Monthly Archives: June 2010

The Manzanares

This is a revised piece

There is a river that runs through Madrid. It’s called the Manzanares, and he’s right. It is ugly.

“It’s not the Seine, y’know.”

“I know, I know. But I’m curious. There’s got to be something to see. Can we go anyway?”

“No, there’s nothing to see. It’s ugly and you have to take the Renfe Cercanias.”

But I don’t mind taking the Renfe if it gets me out of Vallecas.

So, I go alone and he’s right. It is ugly. Maybe he told me to get off at Principe Pio. Maybe it was Puerta Del Angel. I can’t remember now. But I wind my way through orangy brick tenements, with green, mangled awnings before I see the river and make my way to the Puente de Segovia. It’s nothing to see. I cross, pretending it’s the Pont Neuf or the Pont Alexandre III in Paris. I practice pronouncing the line in my head that some day I will speak if I ever go back: Je suis a la recherche d’ une personne du nom de… And I remember the nights I stood at the Pont St. Michel at three in the morning, soul kissing the American after dancing all night at Le Balad’jo. It hurts to do this. But the Manzanares is ugly, and I am useless and apoplectic when it comes to finding beauty when it isn’t there. I’m not creative enough. The water is black. The air is cold. And there are huge concrete cinder blocks left like debris on the sides of the bank.

I head back down the understated arc of the overpass. It’s late in the afternoon and I don’t want the Spaniard to worry. But I’m lost—I miss the turn at Calle Caramuel and keep heading down Antonio Zamora instead—looking for the entrance to the Metro, wandering down a street where a Peruvian immigrant sings an unknown song of sorrow, tremulous and pulsating, from a terraza draped in laundry three flights up.

Reality Fiction


SO, last night was a night alone–completely alone–no kids, no boyfriend, no friends, no nothing. And quite honestly, I enjoyed the heck out of it. People who can’t be alone shock and amaze me. And it’s not that I make very good use of my “me time”: Dr. Phil and Intervention marathons are sadly as wild as I get.

But I did read last night; that’s a big plus.

There are several things I’m reading- Ron Rash’s Serena, Mat Johnson’s Hunting in Harlem, and then several lit mags: Creative NonFiction,  Glimmer Train, and Tin House, the latter of which was the only thing that interested me last night as it had a great interview with David Shields who believes in “tell don’t show” when it comes to fiction.

Interesting! If you know anything about fiction writing, as students we are told the opposite, that “show don’t tell” is the first rule of writing and so, our fiction ends up looking like this:

Carey studied the frozen dinners. He’d had turkey and dressing for the last four days, so salisbury steak would be good for a change. But did he want the Big Man’s or the regular?

A scent teased his nose. Not the overwhelming smell of fish and frostbite, but a fresh smell, like the smell of skin just out of the shower. He glanced sideways and saw the most perfect arm he’d ever seen in his life. Long, slender, graceful, full of sinewy muscle and smooth skin. His eyes followed the arm to the shoulder and then the head. Her head. A head covered with long blond hair and containing a face that made his heart stop.

“Hi,” she said, her voice rich and melodious.

Carey’s mouth didn’t work. He tried to return her greeting, but only a grunt came out. He tried to smile politely, but his face erupted with a grin as large and toothy and goofy as a cartoon character’s . . . (taken from: Inspiration for Writers)

The above, of course, is a bad example, and yet, it illustrates nicely what most of our fiction looks like. Shields is saying that “fiction” hasn’t caught up with our contemporary culture which is a blend of reality and fiction and that most literature is egoless because it “shows” action, rather than tells of what the mind is thinking, what the emotions are feeling. The subconscious, he argues, is what is most desired and what can be exposed in literature and yet no one is doing it.

I’m sure I’m bastardizing his philosophy, but what I find greatly fascinating is that when I worked with PBQ I kept pushing for what I called “Reality FIction.” KVM thought I was nuts. But my point was to expose a reality in fiction that no one seemingly wanted to read. Bad literature. But the reality was, as far as submissions to the magazine went, there was more bad stuff than good. And if we were to portray “reality” this is how we would do it. Not only that, but i wanted to publish the cover letters. Marion got me. KVM didn’t. Nice to know another “Shields” gets me.

He will be speaking and reading at Rutgers for the summer writers conference. I can’t wait!

On reading…well

I’ve started reading grad stories/submissions for the Writers Conference and praise be ta Jesus, I found two really good, inspiring  short stories in the batch. I’d rather not post names, lest I offend anyone, but i will say that both submissions had a very strong voice, I was able to visualize their characters and the story lines were both simple and direct. There are probably only three, maybe four students whose work inspires me. I find that number shockingly low for a grad program. But then again, that is based on personal taste. I’m sure there are other writers in the program whose work is admired by a group of their peers.

