Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Projects: a progress report.

Project #1: The House.

Definition of problem: the downstairs has dun-colored carpet, wood-product paneling, weird-shaped rooms, and insufficient outlets. Also, teenagers regard the downstairs as their lair. Also, the dogs sleep down there. Also, the Wii resides there. Also, my vacuum cleaner has been out of commission for awhile now.

Solutions (enacted so far): Get on consumerreports.com, pay for a month's worth of consumer info, find out that the best vacuum cleaner in America for the money is made by Sears. Hightail it up to the Sears and buy said vacuum cleaner. Assemble it in the garage. Vacuum. Harangue young people who live in the basement ("lair") about getting their stuff out of the public spaces and into their rooms, about figuring out what to give away and what to keep, and about keeping their damn stuff out of the upstairs living room. Also harangue them about cleaning the bathrooms. Vacuum some more. Arrange for carpet cleaning guy to come.

Still to come: call a sheetrock guy to see if we can resolve the horrible paneling decor issue. Consider building in a wall of bookshelves. Imagine that peace, order, and harmony will arise from the execution of these plans.

Other projects:
  • the Write Every Day project;
  • the Go Outside and Get In Shape project;
  • the Stay as Cool as Possible project;
  • the Make the Perfect Iced Tea project;
  • the Have the Best Vacation Ever project;
  • the I Am Really Getting Old project;
  • the Finally Make a Movie project; and
  • the Get Ready for School project.

There has been progress, progress which is, in fact, as we speak, being made, on most of these projects. Not enough on some of them, of course. Today is the last day of July--there should be a sound effect that goes with it that embodies sadness, anxiety, and dread. Tomorrow: August 1. The sad, anxious, dreadful little countdown begins.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

I would like to lodge a complaint.

Actually, several.

1. Why is it that so many lead vocalists these days affect a sound that is equal parts yelp and someone being strangled? I cite: Kings of Leon, the Clap Your Hands Say Yeah guy a little bit, Wolfmother guy, and possibly others who yodeled egregiously on songs that came up on my iPod today while I was driving around.

2. Certain literary journals act so all-fired prissy about, say, simultaneous submissions, then hand you a rejection slip that is as big as a postage stamp that says, "We shall not be using your manuscript. Thank you, however, for giving us the opportunity to consider it." There is also a picture of a bird called a "Sage Grouse" on this rejection teeny piece o' paper. I find the bird both offensive and, somehow, apropos. Yes, I am grousing about the sage grouse.

3. I love the rainy downpours of tonight and last night. Is there any good reason, however, these storms must knock out my satellite during Mad Men?

Otherwise, things are going swimmingly. Writing, listening to new music, chilling. Post-vacation, I aim to be the queen of chill for the remainder of the summer, until the hammer comes down.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Home again.

I have often wondered whether vacations are even worth it, what with the coming home to real life and your regular ordinary squalor. Not to mention the hellish (hellesque?) heat. But this time, it's been fine, good to come home. Why, I wonder?

Is it that, on the way home, we stayed in Winnemucca, site of an infamously bad dinner in days of yore? Is it because we managed to find a not-bad dinner this time? Is it that we listened to more good music? that we avoided life-threatening wildfires? that we had a long enough trip that we really were all smoothed out by the time we left for home?

I don't know, but here are the last of the vacation and traveling home photos. May I just say in conclusion that running son and college daughter did a bang-up job taking care of things at home, including trips to the dog park and so on. Seeing them, and the fact that they seemed kind of glad to see us, made coming home even sweeter.

Historian and poppies.

Historian and Pacific.

Mendocino cemetery with Presbyterian spire.

Winnemucca balloons and refuse bin.

Liberal slots.

Salt flats sky.

Wildfire (Tooele County).

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Vacation stats.

Reading: aforementioned Kiki Strike. Finished The Yiddish Policemen's Union, as well as Come Up and See Me Sometime (Erika Krouse, short stories). Read in Notarikon (Catharine Bowman, poems); Mortal Everlasting and Rumor of Cortez (Jeffrey Levine, poems); Grave of Light (Alice Notley, poems); Walking to Martha's Vineyard (Franz Wright, poems); Profit and Pleasure: Sexual Identities in Late Capitalism (Rosemary Hennessy, literary/cultural theory). Started Falling Man, and it is gorgeous.

Excellent vacation innovation: iPod loaded with 8000 songs. Thrilling!

Deep thoughts: I have had several. In fact, quite a few.

Quality of the light and air: splendid, restorative, chimerical, both still and moving.

Natural observations: several seals lying on a rock in Noyo Harbor (by Ft. Bragg); numerous hummingbirds in the garden; several fat and communicative chickens; blackberries growing everywhere; poison oak (no actual encounters).

Excellent purchase: a variety of French notebook that is, for me, kind of like that one kind of cookie in Proust (is a madeleine a cookie or a cake?).

