declared her a genius. Oh my.)

Another thing that pleases me: Tartt must have a large incubation period. At least ten years lie between The Secret History and The Little Friend. I'm pleased by that because it gives me hope for my own languishing projects/stories.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Dog Whispering

We are watching Cesar Milan, Lizzie and I, teach humans how to be calm dominant--pack leaders.

Cesar's slogan is something like: "I rehabilitate dogs. I train humans."

I want to be as calm energized as Cesar is with dogs. I don't want to be the human who needs to be trained (ugh), like all of the humans in Cesar's fascinating segments. I've always said that I want to be a force to be reckoned with.

I'm sucked in whenever Cesar's on the boob tube. I wonder if, when we get a dog this May, we'll be able to train ourselves to remain in a calm state of mind, a Zenlike master-subject relationship. What if I'm one of those women who gets dragged down the street by her beast?

The dog we grew up with, Sheba, was totally out of control. She scratched up the laundry room door, she barked at us when we were eating dinner, she'd escape and roll in whatever she could find that was dead.

Cesar tells us to live "in one zone only, the 'I can' zone." Mostly, Cesar argues, animals with obsessions, fears, and imbalances are picking up these wavelengths from us. Dogs don't have a past or future problem (as we do); instead, they live in the moment.

I need to get this dog soon. I need to be in charge of my own moment, not living in the past (where I don't get writing done, or I send it out and it gets rejected, again and again, or someone in a workshop setting says something stupid and thoughtless, such as 'No one gives a shit about your stupid life, Laurie'") or in the future, where I'm not writing or I'm bumping my head against ridiculous political walls at school.

Saturday, December 9, 2006

This is how poetry sometimes feels:

Is Anybody Out There?

This is how I feel when I come to this spot and see, once again, that no one has responded. Responses are my only index of activity. Dumb, but true.

Should I just delete it? And, if so, how does one delete a blog? I went in search of the answer to that and found no answers. Maybe I didn't look hard enough. I probably don't want to be deleted.

Thursday, December 7, 2006

To Blog or Not to Blog?

I'm wondering if it's a good idea to blog every day. I mean, if there's always something up from Laurie, who will crave me?

It seems to me that I crave posts from those of you who are more -- reflective? meditative? canny? -- than I am. For instance, I would love to read daily posts by

And yesterday, I was reading recent comments on my stuff, and (I have to admit, I'm at sea here. How do I decide who to read? There are so many choices!) found raginglunatic,
Great stuff there. But not a daily poster, either.

Then I want to be friends with people who I find commenting regularly on a friend's page, so I add them to my list, and that sometimes creates a weird dynamic, as with bark2themoon, who I thought I might know from SNC but who I didn't, so added to my friend list, which he found flattering, and returned the favor, but admitted was kind of awkward.

What's the ettiquette on this stuff? Can you friend someone whose comments you find funny, insightful, and trace to their page, which you find funny, insightful, (as is the case with p_j_cleary, sorry if that freaked you out, man), but who you don't know from Adam and will probably never meet?

Post daily? Post every other day? Post only when the spirit moves one to post? Or when one has something of substance (ha) to convey?

Or just give up and fall into the TV vortex for good?


Today is the last meeting for two of my courses. What do I have planned? Essentially, nothing. First, the students must evaluate me. That's always a laugh riot. At the University of Arizona, where I was a TA forever, the eval forms had this lovely question: "Does the instructor display any regrettable irregularities? If so, please comment:" Ugh. In most of my Comp 101 and 102 courses, required for every one of the 10,000 freshman students entering the U in any given year, it was probably a regrettable irregularity that I'd chosen to devote my life to the study and writing of literature. After the evaluation process, I'll check over a few notebooks -- count pages. After that, I have nothing on the docket.

Well, my Intro to Lit students do have to take a reading quiz. That seems substantial.

