Showing posts from October, 2012

the lady and the legacy

Precursor to the garage band. Power is still out at my studio, so last night one of the staff members invited me and an equally powerless nonfiction writer to stay in Hillcrest, the MacDowells’ old farmhouse house at the top of the hill. Now it’s where they put up board members and fancy visiting artists. The place is a bit of a labyrinth. There’s a story about Edward Albee getting turned around, stumbling through a sort of closet/tunnel thing and ending up in Michael Chabon’s bedroom, where he was lying around in his underwear. Hillcrest is huge—I think there are at least eight bedrooms—but cozy because it was built for nineteenth century farmers, who were apparently all about 5’ 3”. The staff member herded a big group of us into Edward MacDowell’s music room, which has been kept as the MacDowells left it. There’s embossed wallpaper, a grand piano, walls of bookshelves, beams that don’t quite meet and a draught that circles your ankles like a cat. Imagine if you converted

it was a dark and stormy night

Terrified of their feelings for each other. Last night one of the MacDowell staffers offered to drive everyone back to their studios around eight, but being here has infected me with a mild case of FOMO*, and I didn’t want to miss the screening of The Haunting that was about to begin , so I decided to sleep in Colony Hall rather than sit in my dark studio for hours. Is watching a horror movie about a haunted mansion in the heart of leafy New England the best idea when I plan to spend the night by myself in a huge, creaky old building in leafy New Hampshire during a hurricane? What about when the hurricane keeps blowing the doors open while the doors in the movie rattle and undulate as if they’re alive? Actually, it wasn’t the worst idea. The movie—the original, from 1963-ish—is simultaneously campy and creepy and gay and Freudian. Claire Bloom plays a hot telepathic lesbian who wears mod clothes and hits on Julie Harris’s stressed-out Nell. Joined by the paternal doctor

a now-obsolete post written shortly before hurricane sandy killed the internet

This morning my friend Colin, a lifelong Californian who’s doing a book tour on the East Coast right now, posted: “I’m so used to earthquakes that the idea of sitting around waiting for a disaster is really weird.” At least, that’s the gist of what he said; power is out at MacDowell right now, so I can’t jump online to fact-check. New Hampshire is currently getting the tail end—or maybe it’s the head or elbow—of Hurricane Sandy. As one of two Angelenos here, I’ve been repeating Colin’s words, although now that I think about it, waiting around for a disaster is exactly what I do, which is why I’m in so much damn therapy. And I don’t even have a really tip-top emergency kit to show for it; I just worry a lot. This will be my first hurricane, which is kind of exciting, which is just the sort of thing someone who’s never been through a hurricane would say. If I’d been through several smallish ones, I would find them a pain in the ass and know how to do things like board up win

the acknowledgments page

A rare MacDowell Wolf. Yesterday we hiked Mount Monadnock, which is apparently pronounced mon-ADD-nock, not MON-an-dock (which doesn’t even make sense, but that’s how I read it). A really funny screenwriter/filmmaker, a nonfiction writer whose parents once bought a house infested with scorpions (she had more animal stories where that came from) and another nonfiction writer, who is kind of a walking encyclopedia, but not in an annoying way. One of the things the encyclopedia guy told us: The bald, rocky top of Mount Monadnock is not above the tree line, as it would appear. Rather, at the turn of the last century, local farmers were convinced that wolves were coming down from the top of the mountain and killing their livestock. They decided to show the wolves who was boss by setting fire to the woods repeatedly. Eventually the trees didn’t come back. Neither did the wolves. Now there are only coyotes here. I heard them yipping eerily the other night, which should be a comf

private property

It's high security around here. Last night the only poet (surprisingly) in residence said that he got turned around a lot on the trails that loop through MacDowell’s three hundred acres. “At first I concluded that all the roads lead back to the same place. But I was on one for a while, and it spit me out on the paved street, and it became clear it wasn’t going to get me back to Colony Hall. So I decided to just retrace my steps. But when I turned back the way I came from, I saw this sign that said Private Property and I was like, Uh-oh, am I in someone’s yard? ” He wasn’t. He was still on the MacDowell campus, which is studded with Private Property signs. (They’re not too threatening; they just ask MacDowell visitors to please use the High Street entrance.) But one of the visual artists admitted she’d been intimidated by the signs too, as had I. (It probably doesn’t help that, when I was little, my dad had a habit of parking our motor home on the side of some coast

