Friday, December 24, 2010

Covers 2010

I'm taking a vacation from the blog, returning in mid-January. So, in the meantime, here's a new bunch of covers to enjoy when the radio only wants to play Christmas Music.



-Another Day in Paradise, by Copeland
-Fall on Me, by Cry Cry Cry
-Folsom Prison Blues, by Brandi Carlisle
-Lovestoned, by Kaki King
-Walking in Memphis, by Cher
-Angel from Montgomery, by Ani Difranco
-All is Full of Love, by Death Cab for Cutie
-Anyone Who Had a Heart, by Shelby Lynne
-Black Star, by Gillian Welch & David Rawlings
-What You Are, by Joan Osborne
-Crying, by k.d. Lang
-Stairway to Heaven, by Dolly Parton
-Sea Lion Woman (piano), by Feist

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Yelping / Chinese / Eyeballs at Xmastime

Kip woke on Monday morning in a kind of yelping terror that lasted only a few seconds, which he has done on a few other occasions. This time, due to the cat--the one that normally sleeps on my head all night--dug a claw into his arm. Not aggressively, not out of fear. This was the cat's strategy for getting his attention. Thinking: If he wakes, he will give me food. The yelping makes me wonder what deep ravines Kip was wandering when the clawing occurred. How dreadful to be jerked awake like that. And of course, as he was, so was I. (These are the new horrors of the otherwise lovely co-habitation.)

Later I ended up at M. Shanghai in South Williamsburg for dinner. Who knew that there was really, really good Chinese food to be had in a weirdo bar-ish joint on Grand Street? Apparently, the whole n'hood, as the joint was hopping on a Monday night. If you go, have the scallion pancake, the chicken shumai, and the crispy chicken in ginger and spicy sauce. Dang the food was good. Drinks came cheap-ish, too.

I met a woman there, she had recently lost her father, and I recognized in her the kind of unmoored openness that sort of grief imparts. Or maybe I didn't, maybe it's unfair to presume that I could "see" anything in her. But...We begun the evening making small talk about small talk. We talked about what happens when you meet a stranger, how inevitably someone will say "Nice to meet you," and we generally want to ask "Really? Is it really though?" We decided that even small talk has its charms, even if both of you know how meaningless it is in terms of context, the ritual is meaningful. And, of course, you can have wonderful meetings like this one. We remarked on that as well. How it actually was nice to meet each other.

What does it mean that I am attracted to this kind of grief, or, more precisely, that I want to return to it over and over in my work? Does it mean anything? There is a certain clarity in the madness grief creates, a kind of obsession that fuels and comforts my obsessive nature. The ability to return to images over and over, the overlapping of feelings, the outsiders perspective, amplified. I guess this is what interests me: the translation and transformation of the otherwise standard experience. And I think it reflects what I believe to be true, that we are all so very, very close to the edge.

I've discovered, in my not that many years writing, but enough to know what I'm talking about, I think, that I keep returning to loss over and over. I write about things leaving us. People, objects, memories, families, previous selves. This sounds a bit morose, maybe. I don't think of it that way. It's just where I am lately.

Tonight I am taking my friend Robert Maril (AKA DJ Executive Realness) to see the Radio City Christmas Spectacular. I saw it a few years ago, and I think we decided at the time that we would go every three years or so. The time is now. Robert has never been to see it, and I am excited to have the same experience relived through someone new--another thing I am obsessed with. (Does this reveal something about my control freakishness?) I told Robert: "Are you ready for your eyeballs to be raped by the spirit of Christmastime?" He said he was. Hooray.

Monday, December 06, 2010

Week-End Happenings

This week was the first real cold at the Greenmarket--highs in the low 40s. So began the flood of questions about "When does the market end for the season?" It doesn't, and sometimes I think we wear it as a badge of honor, even though it wrecks our bodies for a few days after. And we're not even to January yet, where it can be a high of 25 degrees. I loathe it, and I vow to fight it, and win. I finally understand what's important about how the farmer's greet each other in the spring: "How was your winter?" Because surviving it is a big deal. This will be my fifth winter out there. Some of the farmer's, this will be their thirtieth. I'm lucky to be a part of it all.

On Saturday, I bought a Christmas tree from the guys over at Trumansburg Tree Farms. The guy that sold it to me, whose name I have forgotten, or forgot to get in the first place, admitted that he, like me, and like lots of us, aren't really the farmers. "I live in Brooklyn," he said. "Me too," I told him. "What else do you do?" he asked me, because everyone at the market does something else. "I'm a writer," I said. (I am still new to this answer, but I am trying to own it. Writer in 2011!) "Like everybody in Brooklyn," he laughed. "No," I said, "I really am one."

And then he tied the tree up, folding its branches toward the top, shrinking it into a kind of bundled Fraser Fir joint. (I like the Fraser the best, or a Balsam, but check out these others.) As he was tying the tree he said, "What would make a tree want to do this, fold up like this, what evolutionary purpose does it serve?" We joked a few minutes about how God made them that way, so that we could celebrate his son's birth in style, and we'd need a good way to carry the trees home with us. I don't think this is very funny now, but we seemed to think it was then.

On Sunday morning, Kip and I had brunch at Casmir, a French bistro-type place, with flavors by way of Morocco. Joining us, it was their idea actually, was my friends Pam and Rachel, and their new baby, who is five months old. I like kids, don't get me wrong, but why are people who have kids weirded-out when Kip and I say so resolutely that we do not plan to have, nor want, children of our own? I suspect I know the answer to this, or answers. But I have noticed it a lot lately, as we, I mean I, have reached the age when all the people around you begin to have children or get married, or move away, or move in. Brunch was lovely. I'm happy that Pam and I have stayed more or less in touch over the years, and even happier that one of the pleasures of living is seeing your friends grow into themselves. Also, I am happy for spicy-tomato sauce with feta, capers and eggs.

Later on Sunday, we decorated the tree, which I both like to do and hate to do. I have a short attention span as it is, and a habit of entering long, dark tunnels of sentimental memory, so bringing one ornament after another out of bag after bag and box after box--it can really wear me out. But it got done, thanks to Kip. He is good at making the most out of anything, and I am good at reigning it in at he last moment so that it doesn't become, you know, the most. The tree really is fantastic.

This week, I'm cooking and prepping for our big party on Sunday night: lemon marshmallows, foie gras with sauternes gelée, pork pies, spiced ricotta tartines, pheasant sausage with Madeira, curried peanut dip, mushroom strudel, roasted tomatillo guacamole....and of course, Kip's famous hand-decorated cookies. Maybe I'll see what else I can cook up.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

25 Things I'm Thankful For

Ted made a list, inspiring me to do the same.

