hello monday! (150223)


(before we begin, here are a few books i've been reading lately.)

i think i've said the phrase, "it's cold," so many times now it's lost all meaning.  i feel like we got more snow last winter, but it's been much, much colder this winter, and i admit i don't mind it.  i might even love it.  i wouldn't mind if we had more snow, either, but, see, i'm a december baby, and i love cold weather.  which means that, sometimes, i check the weather in california and shudder when it gives me 80-degree temperatures in february because, gross, that sounds like hell, i'll take my 20 degrees, feels like 3 degrees with wind chill, thank you very much.

idk what those silly kids were doing in narnia, trying to do away with eternal winter.

i read this article published in vanity fair last july talking about donna tartt's the goldfinch and how the new yorker, the new york review of books, and the paris review poo-pooed it.  i have not read the goldfinch.  i have no intention of reading the goldfinch.  for one, it's absurdly long, and, before you sniff at me for that, for another, the most common criticism i've heard about it is that it could have used a heavier editing hand and lost at least 100-200 pages, and, if there's one thing i cannot forgive in a book, it is exactly that.

going back to the article, though, and the question of "but is it art?":  my question comes back as, "and does it matter?"  beyond that, though, everything gets muddled up because i do think there's an argument to be made for "serious literature" and the need to uphold it, because i do think there's a standard that makes "good" writing or "bad" writing (in the loosest sense), because i do think we need to have these standards and lines in place.  and i think we do need tastemakers and gatekeepers who are essentially curators who help find the good from among the ocean of "created things" and bring attention to them because we don't all have the time to do that ourselves.  and, at the same time, i think we badly need more diversity within these circles of tastemakers and gatekeepers (i love the paris review, but, sometimes, it pains me how white it is) (same with FSG) because, for me personally, it's not only the gender thing that gets under my skin but also (and maybe more so) the diversity thing.  we don't just need writers who are of different color; we need writers of color from different backgrounds who tell a wide tapestry of stories; and we need this -- it's a matter of necessity, not of whim or simple desire. 

at the same time, i'm aware that the conversation of diversity is more nuanced than simply pointing at the tastemakers and gatekeepers and saying, you're doing a bad job.  i can't fault the paris review when they're doing their job and getting quality writing in their pages and oftentimes helping launch careers (and obviously my subscription is clear support), just like i can't fault FSG when they're publishing great writing and supporting more "serious" endeavors that other houses might not risk -- but isn't that also the funny thing about loving something?  that it increases your capacity to be disappointed sometimes because you expect more because you know you can expect more, though "disappointed" is a bit of a strong sentiment here.

sometimes, i think it's funny how i've become so attached to certain publications and houses.  do people regularly think along the lines of houses?  but i've always organized my shelves by houses (then by authors), and i credit penguin for this entirely because i love that penguin logo, and it's always been a joy to see that line of penguins neatly in a row on my shelves.

(as an aside, i must admit i've been side-eyeing the pulitzer since 2011.  i wonder what randomness they'll pull this year.)

i went to another event last week, elliot ackerman with phil klay.  will write up a recap this week, in between editing stories, tutoring, and writing cover letters because, oh, i suppose i'm "officially" looking for a full-time job, which basically means i'm coming face-to-face with my sad, sorry lack of qualifications ...

anyway.  have a good week, all!  as always, thanks for reading!

hello monday! (150209)


feeling like shit tonight, so i cracked open jenny offill's dept. of speculation and a pint of haagen-dasz' cookies and cream, which is damn near impossible to find, mind you.  figured the combination of the two of them could help fend off these convictions of colossal failure because, god, melodramatic is apparently now my default state of being, and tonight's a particularly bad night.

on page 7, it says:

i found a book called thriving not surviving in a box on the street.  i stood there, flipping through it, unwilling to commit.

you think that the mental anguish you are experiencing is a permanent condition, but for the vast majority of people it is only a temporary state.

(but what if i'm special?  what if i'm in the minority?)

i write a lot about suicide, which means i think a lot about suicide, and i think about how being suicidal isn't sometimes a continued, prolonged state.  i think of it as cycles, as ups and downs, except the downs aren't simply downs but a single, profound thought resonating in your brain, your body, your heart -- i want to die -- and you keep coming back to this, maybe not everyday but continually, constantly, always thinking of when and where would be best because, when it comes to dying, you need a plan.  sometimes, it's not about executing the plan but simply about having one in place, a sort of emotional protective net to fall back on because it's comforting, knowing that there's an alternative out there, that there's always that thing you can do when all of this -- whatever this is -- loses every shred of meaning.

