I haven’t been on here in awhile. Honestly, I forget about it. There’s that saying about the three legs of a stool — is it a saying, or just a fact? — so I guess tumblr is like the fourth leg that my brain doesn’t need to balance on the floor of the internet. Or maybe my brain is the floor in this case, on which the feet of the internet rest or wobble…
It’s raining. I can’t tell how much. There’s this deck outside my window, a little space onto which my kitchen faces, too, and the stairwell comes around. It’s narrow, shaped like a paper sack, and not much light gets in. A good place to ripen bananas, probably. In the creases are some drainpipes (I will verify quantity when it’s not raining) so sometimes it’s hardly raining but the drainpipe(s) make it sound like it’s really raining, and when it’s really raining, you feel comforted by the relentlessness of the rain in the pipes and on the old wood deck and all the other surfaces out there. I tried to find a good verb for what rain does on this deck recently and gave up.
The picture above is what my eyes were seeing when my brain registered what it had just read, which was the sentence: Sadie Stein on the emotional process of changing your phone number. Scrolling, we call it, like it’s this simple thing, one agreed-on verb, but I think whatever it is that we’re doing on here is more complicated and that word is a bit casual for it. I should point out that I didn’t read the article about changing the phone number because it seems sweet but obvious, like that sentence is really all there is to say about that — enough — and should be merely a caption on something like a picture of a rotary phone or a dog in a fleece-lined mackintosh. More and more, this is how our brains are dealing with the internet - scrolling. Wheel-of-fortuning the rest of the story for snippets or teasers we go past like highway lines, catching at them with our teeth.
My brain, anyway. I will only speak for my brain.
To speak for a brain! To note a bear (which is the handle of the original poster, I think, of the photos of small dogs in capes.)
I know it’s not really a mackintosh. Probably not an anorak, either, all those good words for the relatives of coats. Most of my knowledge of outerwear is still imaginary, gleaned from chapter books checked out from the Phoenix Public Library in summer, wearing my year-round uniform of t-shirts and shorts.
I was popping corn in my air-popper tonight and I remembered tumblr and wanted to write something but it was floaty then and it’s too floaty now, to pin down exactly what I wanted to say. Something about putting tupperware away at 5:30 on a Monday, tupperware my father sent back with me on the plane, carrying exactly one cup of rendered bacon fat for pie crusts I’d told him I wanted to make. Reading Mavis Gallant stories at your square kitchen table and laughing at lines to yourself, the office in Montreal she describes setting up in your head as an amalgam of offices you’ve known and not known, the one you visited your mother in when you were a kid plus the mailroom from the one in Boston plus that iconic Mad Men floorplan. The slipping a first person does into the second person sometimes, a slippage I’m coming more and more to believe has to do with certain species of solitude, and also with listening to public radio during pledge week, when the voices address you head on: Act now. This is your chance to be a part of something that matters. You’ve got just ten minutes to get in on this special offer.
I recently took my first ride in a float plane, drove to the Grand Canyon on a day so windy it was two hands for over 100 miles, wished I could remember someone’s exact words, regretted other things I said. Went to the AWP conference, where scrolling seems to be a primary activity, the right verb for the new flaneur. Read books and parts of books and essays and poems and stories I am thinking about, and maybe will start to think about here again, if I remember.
The thing is, I have these books I write in longhand and if given a choice I tend to go there, the writing getting smaller and smaller as I near the bottom of a page. Sometimes I wonder what kind of vanity it is, to write in those books, and how closely such vanity is related to the kind that makes me write things here, and not just keep going past the bundled-up dogs and the excerpts and the series of beautiful strange images that someone has made and tagged and pressed onto this machine, which is still how I think of the internet—as a machine—which is wrong, I know, though I’m not sure how wrong. And that question seems important to me right now, pressing—How wrong?—one of the points, the legs, over which so many of my thoughts these days are distributing their weight.
The Phoenix Labs — Part Five « Five Chapters -
My story “The Phoenix Labs” has been going up at FiveChapters this week. Today you can read the whole thing. Thanks to FiveChapters, for serializing a public health story. And thanks to all those who worked at the original Phoenix Laboratories, where the work on parathion that inspired this story was done, and changed the game.