1) That I was wrong about thinking I shouldn't move in with my boyfriend.
2) A warm bed filled with my kitties.
3) Art on every wall, everywhere.
4) The complicated relationship to your writing that being published creates.
5) Good reviews.
6) New York City's utter, unflappable, inspiring awesomeness.
7) Kip.
8) Kip's patience with my everything.
9) Friends who live very close by.
10) Parents who get it.
11) Central Air.
12) The Greenmarket community.
13) My editor & my agent. Because everyone said that Yield wasn't publishable except for them, and turns out, it was.
14) That I have a desk job where I can iChat with Cory and Robert and Jeff.
15) That Howie made enough of the best maple syrup in the world to keep me employed another year.
16) Complicated questions that people ask and struggle to answer well.
17) The DVR.
18) Antibiotics.
19) The MoMA, The Met Museum, The Whitney, The Guggenheim, etc.
20) Jokes.
21) The Theater Development Fund.
22) The incredible bounty of local food.
23) Poets.
24) Homosexuals.
25) Having friends in so many lines of work: dentists, psychotherapists, drummers, photographers, teachers, graphic designers, fashion thinkers, singers, DOT workers, performers, artists, writers, journalists, bartenders, farmers, waiters, chefs, lawyers, zine-makers, dancers, yoga teachers, real estate agents, puppeteers, activists, old folks home managers, playwrights, actors, film editors, sound technicians, and circus performers.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Joanna Newsom at Carnegie Hall

Few of us know anyone who plays the harp; basically none of us have been near enough to touch one. Part of the success of Joanna Newsom's show last night at Carnegie Hall has to do with the kind of magic that an instrument like that creates. The posture in the player--this kind of open, holding, wide elbowed stance--combined with the mystery of the dozens (and from the balcony it seemed there could be hundreds) of strings, and finally the strange fact that its difficult to determine when the player is actually touching the harp, and when the sound is simply vibrating out of it. Only in close up, does any of it make any sense.

Less successful, and ultimately what made the evening feel a bit like a deflated exercise, was Newsom's ambiguous relationship to her audience, and the awkward moments of harp-tuning, which left enough blank space that, upon Newsom's suggestion, the audience began shouting out "questions." "Brooklyn loves you," someone said. This is interesting to me, because I have a feeling that most of the people in the audience had traveled from Brooklyn. Was he sending a collective message? Sent from the "better" borough? (There is a feeling among young hip people that Brooklyn rocks and Manhattan is square.) Was this person unconsciously indicating a kind of sentimental otherness?

This went on twice for not long, three or four minutes perhaps, but the energy lagged, and I wished that the band, or Newsom herself, had prepared some kind of other business for this moment--comedy, a story, talking, banter, anything. If anyone has seen Alison Krauss and Union Station perform, you will know that they are always tuning, but they have created many "bits" to do during this boring, and stagnant tuning sections, which bring the audience back into the show. Sure, it feels casual when they do it, never calculated, but AKUS would never, ever, allow their audience to set, or shift, the mood of those moments. Maybe this comes with having performed on stage together for 20 years--a luxury Newsom and her band does not have--a kind of seasoned, professional ease.

"Can I play Ryan's banjo?" one audience member yelled, during this tuning/question section. "No," said, Neal Morgan, on percussion. He then asked the audience to have a kind of meta-moment where we imagine her playing while she actually didn't, and then he counted out 5 seconds of quiet, while we all listened. Ultimately, this is kind of asshole-ish, taking the, yes, stupid question "Can I play Ryan's banjo" and then making the extra large point of showing the audience how stupid the question is, by extrapolating its stupidity by making us all engage in a similarly stupid interaction. More stupid does not counteract stupid.

Early in the evening, Newsom spoke of her nervousness, how it wasn't until she got on stage for the sound check that she realized, okay, Carnegie Hall may be Carnegie Hall, but it's just a room with the most incredible acoustics. Joanna, hello, it's not just a room. Tell that to Sissieretta Jones, or Marian Anderson. Or Judy Garland. Or any of the thousands of amateur musicians who would kill to get on that stage. At the same time, however, her fans do not see her as the girl at the party: "What does it feel like to be a goddess?" screamed one fan from a few rows away from where I was sitting. Morgan responded: "Trick question, Joanna actually isn't a goddess." This was too clear.

I think she could be. Her music, as beautiful, ethereal, strange, unstructured, long, wandering, so different from anything else you hear--where was all that in the show? It was there in the songs, sure, but something else seemed missing. Even the long-winded biography printed in the playbill was reductionist, made to seem as if, ho hum, Joanna was playing harp in her basement and then, oh wow, people liked it, and thanks to a lot of illegal downloading and enough actual sales, now here she is.

Do young musicians in this new-folk scene refuse to take themselves that seriously? Does a kind of formal live presentation reduce your hipster street cred? These were the questions I wanted to ask.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Scattered Light

The other night, I took this video of Jim Campbell's new outdoor sculpture "Scattered Light." There are a few pieces in the park, but the only one you will care about seeing is this one, which is described as:
Scattered Light, will feature nearly 2,000 LEDs encased in standard light bulbs, suspended within a support structure spanning 80 feet in length and standing 20 feet high and 16 feet wide to create a vibrant light grid across the center of Madison Square Park’s Oval Lawn. The LED bulbs, programed to flicker scattered light, will create the illusion of figurative images that explore and reflect the human experience amidst the urban landscape, creating the appearance of giant human shadows crossing a floating 3-D matrix of light. As one travels around the piece, the vantage point alters and the light figures begin to abstract, blurring the boundaries between image and object.
Scattered Light is on view until February 2011. More about it by looking here.

Scattered Light by Jim Campbell from Lee Houck on Vimeo.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Hansel & Gretel

My mother was digging through some old papers and books of photos and came across this. It's a story that I dictated to her and she wrote down. I was four. Embiggen to enjoy. (Also, my mother's handwriting hasn't changed one bit since then.)

Monday, November 15, 2010

The Women

I have been voraciously reading the Paris Review interviews. In particular, I am fond of the interviews with Annie Proulx, Maya Angelou, Toni Morrison, Margaret Atwood, and Joan Didion. Joan Didion! (Joan also has a new book out next year, Blue Nights.) It occurred to me this week, after devouring these incredibly well-conducted and interesting interviews, just how much of my work is informed by the work of women writers.

It's surprising, in a way, to me, because my first novel is basically devoid of women--which was a conscious choice from the beginning, to have removed that kind of perspective from the narrative. I don't know why it was important that I do that. Perhaps in a few years I will have a better sense of it. No promises.

Other women I read, also voraciously: A.M. Homes, Jennifer Egan, Donna Tartt, Katherine Dunn, Janette Turner Hospital, Miranda July, Rosellen Brown, Octavia Butler, Jennifer Finney Boylan, Ruth Reichl, Kathryn Harrison, Sarah Schulman, Sharon Olds, Naomi Shihab Nye, Barbara Kingsolver, Caryl Churchill, Amy Bloom. I could go on.

Take this list and go get their books.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Morning Poem

You spread yourself across me,
breath like yesterday's wine,
telling stories of Vancouver and Australia,
far-flung places where your happiness broke open,
spilling out onto the bent dashboards of rental cars
and shiny bed frames like this one,
and said: Good morning.

