My brain is a kind of synapse soup leaking out of my ears after two terrific conferences, one odyssey in Denver, a delivery of files to the printing press, and the mere suggestion of grading scientist profiles. So, in lieu of a thoughtful post, I will offer you several games.
1. Pick up the book nearest you.
Turn to page 45. The first complete sentence describes your love life.
“Rather than simplifying and unifying, he is revealing the complexity of the Japanese ‘natural’ world and opening a space in the cosmology for native yokai.”
from Pandemonium and Parade: Japanese Monsters and the Culture of Yokai by Michæl Dylan Foster
(Har har har, sounds supernatural, huh?)
2. Make a book spine poem by arranging books on your self.
The hummingbird’s daughter
in the wilderness
skinny legs and all.
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tonight at 10/9c, cnn will air the first episode of their original series, “chicagoland.” because my employer was involved with some of the filming for this 8-part documentary, this past tuesday night i was able to attend a special debut showing at the bank of america theater in chicago. based on the first episode that i saw, i would strongly recommend it to anyone interested in an insider’s view to how a modern american city works (or, sometimes, doesn’t).
their crews were given access to intimate & uncensored moments we members of the public rarely get to see, if ever: with the mayor, with the principal of a school which needs metal detectors, with the police chief, with grieving families, and—in the episode’s most haunting moment—with 10-year-old students who are literally scared for their lives just walking to school.
but, as someone who loves this city dearly, i want to give all of you not from chicago a viewer’s guide to the things that the cameras didn’t capture, or were edited out, or just plain weren’t explained…
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Leslie Jamison thoughtful and smart essay “Which Creates Better Writers: An MFA Program or New York City?” examines the issues brought up in MFA vs. NYC, an essay collection edited by Chad Harbach. The collection is an extension of the questions Hardbach asked in his 2010 essay by the same title, which was written in response to Mark McGurl’s 2009 book The Program Era.
I remember some of the arguments debates that heated up the internet four years ago, and it seems like the collection continues those discussions.
The Los Angeles Times thinks the book ‘ponders whether getting a master of fine arts degree in creative writing is a good idea.’ Though in the article that follows this headline, reviewer Carolyn Kellogg broadens the issue: ‘The larger question is whether institutionalizing a creative endeavor benefits our culture.’ In the New York Times, Dwight Garner calls it a ‘volume that asks whether fiction writing can, or should, be taught.’
Jamison expands these questions in her essay and clarifies why the debate will probably never be settled.
“Not so much whether writers can be taught but what it means that they are getting taught, and what it means that we keep asking this question about the legitimacy of the discipline; what our anxieties about the institutionalization of writing might teach us. The volume asks who pays the bills, and how; and also how these flows of money—the pressures they generate and the institutional affiliations they produce—affect the work itself.”
Reading this article right after AWP resonated with me. It’s been four years since I last attended the conference and yet many of the panels this year discussed the same issues as the talks I attended then, including “…the legitimacy of the discipline; what our anxieties about the institutionalization of writing might teach us.” And many of the students in the audience again brought up variations of “who pays the bills, and how; and also how these flows of money—the pressures they generate and the institutional affiliations they produce—affect the work itself.”
I’m not sure we’ll ever get concrete answers. I kind of hope we don’t, because I like the landscape of the writing market to be as fluid and diverse as I hope new writers (and writing programs) will continue to be. And so, I’m quite happy to debate these issues, now and in the future.
if it hasn’t been made abundantly clear on this blog, i can assure you that at least my friends are already well aware of my antipathy toward music streaming services. it’s not because i’m an audiophile (my hearing never fully recovered after nine inch nails’ “fragility” tour back in 2000). it’s not even because i have a janky internet connection at home (which i do). it’s because i’ve yet to be convinced that any of the pay-for-service music streaming companies actually compensate artists fairly.
i know that my friends are aware of this opinion because one of them was good enough to email me a link to an article on the guardian this week regarding that very issue. independent musician zoe keating shared her payouts in 2013 from iTunes, youtube, spotify, and other services—even going so far as to make the figures available publicly in a google document. the guardian did some quick math, revealing that 92% of keating’s income still came from album sales, not streams.
it’s worth noting that the guardian also supplied an october 2013 quote from keating on this very topic:
I don’t feel like streaming is the evil enemy. I think it’s a good positive thing to get music out there… All I’m asking is make a direct deal with me, let me choose my terms.
while i do find keating’s transparency here quite admirable, i’d like to reiterate my earlier statement that, as a fan, i don’t actually care what the exact numbers are. i don’t even care if a streaming service pays all artists the same rate (as beats music claims to). what i care about is artists feeling like they’re getting a fair deal. if they feel the system is equitable—regardless of where a given artist is at in their own particular career arc—that’s what i’m interested in. and regardless of what numbers appear in keating’s spreadsheet, the thing i’m going to remember, and the thing that’s going to continue to keep me away from streaming services, is that keating still lacks control over who profits from her music.
p.s. on a somewhat related note, last week new republic had a nice article on how/why book publishers haven’t exactly been as devastated by the digital revolution as the music & film industries.
At a an author reading at Auntie Bookstore’s last year, Craig Johnson talked about how much he liked Robert Taylor’s audition for the role of Sheriff Walt Longmire in the A&E TV series based on Johnson’s novels (Viking). That is, he liked it until a breathy “Oh, my” escaped from his wife’s lips when she saw Taylor saunter across the screen. She quickly defended her reaction by describing Taylor as a taller and slightly better looking, “TV version” of her husband. (Nice save, Mrs. Johnson.)
This made me wonder what the TV/film version of me would be like. I pictured a polished, skinnier Asa, with better skin, thicker more lustrous hair, wearing expensive designer clothes and shoes. She would know how to walk in high heels, have an infectious tinkling laugh, and use a clever repertoire of insightful comments during conversations. And she would look good in hats.
