Wednesday, June 24, 2009

success, Venn-diagram style

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

i loved this image so much that i made it my computer wallpaper. so i'm sharing it with you!

Sunday, June 21, 2009

fools need to recognize

Sunday, June 21, 2009
Well, after a shameful lapse in working toward my initially stated writing goals, I'm back on the wagon, or whatever. I started a writing group with some friends--we just had our first deadline last weekend and another one looms only a week away. Finished a book this afternoon, started an essay I am so far very pleased with... so now, of course, it's time to watch reruns of House and eat ice cream while playing Scrabble on Facebook.

It occurred to me (by way of my therapist) that my obsessive focus on being productive over the past couple of weeks has actually paralyzed me creatively. So I promised myself that I would focus this weekend on being rather than doing. Somewhat annoyingly, I have ended up getting a lot done despite myself, but at least I'm not allowed to feel bad for not having gotten more done. More importantly, I wrote spontaneously. I'll credit a bit of inspiration for that, though--the book I finished was Alexander Chee's Edinburgh, which was fucking beautiful. His writing style cuts to the heart of me and opens me up, the way I expect books to do--but so few actually succeed. I'm thrilled to have found this one. His story, 13 Crimes Against Love, published in Lodestar Quarterly in the fall of 2002, is a great example of his talent.

In other news, I came by a blog post complaining about the lack of funded creative writing MFA programs in the U.S. I couldn't believe that this woman would make such a ridiculous statement after claiming to have made a "pretty thorough investigation." I would have told her how wrong she was on her own blog if she'd enabled comments, but apparently she is too cool for that. So I thought I'd post about it here. There are, in fact, several dozen funded MFA programs in the U.S., one of which I'll be attending in the fall and about 12 others from which I was rejected earlier this year. Anyone who is thinking about applying to creative writing MFA programs needs to read Tom Kealey et al's Creative Writing MFA Handbook, check out the MFA blog, and carefully peruse Seth Abramson's MFA/PhD rankings, statistics, etc. I thought this was obvious, but apparently some people have still managed to miss these very prominent online and print resources. SIGH. Well, if you do miss them and consequently despair at having no hope of MFA glory, you have no one but yourself to blame for being too lazy to do any real research.

On that pleasant note, happy summer solstice, everyone!

Sunday, May 24, 2009

the future: writing and teaching

Sunday, May 24, 2009
an MFA-bound friend shared these two links with me:

Life After the MFA: Four Years Later, Taking Stock
Writers Index 2008-2009

sobering, to say the least. reading these struck me especially hard given my lack of productivity over the past several weeks--but i figure sometimes it's more important to live than to write. (heresy?!) and sometimes you're just too mired in confusion to be noble about admitting it on paper... i think that's where i've been.

luckily, on the same day that my friend sent me these links, i received my teaching assignment for fall 2009. i'll be teaching creative writing to a bunch of undergrads (as many as 24 of them, actually), and i am completely stoked. already i've begun mulling over lesson plans. what is the crux of what i need to convey to these impressionable young would-be writers? (ok, let's set aside for the moment the possibility that at least one of my students will be as old as i am.) i know what matters to me in a piece of writing, and i know what, when omitted, leaves a work lifeless and forgettable for me. i also know that this thing is not exactly the same as it is for other writers or devoted readers. maybe i am less forgiving of writing (and many things in life) than a lot of writers and teachers. still, i think it's hard to disagree that the heart of (in) a work of fiction or nonfiction is what makes it come to life and mean something long after the pages have disappeared from view. i think this is the idea i'll push the hardest: that to write well, you have to dig into the dark, deep, painful place inside you where nothing is articulated and nothing is comprehensible. and then you have to stay there. honestly, i think this is what makes not only a good writer, but a good human being.

i look forward to seeing how this little experiment turns out.

meanwhile, i just finished robert boswell's The Half-Known World, a book of essays on craft. i picked it up initially because boswell is the director of the NMSU creative writing MFA program, where i was admitted, and i'd heard wonderful things about him as a workshop leader and professor. after reading this book, i can see how this would be the case, and i'm a little sorry that i will probably not have the chance to have him as a teacher, but i guess reading his work is the next best thing. (not that i in any way regret choosing Minnesota--boswell is retiring from NMSU next year, anyway. and i am beyond thrilled to have julie schumacher leading my fall workshop--i've spent maybe an hour with her and i already love her.)