I could smell the earth on you,
the soft red clay from your
long walk through the Utah desert,
which collected at the edges of your body,
places not covered in technological fabrics
that ripped just the same as any other.
Ankles, wrists, the neck.

The lesson I learned from you is:
Not every love is like another, and
Not every message gets returned.

Thursday, November 04, 2010

Can You Move the Vortex? on The Nervous Breakdown

I have a new short essay up over at The Nervous Breakdown, which is, as they say, "An online literary publication type deal."

It's basically about this:
"...My entire 20s were spent living in a neighborhood which, either by default or by careful consideration, made me the writer that I am today, and I was afraid that if I moved away from it, I wouldn’t be able to write as well, as much, or at all."
and this
"If my identity was a product of the neighborhood, and my novel was a product of my identity, was it wrong to presume that the novel—extrapolated to my ability to write anything at all, forever and ever again—was contingent upon my living at the corner of 34th Street and 34th Avenue?"
Please click on over, share it, "like" it, etc.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Sunday Morning

I was doing some research on ARTstor the other day. (ARTstor is an on-line repository of thousands of images from hundreds of institutions across the world. If you are looking for inspiration and Google images ain't doing it for ya, I highly recommend them.) I managed to come across the many variations of "Sunday morning" in art throughout the years. It seems that since the beginning, mornings on Sundays have been the kind of quiet, thoughtful, restorative moments that we all look forward to at the end of the week.Here are some of those Sunday mornings:

Sunday Morning in front of the Arch Street Meeting House, Philadelphia
Attributed to, John Lewis Krimmel, 1811- ca. 1813

Thomas Hovenden
Sunday Morning, 1881

Mary Heilmann
Sunday Morning, 1986

And of course:
Edward Hopper
Early Sunday Morning,

Friday, October 15, 2010

Things I am Thinking About This Week

-Sorry it's been so long. Sometimes the world makes too difficult for me to compose my thoughts. Between gay bashings, gay torturings, Obama's idiocy regarding DOMA and DADT, Carl Paladino's iciocy, a brief bout with a seasonal cold, and what might be a touch of early seasonal-affective disorder or plain old creative comedown, I have felt too spread out to make any real sense.

-We saw La Bête on Broadway, which starred a very underused David Hyde Pierce and Joanna Lumley, being steamrolled over by the very good, but very exhausting and not particularly specifically-memorable, Mark Rylance. All the performances are quite lovely, but they are, sadly, weighted down by this play that, well, I just didn't want any part of after fifteen minutes. In writing circles, we might say "I am not the audience for this work."

-Delores Van Cartier, which is the name of the lounge-singer in disguise played by Whoopi Goldberg in "Sister Act," is the best name I've heard in a while.

-Is Sister Act ever really coming to Broadway?

-I found it fascinating that there was press regarding the fact that Jonathan Franzen's fantastic novel "Freedom" was not nominated for the National Book Award. (I found the book to be wholly-engrossing, purely pleasurable, and carefully, wisely written. Pretty fucking fantastic.) It was as if people couldn't stop talking about how they are ready to stop talking about it.

-Does anybody still order transcripts from television talk shows?

-Kip is sitting next to me on the couch, making us a White Tree of Gondor from aluminum armature and sculpey. I am the luckiest guy in the universe.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Who You Are

On Sunday, some of us went to see Laurie Anderson's new show "Delusion" at the Brooklyn Academy of Music. I first encountered her work in high school, when ou theater class was looking at artists whose performances were some mix of sound, visual art, theater and "performance art," which still has a certain dreadful ring to it, I think, for most people. We were learning about boundaries in theater, or lack of boundaries. I loved what we studied. Some day, I thought, I will see Laurie Anderson in person. She will do what she does, and I will be who I am. A lot of my thinking back then had something to do with who I would be once that person emerged. Does everyone think this way in high school? That the real you is somewhere inside waiting to get out? Perhaps this feeling never ends for some people--but I feel, at my (I know) very young age of 32, that I am finally who I am. So, with that, I saw Laurie Anderson.

I was somewhat lost for the first half of the performance--not lost in that I wasn't following the story, which is not to say that her work is a linear story--but I felt that my experience of it wasn't as rich as it could have been. I was fussing with the seat, those awful balcony stools at the Harvey Theater, which surely were put there as some hideous last resort. I was distracted by the Werther's Original hard candy that my friend Jaime brought, and which was doing this incredibly thing to my taste buds, because I hadn't tasted a Werther's Original in many many years, and it was like a supersonic journey through time to the last time I tasted one as soon as it went into my mouth.

But then, she started talking about the moon. Specifically, she was talking about NASA's plan--a very long range plan, something along the lines of 5,000 years--to move all industry and manufacturing to the moon, thus leaving the Earth to repair herself without interference. Then she talked about how the Americans and the Russians and the Chinese were arguing about who owned the moon. Everyone claimed it.

After that, and until the end of the show, I was transfixed--absorbed into the music and the emotional waves pouring out of her and over the audience. I really felt like who I am.

On Tuesday night some of us went to see James Franco play Allen Ginsburg in the new movie "Howl," which is based on the poem. I didn't know anything about the movie in advance--which is actually unlike me. Turns out, it's not the typical biopic where they show the hero going through his trials and then he finds success and becomes famous, etc. Or dies. This was something excitingly different.

At first the acting style seemed jarring--everyone seemed to be in on something, a very subtle wink at the audience, because we all know that Ginsburg was a genius and his work will probably live forever and ever and change lives of young poets and writers (and gay kids) for eternity. But eventually, between the animation and the interviews and the incredibly lucid language of Howl itself--you just get won over by the man played by James Franco. Basically, it's like 90 minutes of poet porn. Go.

After the movie, over beers and burgers and quesadillas and sweet potato fries at Trailer Park bar after the movie, Jenny Romaine and I were talking about muses. Who is yours, or what is yours? I told her I didn't believe in that kind of mysticism--that the work is just the work and I either don't know where it comes from, or don't want to know where it comes from. (I then proceeded to go on and on about Joan Didion and how everything I do is for her, or maybe because of her, I can't tell the difference...and Romaine asked me if I was sure I didn't have any muses.)

Then I thought maybe I was misunderstanding her.

So, things got late, and we kept talking, and talking, about what publishing has meant to me. (In sort: all great things you can never prepare for, and some uncomfortable things which change the relationship you have with your work...but mainly very, very good things.) And I decided that, since it was after 11:00pm, and all I wanted at that moment was to be in bed covered in cats and talk to my boyfriend about our days, I would take a cab home. And I decided that somewhere along the way, in the cab, I would figure out who or what the muse was. (If not Joan. Of course.)

Along Fourth Avenue, there was a building under construction--being built or being renovated, sometimes it's difficult to determine in this town--and it was covered by a large blue tarp, the basic blue tarp you can buy at any hardware store. The wind was blowing softly through the window of the cab when it stopped at the red light in front of the building. And this soft wind was making the tarp billow, curling out and back, brushing against the concrete, making the most delicious, satisfying, crisp, singular sound. It hit me: that's my muse. Not the building, not the tarp itself--but the sound of it.