Later that night, I uploaded some pictures from the author event to social media and realized the edited version of my life already exists: Facebook.
Here are some of the director choices I’ve made for the Facebook version of my life:
My husband and friend arrange an amazing 40th birthday party—show pictures of guests, especially cute children of friends playing with dog.
Turning 40 means spending an alarming amount of time in front of a magnifying mirror tweezing coarse hairs that sprout on my chin—CUT!
Ziplining in Costa Rica—post photos of posting with hubby in matching helmets, include video of me whizzing down a very high line at fast speeds.
Spending hours on the toilet, purging from both ends due to Costa Rican amoeba entering gastrointestinal system—Are you crazy?! Nobody wants to see that. CUT! Read more »
Valerie June’s latest album is called Pushin’ Against A Stone (2013). About the title, June said that as a self-taught musician, “I feel I’ve spent my life pushing against a stone. And the jobs I’ve had have been fitting for getting a true feel for how the traditional artists I loved came home after a hard day to sit on the porch and play tunes until bedtime.”
You can find Valerie June’s website here.
Here’s the official music video for the song.
The album is available for streaming on Spotify if you’d like to hear more. I’d suggest buying the album with no hesitation. It’s pretty great.
For a minute we’re all part of the same thing. The sun flickers and rests on the sides of our faces as we pass trees, highway signs, 18-wheelers, tractors. It’s all quiet. 50-some years after Rosa Parks and no one makes a fuss, black-white-purple-green we all sit in comfortable silence. Floor vibrating under the settled rubber of our shoes, seats bouncing us like a lullaby. The world passes us by outside, beige fields of weeds, leafless winter branches, working class, upper class, middle class, nowhere class, but on the bus we don’t stop for trivialities, we don’t patiently wait for our respective exits, on the bus we trust the same driver. On the bus we amble together along the same road.
Prints by Zarina Hashmi
There’s a tree blocking the house from the front, a needled tree, but that can be cut back. The house is green and lovelorn, it is 1093 square feet on a 3 thousand something square foot lot, room for lemon trees, anything. It borders an alley, industrial spaces, its street address is 808 and all of this points toward yours.
The house is listed for 550,000 and will need some work.
You will take up the carpet to expose the old floors, and somewhere in there you hope you’ll find an alcove, an indentation, a place to build some kind of shrine like every house in India.
“This is my house.” So said Navita, packed dirt floor, we stepped over a gutter moat to reach the front door. Walls painted bright orange, one plastic chair, nothing else but the shrine: Durga’s picture hung on the wall with a calendar. The next room was all but dug out, where she and her mother kept their sleeping mats rolled during the day.
“This is my house.” It will contain only the best of what you need and love, you don’t need more and more. Potted palms in the corner of the living room. Necklaces hung for the choosing near the bedroom window. The bathroom tiled like an Istanbul hamam. Things you’ve found, collected, resting finally.
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This week I have been at the Southwest Popular American Culture Association Conference, which one of my students has called a “nerd extravaganza.” On Wednesday, I presented some of the X-Files poetry that I have been working on; the manuscript of the collection is called “Glitches in the FBI.” Last night, I received the following e-mail:
This note (which included some more specific information beneath the scroll), is my first encounter with David Publishing. Because I am human, I like to have my ego stroked, so my first thought was, “Cool.”
When I was younger, I kept a blog, in part to keep in touch with my family across the country, and in part (ok, a really big part), with the hope that I would be “discovered” by some publishing company and land a book deal. The publishing process was very mysterious to me then (it still is, some days), so I had no idea how writers could be proactive about becoming authors.
Anyway, I saw this e-mail and, I have to admit, it satisfied some part of that “being found” desire I used to have. Even though I presented to a crowd of about seven poetry enthusiasts, in a ballroom staged for 200+ people, I believed my presentation went well. One of my students came, on assignment from the school paper. A poet in a gray suit shook my hand afterward. “Glitches in the FBI” had a lot of good energy around it; of course some one would want to publish some of the poems or a discussion of the process. Read more »
so, there’s been this trend lately to be, like, all positive & shit when reviewing books. which i kinda understand. technology has enabled us all to be content producers. anybody & everybody can not only write a book, but publish it. and negative reviews help no one more than the writer. especially if that writer hasn’t come up the old school way and/or become part of a writing community, building up a stable of editors they trust to critique their work—but it’s also true for established writers, who could be otherwise unchallenged because of their burnished reputation.
as readers, however, we might get a perverse thrill from a literary takedown by a critic, but do we really need negative reviews? if the end objective for readers is to know which books to (not) read, couldn’t we more or less glean that by seeing which books never get (positively) reviewed anywhere, ever? on the other hand, is a critic who only writes glowing reviews in danger of becoming overly fawning, or desperately sifting for gold where little (if any) exists?
it is in that context that i wonder what the fate of ruth: woman of courage would be were it published in 2014. it is, ostensibly, a children’s retelling of the story of ruth (i.e., from the bible) which was published in 1977 & beloved by tiny young christians across the land. but let’s pretend it was released today. would it come out on a vanity press, and be panned by academics and lovers of literature alike as unserious, barely(?) sensical words spewed on a page? or would it be snapped up by some by some indie publisher, and hailed by the masses on html giant as a pre/post-ironic deconstruction of contemporary amerikan language which delves into the myth of feminist biblical moral strength? tough to tell.
whether or not the world needs negative reviews in 2014 is up for debate. but i submit that if you’re going to use the *literal* word of god as source material, you’re setting yourself to an awfully high standard—a standard which some reviewer should hold you to. and, paula jordan parris: for you, that reviewer is me.
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