Also, I’ve been reading Robert Boswell’s craft book THE HALF-KNOWN WORLD, Jenny Offill’s DEPT. OF SPECULATION, Jim Gavin’s MIDDLE MEN, Mavis Gallant’s THE COST OF LIVING and VARIETIES OF EXILE and her collected, and Mary Ruefle’s MADNESS, RACK and HONEY again, which I always have the urge to copy down word for word into my notebook but end up compromising and only copying some.
OH, and Jack Pendarvis’ “blog,” which I will not be bossy and tell you to read, because bossiness is my Number One Complaint about the internet right now, or maybe Number Two, after the group decision to stop fact-checking and just keep linking to stuff that may or may not be true, because fact-checking doesn’t show up in metrics.
Also, this is a thing I saw on twitter yesterday which made me really really sad, via the transitive property: K = L = P, where Kindness = Lifelong customer = Profit.
The list no one waits for. But seeing as though the sole copy exists on the back of a borrower’s slip from the San Francisco Public Library, I figure putting it down here in the forever internet would be a good idea.
As I type this I realize I probably read some of these in late 2012. This is because my life, if set on a table, still falls open along the lines of the academic calendar.
More mea culpas: this list is not alphabetical or arranged in some other happy hierarchy. Nor is it comprehensive; it does not include books I set down in the first furlong for one reason or another, or books that I read on the Minneapolis bus system and associate, through no fault of the authors, with an overheated queasiness. Many, I’m sure I just forgot to write down. Also it doesn’t include but should the wonderful ‘singles’ I read in literary magazines throughout the year by a great variety of poets and prose writers.
I liked the categories Roxane Gay made in her 2013 list. I am going to categorize until I run out of ideas at which point it will just look like a list again. (After all, my predominant literary mode is the to-do list.)
Short stories that made me glad, again, that I stick up for the form in the imaginary Stories vs. Novels kickball game always running through my head
SPECTACLE, Susan Steinberg
LOST IN THE CITY, Edward P. Jones
THE LONE PILGRIM, Laurie Colwin
I WANT TO SHOW YOU MORE, Jamie Quatro
PORTRAITS OF A FEW OF THE PEOPLE I’VE MADE CRY, Christine Sneed
THE COST OF LIVING, Mavis Gallant
ESTHER STORIES, Peter Orner
SWEET TALK, Stephanie Vaughn
TELL EVERYONE I SAID HI, Chad Simpson
THE NIGHT IN QUESTION, Tobias Wolff
SAFE AS HOUSES, Marie-Helene Bertino
FISHING THE SLOE-BLACK RIVER, Colum McCann
NO ANIMALS WE COULD NAME, Ted Sanders
STORIES (SO FAR) OF DEBORAH EISENBERG
THE PERIPATETIC COFFIN, Ethan Rutherford
Story collection by someone who keeps writing story collections that break my heart in that good way
THINK OF ME AND I’LL KNOW, Anthony Varallo
Things I reread and reloved
BLUETS, Maggie Nelson
THE COAST OF CHICAGO, Stuart Dybek
DUBLINERS, James Joyce
THE GREAT GATSBY, F Scott Fitzgerald
A SPORT AND A PASTIME, James Salter
Things I reviewed (in order of when I reviewed them)
WE LIVE IN WATER, Jess Walter
ALL THAT IS, James Salter
BOBCAT, Rebecca Lee
LAST CAR OVER THE SAGAMORE BRIDGE, Peter Orner
Books whose writers seemed like they were having funthe whole time
WOKE UP LONELY, Fiona Maazel
WE LIVE IN WATER (repeat)
UNDERSTUDIES, Ravi Mangla
NORWOOD, Charles Portis
Books that did not want to get categorized, at least not by me
8/THE PHARMACIST’S MATE, Amy Fusselman
Novels that made me go: O this is what the form might do
THE GLIMPSE TRAVELER, Marianne Boruch
IN THE SKIN OF A LION, Michael Ondaatje
SOUTH RIDING, Winifred Holtby
TRANSATLANTIC, Colum McCann
A MILLION HEAVENS, John Brandon
Wagons I wanted to understand but didn’t
VAMPIRES IN THE LEMON GROVE, Karen Russell
Poetry and other flights
SORRY, TREE Eileen Myles
THE TREES, THE TREES, Heather Christle
LIFE ON MARS, Tracy K. Smith
INCARNADINE, Mary Szybist
THE LESS DECEIVED, Philip Larkin
Poetry by friends, some of which is out, and some I am looking forward to
Will be a different post!
