Speedboat, by Renata Adler

IMG_20170626_112822634.jpg
(view from Peggy Guggenheim’s window)

Adler, Renata. Speedboat. New York: New York Review Books, 2013.

This novel blows me away. I stole a copy from a rental apartment in Venice last month, trading one of the books I brought from home (which I have tried, unsuccessfully, several times to read); I stole it feeling justified, not short-changing Italy on English books.

How had I not heard of Renata Adler?

Speedboat is knit from fragments, snapshots. They read like postage-stamp-sized essays. And the accumulation of these bits make up an incredibly compelling voice. To my ear, Adler’s prose is no less perfect than Joan Didion’s.

Here are two gems: little windows, little story starts. I could have plucked any paragraph from this book and it would have tasted as sweet, but it was delicious to type up these passages.

From p. 144:

“The clerk of the morgue of this paper is an irascible man. Reporters are always taking his files away, forgetting to sign for them, keeping them, losing them, throwing them away. Over the years, it has made the clerk ill. I signed for a file, took the folder to my desk, and then took it home. Everybody does it. It is against the rules. After four days, I brought the folder back. The clerk of the morgue was incensed. What, he demanded to know, if the man whose file it was had died in those four days; what, in the absence of the file, would the obituary have been constructed from—had I considered that at all? Well, I said, since I had signed for the file, if the man whose file it was had died, somebody could have called me up. I would have brought the folder back. True, the clerk said, but there were questions of another sort. What if, in those four days, a new fact about the man had come to light, a fact that ought quite surely to be added to the file; what, in the absence of the file, was there to add the fact to, what rubric, category, or place was there to put the new fact in—had I considered that at all, had I given it one moment’s thought? I said I had not. The clerk, becoming pale with rage, said he might have to raise the matter with management. People seem to be unhappy in so many different ways. I’ve always liked the wrathful keepers of the files.”

From p. 168:

“When Dan rode his bicycle over a cliff, we all behaved in characteristic ways. We were in Central Park. There was intense competition for calm, for sane instructions. Cover him, take his pulse, call a doctor, get an ambulance, stand back, raise his head, don’t move him, leave him room and air. He had been riding his bicycle at full speed, with a kind of Western-yodel whoop, over the cliff edge. It had been a dare. He was out quite cold. In the rush to help, Jeff and Lee—who are the nicest of us, really—quietly returned all the bicycles, including Dan’s, with its bent frame and mangled wheel, to the store from which we had rented them for the day. Two uniformed men appeared. They told Dan to get up. He opened his eyes. “Lie still,” we said. “Wait for the ambulance.” One of the uniformed men said, “He, man, we are the ambulance.” Dan blinked. He tottered up a steep hill to their car. He sat on a stretcher. They let him sit up, occasionally bumping his head lightly against the root, all the way to the hospital. He mumbled apologies. Ralph’s girl, in a helpless daze of solicitude, held Dan’s shoe in her lap. Situps aside, it is possible that we are really a group of invalids, hypochondriacs, and misfits. I don’t know. Even our people who stay fit with yoga seem to be, more than others, subject to the flu.”

Lunch Ticket Interview with Tara Ison

TaraIsonHeadShot06
Tara Ison

My friend Melissa’s interview with the fabulous writer, Tara Ison (whose essays I blogged about here), is up on Lunch Ticket. What a great interview! Read the interview here. Cheers!

(p.s. Not sure I got the commas right in what I wrote above. Not going to overthink it.)

(carnival fragment)

IMG_7418

I don’t recall writing this, but apparently I did:

If a person could climb up a ladder to the sky, and look down at the Eight Mile Suspended Carnival, the person would see a sort of living beast, its spine the Tower of Misfortune, its arms the tents, its legs the rides, wheels, gears, its blood the wine and food and excrement that flowed through the bodies of carnies and guests, the air in the beast’s lungs breathed by the humans who worked and wandered inside the cave of the beast’s body. Its head the hotel, its mouth and ass the doorway into and out of its corrugated skin of wonder.

Lynda Barry, Omega Institute workshop (scratching the surface)

IMG_0214.jpg
(words by someone else, drawing by me)

I can’t yet write deeply/fully about my experience at Lynda Barry’s WRITING THE UNTHINKABLE Omega Institute workshop last week, because it’s all still coalescing, and it’s summertime, and I just don’t have the mind space word space right now.  But I wrote a message to my former students and couple colleagues, because the message does scratch the surface (cliche, I know) in telling about how it was to be in the room with LB. More, more deeply, when I can.

***

Hi, all,

I’m just back from an amazing workshop at the Omega Institute in Rhinebeck, NY, where I spent the week along with 70 others working with Lynda Barry.  Some of you know her work, maybe some of you don’t…but I wanted to pass these links along in case they are of interest to you.
If you like her vibe and work, I recommend the workshop very highly. It got me moving in the creative flow, writing and drawing and working really hard, and also unlocked a lot of stuck ideas I had about making art and what it’s all about.