Things can be that simple, which is what I couldn't articulate back at the Trailer Park bar. I am still learning things. It takes a long time to figure out who you are.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Coming Up!

A few more events on the calendar:
Wednesday, Sept 29 - 7:30pm
Bar on A, 170 Avenue A
part of Guerrilla Lit Series

Saturday, Oct 2 - 9:00pm
Brooklyn Museum of Art
part of First Saturdays

Tuesday, Oct 5 - 6:00pm
Dixon Place Lounge, 161A Chrystie Street
with Sam J. Miller and Alexander Chee

Wednesday, Oct 27 - 8:00pm
Nowhere Bar, 322 East 14th Street
part of PANIC!

Sunday, September 19, 2010

This is a Test

The day after the 9th anniversary of September 11th,
we stood at the edge of the great hole in the ground,
where the great buildings once stood,
and watched thousands of birds caught
in the two great columns of light,
which are lit each year to mark the memory of the day,
of the lives that were lost,
and the thing that happened.

We do not reach desperately into the cold dark.
We do not grope for meaning in the great black sky.
Rather, we are blinded by the brightness of our grief.
We spend hours wandering the density of it.
We are unguided, made tired hungry zombies
by the rich colors of our memories,
and the instinct to find safer climates,
where winters
and sadness
can not find us.

The sign above the roadway of the Williamsburg Bridge,
as we drove from Manhattan to Brooklyn,
which is designed to warn drivers about traffic
and construction issues ahead,
blinked over and over: THIS IS A TEST.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Yield at Your Local Library

You can find Yield at the following local libraries. God bless them, every one.

-Birmingham-Jefferson Public Library, AL

-Mill Valley Public Library, CA
-Santa Monica Public Library, CA
-Torrance Public Library, CA

-Denver Public Library, CO
-Douglas County Library, CO
-Pikes Peak Library District, CO

-Ferguson Library, CT
-New Haven Free Public Library, CT
-Pequot Library, CT

-Alachua County Library District, FL
-Orange County Library System, FL
-Sarasota County Library System, FL

-Atlanta-Fulton Public Library System, GA

-Ames Public Library, IA
-West Des Moines Public Library, IA

-Bloomington Public Library, IL
-Champaign Public Library and Information Center, IL
-Highland Park Public Library, IL
-Shaumburg Township District Library, IL

-Indianapolis-Marion County Public Library, IN
-Monroe County Public Library, IN
-St. Joseph County Public Library, IN
-Tippecanoe County Public Library, IN

-Johnson County Library, KS
-Wichita Public Library, KS

-Lexingon Public Library, KY
-Louisville Free Public Library, KY

-Merrimack Valley Library Consortium, MA

-Anne Arundel County Public Library, MD
-Caroline County Public Library, MD
-Cecil County Public Library, MD
-Prince George's County Memorial Library System, MD

-The Library Network, MI
-Superiorland Library Coop, MI

-Ramsey County Public Library, MN

-Mid-Continent Public Library, MO

-Cumberland County Public Library, NC
-Durham County Library, NC
-Greensboro Public Library, NC

-Bismark Veteran's Memorial Public Library, ND
-Fargo Public Library, ND

-Ocean County Library, NJ

-Brooklyn Public Library, NY
-Finger Lakes Library System, NY
-Onondaga County Public Library, NY
-Suffolk Cooperative Library System, NY
-Westchester Library System, NY

-Cleveland Public Library, OH
-Columbus Metropolitan Library, OH
-Cuyahoga County Public Library, OH
-Dayton Metropolitan Library, OH
-Marion Public Library, OH
-Public Library of Cincinnati / Hamilton County, OH
-Worthington Public Library, OH

-Tulsa City-County Library, OK

-Washington County Cooperative Library, OR

-Reading Public Library, PA

-Ocean State Libraries, RI

-Salt Lake City Public Library, UT

-Norfolk Public Library, VA
-Virginia Beach Public Library System, VA
-Williamsburg Library, VA

-King County Library System, WA
-Seattle Public Library, WA

-Beloit Public Library, WI
-Northeast Wisconsin Public Library, WI
-Lakeshores Library System, WI
-South Center Library System, WI
-Milwaukee County Federated Library System, WI

-Eastern Panhandle Library Network, WV

Oh, and in the U.K.: The British Library.

Wednesday, September 08, 2010

An Elaboration

The Q&A part of a reading can be difficult for the writer. You're trying to understand the question which is sometimes asked from the back of the room with a mushy mouth. You're thinking of what you want to say to answer the question, and you're wondering if you are making any sense, and wondering whether you are going on too long, or not long enough. And so, I wanted to take a minute to elaborate on one of the questions that I was asked at last night's Barnes & Noble event, in hopes that if I didn't completely get the right answer out, I'm taking a second chance here.

Q: Do you get writer's block?

A: I don't. I've never had trouble getting words out of me, but I constantly have trouble getting the right words out. So far, at least, is has never dried up. I think non-writers ask this question because they think it's something that every writer feels every now and then. I think writer's ask this question because they are looking for ways out of it--they want to know if you have any practical strategies.

So, the only strategy I have is this: make your work less precious. Kill your babies, as they say. If you are having trouble writing, write something else. Write something you think is awful, something you'd never want anyone to see. You have to remember that you're a living, breathing artist, and the work you produce is going to be uneven. It's going to be fragile, and it's going to need time to mature and become something great. (This is why novels take a long, long time; we want you to feel the passing of time that happened during the making of it.)

This is not to say that I want you to make your work "less good." I don't, and you shouldn't either. It should be the most fantastic, the most political, the most beautiful, the most perfect version of the story you have inside you that is dying, unbearably, to get outside of you. But that kind of writing only comes with revision, and until you have a first draft, you can't revise. So write, write, write through the pain, through the blockage, just write.

And if you really, truly, impossibly, can not write....then do something else for a while. Pausing is not the same as stopping. While you're taking a break, make colored paper collages with cheap materials you buy from the 99 cent store. Make brioche. Listen. Listen deeply to what's close and . Keep the movement in your brain, and keep the movement in your fingers.

If you're working on a novel, at some point in the writing of it, it will want to be the only words. (I think Alexander Chee was the first person to tell me this would happen, and like most things he says, it was true.) You will be unable to read the newspaper, or other books. You will be unable to concentrate on anything but the narrative that your characters are living in. This is the opposite of writer's block, when the story and the paragraphs will be coming faster than you can get them down--like a storm on the prairie that you can see coming from far, far away. But until this happens, let yourself be distracted by the museum, by Bernadette Peters in A Little Night Music, by the brioche, by the long chatty conversation with your mother on a Friday night.

Well, now this post ended up being a bit rambling and not very sense-making either. This is a difficult question to elaborate on. Thank you to the guy who asked this last night--from the back of the room, in a clear voice.

Saturday, September 04, 2010

More Events!