i can never get enough of reading craft books--they seem more reliable in inspiring me to write than do works of fiction or creative nonfiction. i guess lately i've just felt too emotionally vulnerable to be able to afford opening up a book and having an author get it wrong. does anyone know what i'm talking about? sometimes i am so embarrassed about being both poorly read and a total snob about what i do read.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

sometimes it is necessary to shop

Sunday, May 3, 2009
ah, sunday. it had been far too long since i'd spent 90% of a weekend in bed with no plans or obligations. i even finished julie's The Body is Water yesterday--finally. go me! (it was good. so good. i cried at the end!)

also this morning read the first story, called "The Brown Coast," in wellsie's collection. i was not floored, and so have not gotten around to picking it up again. i felt rather the same about the title story when i first read it: it was weird and kooky and had depth, but i didn't love it. i haven't yet decided what i'm going to pick up next from my stack of pitifully overdue library books.

so in lieu of reading today, i took advantage of my hard-earned laziness by spending literally about seven hours obsessively researching the sundry items i'll have to buy for my minneapolis apartment. certain fruits of my labor might be of interest to my future classmates:

need a car? while i'm coming to minneapolis with a car in the fall, i know i won't use it much, and it will be gone by the following september, so i've been looking at alternatives to car ownership. the obvious answer: car sharing. zipcar has a deal worked out with UMN to offer students membership for $35/year, with rates at $8/hr and 180 miles included per day. unfortunately, they only have two car locations in minneapolis: one on the west bank campus and one on the east bank. this sucks if, like me, you're planning to live in uptown, or really anywhere other than dinkytown or on the river. luckily, hourcar is apparently the real car share operation in MSP, and it has a handful of locations convenient to uptown. yay! their rates are slightly higher than zipcar's: a $5/month membership fee gets you $8/hr car rentals plus $.25/mile. if you pay $15/month for a higher membership status, you get your rentals at $6/hr. sadly, neither zipcar nor hourcar offer trucks; hourcar has only priuses and yarises, and the closest zipcar gets is the honda element. looks like i'll be going to u-haul to assist with my furniture-acquiring needs, but a prius should be satisfactory for handling my grocery runs in 2010.

bedding? target seems to offer their standard jersey sheets at a regular price of $19.99 for all sizes. and seriously, who the hell doesn't love jersey sheets?! ikea has the corner on quilts and comforters, though; you can get a really cozy one with down fill or down alternative for $40 or $50 (depending on how cozy you want to be).
EDIT: a friend just informed me that she doesn't like jersey sheets o_0 if this is the case for you, i recommend for your sheet-buying adventures.

appliances: you can get a decent toaster oven from either craigslist or wal-mart for $30 or less. w00t. microwaves are probably best acquired via craigslist; apartment-appropriate models are constantly being sold for between $10 and $25 as people upgrade their living units and their relationships. lucky us!

guests: i've been sort of agonizing over this commitment i made to myself, my friends, and future fellow MFAers who will eventually wind up at my apartment too drunk to get home, to host guests in my new place once i get settled in. of course, this means that i need extra sleeping quarters. unfortunately, 99.5% of sofa beds to be had on craigslist are unacceptably hideous (not to mention huge), and new ones go for more than i want to pay for my mattress. by chance, though, i happened to sleep over at a friend's apartment a couple weeks ago and she brought out a queen-sized air mattress with an electric pump that could plug into the wall. it was actually pretty awesome to sleep on -- definitely way more comfortable than a ratty old sofabed any day. the best part is that it folds down into a relatively tiny piece of plastic that can be shoved in a closet when not in use. i have to ask her how much she paid for hers, but i've found promising models on that run between $60 and $90.

