Chillin’

No quote of the day today. I’m way behinnd in my reading, and I got to coo at new neices and play with family and friends today. So I am not up for assignments and expectations and such. I’ve been a bit too self driven all my life and I’m not in the mood today.

Got some solid feedback from an agent late last night, and I’m trying to decide what parts of it I’ll incorporate. I know I’m not fond of the “no thank you” part, but much of the rest was thoughtful.

So I cuddled babies and saw people I love and sucked on a big bag of sour grapes for a while. And I’ll tell you: having three small people smile at me today was worth not typing up a quote for you, the few readers who seem to be online this week. Where did everybody go?

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Found around the Web today

I think Wednesday might become “shamelessly linking” day because it’s also Movie Day, during which my kid gets an hour of crap from a DVD and I rearrange furniture or finally put away winter clothes or whatever (whatever meaning both of those things, at least today).

Here’s a lame attempt at mocking the literati, offering a list of how to pretend to read like a hipster. (It’s funny if you aren’t above conflating “nerdy” and “ironic.” Or if you’ve never read any of the titles on the list.) I say, find the egregious error and win a prize, in which you can say you may be pretentious, but at least you’re not a poseur.

Here’s an article on the legal decision that nobody other than J.D. Salinger can write a sequel to Catcher. Swedish author calls it book banning. His lawyers said the derivative text was parody. Judge says no. And hopefully, is being misquoted with “naivety.”

Here’s a bit about Mayor Bloomberg’s literary reference to Roth’s newest novel and how, as always, it’s all about context.

Finally, here’s a small item to file in my gigantic folder of why Florida should be annexed to anyone who will take them. Place in subfolders “parents should be licensed” and “do not go to Florida.”

Tough call

For future reference, if you’re out of town and get a request to send a partial submission to the agent you really, really, really hoped would read your debut novel, it will cost you $30 to print it at Office Depot and $176 to print it at FedExKinkosFedOfficeFedWhatever.

Tough call. But  I think since David Foster Wallace’s agent actually wants to peruse my novel, I’ll go with the $176. Because there *must* be a reason paper and ink cost six times at FedEx, right?  Like, they’ll use their special lasers to make my writing even better, right? Or print in in black and white gold, right?

By the way, did I just seem all casual about the fact that the agency that found DFW in the slush pile is at least potentially interested in my novel? Sorry. Didn’t mean to make it seem off-handed. There isn’t an emoticon for “wetting my pants right now in fear, as I sob in relief,” is there?

Writhing on the floor

It’s a lot easier to send out a manuscript to an agent you don’t know than to people you admire.

So I”m curled up in the fetal position in a cafe, writing breathless emails to people I would never, in a million years, have read my book, asking them to uncap a red pen and let me have it. Really, really, let me have it.

No wonder most authors I admire were alcoholics. This shit is scary.

Not because they will  tell me the book can be better. For they will, and should. Not because they won’t like me if they hate my writing. You can’t write what other people want to hear; you can only write the voices in your head.

So I’m not sure what the scary part is.

Okay, yes, of course I know. You know what casting directors expect when audition music cues? We all know—feel—on both sides of the mike that it go one of three ways. Either the voice I hear in my head moves the audience; passes, forgettable, though the minds of the audience; or turns the stomachs of the audience, making them laugh at my ridiculous self delusion.

Well, this is the moment when that music is cued.

And it’s just nauseating.

Well, nobody is bleeding, so I guess it was a good day

Spouse gave me a glorious day of writing as penance for the two trips he’s taken this month. I ate, I wrote I breathed with my eyes closed a few times. I got in and out of the car with ease, and managed not to have a meltdown over situations large or small. It was a good day. I hit 80,000 words, and not just schlock. Stuff I could put my name near, if not on.

I came home at 7:30, at which point in a regular day dinner is done, the house is tidied (by a three-year-old, so it ain’t spic-n-span, but still, toys are in their place), bath is done, jammies are donned, teeth are brushed, and stories are underway. Tonight, though, at 7:30, I walked in, and a mud and blueberry smeared boy greeted me, beaming, at the door. He was finishing his cereal, covered in marker tatoos and stamps. The house looked like a bomb filled with puzzle pieces, toy cars, bristle blocks, a miniature tea set, and cat vomit went off. The sheets, which I change every Sunday, were full of sand from a post-playground nap.

