self-blogerential, writing

this morning,

before work, I walked to a coffeeshop, and I had Larry Levis’s book Elegy in my bag.

As I put it in there, leaving the bedroom, I immediately thought of a blog post that ran something like “This morning / reading Elegy at ___name of trendy coffeeshop____, (sentence continues.)”

Arrgh. Documenting your own life loses authenticity in both the documentation and the life if you start altering either for the appearance of the other.

And yet it is not wrong to be always thinking of the documentation. It’s just that it (the constant thought) can lead to a certain forcedness.

I did not take Elegy out of my bag. I’ve just gotten to the point that I don’t like to leave the house without a book of poems stashed somewhere. Having bought Howl in SF, this has become easier. (And that last is true, not something I made up because it would sound good in a blog post.)

To work, to work. More editing.

self-blogerential, writing

Recently on Facebalk,

two of my friends, J and A, each linked to a post, “This is Why I’ll Never be an Adult,” on the Allie Brosh humor blog Hyperbole and a Half. I looked at it, and then I read most of the blog, and then I started writing (by hand, not using a computer drawing program as she does) a journal entry of my own with similar interspersed pictures, trying to use the same format of larger chunks of text interspersed with drawn illustrations.

I really, really like what happened. Really. Really. Alot. I intend to put it up soon.

The results reminded me of other ventures I have made into drawing with text. I’ve experimented with this quite a bit in the past but never found the right balance for myself. I am not a very good artist. I get impatient. I tend to write lots of text and then bore myself having to go back and insert all the pictures. I have several long, long semi-comics that are entirely written and only partially illustrated.

What I like so much about Allie’s format, however, is that she permits herself to use as much text as necessary before inserting the next picture. (In the manner of the This Recording photo essays and other things on the internets, yes, but I hadn’t realized before now that this format would work for memoir/humor/narrative nonfiction sort of things as well as journalism.)

So this means that when writing a picture/story thing, you do not have to use a picture in every panel. The entire idea of “panels” is out. Your images illustrate the text, as in a newspaper article, but you have a much higher percentage of images to text because the format permits you to “print” them without any added cost.

You only need to use as many pictures as you want. For punch lines, or illustrations. It’s like a storyboard with more story than board.

This. Is. Excitement.


Never change anything if you don’t agree with the change.

You taught in the John Hopkins writing program for 26 years before your retirement. What sort of impact did this role have on your own fiction? What were some of the most vital lessons that you endeavored to impart on, what turned out to be, a generation of writers?

I taught for 27 years. Sept., ’80 to June, ’07. Maybe that is 26 years. Teaching had no impact on my writing.

My main characters were often teachers in college, but you rarely saw them teaching. One story, “Eating the Placenta,” in my 1984 collection Time to Go, has a teacher trying to avoid an unavoidable student who wants feedback on a story he’s written. The teacher wants to hurry home to attend to his wife, who called him in his office to say she needs to be taken to the hospital to have their first baby. The student is unrelenting, follows him most of the way home. That’s an example of how I included my teaching experiences into my writing.

Or in Frog, a writing teacher goes crazy in the classroom, turns over a table, needs quick psychiatric help. Otherwise, I found the academic setting void of material. I kept the experience of teaching on the outskirts.

Lessons? I taught line by line, story by story, word by word. I told them there were no rules in fiction writing. I was always encouraging, pointed out where they were writing well, was very easy on them when they weren’t writing well. My young writers were very sensitive about their work, and I didn’t want to hurt any of them. My impression of their work meant a lot to them. Somehow, they all became better writers. Benevolence works. I told them never to fool themselves that something is better than it is. Don’t call a work finished till it’s the best you can do. Never change anything if you don’t agree with the change. Develop self-editing skills, because one day you’ll be out there writing alone. And so on. Practical advice. Don’t let rejections stop you if writing is what you love most to do. And don’t change a word just to get it published. If you do, even once — I don’t care for how much money or recognition — you might soil your writing from then on.

– Stephen Dixon, interviewed by Sean Carroll in the December Bookslut.

Cali, F&F, writing

west coast,

best coast.

Yesterday, after Red Rock, Z took me on a tour of Carnegie-Mellon’s campus in Moffett Field, which included driving by several large wind tunnels and blimp hangars. Then I drove to Kepler’s for coffee and visitations with S and LC, which included a trip on campus, to Sweet Hall. (The former White Plaza has been transfigured by lineated bike lanes and large concrete blocks preventing bikers from biking freely elsewhere–and the former Intersection of Death has a giant roundabout.)

This was followed by a harrowing drive in traffic north to San Francisco, where I met with M, had amazing Vietnamese food, walked along my beloved Valencia Street from 18th south, and saw her new place.

