8.31.2010

Boomerang

All said and done, I put 2484 miles on the ol' Scion. Yeesh--halfway to another oil change. Lame!

This weekend, Beau and I are driving down to Atlanta for the Decatur Book Festival, where I'm giving a reading. I'll also be appearing with Rigoberto Gonzáles and David Groff at Outwrite Books and at Java Monkey with a slew of great writers on Sunday (noon and 4 pm, respectively).

Beau and I love road trips.

Once we almost drove off the road because we had been playing Mad-Libs in the car and we ended up laughing so hard at our creative responses to the prompts.

Since then, we try not to make our Mad-Libs very funny.

We have driven across the United States together twice (and laughed the whole way, or sang. I sing a lot in the car). We have also been from Phoenix to LA about a thousand times (sometimes in the middle of the night!), DC to Detroit, and DC to NY. We would go more places, but we don't have a lot of free time in tandem with each other.

But it looks like we have long weekends off together this fall, so....I hope my Scion is ready to MOVE!

8.24.2010

Have Scion, Will Travel

I'm smack in the middle of a long roadtrip. This week I'm visiting family in Detroit and in a few days I'll be back in DC.

So far, I've put 1700 miles on my car. That's almost as far as it was when I moved from Phoenix to DC.

Beau and I drove overnight from DC to my parents' place in Wisconsin, about 18 hours of driving. We had to time it right so we could hop on a ferry to take us there, so it meant leaving at 2:30 in the afternoon and getting there at 6 am.

We were there for almost a week (swimming, taking nature walks, and I even got to give a little reading to a big crowd!) and then drove to Milwaukee to visit old friends (Brewers game, tailgaiting, local bar, brunch, art museum, frozen custard), and then Beau flew off on his own while I made the trek to Detroit.

It's times like these when I think maybe I should have been a trucker. I love driving. I love road trips. Fortunately, so does Beau, and he's a good passenger.

Arden's with us too, so she had her first lake experience (she was not a fan) and for the past few days has been riding shotgun with me.

8.09.2010

A criticism of criticism; or, everyone's a critic, but you're a bad one.

I'm sure you've all seen this new list of the 15 most overrated authors:

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/anis-shivani/the-15-most-overrated-con_b_672974.html#s123773

To summarize, per Anis Shivani, they are:

Amy Tan
Antonya Nelson
Billy Collins
Helen Vendler
Jhumpa Lahiri
Jorie Graham
John Ashbery
Jonathan Safran Foer
Junot Diaz
Louise Glück
Mary Oliver
Michael Cunningham
Michiko Kakutani
Sharon Olds
William T. Vollman

Sure, everyone who reads that list is going to say, "OMG, ____ totally belongs there!" Shivani's "compass" for making these qualifications of this interestingly diverse cadre of writers is this:

If we don't understand bad writing, we can't understand good writing. Bad writing is characterized by obfuscation, showboating, narcissism, lack of a moral core, and style over substance. Good writing is exactly the opposite. Bad writing draws attention to the writer himself. These writers have betrayed the legacy of modernism, not to mention postmodernism. They are uneasy with mortality. On the great issues of the day they are silent (especially when they seem to address them, like William T. Vollmann). They desire to be politically irrelevant, and they have succeeded. They are the unreadable Booth Tarkingtons, Joseph Hergesheimers, and John Herseys of our time, earnestly bringing up the rear.

I'm not even sure what that means!

How do we know if what we experience is showboating and narcissism versus a mode, a form, a device? Equally offensive are the cute labels Shivani applies to each author's profile:

Sharon Olds (tampons and lactation)
Junot Diaz (Abuelos and Hijas)
Antonya Nelson (Alcoholics, Abusers, Addicts, and Adulterers)

It is facile to reduce down any author to a single dominant trope, concern, or identity, particularly when those traits seem to relate back to the author more than anything does. Does Shivani imply through his criticism that "tampons and lactation" are unworthy topics of poetry? Then he should similarly avoid Carly Sach's great piece in Court Green.

I'm firing this off quickly in annoyance, but my issue isn't wholly with Shivani. He's clearly stirring a pot, and I although I abhor his approach and his methods, I also argue that a critical dialog is essential at every point in in literature.

I'm at somewhat of a loss to understand why someone would take such a reductionist, offensive, and wholly misguided tone in opening up a dialog about art. Why hasn't he listed the enormous list of male writers who, like Antonya Nelson, have concerned themselves with "alcoholics, abusers, addicts, and adulterers"? Surely she has no corner on the market. And how can we truly assess the work of Junot Diaz this early in his career? We can discuss Oscar Wao, sure, but beyond that....? He may never write anything as significant again. Or he may become the most significant writer of our generation. Perhaps we can say, at least for this one, that it's too early to tell.

When criticism works, it works because it places an artist's work into a context, discusses what it does well and what it fails to achieve. A review that does only one of these three things and sacrifices the other two would be called a book report, literary fellatio, or a rant, respectively, none of which offer anything but the pleasure of their own existence for their authors.

I don't believe criticism must be kind, but it shouldn't expose our own shortcomings as human beings either. While I'd hate to see literary discourse become as structured and stifled as the dinner party in The Age of Innocence, I think we can, in the immortal words of Ouiser Boudreaux in Steel Magnolias, "take the dishes out of the sink before [we] pee in it."

8.07.2010

Summer Mix Tape

Side One
  • "1901," Phoenix
  • "Giving Up the Gun," Vampire Weekend
  • "XXXO," M.I.A.
  • "Life on TV," Kid Sister
  • "So Happy I Could Die," Lady Gaga
  • "Drumming Song," Florence + the Machine
  • "Arrow," Tegan and Sara
  • "Tell 'Em," Sleigh Bells
  • "All the Lovers," Kylie Minogue
  • "Photographs," Rihanna
  • "I Just Love You More," Kate Nash
  • "Binary Love," Blake Lewis


Side Two
  • "Drunk Girls," LCD Soundsystem
  • "Horseshoes and Handgrenades," Green Day
  • "Undisclosed Desires," Muse
  • "Fire with Fire," Scissor Sisters
  • "Slow Poison," The Bravery
  • "A Place to Hide," White Lies
  • "Vanity," Christina Aguilera
  • "Bulletproof," La Roux
  • "Loser Dust," Hole
  • "Back in Time," Keane
  • "Hot Mess," Cobra Starship

8.05.2010

What's the buzz?

By now many of you know I am no longer serving as the Director of The
Writer's Center. I am so grateful to you, the rest of the writing
community, the talented staff, and the board for the time I spent in
that position. I learned so much over the last two years and feel
like I am coming away from the experience a stronger and smarter
leader.

When I decided to resign several months ago, it was a difficult choice
to make. The decision to leave came on the tail of much
consideration, long talks with my partner, and an imagining of what
would be the next best steps for me and for the two of us. I feel so
grateful that the Board of Directors has encouraged me to stay on to
lead workshops at the Center, as this was always one of my greatest
joys in being affiliated with the organization. My only concerns
about leaving were that I ensured a smooth transition for the incoming
Director and that I felt certain I had left things at the Center
better than I found them. In my last few weeks on the job, I
determined that those goals were met.

Although I am moving on, I will always be thankful for having met and
worked with the Center's community. The Writer's Center is such an important gathering
place for this community and it's my sincere hope it will continue to
thrive well into the new century.