Maybe we'll have a meaningful conversation about the American psyche, such as we had today in my Fiction Writing class. We are appalled, as a class, at the strange mixture of prudery and sexual overload that characterizes our culture. We're in agreement that America, as a group (not as individuals), is adolescent in the worst way. We're ignorant, loud, obnoxious, obsessed with sex and violence, and immature.

Of course, none of us belongs to this group. We're bystanders with licenses to bitch.

During our conversation, as is my wont, I brought out yet another story about my favorite character (me): though my stepfather thought I was getting it on in backseats with a whole host of boys during those halcyon high school years, in fact I couldn't give it away. While middle and high schoolers today give each other blow jobs on school buses and provide live sex shows at parent-chaperoned house parties, back in the thrilling early 80s I watched the clock tick toward midnight on the night when I was supposed to "give myself completely" to my one and only high school boyfriend. "If you don't break up with this guy," said my stepfather, totally oblivious to the real goal of the evening, "you have absolutely no self respect." Yeah, Dad, and that's not the half of it. The moral of that story is that I was stood up for losing my virginity. Later, in college, when my first "for-real" boyfriend asked me what I wanted for Christmas, I said, "To get laid." He fell off the bed, chastised me, and made me wait until January. The moral of that story? Real love means never having to say you're sorry, or something like that.

(At the YWCA last night, as Lizzie poked her way past the shower phase and into her pajamas, I managed to observe that not all stories have morals. She looked at me as if I'd sprayed shit mist on her.)

I felt a little guilty, just a bit, that we didn't devote the class meeting to what was on the syllabus--a last workshop, in groups, of the short story each student wrote. What about that workshop, kids? How will our festival of cultural repudiation help you to turn in a winning portfolio on Monday? I tell myself that these conversations are important because they stir us up, bring things from the bottom of the barrel to the top, show us what we care about. And that's what we should be writing about.

I have to admit, though, that my final comment about Blow Job Barbie, with the bendable knees and the school bus (sold separately), was totally inappropriate.

Tuesday, December 5, 2006

Open Letter to Dean B.


Why the fuck has my visit not made it into your blog yet? Jaysus.


Well, Dean, I'll admit that after our conversations on Friday regarding the dangers of posting my life blog-fashion on the internet, I've had occasion to pause.

What if, as you implied during one of our spirited chats, the creative juices are limited (sometimes severely so) and this blogging drains the well? What if I spend everything here and have nothing else to say, later, in a more publishable format? What if I write up your visit (which was hella hella fun) and a stunning, world class poem slips out of the database?

This weekend, one of my best friends called from Virginia, where she makes her home half the year (she spends the other half in South Africa, her country of origin). She's about to make the trip to the other side of the planet, so we have to make our phone conversation count. Somehow, the connection cut out in the middle of a sentence. I used the caller ID button on our crappy "second" phone (the one that is somehow radio controlled by the "first" phone in the kitchen) to try to get her VA number back. I put the 10 digits into my head, recited them once, twice, three times. Clicked back to TALK mode and tried to dial. After 8 or so unsuccessful tries, I lumbered up from my living room chair, stomped into the kitchen, and read her number off the sheet on the fridge. Finally, 5 minutes later, I got her back.

The moral of this story is that I can't even keep a 10 digit sequence in my head for the 3 seconds it takes to click from ID to TALK mode, so space up here is limited.

It's a very real danger, then, that I'm wasting my sweetness, my now fading blooms, on blogspace. I should be using all this lingering energy to write a volume of stunning, shocking, world altering poetry. Or some chick lit (money maker). Or a poignant memoir about the time we spent living in Mexico.

But I have so much FUN on blogspace. When I write a poem, no one has the chance to write back. To make pithy remarks. To laugh at my jokes, however lame. Here's the sad truth about my slim volume of poetry (available from Finishing Line Press or I had to get 65 of my friends and relatives to buy copies of the book before it even went to print. That's right; I had to stand in front of my wooden wagon, hold up the promise of my poetry in one hand and huckster to the crowd with the other. It's a little too Wizard of Oz.