entertainment: i feel like i'm breaking some tacit rule of MFA students, and of writers in general, by even considering getting a decent-sized TV in my apartment. but i've already committed to throwing regularly scheduled DDR parties next year :-| so, you see, i have no choice. still, it's not something i'm willing to spend much money on, and ideally i would like to be able to hide it completely when i'm supposed to be reading, writing, or grading upsettingly bad student papers. (you can read that sentence two ways and that's fine with me.) my options at the moment are: getting a 22-24" LCD TV for somewhere between $125 and $175 from (if they're sold cheaper anywhere else, i don't know about it), which would be great for conserving space and make it easy to hide behind a large painting or mirror when not in use; or buying a used 26-32" CRT TV off craigslist for around $40-50. i'll probably take the latter route if i end up in a larger apartment, but there is something so pleasingly unassuming about an LCD TV... sigh.

ok. as you may have guessed, the only reason i wrote this post was to make myself feel for a moment like maybe i hadn't actually wasted my whole day thinking about this stuff. so if any of this info has been useful to you, maybe i can justify my ridiculous procrastination once again--just until tomorrow, of course...

Thursday, April 30, 2009

wells tower: hot shit

Thursday, April 30, 2009
wells tower did a reading in san francisco on wednesday night at the tosca cafe. my thoughts, enumerated out of sheer laziness:

1. wells tower is a hottie. (yes, he looks that good in person.)

2. he also has a great stage presence: casual, appealing, accessible. he was definitely funny, both in off-the-cuff comments and in the pieces he read, both of which i enjoyed very much. in fact, the first one, an essay he had written for GQ, even brought tears to my eyes (though, admittedly, i was pretty tipsy at that point).

3. my friend who also came to the reading saw some chick giving him her number. i wonder how much ass he's been getting on this book tour?

4. amusingly, the cafe had a huge number of wells clones--solemn-looking dark-haired boys with pasty faces gloomily buried in their notebooks. (wells himself was a much more cheerful, though still mild-mannered and shy, version of these.) at some point i realized that what my friend and i were referring to as "wells clones" were in fact just your run-of-the-mill san francisco hipsters.

4a. i hate the questions people ask at readings. "how do you like being a writer?" asked one of the wells clones. "i like it," replied wells. sadly, i had no better questions for him.

5. he made a rather unfortunate remark about nonfiction being less difficult to write because it is less emotionally serious than fiction. i am partly forgiving him for making such a rude comment because his background is in magazine fiction, which is of a decidedly different flavor -- and certainly more superficial -- than the kind of creative nonfiction that i claim to write, or at least want to write, and enjoy reading.

6. thanks to my thoughtful boyfriend, i now have a signed hardcover copy of wells's first short story collection, Everything Ravaged, Everything Burned. it says, "To Gwyn, Best wishes." i sigh at the prosaic message, but then again, he has no idea who i am, so whatever.

7. i have made it a goal to become friends with this guy at some point in my career. he seems that cool.

8. final note: the tosca cafe can suck a fat one. they're notorious for their strong cocktails, and i was drunk before i finished my first. so i went up the block to get some nachos and bring them back for my friend and me--we didn't want to lose our table for the reading, though it was an hour before it was supposed to start. (he read to an impressively full house, as it turned out.) the tosca cafe, despite what i consider to be the implications of the word "cafe," serves no food whatsoever. and yet the owner of the cafe (at least that's who i'm assuming she was) came over to scold us for bringing food in because it would encourage others to do the same. "i'm not running a restaurant," she said as she admonished us to shovel the food into our faces more quickly and dispose of the evidence. yeah, bitch, you're not running a restaurant. that is the problem. so you have two options: outside food in your establishment, or an unacceptably high risk of a vomit-covered floor at the end of the night. why do hip little fucking bars in san francisco think they can get away with bullshit like this? also, they don't take credit cards, AND they charged my boyfriend $2 for a club soda. sometimes i hate this goddamn city.

i'm having a shitty few days, guys. chalk it up to writerly moodiness if you like.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

mental exercise of the day

Sunday, April 26, 2009
i saw a banner ad just now on -- an ad from that included "shopping recommendations for [me]." so i clicked on it, because the four product images it showed were actually very appealing. and lo, the landing page on was filled with images of other beautiful things i would totally want to buy: settees, tiffany-style lamps, contemporary-abstract area rugs, chaises longues, moroccan chandeliers. (okay, so maybe i haven't totally kicked my interior design research habit.) now that is what i call good advertising.

