Saturday, June 8, 2013

in the midst of all their shortcoming

When I hear myself praising a book these days, the things I seem to be really appreciating is a fearlessness when it comes to compassion and sincerity, as well as a willingness to examine questions of faith (and by that I neither mean, not exclude, questions of religion.) In other words, I have reached an age where I am no longer at all impressed with the snide, the cold, the condescending, unless it is paired or mitigated by the opposite, the hopeful in the face of all odds, the reaching after the ineffable, the love. My favorite book this year so far is George Saunder’s The Tenth of December, because for all its razor sharp social commentary, for all the ways he shows us to ourselves with a devastatingly relentless and honest eye, he brings this wave of compassion and love behind that critique. No characters seem more in need of love than the characters in The Tenth of December, and he loves them unconditionally, in the midst of all their shortcoming, all their flaws. Pam Houston in Tracking Wonder

Friday, June 7, 2013


One, really? I could do five with some level of comfort, but one is nearly impossible. But if I have to do one I guess it has to be Toni Morrison’s Jazz. It both took off the top of my head and became the axe for the frozen sea within me. It completely exploded whatever notion I had about the limits of what was possible in a novel and made me understand that radical intelligence and radical empathy were not—as my grad school professors had insisted—mutually exclusive. Pam Houston in Tracking Wonder
Photo by Pam Houston

Friday, April 12, 2013

a private river

The best memoirs—like This Boy’s Life, or Crazy Brave [by Joy Harjo], for instance—bring you through a private river of storytelling that joins a major ocean of human struggle and joy. Lidia Yuknavitch. From The Rumpus Interview with Elizabeth Scarboro and Lidia Yuknavitch by Roxane Gay. 

Saturday, March 23, 2013

closer to the reason

What made Madeleine sit up in bed was something closer to the reason she read books in the first place and had always loved them. Here was a sign that she wasn’t alone. Here was an articulation of what she had been so far mutely feeling. In bed on a Friday night, wearing sweatpants, her hair tied back, her glasses smudged, and eating peanut butter from the jar, Madeleine was in a state of extreme solitude. The Marriage Plot, Jeffrey Eugenides

Home of Brian W. Ferry on Sight Unseen via Lena Corwin

Friday, March 22, 2013

less strict

CALLE: He began by telling me that he loved my work but that many of my shows looked like open books on the wall.
NERI: That’s a provocative criticism to make to an artist who has always worked with words and images. You are a distinctive writer, much admired in literary circles.
CALLE: Daniel [Buren] said this after he visited my house and saw my walls [The walls of Sophie’s house in Paris are adorned with groupings of artworks and artifacts]. He thought they were more playful and free than many of my shows. His criticism wasn’t about my writing—it was that for many works, I chose one format and repeated it many times. He wanted me to be less strict. As a result, I had much more fun in Venice. I played so much that I was even afraid to be too much like a student who wants to experiment with everything! Sophie Calle with Interview Magazine
Les Dormeurs, 1979, Sophie Calle

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

in which a heart

I’m looking for fiction in which a heart struggles against itself, in which the messy unmanageable complexity of the world is revealed. Sentences that are so sharp they cut the eye. Junot Diaz, Boston Review Writer's Guidelines

Sunday, March 17, 2013

i made up ice bats

On writing: “we’re talking about the struggle to drag a thought over from the mush of the unconscious into some kind of grammar, syntax, human sense; every attempt means starting over with language. starting over with accuracy. i mean, every thought starts over, so every expression of a thought has to do the same. every accuracy has to be invented. . . . i feel i am blundering in concepts too fine for me.”
On ice bats: “I made up ice bats, there is no such thing.”
On teaching: “when i began to be published, people got the idea that i should ‘teach writing,’ which i have no idea how to do and don’t really believe in. so now and then i find myself engaged by a ‘writing program’ (as at nyu, stanford) and have to bend my wits to deflect the official purpose.”
On contradiction: “i realize all this sounds both chaotic and dishonest and probably that is the case. contradiction is the test of reality, as Simone Weil says.” Anne Carson in the NYT

