If you’re in the Raleigh-Durham-Chapel Hill area and you’re looking for something to do tomorrow night, I have a suggestion. I’m totally stoked to be reading along with other poets and prose writers whose work has appeared in Ethel zine tomorrow, March 2nd, from 7:30 to 9:30 pm. Featured Ethels include Joanna Penn Cooper, Kate Van Dis, Lauren Hunter, Jessica Q. Stark, R. Bratten Weiss, and me. The reading takes place at The Carrack in Durham, where you’ll also be able to see their (incredible!) current exhibit, “It’s Complicated: A Project About Love and Intimacy.” There will be wine (good), snacks (even better), and books for sale and signing (BEST). One book you’ll definitely want to buy? Joanna Penn Cooper’s Ethel chapbook, When We Were Fearsome, pictured above. It’s one of my favorite books.
If you’re a regular reader of this blog, you probably know that the outside world and I don’t often get along, so I am not often out in it. But tonight? Tonight, outside world, it is ON. I’ll be participating in Show and Tell, which was my favorite class in grammar school, and reading an essay about an awkward date and my feet at the True Story! Reading Series. It’s at Kavarna Bar and Coffeeshop in Atlanta (well, the Decatur part of Atlanta), Georgia. It starts at 8 and Charles McNair and Benjamin Carr are reading too, which is very exciting but also makes me feel the need to breathe into a brown paper sack. But in, like, an awesome way.
The folks at True Story! posted an excerpt from one of my essays as an incentive. I figured I’d double that incentive and post the next bit of the essay here. This isn’t the essay I’m reading tonight, but it IS the story of the most traumatic moment of my grammar school life that didn’t involve gym class. It also tells the story of why I didn’t get to go to the Young Author’s Conference in 1988, which was totally a big deal. Also, I should let the Internet know that all of the people involved in this situation ended up totally okay. No one’s brain actually fell out, and Christopher beat me in the egg race at Field Day every year after this. Enjoy.
In that second I imagined what would happen: he’d thud to the floor and look up, startled, and regret with the force of ten thousand Acts of Contrition the great and torturous pain he’d caused me for months. I imagined that he’d look at me as if for the first time, admiring my bravery and also my ability to be bad, really bad, as bad as he and Edric and even Johnathan Damiani were at their very worst, and stand up and kiss me the way he and every other boy on the junior varsity pee-wee football team, according to rumor, kissed Jennifer Williams when no one was looking.
It started the way it was supposed to start: Christopher’s knees bent. Christopher fell. His eyes rolled upwards and then, for a second, leftwards at me. Then his body thudded to the floor. And then there was another thud. And then I realized: he had hit his head against the corner of the desk behind him.
There was motion. Miss Hanks blurred into a run from her desk to our desks, then picked up Christopher’s head. Christopher’s eyes rolled around like he was dying. Jennifer ran for paper towels. Miss Hanks yelled “what the hell were you thinking” and the whole class gasped. No one knew what was worse: Christopher dying or Miss Hanks saying hell and not meaning the place in which we could spend all of eternity suffering. She pulled Christopher to stand and said that none of us, not a single one of us, were allowed to move or speak or anything while she was gone, and then there was the space on the floor where Miss Hanks and Christopher and his rolling eyes had been. And then I saw it: blood. Three small circles of blood, and inside of one of those circles, two small brown specks. They were from his brain. They had to be pieces of his brain.
I’m still totally jazzed about reading and books and stuff, despite the seemingly endless continued continuation of Circumstances. I’m also jazzed about talking about reading and books and stuff. I’m also also jazzed about finding new books to read and stuff. Therefore, I’m posting the recently-or-close-enough-to-recently released books on my As Of Right Now (Meaning 6:58 PM On Sunday, June 30th) Summer Reading List (Subject To Shift, Change, And/Or Especially Probably Expand As Soon As 6:59 PM On Sunday, June 30th). I’m posting this in the hope that you, Gentle Blog Visitor, will also be jazzed about reading one or more of the books on this As Of Right Now List, and that you would also be jazzed and willing to talk about them. I’m also posting this in the hope that you, Gentle Blog Visitor, can help this list expand — I’m always looking for new reads, especially ones that others are totally jazzed about.
