Thursday, March 29, 2007

SSN Interview: Ellis Avery

MS: I also found it interesting that Urako’s love relationship with Inko develops without any self-consciousness. Maybe I’m under the false impression that sexual relationships outside the traditional social order were looked down upon or even punished back then, but that doesn’t seem to be the case here. How are lesbian relationships historically represented in Japan? Was there a place for them? Were they ignored?

EA: There’s not a lot of material to draw conclusions from. I would say that it looks like they just turned a blind eye to them. There were no religious proscriptions against lesbianism. There wasn’t a medical discourse of perversity—nor was there in the Victorian period in England or America until the 1880’s, 1890’s with sexologists, Havelock Ellis, and so on. And my partner was writing this book about relationships between women in the Victorian period while I was writing my book, so I got to eavesdrop on her research. It doesn’t seem like there was a lesbian sexual identity per se, which meant that there wasn’t necessarily a place in or out of society. Based on that, it doesn't seem too crazy to assume that the way I wrote it is the way it might have happened, especially in an all-female environment like the geisha world. Well, we don’t know, so it doesn’t seem totally impossible.

click here to read more

SSN Interview: Gayle Brandeis


JDH: Are there other guides to writing that you’ve found helpful? How do you think writing guides can be useful, and sometimes not useful, to the beginning writer?

GB: I love Natalie Goldberg's books, especially Wild Mind. Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott is a favorite, too. So is poemcrazy: freeing your life with words by Susan Wooldridge. As for new books about writing, my friend Laraine Herring's Writing Begins with the Breath comes out from Shambhala later this year. It will rock your world.

I think that writing guides can be very useful for beginning writers—they can help us gain confidence as writers, begin to take creative risks, begin to feel like part of a larger writing community. There is a risk inherent in these books, though—it can become easy to read about writing without actually writing, or to do continuous writing exercises rather than working on a project that is coming from deep inside yourself. I guess it's important to notice whether you're using the book as a tool to enrich your own writing, or as a crutch that's keeping you away from your truest work. If it's the latter, try to wean yourself away from the writing books, and work on trusting your own judgment, your own voice, your own autonomy as a writer. You can always return to the writing books for a quick fix of inspiration.

click here to read more.

Monday, March 19, 2007

The Darkness at Noon

Downshifting quite considerably from my last book post is the reissued Darkness at Noon, by Arthur Koestler. First published in the 1941, Darkness at Noon tell a bleak insiders tale of Stalin's brutal 1930's Communist Party purges. In my research of the book, I've often seen it compared in magnitude and importance to Orwell's 1984. While the anti-communist/Stalin theme is the same, I found little else to support that assertion while reading Darkness myself. Koestler, who was once an ardent supporter of Communism, but at the time of his writing had denounced the Party, writes his fiction with a much more personal and haunting prose. Knowing this it is puzzling, however, that through his main character the imprisoned, former Party Elite Rubashov, Koestler often sounds more like a Communist apologist that anything else.

How old might Gletkin be? Thirty-six or seven, at the most; he must have taken part in the Civil War as a youth and seen the out-break of the Revolution as a mere boy. That was the generation which had started to think after the flood. It had no traditions, and no memories to bind it to the old, vanished world. It was a generation born without an umbilical cord, deny the last tie which bound one to the vain conceptions of honour and the hypocritical decency of the old world. Honour was to serve without vanity, without sparing oneself, and until the last consequence.

In prison, Rubashov sees the divergence Communism has taken, from a Party of thought and theory to one of mindless action. He chooses to romanticize it rather than deal with the consequences, which in his situation usually means torture and death. Rubashov was a co-architect of the system which has now fingered him as an enemy. He finds it ironic, just and at times, humorous. He has been a conspirator, murder, antagonist and subjugator all for the sake of the Party's philosophy. History will be his judge he says, "if I was right I have nothing to repent, if wrong, I will pay." But he is wrong, history will not be the first to judge him, it will be the monsters in his own Party, the very people he helped put in power.

