“Let’s do a thought experiment: imagine if Kelly commanded a police force known for strip-searches of young white women. Imagine if said police force had spied routinely on city synagogues, with no cause. Imagine if this police force under Kelly’s command had entered a public park full of concertgoers listening to the Philharmonic and dispersed the crowd violently. All of these hypotheticals seem absurd; had Kelly done any of these things, he would be jobless and an outcast. Yet the only real distinction between the hypothetical and reality is that Kelly used these outrageous tactics against the city’s underclass, its voiceless and its marginalized. What’s more, elite universities like Brown signal that his perspective is one worth listening to.”—Since When Do Campus Protests Against Racism Make Liberals Squeamish?
“In her essay “The Love of My Life,” Cheryl Strayed writes about losing her mother when she was a young woman, and returning to college to tell peers she had gone to Mexico over spring break. She wished to protect others from her own deep pain. Only later did she realize how unnatural this modern way of approaching loss really was.“ If, as a culture, we don’t bear witness to grief,” she writes, “the burden of loss is placed entirely upon the bereaved, while the rest of us avert our eyes and wait for those in mourning to stop being sad, to let go, to move on, to cheer up.” Modern Loss is a new website that aims to bear witness.”—Modern Loss, From Those Who Know It – The Sisterhood – Forward.com
“In its pages, debut novelist Adelle Waldman takes an uncomfortably close magnifying glass to a group of Harvard-educated, Brooklyn-dwelling literati and journalists. Wait, my inner voice cried out, as the narrative laid these characters’ petty foibles bare, this isn’t me. I mean, I may have been educated at that fabled university, but now I live in far away Harlem and besides, most of my crowd are progressive journalists, not mainstream journalists (meanwhile, I’m still trying to break into the literati).”—
“We’re pitching the same story: How do you grow Jewish social justice?” says Messinger one warm Wednesday night in late October as she relaxes in the living room, thumbs through her mail, and snacks on potato chips and Diet Coke with lime — she says the food at her evening event earlier was “too healthy.” Sneiderman perches on a chair nearby. Messinger, 73, owns the apartment with her husband, Andrew Lachman, but since he works in Connecticut as the executive director of Connecticut Center for School Change, and she frequently travels for AJWS’s international humanitarian work, the place has become something of a way station for both family members and members of her extended family of progressive Jewish leaders.”—
“I could give you absolutely sterling advice on how to avoid writing, how when you run out of things to do other than going to your desk and writing, when every closet is reorganized and you’ve called your oldest living relative twice in one day to see what she’s up to and there isn’t an unanswered e-mail left on your computer or you simply can’t bear to answer another one and there is no dignity, not a drop left, in any further evasion of the task at hand, namely writing, well, you can always ask your dentist for a root canal or have an accident in the bathtub instead.”—Tony Kushner offers advice to emerging writers: http://nyr.kr/1805qwk (via dannygoodmanwriting)
“I have long also secretly patted myself on the back for my intermittent indifference to beauty culture, chalking it up not just to laziness and boredom, but also to feminist resistance. And that’s because even if on the surface I feel guilty about not conforming to standards, deep down I genuinely believe that untamed hair, extra weight here and there, and skin, free of goopy makeup are completely fine — great, even, made greater by their insistent naturalness in a coiffed and plucked world. Fashion and beauty labels literally profit off of female insecurity. To refuse to participate may be a personal choice, but it’s a bold one.”—The ‘Meh’ Generation – The Sisterhood – Forward.com
“That deep identification explains why Reed’s death, at 71, feels so personal to so many. For me, embracing the Velvets was the beginning of giving up on the idea of fitting in (it’s a lifelong process, still ongoing). So I grabbed on to his music that day and never let go, because he demonstrated that being on the margins of acceptability was not only okay, but actually cool. I bought a baby tee emblazoned with his face and wore it regularly to school, so I could sneer at the kids who sneered at me — or more accurately, when I felt the urge to cower, I could let Lou’s mug do the sneering for me.”—
