Tuesday, September 30, 2008

The Waiting Game

I haven’t posted in a while because I haven’t had much to report and I haven’t felt passionately responsive to anything (literary, that is. I’ve been caught up in the lunacy of the upcoming election, but that is a subject that is already being done to death in the blogosphere and I doubt that I have anything substantive to add. Just more toxic vitriol that bears a striking resemblance to the toxic vitriol of other thirty-something underemployed artsy liberals).

So here’s the quick and dirty update: I’m engaged, a couple of my poems have been accepted by a couple of journals, I interviewed for a job and didn’t get it, I interviewed for another job and am waiting to hear whether I've made it to the next round of interviews, my aunt gave me a car, we signed our pug up for obedience training, I’m still freelancing and I write occasionally, mostly in response to prompts from my writing group.

I’ve been reading a lot of contemporary poetry. Mostly stuff published in the past five years. To familiarize myself with what’s being published. To see how other writers sequence their books. To get an idea of whether endnotes are a good idea or whether they’re self-indulgent. To figure out if there are publishers out there that might be a particularly good fit for my manuscript. And also to enjoy myself. Because I’m not entirely self-centered and I actually do love poetry and it’s one of the few things that keeps me from ineffectually spinning my wheels about employment and politics and the economy and the environment. As a side note, I totally dug Tsering Wangmo Dhompa’s In the Absent Everyday .

But really, it is all about me. And my book. I’ve revised it. I’ve sent it out to a finity of contests. I’ve considered whether sending it out to contests is a waste of time based on recent debates about the pros and cons of the contest system, I’ve researched publishers that hold no-fee open reading periods and found them few, I’ve revised again, I’ve considered formatting (2-inch margins or 3-inch margins? Alternating headers? Leader dots in the TOC or empty space?), I’ve come dangerously close to weeping for no good reason, I’ve considered changing the title of the book to Albatross so I can call it Al and it can be my bodyguard, I’ve shown it to and received feedback from many people—poets and non-poets alike. And now I am dwelling in the space of What now? What more? Mainly, it’s about the waiting. Waiting for responses, rejections. Waiting until my eyes are fresh enough to look at the manuscript again and consider further revisions. Waiting until the next thing grabs me and I can write in a different mode (a different register, a different mind) and produce contenders for the next book.

I’ve never been good at waiting. The magazines in the lobby are never interesting enough to make it feel like you’re being productive with the time. Someone has always reached the puzzles in Highlights before you and marked all over them in ink. Even though it’s ever so important that you get those teeth cleaned, it feels like there’s something else more important that you should be doing...OK, so this metaphor totally doesn’t fly. I’m not sure what gingivitis represents in the process of trying to get a book published, so I’m just going to admit defeat on this one.

So scratch that and let me begin again: I’ve never been good at waiting. But that’s what I’m doing now.

P as in PhD: A Reprise and a Brief Rant

To recap, I applied to two PhD programs and was accepted to one, Nebraska, but without funding. I decided to defer and work on my book for a year instead submerging myself in lit coursework. Good decision, but if an agent doesn't bite on my proposal, then I'll try to break in the old fashioned way: Get the University press to publish my dissertation. Then I have that gold star needed for my job and visiting writer apps.

Options. The way of the unknown writer is to try any and everything. So...I'm thinking I should cast a wider PhD net this time around, which means I have to decide about the GRE Subject test in the next few days. Do I really want to pay $130 (!) to not know the answers to a series of questions about fusty British fuckwits? Yet three programs on my list (USC, Knoxville, UGA) all require it. I don't believe for a red hot second that any creative writer faculty member cares about the score I get. FSU and UNL don't even require it. (Why I applied). That I would waste time studying isn't an issue.

But $130 is a lot of money for a student loan living poorling. And it's a scam. How can the GRE not be insanely profitable? You hire a few academics to write questions, rent a room and collect the cash. Furthermore, the test is outdated. It might as well be called The Thackeray Subject Test.

