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.

books, quotes, writing

it does not remotely resemble a cathedral made of fire

“Here’s a secret. Many novelists, if they are pressed and if they are being honest, will admit that the finished book is a rather rough translation of the book they’d intended to write. It’s one of the heartbreaks of writing fiction. You have, for months or years, been walking around with the idea of a novel in your mind, and in your mind it’s transcendent, it’s brilliantly comic and howlingly tragic, it contains everything you know, and everything you can imagine, about human life on the planet earth. It is vast and mysterious and awe-inspiring. It is a cathedral made of fire.

But even if the book in question turns out fairly well, it’s never the book that you’d hoped to write. It’s smaller than the book you’d hoped to write. It is an object, a collection of sentences, and it does not remotely resemble a cathedral made of fire.

It feels, in short, like a rather inept translation of a mythical great work.

The translator, then, is simply moving the book another step along the translation continuum. The translator is translating a translation.”

– Michael Cunningham, “Found in Translation,” NYT

gradschool, writing


I was in the library, scanning my undergraduate transcript, finishing up the last of the grant-related paperwork. It took a long time to scan, and while I waited, I wrote, in my journal, a new opening to a piece I’ve been thinking about for a long time. I had recently stolen a particularly fast-moving pen from workshop, and this pen seemed to open something up for me. The narrative voice moved along very quickly. I had only intended to write one paragraph, but I wrote several pages.

When I stood up, transcript scanned, to leave the library, feeling the speed and anger of this narration, a computer router fell down from the ceiling of A-Level (where it had been attached to an Ethernet cable) and landed at my feet.

“You almost died,” said a girl who was walking by.

“It’s just a modem,” I said. (At the time, I couldn’t remember the word for ‘router.’)

The object probably does not weigh enough to cause death upon impact. However, this whole thing has made me feel like I’m on to something–either something good or something very bad–with this narrative voice. It must be a sign of something, to almost be hit by a router. It’s not a falling bird, or a snake, but those are harder to come by in the library.

books, quotes, writing

a comparatively settled and domestic routine

“For whatever reason–success, removal from Ireland, the realities of the war years, a comparatively settled and domestic routine–the number and variety of Beckett’s complaints had diminished. He would still get cysts from time to time, his teeth would give him trouble and so would his eyes, but the panic attacks which had impelled him into psychoanalysis were now a thing of the past.”

-Anthony Cronin, Samuel Beckett: The Last Modernist, (27.439)

workstyle, writing

two and a half weeks

till TA Training boot camp and the start of the academic year.

As I wind down two large editing projects for work, I have more respect than ever for people who work as editors, day in, day out, throughout their lives. It requires so much care and patience and generosity. I have a tendency to compare everything I like or honor to directing, but it really *is* a lot like directing, to edit something–the best people, I think, manage to do the least of it, or do the most by doing the least. I am not the best people, but I am better for a summer of it.

One project went “to the printers” yesterday–that was very exciting. The other is more of an ongoing deadline. I’ll keep working on it during the semester.

books, quotes, theater, writing

their siren voice

“In June [of 1958], however, he [Beckett] was still resolutely struggling with the new prose work and finding it horribly difficult. Even though he could see clearly what he wanted to do, and that it should be only about 100 pages, he felt he was making very little progress, or only just enough to keep him from giving it up in disgust. ‘I rely a lot on the demolishing process to come later and content myself more or less with getting down elements and rhythm to be knocked hell out of when I am ready…It all takes place in the pitch dark and the mud, first part man alone, second with another, third alone again. All a problem of rhythm and syntax and weakening of form, nothing more difficult,’ he told Barney Rosset. Yet, comically perhaps, he was once again hankering after other forms of composition–theatre or radio. ‘I hear their siren voice and tell them to stick it up.’ “

– Anthony Cronin, Beckett: The Last Modernist (30.489)