And, as you point out, writing this way leaves very little space for reflection or revision. True. I don't revise these posts. Much. I may backspace over sentences, move paragraphs around, delete sentences and words--mostly those pesky adverbs, cockroaches of literary spaces--but I don't have the time, energy or inclination to revise (re-see) much.

Problem: with poetry, I'm a compulsive reviser. I'm still revising "Consolation Prize" (once "In the Moon Palace with Daddy Roy" of the post mentioned below); every time I open the file to print and send it out, I revise. I'm in the midst of revising it now. (In fact, I should be revising it instead of typing this.) But
revising can be fatal. I've probably squeezed all the juice out of it.

And, yes, it's scary to think that you might, at this minute, be reading what I'm writing to you. I'm getting a bit queasy and I think on it. At A's, as we laughed and told stories on ourselves, and ate our meals, a worm of doubt wiggled into the back of my consciousness. I'd devoted an entire entry, titled "Green Eyed Monster," to your visit, I remembered. Shit. Was it unflattering?

One reader suggested, in response to some questions I had about the ethics of blogging other peoples' stories as part of my own, that we should not write anything in our blogs that we wouldn't say directly to the person-in- question's face. Would I say directly to your face what I said, not even knowing you, in the post? Hm.

Flushed with wine and the pleasure of your conversation--Damn, man, you are one good talker! And, shit, your writing is fucking excellent. It's impossible NOT to like you, and want the best for you, and want to spend more time talking with you, about writing, about family, about life, about whatever, despite your annoying success. So, flushed, stupid, I confessed that you were the subject of that post.

Then I went home and reread. Delete? You thought I might. I thought I might. My fingers poised, for a second, over the button.

But who looks bad here? Me. I mean, I'm writing about a writer who I don't even know yet. I'm revealing my wicked, petty, small minded bitch-writer ways. I think all the shit falls on me.

Okay, then. Am I opening myself up to all kinds of weird harm here? "I'm amazed," one of my friends will say, after each of my poetry readings, "that you can be so raw and honest about yourself. I could never do that." This friend has also counseled me to play my cards closer to the vest, worried that the political arena will take this information and use it against me, as if in a court of law.

This friend isn't blowing smoke up my ass--she's dead on about the ways in which our enemies (who we might think are friends) can twist our words against us. Turn friends and acquaintances against us. Spoil the very connection we're seeking to forge. So maybe I'm just laying in kindling for a really good fire...

What the hell. At least I'll be warm.


Dean, the students loved you. It's too bad they couldn't come to the dinner and get a chance to relax with us, ask you questions, hear your stories, tell their own. You might recognize elements of your younger self in them. (Yes, teaching is a narcissistic pleasure at times.) One said today, "God, I wish he'd brought a bunch of his books with him. I wanted to buy one right then and there. I had to read the story immediately."

I can't wait to read that next novel, Harmony. It's going to be good. I bet it's going to be better than Please Don't Come Back. Why? Because now you're an experienced novelist. When you wrote Please, you weren't a novelist yet. Now you are.

It's a good sign, in my humble opinion, when the writing comes hard. I have to say that labor--giving birth--kicked the crap out of me. It took way too long, and hurt way to much, and there were too many scary parts where I despaired, and got sick, and thought I would never make it through the ordeal to the other side. And yet I did, and Lizzie, if I do say so myself, is the best fucking thing that ever happened to me. Pure magical realism.

Giving birth is one pain. Raising the child is yet another. Lizzie was hard. At three, she was fucking hard. I thought I would knock her into the next century at one point. After turning her over my knee and spanking her one night, in a red haze that bloomed in front of my eyes and burned in my hand, I found myself in my office here, breathing heavy, buying 50.00 worth of books on commando parenting. I'd become my stepfather, the villain of all my stories. The world was turning inside out.

That's what real work, real love, real insight does. Isn't that the magic?

So I'm sure you'll come out the other side. And your daughter will be there, looking at you, the way she did when she woke up from that nap and gazed into your face. What's a little book in the face of that recognition?

Shit. Stop me before I sentimentalize again.

