Morgan Freeman Would Be Proud

I am enamored of Brevity’s post today. Williams posits that we should be able to frame our elevator (ahem, Downith) speech in terms of a movie preview. Cue Morgan Freeman and something scenic:

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I’m in love with this idea now that I’m in the phase where I really should have an elevator speech.

Couple my enthusiasm with the fact that my very own Cougar is coming to visit. (That didn’t come out right, let me try that again.) Couple my enthusiasm with the fact that my very own second sister is coming to visit, I think it’s time to have a contest.

Don’t you?

Give me the best movie preview of your Fucker or your life in the comments below. Cougar and I will judge together probably over drinks. (You think we’re nuts sober?) Submit early, submit often, lie or tell the truth, bottles of whiskey (me) or Scotch (her) are acceptable bribes.

In a world where one Clause is enough for any normal human being, what if there were two (or four)?

Analysis and Memoir

I just finished Leaving Before the Rains Come. Man, was it good. I resisted reading Don’t Lets Go to the Dogs tonight because it came out when I was still working in the bookstore and it was too popular. (Yes, we are judgmental assholes who often don’t read something because it is too popular, but we have really good reasons for our judgments. C’mon, click on that link. It’s hilarious.)

When I resurface from a book, I often scour reviews to see if other people have seen its brilliance, or, sometimes, its horrid shortcomings. I came across the following by Emily Rapp Black:

The title of Alexandra Fuller’s latest book, “Leaving Before the Rains Come,” sounds like that of a sentimental Lifetime television movie, but this clear-eyed chronicle is perhaps one of the best memoirs ever written about divorce. In part this is because it is as much about identity, place, and the struggle to find and lead a meaningful life as it is about the disintegration of a relationship. Deeply introspective, fiercely intelligent, and free of bitterness or self-pity, Fuller’s insights about independence, authenticity, and the delicate line between madness and fevered inspiration will resonate with many.

I’ve been thinking a lot about sentences (and I don’t just mean the Boston bombings, that is another post entirely). Some of my older work in the memoir has killer sentences. Some of my new work is more deeply thought out, but I’m stuck with beginning every sentence with “I”. Fuller writes a killer sentence. Not only is it well-written and varied, it is packed with information, analysis, and images. And she avoids the “I” by telling her own story through other people, ideas, and images. No ideas but in things.

She does exactly what Rapp Black says above. Instead of focusing on the tiny things that she did, “And then I wept,” she talks about the two cultures—of family, personality, and country of origin—that came into the marriage and how they could not make it work. You could see from the beginning that they weren’t going to make it work, although the protagonists of course have no idea.

This is how you make a memoir universal. May those of us who are working through a memoiresque fucker do the same.

What are you reading?

To Do List

1. Condense a semester-long course into 6 weeks.

2. Then write a syllabus about it.

3. Read a mystery novel by my new favorite mystery writer (Jane Casey).

4. Resist reading mystery novel by my new favorite mystery writer, I have a goddamned syllabus to write.

5. Go outside, it’s going to rain for the rest of the week.

6. Resist going outside, I have a goddamned syllabus to write.

7. Send my MS to a beta reader. I should have done it on Monday but it wasn’t ready. Is it better to send a not-quite-done MS to someone who has the time to read it, or to send it slightly-more-done when she has less time to read it?

8. Reflect on the fact that the questions I ask are outlandish.

9. Reflect on how cool the word outlandish is.

10. Figure out more places to send my work and try to get work ready to send.

11. Get the fuck off the Internet. I have a goddamned syllabus to write.

What are you doing today?


Fourteen years ago I left the mid-South to move to the Northeast. I cannot tell you what a revelation Northeast summers were after the smoky humid summers of my youth. They say that smell is the sense most closely linked to memory. I have a terrible sense of smell (so much nose! so little sense of smell!). Today I was minding my own business, possibly working on my schlock novel, when a song came on the radio and brought it all back.

Suddenly I was 25, opening the coffeeshop, in love with the baker whom I should have dated, but we were both too confused to figure it out. I played this album every morning and the baker and I exchanged crossword puzzles during the slow hours. It was the first anniversary of my father’s death, and I was in a new part of the country, about to start grad school.

I was lonely as fuck, but also happy. That fall I left my morning shift at the coffeeshop to go to my poetry workshop or my class on Emily Dickinson. Then I went to work at the bookstore. Customers from the coffeeshop saw me at the bookstore.