the mystery of a remodel

1. bleu period I finished Draft 1 of the YA novel yesterday. It’s mind-altering to do in a week what normally takes a month or two. I talked to my dad on the phone and mentioned how spoiled I’m getting here, how amazing it is to be treated like I have something important to say and I should just go ahead and spend the whole day saying it. Also, there’s the immersion factor: It’s the only way to learn a language, and I’m now convinced it’s the best way to learn a language of your own devising too. Apparently, I’ve been doing the equivalent of diligently memorizing vocab lists from my Spanish for Beginners textbook for years. My dad immediately began brainstorming ways that I can get out of town and write more in the future. “Stop,” I told him. “If I get too spoiled, I’ll have nothing to write about.” “We can talk more when you get home,” he said mysteriously. I think he was vaguely implying that another residency might show up in my Christmas stocking. “Or we can not t

i am not listless (get it?)

Imperfect writing metaphor. 1. I think I may be overly reliant on characters overhearing things. It’s a cheap plot device, and one reason I didn’t think much of The Big Sleep. 2. I think I might finish the YA book in like two more days. I’m not looking forward to editing my cats-‘n’-Malaysia novel, but I guess writing a YA book is a productive form of procrastination. 3. Some writers love rewriting and fear the blank page. I’m the opposite, although I don’t hate rewriting as much as I used to. 4. It’s kind of like cleaning the toilet. It didn’t even occur to me back in the day, and I didn’t have the right kind of brush and duck-neck cleaning product to do it. Now I do it regularly, if reluctantly. 5. It’s like cleaning the toilet if cleaning the toilet made your brain hurt and sometimes evoked painful memories and took years. And sometimes when you thought you’d cleaned the toilet, someone came along and said, no, actually it’s not clean. 6. Also if cleaning to

trigger happy

Hey, punkin. The calendar in Colony Hall said “Surprize.” What could possibly blow the minds of two dozen artists sufficiently to warrant being spelled with a Z? Two dozen pumpkins and a bag full of knives pilfered from the kitchen, that’s what. It was all orchestrated by a playwright here; he led us through the woods to his studio, where the pumpkins and cider and mini bags of Doritos awaited ( chips : a recurring motif in my life). Recently my crafty sister confessed that she works extra hard on cards she’s making for weddings or bachelorette parties, because she secretly craves admiration, even though it’s someone else’s big day. I told her that wasn’t a secret so much as human nature. So I was excited to see the pumpkins—if there had been, say, an impromptu jam session or sing-along (and there more or less have been), I would have had to back slowly away. I have no inner musician waiting to emerge. But I do have an inner visual artist. I mean, she’s kind of folk

temporary utopia and picturesque rot

Little house in the big woods. Today it’s raining but not too cold. My favorite kind of rain. The sky just sort of drips onto the yellow and orange leaves, and steam rolls along the ground. You can see why a person might want to write about nature, although my official position on the subject is that nature is like New York: There’s plenty to say about it, but a lot of it’s already been said. Yesterday was sunny, so I took a long walk on my “lunch break,” which I’m putting in quotes because it was a break from my “work.” Don’t get me wrong—I’m working, and it’s wonderful, and I think this place will spoil me just like I knew it would, now that I know what it means to see the waves of my narrative in compressed form. But it’s a playful kind of work. I took my photocopied MacDowell map and wandered past the other studios and cottages. There is a lot of white wood and low stone walls covered in moss. Some of the older buildings are a little worn, but it only adds to their

freshman flashbacks

Artist residencies are a lot like freshman year at college, with better food and accommodations. The first conversations are easy and predictable, with “What are you here to work on?” replacing “What’s your major?” Everyone seems exotic and interesting and a little intimidating. Then come the awkward in-between moments, when your extrovert energy starts to wane and you wonder which acquaintances, if any, will turn into actual friends. At least that’s how it works if “you” are me. I spent my freshman year bouncing between outrageous homesickness, unconvincing displays of outgoingness and devastating realizations that the friends I’d thought were my soul mates after a handful of late-night conversations actually didn’t like me all that much. Have I told you about the time my roommate told me to stop secretly gorging myself on her chips ? It's not like they were even Kettle Chips. These flashbacks aren’t totally welcome, although I like to think I’ve learned a thing