“We should write as we dream; we should even try and write, we should all do it for ourselves, it’s very healthy, because it’s the only place where we never lie. At night we don’t lie. Now if we think that our whole lives are built on lying-they are strange buildings-we should try and write as our dreams teach us; shamelessly, fearlessly, and by facing what is inside very human being-sheer violence, disgust, terror, shit, invention, poetry. In our dreams we are criminals; we kill, and we kill with a lot of enjoyment. But we are also the happiest people on earth; we make love as we never make love in life.”—Hélène Cixous (via quotes-shape-us)
“EARLY ON in the recent romantic comedy Austenland, a sad single woman named Jane, played by Keri Russell, reveals the depths of her shame to a tsk-tsking married friend: the Austen Room. Inside this shrine she stores teacups, portraits of film actors in cravats, and various frilly tributes to the Regency world of Jane Austen’s novels. Sadly, these items are not complemented by similar trinkets vouching for Austen’s literary talent: no “irony rules!” stickers, no “Austen’s prose is perfect” needlepoints. In fact, there’s very little in the film that alludes to Austen’s writing at all.”—
“Iceland is experiencing a book boom. This island nation of just over 300,000 people has more writers, more books published and more books read, per head, than anywhere else in the world. It is hard to avoid writers in Reykjavik. There is a phrase in Icelandic, “ad ganga med bok I maganum”, everyone gives birth to a book. Literally, everyone “has a book in their stomach”. One in 10 Icelanders will publish one. “Does it get rather competitive?” I ask the young novelist, Kristin Eirikskdottir. “Yes. Especially as I live with my mother and partner, who are also full-time writers. But we try to publish in alternate years so we do not compete too much.”—
Are there devices one can use in improving one’s technique?
Work is the only device I know of. Writing has laws of perspective, of light and shade, just as painting does, or music. If you are born knowing them, fine. If not, learn them. Then rearrange the rules to suit yourself. Even Joyce, our most extreme disregarder, was a superb craftsman; he could write Ulysses because he could write Dubliners. Too many writers seem to consider the writing of short stories as a kind of finger exercise. Well, in such cases, it is certainly only their fingers they are exercising.
I always feel this way about painters—how incredible their realist phases were before they became abstract.
“Hefeweizen, Beaujolais, grappa, kir
I am underage yet I can still list drinks!
How sophisticated is that?
Particularly for someone who hangs out on Ludlow street.
Foreign words do sound nifty
When italicized in a poem,
And these are the only foreign words I can think of
Naturally, because I am drunk.”—
“Years ago she insisted that the pathways behind the sand dunes, hot on your feet, were the corridors of a castle, the goldfish you ate on the picnic table a royal feast. One summer she swore you were hiding from the Nazis as you crouched beside the pond in the woods. “Across there is Sweden,” she said. “It’s a neutral country!”—
“Beauty is often treated as an essentially feminine subject, something trivial and frivolous that women are excessively concerned with. Men, meanwhile, are typically seen as having a straightforward and uncomplicated relationship with it: they are drawn to it.”—
This afternoon I was passing European tourists on their bikes in Central Park, pedaling slowly as they took the city in. Tomorrow I will be a guest in Amsterdam, on their continent, and mine will be the mouth that’s agape.
Slate recently ran an excerpt of Hanna Rosin’s book “The End of Men” under the purposefully provocative headline “Feminists, Accept It: The Patriarchy is Dead.” The article suggests that professional women, even professional feminists, have access to living the “good life” in a way they never had before. They’ve won! Certainly, this may be true for a select group of well-educated white ladies, but on the other hand, ask any professional feminist about the rape threats in her inbox and in her answer you’ll find the patriarchy, alive and kicking.
The High Holidays are a beautiful but complicated time for me. Besides Passover and Hanukkah, which I pretty much celebrate the same way each year, the Days of Awe are the only time when I get “the itch” to observe, the only time when I feel like if I don’t do something Jewish and highly ritualized, a piece of me is missing.
