Before mercury, my blood used to fill thermometers.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Hollywood on rollerskates.

Deluged by gifts from the universe!

I have a story forthcoming in Spork! It is called "Cellar Holler." It and "I'm Forever Blowing Bubbles" and "Wing Beat" are of a piece. I am so proud of it and so ecstatic that it will have such a glorious home. This threw me. I made a grave misstep in accidentally sending Spork two pieces. I felt like an idiot and expected to be totally ignored. The warm reception from Joel Smith severed my nerves completely from the ill-effects of my day job. There is no greater present than that.

Or is there?

The selfsame New Inquiry that I referred to yesterday has an ongoing series of spotlights on Un(der)known Writers and I have a tiny bit on Anna Kavan in it. It isn't a me-thing, it's an Anna Kavan thing, and if you, wayfaring Googler, have never had the pleasure, it features a strapping excerpt from her story "the Birthmark," which may be my favorite (of hers, of anybody's, of anything).

This made today a really good day, but I actually had a visceral near-tears (maybe tears) reaction to some beautiful words directed towards me by someone for whom I have the most tremendous respect and admire so intensely. As a writer, an editor - she is luminous! That gave me profoundly beautiful, beautiful feelings.

Pushing paper typing pouring coffee counts: Solidarity on the literary frontier.

Literary Cubs

A few weeks ago the New York Times published this article in the Fashion & Style section. It's a newspaper article focused chiefly on the salon-scene that the young men and women associated with the new critical journal the New Inquiry are kindling, to which a few people with whom I'm friends posted bemused reactions.

The New Inquiry is not referred to as a literary journal but the word "literary" is SEO-woven into the article. It is also compared to the Paris Review, which "look[s] a beach read" beside the New Inquiry, which is itself (the New Inq, that is) a journal of cultural criticism. Be-headlining a group of critics the new literary elite is a distressing move when one considers all the very brilliant literary journals that begin the same way, of the same dynamism, borne of the same unfortunate circumstances. What is admirable here is how much of a collective effort this is, how many people are working together very hard to make this a very good magazine. This is fandom, and

A high level of connoisseurship is as vital to art as the artists.
A high level of connoisseurship is as vital to art as the artists.
A high level of connoisseurship is as vital to art as the artists.
(paraphrased, Fran Lebowitz, emphasis ripped off Linda Kunhardt

I am disappointed to see anyone - the NY Times style section is the least of the problem - not as alert to current goings-on in actual literary writing, as opposed to the bigger little publishing modes (the efforts of New Directions to continue being excellent, eReaders, etc) and the trappings of the fantasy external glamor haze of Literature. The New Inquiry addresses some excellent things: the Consultant Procedural and its demonstration of the "ladder-to-nowhere," demystifying mastery, and the necessity of scenes, to say nothing of the groundedness and determinedness they demonstrate in their reaction to the NY Times article and the reactionary articles that have sprung up around it, which makes me so happy.

But what troubles me is: this is establishment versus the Dream, the Dream as embodied by the "young and unmoored." If an establishment can't accommodate you, this is what you should do, you should start a journal, although the average sensitive, impressionable young reader who is also encumbered by student loan debt, who could use the inspiration that the very act of the New Inquiry should impart, may still be pummeled by the glitz: the Ivy league degrees, the smart circle of smartly-dressed friends, New York City, Brazenhead Books (although any mention of that makes me beam).

Additionally, it is sad to see only one feature so far, on the brilliant the Orange Eats Creeps by Grace Krilanovich, has anything to do with contemporary literary writers. Hopefully there will be more on writers who are more the peers of the New Inq staff, and hopefully it will be of the same caliber as this piece on the New Girl.

Never Let Anyone Profile You in the Style Section

Gawker's reaction to the NYT article is framed within their ecstatically articulated repulsion with the Style Section but fails to comment upon the actual phenomenon. The tone and focus of the article is another spot of decay on the corpse. The journalistic irresponsibility of the romanticized trappings is made explicit, but in the end, the New Inquiry itself is dismissed along with it. Max Read is not wrong: "For hundreds of years, unbearable young people have tried to hang out with other unbearable young people." However unbearable young people may be, it is whatever they are creating that is of concern, and what they are doing is something very positive. But leaving it up to the NYT to decide that is part of the problem, ultimately, and he is right to assert that people will believe it is right-hand-up-to-god legit because of its place in the Style Section.