“Which one is your moonlight job?” one asked. The coffeeshop. I was a mediocre waitress, but I loved the easy flow of people and the espresso (and of course the baker). But talking about books, selling books, finding books, remembering books, arguing with people about books, that was a job I was very good at. I charmed old Jewish men and sassed the young ones (the bookstore was in Jewish neighborhood).

I ran into my RA from my freshman year of college and a girl I had gone to elementary school with. I rang up presidential candidates, famous authors, and David Sedaris remembered my name (it’s a gift he has) after he read at our store.

I don’t really miss those days (except for my knowledge of all books). I was hungry in every sense of the word, and now I’m home. (Although I’d argue that I was home then in that I was doing what I wanted to do, the poetry, the bookselling.)

Mother’s day is the beginning of many anniversaries for me, most of them are sad. My father died just before his birthday and father’s day. So I’m glad for one good memory, the mornings in the coffeeshop. No matter how unhappy I was, this Beth Orton album made me smile. Here’s to maple oat scones and espresso with just a splash of steamed milk and the right song on the radio.

What’s a good memory for you?

The Writer’s Paradox

It’s a beautiful crisp spring day here in [location redacted]. The sky is blue, the Japanese maple is newly red. Even the house across the street looks sharp and vinyl-pretty against the bright sky.

One of my friends is at the writing residency where we met, where on days like today I would get up and step into a bathroom that had been converted into a tiny writing room. I would see the same kinds of trees against the sky and hear the sightseeing buses snort down the street.

In short, I should be writing. But instead I have an overdue paper and grades that are due. I spent an embarrassing amount of time yesterday tallying participation and figuring out grades. Adjunct math is a sad, backwards affair.

If I had nothing to do, I would probably be picking fights with Sarah W. by text or ranting on CougarSon’s blog. I would suddenly be inspired to weed my garden or buy skeletal flamingos to plant in my yard to irritate my neighbor. The closest thing I would do to writing would be to peruse the world’s best essay submission list.

Ain’t that always the way?

What’s your paradox?

This is Why We Fight

Everything is beautiful outside. Even the dingier streets of my town are lined with blossoming pear trees. Forgotten bushes erupt in bright pink flowers. My yard is bright yellow with dandelions (which I think are pretty rather than weedy).

On Thursday my neighbor pulled me aside to show me “what she sees” from her yard. What she sees includes the cap to my truck lying next to the driveway, a messy woodpile, some pallets learning against the garage. She can’t even see the weedy state of my garden.

She said hi to at least three people walking by while shaming me about my garden. She is the soul of friendliness, you see. I told her about how interesting and busy DP and I were, as if to show that our winning personalities and creative lives were more important than our inability to stack wood neatly.

I fussed over her cat, the big tough tomcat with the dainty mew. He hunts moles in my yard and stalks birds in our blackberry patch. (Fortunately she can’t see it. The canes are sprawling and messy. We make jam from the berries that we give our friends.)

Facebook is hazardous on Mother’s day. After two seconds I clicked out of my feed and went to sit on the porch. Mr. Dog came out to sit with me. We looked perfectly happy in the spring sunshine. (I was not unhappy, and who knows what was going through Mr. Dog’s brain?)

My radio station is playing Hank Williams. But I don’t mean Mr. Hank Williams (also covered by my favorite singer, just an aside because it is so fucking good even if the audio is terrible); rather, it’s Hank III, who embodies everything is wrong with country radio.

Sure I write pretty sentences, but am I thinking the memoir through enough? Do I ask and answer the right questions?

Do you keep up appearances?

Section 5 Revision, Day 7

[Note from Management: Indy has no idea what day her revision of section 5 is on.]

Friend: How’s the book coming?

Indy: *Dramatic sigh*

Friend: *Encouraging giggle*

Indy, realizing that Friend (who is a writer) really wants to know: Not good. I have to redo section 5. It was all in some kind of order, but then I wrote a bunch more and broke it apart again. Now I have to put it back in order. *dramatic sigh*

Friend: You’ll figure it out.

[Note from Management: Indy’s friends have a high tolerance for Indy’s melodrama.]

Indy: Then I realized that a bunch of the new stuff is boring and has to go. So I’m cutting three pages. [Briefly mourns her word count.]

Friend: Don’t you hate it when that happens?

Indy: Yes, I do. But then after I cut the new pages, I realized that the first scene and the last scene of the section now relate to each other.

Friend: Oh, that’s good!

Indy: Oh. You’re right! I guess I’m not as bad off as I thought.

The moral of this story is surround yourself with good writer friends. What’s the moral of your story?