To be fair, the bath was already drawn, the kid had a burrito and banana before the cereal, and the cat vomit was all over my stuff, so it’s understandable that it got overlooked.

So I put my happy, smeared, tatooed boy to bed and thanked his father for the day of writing. ‘Cuz if we ever get a room of our own, we’re willing to tolerate an awful lot in the sandy, blueberried, markered, late for bed department.

At least I didn’t come home at 10, like I prefer to on my increasingly frequent days off. They might have been doing shots and playing poker.

And having a damned fine time.

Journal and publisher jitters

I really need to send off this article so I can clear it out of my head and either begin another or finish my book. But as always, I’m much more confident in the process than in the result. I’ll spend weeks, unless I stop myself, editing and proofreading and editing and proofreading and editing and proof…(getting boring for you, too?)

Why is it I am willing to do 99% of the work, really throwing myself into something and doing my best, but when it comes to asking for approval and money, I stop short, more willing to keep a backlog of solid work than finishing by asking for recognition/publication?

Groundhog month

Since the doctor saw a shadow on my X-ray, I’m due for another six weeks of crutches.

I should be walking normally by June, they chuckled. (Actually, they were really nice and sympathetic, but I’ll go mad if I can’t make someone the villain in this story.)

This is unacceptable. I have a three-year-old hellion who never stops moving, a sick cat, a paper due, four thousand library books due on campus and no way to park within a mile of the drop slot, a novel that’s so close to being done that I can taste it, a potential move, two trips involving air travel, a filthy house, an unbearable urge to go running, and an overdeveloped case of liberal guilt pulling me to volunteer seven days a week to deal with this month.

Can’t you freaking take these feet off and give me stronger models?

And while you’re at it, fit my kid for new hands. He’s been asking and I figure it’ll be like an early birthday present.

Aaaah, bliss.

You know, sometimes it’s just good to be exhausted.

Now that Peanut has adjusted to Daylight Savings Time, a little government intervention I like to call The Fcuk with Parents Solstice, which was clearly invented and perpetuated by old men with no sense of empathy for the month that it takes to re-regulate a child’s sleep patterns after the shift, I’ve decided to join a gym that opens at 5am so I can workout before Peanut and Spouse wake.

This seemed more self-cudgelingly painful and ludicrous than volunteering for a lifetime of respecting my child’s needs, but the first morning I slipped out of the house before dawn, every moment was glorious. I woke groggy, but that was no different than the days Peanut wakes me in the wee hours. (Background: I have a kid who doesn’t sleep well. Never has. He wakes every 3 hours or so. He sleeps no more than 9.5 hours total, even with the waking. Totally normal, well precedented in my family, yet totally eroding the little patience with which I came to this parenting game. [NB: Do not email me with Babywise bullshit. Letting your baby cry is not parenting. Throughout the world children do not sleep until 3 or 4. It’s just biology. Stop telling me to force my kid to be different. He goes to sleep fine. He has nightmares. He wakes and needs us. Just because it’s killing me doesn’t mean I need your child abuse handbook.] And because of his sleep pattern, if I spend a little time in the evening with Spouse, and either clean or write, I’m looking at 6 or 7 hours of sleep, which is almost hourly interrupted by either a screaming child or a yowling cat. Daily considering asking the SPCA to take both.)

Being alone in a quiet house was exhilarating. Driving alone in the dark, without having to explain why, yes, we need to share the road with other cars and trucks, and that, if you really don’t want to share you ought find yourself a job and some money so you can build your own infrastructure, because the logistics of buying out the freeway system so you can watch the world go by from your car seat with a view unobstructed with other humans is a little out of mommy’s purview this week, was almost orgasmic. And the foggy sunrise was delicious. But far away the best part of getting up after 5 hours of sleep to exercise my wayward body into some semblance of energy was that I got to start, finally, Consider the Lobster, David Foster Wallace’s collection of essays.

This is my definition of heaven.