Three more readings coming up. You can find the entire list here.
Saturday, Sept 11
Von Bar, 3 Bleecker Street
with Rakesh Satyal and Frank Polito

Saturday, Oct 2
Brooklyn Museum of Art

Wednesday, Oct 27
Nowhere Bar
part of PANIC !

Wednesday, September 01, 2010

Buy the Book!!

Yield is finally in the world, on bookshelves (practically) everywhere, and in warehouses waiting to be shipped to your gleaming front doors.

I think the best way to buy the book is from an independent bookseller. But if you prefer, you can order from, where you can get the paperback or the Kindle edition. Barnes& also has paperbacks and digital editions, and of course there is always one of the best indie bookstores in the (known) universe, Powell's.

If you live in New York City, you can get signed copies from the Barnes & Noble on 6th Avenue and 10th Street, or starting Sept 3rd, the Union Square B&N. You can also order signed copies directly from my website--and those books come with a cool free bonus gift!!

Also, some more reviews are in!
"Solid, unsentimental storytelling distinguishes Houck's first time out."
--Publisher's Weekly

"Five Stars."
--Echo Magazine

"Perfect emotional pitch...a brilliant, beyond-coming-out story."
--Book Marks

"Surprisingly thoughtful, emotional and erotic."
--Instinct Magazine
I am so thrilled to be able to share the book with everyone, finally.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Away in Vermont

I am sitting at a very old, very beautiful dining room table in the Northeast Kingdom of Vermont half-listening to a story on NPR about butterflies. Someone has figured out a way to tag and track butterflies, the same way they tag eagles or sharks, but I didn’t hear all the details of the story—the how the do the tagging, and what the tag physically is—because I am working on some new writing projects which I came here to hopefully finish, and those are taking most of my attention. Some of the butterflies which were tagged in Vermont ended up at the Connecticut shore. Some of them ended up in Mexico, where they usually go for the winter months. To me this made the butterflies sound like retirees.

Moments ago, the 21 year-old son of the friends that I am staying with came into the kitchen to tell his father, my host whose dinner table I am sitting at, what kind of noises that his car is making. “Angry grinding noises,” he says, and then he makes the noise for all of us—a loud, angry grinding sound which makes all of us laugh. This is a perfect moment, and it rivals the joy of feeding the forty chickens in the backyard, which I did this morning. “I’m not good at laundry,” the kid says, when he is asked to help. “I am good at my own, but I always mess up if I have to do someone else’s.”

My novel will be released on Tuesday. So I am here for a few days of brain rest and rejuvenation before that experience begins. I have no idea what to expect, but I am expecting to feel a lot, to have a lot of reactions. And I want to be in the kind of mental place where I can take it all in. I was reading an article in Vanity Fair about Angelina Jolie by Rich Cohen who wrote: “I noticed everything…as you notice everything in a video game: because who knows what you’ll need, what will mean your advancement, what will be your demise.” I realize when I read this that this is why I have come to Vermont: to ready my brain like September is a video game. I’m doing a lot of events.

On the way up here, I stopped to get gas at the same exit where I was in March of 2009 when my agent called to tell me that someone was about to make an offer on the novel. I figured it was a lucky place, so I bought four scratch-off lottery tickets. The lady who sold them to me asked me which kind I wanted, and she pointed to the big acrylic case where all the rolls of tickets were held. “Red?” she asked. “These red ones are the most popular.” This is when I became suspicious of her motives, perhaps wrongly-so, because I went against her recommendation and bought the blue kind—Sparkling Diamonds—and ended up not winning. Four dollars, goodbye. Oh well. I still win: my novel comes out on Tuesday.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Garden Update!

I was relieved when my friend June said to me: "It's not really about anything other than growing." I was complaining that my shishito plant was only yielding one or two peppers every three weeks or so, which, to give you an idea, when I cook them for part of dinner, I usually start with a pound or so. June clarified that the act of gardening is often less about the physical reaping than the excitement of just watching something do what it does.

Thus, the morning glories have finally started blooming all over the railing. I like them, despite how they take over everything and at one point began shooting out into the cucumber and I had to intervene lest we have our whole garden taken over. It's true, they don't have much dignity, but they are beautiful.

The green peppers are finally growing--there are these two on the plant, and a few more starting. Actually, I think these will be red or yellow peppers once they are mature. That's the shishito behind it.

Finally there is the "Mideast Prolific Cucumber" plant, which spun itself all over the concrete and hung down the back of the railing into the yard, covered in flowers, but for many weeks made no attempt at a cucumber. Then I went to water and low-and-behold! There is a single huge cucumber hiding under a leaf. Look how it's just resting on the dirt! Who knows what mysteries the garden holds!

Sunday, August 08, 2010

Death of the Poet

You said you'd done 200 push ups, and then
we looked at each other.
I said: "Your arms look like it."
You said: "Do they?"
Then we said nothing for a while.
I thought you were comfortable with silences.
Then I realized that you didn't have
anything to say.

If I have to write one more poem about the distance
between you and me
--the singular me and the royal you--
then I'm going to die a slow,
mournful, ugly, selfish death,
writhing in cowardly pitifulness,
like something out of a Paul Verhoeven
movie, but not the popular ones.
The ones they don't show anywhere at midnight.

Tuesday, August 03, 2010

A Happy Expectation

Things are good. I am finally starting to get excited about Yield being out in the world. That might sound crazy to those of you who are not me--and, um, I guess that's all of you. A box of finished books arrived the other day, and I stacked all of them up on the kitchen table. I looked at them, I held them in my hands. The transformation into a physical object is the real magic--I now know what a sculptor feels when the stone at last reveals itself to be a lady, or a beast, or a flower. I think what I mean by "finally getting excited" is "finally feeling content." There are a lot of fears that come with publishing--and I think I've somehow figured out how to work my way around those fears, how to process through them, and now I just have a kind of happy expectation.

My friend Andrew brought me a plum tree from the orchard where he works. Kip planted in the backyard, digging through the dirt there, which, we discovered is mostly clay and stones. It's beautiful, just standing there. It seems like it's waiting for something. Or perhaps I have projected this sense of anticipation on any case, as a gesture of gratitude, I took Andrew a copy of the book. And right there in the market, he started reading it. I watched him pick it up every now and then, dipping into it between customers, like a person can do when you work the kind of retail that we do. That, I really loved.

In addition to all the events I previously mentioned, there are a few more in the works--one more New York City date, and some others that need some ironing out. Stay tuned. I can't wait to share all of it with all of you.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Sold for $20

Back in the early spring, a photographer from Getty Images came through the Greenmarket and gave a bunch of us twenty dollars* each for taking our picture. Here's what emerged from that brief session--me and David looking slightly uncomfortable, but twenty bucks richer:

Here's how Getty categorized our picture:
People, Casual Clothing, Confidence, Happiness, Freshness, Table, Jar, Abundance, Retail, Vertical, Looking At Camera, Waist Up, Outdoors, 20-24 Years, 30-34 Years, Front View, Stubble, Cheerful, Caucasian Ethnicity, Standing, Smiling, USA, Day, New York State, New York City, Adult, Young Adult, Mid Adult, Syrup, Large Group of Objects, Two People, Young Men, Mid Adult Men, Only Men, Portrait, Photography, Farmer's Market, Adults Only.

