Thursday, December 31, 2009

NYE Quickie

Happy New Year's Eve, little ones! You're probably drunk, so I'll keep things light today. Go over to HTML Giant and check out this interview between Lily Hoang and Kathleen Rooney (my sweet Kathy being the askee). I like how LH introduces KR as dark & intimidating from afar, but "chipper as anything" in person. So true. When we read for Mark Wallace's class last spring, one of the students wrote in a response that he was surprised the dark one was so bubbly whereas I, the blond one, was more "depressing." I live to subvert your expectations, youth of America. (Also, suck it.)

And now back to me: I have two poems in the new Laurel Review, which arrived in duplicate yesterday. It looks great.

It's turning into quite the winter wonderland outside, but I don't care, because I'm staying in to have gluten-free mac 'n' cheese and champagne cocktails with my honey. "See you next year!"

Sunday, December 27, 2009

A wonderful buttery note up top, and a bread-like iris touch in the drydown

I'm back in Boston, approximately 16 hours later than planned, after wasting most of yesterday at the airport; I actually stood at the *front* of a line for over two hours. It was epically, comically infuriating. I finally rebooked on a different airline, then went back home and drank a fishbowl-sized glass of wine. I had to get up at 5 a.m. for the new flight but instead of sleeping on the plane I read this:

I asked for this book for Christmas after hearing about it from Chip, who knows one of the authors. "J'adore" it. It's like good food writing, but way better, because I don't actually like "good food writing" -- it's never really all that good, just pretentious in a dilettantishly "poetic" way, and all I really want is to look at the pictures. Perfumes: The A-Z Guide has and needs no pictures. It's just a shit-ton of microreviews of perfumes, and the only bad thing I can say about it is that it feeds my already rampant consumerism. I had bought a trashy magazine and never even got to it.

On the way down, I finished the A.M. Homes book. It had some really good parts, like a page-turner of a section in which Paul ends up getting a crotch tattoo to impress a neighborhood floozy, then vomiting in the street, and a rather devastating ending, but the whole thing was edited (or not edited) in a weirdly crappy way. There were like, continuity errors? And at one point she defines s'mores? Very strange. Maybe she wrote it under a real tight deadline. After the perfume guide (I'm seriously reading it front to back) I think I'm going to read We Have Always Lived in the Castle.

Speaking of books: I think I can share John's good news now: His first novel is going to be published next year. It's called Under the Small Lights and it's an extremely poignant and lovely little coming-of-age novel. I've suggested he stop announcing this to people we've just met, but truly, congrats are in order, are they not? Yay John. Yay 2010.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Prepare to Get Inspired

Via Daniela Olszewska, I found this hilariously inclusive list of "50 of the Most Inspiring Authors in the World" (as she put it, this gets the award for Widest Net Cast) assembled by the staff of Poets & Writers. Some gems therein (and yes these are exact quotes):

Elizabeth Alexander
There was too much chatter about the quality of the poem. What matters is that she was up there reading it—a poem!—on the biggest and most inspiring stage in recent history. [So, what exactly are we supposed to be inspired by? Her proximity in space to other inspiring (and large) objects, or how she reminded us poems exist?]

Billy Collins
He's made accessible a dirty word by celebrating the poetic pleasures and small comforts of ordinary life in a way that encourages us to celebrate them too. [How does that make "accessible" a dirty word? Basic confusion of what a "dirty word" is? Better example: Shitty.]

Donald Hall
The image of the eighty-one-year-old on the cover of Unpacking the Boxes: A Memoir of a Life in Poetry pretty much says it all. [This is the image ... huh? Generic old man at desk w/ generic lamp says what all? I guess the point is he's old.]

Barack Obama
Let's never forget that our first African American president is also a best-selling author. [Jesus Christ, lest we forget. Never forget!!]

Thomas Pynchon
He's like Proust. We could live our whole lives and never read Gravity's Rainbow...and still be inspired by it. [Facepalm]

Frederick Seidel
Sure he's filthy rich, but the man knows how to spend his money. He owns four Ducati motorcycles and he writes poems about them (probably while wearing a suit). [Holy shit. Why isn't Donald Trump on this list? He's written books, right?]

Gay Talese
The New Journalism. [WTF???]


Talk about your simplistic models of inspiration. Half the reasons listed are basically paraphrases of "Other people seem to think they're important." E.g. "Best-selling Nigerian novelist." Millions of Nigerians can't be wrong!

Seriously, I love this idea that these authors' mere existence is inspiring. Just put one of these books on your coffee table, pour yourself a scotch and feeling the fucking glow.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

The Best and Worst of 2009, Self-Involved Edition

So, I really feel like I should post some kind of year-end list, since everyone else is doing it and I can't think of anything else to blog about. The problem is I didn't really read any books or see any movies. Well, I did read some books but probably fewer than 25 and most of them didn't come out this year. So ... I'm just going to list some shit I remember from the past year, good or bad, most of it not applicable in any broad way. Sorry, kids, this isn't Entertainment Weekly.

