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