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

and then

I would say to get the character in your mind. Once he is in your mind, and he is right, and he’s true, then he does the work himself. All you need to do then is to trot along behind him and put down what he does and what he says. It’s the ingestion and then the gestation. You’ve got to know the character. You’ve got to believe in him. You’ve got to feel that he is alive, and then, of course, you will have to do a certain amount of picking and choosing among the possibilities of his action, so that his actions fit the character which you believe in. After that, the business of putting him down on paper is mechanical. William Faulkner via the gf 
Joseph Pielichaty’s Blue Skies via Vic

Saturday, February 9, 2013

big feelings

I used to stop by the Creativity Explored Gallery when  lived around the corner. I'd check out the current show, maybe buy cards or gift wrap, but I never ventured back into the studio to meet the artists or watch them work. I was probably in a hurry, or more likely just thought I was in a hurry. I imagined if I stepped over that threshold, all sorts of things could happen. What if I got into a long conversation I didn't know how to get out of? What if an artist wanted me to buy their art and I had to say no?  What if I couldn't understand what someone was saying to me? What if I was so overcome with Big Feelings that I cried? What if I didn't want to leave? From Tell You What: Friendship by Beth Lisick

Monday, January 28, 2013

how you got from sixteen to here

Sometimes you’re 23 and standing in the kitchen of your house making breakfast and brewing coffee and listening to music that for some reason is really getting to your heart. You’re just standing there thinking about going to work and picking up your dry cleaning. And also more exciting things like books you’re reading and trips you plan on taking and relationships that are springing into existence. Or fading from your memory, which is far less exciting. And suddenly you just don’t feel at home in your skin or in your house and you just want home but “Mom’s” probably wouldn’t feel like home anymore either. There used to be the comfort of a number in your phone and ears that listened everyday and arms that were never for anyone else. But just to calm you down when you started feeling trapped in a five-minute period where nostalgia is too much and thoughts of this person you are feel foreign. When you realize that you’ll never be this young again but this is the first time you’ve ever been this old. When you can’t remember how you got from sixteen to here and all the same feel like sixteen is just as much of a stranger to you now. The song is over. The coffee’s done. You’re going to breathe in and out. You’re going to be fine in about five minutes. The Winter of the Air via Old Time Friend
Photo by victoriahhhh

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

what are you looking for?

For the past few years, leading up to the birth of my daughter, I have spent five mornings out of the week standing in a small walk-in freezer, unloading and organizing food products. Before that, I was a fishmonger in the Pacific Northwest. I’ve often stopped to muse, as I unload packages of frozen Pacific cod and salmon pieces, on the sad tomb these fish have arrived at after their monumental struggle against the open ocean. In a way, it also helps cast my new role as a parent, no longer at loose in the northern wilds among freshly caught whole fish, but in the quiet domesticity of an environmentally controlled storehouse with processed blocks of bland, solid-colored cubes of once wild animals.
I take solace in the discovery that my daughter appears to be at least as feral as anything stalking through the Columbia Gorge. Excerpted from Caveat Emptor by Jason Novak in The Paris Review

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

it is still

It is still news to her that passion
could steer her wrong
though she went down, a thousand times
strung out
across railroad tracks, off bridges
under cars, or stiff
glass bottle still in hand, hair soft
on greasy pillows, still it is
news she cannot follow love (his
burning footsteps in blue crystal
snow) & still
come out all right.

Diane di Prima from Loma
Photo:  at  2011 via Christian Polout

Saturday, January 19, 2013

working as a railroad brakeman

On my own website, in my worryingly thin “About” section, I make no mention of the fact that I work full-time in the marketing department of a software company. Why? Maybe for the same reason that pop singers used to hide that they were married — it just doesn’t fit the image. It’s far more romantic to think of Jack Kerouac working as a railroad brakeman, zipping through the American landscape on the California Zephyr, than it is to ponder Eliot in the basement, Dr. William Carlos Williams treating a dying woman or the former U.S. Poet Laureate Ted Kooser (2004-2006) working as an executive at Lincoln Benefit Life Insurance Company in Nebraska. That’s why I’ll stick with denial, thank you very much. Robert Fay via a favorite: The Average American Female. 