* The first quarter of 2009 (am I finally outgrowing my habit of conceiving of years in semesters?) completely fucking sucked. My job turned horrible and I was so stressed out from dealing with that and applying/interviewing for other jobs at the same time that my health took a complete nosedive. I had three or four colds in as many months, developed stomach issues that still haven't completely gone away, periodic insomnia, anxiety, etc. I had no time or energy for poetry. This was all capped off with a miserable wedding. Then I found a much better job and gradually felt better and started writing a little more, but it kind of tainted the whole year for me. I'm glad 2009 is over.

* The best poetry I read this year was Maggie Nelson's Bluets and Sam Starkweather's City of Moths (which technically came out in 2008). The thing I'm working on now (a chapbook? a book?) is me trying to do what these books do formally (a series of untitled blocks of prose) and lyrically. What I've got so far is really idea-y, not as beautiful as theirs.

* It's recent so I remember: Heather Green's new chapbook, No Omen. This is really good.

* Some other good things I remember: Celebrating with Farrah Field and Jared White on election night, after reading at the NYPL; hanging out at their beautiful cabin in the woods in all seasons. Phone calls with Sam about Birds and The French Exit (best editor ever). Visiting Mark Wallace and Lorraine Graham in SoCal with Kathy. Dan Brown Book Club w/ Chip Cheek (the best time I've had reading the worst possible book). Some weird charades night. Anniversary dinner at Bin 26. Getting tsunami'd on the beach in NC.

* Some things I'm looking forward to in 2010: Doing a mini book tour with Chris Tonelli and Chris Salerno; AWP, during which I hope I will not be in crisis mode, as I was last year; something John-related I'm not allowed to talk about yet; all my credit cards expiring (JK; don't "2010" and "2012" look like expiration dates?).

I'd like to look back at the whole decade but my psyche isn't up for it. Time's goddamned winged chariot and all that.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

All my exes

You know how all the movies composed of nothing but Oscar clips are crammed in at the end of the year, and how "Best of the X" lists are heavily biased toward recent stuff? We are goldfish, culturally speaking, and we don't remember what we liked back in February, or how much we liked it at the time, or we've had the chance to get sick of it, or we misremember it as coming out the year before.

I'm worried that a similar thing is happening with my last relationship. We were together for more than five years (from 19 to 25, for me) and I know that I was happy for the vast majority of that time. But my memory now is weighted toward the last year, especially the last six months, when we were slowly breaking up, and it was probably the worst I've ever felt. ("Death is the opposite of dying slowly." A line from a poem I heard Julia Cohen read recently.) So when I dip into a memory of those years I keep hitting upon fights, or times he hung back while I went to a party or home for Christmas, or just the general feeling that he was irritated with me about something. It's like trying to pick your Scrabble tiles and all the shitty ones the last guy rejected are on top.

I heard big news this week about both my exes, if you don't count people I only casually dated, and if you count high school. One was direct from the source: He's getting married. He wants to have kids (or "spawn" as he put it), now's the time, etc. Now that I'm 30 I don't want to get married, but when we were together I did, at least in an unexamined and misled way -- I looked at marriage as the ultimate form of relationship security; I think a lot of people do. So it's not that I'm jealous (I try to be honest about when I am jealous, which is not unfrequently), but I'm a little hurt on behalf of my younger self. If he'd gotten engaged in the year after we broke up, I would have been devastated. My reaction now is tainted by my being able to imagine it. Fun fact!: Sadness is easier to remember than physical pain.

The other news I got from Twitter and Wired: imeem, the company my high school ex founded and ran, got shut down and folded into MySpace Music. It's pretty well-known but if you've never heard of it, imeem was a streaming music and social networking service. I can't remember how or when I first heard about it -- I may have been doing some routine Googling of people from my past. (I do remember snorting about the name; back in the late '90s he was really into the word "meme." Meme this, meme that.) I think it was when I was looking for my first job after grad school, maybe; I think it was extra-annoying to me that he was, like, being named to lists of hot entrepreneurs under 30, and I was begging to get hired for a 30K-a-year copy editing job.

And I think this is the past self that I heard this news on behalf of, because an unadulterated wave of pure schadenfreude passed over me. How much of a dick am I? Now I feel kind of bad. I mean, for all I know he's getting millions out of the deal, but it's gotta suck to have your company fail. It had a lot of devoted users but they were getting reamed on licensing costs and then got hit with a lawsuit; they didn't have the cash to fight it and renew their deals. So that's that. I wonder how he's doing. It's hard not to think of him as older than me now that he's created and pulled the plug on a company.