Complicating things further is that USC and Knoxville both accept about two students every return of Pluto. The chance of admission is very slim. Sigh.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Schmoozing and Boozing in Nola

The hardest part about living as a nobody poorling in a fantastic, interesting urban center is that you know exciting, amazing, spectacular events are taking place all around you. And you aren’t a part of them. In Missoula as an MFA student, I was pretty much guaranteed an invite to the best time in town. If a famous writer was downing shots of Jack Daniels at a bison ranch, I was there. Now I’m sitting (and at least writing) alone in my apartment most of the time. This is New Orleans. I can’t exactly complain that there are no good restaurants, no fun parties. It reminds me of a Jack Nicholson line from As Good as It Gets, “Some have great stories, pretty stories that take place at lakes with boats and friends and noodle salad. Just no one in THIS car.”

In the interest “getting out there and meeting people” I attended two happenings last night. The first was release party for the Oxford American New Orleans issue at the Ogden Museum of Southern Art. The second was an event held by the “504 Ward” which is “an innovative community seeking to build a world-class New Orleans by connecting fledgling New Orleanians to one another.” Both I was invited to through a random email from a friend of friend. Both were scheduled at 5 on a Thursday. Guess that’s the hot time in the city these days. Here I go all week with nothing to do at any particular time, suddenly I’m in huge demand for an hour.

This being New Orleans, I wasn’t particularly worried about punctuality. I left my house at 5 to walk down to the Ogden Museum of Art. As a writer and a fan of the Oxford American I put this event first in the queue. I savored the walk knowing from experience this would probably be the best part of the night. Ah, the moment of possibility — my buzz from that first, home pre-cocktail taking hold, the smell of fresh shampoo, the fall crisp in the air, that hot taxi cab driver who noticed my dress. I strolled from the Lower Garden to the Warehouse District, checking out real estate, fantasizing about my book deal so I can buy a two story home on Coliseum Street, second story wrought iron balcony and floor length windows a must.

At the Ogden, the art was cool, but the happening was not. It was one of those things, where you have no idea what you are supposed to do, why you are there, why you have been invited. The OA had a table set up with a few pamphlets and one copy of the New Orleans issue, which some woman with spiky hair, red lipstick and horn rimmed glasses promptly snatched up and stuffed in her purse. I meandered, hating that I looked like everyone else, a whitey, artsy liberal in search of something to do, living like a blog entry for Stuff White People Like. And as much as it sucks going to plastic cup events with a friend where you huddle in the corner and don’t talk to anyone, it sucks even more by your self. I walked up to couple and asked if there was something I was missing. Was there something else? Wasn’t this missing something? No, they said, nothing else, but they agreed it seemed there should be something. By “something” of course, we all meant cocktails. Here I was at a plastic cup event, but no plastic cups! In New Orleans! The horror!

On Napoleon, cars were piled in the median for blocks. You would have thought the Neville Brothers were playing for all the cars jammed around Tipitina’s. People were spilled out on the street. Turns out this event had open bar. And food. The crowd was more conservative, more of a khaki pants, shoulda moved to Georgetown type crew. One of those Joe Blo and Kokomo Blo Boy jam bands was playing, and although by myself, felt okay slipping around by myself in the dark, especially after a couple of complimentary Old Charter and Cokes.

The organizers seemed very nervous. Money was at stake here. I could smell it. A small throng gathered on stage grinning for their presentation. They passed a mike around, telling us that we were the bold, bright future of New Orleans. I didn't mind. They played a short flim/ad that featured some Dave Eggers looking guy waxing the poetic about “his city.” After that we were encouraged to “network,” that the person standing next to us might be our next lawyer or financier. Intentions seemed good, but like all events that try to force intimacy, felt awkward.