the internet is sneaky, sometimes delightfully so. how might writers be able to use such sneakiness to our advantage when hawking our own wares, so to speak? hmmmm.

the prophesied resurrection of the short story

a friend showed me this link a couple of weeks ago and i just got around to reading the article:

Brevity's Pull: In Praise of the American Short Story, by A.O. Scott (published 4/5/09)
(you can read this article by registering for free at, if you haven't already)

i like the idea of Kindle re-energizing the market for short stories. in fact, i might even love it. i can't wait until Kindles and their ilk are practical enough to be universally appealing (e.g. allow for sharing, borrowing, buying used, transferring currently owned print titles, etc.). sure, there is something tasty about fondling a paperback -- but, as someone who has moved six times in the past four years, i'm looking forward to not having to lug a dozen boxes of books between states in order to keep my library handy.

everyone knows the literary landscape is changing thanks to the progressive obsolescence of print media. who the hell reads fiction anymore, much less buys it at retail? the obvious trend is that the literary world has become increasingly cloistered (here's another NYT article proposing a more pessimistic view). how many readers of even the most prominent lit journals are not themselves writers hoping to be published in these same tomes?

the atmosphere around literature in our society is eerily reminiscent of the field of philosophy in America, which is done purely for the sake of other philosophers. no one else gives a damn! nor should they; it's too obscure and irrelevant to contemporary concerns to merit attention from the general educated public.

i'm not sure whether there's any hope for anglo analytic philosophy, but i think writers can escape these walls that are, in a very real way, closing in on us. after all, we may be writing first for ourselves, but art is ultimately about communication, isn't it? i hope we all believe we have something vital to convey to the world, or at least a chunk of it. so it's just as much our responsibility to figure out how to make that happen.

anyone heard (or come up with) any other intriguing ideas for making literature more accessible and suited to this post-print world?

Friday, April 24, 2009

more journals

Friday, April 24, 2009
for people who are even less up to speed than i am, here are a couple more links to journal directories:

P&W, of course, has a very nice listing that includes brief descriptions (courtesy of the journals themselves) and, in many cases, a "percentage of unsolicited manuscripts published," which i find handy.

duotrope offers a cool search feature, though unfortunately it offers listings only for fiction and poetry (where's the CNF? i'm feeling marginalized >:| ).

on killing babies (ruminations)

has anyone seen Californication? (i'll admit it is not the highest-quality show around, but the writing is still better than, say, Law & Order: SVU.) in one episode in the first season, the show's protagonist, a washed-up, blocked writer living in LA (played by an unforgivably hot David Duchovny), announces to a group of plaid-clad high school girls that being a writer is like "having homework every day for the rest of your life."

this sounds accurate to me. i mean, who in their right mind would sign up for a life like that? the obvious answer is: masochists. (i think it's fair to say that nerds are a subclass of masochists.) from this it's not hard to see how serious writers (as a group)are also notoriously hard on themselves for not being productive enough. ironically, they (we?) are frequently also brilliant procrastinators. not that that's surprising, either. what we do is difficult and unpleasant on at least one level, even when it's addictively fun. we look at things closely, unflinchingly: the world, other people, ourselves. then we digest it, funnel it into words, and then by the nightmarish taskmaster that is revision, are forced to revisit and sculpt those words until they tell exactly the truth that we have not only seen, but felt--vibrating in our bowels and our lungs.

about a year ago i was spending my free time stuffing my brain with every book on craft that i could get from the library. i recall reading a quote from some writer who, with resignation, described the curse of the writer: to eventually be unable to experience the world except through the filter of words. he was always writing his life in his head as he lived it; the immediacy, it seemed, was gone. is this what we're doing--constructing, however inadvertently, a window between ourselves and the world? a window that, most importantly, cannot open?

it seems that this outcome is not actually necessary, but rather the result of a wrong turn somewhere. the brute incoherence of the world never completely goes away, after all. if we become unable to sit with that, aren't we missing something vital?

