“Fiction has to surprise me. If a character is going around doing only what such a person would do, I get very bored. I want to know more. Or have them come to a point where they’re not what I thought they were. Or that they’re not what they thought they were. It’s probably a form of childish curiosity that keeps me going as a fiction writer. I probably want to open everybody’s bureau drawers and see what they keep in there. I’m nosy.”—
Margaret Atwood, in a 1986 interview for the book Canadian Writers at Work. (via behindthepage)
I find this so instructive when thinking about writing characters.
“I think [society’s] general attitude towards me when I started to be a writer was that I was crazy or somehow undecorous … I think that’s society’s attitude towards anybody when he’s first starting. But if you become successful, then it’s an okay thing for you to be doing because, as we all know, this society pays a lot of attention to success. But that is not a respect for writing per se as a legitimate activity; that’s a respect for success, which is a different thing. It would have the same respect for you if you were a successful used-car salesman.”—
Margaret Atwood, in a 1972 interview with Graeme Gibson.
This is exactly why we, in spite of ourselves, continue to accept and even extol the “accomplishments” and lifestyles of Wall Streeters.
It’s probably also exactly why I still sometimes get uncomfortable calling myself a writer out loud, even though there’s nothing else to call myself by now and it’s where my money comes from. Does this mean I am successful, but not quite successful enough?
It should also be said that even the writing industry at large (magazines, newspapers, publishing houses, etc) continues to see the working writer as crazy or indecorous, right up to the moment that writer becomes a household name. To break this attitude in industry insiders is the number one factor in attaining a successful writing career (much more so than the writing itself, I have found).
I have so many problems with the way the women’s figure skating shook out tonight. And for once, I am qualified to make such a judgment. See?
In the interest of brevity, bullet points:
Eventual champion Adelina Sotnikova, in her short program, did a triple toe loop-triple toe loop combination, while silver medalist Yuna Kim did a triple lutz-triple toe loop combo. I’m not sure that most viewers realize how much easier a triple toe is than a triple lutz, but the judges surely should have. Which makes it super problematic to attribute Sotnikova's win to her technical superiority. She should have been way behind Kim after the short program, not even taking the artistic score into account.
Yuna Kim’s overall level of figure skating is so far superior to Sotnikova’s, Sotnikova should have to land two triple axels to come close to surpassing her.
Without taking the time to google it, I’m pretty sure the only women who have ever landed a triple axel are Midori Ito, Mao Asada, Tonya Harding and one other. None of those women won the Olympics, because of deficits in artistry, as it should be.
Scott Hamilton and Sandra Bezic, the commentators covering the event, should be feeling pretty terrible about themselves right about now for failing to point out the shortcomings of the current scoring system, if indeed that’s what’s to blame for this clearly incorrect outcome.
Saturday Afternoon, Somewhat but not very Sentimental
Sometimes the most miraculous things happen when I’m staring out my window; steam coils up from the top of a building across the great open space of the city, a light goes on in an all-glass apartment as the final light of day recedes, snowflakes as big as a feather float upward before remembering to fall down, seasons change, a flock of birds takes flight from a roof, choreographed, musical, and long after they’re gone, a single bird circles the earth.
Reading Richard Ellman’s monumental (if sadly lacking in details about physical writing spaces) biography of James Joyce, I came across an anecdote once offered by Joyce to a friend of his, which illustrates beautifully the importance Joyce placed on small details and facts in fiction:
Loved the Neutral Milk Hotel Show, Hated the Assholes Standing Next To Us
Last night S. Jam Fitzgerald and I went to see Neutral Milk Hotel play at Webster Hall. The event was notable mostly for the fact that I got moved—legitimately, tearing-up, smiling-at-the-moon moved—by the show. My being moved like this is notable because the minute it happened, I noticed also how long it had been since such movement stirred in me. Either I am so busy with my various commitment that there’s just no time left in the day to be moved, or the older you get, the more hazy your emotions become, or the more you understand that there aren’t the answers in music you thought there were when you were younger. But last night when Jeff Mangum played Two-Headed Boy, and it was so good you didn’t even feel judgmental about his beard and lumberjack sweater, I actually had this feeling like there was a sign somewhere in there pointing to how I’d like my life to be lived.
And in conclusion, to the crowd of drunken fools standing next to us creating the most inappropriate commotion on what for me was an important night: I hope that you are the kind of people for whom the wedding day is the most important one of your life, and I hope that when that day comes, you have planned an outdoor wedding, and wake up to a sunny, beautiful day. I hope that as you walk down the isle, smiling at the blue sky, a flock of pigeons flies over your head and poops all over your silly princess dress. And I hope that just moments later dark clouds move in out of nowhere, and before an umbrella can be opened, the heavens are pouring down on you. Eye for an eye.
Took some time out last night from my Year of Reading Literary Biographies to see Gravity, which provided me with a truly joyful movie-going experience, I realized as we left the theater, for the first time in years. (Aside: If there’s an antidote to the desire to be a famous writer, it’s the literary biography, intrusive by nature, eager to reveal unsavory aspects by nature. I’m basically scared to write anything that might draw attention to myself now, which you can use to explain the lack of genius in this post, if you like.)
