I miss this little Tumblr. Holy moly I am itching to write something that is not about the writing of someone else. Good news: I’ve got like 15 pages left to write of my book (PROCESS: THE WRITING LIVES OF GREAT AUTHORS—they tell me it’s time to start promoting), and then revisions. I need to share this because S. Jam is out of town and I haven’t talked to anyone but my dog since Sunday. SOS.
Niether Scott’s nor Zelda’s parents attended the wedding. The only witnesses were Scott’s Princeton friend and best man, Ludlow Fowler, and Zelda’s three older sisters, who were by then married and living in New York. Scott, who was nervous, insisted the ceremony begin before Clothilde (one of Zelda’s sisters) arrived. There was no lunch or party after the wedding, which Rosalind (another sister) considered rude and never forgave, and the couple promptly left for their honeymoon at the Biltmore Hotel.
-From Jeffrey Meyers’s F. Scott Fitzgerald biography.
The way that I know that I love Zadie Smith’s writing is that as I’m reading her, I from time to time find myself fundamentally disagreeing with her, and even so, find her presentation of that argument lovely, the words used to express it making the argument worthy of my attention, whether I am ultimately swayed or not. I feel the gush that usually comes with reading something that perfectly encapsulates your own feelings, but the gush in this case is about something else, which has to be her writing.
That’s one thing I’ve been thinking about when I think about Zadie Smith this past week.
The other thing is how often the gush is indeed because she just slayed all previous attempts to encapsulate a certain concept.
In that vein, the following is not a Zadie Smith argument to be disagreed with. It is instead the most devastating, cut-to-the-core critique of Facebook I’ve ever come across:
If [Facebook] were a genuinely interesting interface, built for these genuinely different 2.0 kids to live in, well, that would be something. It’s not that. It’s the wild west of the Internet tamed to fit the suburban fantasies of a suburban soul.
This quote from Zadie Smith explains why the technically competent and even expert writing in the New York Times and, often, outlets like The New Yorker has a sameness to it that flattens you:
I kind of feel suspicious of pure writing, of something that never embarrasses you, which is completely clean. It’s just, in my experience, writing which is completely clean is writing that has had shorn from it almost everything that’s of interest.
“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.