Tuesday, March 28, 2006

It's all about The Idol

Recently, I have been distracted from my true purpose in life: viewing The Idol. Last week, I had a flash of what it's really all about. After witnessing Chris's amazing performance of "Walk the Line," I actually felt (really!) that if I had not seen it, I would be less of a human being.
Now, I know what you're thinking, how can "American Idol" be this good? I don't know. I really don't. All I can say is, it IS this good. And if you're not watching, you're not just missing out on some really amazing musical performances, you're missing out on some life changing experiences.
I know that you all will think I'm crazy, but I am being totally serious. I loved Chris's performance and I think Paris has the best voice in, well, a long time.
Here are my predictions for the bottom three this week: Bucky (again), Lisa (again), and. . . Kelly. It's only a matter of time before the charm of her blondeness and stupidity wear off. But I think Bucky will go. He has to. Son will be sad. Bucky is his favorite.

Sunday, March 26, 2006

Finally, the last thing I'll say about AWP

On Saturday, I went to a panel about blogging. One of the questions posed was whether blogs were the 21st Century salons. The panel, mostly men, talked, etc, blah blah blah. But one guy, I forget who, said that women weren't blogging as much as men.
Say what?
I made the comment that women ARE blogging just as much as men but that, in general, maybe women's blogs didn't maintain that (artificial) divide between professional and personal. I pointed out that on many women's blogs there were discussions of writing, publishing, BIG IDEAS, but that they weren't separated from the entries about children and what I made for dinner.
So, next year I'm going to propose a panel about women and blogs and genre. Do we write differently when we blog? Is blogging a new genre, distinct from other non-fiction? Is there a gender gap in how men and women approach blogs? Is there, or should there be a public/private split that reflects the split between the professional and the personal?

I met some great women, including Terribe Mother (see A Blog of Her Own to the right). I look forward to thinking about this as I read women's blogs.

So, women bloggers, what do YOU think about the questions posed above?

Monday, March 20, 2006

Language vs. Plot: The AWP Smackdown! (warning: graphic content!)

Friday I went to a panel entitled "Revealing Words: Fiction and the Event of Language" with four FC2 authors. The description included "novels are imagined as composed primarily of characters and actions, only secondarily of diction, syntax, rhythm, metaphors, sounds. Why? This panel. . .addresses the relation of fiction to its verbal medium, and asks how stories 'reveal' their words. Is formally experimental writing an attempt to disclose the importance of fiction's language? Is there a narrative equivalent of language poetry?"

Sounds good, right? Right up my alley. I won't name the panelists, as I may, in the course of this post, insult them. But I respect them all as writers and thinkers, it's just. . .well, I'll get to that.

The first woman who spoke looked hauntingly like Aimee Mann. She cited some strong influences on her writing and thinking: Virginia Woolf (yes!), Gertrude Stein (yes!), Margarite Duras (okay, maybe), and Kathy Acker. Hmm. It may be unpopular to say, especially among "experimental" writers (whatever that means) but I'm not a huge fan of Kathy Acker. I mean, I see what she was doing, but she's impossible to read, and by read I mean comprehend, understand, enjoy. Is a collection of words on a page a "story"? I don't mean to be a genre fascist (and those of you who know me, know that I'm the opposite), but if there is a narrative equivalent of language poetry, doesn't it have to be narrative? And if it's not, isn't it just language poetry? Why make a separate category?

Anyway, she went on to say some provocative things, many of them seemed (to me) to be merely provocative, such as "Language should not be made to suck the dick of plot." (It's not an exact quotation, but close. ) And "Women are closer to language let loose. But they don't necessarily know it."

Okay. I like Helene Cixous, I may even love her writing, but as a feminist theorist, she's a bit sketchy. I mean, yes, I'm a woman, I have a vagina, does that make me more "receptive"? I thought experimental writers were supposed to be skeptical of metaphor. Then why do they all want to make the woman's body a metaphor for writing? I realize that many of the French theorists are not being metaphorical when they say we should "write the body." But really.

This woman panelist went on to talk about how language and event (I think that was her word) behave as lovers. But language in this scenario was definitely the woman, the receiver. I mean, if plot has a dick, language has to have an orifice, right? And is sucking dick always bad? Many heterosexual women and gay men would say no. Maybe we (language) like to give plot head. Maybe it's enjoyable.

Did I mention that Alvin Greenberg, nice, poems about dogs, married to Janet Holmes, was sitting next to me? He did laugh, quietly, at the language/plot comment. But as soon as the panel was over he hightailed it out of there. So I didn't have to make eye contact with him, which was good.

The other panelists were less provocative. I have to say my favorite comment of the panel was when a Male Writer compared the commercialization of publishing to McDonalds. He said mainstream novels were no different from the "death patties" that McD's is peddling. I agree.

Many of the panelists lamented the commercialization of publishing. They are selling products, not art. True. They also had me on the use of the term "experimental." Almost meaningless.

