Friday, March 30, 2012

Chapter 75: In Which I Discuss A Reading Without A Venue

Hey, look at me! I managed one post for the entire month of March. I'm getting better.

These have just been very busy times. Spend half my time feeling disgusted at the rampant misogyny that the Republicans have decided to base their whole platform on. Spend the other half disgusted with how any white guy who kills a black guy is apparently now afforded protection by the cops, Jim Crow-style. The . 01% of my time not occupied by disgust I devote to different jobs/workshops, alongside getting my thesis together and Hard Times. The thesis is the most pressing thing at the moment, seeing as my revision's due next week. I also graduate in two months and I'm trying to get things in order for The Real World (not that obnoxious reality show we watched in high school, but the real kind). I've been applying for teaching jobs the last few months and have stomached my fair share of rejection.

One place that didn't reject me: the UL-Lafayette PhD program. I got in! I got in!! PhD in Creative Writing. Can you imagine? Dr. Elwin. They were a top choice and I could not be more excited. Now is the time to start dialoguing with folks over there about possibilities for me in their program.

One part that excites me is the language requirement. I want to relearn Spanish and here is a golden opportunity. But just getting to study under profs like Kate Bernheimer and devote the next four years to my craft while's all golden. And thanks go out to all the people who wrote references for me and endured my constantly grumbling about how life is so hard because I'm working on doctoral apps. You know who you are.

Writing Without Walls

I keep telling myself to start recording my readings, so it's always nice when somebody just has a camera set up. Dig my Powell's shirt. Dig how I can't take my eyes off the paper. Keep the reading to ten minutes? Bah!

A few weeks ago I submitted to the St. Patrick's Day edition of Writing Without Walls. It's a cross-bay reading series ran by someone I went to Mills with. The series is still in its infancy and has already done an impressive set of readings. I submitted a luck-themed short story and they told me to come of down. On St. Patrick's Day, me and my lady crossed the Bay to attend the reading at Sacred Grounds Cafe.

Writing Without Walls is right. The venue being closed when I got there? Not so impressive. A bunch of the readers standing on top of a mountain in San Francisco, outside of a closed cafe, and though I found somewhere to go to the bathroom after holding it all the way across that mile-long bridge I did not like standing in the wintry cold. The nail salon lady next-door assured us that the venue is usually closed by this time. She checked on the back door, found it to be padlocked, and encouraged us all to go home before we caught cold. It looked like there would be no reading. This irritated me. I figured it high time to drive back to my friend's St. Paddy's Day party.

The organizers showed up and were equally miffed with this development. Despite some people's insistence that we find a bar in the Haight to get smashed in, the MC set about trying to find a last-minute venue. Nice guy. He thought of taking the thing to the CCA campus, which would have been a bit of a drive, then somebody suggested just going to this one guy's house. By now there's a crowd of people standing in the cold. We put a note on the door, formed a train, walked six blocks to the guy's house and had a literary event. I have to say I was impressed. I've met event organizers who would have called off the whole thing. While it felt like an eternity, they got a new spot together in 45 minutes, and the reading was well-attended, which means they did good promo. I would have hated for all those people to have to just go back to their homes and/or get smashed somewhere. Not when they could be getting smashed at my reading, which took place in this guy's home.

Good reading, too. Really nice blend of serious and humorous (Yours Truly, of course, provided teh seriouz). Check out the other videos, as well.

I've been getting the performance/travel bug something awful lately. Maybe it's that restlessness that's giving me such bad insomnia. There's a lot to get done before I think of touring, like finishing my book and the audiobook. Lately I've felt really inclined toward an Elvenslaughter 2012: The Apocalypse. I'm thinking of how I can work that into my summer plans. ARGH BRAIN! Stop having so many ideas!

