Posts Tagged ‘writing’

I often talk to my NYU students about the “I” they create in their essays. Your “writerly I,” I tell them, has to be your very best I. She‘s the one with the clean home, with fresh roses on the counter, with the husband who kisses her “right there” (and here she points to that pale tender spot behind the ear) every morning before he leaves for work. Your “writerly I,” I say, has to be infinitely more interesting than you could ever be. At the very basic level, she shouldn’t go to Weight Watchers, and if she does, she shouldn’t talk about “points” (12 in a King-Sized Snickers!!!).

There are other things she should also keep under wraps–say, letting a baby “cry” while she finishes a sentence; or her habit of sucking on bird feathers and long strands of hair when she was a child; or, uhm, her terrible, crazed love for “The Bachelorette” (Can you BELIEVE Jillian let Jake go?). But sometimes our I’s get the better of us, and we end up writing the whole sentence, or with a mouthful of feathers, or worse, watching the entire episode of “The Bachelorette,” even as the train comes to a halt and lets poor Robby-the-Bartender out in the middle of the Canadian wilderness.

But this isn’t about “The Bachelorette,” it’s about the news, and everywhere this week, there’s news. We’ve got Jon & Kate & their 8, and even though I have no idea who they are, I find myself clicking on the link when it says “Jon ‘hurt’ by Kate’s remarks about ‘activities.'” If that isn’t bad enough, there’s South Carolina governor Mark Sanford who told his staff he was “going to hike the Appalachian trail,” but ended up flying to Argentina to see his mistress. (Perhaps a good move for a “writerly I” but a very bad move for a married governor.)

Everywhere we look: train wrecks. And as badly as we might want to look away, we’re still staring. The week began with the commuter rail crash in Washington D.C., and then it kept crashing and crashing, and suddenly, not only were Jon & Kate calling it quits, but Ed McMahon was dead (and right after that horrible TV commercial about the gold!), and then Farrah–who, as a girl, I dreamed I may someday become–was dead too.

Now this: Michael Jackson, King of Pop, dead. Legend, train wreck, legendary train wreck. This is the man who turned his “I” into just about the freakiest (though oddly sweet) “I” the world has ever seen–he’s PYT; he’s DOA; he’s gone.

So…it’s one of those weeks when I’m not quite sure what to make of the world, not quite sure how to avert my eyes. Perhaps, my husband will come home–with fistfuls of roses–and kiss me, just there, where my rubberneck meets my ear. Until then, it’s all just Human Nature, and I‘m just a Tabloid Junkie.


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PLUS, another great poem by Painted Bride Quarterly contributor Arlene Ang:

What Happens to the Postwoman When She Stops Delivering the Mail


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ALSO, here’s an interesting look at what it takes to get a manuscript ready for publication, reacting to critics and editing. Pretty funny, too.

Whenever I Am About to Publish a Book… by MARK TWAIN


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All of my misery fantasies end the same way: I’m in Wyoming. Alone. As old and as gray as the gray, old sky. I’ve just locked up the diner where I made about forty bucks on the late shift, and it’s windy as all get out, and I’ve got a helluva long walk home, but I don’t really mind because I’ve already lost everything, and the wind’s all I’ve got. Oh, and maybe a pack of cigarettes, and if I have the cigarettes, maybe a lighter, maybe one my brother gave me, years ago, when we were in the habit of picking up bad habits.

I don’t know why. It’s just my go-to, my if-I-lost-everyone-and-everything-I-loved-at-least-I’d-still-have-Wyoming-because-I-sure-do-love-that-sky-and-how-it-makes-me-feel-so-un-alone. Of course, the fantasy has its variations, most of which are apocalyptic and involve my weather-battered husband and our wild-haired infant daughter-turned-teenager, but all of them take place in Wyoming.

I thought of this the other day when Yavuz Burke, a native of Turkey and a Canadian citizen, stole a Cessna 172 from a Canadian flight school and landed it in southern Missouri after almost six hours of eluding F-16 fighter jets. I imagine Burke as a young boy in Turkey, drawing in the dirt with a stick, putting a big X right there in the heartland, Missouri, he’d say to himself, that’s where I want it to all go down.

Reportedly, Burke went into a general store and bought himself a Gatorade. He’d also tried to purchase a Beef Jerky but didn’t have enough cash. Canadian authorities are quoted as saying that Burke is “not a happy individual,” and I love that they bring happiness in. Hmm…happy men do not steal planes, fly them to other countries, walk into a 7-11 and plop down a buck-fifty for a Gatorade. Thirsty men, maybe; happy men, no.