“Even the filmmakers have joked that their topic is a mood-killer. “It’s true that working on this film has definitely put an end to a lot of cocktail party conversations,” said Shane in an interview with the PBS blog Doc Soup. “Someone asks what we are working on, and they nod and say, ‘That’s interesting. I think I am going to get a drink.’”
But to see is to bear witness. And to bear witness, in this case, may be to alter the conversation—so guests at cocktail parties don’t turn away when the subject comes up.”—
A couple of things I saw on the internet got me thinking about the idea of political poetry.
So I wrote a sonnet in iambic pentameter because I was in some ways tired of writing op-ed style pieces about reproductive justice, but yet still (always) frustrated with the political status quo. I suppose I wanted to express myself with some constraints imposed.
“If you can do anything else, I tell my students now, if you can do anything other than pursue this literary fiction thing and still sleep at night and wake joyful in the morning and know that the hours of your days have been well spent, then you should do that — that other thing. The beauty of the advice, of course, is how quickly it clarifies, for some of us, what we’ve always known: we can’t. We can’t.”—'If You Can Do Anything Else, Kids, Do It' - NYTimes.com
Last week Rosh Hashanah arrived just moment after Labor Day weekend, the final hurrah of summer (which I spent with my dear VCFA friends celebrating one of our own’s nuptials). We ask for sweetness by dipping apples into honey, we utter our plaintive prayers: may we be inscribed in the book of life. May we not be among the number who perish.
As a nonbeliever who believes in ritual and its spiritual power, I sometimes morph the Jewish prayers into exhortations to myself, to the best, most divine soul within me. So though I don’t think there’s anyone “up there” listening, I am listening to myself: I really want to write in the book of life this year—to write to the fullest, and live to the fullest. I ask myself, rather than God, to be more merciful and forgiving, and I exhort myself to spread peace. I ask myself to acknowledge my imperfections, to stop the imperfect acts that hurt the world, and forgive the imperfections that are harmless, the little acts of selfishness that eat up too much guilt.
My friends Sarah and Dave, who are believers in a stricter sense, have come to view their art, their photography and writing, as a form of devotion and prayer to the God they worship. That’s a beautiful thought. So as the Autumn breeze blows in I think: this year I will write as my atheist prayer.
This year Cheryl Strayed is my rabbi: this year, more than all the other years before it I will ask myself to “write like a motherfucker.”
“Kate Winslet’s Marianne Dashwood, inflamed by Romantic sensibility and a rainy rendezvous, declares, “What care I for colds when there is such a man?” Thompson’s Elinor Dashwood, making sense, replies, “You will care very much when your nose swells up.” Point: Sense.”—
“People are always complaining that the modern novelist has no hope and that the picture he paints of the world is unbearable. The only answer to this is that people without hope do not write novels. Writing a novel is a terrible experience, during which the hair often falls out and the teeth decay. I’m always highly irritated by people who imply that writing fiction is an escape from reality. It is a plunge into reality and it’s very shocking to the system. If the novelist is not sustained by a hope of money, then he must be sustained by a hope of salvation, or he simply won’t survive the ordeal.”—
“We have women CEOs but not universal daycare; we have sexual harassment rules governing corporations and yet immigrants, native women, and inmates have little recourse from sexual violence; we talk about the right of mothers to work, but not the rights of workers who take care of their children. The list goes on and on.”—Feminism’s Race Problem Surfaces (Again) – The Sisterhood – Forward.com
The following story by Sarah will appear in S/tick’s upcoming issue, theme: Torn. You can visit Sarah’s website here, or follow her on Twitter! And check back here for another post on Monday.