i'm still questioning my commitment to this craft, and wondering how much forgiveness i should offer myself for recent displays of laziness and fear. i have a long history of dreams about killing babies--not just human babies, but kittens too. last night was the newest of them, and involved, for the first time, actually being pregnant, and realizing i had made the decision, however unconsciously, to have the baby, simply because i'd waited too long to get rid of it. years ago, when i dreamt of rolling infant flesh into cigarettes, a friend advised me that the babies in my dreams might represent my own nascent creative urges, which i sometimes exploited and sometimes simply didn't know how to nurture. last night's dream was all about denial, and then the pain of recognizing my own irresponsibility toward this child i had chosen to give life. most frightening, the dream suggests that i have passed the point of no return: if i don't step up now, something inside me will die.

these are the pulses--aren't they?--that drive me to write: these peristaltic churnings that force tears when i sit still and feel them moving inside me. and these are the same pulses that i can so easily slip into ignoring. when i put it that way, it seems both unforgivable and altogether human.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

publicizing your work

Thursday, April 16, 2009
my latest great idea is that the best way to have a meaningful internet presence as a new writer is to actually be able to link to your own work, or quote it extensively, on the site. of course, as many of you know, this leads to issues of "self-publication" if the work hasn't already been published in a journal or the like. posting your own work on the internet for public consumption constitutes publishing it, which means most lit mags won't accept it if you're submitting it for publication with them.

the solution: submit your work to online lit journals! then, when they publish it (and of course they will, because you're awesomely talented), you can put it up on your website, since it's already published anyway.

in light of this revelation, i've begun a list of online literary journals to which i will consider submitting something in the next few months. and because i love you (or at least those of you who i know are looking at this website), i'm sharing my list with you! yay!

most of these links were culled from NewPages, which is a pretty awesome resource unto itself. i haven't looked at any of these sites yet, so if you have thoughts about any of them, feel free to leave a comment.

Underground Voices
Blood Lotus
Cadillac Cicatrix
Miranda Magazine
Our Stories
Prick of the Spindle
Ramble Underground
The Straddler

And some other people's lists of online journals:
Top Twelve Online Literary Journals (bookfox)
Best Online Lit Mags (esquire)
Journals (a list of lists)
E-Zine List

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

as promised: writers' websites, pt. I

Wednesday, April 15, 2009
i'll just get to it. (sadly, this is turning into a writers' website bitchfest rather than a list of awesome sites. it'll get there, really...)

Kao Kalia Yang: you Minnesota MFAers should recognize this lady. you might also remember that her agent or publisher or whoever commended her impressive website during the talk we went to during the recruitment weekend. i enjoyed her reading a lot, by the way, and should put her book, the latehomecomer, on my list. well, here it is! my impression: it's just a teeny, tiny bit overdone. (understatement for comic effect, anyone?) still, i like the feel and believe it's appropriate to the persona she's trying to sell (not that i don't think that's who she really is--but everyone needs a little polish to be saleable).

she's a new writer, so she doesn't have much in the way of credits. her bio is very internal and romantic, which i can appreciate, though it's a little more flowery (and less edited) than i prefer. i dislike that you have to click through to get excerpts and descriptions of things; it's a flaw of the very limited space the layout affords for content. however, maybe the layout was chosen to make very little content look more substantial than it is. maybe this is good advice for a new writer?

Steve Almond and Kelly Link both have a handful of books in print; they also seem to both design their websites around their latest release. interesting tactic, and of course completely useless for writers without novels or collections out. i'm not sure how i feel about this strategy, either; i have a feeling it's directed more at vendors, agents, publishers, reviewers, etc. then again, i guess it's a good reminder for existing fans that they have new work available. i don't know, but i'd like the website to represent, both in terms of visual effect and content, the writers themselves (if that makes sense) rather than simply their latest work. i want to get a sense of the source of the work rather than the product itself, which is easy enough to obtain at a bookstore. does anyone know what i'm talking about?