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

now i want to stay in bed and listen to the dogs snore

The book comes out a week from today and it's been thrilling and odd and unsettling. Lots of bloggers and reviewers got the book early, including this sixteen year old reviewer.  And you guys have been kind, unbelievably kind and supportive. I'm grateful.

Sunday, January 6, 2013

now let's go over this again

The process of writing books is somewhat akin to a very long police interrogation in which the detective leans over the table littered with the butt ends of cigarettes and cold coffee in Styrofoam cups and says for the 87th time, "Now let's go over this again." It is a study in repetition, the ability to read the same page, paragraph, sentence until it could be recited backward and in French in hopes of figuring out which detail is missing, which idea is false. What my days lack in being touched by the muse they make up for in the steady picking of the miner's ax, chipping out a tunnel that may well lead to nowhere. Ann Patchett in the Washington Post 
Photo: Lee Miller and Tanja Ramm in Miller’s Paris studio, 
wall hanging by Jean Cocteau, by Theodor Miller, 1931 via the gf

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

and I say pleasepleasepleaseplease

Daily Beast: Describe your morning routine.
DH: Wake, shower, shave, dress, put music on, double espresso, fresh-fruit smoothie, oatmeal, read the comics in The San Francisco Chronicle to the child, readThe New York Times to oneself, agree to show the child one YouTube video in exchange for the vigorous brushing of teeth (current favorite: Of Monsters And Men, “Little Talks”), vigorous brushing of teeth, kiss just-waking wife, walk child to school, small talk with other parents in schoolyard, put on headphones (current favorite: Fire!, You Liked Me Five Minutes Ago), take bus, walk to Jewish Community Center, swim 50 laps, take bus, arrive home to begin working day.
LB: My husband nudges me at what I feel is the crack of dawn—after he has already gotten up, showered, prepared breakfast for himself and our kid, and made me coffee. Then I say “five more minutes,” and he comes back in five minutes and I say “five more minutes,” and he comes back in five minutes and I say “five more minutes,” and he says no, and I say “pleasepleasepleaseplease” and he says “you are pathetic,” and I go upstairs and drink my coffee and kiss the kid, and my husband takes the kid to school, while I slurk around the house, pretending that I will go to the gym. I eventually get to my studio, post some stuff on Tumblrtweet a bit, and then it’s really not anything close to morning anymore. From How I Write Husband and Wife with Lisa Brown and Daniel Handler in The Daily Beast

Monday, December 24, 2012

adobe books

All the books are now 60% off, but Andrew McKinley, among the kindest and most generous bookstore owners on earth, will still try and make you pay even less. Peter Orner on Adobe Books in The Rumpus 

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

it fades, but never completely

Another recent encounter has been Joyce’s “The Dead,” which I’ve read many times. It needs to be considered as a novella, the perfect novella, entirely separate from the rest of “Dubliners.” An annual winter party; afterwards, a scene of marital misunderstanding and revelation in a hotel room; a closing reflection on mortality as sleep closes in and snow begins to fall — I’d swap the last dozen pages of “The Dead” for any dozen in “Ulysses.” As a form, the novel sprawls and can never be perfect. It doesn’t need to be, it doesn’t want to be. A poem can achieve perfection — not a word you’d want to change — and in rare instances a novella can too.
Do you have a favorite literary genre?
The novella. See above.
Do you read poetry?
We have many shelves of poetry at home, but still, it takes an effort to step out of the daily narrative of existence, draw that neglected cloak of stillness around you — and concentrate, if only for three or four minutes. Perhaps the greatest reading pleasure has an element of self-annihilation. To be so engrossed that you barely know you exist. I last felt that in relation to a poem while in the sitting room of Elizabeth Bishop’s old home in rural Brazil. I stood in a corner, apart from the general conversation, and read “Under the Window: Ouro Preto.” The street outside was once an obscure thoroughfare for donkeys and peasants. Bishop reports overheard lines as people pass by her window, including the beautifully noted “When my mother combs my hair it hurts.” That same street now is filled with thunderous traffic — it fairly shakes the house. When I finished the poem I found that my friends and our hosts had left the room. What is it precisely, that feeling of “returning” from a poem? Something is lighter, softer, larger — then it fades, but never completely. 