Name Dropping

This though I do love. I have a lot of notes in my off-brand spiral-bound inspired by the Marriage Plot about the camped-out drag-vibe I get from balls-out pretentiousness that I really love. This, I am aware, comes entirely from an incubated little lifetime of having extremely smart friends in a remote, rural village where there is nobody to impress and our only concern as teenagers was having fun with what we liked. So the anxiety and competition, though I'm aware of it, I wish it could just melt away and these parties could be like karaoke discotheques.


After reading the NYT article and the Gawker reaction, I found this post on the Lavin Agency's tumblr about (New Inquiry founder, Lavin Agency employee) Rachel Rosenfelt's address to Book Expo America. When asked to present on the VIDA count, she responded "forget the pie charts" and opted to focus on the New Inquiry. While her assertion that women founding magazines is central to upending the reality revealed by the count, she could have established that within the context of the given topic and demonstrated solidarity. While it is good to see the New Inquiry's staff's dedication to espousing cooperation, as Managing Editor Malcolm Harris cites in his book Share or Die: Youth in Recession, this was a bummer to see. VIDA is made up of incredible, hard-working writers. VIDA Press Officer Ana Božičević's "Working Poet's Manifesto" is one of my favorite things I read all year, and her point needs to be perpetuated as badly: to make art, you have to work hard, you have to sacrifice, you have to do what it takes. When you are working that dismal office job, you can go home and hand-bind your friends' books for cheap or start a website.

I am glad this is the time I'm in.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

You're a gentleman and a scholar.

1. I interviewed Eric Papenfuse, owner of the Midtown Scholar and editor of Midtown Scholar Press this past week. The Press, which swung out the gate this winter with City Contented, City Discontented, a history of Harrisburg, is bursting with life. While they are wisely approaching the publishing of titles on the intimate basis of one title every other year to afford maximum promotion-time, Mr. Papenfuse ecstatically expressed his desire to see manuscripts. Fiction, poetry, and creative nonfiction are very much of interest to the Press. Although you could mail your mss to 1302 North Third Street, Harrisburg PA 17102, you would be cheating yourself out of an opportunity to visit the most gorgeous bookstore on Earth (and the biggest between New York and Chicago).

2. My boyfriend and I were getting coffee and the barister and I got into a conversation. He asked me what I do and I said, I'm a writer. This may have been the first time I've done that. I tell people often - virtually as often as the subject of vocation arises in any context - that I write. But I don't think I've ever done that in the sanctified noun-way. It felt good - reactionary, defiant-good. I was beating up myself earlier in the week for not achieving enough, which is stupid. I did the old spiel that I have to do like Franny does the Jesus prayer, about how achievement is a totally subjective thing (some days I hear a crowd and there is no crowd).

The impulse to do this came after re-watching Kicking and Screaming, which I could barely watch in college and have avoided since graduating. For all the parts that I enjoy - like the completely literal innuendos - watching all that inertia in the wrong mood is pulverizing. I've been in the wrong mood for inertia for three years and counting. There is a scene when, after lamenting that he wishes he was going off to war after a lifetime of hard work, Chris Eigeman's character addresses himself in the mirror and declares that mere weeks ago he was Max Belmont, philosophy major, and now he is Max Belmont who does nothing.

I am grateful that the experience of college reasserted to me how in my basic state I do nothing, and since graduating I have managed to only do nothing for about two days, both of them lately. I am really busy, my life is very full, I write and edit every day, and the only thing that makes me very sore is the idea of not being able to work any harder. Despite conditions I persist in working harder, though, and this coming year will make last year look like a nap. This year will be a nap on the bus - mouth open, slumped against the window: total defiance.

3. The new issue of Anomalous is out and it features Joanna Howard and I am so awestruck. I adore her work so madly and I am so overwhelmed to be in the next issue! I have to record my piece before leaving for AWP, to which I will travel with my friend Maria, herself a brilliant poet! I have never been to Chicago and plan first and foremost on going to Intelligentsia Coffee. Then doing a windmill high-five at the Anobium table. Speaking of which, Anobium is looking for new contributors to the new website! It will be radiant. I have a Vision stockpiled on one of my favorite contemporary artists who I found through tumblr.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011


Courtesy of the Midtown Scholar, Harrisburg had its second annual Book Fair last month. I was all over it. It is all over HMag.

