29 September 2012

I loved this piece by Michael Chabon in the NYRB on dreams—real and literary.  I think a lot about dreams, my own and those of my fictional characters. And I love writing dreams; which is why I’m not sure I agree with Chabon in the end:

Worse still than real dreams, mine or yours—sandier mouthfuls, ranker lies—are the dreams of characters in books and movies. Nobody, not even Aunt Em, wants to hear about Dorothy’s dream when she wakes up at the end of The Wizard of Oz. As outright fantasy the journey to Oz is peerless, joyous, muscular with truth; to call it a dream (a low trick Baum never stooped to) is to demean it, to deny it, to lie; because nobody has dreams like that […]

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17 September 2012

Thanks to Lisa at Like Fire for alerting us to NYRB’s new e-book series, NYRB Lit — “devoted to publishing contemporary books of literary merit from around the world.”  Launching this fall, which means, presumably, now!

I’m way behind when it comes to e-reading; when I speak of “turning the corner,” I mean my relationship to e-reading, not e-reading itself.  (I tried the Kindle a couple of years ago and just couldn’t do it — no pages, all that scrolling, ick.) But then again: NYRB launching an e-reading series feels momentous; with their beautiful Classics Series (bringing worthy classic titles back into print), and tabloid-format bimonthly mag (long-form reviews and articles), NYRB has felt to me like the last man standing.

And yet, their new series feels…  natural.  As if they waited until it felt right, no need to rush, and then went for it.  Of course it just makes sense, when your mission is to bring the best (non-blockbuster) literary work into the world, and you want to publish new work, economically risky work, that you’d take advantage of low-cost production and distribution.  I’m excited.

As always, it looks as if many of the titles will be works in translation; and the “covers,” i.e. the digital thumbnails, are lovely.

I’ve been thinking about an ipad; if the rumors about an ipad mini are true, then the corner may very well be turned this fall — for me, and for NYRB.

8 September 2012

A belated posting of some photos I took in Germany — at Documenta13, an art fair in Kassel.

The exhibits are spread out all over town; we’d been walking a long time.  It was hot and muggy.  A friend had recommended stopping at Apichatpong Weerasethakul‘s  installation, which involved hammocks.

We were all over that.

The experience was, dare I say it, magical (if you’ve seen Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives, this will not seem surprising).  I am sure there is a more sophisticated analysis of the artist’s intentions, but the simplicity of Lie still, look up, for an over-busy urbanite, was profound in itself.

2 September 2012

Chris Kenneally‘s SIDE BY SIDE  – a documentary about The Death of Film and The Takeover of Digital is well worth seeing. If for no other reason than to marvel at how our little Keanu (Reeves) — the film’s co-producer and on-screen interviewer — has grown up.

Most fascinating for me was witnessing the passion with which our contemporary masters — David Fincher, Christopher Nolan, Steven Soderbergh, George Lucas, James Cameron, Robert Rodriguez, Lars von Trier, David Lynch, Lana and Andy Wachowski — along with a handful of talented indie filmmakers, spoke about the good and the bad of digital’s ascendance.  At the core, it seems to me, is the question of control — with digitization came unlimited manipulability of the image, as well as flexibility: without the physical encumbrances of film and film cameras, cinematography has become a whole new thing, and for some, that whole new thing is miraculous, while for others, it is no longer Art.

I was also intrigued by the discussion of pacing: it used to be that you’d shoot a full day and wouldn’t know what you had until the next day, when the crew got together to view the “dailies,” after the film was processed overnight.  You also took many breaks throughout the day to reload film magazines.  With digital, the shooting process changed drastically — for directors, cinematographers, actors (and later, for the editors and colorists).  Everything happened faster, and continuously.  Everything that was shot could be viewed, by the entire cast and crew, immediately.  The camera kept rolling and rolling, because why not — the pressure to conserve precious, expensive film had disappeared from the process.

We all know movie making has changed; SIDE BY SIDE details those changes and how everyone involved in the process has been affected.  The film is making me think about the process of art-making, about the fundamental relationship between an artist and her materials, her media — about what it means, really, to be “free” to create meaningful art.

29 August 2012

On the occasion of summer’s almost-end, and of preparing to give a short “what I did this summer” presentation at student orientation this evening, I give you: “What I Did (and Did Not Do) This Summer”:

I did not blog here very often.   I took an official hiatus while at MacDowell for four weeks, and upon return decided that A Limited-Internet Life is A High-Quality Life, when one is trying to write a book, read many books, write short essays, etc.  And to some degree when one is trying to nourish human relationships.   My brain, I’ve learned, is very porous/permeable; screen time takes over/muddles/fatigues mental capacity significantly.  Emotional capacity, too. Some people really do seem to get smarter and more vital via the Internet (see my post about Ai Wei Wei, which is one reason I will continue to keep this blog at all); I seem to get dumber/less human.  Whenever possible, I’ve stayed off the Internet/away from email before 1pm.  Thus, less blogging.