I would do the elliptical backwards for four hours straight to read that man’s writing. (I wish I could footnote in wordpress [not for some hackjob parody, but because I really need to add a few notes that are too long to put into the text], but I’m angry about the new design so I’ll do parenthetical asides, instead.) (To wit: ) (This month, I have to do the elliptical backwards because of the cast I’m in for the next month. And I get my actual fitness from the erg, but I can’t read while I row, and I can’t get my pedal stroke to functional at all well the cast. So elliptical backwards until I lose feeling in my foot, then switch to the erg, silently debating Wallace’s arguments in my head until I can feel my toes again.)

And Consider the Lobster,  and thoughtful and moralistic and borderline self-righteous (in all the right ways) collection of essays (predominantly articles he’s written for some of this country’s finest magazines) has eye-rollingly pleasurable topics nestled within. I’ve often recommended that my fair readers read or re-read Infinite Jest. But honestly, I may have found my favorite DFW piece, blissfully ensconced as I now am, seven pages into Wallace’s review of a grammar usage text. This chapter/article/review has me deliriously happy.

Without fail, Wallace’s writing brings me to two, independent, and wonderful conclusions. One, I am not crazy, but if I am, I am not alone in my particular breed of insanity. If no one else does, David Foster Wallace understands me. [NB: Yes, I know I should use the past tense. But because I am still coming to grips with his death, and because I prefer the critical approach of reading the text as always present tense, as always available to us regardless of the author’s state of being, I will say that he understands me, by which I mean that I feel understood when I read his work. I attribute no intention to this sensation, for I do not believe he wrote for me, personally. Issues with the whole “not knowing me,” bit, and all.]  Two: I need to get one hundred times smarter and better each day, and read more and write more because I am compelled to express myself as beautifully, compellingly, intelligently, and hilariously as this man did. I won’t get there, but I’ll live trying.

Now, of course, wiping away tears in the gym, thrice, I have a new conclusion, one I’ve been working on since September 15 when I found out: This world, each day, is poorer for having lost him. I, again, offer condolences to his family. And I, again, roll myself into an intellectual black hole wanting more of his mind spread—-like a freshly blended hummus made from a secret family recipe that will be lost after its last knowledgeable chef burns it in a passion-fueled fire and vows, because of the pain cooking causes him in the wake of a divorce from a woman who was his gustatory muse, never to blend that garbanzo-tahini-garlic extravaganza again—-across the pages of book and magazine. May Hollywood never, never violate his words with a film version. (Just saw Into the Wild last night, finally, and found, yet again, that the book was far better. Sorry, Mr. Penn. Love your work. But the film didn’t do justice to the epistelary memoir.)

Wallace’s review, the fourth piece in Consider the Lobster (after a riveting and pathetic look at the porn industry’s Oscar night, a scathing review of Updike’s latest self-absorbed book, and a brilliant explanation of what I’ve always found interesting about Kafka’s work—that it’s funny in a way few people comprehend) offers frenetic  grammatical satisfaction to those among us who cringe at the general linguistic ignorance of those around us. If you get off on words, and are passionate about the language in which you read, write, and speak, turn to “Authority and American Usage.” It strokes the grammar wonk’s ego, it oxygenates the fires of grammatical anger, and it offers 62 juicy pages of critical argument about the political nature of language.

62 mathafuckin pages, y’all.

Laugh all you want. I gladly fly my geek flag, higher today now that I know Wallace’s flag is right there in my courtyard, too.  To read that DFW, a man whose work I admire more than any other author I’ve read, in whose words I’ve found a friend and a home, and for whose memory I plan a long critical academic career (which might well having him doing subterranean 360s), gets just as frothy as I do when college students submit their first papers riddled with such eggregious errors that we feel the need to conduct an emergency English grammar seminar in our classrooms, pushing literature and critical thinking off the gurney and diemboguing our linguistic scalpels with the sole intent of making the world a better place to read.

I’m actually ready to get out of bed every morning, with maybe five hours of sleep behind me, to read David Foster Wallace’s essays again and again. I only wish I hadn’t quit reading his work during my grad school and baby years, because I feel like I’m playing catch-up, devouring his writing like a person who finds herself, after a full day of unblinking focus on a newborn, starving and ready to eat anything in the house; and just as she scours the cupboards for something edible, she turns around to find a gorgeous, tasty, well balanced, hot meal from a caring and likeminded friend just sitting there, as though it’s been waiting for her.

Goddamn he’s good.

