A specific disintegration

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Credit: M. Jakubowski

This focus on Else, I am thinking while walking, everything everywhere, cities and towns the world over, what we’ve achieved at the office or the church or the classroom is beautiful of course and nothing to sneeze at. But in the end of the self, whether God’s involved a little or a lot, it’s to something else entirely apart from our memories and accomplishments that we first return.

The flora we call weeds thick and green against the steel poles holding up a fence around a pad of oily concrete. Sparrows abounding in the gutters in cracked building corners, every thorny bush between home an office. Beware resistance to this palace of small places we are headed towards, the bodily noises of the weeds and small birds seem to say. So on days when I am aware in my way feeling what prayerful people call at peace, days without sleep over several nights, the office and the family plans and the past fade into their moment, etched with modest gratitude. Not places of nothingness. The urge isn’t to throw it once and for all away into some other place beyond with the angry force of regret. There’s no regret. Regret is for egoists.

But these things here and now beneath my feet and at eye level that will be here and were here long ago are the next stage we will step onto. This fact will never age, even as sparrows evolve and blades of grass hybridize. It’s enough to make the walk from the bus to the front door something a different kind of person might call miraculous, before they disintegrate into sleep, or the hope of another year that in many cases will not come.

The breath and the way

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Credit: M. Jakubowski

As for this site, I have the urge to get back into the habit of posting regularly. (I’ve decided for better or worse not to edit too much.) Maybe a change is needed, would be fun, we’ll see, in my writing approach/approaches—this thought after reading some of Duras’s essays and articles and fragments that roil and startle with enough ego to power a new sun.

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Paper Monument

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My, oh my, how the months fly by. Last I posted it was winter and now it’s fall again. Three seasons later, I have three things to share.

I’m very pleased to have published two new story-reviews this year. These are my experimental book reviews, or critifictions, as I call them sometimes. (A friend of mine said he thinks I might have invented this form/genre? Hard to say. Who knows?)

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Another Life

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My latest experimental book review is now online at Full Stop. (It originally appeared last year in the Full Stop Quarterly.) It’s part four in an ongoing series of experimental reviews I’m writing about literature in translation. I’ve been publishing them pretty slowly, about once a year. They’re a bit hard to place, being so different from traditional reviews, but I enjoy writing them. Many thanks to Helen Stuhr-Rommereim for believing in this piece and making it happen.

Another Life
On Recitation by Bae Suah, translated by Deborah Smith.

The critic read Suah’s novel, Recitation, on the train to and from a writers conference. At a panel about the art of criticism featuring Pulitzer Prize-winning critic Margo Jefferson the discussion turned to writing, the personal process of coming to terms with bias against different sorts of texts, the ways critics develop an approach for each piece. In the audience the critic listened as Jefferson described the nature of critical writing as “giving real coherence to ambiguity,” saying that not unlike a fiction writer a critic must also, “play different parts, very much adjusting your voice,” when interpreting a book’s potential meanings.

Continue reading at Full Stop

 

Damp & splotchy

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The splotchy thing above is a detail from a finger-painting my son did. He has no idea he created it. He just made it and brought it home from school before disappearing beneath a pile of Legos. I pinned the painting up by my desk at work and there it hung for many months until I noticed the intricate webbings inside the mess, and snapped a photo last week. Not sure why, and I’m probably overthinking it a bit, but it feels like I’m supposed to learn something from that somehow. Or not. I just like it.

Meanwhile, I was very happy in May to have two stories in The Brooklyn Rail. They are both very short stories, and appeared in print and online, so if you need a quick read, they’re on the same webpage. One is about death, and the title even says so: “Particles of Death.” The other is about love and is called “The Breath of Life.” I’m grateful to Donald Breckenridge for publishing them.

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A bird unbound

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Credit: M. Jakubowski

A translator reached out to me last week after my short story, “New Names for the Dead,” appeared online asking if I’d allow him to publish a translation in Tamil. I gladly said yes. It’s the first time my work has been translated and it feels kind of miraculous to have a story of mine exist now in a language as gorgeous as Tamil.

The translator, who prefers to retain some anonymity (his Twitter handle is @thackli), also gave me permission to post some of his notes on the translation.

For reference, here is my story “New Names for the Dead” as it originally appeared at (b)OINKzine. (The story is summarized in the notes that follow in case you’d rather not leave this page.) And here is இறந்தவர்களுக்கான புதிய பெயர்கள், the Tamil translation.

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Through winter

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The recent election results have affected the time I devote to my writing, and demanded an adjustment to remain focused on my work. Like many other people, it’s important to me to stay engaged in steady, consistent resistance against Trump’s administration, even before he takes office. It requires time set aside daily for research and choices about which actions to take. Millions of people are adjusting their lives a bit to do this work. First there was dread, then annoyance at all the effort that resistance requires, but this is the way it is, steady work, coping with the fear. Staying informed and connected to others has eased things along.

Now that I know my representatives’ contact info and have the hang of leaving quick, pointed, polite messages, it takes less time overall to act. And it’s nice when we win on certain issues. It helps to see other writers sharing their publication successes, their victories as activists, and effective methods of resistance.

In terms of my writing, looking back briefly on 2016, it was a significant year. I finished a novel, got a wonderful agent (Sarah Yake at Frances Collin), and for the first time earned more from my fiction than nonfiction. Which isn’t to boast, only to say that at 42 good firsts can happen.

Recent writing & upcoming events:

  • In December, I published two new stories with Great Jones Street, a free short-story app. (To publish in an app may sound strange, but GJS pays well for fiction, and they run a tight operation that is genuinely supportive of writers.) If you download the app, you can find my work by searching for my last name. The two new pieces are called “Flowers Floating Past” and “The Good-Bye Window.” (Website link.)
  • For Cleaver magazine, I reviewed Marc Anthony Richardson’s experimental first novel, “The Year of the Rat” (FC2, 2016).
  • On January 18, I’ll be on a panel called, “Marginalized Work, Innovative Critique” at the Kelly Writers House at the University of Pennsylvania. It’ll be a stellar group of experimental, small-press authors: Vi Khi Nao, Steven Dunn, Hilary Plum, and Caren Beilin. It’s co-sponsored by Full Stop magazine, in honor of their first print anthology.
  • I’m co-editing an upcoming issue of The Critical Flame on the theme of parenting. Submissions of reviews, essays, interviews and hybrid nonfiction are being accepted until Jan. 27.
  • I’m reading manuscripts again this year for the Open Prose Series for Rescue Press. Submissions accepted until Jan. 31, seeking nonfiction, fiction, or “sui generis prose.”

Best wishes to everyone in 2017. Good luck with all your work, in all its forms: artistic, political, and everything in between!