I shelved the book that I was originally hoping to finish writing this summer.  This is hard to even talk/write about.  I will say that my lunch meeting with my agent, where I broke the news, went very well, and I’m thankful that she is the sort of agent who is a human being first (I’m told not all agents are.)  Despite this hard reality…

I started and made sustained progress on a new work of fiction that feels good, and alive, and about which I feel hopeful and more clear-headed. That’s all I’ll say about that for now.

I made good use of the mornings.  My undisclosed, favorite library carrel saw my a** mornings at 8, and I recommend this, writer-friends.  Carpe diem.  Blah blah blah.

I reunited with my mountain bike.  I loved riding around in Peterborough, NH, and getting some exercise to boot.  The bike had been in storage for, I don’t know, 10 years?  Back in the city, I’ve been riding it regularly in Central Park and along the Westside path.  One of these days you may see me huffing and pedaling past you on the street.

I reunited with yoga.  God bless the Harlem Yoga Studio.

I taught a fantastic summer fiction workshop.  The students were fantastic, that is.  Summer is especially fun, because you tend to get a very diverse group – age, life experience, literary interests.  We had more males than females – unheard of!  We had gritty sex-and-drugs stories, 19th century-esque novels of manners, experimental collage prose, YA fantasy, science fiction.  We had someone Skype in from Peru.  We read George Eliot and Garcia Marquez.  The students dug in and respected each others’ work, even when it was clear that they did not “like” each others’ work.  Only in the classroom, I sometimes think (with gratitude) can this kind of fruitful, unlikely-bedfellow magic happen.

I dipped my toe, then my foot, then got waist-deep in an editorial role with The Best New Literary Journal That You Should Know About, i.e. The CommonI blinked, and now I’m an Editor.  More on that soon.  Issue 04 (print version – a gorgeous thing to behold) forthcoming in October, and the launch of a super-enhanced online magazine component kicking off in mid-September.  The Common publishes work that engages/features significantly “a sense of place.”  Props to Jen Acker, Founding Editor and colleague extraordinaire, along with editors John Hennessey, Hannah Gersen, Liz Byrne, and Amy Sande-Friedman.  Contact me if you have work you’d like to submit, for print or online, fiction or nonfiction.

I continued as a staff writer for The Millions, and to develop the Post-40 Bloomers series there.  “Post-40 Bloomers” celebrates One Year!  We’ve featured 12 authors whose first major work debuted when they were 40 years of age or older, including Walker Percy, Harriet Doerr, Giuseppe di Lampedusa, Anna Keesey, William Gay, Daniel Orozco, and others.  Some exciting things are on the horizon for the series in 2012-13; stay tuned, and do get in touch if you’d like to be involved in said exciting prospects.  In addition to the Post-40 series, I wrote an essay on loneliness, and did a Q&A with James Salter.

We went to Berlin.  Last year it was Buenos Aires.  We continue on our low-cost-of-living-cities tour.  In Berlin I discovered that I like beer – good beer – a lot.  German Schwarzbier (black lager) especially.  We learned about bokashi (for our compost bin) from our friend Shu-lea Cheang, whose multi-media installation on composting opened while we were there (a mail-order bag is on the way!).  I ate way too much pork (in a good way).  I turned the corner on coffee vs espresso (espresso!).  I learned how to hand-roll cigarettes.  We saw a lot of great contemporary art – at Documenta13 in Kassel and the many museums in Berlin.  I met the lovely, talented writer Madeleine Thien (thanks, Manju, for introducing us), who inspired me in so many ways.  Oh, and we did lots of touristy things, too.

I started, and am continuing to prepare for my Voices/Visions of Childhood & Youth seminar.  And I’m pretty excited.  The reading list is even better this year than last year.  (Will post here once it’s final-finalized.)

I did not garden very much.  Between MacDowell, and teaching, and travel, it didn’t happen.  Green beans and lettuces, yes.  Tomatoes, not so much.  Not yet, anyway.

I watched all of Season Four of Breaking Bad.  In one week.

It was a good summer.  I’m pretty tired, though.  Deep breath as school gears up and we teachers and students all turn into pumpkins.

Happy End-of-Summer!

 

19 August 2012

I have more to learn about Walter Gropius’s/Mies van der Rohe’s Bauhaus School of Art, but this visit to the Bauhaus Archives Museum in Berlin has piqued my interest.  A commitment to functional beauty — a school devoted to it — is something we probably consider overly idealistic, and past its time now.  But is it?  As both a writer and teacher, I hope not.

An excellent exhibit and amazing building/gallery space.

13 May 2012

I’ll be spending the next month at an artists’ colony – four much-needed weeks in the woods, mostly off-the-grid, before teaching again in July.  So: I’ll see you all on the other side!