Darkness at Noon does a fair job of revealing the mindset of the brainwashed Communist masses, the underlying Party insurgents and the brutal bureaucratic system which considers both groups its mortal enemy. However, the long passages of political monologue and debate that encompass most of the second half of the book grow tiresome, especially in light of Rubashov's subsequent capitulation in the face of torture. If all agree who is right and who is wrong, why the need for long debate? "Observe, " Gletkin went on, "that the Party holds out to you no prospect of reward. Some of the accused have been made amenable by physical pressure. Others, by the promise to save their heads- or the heads of their relatives who had fallen into our hands as hostages. To you, Comrade Rubashov, we propose no bargain and we promise nothing."
"I understand", the old revolutionary Rubashov says. He would rather give up than fight on.

Darkness at Noon

Arthur Koestler
Scribner

What I'm reading next: Redemption Song: The Ballad of Joe Strummer

Friday, March 16, 2007

Average American Male

Now I don't mean to offend anyone, but Chad Kultgen the author of Average American Male might. I know this is blatant props to my employer, but hey, would your boss give company money for the creation of this?

That's the first of three promotional videos now adding to the general debasement of wo/mankind. The others are not as tasteful. Search "Average American Male" on Youtube. Blam-O.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Doty / Sterns / Avery / the Underminer

Thank God for the SSN blog! I don't say that enough. Josh, Felicia, do you guys say that? I'd make a small wager that you do. I say it now because, away from the evaluating eyes of my employers, I can tell you that I've done jack shit today. I hit the ground running but one salami/turkery sub and weird-tasting cookie later and well...I'm rambling like a jackass.

Last night, despite a lingering cold, I sprung from a hard day's work to a hard day's night of covorting with the hip and literary. Not really, actually. I kept to myself and blushed often. First stop was the B&N Chelsea where Mark Doty read from his recently released memoir, Dog Years. I wish all writers lucky enough to read to an audience would take a lesson from Doty. He's concise, clear, and engaged with what he is saying. He likes questions but won't bleat on if a sentence or two will do. He doesn't even stutter. He's a rock.

From there, then lugging a New York Cheeseburger and fries in my gullet, I took the V-train down to the Happy Ending reading series hosted by Amanda Stern. Sheri Joseph, Ellis Avery, and Mike Albo were the readers and as required by Amanda they each had to attempt something they had never done before on stage. Sheri showed us her androgynous sketches of David Lee Roth and sci-fi boy-heroes of her own creation. Ellis (who I've interviewed and am now editing a transcript of indescribable brilliance) sang the chorus of a Japanese pop song--in Japanese! Mike Albo, aka Gawker's the Underminer, did something so brilliant I can't even guess what to call it. Basically he recited clusters of common utterances, all indicative of our frivilous and shallow society, and enunciated each in succession with such accuracy and pace that I still can't make any sense of it.

GODDAMN I HAVE A HEADACHE!!!!

Sorry, I was so happy then, POOF, my head hurt.

the red parts...

"The Red Parts chronicles the uncanny series of events that led to Nelson's interest in her aunt's death, the reopening of the case, the bizarre and brutal trial that ensued, and the effects these events had on the disparate group of people they brought together. But The Red Parts is much more than a "true crime" record of a murder, investigation, and trial. For into this story Nelson has woven a spare, poetic account of a girlhood and early adulthood haunted by loss, mortality, mystery, and betrayal, as well as a subtle but blistering look at the personal and political consequences of our cultural fixation on dead (white) women. " read more

Jane Carr: Do you agree with Mark Seltzer that ours is a “wound culture?” If, as Seltzer argues, the violated body mediates between private fantasy and public space, then mourning may be either the ultimate act of fetish, or the most fertile site for resistance. Can mourning or the study of violence be recuperative, or are we simply a nation of voyeurs and fetishists?