BTW, I'm really happy with that piece I read for Writing Without Walls, which is the start of something longer. Delta blues is the music of outlaws. Quite literally, in some cases. This powerful music, which was the "country CNN" as much as gangsta rap was the "ghetto CNN," eventually mutated into a myth about black virility that inspired the misogynist cock-fest we call rock-'n-roll. Oh sure, it's gotten better in the last few years, but rock's foundations were basically some white guy saying, "Look at that black guy playing the guitar. I wish my penis was as big as his. I wish I wasn't feeling so alienated now that I don't have fascists to fight and machines do everything for me. Maybe I should play guitar. Except I'll play it slower, because man, that picking looks like a lot of work." Cue birth of a new genre. 

And when I say outlaw, I mean cultural. Committing crimes against social norms. Imagine being a black man in Mississippi around the 1920s. You were expected to work the fields and keep your eyes low when white people passed. You were expected to be a God-fearing Christian who only broke out music in church. You were expected to raise a family to take up your sharecrop debts and die. If you were a black woman, well, your body was basically the property of others; you were a maid, a wetnurse, a rape victim, a brood mare. Those who sang the blues would have none of this.

It was black people with a music, subject matter, and lifestyle completely opposite to what was expected of them. So opposite that, when it made white radio in the '50s, America was scared shitless. Niggers smoking dope and singing about sex and poverty and other shit we don't want to hear? Oh my god! They're corrupting our youth! The blues was not only a musical movement, but a cultural one.

Here's a link to the Writing Without Walls journal that has my piece. Like I said, some good stuff in there. They have a print version, too, for all you print snobs.

And that makes two posts for the month of March. I'm on a role.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Chapter 74: In Which I Discuss Agents and Borrowers

First off, big congrats to my friends Madeleine Barnes and Michelle Geck! They both got full scholarships to the Skidmore workshop this summer and I could not be happier for them. As far as writing workshops go, it's the top of top-tier.

Speaking of workshops, I applied to this year's Clarion. Should hear back from them soon as to whether I got in. Until then, I will continue to be that guy who hangs around extremely talented writers.

Recently pitched my work to an agent. Mills has an annual "meet with agents" conference called Pitchfest that I was encouraged to attend. So I put on a suit, went down, hung out for an hour eating cookies and then met with an agent. I'm sure it went awesome for some people, but I was not necessarily in a shilling mood. What was there to pitch? I brought the first few pages of Motley & Plume Players, a manuscript that is not finished, and stumbled and mumbled my way through my fifteen-minute meeting. Had no idea how to talk up the book, or even discuss it coherently. The agent was nice and told me to send the manuscript to her when it is finished and edited. Which will be around two years from now. I told her I would.

So anyway, eh. I talked to some friends who felt really optimistic about their meetings, so that's something. Looking for agents will eventually be paramount, as I'm sure major firms don't accept unsolicited manuscripts. I'll worry about that once I have a novel to publish.

Mills recently hit me with a thousand dollar bill out of nowhere. This is highly frustrating, since I took out the exact amount of loans needed to cover the costs. Or at least I thought I did. Mills never bothered to tell me because they don't stress about small amounts of money, until such point when the student is about to graduate and they want it now. I don't know why the fuss. If I don't pay I don't get a degree, so they hold all the cards. I refuse to take out anymore loans and will just have to conjure the money somehow. One more thing to deal with. It's amazing how the most pressing matters almost ALWAYS come out of left field. 

People ask me if grad school was worth it and nowadays I answer honestly: I don't know. Everything about Mills is colored by an exorbitant tuition coupled with the lack of aid to pay for it. No class, no matter how well-taught, will at the moment feel like it justifies 70 grand. Right now I'm looking at moving from the Bay again, because trying to last on my savings in such a terrible job market will not work. So I tell people that I absolutely need a year or two of hindsight in order to assess what I got from Mills, other than the degree.

I'm sure I come across as cynical sometimes, and there's a lot to be cynical about. Overall, I think grad school has put me in a positive place. It's the only time I've been able to put writing as the center of my life. At every other point, the art has been something I've had to prioritize alongside things like work or social justice or general studies. The last two years in general have revolved around brainstorming, working on pieces, researching for them, scheduling readings, participating in workshops, and working to meet deadlines. I specifically took the time to focus on creative writing and that's what I've been doing. Like all things Edenic, it won't last. In fact, it will be over in two months. But it's been a good time.