(sometimes, i think about faith and how it shouldn't be so easy to reconcile the two.  i think about God and the church and how it's constantly failed the depressive, the mentally ill, the suicidal, and i think there's nothing to reconcile -- we will continue to struggle with this pain, and the church will continue to fail us, and God -- i suppose God will be there for those of us who believe in whatever capacity we choose to believe.)

and i think about how, no, this "mental anguish" has nothing to do with permanence or temporality because there are good days and then there are bad days and it's never a comfort to hear everything will be all right! or you'll be okay! because what the hell does anyone know, please take your goddamn platitudes elsewhere.  and maybe i shouldn't be writing blog posts when i'm feeling like shit (and why did my "hello monday" posts get so personal, anyway), but it also feels good to be able to write about suicide and what i think about suicide without the cloak of fiction, so at least there's that.

i also haven't read much at all over the past week because i find myself unable to commit to a book at the moment.  hopefully, i'll get more into dept. of speculation and finish it over the next few days.  and i received kim thuy's mãn and alex ross' listen to this over the weekend and purchased michael cunningham's the hours, joan didion's the white album, and patricia park's re jane (i might have a problem, this is true), so let's read more this week -- there's such a wealth of worlds and beauty and humanity in these blocks of paper bound between pieces of cardboard (or thicker paper), which helps me derive infinite comfort in the knowledge that i will always have books, that my melodramatic shit has made them even more important in my life, and, for me, that is sufficient.

(also, the cover of the hardback of dept. of speculation is beautiful, so what the fuck happened to the paperback?  had to order this off the internet because i just could not have the hideous paperback cover.)

(if you're reading this post, this blog, thanks for reading.  i really, really mean that.)

hello monday! (150202)

i've been thinking about burdens -- the burdens of authors, of readers, of literature -- because i stumbled across a paper* (or something) written about a topic i admit i don't remember (which makes this a terrible introduction) -- what i remember was a mention of chang-rae lee and how he fails to "give back" to korea/korean-america (based off his debut novel, native speaker; i do remember the paper was written before a gesture life).  i probably should have actually read this paper to ascertain the writer's point more clearly, but it was honestly just that claim that stuck with me because i couldn't help but wonder, but what does it mean?  to "give back" to your ethnic community?  and is that a burden that should fall on authors [of color]?  and in what ways?  to what extent?

i've been thinking about the burden of literature, too, how certain books are given more weight than others, and how that can or might affect how we decide about what we read, like in feeling obligated to pick up certain books.  and how that in and of itself could influence how we read certain books, burdened as we are with all this attached "goodness" and "worthiness" -- and maybe this sounds foolish and of no consequence, but do you ever wonder why you read the things you do?

two friends and i touched on this topic this past weekend over brunch, and it reminded me of what chang-rae lee said at his reading at greenlight a few weeks ago -- that we should interrogate ourselves as readers.  (okay, he was talking in the context of himself as a writer also interrogating himself as a reader, but i think we should all interrogate ourselves as readers.)  a few years ago, i had to make the conscious effort to read outside my comfort zone, to read more diversely, because, for one, i felt like i'd fallen into a rut in my reading life and, for another, why was i reading so much from one group when there is such a richness of reading material available?  and i could still stand to challenge myself further, but it's been a better reading life thus far, i dare say, though now  i'm trying to loop this back to the burden of literature and kind of struggling to do so ...

*  i most likely grossly misrepresented this paper, for which i sincerely apologize.

i come from a world that openly and vocally dismisses the novel as something that has no use or value.  the novel is a mark of immaturity because mature, grown people move on from the novel and read essays and philosophy and non-fiction (or, rather, they read books on faith and how to live a good christian life and such) because essays and philosophy and non-fiction (or theology and religious discourse and christian thinking) have a "tangible" use in "furthering" and "bettering" them and helping them "grow."

to which i say, how small your minds are, when the worlds of novels contain multitudes, the stories we might not want to hear because they pain us or disgust us or shame us, the histories that others have sought to erase, the voices that have been silenced or exploited or manipulated.  when novels wrestle with what it is to be human in all its complications and richness and lay bare for us the spectrum of human longing and suffering and love and the universality of the human condition -- we are not so different from each other as some might have us, might desire us to believe.

and, to those who dismiss the novel and toss christian texts in my lap, i say, well, christ understood the value of stories, too.

was that a lot for a monday post?  it's been a long week, though, and i find myself a bit weary.  the blizzard last week was anticlimactic, tapering off before getting anywhere close to the foot or two or three of snow we were supposed to receive.  there was snow, though, eight inches of it, and i did so revel in it because, like i said, i love snow, and the world is a magical place after snow.

and then it turns to slush.  and/or ice.

one of my closest friends is visiting the city this weekend, and i'm loads excited for it.  we're going to eat and walk and visit all my favorite places, and we're going to talk about books and our stupid, foolish ambitions and the good wife.  she's probably going to freeze because she's from california, and i'm going to laugh because i told her to buy a beanie (she's refusing), and she's probably going to declare her hatred of new york city vehemently over and over again, and i'm going to laugh some more.  all while we eat and walk and eat and walk some more ...

basically, it's going to be a good weekend.  >:3

(and i already broke my resolution to read a book in korean every month ... damn!)

such are the natural processes of life

There’s something bittersweet about finishing an exceptional story or novel.  For one, this feeling of discovery and this sense of newness won’t come around again, not with this story.  For another, this story or novel is complete, the characters departed, the adventure come to an end.  And, for a third, the question niggles at the back of the mind, “Will I ever even come close to being able to write something as exceptional?”

It takes a few minutes, sometimes a few hours, sometimes an entire night of restless dreams, for the feeling to pass.  And, then, all there’s to do is hunt out another story or pick up the pen and resume writing again.