(Or, in shorthand: Lynda Barry rocks! And so can you!)

She’s very generous about her teaching.  She considers her work open-sourced, and wants anyone and everyone to have access to it.  Her book that contains the most teaching stuff in it is Syllabus, but it has as much for the maker of art as the teacher.  (Okay, by now you know how I feel about Lynda Barry’s work.)
Here’s her TED talk, a good, longish introduction to her work:
And here’s a link about her work as it pertains to ACADEMIC WRITING as well…

***

Love, Rebecca

Winnowing stage directions (trusting the reader)

IMG_9821Often, new writers use extraneous stage directions and phrases that aren’t needed to show characters action. (So do I.) The reason, I think, is similar to my last post: First, the writer needs to see it all happening, in detail. Once that vision is established, however, it’s great to trust the reader to and winnow what’s possibly bloating the sentences.  Here’s an example from my novel:

FIRST VERSION: (I had to figure out where the character was going, and sort of lay it all out, with too much stage business describing what’s happening.)

She stumbled through the fire pit and into the hotel, quietly as she could, and went straight toward the stairs, but was stopped by Mr. Suspenders’ voice from the direction of the kitchen, where there was a light. “Whoever you are, a little help!”

PARED DOWN: (Once I realized I could see it, I pared down.)

She stumbled into the hotel, quietly as possible, and went toward the stairs, but Mr. Suspenders called from the kitchen. “Whoever you are, a little help!”

 

A book that might help

IMG_9410
Mountain/small rock, Laguna Beach, California, 4/3/16

Considering the controversy surrounding the Antioch Review’s publication of the article “The Sacred Androgen: The Transgender Debate,” by Daniel Harris, I thought of Maggie Nelson’s genre-bending memoir, The Argonauts. (You can read an overview of the Antioch Review controversy here.)  (And I blogged a tiny bit about The Argonauts here.)

In The Argonauts I find a beautiful work of humanity. Reading it helped open my thinking about gender and the lack of imagination it takes to embrace the too-limiting gender binary. (As a writer and person who celebrates the human imagination, why should we only acknowledge two poles?) (I like to believe my mind and heart were already pretty open, but as a relatively straight, cisgendered woman, with a relatively well-understood path to walk, I have some distance to travel before I can truly understand less straightforward life narratives. As stories will do, reading the story of Maggie Nelson and Harry Dodge helped open me, helped me see a wider vista.) I recommend the book. In addition to its value as a work of social justice (and theory: it is quite accessible even to me, as someone outside of Theory) its lyricism is breathtaking.

What I find in Nelson’s book is a beautiful argument in favor of focusing on the particulars of being human, that specificity. For those of us who write fiction, this is an important part of creating character. (And as we create character in fiction, we have the opportunity to open the minds and hearts of our readers, to allow them to imagine another human’s inside terrain.)

Maybe the Antioch Review could invite Maggie Nelson to write for a future issue!

Experiments with raw

IMG_9149.jpg

I’m trying experiments where I don’t overthink some of the writing I release into the world. Where I don’t polish until it’s as perfect as my ego can make it (perfection is overrated and a lie, anyway.). This (below) is a raw something I wrote recently (some even tonight) and I will soon type it onto handmade paper by Sarah Strong for an exhibit called The Power Of Story, so I thought I’d also put it here.

**

I am from

1970s Osh Kosh overalls having
too much TV in the afternoon after school
Brady Bunch Courtship of Eddie’s Father, as sad a show as I have ever known.
What else in the afternoon in the house that is no longer there is the driveway even there anymore, I think not.
I am from a fire exercise a house burned down on purpose
it was my house but not really my house because we were renters.
Who did that fire serve, I hope someone, maybe it served my friend whose house burned down later because maybe the firefighters had learned something when they burned down my house.
Did they learn anything.
What did I learn.
Maybe just that stuff needs a place
but if you don’t have a place then
at least keep the stuff keep all the stuff you can from that place
from those days
(and later learn that whether or not you keep one damn thing it doesn’t matter
because stories stick to you better than the shadow to Peter Pan
and don’t need to be reattached by Wendy or anyone else.)

My Naming

 

IMG_9493.jpg
Glen Helen, 4/24/16

Here are some words that arrived as I was waking up this morning. So I wrote them down.

**

My Naming

I am from You don’t get to name me. I am from Give me enough time and I will name myself.

I will turn over all the stones and I will find what I need for the naming; I will find the paint and the bones and the breath. I will find the nest of flowers and I will find the eggs.

In the hunting-places it is so quiet that you can put your ear on the ground and hear nothing, hear forever. You don’t need to speak there; you don’t even need to keep your eyes open.

You will read my name in my hair. You will wind my shed hairs into a lute and play the song that is my name. I will shed hairs and weave a web and write my name in my sleep.