Thursday, December 11, 2008

Edging out the "Competition"

"The other day, as I looked down on the field of cubicles from the 'resting area' on the balcony, I felt an urge to read aloud from a Graham Greene story I had disregarded in my 20s: 'Are you prepared for the years of effort, ‘the long defeat of doing nothing well’? As the years pass writing will not become any easier, the daily effort will grow harder to endure, those ‘powers of observation’ will become enfeebled; you will be judged, when you reach your 40s, by performance and not by promise.' Harsh stuff. But don’t take Greene’s word for it, or mine. I’m a writer. Maybe I’m just trying to clear a little more room for myself at the workspace."

Post MFA Recovery

The rule is that if I’m not creative writing I don’t get to blog. After much huffing and puffing I was able to expel a breech story this week. My reward is public blathering. As the guitarist from my band says, “I’ve suffered for my art. Now it’s your turn.”

Topic: Post MFA I’ve had problems finishing a book (as in reading one, never mind writing one). I blame the Rushdie lit seminar. One novel a week plus critical essays snapped a mind already worn fragile by plotless New Yorker stories. I remember experiencing the same reading burnout after undergrad. That summer I spent hours staring out the back window at a huge oak tree. The leaves turned brown, fell. A few months later the branches dripped cold rain. Then they were coated in ice. I wasn’t able to finish a book until the return of spring allergies. It took Stephen King to get me reading again. After four years of Plato, Hume and Wittgenstein I was in desperate need of a resolved plot.

This go round it’s only December and here I am reading already. For others in Recovery I say forget the short stories and go with the New Yorker staff writers. Good old nonfiction has come to my rescue in the form of Malcolm Gladwell. I read Outliers in a day. Devouring a book felt like an overdue chiropractic adjustment. Wasn’t that how I got into this mess in first place? Not because I had to force myself to read and write, but because I loved it?

I admit Outliers, while a great read, has some of the same problems King novels do. In the interest of concrete developments and meaty handholds, subtlety is lost. For now I’ll take story over subtlety, but I predict after a while I’ll swing the other way again. After all, it wasn’t that I didn’t love my MFA reading list, I burned out on it. I might even be ready for Alice Munro soon.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Book is Dead

The Chicago Tribune's Saturday book section (really, the Books AND MEDIA section, for pete's sake, as if books were not enough to warrant a 4 page section!) puts the crap in crappy. The horr(or) in horrible. Yes, I was happy that they finally got around to reviewing Bolano's 2666 about a month after its release. But no I do not need to read another review of a feline-based children's picture book in a half-page mega review. I just.don' Oh, okay book section, just go ahead and use pages 3-4 for reviewing bad movies and to teach me more about the iPhone. Where has all the substance gone?

And then fellow Tribune Co.-owned Los Angeles Times announced they are no longer running a book section back in July. The only thing worse than a bad book section is no book section! Sad me.

Craigslist: the barometer

I'm back on the (half-hearted) job hunt these days. If Craigslist has anything to tell us its that, yes, the job market is crummy. For a city with such a large population & a healthy number of bustling "industrial" suburbs (that is, the outlying areas where huge buildings for huge companies can crop up with the benefit of more acreage), the "writing & editing" page on Craigslist has always overwhelmed me with 20 or so posts a day to choose from. Have at it, it proclaimed! There's something here for everyone. Every day! Yesterday that number was down to a measly 3.

What in Chicago There is to Know

Everyone around me was very animated about Gov. Blagojevich's arrest yesterday. Yes, it's alarming in a number of ways. 1) This alters the perception of Obama's pre-inauguration activities merely by association-- that the governor was selling his seat to the most attractive bidder. This, for a president-elect journalists are convinced already has the pressure of "the first 100 days" before the first 100 days. 2) Some talking heads on the local stations have decided this also jeopardizes Chicago's bid for the Olympics because a corrupt city does not sit well with the Olympic committee (but...what about...China?!) and 3) Blagojevich tried to bribe the Tribune to FIRE PART OF ITS EDITORIAL STAFF! Freedom of the Press be damned I guess. These are some shitty times, my friends.

What I do love is how comical the public radio news coverage is. The stories always detail Blagojevich's rant that was picked up by his wire tap. The small 5-line bit contains no less than 3 instances of the word fuck. We all know this. We understand how context works. However, the radio must come up with a clever way to disguise this. Hence, the following: "effing", "bleeping" & the unwieldy mid-sentence "expletive omitted".

In other proud Chicago news: Mayor Daley is so hard up for money that he's cutting back side-street plowing for the winter. I'm not sure where my entitlement came from that I deserve to have a street I can pull my car onto without sliding through every stop sign but...please, pretty please won't you plow?

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Healthy brain cells

Jacket on Oppen. Because hanging out in my department's mail room is not intellectually stimulating, I need brainy critical essays.

At work I did learn that healthy human brain cells do not allow perfusion. Diseased cells, however, do. This is how, in part, MRI scans sense cancer.

I ate too much for Thanksgiving. At an over-populated home in Columbus, OH. With 75 people all sharing the same last name (not of my family tree, either).

Also, as us writerly folk look forward to a cold-ass wintry trip to Chicago for February's AWP conference, I think of this essay Kay Ryan about the antisocial approach to AWP (an outlook I wholeheartedly support). I also remember how damn enjoyable the book fair was. Seeing Kevin Young et al. And John Irving telling us to write backwards to meet your beginning sentence; last chapter first, first chapter last. Joys!