Overheard at breakfast this a.m.: People talking about the concert last night at the Mendocino Music Festival--about whether they were familiar with "the Mahler" and/or "the Brahms." Funny, at least a little. "The Mahler." (Sort of like "the Todd" in Scrubs?)

Guilty fact: I still like to watch a little television at night, even when I'm in a location such as this. Is that bad?

Still to do: another tramp or two in the headlands around Mendocino; a little more desultory shopping, including little presents for people back home; more deep thoughts and note-taking in the French notebook; more reading. We have been cooking in (it's our favorite kind of vacation, where we can buy good food and cook at home--it's playing house in a different locale, I guess), so two more dinners. (also, a little television to watch.)

Monday, July 16, 2007

Vacation reading.

One of the great things about a vacation like this one, especially the second half, wherein we are holed up in a place we've rented for a week, is that we can bring piles of books and expect to read pretty much all of them. I am particularly thrilled to be reading novels, because, sadly, even the most brilliant novel stands almost no chance of seeming worth the trouble in my regular life, whereas on vacation, good novels become the joy they are and should be. There's something wrong with the above scenario, I realize--I'm just explaining how it is.

I bought a copy of Michael Chabon's The Yiddish Policeman's Union at Costco when I went there with my daughter a few weeks ago. It rattled around, unread, in the trunk of my car, then came with us to the Idaho cabin, where it also remained unread. Finally, it traveled all the way from home to Seattle and now to Mendocino, where I am reading it, and lo! it is quite wonderful. I love it, will probably finish it today, which might give me the momentum to start and really get a foothold in The Adventures of Kavalier and Clay, which everyone in American knows is a great novel but which I could never really get going in.

I've leafed around in some books of poetry, as well, started and finished a pretty darn good young adult novel, Kiki Strike, that I picked up solely on the basis of its cool cover. By the way, the "book by its cover" nostrum is false, in my experience--I've picked up so many books because they had great covers and have rarely been wrong. Anyway, one little thing I loved about this book, about a group of girls, self-dubbed the "Irregulars," who want to explore a maze of super-underground tunnels leftover from NYC's criminal past, is that the girls are all Girl Scout flunk-outs. They got kicked out of the Girl Scouts! Great metaphor.

Next up, maybe even before Kavalier and Clay, is Falling Man. Also, we might go outside a little, check out what the great Pacific Ocean has on its mind.

Friday, July 13, 2007

Seattle is good.

1. Excellent food all over town.
2. Neighborhoods that are really neighborhoods, with idiosyncratic character that isn't trumped up or manufactured (Fremont, Wallingford, Madrona).
3. Water everywhere, and the light reflecting off of it.
4. Lots of nice people everywhere you go.
5. Excellent independent bookstores (Elliott Bay bookstore and Left Bank, for instance)
6. One of only two poetry-only bookstores in the U.S.--Open Books, with an immaculate and well-curated collection. I spent a lot of money there.
7. I happen to believe that some very good music of all sorts has come out of this region.

Also, and however, driving in Seattle is a nightmare. It's all fine and good to say you don't need to drive, but you do need to drive when you don't live there. I defy anyone to tell me that it's not a nightmare. I defy you!

Even so:

Dinner by the water at Lake Union.

Hydrangeas in the historian's daughter's backyard.

By Lake Washington (at sunset).

Up next: Mendocino. Right now we're at a Travelodge in Grant's Pass. With wireless. There's a softball tournament in town, and lots of teenagers with long socks on. Hope you're having a good summer, too.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Sunday, July 08, 2007

I knew there was a reason I have always wanted to live in France.

Reported in the Washington Post:

France aghast at the 'vulgar' habit enjoyed by its president

On the primary state television channel, France 2, Alain Finkielkraut, a leading French intellectual, recently demanded that Sarkozy give up his "undignified" exercise [running]. Not only did he imply that exposing the boss's naked knees is something that never would have occurred in the time of Mitterrand, much less Louis XIV, Finkielkraut claimed strolling is the proper activity of the thinking person, from Socrates to the poet Arthur Rimbaud.

"Western civilization, in its best sense, was born with the promenade," said Finkielkraut. "Walking is a sensitive, spiritual act. Jogging is management of the body. The jogger says I am in control. It has nothing to do with meditation."

Sarkozy has fueled a French suspicion that running is for self-centered individualists like Americans, reports Charles Bremner, Paris correspondent for the Times of London. "Patrick Mignon, a sports sociologist, noted that French intellectuals had always held sport in contempt, while totalitarian regimes cultivated physical fitness," Bremner writes.

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

The art of the novel.