My As Of Right Now (Meaning 6:58 PM On Sunday, June 30th) Summer Reading List (Subject To Shift, Change, And/Or Especially Probably Expand As Soon As 6:59 PM On Sunday, June 30th)
Fuse by Julianna Baggott: Okay, I’m kind of cheating with this one, so I figured I’d put it first as a warning: this blog entry, as a whole, is probably going to be a disappointment. Sorry. But I do have my reasons for posting this, which are mostly related to a heartfelt desire to find other fans of the Pure trilogy willing to FREAK OUT EXTREMELY about how amazing these books are. I mean, SERIOUSLY. I can’t even LANGUAGE.
Let’s Explore Diabetes with Owls by David Sedaris: I’m cheating here, too. Sorry. I’m a little more than halfway through this book, though I must admit that I’m making my way through it very, very slowly. It just doesn’t seem as Sedarisish as other Sedaris books, and I love some Sedarisishness. Still, it has been a very educational read. For instance, I just finished one essay (which did seem to have some relatively Sedarisish moments) called “Laugh, Kookaburra,” through which I discovered that a kookaburra looks like this:
Which was a good lesson, since I though a kookaburra looked like this:
Also, my dad says there’s an essay about how good colonoscopy drugs are, which seems both ultimately Sedarishish and very, very accurate.
Bobcat and Other Stories by Rebecca Lee: The cheating, as you may have guessed, is a running theme. I’ve read the main story in this sure-to-be-too-awesome-to-language collection in the single-story-book from Madras Press. Actually, you should follow that link and buy all of their books. I’ll wait. Are you back? Good. Anyway, it’s basically the most beautifully written story ever, and I want everyone to read it so we can talk about the sentence about supping. And because Rebecca Lee is the kind of writer who defines brilliance. Also, Oprah wants you to read it, and are you going to disobey Oprah? I didn’t think so.
Clearly Now, the Rain: A Memoir of Love and Other Trips by Eli Hastings: I actually haven’t cheated when it comes to this item, but that doesn’t make it any less exciting. From what I’ve seen, it’s an eloquent exploration of Hastings’ friendship with a woman named Serala, who’s painted in layered strokes in all of her complexity. If it’s anything like Hastings’ Falling Room, we’re in for a gorgeously constructed trip.
Safe in Your Head by Laura Valeri: I have been lucky enough to hear Valeri read from this collection, so I guess I have cheated here, too. But it’s a good kind of cheating because it means I can say this: if you can hear Valeri read, do it. She brings new life to already-jumping-off-the-page-with-life stories. I can’t wait to crack open this collection, about an Italian family who emigrates to America to escape the Red Brigades’ movement.
We Come Elemental by Tamiko Beyer: I’m stoked-beyond-stoked for this and the next book on the list. Pick up any literary journal, and you’ll find Tamiko Beyer just freaking killing it with her poems. Every single time, she shows language who’s boss, and language is glad to be bossed. A masterful poet whose work is finally gathered in a collection.
Mezzanines by Matthew Olzmann: Take what I said about the stoked and the literary journals and the freaking killing it with poems above, and repeat, with Matthew Olzmann’s name. Olzmann’s poems feel more traditional in form, but they also feel as though Olzmann shows traditional form that he is the boss and traditional form is thanking him. As it should.
Red Doc by Anne Carson: So, I’ve actually had this book for a long time, I just haven’t read it. Or, well, I’ve read bits and pieces of it, and those bits and pieces are crazy. Like, Anne Carson crazy, which means crazy in an oh-no-she-didn’t-holy-crap-she-DID-and-it-was-AWESOME kind of way. Let’s all just be honest and admit that none of us understand Anne Carson, and we probably won’t. And that’s okay. I remember reading an interview in which Carson says that none of us will ever understand God, and that’s okay, because the fact that none of us will understand God is one of the things that makes God God. Think about that for a minute. I mean, RIGHT? And that’s how I feel about Anne Carson.
Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail by Cheryl Strayed: No, I haven’t read Dear Sugar’s book yet. And no, I’m not caught up when it comes to the Dear Sugar column on The Rumpus. I’m not even caught up on The Rumpus. I don’t have one of those Write Like An [Expletive Deleted] mugs like all the cool kids do. I’ve had things to do, okay? Important things. Really important things. Like, educating the youth of America and writing books and learning how to crochet granny squares. Okay, maybe not that last part. I’ll read Dear Sugar’s book, okay? God. Thanks for the peer pressure.
There are a few small but appreciable benefits from dealing with Circumstances, and all stem from the fact that Circumstances tend to make one re-evaluate and re-think — and Circumstances often give one the time one needs to re-evaluate and re-think.