Thursday, November 29, 2012

you once overheard me say that I liked it

Mountain Dew Commercial Disguised as a Love Poem
Here’s what I’ve got, the reasons why our marriage
might work: Because you wear pink but write poems
about bullets and gravestones. Because you yell
at your keys when you lose them, and laugh,
loudly, at your own jokes. Because you can hold a pistol,
gut a pig. Because you memorize songs, even commercials
from thirty years back and sing them when vacuuming.
You have soft hands. Because when we moved, the contents
of what you packed were written inside the boxes.
Because you think swans are overrated.
Because you drove me to the train station. You drove me
to Minneapolis. You drove me to Providence.
Because you underline everything you read, and circle
the things you think are important, and put stars next
to the things you think I should think are important,
and write notes in the margins about all the people
you’re mad at and my name almost never appears there.
Because you make that pork recipe you found
in the Frida Khalo Cookbook. Because when you read
that essay about Rilke, you underlined the whole thing
except the part where Rilke says love means to deny the self
and to be consumed in flames. Because when the lights
are off, the curtains drawn, and an additional sheet is nailed
over the windows, you still believe someone outside
can see you. And one day five summers ago,
when you couldn’t put gas in your car, when your fridge
was so empty—not even leftovers or condiments—
there was a single twenty-ounce bottle of Mountain Dew,
which you paid for with your last damn dime
because you once overheard me say that I liked it.

by Matthew Olzmann from
Rattle #31, Summer 2009  via oh (for M)
Photo: 10:59 by Brian Ferry of the blue hour 

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

the truth is inside

If you had to give on piece of advice to people in their twenties, what would it be?
To go to a bookstore and buy ten books of poetry and read them each five times.
Because the truth is inside.
Photo mine

Friday, November 2, 2012

we have a house in our two imaginations

How like an island we are in love encouraging
moss & like an island we are barely moving Just
to exist takes much concentration & like an island
in love we have a house in our two imaginations &
they intersect It strengthens the house & our feelings
Unlike an island we wake up An island never sleeps
That is its duty & ours to remain in love barely moving
We do not want to disturb the house Do not want it
to fall into the ocean that is always so nearby It surrounds
us & is moving Like an island the ocean does not see us
or care why though we persist in loving it at one rate
or another & are waking close together in the dark

Photo: Margaret Kilgallen on view at SFMOMA

Sunday, October 21, 2012


When I was a child
I played by myself in a
corner of the schoolyard
all alone.
I hated dolls and I
hated games, animals were
not friendly and birds
flew away.
If anyone was looking
for me I hid behind a
tree and cried out “I am
an orphan.”
And here I am, the
center of all beauty!
writing these poems!

I'm memorizing this poem, "Autobiographia Literaria," 
by Frank O'Hara for A Cup of Jo's Fall Challenge #2
Photo: The Sartorialist