“I was trying to write then and I found the greatest difficulty, aside from knowing truly what you really felt, rather than what you were supposed to feel and had been taught to feel, was to put down what really happened in action; what the actual things were which produced the emotion that you experienced.”—
On Two Years in Rockaway and the Best-Ever New Year's Eve
(I borrowed photos from Mic and Merna for this post)
As you know, a couple years ago my boyfriend and I rented an apartment in Rockaway, where we would be close to the ocean and have an escape from the city, where we also have an apartment. We’ve been here long enough now, in our floor-through apartment in a hundred-year-old house from which we interact with the ocean in silly ways, to have a general understanding of the social currents on this urban barrier island. Part and parcel to this understanding: There is a troop that has amassed in Rockaway; to call it a community might in fact be appropriate, but offends my distaste for the overwrought sentiment and forced fondness and phrases like “peace and love” that I associate with that word.
Two nights ago, on our last night in Kentucky before driving back to New York, my parents poured S. Jam Fitzgerald and I glasses of wine (my dad gave us pinotage and for himself poured a Two-Buck Chuck, because he aims to please and has no pallet I think), We sat in the living room, played with our dog and theirs (who hated each other), snacked on more junk when our bellies achieved any state not approximating overstuffed, and played with the dogs some more. At some point my dad cooked up some Swiss chard. At some other point the occasional yawn began to pepper the conversation, which was still mostly about the dogs.
Driving for 10 hours > Flying for 3 hours + (the inevitable three hours enduring delays at the airport + $40 spent on beers while enduring said delay + $100 getting to and from the airport + driving an hour anyway on the tail end to get from the airport to my parents’ house).
The 10 Best Books I Read in 2013 (five of which were published this year)
Thanks to my book research, there are a couple of literary biographies on here. Thanks to my gig reviewing books for The Daily Beast, I for the first time have been able do discover some deserving books that for whatever reason haven’t broken into the zeitgeist:
10 Every Love Story Is a Ghost Story, by DT Max
9 The Lowland, by Jhumpa Lahiri
8 A Dual Inheritance, by Joanna Hershon
7 VN: The Life and Art of Vladimir Nabokov, by Andrew Field
6 The Love Affairs of Nathaniel P., by Adelle Waldman
The acting in this movie alone could compensate for any other drawbacks, which unfortunately exist. How many movies contain four characters you can’t take your eyes off? Jennifer Lawrence is the superstar everyone says she’s gonna be or already is. Amy Adams holds her own against her. I liked Bradley Cooper as an actor for the first time ever, including Silver Linings Playbook. But the film, for all of its whisk-you-away plot, managed to drag a bit, I don’t understand it. Also, do not see this or any other movie at the AMC Loews on 3rd Ave in the East Village unless you want to join S. Jam Fitzgerald and me in waking up with a bad back.
Their Innocence Is the Great Achievement of their Lives
Joyce Glassman (now Johnson) was a girl on the verge of womanhood in Manhattan in the 1950s. She grew up on the Upper West Side, and she was cute and blond in a way that did not seem deliberate. She went to Barnard, became an aspiring writer, and was Jack Kerouac’s girlfriend when On the Road came out in 1957. Allen Ginsberg had set them up on a blind date, and the completely broke Kerouac moved in with Glassman that very night, after she—13 years his junior—paid for his dinner because he only had a few cents on him.
As I write this from the toasty confines of my apartment on Gramercy Park, the drunken yelps of a thousand Santas reach up from the street. Years ago, I too participated in Santacon and now I no longer do, partially because I’m old now and partially because, let’s be honest, things that have become mainstreamed are no longer as appealing to the type of person that I am..
Santacon 2013 can be defined by its inevitable and now definitive passage into no longer being cool. People who would never call themselves hipsters bemoan the event because first years at Goldman and New Jersey-ites now fill out the crowd.
I just submitted the first 10 chapters of my book to the publisher, and turns out I’m not at all comfortable with the concept of no longer being able to change anything. Who knew I felt this attached to editing myself.
I Haven't Spoken To Anyone in Three Days and Three Nights: A Debriefing
I shut myself in the apartment in Rockaway for three days to get through the final revisions of 10 chapters. Three entire days and nights with only my dog to talk to, which come to think of it is only different from a normal day by two or three hours.
Still, usually by the end of day two of self-imposed deadline seclusion, I start pining for the banalities of human interaction, for the 30 minutes of discussion with S. Jam Fitzgerald about where we might go out to eat before we get bored with our indecision and put in the same Seamless order as two nights earlier; complaining for half an hour before getting on the L train to visit a friend in Brooklyn, which happens with every friend I visit because all my friends live in Brooklyn; and a third social interaction that I can’t think of right now, but which I need because these things work better in threes.
On the day that the 5 Pointz graffiti building in Long Island City was getting whitewashed, Mic and her boyfriend’s daughter Maya headed over to watch history get erased. Once there, they discovered that a bunch of scraps of destroyed graffiti were there for the taking, and they took. Then they made me these earrings, which immediately became perhaps my most prized possession, behind my dog and my red velour pajama pants.
I was looking for Miguel the European when I stepped over the threshold of the bar Local 61 last night, turning from side to side with my whole body, the way very bundled up people must. In a mostly empty bar, you determine pretty quickly whether you’re the first one there, which I was. I headed for a bar stool.
Then I heard someone call my name, and turned my body again. “Sarah?” the voice said. “Yeah?” my own voice said. “Josh,” he said, and reached out his hand while I scoured my terrible memory for the key to how I might be expected to know this person. As I shook his hand, I ran out of split seconds; Josh began to comprehend my lack of comprehension. For another split second, it was awful. But as I searched his expectant face, his tepid eagerness sparked another idea in me.