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Archive for February, 2012

Working simultaneously on my artist statement and a blog about self-publishing — both for school — has caused a proliferation of Thoughts.  Here’s something that maybe doesn’t belong anywhere.

Thought, Thought, Thought, Thought, Thought

Stories by [name of writer] have appeared in [name of publication], [name of publication], and [name of publication]. [Name of writer]’s forthcoming novel, [name of novel], will be published by [name of publishing house]. Congratulations, [name of writer].

Congratulations also to [name of writer], whose sophomore work, [name of book], was published by [name of publishing house]. A [adjective] exploration of [what the book explores], [name of book] is a [adjective] novel about [what the novel’s about].

A story by [name of writer] will appear in [name of publication] next month. Good job, [name of writer].

Why why why perpetuate the idea that the ultimate and collective goal of writers should be to publish  — anything, anywhere, but preferably something rather short in a lit’rary journal of note. This idea exhausts me. I’m glad people are writing and I hope other people are reading what they’re writing, and that what they’re writing is good or bad or whatever — it doesn’t matter to me — but that its value transcends the sign-off of a publication, and the authors’ identities as  human beings aren’t defined like this: I am a person named [name of person] whose stories — [list of stories] — have been published in [list of publications], respectively. That makes me very sad in a way that’s hard to explain. The subtle-to-quite-explicit expression of these sentiments make me feel like a collapsing heap of rotting potatoes inside — you know? I don’t think the point should be, YES, I got in. I don’t really know what the point is. Maybe it should be closer to: “Cool, now more people can read what I’m writing and maybe will want to read other stuff of mine, so that’s probably good since it’d be nice to make some money from this thing I love to do. Too bad I had to pay $10 for postage, but I guess that’s pretty cheap marketing. And I made a few bucks–I think I’ll get a haircut and make a down-payment on some tights!” or something like that. I think probably most of the writers I know feel this way, or pretty close to it.

Getting published is good; I don’t want to give the impression that sending out stories is somehow dirty or evil — I’m just questioning whether writers ought to be making publication a quest; I’m wondering why, for all that writing gives us to celebrate, we tend to focus on publishing. I’m happy that my friends and I are flinging things out in the world in whatever way we decide to do it (I prefer blogging, for instance). I’m glad I get to read what they write — new stuff, old stuff, anything — I like seeing their names and their words; there are so many other things I see or have to look at in my progress through this world that don’t make me happy; any time I get to remember my friends and read their stories, I feel better able to appreciate things in general, and more determined to try to live in a way that honors these people and the art they make as well as the art I want to make. I’m also happy for writers whose work gets published — not that they got published, but because, primarily, they’re doing this amazing stuff, creating something that has and provides meaning, and much secondarily, that other people will hopefully see what they’re doing and love it .

But it would feel like shit to say (or hear), “They like your story — I’m so happy for you!” Ugh. “Your stories are very likeable. I hope people see how likeable your story is from the first two lines and then Google your name to see what else you’re published in or whether perhaps you have made some kind of list.” I kind of feel like artists — and audiences — should be better than that.

I also kind of feel like I’m being a dick about this and I should just let it go. I’m trying. I’m trying real hard. But it’d be a whole lot easier if everything else changed so I wouldn’t have to learn how to cope with my conflicted feelings. I have, by the way, sent out two stories so far this year, and if either of them are Chosen I guess I’ll have to figure out how to feel about it. I think I can trust myself not to be beside myself with joy, but one never knows about these things.

Maybe the biggest question is, why spend this precious hour nitpicking rather than celebrating all the things there are to love about writing? I guess because it’s easier. (See see my profane and sacred rant on “What Is Fiction?” in ibrokemythesis). Addressing the few things that bother me helps me remember that these need only be peripheral issues, and writing really is the best — and hardest — thing.

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I’m working on a blog about self-publishing — “Part 2 of Careers in Writing” — that will be up soon (here’s Part 1). Actually, I haven’t really been working on it. It’s just that Writing about Writing makes me tired, and I’ve been busy Writing my artist statement and going over my old Writing to see what can be stated about Writing.

Anyway, I dredged up an essay I began a few summers ago, when I was hanging out with the Cowboy State Paranormal Investigations team in Laramie. This is the end of a very long work-in-progress essay about them and ghosts and Laramie and transience: 

10.

It’s August again—one year later. I sit outside my apartment the summer before my last year in Laramie. It’s dark. Stars make me think of distance—from here to there, what’s in between. The red, flashing light of a plane. The lights going over the bridge. The train. I hear the sound of it coming before it whistles, the tracks carrying its thrumthrumthrumthrum. Stars are falling. Satellites zoom past like specks skimming my eyeball. Everything is always in motion. Almost everything is passing by, or passing through. It’s only at night, when dark hides the stationary, lightless objects, that the coming and going of things becomes clear. Even I, in my folding chair, am traveling, so to speak, through time, getting older, veins rising to the surface of my skin.

Planes. Trains. Automobiles.

Ghosts.

If they’re out there, they’re moving through this too. Invisible lights passing by, close to the ground, toiling through the prairie grass; high in stratosphere, arcing in the cold. And we’re there, as well. Moving together. Moving separately. Passing by. Passing through. Do we investigate—this movement? That we move? That we move with, or beside, or apart, from one another? Maybe we must determine what we are moving among, what else might be moving with us—our ghosts—before we can answer the other things.

What monitors would glow in my absolute dark? What would hum within those wires? What would I be watching for, pressing my headset to my ears for—what would that sound be? Would I know if I caught it? Recorded it. Played it on a loop. Would it matter if no one else heard it?