But it’s all got me thinking about place, about how it buoys us and frees us, how it gives us hope or sends shudders down our spines (read: the burbs), how it makes us re-imagine ourselves. If we have the wind, we say, then maybe we can make it. Even just another day. And yea, yea, I know, I know, no matter where you go there you are, but I’m curious, what’s your place? Where does your mind send you? And what, please tell, is it saving you from?

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PBQ staff editor Amy Weaver shared this article with me from the Chronicle of Higher Education, http://chronicle.com/temp/reprint.php?id=zs61txc4kwr4kd1q1rjbfxt41952gdmf

a discussion of Procrastination, Genius and Mediocrity, and Leonardo da Vinci. 


It’s a thought-provoking piece, to be sure, but I’m wondering if too many concepts are conflated:  am I procrastinating about not writing my memoir collection because I am using time instead to grade student papers, read submissions to PBQ, or schedule a reading?    


The author, W.A. Pannapacker also brings up mediocrity vs. genius and fear of success, but the overriding theme:  “Academe is full of potential geniuses who have never done a single thing they wanted to do because there were too many things that needed to be done first:” is exactly what confuses me—how is doing those other things procrastinating?  Does not the minutia of our existence demand to be handled first?   I mean, the students will demand their grades, authors who submit to PBQ will demand a response, etc. 


What is the way out of mediocrity and into genius, but not out of a job? 


Will we “waste our time” of we try to answer that here? 


About a month ago I participated in a promotional event for high-school seniors who are interested in coming to Drexel, but have not yet committed.   Our job was to present our department in a truthful, but positive light.   At one point in the day’s activities, I led the students in a mock editorial session, where we read “submissions” to PBQ, and then discussed them as our editorial board does, then voted on the work.   The potential students loved the session and I was greatly impressed with the caliber and specificity of their comments.   Their parents, watching from “the peanut gallery,” became so engaged in the discussion that several times they chimed in, apologizing as they did so, but unable to help themselves.   


When the session was over I had one of those rare, lovely moments:  I thought, “I rocked that session.   Damn, I’m a good editor and teacher.”   The mini-workshop had highlighted both of those skill sets and I was proud.  The energy in the room was palpable and I was inundated with students and parents wanting to continue the conversation.


I came home from such a great afternoon and waiting in the day’s mail was a rejection slip.


So, I thought, “Oh, ok.   What I am meant to learn today is that I am not a writer, but a teacher and an editor, and I should be grateful for that; that I have something I know I am good at.”


I related the above anecdote to our own dear, lovely Marion Wrenn, and she simply said,

“Don’t you see what you’re missing?    The amount of time you put into being an editor and teacher far outweighs the amount of time you spend writing.”


So—I think the question I’m really throwing out here is, short of expanding time itself, how does one prioritize the non-immediate?  How does one not procrastinate away one’s genius?


Did I just waste half an hour?




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I got absorbed last night in a New Yorker essay about David Foster Wallace’s struggle to surpass Infinite Jest.  

It had been a while since I had thought about him.  When I heard about his suicide last year I was so saddened.  For a while, it was all could think about.  I read every obituary I could find.  Most people said he was an “ironic” writer.  But I knew this was wrong.  Wallace had a love/hate relationship with cliches.  If anything, he tried to point out the hollowness of relying on irony all the time.  This was apparent to me even though I had never finished the one book of his I had started.

A couple years ago I started to read Jest, but I had to stop in the middle because it was too intense.  Gave me panic attacks and vivid dreams:  one where I was reading a passage of the book that didn’t exist in print, another where I was asleep but writing a new part of the book next to my pillow.  When you read Infinite Jest, it becomes part of you, all 1,089 pages with footnotes.

When Wallace died I vowed to get through all his books, if nothing more than to pay him tribute.  Soon, I had read Consider the Lobster and A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again, without leaving with a crushed soul.  Both are non-fiction.  I especially liked Wallace’s title essay of the latter book.  The best part about these essays is that he doesn’t fall prey to his cynicism.  He has the balls to have an open mind, even if he knows it will be tough down the road.

One more thing.  The only place that seemed to get what Wallace was doing was The Onion.  When I read this article shortly after he died, I knew Wallace would have been proud.

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