The building in which the Scholar resides used to be an olde theatre of the variety Lincoln was shot in, and it is the largest used bookstore between New York and Chicago and it has big-box-store hours. Since I keep silly hours, my boyfriend goes and drinks coffee and wanders their underground expanse of history texts until I get off and articulate my envy. The owners just inaugurated a press, and I can't wait to talk all about it!

Or about these Dusie books, specifically Roseate, Points of Gold by Laynie Browne, Three Geogaophies: a Milkmaid's Grimoire by Arielle Guy, and Herso by editor Susana Gardner, from Black Radish.

Or about this:

That's my best friend Gretchen hanging out at her house with Tim O'Brien. I don't need to talk about that, though, because that smile speaks for itself.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Do You Know How Diamonds Get to Us: my life and Green Girl.

Not a review in the classic sense. This is why my life is a good place for this text to hang out/vice-versa:

When I was first starting reading (in life) I only read about the psychology of trauma and film theory. Anything that takes me back to these days gets me on an indetectibly sentimental level. I would have loved Green Girl even if I came to it a different way.

Nothing has been as good for my state of mind as discovering that the things I think matter weren't flash-in-the-pan. Like writing. There is no evidence of this around me. No literary activity that engages the community. I didn't do anything for a long time but stay in my room watching movies. A long incubation period. I had to get wrapped up in the editing, the decisions made with sound, the use of actors to get my mind off things. It is still the only way I can get my mind off things. It still makes me yearn for context. Mostly I feel remote, like no matter how much reaching out I do I will not touch anything.

I live in a rural village. I ride to work at dawn. Since graduating I've been switching jobs and focused so intensely on getting to this point that I work in the city for a living wage that I stopped doing a lot of things that give me pleasure, like listening to Amanda Palmer. I have been catching up on her album Amanda Palmer Goes Down Under. There is a song on the album called "Australia" with a torrential sweeping wistful refrain where, after she asserts that instead of doing some mundane deadening chore that feebly reinforces her competency, she says, "or I could go to Australia." It looks totally powerless. You have to hear her sing it. When she does I cry thinking of curling up in my room watching Michael Haneke's Seventh Continent. A family flushes all their money down the toilet in a long unbroken take with no faces. They lethally inject their daughter. They react strongly before doing so to themselves. They tell everyone they're emigrating to Australia. I don't mean to do that to myself every morning. I want to feel very strong about all my decisions and appreciate my luck. I can take dozens of interviews for amazing jobs that I don't get. I should be able to take the odd observation that I am settling by taking the job I have, that I am not lucky but lazy. I know this isn't true.

So I want to hide in something. I used to sit up and read Amanda Palmer's blog for nights and nights. I still do. It was the resemblance in tone and power to hers that I started to read and love Kate Zambreno's blog. Getting an ARC copy of Green Girl was one of the best parts of this past year. Because of the gesture, because it is an important work, because of the horribly subjective phenomena I'm addressing here in my online diary. I persist in habitually referring to it as my online diary. I only call it a blog in job interviews.

Green Girl is a tactile pleasure, first. Not glassy like plastic. If I am at all gross it will show up on this book as I handle it. The first thing learned is consideration, close scrutiny, the imparting of recognition from a figure fixed above. Glass, Irony & God holds the same texture, figuratively, literally.

Green Girl takes place in London, but it isn't right to start out that way. It takes place pretty strictly in moldy rooms where men are not allowed and department stores. Something Kate Zambreno has down that has a tremendous impact on the book is what she emphasizes on and off the clock. It is like you are in two different spaces. This is very subtle. It IS like you go from room to room and your outfit changes like Helen Mirren's in the Cook, the Thief, his Wife and her Lover. This kind of sophisticated relationship to space acknowledges way more the complexity and intelligence and strength of yearning possessed by Ruth. Ruth is your girl in the book, and there is nothing protecting her from the infiltrating army of intoxicating friends, a mortifying sales job, and her own forebearer.