Maggie Nelson: Brilliant question. That’s the nail on the head, isn’t it? I’m tempted to run on and on in response, but instead I will simply point toward the two best recent books I know on the subject: Judith Butler’s Precarious Life: The Powers of Mourning and Violence and Susan Sontag’s Regarding the Pain of Others. Both have crucial things to say about the uses and abuses of grief, and the problem of the wound as fetish. Together they have served as a precious dyad for me throughout this time. But I will say this (along with Butler and Sontag): Americans have a lot to answer for, and a lot of work to do, on this account—work we’ll be doing, vis a vis the war in Iraq, for the rest of our lifetimes. The effects of all the repressed deaths and of the physical and psychological wounds that Iraqis and American soldiers will continue to bear in the years after the violence stops— if it stops—will be with us all for some time.

read more of our incredible interview with maggie nelson

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Rep Yo City

The best thing about reading a really compelling, entertaining book is when you've finished and you sit there for a few minutes with the book still in your hand thinking about the characters and how they're advancing beyond the pages. Perhaps you might flip back through the dog eared pages and reread some particularly highlighted passages. Or maybe you just sit back and feel true contentment for five or ten minutes.

All of the above encompasses the way I felt the other day when I finished Armistead Maupin's Tales of the City. Though it is nearly thirty-five years old, much of the attitude, demeanor and controversies in the book still ring true. Though it's importance to the GLBT community cannot be overlooked, the real story in Tales of the City, was Maupin's unabashed love for the City by the Bay and all its weird and wacky inhabitants.

Tales of the City centers around the lives of the tenants of 28 Barbary Lane. We have Mary Ann, just moved from Cleveland and having a hard time adjusting to the San Francisco lifestyle, Michael, who enjoys cruising the bathhouses, Mona, a part time lesbian and Michael's best friend and Anna, the landlady, who welcomes all new tenants with a joint rolled from her private stash.

Although many of the old landmarks like Hamburger Mary's and the EndUp are either gone or irrevocably changed by time, Maupin's idea of San Francisco has not and probably will never change. It's still the same place where a guy can pick up another guy while waiting in line to go on stage in a Jockey shorts contest. Where an Afro-centric white lesbian can fall in love with another white lesbian because she is posing as a black fashion model. Where someone can be gay one day and straight the next. Maupin's San Francisco is simply a place where two (or more) people can connect without judgements and please each other as best as they know how.

I first read Tales of the City when I moved to San Francisco in 1995 and didn't understand much of it. It seemed sappy, pop-ish to me and it read like the newspaper serial it was. Back then, I was Mary Ann. I was living my own version of Tales and I didn't even know it. My landlord was a gay Filipino bank executive who lived above me with his Puerto Rican lover and a roommate whose fethish was violent night wrestling. I was a little freaked. I thought a million times about leaving and going back to where I came from. But I stayed. Somewhere over the course of time I changed into Mona, I could never pinpoint the date, but it's there.

Tales of the City
Armistead Maupin

What I'm reading next: Darkness at Noon (actually, I'm finished but will blog about it later)

Monday, March 12, 2007

Mohammed Hayawi

Anthony Shadid of The Washington Post has written an important article on the life of the Iraqi bookseller, Mohammed Hayawi: "The Bookseller's Story, Ending Much Too Soon". Shadid accounts for what was lost, for the vibrant and thoughtful man whose Renaissance Bookstore embodied the open, intellectual spirit of of Baghdad's Mutanabi Street. He died in the recent bombing that destroyed the famed bookseller's market.

"The American promises to Iraq are like trying to hold water in your hand," he told me in one conversation. "It spills through your fingers."

But he was never strident; he was filled with a thoughtfulness and reflection that survival in Iraq rarely permits these days.

Hayawi resented the occupation but voted in the elections the United States backed. He was a devout Muslim, but feared the rise of religion in politics. In his bookstore, once-banned titles by Shiite clerics, imported from Iran, vied with books by radical Sunni clerics, among them Muhammad Abdel-Wahab, the 18th-century godfather of Saudi Arabia's brand of Islam. Profit may have inspired his eclectic mix, but Hayawi also seemed to be making a statement: Mutanabi Street, his Baghdad and his Iraq would respect their diversity.