Finally, I realized the only hope was to try and meet the other people who hate these things but come anyway. I went outside to find the smokers. I found my friend Anne Marie who I had tempted with the open bar, so I would have someone to huddle with. She is a smoker, and sure enough, within ten minutes the Camel Light trap lured two people who work with NOVAC, a company that works to promote the Nola film industry. Through chitchat, Old Charter and Joe Camel I maybe found a band to play with. So maybe I networked after all. I’m not happy about it though.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Working on my Book Proposal

Midnight. Reading All the King’s Men. I live in New Orleans, so I’m glad I’m reading this classic, Pulitzer Prize winning novel. “Lots of nights I would go to bed early, too. Sometimes sleep gets to be a serious and complete thing. You stop going to sleep in order that you may be able to get up, but get up in order that you may be able to go to sleep…You don’t dream in that kind of sleep, but you are aware of it every minute you are asleep, as though you were having a long dream of sleep itself, and in that sleep you were dreaming of sleep, sleeping and dreaming of sleep infinitely inward into the center.”

12:15. Sleep.

3 am. Awake! My car insurance is going to be insane. Everyone says it’s double here in Louisiana, because you never know when you might find a flurry of crayfish nesting in your engine block. It’s raining right now. Really hard. My neighbors said their car flooded, but it was only an old Kia so they were excited to buy a new VW Golf. Maybe my car is flooded right now. Should I go out there? I need to deal with my car insurance. Should I try and pretend like I still live in Montana? Who should I ask to pretend to be my home address? I’m pretty sure my policy expired Friday.

4:23 I know exactly why David Foster Wallace killed himself. It's all in the Lobster. “Be apprised, though, that the Main Eating Tent’s suppers come in Styrofoam trays, and the soft drinks are iceless and flat, and the coffee is convenience-store coffee in yet more Styrofoam, and the utensils are plastic (there are none of the special long skinny forks for pushing out the tail meat, though a few savvy diners bring their own). Nor do they give you near enough napkins, considering how messy lobster is to eat, especially when you’re squeezed onto benches alongside children of various ages and vastly different levels of fine-motor development—not to mention the people who’ve somehow smuggled in their own beer in enormous aisle-blocking coolers, or who all of a sudden produce their own plastic tablecloths and try to spread them over large portions of tables to try to reserve them (the tables) for their little groups…Nothing against the aforementioned euphoric Senior Editor, but I’d be surprised if she’d spent much time here in Harbor Park, watching people slap canal-zone mosquitoes as they eat deep-fried Twinkies and watch Professor Paddywhack, on six-foot stilts in a raincoat with plastic lobsters protruding from all directions on springs, terrify their children.”

4:26 My car is flooded right now. A throng of nutria rats, shrimp and roaches are swimming in a black gumbo that used to be my transmission.

5:00: Attended a writer’s group yesterday. I should have known it wasn’t going to work out because it was held at a Barnes & Noble. It makes me sad, thinking of writer groups everywhere, everyone working on a novel. Like say, MFA programs. Everyone thinks the MFA is this huge step, but only when they don’t have an MFA. Not that it isn’t pleasant, this lull, this extended cocktail hour, this time where you gather with other people who all feel plucked from the teeming throngs of nerdy Barnes & Noble writing groups, but no matter what, I see that sitting around and talking about writing is not the same as writing, and really not the same as getting published, and then let’s not even talk about having someone actually read the damn thing. Have you ever walked around a Barnes & Noble? Have you ever really examined the stacks and stacks of books? How many of those have you read? Crap. I’m only on page 101 of All The King’s Men. I shouldn’t write at all, but dedicate my life to reading classics of literature.

5:30. I should just get up.

6:00. The coffee isn’t working.

9:30. I’m dreaming about a basement filled with nutria lab rats. A scientist with a pumpkinhead tends to them.

11:00. Eleven? Are you kidding?

11:30. My family has no idea how hard this is, trying to be a writer.

12:00. I can’t call State Farm. I have got to get to work on the book proposal.

12:35. Mail call. A rejection today from The Georgia Review. I didn’t catch that they don’t take simultaneous submissions, so my rejection was a form letter with a check by a sentence. The sad part is I thought I read the submission guidelines. I’m not just some asshole that spams lit mags. I read a few issues. Just like they say. Then, after debating which story of mine I thought would be a good fit, I printed it out in a very unique way and hand addressed my mailer with my best pen. I wrote what I thought was a pleasant cover letter. I didn’t suck up or try to explain my story or attempt to showcase my wit. The irony is my sub wasn’t a sim sub. That I forgot to delete that sentence from my cover letter was just a typo. I’m an asshole fuckup. I am never going to get published.