Thursday, October 11, 2012

god knows it has nothing to do with the heart

You say that everything is very simple and interesting
it makes me feel very wistful, like reading a great
                                      Russian novel does

from Yesterday Down at the Canal, Frank O'Hara, 1961

Thursday, October 4, 2012

even the doubt

When I teach, I tell my students:
Write. Trust your own voice, your own instincts. Learn your own process. Write. Learn what works for you and trust in that. Writing is a discipline. No doubt. It takes persistence, hard work, and drive. It is about working and reworking a passage, a page, or the arc of a story until it breathes. There is a learned ruthlessness that writing demands, when you can go back through a manuscript and pare out what you love—strip even those lines you most long to keep—it gives what remains a kind of luminous intensity. And there is also that other ineffable, but deeply essential aspect of the process: what is mystical, Muse-given—the obsession, the inspiration, even the doubt—all of which to my mind are only different turns of the same coin. from Life in Fiction by Dawn Tripp in the Rumpus
  Photo: Samuel Barnes' Bruno Munari mask making workshop 

with my daylight mind

I write for the same reason I read: to free fall into a story and live in that world for a while. My novels begin in tiny glimmers—of character, story, scene. When those pieces surface in me, I feel them, not with my mind, but in the body. They have a feverish intensity—a dreamlike immediacy—they feel alive. And when a story comes to me that way, I begin to write into it longhand to see how it evolves. I toss that old rule Write what you know, and I write into what moves me, what I am impelled by. I’ll fill a notebook, sometimes two, and if that burn persists, if those bits of story are still zipping around like liquid silver in my veins or falling through me while I am out for a run with the dog, or washing the dishes, or down on the beach with my kids; if they continue to snap me awake at 3 a.m., if the story has that kind of life, even if I can’t see—with my daylight mind—how it will all come together or where it will go, if I continue to feel it that way, in the body, I know it’s a piece I am meant to write. from Life in Fiction by Dawn Tripp in the Rumpus
Photo: Samuel Barnes' Bruno Munari mask making workshop 

her voice from that concord

I stood listening to that musical vibration from my lofty slope, to those flashes of separate cries with a kind of demure murmur for background, and then I knew that the hopelessly poignant thing was not Lolita’s absence from my side, but the absence of her voice from that concord. Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov via Jeffrey Eugenides in the NYT

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

in portland

And the stories we tell ourselves are not the only stories. Uses for Boys

Are you in Portland? I'm going to be at Wordstock on October 13-14. Come if you can. I'd love to meet you. 

Illustration by Yelena Bryksenkova for Sad Girls

Saturday, September 22, 2012

I had just hung up from talking to you

I had just hung up from talking to you
and we had been so immersed in the difficulty
you were facing, and forgive me,
I was thinking that as long as we kept talking,
you in your car in the parking lot of the boys’ school
as the afternoon deepened into early evening,
and me in the study, all the books around
that had been sources of beauty to us,
as long as we stayed in the conversation
padded with history like the floor of the pine forest,
as long as I thought out loud, made a joke
at my own expense, you would be harbored in that exchange,
but the boys were leaving the track
and after we hung up I looked out the window
to see the top of the bare January trees spotlit to silvery red,
massive but made from the thinnest
twigs at the ends of the branches at the ends of the limbs
they were waving and shining in a light
like no other and left only to them.
By Jessica Greenbaum in Poetry via ? 
Photo: La Garconne

Thursday, September 20, 2012

of romance, vanished european cities, long-dead ballerinas

Around 1964, Cornell, himself sixty, was looking to try sketching from a live model. The thirty-five-year-old Kusama, an admirer of his, was sent over to pose. There is a strong possibility that this was the first time Cornell had ever seen a naked woman. As Deborah Solomon notes in her biography, the sketches he did that day look as if his hand “was trembling.” From "Alchemy of Inspiration" by Jessica Lott in the Art21 blog.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

cross off and move on

Adela, Bernice, and Charna, the youngest—all gone for a long time now, blurred into a flock sailing through memory, their long, thin legs streaming out beneath the fluffy domes of their mangy fur coats, their great beaky noses pointing the way. From "Cross Off and Move On" by Deborah Eisenberg, full story on NYRB
Painting: Confrontation 1 (1988) by Gerhard Richter, via Tate

Thursday, September 13, 2012

some love for a truman

Some love for a hound dog puppy from M Dash and Animal Madness. Thank you so much. 
Photo: Truman all doped up after surgery