R.M. Berry, one of the editors of FC2, gave a great, humorous talk on ethics. Very smart.

An audience member questioned the homogeny of the "experimental" writers. This sub-culture becomes its own group that then enforces certain norms on its members. As an example, he cited hip people who all wear black, drink espresso, and listen to the same music. The Female Writer said there is a difference between forming tribes, and what he was talking about. I agree. But I also think it's interesting that the "norms" he cited were all products, and what the panelists were talking about were really ideas. I agree that sub-cultures can become just as oppressive as the mainstream. But what if the organizing principle is experimentation? I think, sometimes, there can be certain kinds of expectations of what constitutes "experimental." But in theory isn't experimentation itself a norm? And, as such, can't it be an inclusive rather than exclusive norm? More on this in a later post.

Another audience member asked for recommendations of experimental novels. They named some I recognized, Ben Marcus, for example. Also Carol Maso's Ava. But some of their recommendations begged the question, what is a novel? If they are using the term to include any longer book that uses words, doesn't the term itself become meaningless? Again, I'm no genre fascist, but if they are using the word so broadly, doesn't it cease to mean anything? I don't think anything Ben Marcus has written can be, even loosely, interpreted as a "novel." Maybe we need to talk about novels as historical documents, not in terms of form. But if we do talk about novels formally, don't we need to set out the terms of what we mean? Does a novel have to have characters? Does it have to have "plot"? If we are going to conceive of novel broadly, can't we also have a broad concept of plot? Can't interesting writing have both?

And here, I come back to the question posed by Audience Member #1. Is our tribe making excluding some writers because of simplistic reasons, reasons just as simplistic as the exclusion of other writers (presumably ourselves) from mainstream publishing on the basis of the ambiguous meaning of "experimental"?

Which brings me to my final point: I don't want to read writing that focuses on EITHER plot or language. I want both. I'm demanding. What's wrong with that?

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

AWP Austin: Part the Second, being a shorter narrative of the next day

On Thursday, the first full day of the conference, I planned nothing until my panel was over. Sylvia and I met up with Margot, a friend from Utah who now lives too far away, in a mid-western state. It was great!! to see her. We went to the bookfair, where we proceeded to run into more friends, HighTouchMegaStore, a friend from Utah who now lives in Vegas, VP Jen, Otterbutt, who was happily staffing her lit-mag table, and we made some new friends.

We returned to the hotel for much need caffeine and to meet with my panel peeps. Luckily we ran into Nick Flynn again, and while I was talking to him Emily, from the Tin House conference, showed up. She knows him AND she was on my panel. Then the others showed up and we went up to the panel room. The panel was fine, just what I expected. Afterwards, Sylvia went off to do something, and I had to get some food.

I wandered 6th street alone. I wanted a salad, but I was not optimistic. I stumbled on a Thai-Vietnamese place, so I went in. HighTouchMegaStore was lunching there, so I joined her. We had a great lunch and great chit-chat. We wandered back to the hotel, where we parted. I think she was a good girl and went to some panels. I went up to look at the pool, then I changed into my suit and went back to the pool. It was great, an eighth floor affair with free citrus water, but windy conditions. I swam, sat in the hot tub, swam and then returned to my room.

Had dinner with Felicia, Bert, the adorable Macy, and Margot. The food was so-so. The margarita was pretty good. It was fun.

Here I must pause to say I love the AWP "hosted reception." What this means is cash bar and free Hors d'Oeuvres. What does cash bar mean? The "host" has drink tickets, which they will gladly give you. Thursday night we made it to the University of Utah and University of Houston affairs. The Houston one was packed. This is where I saw Mark Doty and his boyfriend (hot!), Tony Hoagland, and various others. At the Utah one, I reunited with several grad students who moved on in my first years in the program, to various jobs around the country. Former Graduate Secretary Karl showed up with pics of his cute daughter. Sig, whose first book just came out, was there. All in all, it was big fun.

VP Jennifer and I went to the Walter Mosley keynote, which was great. I bought Devil in a Blue Dress (just finished it. good! worth reading!) and had him sign it. The talk was perfect. As Jennifer said, it was "shapely." He is a good speaker.

What happened next? I don't recall, so it must have been good. Maybe we had more drinks or something. I think I went back to the room thinking "American Idol" might be on, but it wasn't, so I watched some "Law and Order" of one kind or another. As usual, it takes me years to fall asleep. I am tired, very tired, and my blood sugar is all messed up due to alcohol, etc. Sigh.

Sunday, March 12, 2006

AWP Austin: Part the First

I returned this morning from the balmy atmosphere of Austin, Texas. I am tired (please read with Texas accent, as in tai'rd) and can barely keep my eyes open, so this will have to serve as the first of several posts in which the exploits of Dr. Write are reported, if not as fact, well then, as certainly a version of truth, however distorted by wine, dirty martinis, and too much sun.

