Sunday, January 1, 2017

Taking Initiative

It's the first day of 2017, and it's a bright, quiet afternoon in Oakland. 2016 was a year of unexpected educations. My son was born, and I learned about myself that I can act only in his interests without feeling like I am gone or utterly changed. I took an ambitious job, and I did not succeed in it, closing down an avenue I thought was going to define my life.

December of 2013, December of 2015, December of 2016 -- all years in which I left positions, variously despondent and hopeful. Januaries are quiet winter mornings that open up possibilities.

What I would like for myself in 2017 is to move from possibilities to acting. From dreaming and ideas to purposeful action.

Taking initiative, not waiting for permission or approval. Being bold. I crave structure, but perhaps in the end that sense of making and completing checklists makes me complacent.

Moving from idea to action will be 2017. Whether in the political arena, or moving from to-do list to completing tasks, to pitching interviews and reviews and articles -- and then actually writing them.

To be a writer, you have to write.

And then, I am a mother -- and this year, with fewer barriers, a much more present and engaged mother. An engaged and active partner.

This will involve challenging myself to make plans, to look ahead, to strategize. To try to anticipate the unknowns, or at least build in buffers. More than just the "swallow the frog" of doing the hard thing first, this needs to be trusting myself to spearhead and develop ideas, to plan out and follow up.

This is more than informational interviews and gathering facts and knowing about things. It's synthesis and action and invention.

Friday, March 13, 2015

A Review I Didn't Write

I was supposed to write this for The Rumpus,  but felt that I had to beg off since I was at such a loss to appreciate this book. I am sure it will find some sympathetic readers, but I just couldn't get on board with its efforts, and was mostly bored and annoyed as I made my way to the end. It doesn't help much to put pans and slams out there for books that aren't exactly raking in the readers anyway. I also felt like maybe my reaction revealed my lack of imagination, and was worried that it would undermine my authority as a reader if I were to write a review mostly consisting of "I don't get it." And maybe I am not the best reader of that kind of work these days -- I want fiction to be at least a little reader friendly, to be absorbing -- yes, to challenge and engage with formal adventures, to make you work a little, but still have basic elements like plot, and interesting characters, and setting. I did write out my puzzlement, which is what lies below.


Reading Pharos Editions’s reissue of Jason Schwartz’s A German Picturesque, the big questions that immediately come to mind are, Why bring a book back from out-of-print? What and why is non-narrative fiction? How do I read a book that is all style, yet is not poetry? Why did Ben Marcus choose this as his one book to resurrect, and what light does that shed on Ben Marcus’s literary ambitions?

Monday, February 9, 2015

A little backpedaling

[I edited this when I realized I had missed an entire person!]

I was at dim sum on Sunday with a bunch of Wellesley alums, most of whom were fairly recently graduated. And I start going into my bitter spiel about "don't go to graduate school, it just drains your twenties away and leaves you no better off, etc etc..."

Which, in many ways, was true for me.  But was that graduate school, or me?

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Down the thrifted book rabbit hole

I am working on a craft project that ended up overlapping with my professional interests pretty significantly, as I should have predicted it would.

I wrote about the project, decoupaging pages for old books onto the back of bookcases, on a new blog I began in order to practice my wordpress skills and have space for non-work related writing.

But then,  it clearly spilled over into work life, because as soon as I started getting intrigued about the book we'd found (a letter was tucked into it!), I discovered so much more about it and its author and the beautiful network of connections and information that the digital archive allows us to learn these days.

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

On Homes and Grading and California

Early this morning, I entered the grades for my second set of classes taught at the Fall Program or Freshmen. Done!

My course is focused on writing about place and how we connect to it, which resonates with these students who are often leaving home for the first time, though the typical freshmen experience doesn't really apply to Berkeley freshmen -- at least,  not the ones in my classrooms.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

In Which I Have Thoughts about Irish Publishing

Responding to Publishing PerspectivesIreland's Tradition of Small Presses

This came out in July, but I was busy writing, editing, and prepping for my course this fall (in which I taught a novel by Colm Tóibín, another lauded  Irish writer who has moved to the US and who is not published by an Irish house [though a quick search indicates that his first two houses were now defunct small Irish presses Raven Arts and Pilgrim Press, back in the '80s, before he moved to being published in England].)

I did an MA at UCD on Irish lit and a PhD on Irish poetry at UC Santa Barbara (so there are my bona fides), and one thing I became entirely fascinated by was the role of the publisher in Ireland. I can't recall the exact numbers off the top of my head, but the arts council report during the boom years showed that about 30% of what was in Irish bookstores was from Ireland, and that only about 30% of Irish authors were published in Ireland.

I spoke with the publisher of a great poetry press back in 2006 about this, and I remember that he -- and later, others -- told me that he felt the problem was not lack of demand, but lack of distribution for Irish titles in Ireland.

Friday, October 31, 2014

Conceptual Memoir -- is this a thing? In France, apparently

Recently ventured back into literary criticism a bit for the Two Lines blog.

Since my dissertation discussed constraint in poetry, and that meant lots of reading in the conceptual poetry arena, I was pretty familiar with the approaches and goals of Georges Perec and Édouard Levé as conceptual writers. I'm very intrigued by the question of how one disrupts expectations of litrary grandeur and meaning, and uses ordinary things instead to create art, playing with audience expectations of entertainment or enlightenment (blame Beckett and Joyce for dragging me down this road). Perec's I Remember came out this year from the beloved small press David R Godine, and Levé clearly saw himself in a line of descent from Perec's experiments with narrative forms in prose. So I proposed writing a blog post on both in anticipation of our November event as a way of contextualizing Levé's work and responding to a book newly available to American readers.

Also, I'm SO excited that the Center for the Art of Translation's Two Voices events program is hosting Lorin Stein of The Paris Review in conversation with our marketing/online editor Scott Esposito (also an editor and critic in his own right) and the talented translator Jan Steyn on Wednesday 10/5. Both Steyn and Stein translated Levé for the Dalkey Archive, and Scott's written a ton about Oulipo's influence on literature. I'm just squealing in girlish nerd joy (on the inside) that I get to meet the editor of one of the foremost, most canonical literary journals in print.

So, here's the link to my brief essay (about 1200 words) about the connections and differences between the two authors: "Connecting the Dots"


I also conducted an interview with Margaret Jull Costa this summer that was posted on the Two Lines blog -- she's quite the force (translated any and every important Portuguese or Brazilian author you've heard of [Saramago ahem ahem]) -- and has been given an OBE for her service to English literature!