The Secret World of Arrietty
I saw The Secret World of Arrietty recently. If you don't know, that's the new Studio Ghibli film, an adaptation of The Borrowers. People keep adapting that book. Perhaps I should read it.

Beautiful movie. Absolutely stunning, especially the way they blend image and music. It's about Arrietty, a 14-year-old girl who's only a few inches tall. She lives in the basement of a house and is a Borrower, a race of tiny people who "borrow" everything they need from humans (or "Beans" as she calls them). The movie deals with her burgeoning friendship with Sean, a human boy who is very ill, and her family's sudden need to move because humans have discovered them.

Movies like this are why animation exists. It's a quiet, patient movie, and is all about images and atmosphere. Just what would it be like to be so small? I loved the way they use sound to create a feeling of Arrietty's world, where a ticking clock or rainfall is magnified huge in her ears. The whoosh of Sean's hand as it descends to pick up Arrietty. I love the way they use scale to make a scavenger crow seem like the most giant, menacing creature in the world. I love the design of her house where everything is made from discarded human things like coins and stamps and nails. Just such wonderful worldbuilding. The part where Arrietty accompanies her dad on her first borrowing is worth the price of admission. And on that note, the soundtrack is full of lovely songs that I just had to youtube after I got out the theatre. It provides a perfect compliment to the visuals.

And there's a sadness to the film. Arrietty's family suspects they are the last Borrowers left. Others of their kind have fallen victim to humans. Their existence is a lonely one. They are vulnerable and scared and very distrustful of humans, and they have reason to be. Unlike other fairy folk who have that connection to nature, they are just as distrustful of animals. They know a rat or crow would like to gnaw on them. The plot reminded me of The Secret of Nimh, with the family moving to new place. It's within this desperate situation that Arrietty meets her first friend.

I've always adored the way Ghibli handles love. Except for Howl's Moving Castle, Miyazaki himself never dealt with romantic love between two adults. But his studio understands the feelings that young people have for each other can be just as intense as when they get older. Sean and Arrietty have these feelings, but she's moving, and she's distrustful, and he has a bad hard, and their different species, and their friendship is just so fleeting. Even as they get closer, they're really moving farther apart. That doesn't make their team-up any less beautiful.

It's rare for me to see such a well-done, character-based cartoon. This is not Hayao Miyazaki, but directed by a young Ghibli ingenue, and was apparently very popular in Japan. To think that a secondary Ghibli production has this level of love behind it is mind-boggling. It's just inspiring.

Which brings me to...the trailers.

I'm not the type of otaku to poop on all American film, but...goddamn. Arrietty proves that you don't need constant action and dumb jokes to make a captivating children's film. They did it with compelling characters and artistry. And what do they put before it? The new Madagascar movie, Mirror Mirror Chimpanzee, and DreamWorks' bastardization of Dr. Seuss' The Lorax.

I felt like I was sitting through that shit for an hour.

There were also trailers for Pirates: Band of Misfits and Brave. Neither preview set my world on fire, but Aardman and Pixar will always get benefit of the doubt from me. Their the modern dreammakers and I trust them.

But the rest of that crap? To their credit, they finally cobbled together a Lorax preview that mentioned deforestation among the cutesy short jokes. The Julia Roberts movie looked like an old Cannon Movie Tale. Madagascar? Sometimes I wonder if these people actually like being filmmakers. Like, do they genuinely enjoy making test market-ready nonsense?

You can be commercial and still make art. Pixar's done it for twenty years. Their standard of quality is so high that even a cash grab like Cars 2 has something worth watching. Which is why the previews pissed me off. They looked awful and pandering. And there's no excuse.

It's like when Jim Cornette trashes hardcore wrestling. Would you rather be doing beautiful displays of athleticism in front of 30000 people, or would you rather be maiming yourself for the pleasure of 30 drunk troglodytes? It's the same thing. Would you rather be Madagascar or Arrietty? Would you rather make something that will stand the test of time or something disposed of when these kids reach puberty? Art is a gift. Don't waste it.