*It's certain that I am violating the model's release that I signed by posting this picture here--or at least I am violating the Getty Image Bank's rules about who can post what without payment. But I loved the categories too much not to post it, and were I to go through the motions, and I priced this vaguely via the site, it would cost me about $600.00. So....

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

September Readings

If you are in or near the NYC area, please come out to hear me read, and get your copy of YIELD signed, at any of the following events:
Tuesday, Sept 7 - 7pm
Barnes & Noble, 82nd and Broadway

Tuesday, Sept 14
- 7pm-9pm
Sugarland, 221 North 9th Street, Williamsburg
Book Party with Open Bar/Reading

Thursday, Sept 16
- 8pm
Happy Ending Lounge, 302 Broome Street
part of In The Flesh Series

Wednesday, Sept 29
- 7:30pm
Bar on A, 170 Avenue A
part of Guerrilla Lit Series

Tuesday, Oct 5
- 6:00pm
Dixon Place Lounge, 161A Chrystie Street
with Sam J. Miller

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Fridge Poems, Vol. 5

Someone gave me--maybe it was my mother--a set of magnetic poetry pieces, which spent almost 10 years stuck to one side of my fridge. In the first few years I spent living in my apartment, people made poems with the tiny words, but eventually, it became uninteresting, or too difficult, or some other reason. No new poems were made, but the old ones stuck. When I moved, I tossed the tiny pieces, but saved the poems that my friends had written via my digital camera. The pics are bad, but the poems are real. This is volume 5 of 5.

Monday, July 12, 2010

A Moment of Stuckness

For dinner tonight I made pesto from Greenmarket basil, as well as some basil that I picked from our container garden on the back porch. I kept dumping things into the food processor that I was trying to get rid of. First, it was a quarter cup of cashews, to go with the normal basil, lemon juice, and walnuts since I didn't have pine nuts. Then it was a cup or so of steamed broccoli, which was leftover from last night's dinner, then it was some frozen peas that I felt like needed to go somewhere (read: my belly.) It was a diehard Italian's nightmare, certainly.

Now Kip is upstairs watching The Golden Girls on WE, and I'm downstairs typing this and spending time with The Bean, who, as you might have previously read, isn't ready to join the other two cats in co-habitation just yet. She seems perfectly happy down here, though she does sound what we call the "Love Alarm," which is a kind of happy-sounding, somewhat-impatient sounding series of chirps and meows, which we can hear all the way through the apartment. The other day, we decided to let the three of them re-meet each other, and expecting the worst, were surprised when she hissed dramatically, and the boys were scared shitless and went running back upstairs to their part of the apartment. You just never know.

The days and nights seem slower since we moved in together, somehow. This is a good thing, not a complaint. I just want to get back into the motion of writing, which has eluded me for the last several months. First I was packing and sorting and throwing away, then I was unpacking and re-sorting and still throwing away, and now I am basically settled, but can't seem to find the steam again. The new novel is in that early stage of becoming material, but still too early to be anything substantial. In other words, I can see all the flaws, but can't do anything about them yet because I'm still working through it. Rather, the book it still deciding what it is. This is kind of a nightmare place for me to be. I feel both trapped by it, and far away from it. I try to start new sections, pick up at a new place each time, but that has just left me feeling even more fractured and unhappy with it. This is always the case at some point. Just because it's a familiar feeling doesn't mean it's not unpleasant. Ugh.

Thursday, July 08, 2010

Fridge Poems, Vol. 4

Someone gave me--maybe it was my mother--a set of magnetic poetry pieces, which spent almost 10 years stuck to one side of my fridge. In the first few years I spent living in my apartment, people made poems with the tiny words, but eventually, it became uninteresting, or too difficult, or some other reason. No new poems were made, but the old ones stuck. When I moved, I tossed the tiny pieces, but saved the poems that my friends had written via my digital camera. The pics are bad, but the poems are real. This is volume 4 of 5.

Thursday, July 01, 2010

Shows / Peppers / Hearse

--On Sunday we went to see Billy Elliot, which was, I regret to say, mostly stale and without focus. I think the original production was probably outstanding--the direction is the only thing that saved it from being a completely worthless evening. There are some fantastic visuals and, thankfully, the action never seems to slow. But the show has to compete with the film version, which is arguably flawless in its emotional pitch, and its ability to hang on to a moment. There were no moments in this show, only people doing what they do eight times a week.

--Alternately, we saw the utterly engrossing and fantastic revival of La Cage aux Folles on Tuesday, with Kelsey Grammer, and the incomparable (and now Tony Award-winning) Douglas Hodge. How refreshing, how inspiring, how fulfilling to see something so grand and real and hilarious! This show is full of moments. The gags come freely and lightly, with a kind of joy about them that I haven't seen on Broadway in a long while. (I'm remembering the first few performances of Spamalot, where the audience was just so crazy excited about what they were seeing.) This show felt like that. If you are nearby, or far away, go right now to see it. It's spectacular.

--Our shishito pepper plant made one giant pepper. We were shocked! Remember a while ago when I was talking about how I didn't really see plants. I didn't really get the miracle of them? Here is the miracle of growing things. You leave for work and when you come home there is a shishito pepper waiting to be plucked off, tickled with olive oil, blistered in your great-grandmother's cast iron, dusted with sea salt, and savored. Look, I shouted to nobody, a miracle! I showed Kip, "Look!" "Where did that come from?" he said.

--Here is a really new, really beautiful song by Ani Difranco.

Monday, June 28, 2010

This Nightlife

for Robert Maril

It's 100 degrees in New York City,
and the only thing that can save you,
is the insane sparkling explosion of
Dr. Brown's Black Cherry Soda
on your tongue, like the future's version
of what a cherry used to taste like,
before the absence of bees
eliminated them not only from our mouths
but from our memory.
Then a stranger, a boy with cutoff jeans
and a string of red plastic beads says,
"Where is fashion in a time like this?"

--Acidic light, laid over the walls and floors
like a bright blanket of paisley laser beams.
--You holding onto me, attaching yourself,
saying, "This nightlife,"letting the idea hold in the air.
--Then, "I can't do this anymore."

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Fridge Poems, Vol. 3

Someone gave me--maybe it was my mother--a set of magnetic poetry pieces, which spent almost 10 years stuck to one side of my fridge. In the first few years I spent living in my apartment, people made poems with the tiny words, but eventually, it became uninteresting, or too difficult, or some other reason. No new poems were made, but the old ones stuck. When I moved, I tossed the tiny pieces, but saved the poems that my friends had written via my digital camera. The pics are bad, but the poems are real. This is volume 3 of 5.