Friday, March 09, 2007

Nightwood by Djuna Barnes

I began re-reading Nightwood by Djuna Barnes last week. It's recently been reissued by New Directions and upon seeing the new cover I was inclined to purchase (though, I still love the old cover). It's been a much-needed reintroduction to character, to life, tenuous and fleeting, set in prose. I'd like to highlight two brief passages. The first appears near the beginning of a section titled "Night Watch" and describes Nora Flood, the domestic centerpeg of a "'paupers' salon for poets, radicals, beggars, artists, and people in love.":

"Whenever she was met, at the opera, at a play, sitting alone and apart, the programme face down on her knee, one would discover in her eyes, large protruding and clear, that mirrorless look of polished metals which report not so much the object as the movement of the object. As the surface of a gun's barrel, reflecting a scene, will add to the image the portent of its construction, so her eyes contracted and fortified the play before her in her own unconscious terms."

I'll admit that it took a few readings before her meaning settled with me. The bold reach of her metaphor, the tempered delivery of her prose, the passage's initial difficulty, they all affect the same difficulty of apprehending a person's character. And this is just one paragraph of many! The second passage describes Jenny Petherbridge--please note that this paragraph appears at the end of a series of descriptive paragraphs, when considered by itself it might seem a bit much, but I see it as the exclamatory cymbal punctuating the end of a drumroll:

"She had a continual rapacity for other people's facts; absorbing time, she held herself responsible for historic characters. She was avid and disorderly in her heart. She defiled the very meaning of personality in her passion to be a person; somewhere about her was the tension of the accident that made the beast the human endeavour."

Bring it all back, Djuna! Again it's but a piece. Well, that's all I had to share. Dalkey Archive Press has some of her back list. Enjoy the weekend! (I'll add links once I get to a different computer.)

Monday, March 05, 2007

Aftermath and the PageTurner Awards

Good morning and Monday. I know. It's weird to be back.

The baby shower was more than I expected. Sometime after I cursed out a third-cousin for embarrassing me in Dance Dance Revolution and before I was markered with a third eye and a stubby black mustache, I may have made a pass at someone's grandmother. Class act. All the way.

In order to cleanse myself of deeds past, I thought I'd spread the word about the second annual James Patterson PageTurner Awards. $500,000 in cash prizes are presented to "the people, companies, schools, and other institutions who find original and effective ways to spread the excitement of books and reading." Thirty-nine book-loving entities were awarded the 2006 prize, each receiving various sums of a lot. The $100,000 PageTurner of the Year Award went to the Washington Center for the Book in Seattle, WA, founder of the "One Book, One City" campaign.

For a list of all the winners and an irrepressible feeling of goodwill toward mankind, follow the link above.

Friday, March 02, 2007

ROUND UP - Wi * Pishhh!

From reading other blogs I've gathered that Fridays sometime garner a round-up of some sort, recapping the highs and lows of the week now past. So it's high-fucking-time I rounded something up, here goes:

Last week New York saw the coming and going of the Armory Show and Comic Con. I made it to neither. Both overwhelmed and tickled non-fanatics in attendance. And Comic Con was a costumed orgy of onanism.

B&N Discover, Lambda Literary, PEN/Faulkner, Granta, Kate Chopin Writing, and LA Times Book awards were presented to the worthy and talented. My book, The Tenfoot Shit, received no such awards only the renewed suspicion of my mother.

I did get to attend the Granta party at Housing Works last night. I ate a dinner's worth of cheese, humus, pita, and these little roll-up quesadilla thingies that were delicious. The wine was free, readily available and went perfectly with the lowlit, bookish setting. I have a feeling it will be a tame memory when compared to the n+1 shindig happening Saturday. Unfortunately, I've been volunteered to attend a Filipino baby shower so will not be able to report. If you've never been to a Filipino baby shower, let me say this "Two babies enter, One baby leave." It's a brutal yet graceful tradition that has miraculously survived all attempts at assimilation.

Well, did I round things up? Like one or two things. Are they relevant to each other now? Probably not.

Thursday, March 01, 2007

New Bear Parade / Granta Party

The newest Bear Parade features the surreal stories of Ofelia Hunt: My Eventual Bloodless Coup. Pay a visit. Enjoy what she tells you.

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Tonight - oh my God! Granta throws a party for the Best of Young American Novelists 2: Now Even Younger at Housing Works. www.Granta.com.