What highway is rolling under me, right now?

Soon, it gets so dark all the lights passing—the cars, the trains, the stars, the planes, the satellites—hurt my eyes. Investigation ceases. It must cease. We can’t always go into the night with our devices, looking for what is always happening, hoping to capture what we are feeling. We craft our stories. We search out the right listener. We tell them. I saw. I heard. Passed by. Passed through. In the end, knowing we’re moving has to be enough. But instead, we’re forever crawling around on our hands and knees, looking under our beds, tearing back our shower curtains, pointing flashlights into the woods. Hoping for a clue. Our own managed danger. Our own revelations, which we keep to ourselves until we find the right person. Then we turn off the lights and hold flashlights under our chins, while, around us, other lights moving through the dark remind us that our stories don’t contain everything, but just the parts that are illuminated by our own battery-operated insights. Our faces strange and shadowed, we wait for the darkest time. Then, once the train has passed, once all the laughing, shouting people have gone home, we tell stories like they’re the only ones worth hearing.

I couldn’t stop writing about ghosts last year. Here’s a beautiful map by Shizue Seigel that accompanies my essay about Laramie’s ghosts and cottonwood trees. Actually, the essay’s  mostly how living apart from my boyfriend was really hard: “But for now, we make ghosts out of the old parts of our lives. We pour sentiment and worry and youth into the dirt, and stamp it all down with boots dripping ectoplasm,” etc. 

The current topic of my artist statement is stillness.

This all seems connected.

I’m writing that the moment of stillness at the end of Edward P. Jones’ “The Girl Who Raised Pigeons” (from Lost in the City) is like “a silent plane, flying high above, splitting the sky.” Maybe writing about ghosts can be a way of practicing stillness. Also, in writing about stillness, I must practice not over-quoting Charles Baxter’s essay on stillness in Burning Down the House, which is phenomenal (here’s a peek of his essay).

Baxter says, “The state of calm can be dynamic.”

Yes.

He also discusses the “sinister side” of stillness: “One becomes a junkie, or an artist, or a murderer, in order to enlarge one’s capacities not to move, or to be moved.”

 Uh huh.

"They were light and spare and thoroughly used to the cold, and it was almost a joke to them to be cast out into the woods, even if their eyes were gone and their feet were broken." -- Housekeeping, by Marilynne Robinson

Wishing us artists, junkies, and murderers a cold, still February, in which we may discover enlarged capacities to be moved rather than than not moved, or whatever you’re into, hopefully not murder or being dead.

STATEMENT.

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Raynaud’s disease

The 2nd was my birthday.

I went to the zoo. My boyfriend took me there. It was chilly, and all the animals were out. They played! Here’s a wolverine that we made sounds at; we were like the horrible people who tap the aquarium glass so the lizard will lift its head:

i had watched a documentary about a guy who raises wolverines; he bonded with them by making a series of grunts. when we got to the wolverine, she was running back and forth along the fence. we tried bonding with her, but it didn’t work. we mostly wanted her to stop running. i don’t think we were bothering her, since she was already running along the fence like that. sometimes she stopped to musk something. she seemed like a nice wolverine.

I’m 27.

I think I’m going to submit a story to Granta, because my friend’s story is getting published there. I like him and I like the story. When his story is up, I’ll remember to add a link here; I’ll ask him first. I don’t read Granta, but I think if my friend and I are published in the same journal it would be nice. I’m sure it’s a fine magazine. Does it matter?

I didn’t live this long out of caring about certain things, I tell myself. However, in the winter, my hands and feet turn white, then blue, then red, and they hurt.  It’s just blood vessels.

My birthday was a good day. After the zoo we bought furniture at the rescue mission and hung up all our pictures. Then we sat in our new chairs and looked at our pictures on the walls.

We have moved in.

I’m glad I’m not pregnant. A few weeks ago, my period was very late, and the home-pregnancy test was positive. But it was a mistake. It was a false alarm. Still, I have dreams about taking more tests, and these tests are always positive. In the dreams, I cry in my car after finding out from the doctor that I am definitely pregnant. And then I go home and exercise for hours on my elliptical, crying.

The day after I had the positive test, when I still thought I was pregnant, I hit a deer in the middle of town. It slid up on my hood, and I braked at almost the same moment. The deer was thrown onto the pavement and one of its antlers broke off. It was a young buck. Its hooves lashed out and lashed out; it kept getting up and falling down. Maybe its antler broke off on the second or third time it fell. When it finally got to its feet, it jumped over the median and across the other lane and over a fence, into a field. I took its antler home. It’s oily and you can see where it broke off in a jagged line. That must have hurt; I don’t know. I don’t dream about the deer, but I hope for his safety.

I keep the space heater running when I’m at the computer. That way my feet won’t turn white, then blue, then red. Last night, my feet went numb, anyway — and my hands. Even my nose went numb. It’s so strange having one very cold and numb part of your face in the middle of your face.

When my friends’ stories are published in magazines, I read their stories in the magazines even if I’ve read the stories before. Sometimes I go to Electric Literature‘s site and scroll down their home page. They have a very nice site. A story by Joy Williams was published there recently. I like Joy Williams’ stories, and I like Joy Williams. I don’t know how to feel about anything else. This is preposterous — this not-doing. It doesn’t mean anything. So do it. If it doesn’t mean anything, you might as well do it.

When the blood returned to my nose last night, it burned. I was in bed. My hands also burned and so did my feet. My boyfriend came home at 6 am — he works nights — and my nose was like flame! My boyfriend touched my hands. He said, “You’re so warm!”

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