At any rate, I’m relatively pleased with my submission (Fertility) although my biggest fear is that the main character “Elaine” is not clear enough and the story line is not smooth enough. Is there enough build up from the point she becomes annoyed with this woman and her bag to the point where she plans to attack her? Is it believable? Is her personality consistent? Do I ramble too much?

What I really liked about these pieces I read last night was their consistency and creative twist- where their story lines went. I often feel my topics are not creative enough, my vocabulary or the way I put words together is not strong enough, and that I lose my way in a piece. It’s very hard for me to maintain the same voice throughout a piece, especially when i go back and edit and interject new stuff.

But Lauren Grodstein said something very important last semester: If you’re not writing well, you’re not reading the right stuff. And it’s so true. I feel as though I have not found anyone since Annie Dillard that inspires my own voice. The trouble is making time. My list of responsibilities is long: take care of kids, earn my paycheck, manage household, train for triathlon, read grad submissions, write my own stuff, revise, plan trip to Spain, spend time with D, time with family, friends, and so on. Corners have to be cut. For now, it’s reading good stuff- if and when I find it. Until then, I will continue shuffling through graduate work in hopes of finding a gem.

Slush

One of the projects that came out of my first year of grad school was participating in the design of the MFA’s print anthology, “Slush,” for which I designed the cover.  I wanted to share the cover artwork with you and give credit to a great artist who donated his work for free. I meant to blog about him back in April, but…

Anyway, Michael Tino is an artist and designer out of San Fransisco and Las Vegas. And below is the artwork he so graciously donated. I strongly suggest googling him or visiting his website.

"settle"

The magazine itself has work by Leslie Rapperlie, Malik Abdul-Jabbaar, Barry Graham of Dogzplot, Alexis Apfelbaum, Jonathan Deane, Matthew Charles, Daniel Wallace and more.

Thanks Freshly Pressed

I was in abundant joy yesterday reading and receiving so many wonderful comments on my work. What should have been fifteen minutes of fame lasted a good 24 hours. Nothing beats that. And more than anything, it’s motivating me to write more and try to submit my work more aggressively.

Par example: the Summer Writers Conference begins in two weeks. I’ve redone Fertility from this older version and will submit that. I had my trusty “first reader” read through the revised copy and though he found a couple flaws, decided it was, overall, in good shape. I was glad to hear that because after having worked on it for almost 10 hours straight the other day, I couldn’t even focus on one line without getting dizzy. I’ve determined that  I do not make for a very good editor.

C’est la vie. At any rate, I’m happy today. The weekend is upon me, the weather’s supposed to be nice, and I have no plans.

Thanks again for reading.

Saponification

Eight months ago, after you left, I learned how to make soap. In fact, I uncovered the buried truth that adding any number of additives will not, after all, interfere with saponification, and that soap is actually a paradox. It takes oil to remove oil. And so eight months ago I came up with this recipe amid the desire to create something out of nothing not realizing it had already been done:

24 ½ ounces of Olive oil


12 ounces Palm oil


4 ½ ounces of Cocoa butter


6 ounces Canola oil


1 ounce Palm Kernel oil


6 ¾ ounces Lye


17 ¼ ounces distilled water

I made the recipe, but I never actually made the soap, which is my eternal problem. I start a project and then quit. The travel agency that I wanted to start but didn’t. The consulting business I wanted to go into but didn’t. The trip to Marrakech that I swore I would take but didn’t.  It was the same with you. The moment you moved in I wanted to quit. You told me, “You have a fear of commitment.” I was defensive. I admit it. I snapped back, “I don’t have a fear of commitment; I have a fear of commitment to you.”

I wish I could relive that moment now. I would come up with something better, like “I’m just afraid. Bear with me.” Or something like that.

Not that it would have made you stay, but…it would have been worth a shot.

So, like I said, I didn’t make the soap. Instead, I listened to DeBussy’s Claire de Lune while ripping the apartment to shreds, getting rid of every trace of you lest I forget for one moment that you were really gone. I sang Martha Wainwright’s “Wish I Were” lying on the floor of an empty living room, until my voice shattered into broken glass. I read Hills Like White Elephants and decided, eventually, we were better off going our separate ways. And I watched really bad romance movies like P.S. I Love You and Ten Things I Hate About You and The Notebook, my hand on my belly, feeling somewhat content that, even though you were gone, you left a part of you behind.

There are two things going on here. A birth and a death. And I still can’t wrap my mind around either.  I should have just stuck to soap. But eight months is long; a year even longer. We are only reminded of the length of time at the end, when we have the sensation that we are back there again, having come full circle; empty, where before we were full. Or should I say full, where before we were empty? Sometimes when it seems everything’s been lost, it’s an illusion. Nothing’s been lost. Everything is still there.  It’s just become something else in the process. And instead of darkening the soul with the burden of love, it washes it clean.