Nonfiction and Criticism
Books I just saw on my shelf again but am afraid to reread since I when I found them I was much younger and loved them with such intensity, such young-writer-finds-a-book-to-love love that I am worried now that I’m older the pages will have changed and I won’t find the same doors, though probably I am just overthinking it.
MY LIFE IN HEAVY METAL, Steve Almond
Strict ‘realism’ is not the most important thing to me. I want it to be convincing, but I also want it to be other things. Dialogue, for example, has to be slightly stylized to read as both genuinely colloquial and also as compelling writing. The way we actually speak to each other, if you transcribed it on a page, would be horrible to read. You have to insert just enough reality. — Dana Spiotta (via mttbll)
(Source: bombsite.com, via mttbll)
There has been an average of one school shooting every other school day so far this year.
At risk? I think this proves that we have already reached the point of school shootings being “commonplace.”
Why a Safety Device That Can Stop Overdoses by Kids Isn’t Widely Used
The industry should have leaped at this. In light of McNeil’s safety-recall track record in the last 10 years, it’s amazing that it too has chosen a watch-and-wait-do-nothing stance.
"This Is a Middle That Looks Like a Beginning": An Interview with Kate Petersen - The Collagist - Dzanc Books -
I was interviewed at the Collagist blog this week about my recent story, “Jukebox.” Thanks to Liz Morris and the kind folks at the Collagist for the smart questions, and attention to the story.
(And photo credit to Katherine Howitt, fellow Green Team member and camera whiz, who never gets any credit for this shot of me demonstrating how fun community dishes can be.)
My mom is a great giver of gifts. She works in an elementary school and a high school, and these, I think, are not unrelated facts. For Christmas, I received a “boogi board,” a half-tablet half-etch-a-sketch looking thing, which comes with a stylus, and seems to be based on the same technology that brought us hypercolor. Also, I got a “splatball” in my stocking (pictured), which flattens and re-forms when thrown against a hard surface. Later she told me the splatball man in the mall gave her a deal: a baker’s dozen for the price of ten.
In the past, my mom has given me a homemade marshmallow shooter jointed with purple electrical tape, wine capes, and a pez dispenser for every holiday Hallmark recognizes.
When I lived in Boston some years ago, I started this thing I called “Gift Wednesday.” It is basically what it sounds like: I brought people gifts on Wednesday. They were small, silly things, mostly, often found in the center aisle of Walgreen’s or CVS. Nothing nice. I would come back from a trip to Chinatown in New York laden with a years-worth of Wednesday stuff. Plastic figurines of lawyers and rubber chickens and T-rexes. Crazy-bounce balls. An inertia crocodile. None of it of any use. But people loved Gift Wednesday, and some began practicing it themselves, which touched me.
Last night, coming home from the airport, I realized I got Gift Wednesdays from my mother. Learned from her how the absurd, joyfully deployed, can equal affection. I had never put the two together before. It was like seeing for the first time a word you’ve only ever heard, and though it is not how you were spelling it in your head, as soon as you see it, you know it’s right.
Looking back now, my years in Boston were big with doubt, sadness. Throes, as they say, of a first love mistaken for something else. I was waiting to be loved back, or, if that was too much, at least to be recognized for being good at love. And I didn’t know how it worked, what I was due, how long you were supposed to wait.
But they were also years wide with joy. I loved my friends and my work and yes—something as corny as my life—and for that I wanted to thank somebody—anybody—distribute the weight of happiness that unbalanced me more evenly by giving them something to hold, saying, here, take this, happy Wednesday, no, I promise, it’s really nothing.