Amy Hempel apparently does not have her own website but does have a Wikipedia entry... and a MySpace page. wtf srsly?

does Julie Orringer really not have her own website? if she did, it would be linked on her Wikipedia page, wouldn't it? i thought maybe it was an SEO issue, but...

i saw Yiyun Li read from her new novel, The Vagrants, at the san francisco public library a few months ago. her website is super clean and straightforward. i guess her work speaks for itself; she's on her second book, first novel, now, and both seem to have gotten a lot of extremely good press. the site is well designed, and i don't think it lacks any information a reader might want. the header image is artistic but subtle and sophisticated; i think it reflects her well. i kind of hate those little tabby navigation things at the top, though.

...and Wells Tower doesn't have a website yet, either? am i crazy, or didn't i read that he is getting some crazy six-figure advance for a collection of short stories? maybe it (the website) is in the works.

i am embarrassingly poorly read, but i knew i recognized Po Bronson's name. turns out it's because he founded The Grotto, a writers' community in san francisco, and not because i've ever read anything of his. anyhow, his website is pretty damn confusing at first glance. what the hell? i didn't even know whether i was in the right place until i had clicked two links. boo. and the header "navigation" is way too colorful to look professional. double boo.

Alexi Zentner
is someone i heard of originally on the Poets and Writers Speakeasy forum and whose name subsequently came up as the winner of a Narrative contest. fancy. his website is probably a good example of a new writer's. writer's bio on the front page, a more personal history on the bio page, an excerpt from a published, prize-winning story. i question his choice of pictures, though. there are only a few (the dark, dramatic on on the front page, a cute family one on the bio page, and then the very very cute ones of his little girls on the contact page) and the latter seem to clash with the overall dark, gritty design of the website. confusing. o_0 i also wonder a little bit about who this website is for. agents, probably? someone should tell him his website seems to be having some architectural issues (as evidenced by the url of the link above).

DISCLAIMER: none of my reviews of these websites have any influence on what i think of these writers qua writers. i just think every good writer should have a good website that accurately reflects their talents and represents them well. it just doesn't happen often enough, apparently. is no one making a shit-ton of money on this market yet? (yeah, like writers have wads of cash lying around for web designers.)

an especially extraneous bit of self-indulgence

the problem with starting a blog is that i end up staring at it like it's a mirror (which, of course, it is).

things i should be doing instead:
  • finishing reading the writing samples of my future classmates
  • writing something new
  • reading one of the many novels on my nightstand
  • researching writers' websites
  • giving feedback to my boyfriend on an essay he showed me in november
  • working on my list of literary journals to which i should consider submitting something
  • looking for my antidepressants, the misplacement of which i am taking as a tentative sign that i don't really want to keep using them
  • thinking about whether i'm really okay with quitting my antidepressants
  • questioning why i feel the need to tell the denizens of the interwebs that i am taking antidepressants
even when i am shaming myself publicly, i seem to feel no shame.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

in which i welcome myself back to the blogosphere

Tuesday, April 14, 2009
i've been sucked into blogging once again. it's a little like writing, i guess, but oftentimes more like vomiting on cue. i like to say these experiments in online self-exposure are opportunities for me to push my limits in terms of how transparent i'm really comfortable being. of course, sometimes transparency is just not appropriate, or even desirable. i like to push those limits, too.

after being accepted to the University of Minnesota's MFA program this spring (and this after a year of agonizing about nothing but my MFA applications and various romantic tragedies i created as a diversion from the former), i dove right into a full-blown obsession over the logistics of moving to Minneapolis. this got to the point where, a week ago, i was downloading floorplans from apartment complex websites so i could scroll through them on my laptop and imagine different furniture layouts. two days ago i decided on a color scheme for each room; my future apartment is so clear in my mind i could draw it for you in under two minutes (and i don't draw). so i thought it might be time to move on before i started researching the possibility of installing chair rail molding in my apartment-to-be.

new plans include a sort of pre-MFA bootcamp, which will involve reading at least two books a week, writing twenty hours a week (on top of a full-time job and a part-time boyfriend), and churning out at least one first draft of a story or essay each week. woo! my ambition usually outpaces my ability, but it's good to set the bar high, right?

for my fellow incoming MFA-ers who feel like indulging in a bit of interior design-related fantasizing, following are some blogs i found especially delicious:


one of my next projects involves researching writers' websites in preparation for creating my own. coming soon: a list of super awesome writers' websites! woo!
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