Meanwhile, I'm still poor. We're going to see the Nutcracker tomorrow. There was a half-price sale on tickets on Cyber Monday. Ha! "Cyber"...

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Save this kitten

This is Mr. Tux.

Mr. Tux the Kitten

We're trying to save Mr. Tux. A couple weeks back I blogged about finding him dumpster-diving, basically, in Jackson Square. We took him to the nearby shelter, which has an excellent reputation, and they assured us he'd be taken care of, so we felt very saintly about the whole thing.

Well turns out the jerks at the shelter meant he'd be taken care of. They put him in the wrong cage and exposed him to feline leukemia (which is communicable), and now they're basically threatening to put him down if we don't find a home for him fast. It's like a goddamn hostage situation.

Mr. Tux is not a mean street cat; he's quiet and shy but very sweet. The only problem is that he might have fucking cancer! Apparently they can't really test for it definitively for another six months. So in the meantime he shouldn't be around other cats, just in case. And he may need a little extra care and attention.

If you live in or near Boston and know anyone who would be willing to adopt or foster this cat (they apparently provide food and other supplies if you agree to foster in the short term; if, after six months, he tests negative for leukemia, he should be much easier to adopt out), please let me know! We feel very invested in this little tyke. We are both quite allergic to cats or we'd take him in ourselves.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Pseudo-review of the first 65 pages of Music for Torching

Why is the weather held up as the ultimate exemplar of boring conversation? When the weather is especially good or bad or fucked up, like it was this morning, I kind of like talking about it, or at least feel a compulsive need to. Anyway I can think of a lot of things more boring than meteorology. Like TV. My favorite is when someone asks, "Do you watch 24?" (or whatever) and I say no and they go right on ahead and converse about it. The persistence theory of identity. These people probably aren't signing up for cryonics.

I'm reading Music for Torching by A.M. Homes, which I picked up on our last excursion to the Book Barn. In a way, it is full of clichés—it's about an unhappy suburban couple who try to escape their problems by burning down their house. This act in itself is not a cliché (which probably saves the novel), but almost all of their thoughts and feelings about their circumstances are. They feel "trapped," jealous of each other's glimpses of happiness; they commit minor adulteries out of boredom (or Paul does, at least). It's all very Updikean.

Nonetheless, I care what happens to Paul and Elaine, and there are lots of things in the book I like (so far). Their two boys remind me of the children in Joy Williams' fiction: precocious and uncanny. Which is fine by me, since kids in novels are only interesting when they're improbably adult-like (or "adultish" to borrow a word from the book, applied to the parents, not the children). I like the dialogue, though not always Homes's needless additions, as in: "'They're safe enough,' the cop says, answering a question that hasn't been asked." Uh, thanks, I know the question hasn't been asked, because my short-term memory is intact.

I'm also interested in Paul and Elaine's relationship, not so much the petty affairs and whether Elaine is aware of them, but how much they actually like each other. They're clearly resentful and sick of each other, and sometimes downright hateful, but there's also still attraction there, and tenderness (Elaine occasionally finds him "cute"), and dependency—Elaine may find Paul kind of intolerable but she also panics at the thought of him leaving her. It's not romantic, but I find it endearing. And, like, "real." The longer I know someone, the more easily they annoy me, and the less their ability to annoy me matters to our friendship's sustainability.

I'm thinking there's some kind of tradeoff with a book, where I can keep reading even if I'm not enamored with the writing itself as long as I identify with the characters or material in some way. I mean if I'd encountered this many clichés in a book about, I don't know, a guy who really likes the History Channel, I would have dropped it after page 1 (which includes the phrases "to try and put things right again" AND "effort to make everything good again" … ugh).

Here are a couple of bits I related to. Elaine's mom shows up at the house a day or two after the fire to see what's up, since they haven't been answering their phone:
"Well, I tried to call," the mother says. "I needed to talk. When I talk to you, I feel better."

"It's supposed to be the other way around," Elaine says.
Right? Isn't this one of the three main crises of adulthood? The reversal that occurs when you realize your parents need you as much if not more than you need them? I forget the other two.

"Is Paul not well?" the mother asks.

"In what way?" Elaine asks.

"What happened to his hair? He looks like he's getting chemo."

"Oh, that," Elaine says. "That's what they do. When it starts to go, they go with it. They get rid of it. Better bald than balding."

"He's a shaved fish."

"It's a control thing."
Better bald than balding. What a great way to put it, the shave-it-off mindset.

If you've come this far, here's your reward: Kathy and I have three joke poems up on Verse. There's a couple more coming soon in Artifice. Laugh it up, fuzzballs.

Why do my widgets keep breaking?