1:30 I should find a magazine that will take a sample chapter from my book. I’ve read that’s a great thing to do. Let’s see. American Scholar? No. Bitch? No. Midwestern Bisexual Traveler? No! No! No!

3:00. I don’t really worry about hurricanes. When I say I’ve moved to New Orleans people always ask me about hurricanes, but they don’t bother me.

3:15. Okay, I’m getting to work. Really. No Facebooking. No blogging. Here I go. Here I go. Here I go.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Job Fair, silly Job Fair

The Job Fair is best observed from the outside, looking in. This I now know.

On Tuesday I took the bait, as advertised in the paper, paying $15 for four hours in the parking garage at Soldier's Field (usually reserved for the Bears). This, after my partner and I barely made it out of the house alive and without wardrobe malfunctions.

Wait. Rewind. I did manage to temporarily disable my laptop, after jarring the USB drive containing my resume in the port. Travis then proceeded to, distracted by my frantic running across the entire length of the apartment multiple times, accidentally drop his laptop, breaking the power adapter. Two hours past our estimated departure time, we leave. Stop at Best Buy. Find power adapter. Rejoice.

We arrive at the designated parking lot for the job fair. I pull up--now five cars have filled in behind me--only to discover neither of us have enough cash to cover the parking. (Wait--shouldn't a sponsored job fair have free parking? No, I guess not. Nothing's free. Shouldn't the garage take credit cards? Where's the ATM?) I then am forced to back out the car, disrupting about 12 other cars in their frantic attempts to parkwalkandinterview. Damn.

Finally, we make it inside the job fair. This is not your average booth display. This is a highly regulated, multi-tiered affair. Experienced health care or information technology professionals in search of their next health care or I.T. job are siphoned off to the upper-level or back room. The General/Professional pavilion remains ours for the taking.

With 10 resumes each in hand, Travis and I split up, headed for the shortest lines. Retail, insurance, managerial opportunities abound. I brave speaking to an insurance representative, an association forum organization rep. and, finally, a corporate-headquarter rep. Here, I take different approaches, trying out varying introductions. To the insurance person, I take the generic approach: "...I'm interested in what entry-level positions are typically available..." He directs me to the website, and I decide against launching into my humanities background. Nor do I bother imagining the editing possibilities for fear of a let-down. The other two fare similarly. I hand off only one resume, and I am referred (with possible editing leads) to their websites. I impress one person with news of my recent relocation from Montana. I then quickly make my way to the "door"...

The door is one of two possible openings in the large screens placed around the perimeter of the booth-laden section. It's hot and crowded, as hundred at any given time vie for a place in line at one of dozens of booths. I find myself hoarding a concession-stand bar stool, shuffling papers around in my bag to look busy and focused to no one in particular. We eventually both find the exit with a few job "tips" and vague "contacts", and a few less resumes.

I found the atmosphere and general experience more rewarding than any concrete notion of a job I might be hired for. This fair, of course, is more comfortable for someone who is able to initiate a memorable and meaningful conversation. I am not one of these people. I need to anonymity of an online job posting, and hours to obsess over a cover letter. Yes, the employment pages remind me that "no one, not ever, has gotten a job without 'knowing someone'." To my dismay, this might be true.

The search of a viable full time day job continues. Temp. agency opportunities look promising. In my daze from Tuesday, I wear the same pant suit to the agency interview. This time, wrinkles and all, I score a spot on the will-call list. Now I just wait (and call) and see.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Particle Colliders and Philosopher Royals

This and This.

Interiority. Dark matter. Keats. "The Events of the Day". Contemporary Poetry. Mathematical symmetry. Navel gazing. "Purer beauty".

Stir in a pot. What do you get?
I survived my first Job Fair. Details soon.