(from Anne Carson)

For someone hooked up to Thou,
the world may have seemed a kind of half-finished sentence.

The same things that alienate me keep me safe in another color. When I was working in a bookstore I would hide in the backroom dripping and red in the same black dress every day and I would go to other bookstores and pretend to do research, would point out the anthology edited by my old employer, would fawn over Bettina Rheims monographs with black coffee in heels and gloves and I was obsessed with this. With proving to myself that I could be more than a wreck breaking espresso machines and selling zero rewards cards this quarter. When my strengths are buried under a pile of barren opportunities strictly in sales. Watching Ruth go from Horrids to Liberty made that recognitive click that I get when I know this girl I've just met, she and I can be friends, she possesses a central necessity. It is she in the space, how she feels in the space, that matters. Not the trite detail of how they are both department stores. It is all about context. I wonder how other people feel about this. Hypothetical girl probably does not know this.

My ice girl. I carve her into a swan.

I can't believe I found a copy of Bookforum with James Greer's review of Green Girl (in the capital area). He says the affection the narrator demonstrates for Ruth transcends the tone of her comments, the punishing tableaux. He says right. This part of the text turns the infrared on my massive insecurities. You know the ones that are never a problem and never a problem and one day they are the trash-filled sinkhole of your psyche, bringing the property value down, full of the weirdest things. Lately the thoughts I have given to the person in my life who has provided me with the greatest guidance have contributed to some mental disintegration - not to paint a portrait of myself as in crisis, but I am tremendously vulnerable. If I dwell at all I should dwell on how I have been strengthened and armed and ready. This is not about seeking approval. I have the attitude about approval that a television show would reconfigure into an eating disorder or academic perfectionism.  Once I got the approval of a person I respected and per our professional relationship he did not know me. Not beyond what he needed to know. I am ejected from nightmares as if by a livid shake, in a state of emergency, when I dream about him being disappointed in me. This is not a real-life scenario. He would not condemn me. He would not harm me. This is internalized pressure. And the intense yearning of guidance that stringent. That I did not/do not believe I deserve. But I got it. I should get over it. Get in transit. Watch my reflection. Don't think about it.

I went to see Melancholia this past weekend. The first I saw of it was the poster on Kate Zambreno's briefly-lit tumblr. I was done unto as the rogue planet Melancholia did unto Earth.

I was going to be the maid of honor in a wedding this past summer. I was so close to this girl. I loved her so much. She was in a lot of pain the whole time. She is a tough person. She was muscling through it. I was not. I was caving everywhere. I didn't have any money. All my free waking hours were dedicated to getting myself out of disaster upon disaster. I was printing her save the dates and invitations and I kept encountering problems with the printing service. My computer had full motherboard failure in the middle of this. Other things. When I'm not performing to the standards of others - unwilling to talk, financially naked, falling asleep - I don't go out. I wasn't in good shape. She got very angry. We went to the beach. She and I and others. I spent the entire time in my room, crying. I didn't want to put anybody through me. 

Many of the reviews I've read of Melancholia seem to have been written by people who have no frame of reference with regards to depression. That Justine's behavior comes off as dissatisfaction with the opulent wedding makes me feel even more grateful that art exists. All I could do when my friend - even if she did understand, that didn't matter - terminated our association with each other was watch Last Year at Marienbad. Why should I try to articulate what's wrong, Delphine Seyrig says, when I can show you, when I can turn all your words against you with the power of my images. There is a great power struggle between word and image in that film. She is unsure, though, of her kingdom. When she has a little downtime, she reads. She wishes she could be in control of the words, too, even though we're watching a movie, even though by controlling the image she wins (I believe she does). If I knew Ruth I would try to take her to see Last Year at Marienbad. If I succeeded, she might never speak to me again, but I'd feel good about succeeding.

In my own things I think of the refraction, the image of the self, as - because for me it is - a social anxiety, a yearning for solidarity, friendship, compassion in the minefield of girls. Control the image. The consistency is maddening among the faces, especially when it is all you. The quality of Ruth and Agnes' friendship is captured so exactly. I think it is stranger to yearn for friendship than for a sexual relationship. There is more at risk, more to alienate. Less is socially acceptable to articulate. When someone is after you for sex/intoxication/validation, that is so black and white to me. Friendship is so gray as to be sinister.