Sunday, September 9, 2012

it happens with every book

So what happened?
I got two years into the novel and got completely stymied and felt like it was an utter flop. I wanted to put it aside but my wife talked me out of it. She said she cared too much about these characters and wanted to find out what became of them. I had to start all over again, keeping the characters but reinventing the story completely and leaving behind almost every element with the exception of the birth that goes wrong – that was the only significant element that I preserved.
You've had this experience before…
It happens with every book now, I hate to say. I abandoned my second novel completely. Writing Kavalier & Clay, I had several moments of utter collapse. Same with The Yiddish Policemen's Union. I'm obviously just not very good at this. Michael Chabon in conversation with The Guardian

Friday, September 7, 2012

san francisco when you're in love

Below are several of M. and my favorite date night walks:

Takeout from Out the Door eaten on the benches outside the Ferry Building, watching the ferries go in and out. Followed by a walk up the Filbert Steps to North Beach, a quick viewing of the murals in Coit Tower (smash a penny), a stop in City Lights Books and then cocktails at Cafe Zoetrope. 

Walk to the top of Bernal Hill. Walk back down. Stop at Red Hill Books on the way to Wild Side West.

Flora Grubb for coffee. 

Cocktails at Mint 54.

Lunch at Darwin followed by a walk to SFMOMA. 

A visit to Headlands Center for the Arts followed by doing nothing at all on Rodeo Beach (aka Fort Cronkite)

A little shopping at Mollusk Surf Shop followed by the General Store. A meal at Outerlands and then canoodling on the beach.

A visit with Emmett and Deanna at Inside Modern and then cocktails and song at Martuni's. 

Happy hour tacos at Pancho Villa followed by window shopping up Valencia Street (Monument, Paxton Gate, Shoe Biz, 826 Valencia, The Curiosity Shoppe), a peek into Clarion Alley, a loop around Dolores Park and then pizza at the counter at Delfina's. 
Photo: our favorite bartender, Maura

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

then go write

Break your deadlines, default on your due dates, wander in the streets, go to the movies, eat lavishly, fornicate, blaspheme, bless a street urchin, browbeat a civil servant, and when you’re done with these things, if you feel excited by what you’ve seen and heard, then go write. Rick Moody via Top Ten Books 

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

love, friendship and solidarity

Another element of my memoir — the stupendous importance of love, friendship and solidarity — has been made immensely more vivid to me by recent experience. I can’t hope to convey the full effect of the embraces and avowals, but I can perhaps offer a crumb of counsel. If there is anybody known to you who might benefit from a letter or a visit, do noton any account postpone the writing or the making of it. The difference made will almost certainly be more than you have calculated. Christopher Hitchens (from Hitch-22) as quoted in NYT

Tuesday, August 28, 2012


Sometimes I see a photo like this and think, I should just clear our my reader and read 3 blogs. And then I start counting them and it's way more than three.
Photo: Vic

Saturday, August 25, 2012

this is truman

Our rescued hound dog. He almost died. We're having a fundraiser in San Francisco on Friday, September 14th to help pay his medical bills. Join us?

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

the texture of her family

She was just beginning to speak in short sentences. She was at the juncture in her babyhood when it was possible she knew everything worth knowing. She understood the texture of her family; she understood territory and rage and love, although she couldn't say much more than ball and moo, I want, pretty girl, and bad dog. From A Map of the World, Jane Hamilton

Saturday, August 4, 2012

meeting, never to meet again

Within ten seconds
I knew I wanted to kiss your eyelids.
This is why I kept staring
Past you, as if to a cold horizon.

You were not boring me, as you thought.
I was looking to where you stood

Monday, July 30, 2012

there are ravens on the roof

There are ravens on the roof
of both places.
Perhaps they are the same ravens.
I can’t tell.
If Roni Horn were here
she’d say ravens
are like water,
they are wildly constant.
They are a sign of Iceland.
from "Wildly Constant," Anne Carson