We had our first "look! there's a writer!" moment in the Salt Lake City airport, when I spotted Lance Larsen and his wife waiting to board the same flight we were on. We caught up with them on the layover in Phoenix, and chatted in line. Luckily we were not seated near them so they didn't have to see the wine debauch that resulted from high altitudes, too little dinner, and an overly generous stewardess (they are a dying breed, aren't they? and I nearly made fun of her hair.). We shared a cab with them after the flight to the downtown Hilton.

Sylvia sat up front with the African cab driver, while he spouted conspiracy theories about the origin of AIDS, and some economic/politics that I'm sure only Sylvia could follow. I sat in back with Lance & Jacqui. We talked about documentary film.

We pulled up at the Hilton and instantly saw Nick Flynn. After kisses and greetings all around, we finally actually entered the hotel and checked in. Our room was great, beautiful, wonderful, but we needed some french fries. Didn't we?

We went down to the bar, which was full but not packed. Sadly, they did not have fries on their appetizer menu, so we started to leave. But wait! First we had to greet Janet Holmes, who will be coming to Writers at Work this summer as the editor of ahsahta press. She was as lovely as I remembered her, and I got to meet her husband, Alvin Greenberg (who will appear again in a later installment of this narrative). I loved some of his poems, and he turned out to be a very sweet guy. What a great couple. We groused about a certain bitter poetry contest person who shall remain nameless, and talked about Dan Beachy-Quick's book, published by ahsahta. A bold initial foray into conference culture.

We left the hotel and wandered the famous 6th street until we found a bar. We had fries, and chips, salsa, and guac, and two of the hugest ice waters I've ever seen. It was great to see a city with a vibrant night life that included people of all ages and ethnic origins, and at 11 o'clock at night. But they were just getting started! We turned in for the night, considering our first outing in the city of Austin a success.

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Off ta Austin

Tomorrow I am leaving for what I consider to be a vacation. Between pool-time and happy hour, I hope to do some Famous Writer gawking, attend some panels, hob-nob, see some people I've forgotten, and some Old Friends who are not so old.
I also hope to see a little live music, go to a dive bar, and maybe, while I'm not looking, network. Did I mention that I hope to at least see Denis Johnson and Tim O'Brien, and maybe get a free drink or two at one of those fancy after-reading parties? Last year I fell into a serious Jack & Ginger habit and became, for a moment, The "Scare Quote" Stalker. Let's hope it doesn't happen again.
Who should I look for in Austin? Who do you want me accidently bump into, spilling my drink, and burning my image into his/her mind forever?
Let me know and I'll see what I can do.

My Ten Cents

Top Ten Reasons "Brokeback Mountain" Should Have Won Best Picture

  1. Jake Gyllenhal (that's reason enough on its own. Don't believe me? See "Donny Darko")
  2. The contrast between emotional desolation and the painful beauty of the landscape
  3. "I wish I could quit you" has already become part of our cultural vocabulary
  4. It's based on a short story! C'mon people!
  5. Alberta = Wyoming. It's international!
  6. It's subtler than a sledgehammer to the cranium
  7. Heath Ledger
  8. Ang Lee (let's hear it for the guy who said "gay mens and women")
  9. The haunting score
  10. From now on, men will not be able to go fishing with their buddies without their wives raising an eyebrow

Saturday, March 04, 2006

There's Something About A Cosmo

I feel like, if not a good teacher, a good muse.
See susansinclair's extraordinary Cosmo poem, inspired by my last post, and, more importantly, Ogden Nash.
Bravo, Susan!

Friday, March 03, 2006

Good Rhymes

I'm teaching formal poetry this week (and next!) to my Creative Writing students. Of course, we always pause during this time to discuss rhyme and rhyme schemes. I try to avoid saying "trochee" of course, but someone always brings that up as well.
So what I have now is a question: What is one (or more) of your favorite rhymes?
Mine? Thanks for asking.

"But O ye lords of ladies intellectual,
Inform us truly have they not henpecked you all?" (Lord Byron, Don Juan)

I also like A Drink with Something In It by Ogden Nash.

There's something about a Martini,
A tingle remarkably pleasant.
There's something about a Martini,
I wish that I had one at present.
There's something about a Martini,
'ere the dining and dancing begin.
To tell you the truth
It's not the vermouth,
I think that perhaps it's the gin.

I think I hear a Dirty Martini calling my name. I look forward to your memorable rhymes.

Wednesday, March 01, 2006


This Saturday, when the sun was shining, I went to buy some new running shoes. The salesman had me run across some special pad, and then I got to see a heat image of my foot. I thought I would have some big time foot issues, but as it turns out, I'm "neutral." So I tried on maybe six or eight pairs of shoes, but settled on the Mizuno because they fit perfectly. Turns out also, my left foot is a full size smaller than my right. I'm a freak!
When I was trying on maybe my fourth or fifth pair, my heart started racing and I got a little shaky. "I feel like a drug addict," I said to the salesman. He just smiled. He'd obviously seen and heard it all before. I felt like I was making my connection, spending my hard earned money for a jones.
But hey, at least it's healthy.
For now.