Sunday, March 30, 2008
Saturday, March 29, 2008
It's by Anton Chekhov, and it's about becoming a "civilized" person, but I might substitute a less loaded word. I think it's about living a fulfilling life.
What you must do is work unceasingly, day and night, read constantly, study, exercise willpower... Every hour is precious...
Shuttling backwards and forwards to Yakimanka won't help. You must roll up your sleeves and make a clean break, once and for all... Come back to us, smash the vodka bottle and settle down to read... even if it's just Turgenev whom you've never read...
You've got to get over your fucking vanity, you're not a child any more... you'll soon be thirty! Time to grow up!
I'm expecting you... We all are...
The first time I discovered this quote (in Nick Hornby's The Polysyllabic Spree), I felt as though Chekhov was either speaking directly to me or that at the very least he was addressing a near-future me who would find his instructions helpful. I was similarly inspired and sobered by last night's event at Town Hall, a Richard Hugo House-sponsored joint reading by Sherman Alexie, Michelle Tea, David Schmader, and an MFA student named Ben Blum who won Hugo House's New Works Competition. Blum's story was good, and supposedly this was his first reading in front of a group, so his delivery, under the circumstances, was dynamite. I envied not only his slightly shaggy good looks but also his obvious talent and drive. The people who read last night clearly spend a decent bit of time writing, and my hope -- with the workshop Elana and I have started, and in general -- is to increase the amount of time I spend writing. To "exercise willpower," as Chekhov puts it, not in a compulsive, freaked-out way but in a calm, sensible way -- i.e., if I use my time this way, it will be more rewarding for me in the long run than if I spend the same amount of time trying to come up with a clever Facebook status sentence.
Back to the reading: Michelle Tea not only had a fantastic outfit and awesome glasses, she read her story just quickly enough to create an energetic, almost electric tone for the story (Hugo House's Lyall Bush described her sentences as "breathless" and "poetic" when he introduced her) but not so quickly that you couldn't absorb every detail. And there were many details. Her frantic, comic, take-no-prisoners approach reminded me of George Saunders, whose first collection of stories, CivilWarLand in Bad Decline, has been one of my favorite books since college. Tea really has a handle on how to write fast-paced fiction filled with verbal slapstick and still get some real emotional resonance out of the situations and characters, all of which is pretty reminiscent of Saunders. The narrator's fixation on a fictional (and awful-sounding) TV show reminded me of David Foster Wallace's essay on TV and fiction, which I really like. (When a professor tells DFW that the best fiction is "timeless," DFW sensibly asks whether including such newfangled technologies as phones would be a story's undoing.) I knew Tea only from her great nonfiction piece "Transmissions from Camp Trans," which has been published in The Believer as well as 2004's The Best American Nonrequired Reading anthology. Sean Nelson of Harvey Danger had a funny song about getting kicked out of the band he started (it would be autobiographical, he joked, if he were "someone else"), and David Schmader's piece on being gay in high school and taking shelter in drama club benefitted greatly from his ability to singlehandedly perform five-second snippets of great American plays.
All in all, it was a lovely night. Hugo House was only vaguely on my radar before I attended the Valentine's Day reading event, and unfortunately their next season of readings doesn't start until October, but I hope to take a class or two there to supplement the workshop and build some momentum in my return to writing. Speaking of which: Lois from the workshop lent me Tom Perrotta's The Abstinence Teacher, and while I remember it getting mixed reviews, I really like it. (And like Election and Little Children, his two other novels adapted for the screen, it'll become a movie soon enough -- apparently directed by the Little Miss Sunshine duo.) It's been a while since I wanted to keep picking up a novel to see what happens next -- it's beautifully paced and highly readable without being shallow or empty. Like Tea, Perrotta picks his moments and makes them resonate.
Wednesday, March 26, 2008
Wednesday, March 12, 2008
A few highlights from my long weekend in San Francisco:
- Saw the Gilbert & George retrospective at the de Young. Had never heard of the artists and was quite impressed and amused. (The image above was one of my favorites.) It was especially funny seeing a show full of nudity and "shocking" images (excrement crucifix, anyone?) with my mom, who found the whole thing "interesting" and was better able to reflect later, when we were elsewhere, on how engaging it was. I found myself wondering whether the Seattle Art Museum would take on a show like this. But maybe I'm not giving it enough credit.
- Met a sweet-natured middle-aged woman named Leslie Ferguson on the streetcar to Fisherman's Wharf. Mere minutes after meeting me, she complimented my mother on how I turned out. I mention this only because she wasn't praising my upbringing; she was praising my looks. If ever there was a city in which being flirted with by a kindly fortysomething in a belly shirt wouldn't surprise me, it would be San Francisco. She's a former Manhattanite, and while I got the impression that not many locals shell out $5 a pop (one way!) to ride the streetcars, there was Leslie, proud San Franciscan, hanging on as we went up and down the hills, and chatting away. When we parted, she hugged me and my mom and kissed my sister's hand. Delightful.
- Met a disgruntled worker at David's Deli on Geary. I was quite pleased to find a deli that seemed a bit like the honest-to-God Jewish delis of my Detroit youth, of which Seattle has very few, if any. (Still haven't made it out to Goldberg's Famous since I wrote my extremely ill-considered preview for the Weekly, way back when.) Anyway, the disgruntled employee was inclined to tell the truth, Bulworth-style, since it was his last day on the job. Here's what happened:
Me: "How big is a large orange juice?"
Him: "You don't want a large orange juice."
Me: "I don't?"
Him: "No. Too expensive. Not worth it."
Me: "Oh. Is there anything else I should know about the menu?"
Him: "The potato pancakes aren't fresh. They're frozen. And the orange juice -- it says 'freshly squeezed,' but it's not."
Me: "Okay. What is good? Are the blintzes good?"
Him: "The blintzes are very good. Very fresh."
Me: "I'd like the blintzes. But I kind of also want eggs."
Him: "I'll bring you two eggs on the side."
He ended up refilling my orange juice for free and throwing in hash browns with the eggs. I kind of loved him. I tipped him $10.
Wednesday, March 5, 2008
Sunday, March 2, 2008
Folks, I have a new favorite Girl Scout Cookie. My long-standing passion for Thin Mints has been eclipsed at last by the citrusy goodness of Lemon Chalet Cremes, which the extremely well-spoken Girl Scout at University Village told me are a new addition to the Girl Scout arsenal of Things That Make You Fat Even Though the Aim of Girl Scouts is Ostensibly to Create a Healthier, Better Society. I heard a while back about an article in which a number of prominent chefs revealed what their Last Meals would be -- if they were somehow sentenced to capital punishment and found themselves at the edge of state-sanctioned oblivion. And for me, friends, spicy noodles and curry from Jamjuree and a good dozen Lemon Chalet Cremes (remember, I'm about to be executed) would be hard to beat.
Saturday, March 1, 2008
Courtesy of Greg, here they are. I'd write more, but I'm pretty tired from a busy week at work and a listening party with Michael, Rickey, and the rest. The spinach lasagna was heavenly tonight. If you're reading this and live in Seattle and like music, you should come to the next one. There were also cookies. One highlight of the party: this music video from the Jet Li movie Fearless. The falsetto singer is none other than Taiwanese star Jay Chou. The things you can learn on a Friday night.