25 random things about macdowell too

Calderwood: heated floors and charming bugs. Last night I started reading 2500 Random Things About Me Too , a compilation/explosion of lists from that Facebook meme that went around a few years ago, by my former CalArts professor Matias Viegener. You might think that would make for a terrible book, especially if you’ve seen how blogs and Tumblrs and other internet phenomena have been turned into disappointing books that get sold at Urban Outfitters. But you’d be wrong. I’ll have more to say about Matias’s book—which is as warm and friendly as it is skeptical of narrative—when I’m finished, but for now I just want to blog about (full) Day 1 at MacDowell in random-list form. 1. Lunch arrived in a picnic basket with “Calderwood,” the name of my cottage/studio, painted on the lid. 2. It was tuna salad with capers and faro. Faro! It tastes like peasant food in the best way. 3. I think that when people get stuck, they reach for food, both literally and literarily. Mangoe

magical lands

1. some stories i’ve told myself A handful of years ago, after applying for and being rejected by several of those lovely grants that give chunks of money to women artists, I decided maybe I just wasn’t One Of Those Writers. I had a book out, so I suspected I was a good writer, but Those Writers, the ones who got awards and grants and fellowships, had some kind of additional pedigree I couldn’t quite formulate, let alone access. Maybe my MFA wasn’t from the right school, or my writing was too queer, or not queer enough. People might like my work, but that wasn’t the same as saying, We the well-funded want to put our money on you. We think there should to be more YOU in the world. It was like, if I could get myself to the party, I might be admitted, but no car service was going to send a limo for me. And then I got a grant—from the Center for Cultural Innovation , to work on the circus novel. I got the letter the same week I learned I was pregnant with twins, and I thought,

on being that person

One time in college, my roommates admitted to each other that they’d thought (separately) about killing someone. They’d fantasized about how to do it, wondered if they could get away with it. I was surprised. It’s not that I worried Stephanie or Nina would kill me in my sleep (even though I wasn’t tidiest roommate). But I’d never thought about killing someone. Instead, I’d always imagined getting accused of a crime I didn’t commit. I could easily picture the cops nudging me toward a confession. When I thought about it, did I really remember everything that had happened last Saturday night? No, I would concede tearfully, I did not. Empathy is a weird thing (Colin’s great article in the Used Furniture Review started me thinking about it). In general, I’m a fan. It’s why I write fiction. It’s more or less the meaning of life, I guess. But too much and you’re totally dysfunctional. If a surgeon really empathized with her patients, she wouldn’t be able to operate. Parents have to

what i read and killed in september

Here are some things that happened last weekend. 1. My car died. In a CVS parking lot two blocks from my mechanic. I hiked up the hill and talked to Jeff. “You have Triple-A?” he asked, not unkindly. “Call Triple-A.” I trudged back down the hill and waited by my dirty car until the tow truck came. I got a jump and drove back to my mechanic. 2. Because of #1, we got a late start on our drive up north for Meehan and Sally’s wedding. 3. Meehan and Sally got married. 4. But we missed it, because first AK got sick. We pulled off the 101 thinking maybe we’d use the bathroom at Starbucks in Soledad, California. There was an urgent care next door, so we used that instead. The doctor thought she was having a bad reaction to an antibiotic. 5. Oh, but between #2 and #3, I ran over a squirrel on an off-ramp. I know I probably kill a dozen polar bears a day just by consuming products that come in plastic packaging, but I still burst into tears. Later Jody tried to make me feel