All I want desperately in the world is to hear someone else sing this song when they think they're alone in a hallway, on the bus, any place around me:

(from the Jane Austen Argument, "Bad Wine and Lemon Cake")
I want to rent a wife
then rent a husband to keep her for life.
The three of us, we could be so happy -
them, with each other,
me, with company.

I love that in the moment the Green Girl sex scene is just what would be made note of in that mindset, suddenly aware of your body as a performing body, of so many rules and shallow details. When Ruth walks past a phantom train, when the cold air baptizes her, that is when the naked Olly looked through her at Agnes. Only at Agnes. I've read/watched/overheard a lot of sex. This is the first depiction of a sexual incident in which I beheld anything really of my own experience that was not intangible. Not just a feeling. I feel days like a character of Dennis Cooper's. I feel days like Alfred Hitchcock. These outnumber the rare cool nights I feel like Catherine Deneuve in Belle de jour. Like Catherine Deneuve in Belle de jour's fantasies. Really it is just like Green Girl. Really Green Girl is so dead on.

(Anne Carson again, as Catherine Deneuve)
Do you know how diamonds get to us? Three hundred miles underground are heats and pressures that crush carbon into sparkling shapes, driven for months or days or hours along hotel corridors called diamond pipes until they erupt in a pile of taffeta and chocolate some moonlit afternoon...

I wish I could write reviews like Jeanette Winterson. I wish I could say something about Green Girl with the concise impact of her assessment of Djuna Barnes' Nightwood:

...reading it is like drinking wine with a pearl dissolving in the glass. You have taken in more than you know, and it will go on doing its work. From now on, a part of you is pearl-lined.

These kind of feelings from me are never concise or so elegant. I wrote a real grown-up review of Green Girl that was rejected by several reputable publications. This was a really special lesson in humiliation. But it didn't say what I wanted it to say anyway. I wanted to address the intersection of my life and the book.

My life isn't even in perfect condition to receive the book. Instead of Amanda Palmer, I should be listening to PJ Harvey. Nothing penetrates me like White Chalk. I have to be careful about listening to it. Certain songs make me useless because they for their duration just live for me. They take care of everything and feel the last shred of feeling I've got to such an exact extent that I'm like, whatever. Like "To Talk to You." "To Talk to You" is about a girl's dead grandmother. She says she wants to talk to her because she has always been lonely. All my life - so this is not a single isolated incident, I am not freaking out over nothing. Says the narrator. She tried to give herself to someone and it didn't work. She wishes she was with her grandmother. She would have something special to impart. If they were talking, she would come up with something far more profound and cathartic than just this wish for this conversation the quality of which could never exist. Grandmothers are great platforms for projection. Kate wrote a post addressing a central challenge of the art form that is the blog before she erased it. There is no aesthetic distance in the blog. The internet is so interior. The impact when there is one is so atomic. In the times of Melancholia when one is in need of the planet-colliding power of someone's words, Kate Zambreno's blog really does it. And I think it was Amanda Palmer who says - who works so impossibly hard to keep her career she and the fans forever, who sweats blood for the people who buy her brilliant work - she says she wishes people would say "I love the album Who Killed Amanda Palmer" or "I love 'Good Day'" instead of "I love Amanda Palmer." I think it bears repeating that it is the artist's work that we need to be in dialogue with, that we need to hold up and praise. That would be easy if all the work produced by artists matched Green Girl in magnitude.

Get Green Girl in your life. This is my conclusion. I was forever failing easy papers in school because I cannot produce conclusions. In the writing of literature, meanwhile, I feel like conclusions are much more concrete things and it is a matter of finding that logical end as opposed to finding some false way of closing an argument. There is no argument here, to me, you should be reading Green Girl. The ineffectiveness of this is a great testament to why I write fiction and not criticism. If this were a story, it would end with me limping into a far-flung designated break-space in gigantic hyper-corporate agency headquarters, exhaling with a force to fog up my glasses, opening the book, resting on my dewclaw, exiting my life and entering Green Girl.