My third and final DFW post

[I just can’t leave this post as I originally wrote it. But I can’t delete it entirely because the comments from blueeyedsoul are lovely. Rather than leave this angry, name-calling post as is, I’ll repost here my original reaction at DFW’s death. I feel, first and foremost, for his parents and his wife at the stomach-turning loss. And I feel deeply for the reading community. See also my first post about his death.]

posted sept. 16 here:

In grad school, the professors wouldn’t let me write my thesis on Infinite Jest because none of them had read it, and when they saw that it topped 1300 pages (I don’t have my copy to give you precise numbers, I just moved and don’t have anything in the fridge and need to go shopping and am not in the best mood, so bear with me on estimates) of densely packed text and endnotes sheer rambling genius, they balked at the workload reading both his novel and my thesis would bring to their carefully balanced lives.

I resented their laziness. Then I changed topics and vowed one day to write an erudite lit-crit analysis of the text. Especially because Wallace excelled at but distrusted literary criticism. But shite happened and I haven’t gotten around to it.

I blogged about a month ago that I felt disconnected from the world when I realized Kurt Vonnegut Jr. had been dead for three days before I knew. It was as though my sadness didn’t count any more because I had missed the window.

This time, the world rotated twice before I knew DFW died. The announcement rocked me to the core but didn’t change my day. And that, itself, saddens me because it means my life is so shifted off its base that the shockingly early death of one of my top ten creative inspirations doesn’t even rate a schedule change. The rest of my week, though, shuddered and sputtered as the implications of his death sunk in.

And I don’t know what to say. I’ve known for two days and I don’t know what to say. (Updating this weeks later, I’m still not done processing my grief.) [Updating this almost a year later, I’m still not done processing my grief.) His writing changed me. I saw him speak once (thanks MPB and SBB) and his speaking did not change me. The creepy cult curiously smarmy cadre of followers did not change me. I was rarely tempted to quit my job and run off to Pomona to be his student, because I didn’t feel any need to be connected with him personally. I didn’t want to be taught by him or to talk with him or to write for him.

I wanted to read his work.

And now there won’t be more.

I may be silly to feel his death as a weighty presence in my life. The man himself had no presence in my life. His characters, their actions, their idiosyncrasies, their seismically surreal lives had a transient presence in my life. But all I have to do is recall the cover of his weighty novel and I can again touch the intellectual dance of reading it, tender humanity of the characters, and its mind-bending importance on post-postmodern literature. I can, remembering, feel my hunger for more as I read myself bleary-eyed for the entire summer of 1997 (I was busy in the summer of 1996. I didn’t pick up IJ because of the grant. I picked it up because I wanted a book that would ensure nobody would talk to me on BART, a la The Accidental Tourist. But I loved it intensely then, and would love to reread it now.) [I am rereading it now, thanks to infinite summer.] I can feel my connection and revulsion and confusion at Wallace’s characters every time someone says his name.

And I want more. I’m angry and disappointed that there won’t be more.

I loved his lobster piece for Gourmet magazine. I love that he took the job, puzzled at the pop cultural status that brought him such tangential work, and I loved his rambling thoroughness. I loved that he came to the conclusion that it’s just not okay to boil creatures alive.

I haven’t read the obits. I don’t even know how he died. (I found out later and wrote a horrible post on this blog, of which I am embarrassed but which I will not erase.) I don’t care how he died. This is not a Jeff Buckley story or a Kurt Cobain story or a River Phoenix story. I wish I knew what kind of story this is. All I know is that the woot from Sept. 16 made me feel all too keenly that nobody will take DFW’s place.

And now all I can think is, I hope all you bastard literary canon snobs will read his work, because you missed the boat the first time. When I write my PhD dissertation on his work and one of you lazy self preserving pricks says you haven’t read it, I will produce all the contemporary fiction on the shelves and say, “well, it’s better than and worse than and different than this….And it’s all we have left.”

The Macarthur grant bit always forces the genius label. I don’t know that he was genius. I just know I really love reading his writing. I don’t even know that I love his writing itself. I love the experience of reading it. And that is the ultimate compliment for an author. I may not love your work, man. I just love what it does to my head. Your writing makes me want to work harder and smarter and be a better and more empathetic person.

We’re all going to miss you, and our minds are poorer now that yours is silent. I hope, at least, that the pain is gone.