That sentence was hella awkward.
In less vague and oddly formal third-person terms, I guess I could say that, every so often, it seems like I go through Circumstances that require me to sit back and think about what I’m doing with and in my life, about what really matters to me and on/with what I need to spend the precious-beyond-precious time I have. And for me, time and time again, the answer is always the same answer: words.
I think that most, if not all, writers come to write because they love words, which means they love to read. Most, if not all, of us have a moment tucked inside of us, a moment when words suddenly became more than words, when words unfurled inside the mind into something as enormous and wonderful and even slightly frightening as Jack’s beanstalk, and with its power to transport.
That’s the frightening part — the power — and also the tremendously beautiful part. It’s what every writer, I think, is, in the end, chasing: the power to transport herself and someone else, in the same was as she herself has been transported, through words. When I was a little girl, my father took me to the library every weekend, and I remember walking from shelf to shelf, pulling books off the shelves and opening them into Vs, reading random paragraphs to find which ones I wanted to take home. I always knew when I found the right one: the shelves vanished, the library vanished, the entire state of Alabama vanished, and I vanished with them. It was just the words, the world that they made.
The Circumstances through which I’m currently moving and living have given me, wondrously, the quiet time I needed to spend with words — both with my own and with others’. It’s the kind of quiet time I need, from time to time, to recharge. I think it’s very easy, especially if you’re a person who’s trying to get published or whose job related to words, to get discouraged, to let the rejections overtake you, to lose faith in your own language. Or, at least, that’s what happens to me, and it happens far more easily and frequently than I often admit. It’s also very easy to get so wrapped up in publishing and competition and ego (or lack thereof) to the point where your own words aren’t necessarily your own. It’s easy to forget the small miracle that happens every time a pen hits a page. It’s easy to forget that more often than not, the writer isn’t the one in control. The words are. A writer’s place isn’t in speaking. It’s in listening.
Reading — living, for a few hundred pages or so, in another’s world, living and listening and loving through and in their words — is the way I remember this. It’s the way I return, again and again, to the sense of awe that made me begin writing myself. I mean this in several senses of the word: amazement, yes, but also fear, and the sense of reverence that comes from wonder and terror. I mean this in the sense of respect of language itself, of how letters and words and sentences build upon themselves, seemingly of their own volition and power.
Though the Circumstances I’m dealing with this summer aren’t necessarily the most pleasant Circumstances, I’m very grateful for them. They’ve given me the space I need to sit and be quiet and read. They’ve given me the space I need to remember: I’m still the girl standing somewhere in the vacuum of vanished space and time, a book an open bird in my hand. I’m still there, in awe of the words, of the world they make.
Are you going to be in the general Statesboro, Georgia area around, say 2:30 tomorrow? And are you looking for something awesome to do? Because there’s something awesome going on in the general Statesboro, Georgia area around 2:30 tomorrow — specifically, that something awesome is going on the Georgia Southern University campus, at the Georgia Southern University Museum, at exactly 2:30 tomorrow, April 19th, 2013. More specifically, the something awesome that’s going on is a reading from some of the Georgia Southern University Department of Writing and Linguistics faculty — including, yes, yours truly. I’ll be reading from my book, Maleficae, and I’ll be selling and signing the book as well. I’m super-extremely-very-much-for-real honored to be sharing the stage with two of my talented colleagues, who also have had or soon will have books come out: Jared Yates Sexton, who’ll be reading from his recently published short story collection, An End to All Things, and Laura Valeri, who’ll be reading from her soon-to-be-published short story collection, Safe in Your Head.
And just in the off-off chance that that’s not enough to bring you to the general Statesboro area around 2:30 tomorrow — and, specifically, the Georgia Southern University Museum — there’s the added excitement that there IS A DINOSAUR THERE (insert approximately twelve thousand exclamation points). Well, okay, it’s not a real dinosaur. Neither is it, as I imagined, a giant dinosaur sculpture that you can somehow operate through animatronics or get inside, as I had dreamed. Still, it is A DINOSAUR, which is awesome in general. Specifically, it’s a Mosasaur, which is basically like a giant dinosaur alligator eel (SO MANY EXCLAMATION POINTS). The Google Machine tells me the Mosasaur looks like this:
But I think that this is probably more accurate:
That’s not to frighten you, of course, but just to say — things? Will be AWESOME.