There was a street fair going on in the Mission, and people were running in and out of all the stores. Live music was playing. M bumped into an old Swarthmorean, her friend A, currently getting his PhD at Stanford. He and I danced around Mark McGurls’ The Program Era and the Batuman MFA-bashing article. I told him I was writing a response, which seems more true now that I have told more people.

This morning, in Mountain View, it is a bit gray and cloudy outside. Up and working on a grant and on physics labs. It is wonderful to be here. I’m seeing old friends almost every night.

gradschool, poetry, writing

this week

I turned in a draft of my MFA thesis. It’s a compilation of the poems I’ve been writing over the course of this program.

There have been many times in the MFA where I’ve felt that what I’m writing wouldn’t quite hold together, somehow, as a cohesive manuscript. Seeing it all together, though, makes me happy. I have even allowed myself the indulgence of rereading it just to read it. They do read well together. It’s going to work out, I think.

I didn’t need any help with the whole generating-material thing when I came here. I’ve always been what Dan Chumley called a “fast typer.” First draft a minute. But the time it takes to revise, and the confidence in yourself to believe that revision is something your work deserves, is something I definitely needed support from others to get better at. No one has ever showed me how to revise. It’s only that, here, it is expected. So I’ve done it. More revision than ever before.

My first drafts were good enough for me. Here, I have had to make things that are good enough for others.

If all the MFA does is give you the expectation that you will take your own writing more seriously, then that’s a lot. For me. It has been.

I think of the poems as revised as kinds of performances. I half had a thought the other day of laying them out as if they were in a script, which is how I think of them. But I think there might be something to be said for conforming to the typographical conventions of this genre.

At any rate, I am happier and more relaxed about the thesis now than I expected to be. I am going to revise much more, and generate new material, and probably find a way to get stressed out about it. But I’m proud of what I’ve done so far, and I like looking at it. The feeling I have reminds me of the feeling I used to have in rehearsal when the scenes would get to the point that I could just enjoy watching them. I’m not quite there yet, but I can feel it.

This will be such a good thing to have done. I’m so happy I’ve done it. Am doing it.

film, gradschool, workstyle, writing


back from HP7, part 1, which was appropriately gloomy and isolated. Nice and gray. The Death Eaters’ banquet at the beginning was excellent, as was the entire sequence in the Ministry. I object only to the size of the tent that Harry, Ron, and Hermione had to hang out in. Far too tall and pretty on the inside. (I know, it’s magical, but still–if Ron had had a tent that big, he never would have run away.)

Working–the end-of-semester crunch is crunching–at a friend’s house, on a laptop, on about four things at once–portfolio/thesis draft revisions, two essays, applications–and nothing with great seriousness. (Perhaps I ought to write thank-you cards to all my professors. That seems like the most important thing to do.) Somehow, nothing seems quite as pressing as the turkey did.



I have been (as is evident from the quotes) rereading The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes. I was experimenting with the computer-downloadable e-reader softwares, and I’m reading this one on the Adobe version.

It has given me yet another idea for what to do with the endlessly importuning Sander Lamori, who will not be buried, despite the best gravediggers. Sander is a lot like a detective. I have also been watching lots of HOUSE and BURN NOTICE and thinking about episodic serial narratives (Sander was always going to be a serialist) that are focused around the solving of a problem.

But although I can think of a detective, I can’t write detective stories. I am not the sort of person who is good at tying up loose ends, let alone fabricating them. The word “puzzle” has always led me to look frantically for my brother, who is, of the two of us, designated to solve all the puzzles. I am not designed to design puzzles. I have never read a detective story in my life in which I did not flip past all the technical bits. (I enjoy doing puzzles, but mostly as an excuse to hang out with the aforementioned brother. If he’s not around, I tend to start playing with the puzzle pieces and imagining them as members of a chorus and making them dance and talk and have dialogues and get in fights…you get the idea.)

I have, however, always been more actively interested in the Holmes stories in which, as Watson remarks, no crime has been committed whatsoever–psychological intrigues, misunderstandings between lovers, etc. In those cases, I have often felt, I might be able to give advice, or construct a character who could. Perhaps I might be able to write problem-oriented stories in which, rather than crimes, psychological or romantic problems are brought to the heroes for advice; and perhaps Sander and his straight, humorless female sidekick might, against their own better judgment, get drawn into meddling with / trying to remedy the love affairs of their fellow teenagers. Maybe one of them writes the love advice column for their school paper.

I think this is a very good idea, and if I am not murdered by a shadowy organization, I shall undertake it.

If I do not do this, either, perhaps one day I will manage to write a story about all the different (unwritten) Sander Lamori stories that have never been written. Zombies seem to be very trendy right now.

Also, incidentally: House/Wilson = Holmes/Watson. I must be the last person on the planet to notice that.