Monday, June 21, 2010

As Featured In

Many months ago, they made a movie called "The Backup Plan" with Jennifer Lopez. In it, she is a single lady who falls in love with a cheese farmer. And this cheese farmer sells his cheese as a farmer's market that, at least in the film, is a Hollywood-looking version of the Union Square Greenmarket. Deep Mtn. Maple, whose farm I work for, sent dozens of empty bottles to be filled with tea, or some other brown liquid, so that the maple syrup stand in the film--this is supposed to be the Northeast, remember, not a California backlot--would look real. This attention to subtlety would give the film's audience an almost unconscious sense of place. Or maybe it would be totally unconscious, since this is as much screen time as we got: (See that yellow tent behind JLo that says "Deep Mountain?")

Interestingly, or perhaps not interestingly, there is also a shot of this stand.....Northeast farm fail.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Fridge Poems, Vol. 2

Someone gave me--maybe it was my mother--a set of magnetic poetry pieces, which spent almost 10 years stuck to one side of my fridge. In the first few years I spent living in my apartment, people made poems with the tiny words, but eventually, it became uninteresting, or too difficult, or some other reason. No new poems were made, but the old ones stuck. When I moved, I tossed the tiny pieces, but saved the poems that my friends had written via my digital camera. The pics are bad, but the poems are real. This is volume 2 of 5.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Trying to See Plants

Today, we went to Lowe's. We got lots and lots of pots, huge bags of dirt and some tools. Our new house has a garden out back--er, rather, about 300 square feet of dirt which we hope to eventually make into a garden. (Is a garden a place, or a place-in-progress, or does it matter?)

As I said to my friend Nick, "I don't really see plants." Which is to say that, yes, I see them, but I don't really register them as something I'm interested in. Does that sound crazy? Since I'm a person who spends his weekends at work in a place overtaken by the glorious bounty of the earth? I can't remember the kinds of things that each of them needs. Lots of water or not much water? Lots of sun or shade? And what is partial sun? And remembering to pick and prune and cut and all that, I just can't figure any of it out.

Thank goodness for Kip. He has put everything that I bring home into the kind of container it likes, seems to know what they will need when they need it, and hasn't complained at all when I bring home strange things like . (I am not as easy-going when it comes to, well, okay, everything.) We don't want to put anything into the ground that we plan to eat--who knows what's gone on back here for the last fifty years--so for the time being it's all in pots. Eventually, we hope to rip up this strange material the previous tenants put over the ground, and figure out what to do with the space. Decking? Chairs? Planting boxes? A pool?

Here's what we're growing so far: Green Grape Tomatoes, some other kind of tomato, Peppers (red and yellow, shishito, orange thai, serrano, poblano), Genovese basil, sweet thai basil, French and lime thyme, French tarragon, rosemary, cucumbers, lavender, Turkish parsley, Crimson Climber Morning Glory, Moonflower, and Giant Salmon Rose Zinnias. Does that sound like a lot?

And here's what it looks like:
If any of you have tips you can let me know. Like, forreal.

Wednesday, June 09, 2010

Fridge Poems, Vol. 1

Someone gave me--maybe it was my mother--a set of magnetic poetry pieces, which spent almost 10 years stuck to one side of my fridge. In the first few years I spent living in my apartment, people made poems with the tiny words, but eventually, it became uninteresting, or too difficult, or some other reason. No new poems were made, but the old ones stuck. When I moved, I tossed the tiny pieces, but saved the poems that my friends had written via my digital camera. The pics are bad, but the poems are real. This is volume 1 of 5.

Thursday, June 03, 2010

Brooklyn !!

Kip's cats were inseparable, like a single animal with one set of thoughts--twin boys, mostly Russian Blue, skittish but loving and lively. They slept together, ate together, smothered us with their furry nuzzles in the bed together. Then we woke up one morning two months ago to find Joel walking funny. Actually, the way he was limping his hind leg made me feel as if something was seriously wrong--my instinct said this can not wait until later, he needs to go to the doctor right now. I wondered if he'd broken his foot in the night, or caught a toe somewhere and had to pull himself free. The vet said that it was bone cancer, and his legs were eaten up with it. We aren't the kind of people to let things drag on and on, and so Joel never came home. Since then, Zane has been a new, refreshed kind of cat--demanding more and more attention in the cutest, most delicious of ways, and wanting nothing more than to be by our sides at every moment. Yesterday, when I moved my two cats from Astoria to our new apartment in Ditmas Park, I wondered how the meeting would go.

When Zane saw Bad Thing (yes, that's his name) for the first time, electricity fired through the air and Zane made the most incredible, completely recognizable--which is to say, human--movements. It was so clear. He thought it was Joel, then upon realizing that it wasn't, he blinked, set down his head, and let out a sad, guttural wail. I'll never forget it. This first, tiny interaction was enough to send me into a spiral of sadness and longing, which I'm sure was nothing like the confused tunnel of memories that Zane was going through. We recognize that cats are "like" us a little bit, but we too often see ourselves as different creatures. What a beautiful, extraordinary, unexpectedly emotional moment.

Since then, they have growled, hissed and postured, in every room of the new house, trying to figure out who belongs where--maybe not understanding that as of yesterday they both belong everywhere. The most coveted area is, of course, the bed, where both of the humans are laying flat for long periods of time, and are most likely to hug and squeeze and love them. We'll see how that works out.

The move has been a lovely one, despite the days of stress and anxiety and uncertainty, and I am sure that when the boxes are all unpacked and the house starts to look like somewhere people could actually live, we'll settle in nicely. People keep asking if the move "went well." It did, despite my movers showing up 2 hours late. Although the hardest part is the part we're doing now--the deciding not only where to put everything, but more importantly, how you want to move through your space. How do you want to sit in your new office? Where should each "category" of kitchen item live? What art do you want to look at when you sit in this chair, or that chair? How do you work the dishwasher, and the new-fangled stove that preheats to 400 degrees in 6 minutes, no really.

Bean, my more adorable and more, um, Rubenesque cat, has spent the last 48 hours under the guest bedroom in the basement. She has come out once to pee--that I know of, and a few times I can coax her out for a few minutes of loving and a little sip of water. The last time I moved--9 years ago, when she was 4 years old--she stayed wrapped up inside an overcoat on a chair for three days. I want my happy little girl back.

I'm thrilled, don't get me wrong. The house is so beautiful, and so full of promise and opportunity, not to mention the most luxurious washer/dryer and central air that a person could desire. Oh yeah, and we have a backyard--it's a wreck right now, but soon (soonish?) we'll have a deck and some plants and a little garden party.

But...promise me that we made the right choice. Promise me that the bumps in the road ahead will be remembered as tiny victories over the things we used to think were problems, but really weren't. Promise me that soon we'll all end up, the five of us, napping and talking and loving in the bed with no growling or hissing (or snoring from the boyfriend). Promise me that everything will be alright.

