Three years ago, I wrote a thing that isn’t a story and isn’t a poem. It is about a person sitting at a party watching a couple dance and thinking of someone else, which isn’t really anything. I reworked it every six months or so but couldn’t get it to cohere. It’s also transparently autobiographical but I never said so when I submitted it to my writing workshop group for feedback — I think about myself and past a lot but this fact is always embarrassing to me, especially with a memory as slight as this. When readers asked what the piece is about, I said it’s a madeleine moment; language as mood; time as a circle. “It’s done,” a regular reader said after another redraft. It wasn’t done but I was sick of it too. I submitted it to 15 journals and was rejected 15 times.
Always on the verge of giving up, I kept rewriting and found it was about something else each time: it was about party magic — that moment when a party becomes perfect; it was about my own ambivalence toward bodies, sex, intimacy. “Because dancing is intimate but strangers do it,” I told someone desperately, while the piece remained formless. Right before I really quit, I came across an ambiguous description of a genre I didn’t know: the postcard prose poem. Oh, I thought, and picked up The Rose Metal Press Field Guide to Prose Poetry to find out what that really meant and read 34 jewel box essays describing prose poetry as sleights of language, mood, time, stupid memories that don’t let go, parties where nobody gets hurt, and realized I was also writing a prose poem about learning to write prose poetry. This blog post is longer than the piece itself, which you can read in Issue 17 of Unbroken Journal here: “We Know the World with Our Bodies”.
“It’s okay that Anne Shirley never became a writer,” offers Anya Jaremko-Greenwold in a recent Los Angeles Review of Books article cropping up on my Facebook feed. Women who loved Anne of Green Gables weighed in: “it’ll never be okay” (me), in defense of the wife/motherhood Anne chose (others), “I sort of get it” (my friend).
For those of us who hold this book as tightly as Anne Shirley holds everything, Anne will always be a mirror. Continue reading →
Since I don’t write, I often think in imaginary conversations that work like writing. On our last drive through Culebra, I imagined a co-worker asking me if I missed Culebra and how I would be able to say “no.”
Culebra is for tourists and for locals and for perma-tourists living their strange half-life.It’s not New York or Barcelona or Colombo where you can be a traveler, a stranger for a lifetime. In three days, we saw as much of Culebra as allowed to us, and it was exactly enough. Continue reading →
Speaking of, Kathryn Schulz’s recent Thoreau take-down in The New Yorker is so delicious, I could spread it on toast. It launched the mandatory thousand think-pieces–“Why Thoreau Matters,” “Sorry, New Yorker, Thoreau Matters,” etc. I’m among the many who haven’t read a word of Thoreau in context so I still feel easy with his easiest takeaway: nature’s cool, let’s go there.
I was determined to hike “every weekend this fall”–of course, my ambitions were wrung and shrunk until I was left with just one hike–the destination was changed to closer and closer woods, all the morning trains missed, finally seeing us arriving at Manitou Point Preserve well after 2 PM. Continue reading →
This is a stream-of-consciousness sketch I wrote about an “off-stage” character in my short story Kirkenes, Norway (p. 95, Ginosko Literary Journal). In that great way it happens sometimes, this character, Marit, swam to the forefront of the original story and became the most interesting figure in it for me. I imagine she is in her 30s, living in post-war Norway in the 1950s. I don’t think we could be friends, but I like her.
Grease spots were profoundly irritating to her, and her clothes were full of them. She remembered scrubbing and scrubbing; lemon juice, baking soda, hot water, cold water–still the spots. There was no way to fry without sustaining these little oily insults, and she loved to fry. Vegetables, meat, anything. Her mother thought she was helpful–cold and quiet but helpful. It’s true she did other chores, but she fried because she wanted to. There was that side to her. The part that liked to see a piece of soft meat covered in egg and flour, all white and malleable, plunged in sparking oil. It always shocked her how quickly a thing could brown. Continue reading →
Below is my nytheatre.com review of They Call Me Q!, now playing in FringeNYC 2013 (August 9 – August 25, 2013). For those who aren’t familiar with it, the New York International Fringe Festival is essentially the Olympics of independent theater, except with more surprise “wins.” This show is not quite a win for me but its failures are interesting ones. The main criticism I have that didn’t seem to have a place in my review is that the titular character, Q, seems primarily defined by the people she interacts with, and they by her. It’s a flaw of the play but I also think it’s a hazard of being a third culture kid. In her excellent short story How to Become a Writer Or, Have You Earned This Cliche? Lorrie Moore writes, “Later on in life you will learn that writers are merely open, helpless texts with no real understanding of what they have written and therefore must half-believe anything and everything that is said of them.” I think this is true for many young immigrants as well. But that’s another topic for another day. Continue reading →
It was a cool, spring evening after the rains when I first saw you in Union Square. You were leaning heavily against the brick wall of the Barnes & Noble. Nothing housed in that cathedral of words could have matched the poetry of your slant, the pathos of your solitude. You had been left–but why? When I unfurled you like an early rose, you were strong. Under your bright, geometric blues and whites, the gray sky became again the vault of heaven. I took you home that day. Continue reading →