Sherry ought to have been having a good time at Jessica’s pool party, sashaying around in her caftan and oversized shades, but the dead girl at the bottom of the jacuzzi made it hard. The submerged body, a sleepy odalisque, a greek statue in a string bikini, lay on the bottom step in the fetal position. Every few minutes, while Sherry walked back and forth with margaritas in her hands or crunching on those addictive lime-flavored corn chips, she’d peer over at the hot tub and catch a glimpse of her limbs forming a giant letter “G,” like Gucci. Or Gabbana. Guests congregated at the area where the poolside pebbles met the wooden deck slats, at a respectful distance from the corpse and closer to the grill. Sherry respected their zest for life, but for her it was a downer.
This was my first real attempt at “flash” fiction (I describe it as Ovid meets Jersey Shore) and it’s kind of out there for me, but I really love it.
“it is clear that one of the great pleasures of reading is when a story allows the reader to figure things out, to ‘get’ cultural references, to participate in creating the story from the author’s words, from the images the words evoke.”—
In this long and extremely thorough post, Hunger Mountain editor Q. Lindsay Barrett explains why a handful of my short stories are still languishing in the slush pile—err, I mean, what makes the best short stories stand out from the merely competent…
“Novels can—should—mirror the non-coherence of the world. Rarely do I relate when a writer utilizes narrative structure to force reconciliation. For me, truth cracks open in the places where things do not cohere. That’s how life is.”—The Rumpus Interview with Rachel Kushner
“As writers, we don’t have to like disappointment and failure, but we must make room for it. It might help us to disabuse ourselves of the notion that as soon as “success” is achieved, things will be easier. I don’t think it gets any easier. The stakes will always feel impossibly high, and that’s just as it should be.”—Episodia 1.10: Artistic Disappointment | Ploughshares
Those of us who were once “city kids” walk through New York’s neighborhoods today and see the story of our lives spelled out by the storefronts, or more often the banks and chain stores where our favorite spots used to be.
The venerable old joint on Broadway was classically New York, dirty and delicious. Pictures of celebrities and handwritten signs advertising buffalo burger specials smothered every inch of wall space. Along with Zabar’s and two other local legends that recently shut their doors, P&G bar and H&H bagels, it was quintessential Upper West. Quality, unpretentious to the point of shabby, and cozy: that’s what the neighborhood once meant, exclusively.
Big Nick’s served several functions. As kids, we’d go there with our families for low-key dinners. Years later we realized it was open late, so we wandered back in at two a.m. with our teenage posses, eager to drown our dramas in creamy mac and cheese, a soda, a burger. We’d call our parents on a payphone on the way home from a party and tell them where we were headed. They’d go back to sleep, reassured.
Big Nick’s late closing, its welcoming dimness, its status as a neighborhood institution gave us a safe place to huddle in the wee small hours. Crowded in booths or outdoor tables, sometimes sober, sometimes not, we perused the novel-length menu. Greasy food and laughter insulated us, and everyone left us alone.
Big Nick’s isn’t just symbolic of New York: it represents being a kid in New York before the city got sleek, and bank-overrun and terrorism-obsessed and full of artisan coffee shops and gourmet restaurants and parents tracking their teens on smartphones. We were ragamuffins, wanderers, city kids. And we ended so many of our nights by asking, “wanna go to Big Nick’s?”
After a swim and concert at the beach, and sitting on the train late and salty and cold, and waking up and making brunch for friends, and wandering the city with coffee cups in our hands, I come home again. I lie down, my body like an inchworm, my legs off the bed. My daydreams are lucid. I see myself and Simon arriving in St. Malo on the final leg of our honeymoon, dragging our suitcases at twilight. The rebuilt medieval streets are filled with the light of restaurants and cafes, and at every corner street musicians serenade us. We feel welcome and safe and glad. I can feel being there, and then I go back further and I am a child, standing on a grey day by the shore of Sachem pond on the tip of Block Island, comforted by the presence of my family and the ducks and the lapping of the water.
Past summers, beautiful summers, are so close I can touch them. And that’s because this summer is good, and savorable.
A phrase from L.M. Montgomery, patron saint of my youthful reading, comes into my mind: “the veil is thin tonight.”
And then I fall asleep, and don’t remember my dreams.