Recently I read two very interesting articles, one in the Atlantic and one in The New Yorker, each of which had some stuff about the novel Here's a bit from the New Yorker piece, which you can find here (perhaps for a limited time? who knows?):

A notebook from the DeLillo archives
at the UTexas at Austin

In October, 1995, David Foster Wallace wrote to [Don DeLillo], “Because I tend both to think I’m uniquely afflicted and to idealize people I admire, I tend to imagine you never having had to struggle with any of this narcissism or indulgence stuff. . . . Maybe I want a pep-talk, because I have to tell you I don’t enjoy this war one bit.” DeLillo responded in November. “I was a semiconscious writer in the beginning,” he writes. “Just sat and wrote something, or read the newspaper, or went to the movies. Over time I began to understand, one, that I was lucky to be doing this work, and, two, that the only way I’d get better at it was to be more serious, to understand the rigors of novel-writing and to make it central to my life, not a variation on some related career choice, like sportswriting or playwriting. The novel is different. . . . We die indoors, and alone, and I don’t mean to sound overdramatic but you know what I’m talking about. Anyway, all of this happened over time, until eventually discipline no longer seemed something outside me that urged the reluctant body into the room. At this point discipline is inseparable from what I do. It’s not even definable as discipline. It has no name. I never think about it. But there’s no trick of meditation or self-mastery that brought it about. I got older, that’s all. I was not a born novelist (if anyone is). I had to grow into novelhood.”

There was another bit in this piece, in which it was revealed that a novelist, when he turned over his papers to the archives at the University of Texas at Austin (that's what the article's about), found a novel he had forgotten he had written. Contemplate that for a moment, if you will.

The Atlantic piece had to do with a very successful crime novelist, Harlan Coben. (I think I might pick up one of his novels to read while on vacation--I can enjoy certain varieties of genre fiction, and the crime novel is definitely one of those varieties. I'm also planning to pick up a copy of Falling Man for a similar purpose. I am looking forward to reading on my vacation.) Anyway, the article was fascinating in terms of his process, what motivated him to write, etc. At the end of the article, a bookstore owner was conducting a Q & A with him, and she asked him whether he'd prefer to have more time to complete his novels (he completes one a year). The bookstore owner recalls a conversation with Dennis Lehane, who, after having finished Mystic River, was offered the chance to renegotiate his contract with his publisher because they didn't want to lose him:

Lehane, she recalled, made no requests for bonus money or special marketing efforts, but asked for more time instead. 'He said, "What I really want is an extra year, because I'm nothappy rushing this book out without more time to think," [the bookstore owner] said. apparently.

"'No,' Coben said slowly. 'I've toured with Dennis, and we know each other well. But Dennis and I don't do the same thing. He's somebody who comes out with a book every two years or so.' He said he sees more time not so much as an opportunity to improve a book but as an excuse not to finish. 'My first book was due October 1, and by spectacular coincidence, I finished it on September 30,' he said."

You can find this article here.

Sunday, July 01, 2007


Part of the great Writers@Work experience I had was the manuscript conference I had with the editor/publisher, who loved my work but also had some editorial feedback, to wit:

1. each line should be like a little poem unto itself. I was enjambing too much which made all the lines feel not like little poems unto themselves.
2. take three words out of each line. (overstatement, translation: wordy, talky, also wordy.)
3. hold your hand over the page and find the language "hot spots." (metaphorical, translation: too talky, too much talking between the good parts.)

He took care to remind me that the above feedback was in the context of really liking my work, so I was not supposed to tumble into a pit of self-loathing, and I mostly haven't. Mostly. When I mentioned this feedback to several friends, they said, basically, (a) that's just regular good advice, but (b) don't do it just because he said so! (insert eye-rolling here). Anyway, I decided to go through the manuscript to see what I thought, and immediately, I could see poems that needed relineation and general pruning. Did I see this just because I'm a pro and it's just good practice? Was I doing it because he said so? Probably both, a little.

Yesterday, I spent several hours revising almost every poem. It was amazing to me to see how much sharper I could make poems I haven't touched for literally years. Example of an old sad version and a new sexy, streamlined version of the first part of one poem:

Old version:


To get to the house, you must first find
the black highway, measured in leagues
and scores of leagues. This will take days.
The broken lines will keep you
till the road ends. There, you’ll find

a field with a path. It has been years
since the least pilgrim has found it,
so really, it will be the intimation
of a path, and you’ll have to imagine
the rest with your feet, or perhaps with

a rusty old scythe, which you might find
lying there.

and the 2.0 version:


To get to the house, first find the black highway,
measured in leagues and scores of leagues.
This will take days. The broken lines will keep you
till the road ends. There, find a field
and the intimation of a path—
imagine the rest with your feet,
or perhaps with a rusty scythe
you might find lying there.

Still enjambing, but with more purpose, and so many extra, useless, meaningless words . . . poof!

Well, who can say? In any case, I enjoyed doing the revising, then had a fit of self-loathing as I readied copies of the ms to send out. But not because anyone told me to. The self-loathing I always manage to do on my own.


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