Friday, December 1, 2006

Metaphorical Balls

I have to admit that I love it when people respond to my posts -- not only do I know that someone's reading me, but I get a chance to think more about whatever it is that's obsessing me, whatever problem has me by the metaphorical balls.

Speaking of metaphorical balls:

Last night, I told Dave (after posting the previous), that I was tired of having the vagina. I've had a vagina for 42 years, after all, and I think it's time for a change.

I've had every hair color in the aisle -- black, blonde, red, brown, green.
I've had a series of hair dos -- short, long, in between, chopped, straight, permed. I've used a curling iron, a blow dryer, a waver, hot rollers, plastic curlers, braids (French and Unfrench), and sponge curlers. I've been plump and thin. I've worn make up and not worn make up. I've rearranged the furniture into every possible permutation. Now I want the penis for a while.

It's only fair. Why is he hogging it? Doesn't he want a nice, comfortable, worn in vagina for a few months? What else is marriage for, if not for sharing everything?

Why? he wondered. Why did I want the penis? Wasn't a small loan, now and then, lasting, say, 10-15 minutes, enough?

No. I want the testosterone. I want to hold myself in my hand. I want to cringe when people make jokes about smashing me in it. I want to get a hard on. I want to experience the divining rod effect -- stick looking for water to take a dip. I want to imagine that when I write I'm reeling off tiny children from my pen and my fingers, both substitutes for the center of gravity: my soft, changing, dangling, happy, vulnerable, out there penis.

Me and my penis. It will be a cheesy love story. Reality will go into soft focus, and violins will play in the background. I'll put my hands into my pockets and touch myself. I'll jingle coins and keys in my pockets, just to feel them bounce off my Beloved. I'll take my penis for daily walks, maybe twice daily walks. We'll tour the neighborhood. Hell, we'll walk all the way down to Lambeau Field and back. The cold won't bother us, or the snow. It'll just make us glow when we get home, where it's warm.

My penis will give me a new lease on life. Coursing with testosterone, pumped up through my skin and into my electric hair, I want to sit down at my desk with the idea that I'm going to print out my poetry manuscript, without revising it for the 11 millionth time, and then send it out -- to Ecco Press. To Vintage! To Knopf. Because, damnit, I'm worth it!

And then I want to do just that. I want to print it out, put it into an envelope addressed to Ecco, and put it in the mail. No quibbling. Just me and my penis on a mission for recognition.

I can hear some of you already. You're saying, Laurie, you idiot, the penis isn't going to help you do anything. You can send your manuscript to Ecco just as easily with the vagina.

Besides, the vagina is just as nice as the penis. Maybe even nicer. After all, it's a self contained unit. It's served you well.

Okay, okay, so sometimes (yes, lots of times) it had to be taken into the shop. And the mechanics could never figure out what was wrong with it. But that's just because lots of them had penises and didn't know what the hell to do with the vagina. Didn't you read Eve Ensler? What? Were you fucking sleeping during all those productions of the Vagina Monologues?

And didn't you learn anything in graduate school, anything at all? Are you just an essentialist loser after all, after all that deprogramming? Are you still on phallic overdrive, you silly twit?

Come to think of it, maybe you don't deserve your vagina. Maybe you SHOULD get to use the penis for a month or two. See how you feel. You'll be begging,
begging, for your old coochie snorcher back.

Now you're just fueling all those fires, those boring, asinine Freudian fires -- penis envy this, penis envy that. Delete this shit before you do something stupid, like hit that "update journal" button.

Okay. It was a fine fantasy while it lasted. And I loved the look on Dave's face when I kept insisting it was my turn with the penis. He wanted to think it was a joke, he laughed, he smiled, he threw back the covers and offered to share, but about 5% of him, way back in his blue eyes, hunted for a place to hide it from me. Frantic. The cops banging at the door with the battering ram and the canisters of smoking tear gas.

Now. My vagina and I have some work to do. We have to find the address for Ecco Press. Then we're going for a walk around the block. We might even take in a matinee -- we're in the mood today for action adventure.