Monday, May 24, 2010

What I Am Thinking About This Week

Today, as I begin changing everything I can think of from my old address to my new address, I am thinking of every place my information resides--banks, insurance, magazines and post office, credit cards, AAA, more and more, and more that I surely have forgotten. I'm also thinking about all this Facebook privacy stuff, how everyone is going crazy reacting to the idea that maybe your "information" has been compromised, and what is going to happen when your "information" is leaked to "outside sources." And, on top of that, I'm thinking of the census takers who I see walking around neighborhoods, with their clipboards and their open, hopeful faces. And also their begging and knocking on doors and talking to people who are too confused, or jaded, or suspicious to answer the questions. In short: I am thinking about all the ways in which we want and don't want to be known.

I am curious about the shock and surprise people are having, or are at least expressing, when they find out that Facebook, a free service, has shared their "information" with third party websites in order to, well, sell you things. I only ask: What did you expect from a website that asked you to enter all your "information" and then tracked every click of here and there? Also, What information are you trying to protect? Also, it only knows what you tell it.

I am thinking about one of my favorite things in New York, which is the moment when you put something on the curb that you don't need any more and then you go to get a Vietnamese ravioli, and when you come back, it's gone. I am thinking about how I love, love, love the efficiency of this. And I am even imagining what the object must feel when it is given a new home, and suddenly made useful once again. This makes me think of Naomi Shihab Nye's poem "Famous" where she says "I want to be famous in the way a pulley is famous/or a buttonhole, not because it did anything spectacular/but because it never forgot what it could do."

Right this moment, I am thinking: I should not have eaten the entire of bag of potato chips.

"Now you have to start letting it go," said Peter, my editor, after I turned in the final draft of my novel. I thought I had been doing that since 2005, which was when I originally finished it. (I say that--originally--because not only did Peter ask me to write a new scene or two, and to adjust a thing or two, I think I probably could have tinkered with it for another five years. It's true when they say you never finish a novel, you just stop.) But I hadn't really let it go. Do you ever? I tell you this about Peter firstly because he was right (as per usual) and also because I notice myself wondering how I am reflected in the work, and wondering how to let go of that. Just tonight, I handed a galley to a friend of a friend and thought "Oh, there I go, into his hand, into his head, and digested." (Of course, this is not really how we read books, and I know that, so I am aware that it's me and not the real thing that's happening.) What's interesting, and hard to deal with, apparently, is how I want to be known for the book, but also distance myself from the book. Oh, art, you are so complicated and wonderful and I love you!

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

New Occupations

  • Pie-rate
  • Phishmonger
  • Revengineer
  • Turban Planner
  • Cluckmaker
  • Investment Bonker
  • Flautaist
  • Buttler
  • S'morrier

Friday, May 07, 2010

Go Ahead and Pre-Order, Folks

You can now pre-order Yield from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Powell's, or you can even track down an independent bookstore in your area who will order and (probably) hold a copy just for you. They might even know you already and are interested in what smart people like yourself are choosing to read. I know I am interested in what you are reading.

Amazon also offers a Kindle Edition, for those of you who have too much going on to, you know, actually turn a page. (Actually, if someone out there has a Kindle, please buy the digital edition and use the Text-to-Speech feature for me--I want to hear the Kindle read it out loud....creepy!)

The web page for Yield has also been revamped quite a bit, with a downloadable excerpt, an interview with me about the book and my writing process, and the Reading Group Guide for those of you who want to read Yield together and talk about it--which I love. On the same page is also a map I created using scenes from the novel as well as my own remembrances of New York City, and also some of the settings and ideas that inspired the novel. If you are the type, join the Facebook group.

Once the book is here, you will be able to order signed copies directly from me. And if you, indeed are reading Yield in a book group, I am happy to make an appearance at one of your meetings either via phone or Skype--all you have to do is ask.

Tuesday, May 04, 2010

from 1997, Part 3

This, the last entry in the journal:
1-2-98. 3:30pm.
Moved in somewhat. Boxes are still everywhere, everything impossible to find. I seem to need everything at once. I'm living in Chris's room until I have a bed. We watched the video of [our high school performance of Brecht's Caucasian] Chalk Circle.
The space is great, a little nervous, but excited. We had a good dinner at some cafe on St. Mark's, which I liked, I'd go there again. Blackened salmon with mashed sweet potatoes. Mom and Dad are doing well. They like the city.
Furniture shopping today. Sleeping here will be tough. I have all this noise outside my window to combat. Talked to everyone back home. No one is helping each other. I don't know what to say. I hope I can really be myself in this place. Like really be the best version of myself here. It's wonderful what's already been established. But Chris's room is a mess.

Saturday, May 01, 2010

from 1997, Part 2

More from the three pages of my journal. At this point, I'm still in the car with my parents, driving north from Chattanooga to TN.

12-31-97. 12:30pm.
Had a long conversation about T with my parents at a McDonald's somewhere outside of Asheville. Hearing them react shows me how good I've got it. I got my Dad to open the back of the car so I could get my CDs, and now I've got Shawn Colvin with me. Still snowing heavily, hopefully we won't run into any problem on the way. I feel good. I'm sure we'll be fine. I'm supposed to call T tonight. I hope he doesn't break anything or burn the house down.
We have almost 5 more hours of driving until we stop for the evening. That will put us into NY about 2:00pm on New Year's Day.
Just now remembering chemistry class and Becky in the 10th grade. And all the notes we passed. We had a good time.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

from 1997, Part 1

I have too many books. Wait, is there such a thing? I have decided that there is. Before we move, I've decided to parcel down my library to a few hundred. I am always buying new ones, so there's that. I hope to move into my new apartment with an empty bookcase.

In the shuffling around, I came across a blank book that was, for three days in 1997, my journal. I have never been good at keeping a journal, they always seemed like too much work going into something that wasn't "the work." But this was a nice surprise. Here's what I was writing on the day before I arrived in New York City, when I was 19:
12-31-97. 7:53am.
Just left Chattanooga for NY. Been driving for only 20 minutes. My cold is annoying but if I can live through my parents doing what they do I'll be fine. I left T at home. I think I really got to him last night. Like me, he is a sentimentalist. I just told him the truth. That we are all worried sick and we loved him too much to watch him do what he does lately. Or what he doesn't do I should say. I think T has always existed inside his head and I suppose he'll go right on.
A new environment will be good. I don't know about all of us in that place. Everyone is counting on me to bring something to it, some kind of maturity, or something. I'm ready. I'll get to play housewife for a while.
Saw my parents holding hands in a movie the other day. Haven't seen that in a while. It made me glad. The snow outside is beautiful. It's nice to have it on the ground. The world is uncomfortable and vulnerable, just as I start to go.
Success has to be in the plan. If not, what? Wish I had my CDs and stuff. Maybe the silence will be good for me. Well, escape only a little bit. I wish I had a puzzle or something. I am amazed at our ability to continue.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

from Wendell Berry

In Wendell Berry's fantastic essay "In Distrust of Movements," he manages to say clearly what I have been thinking for years, but have never been able to articulate as wisely and wittily. The essay is primarily a discussion of the intersection between the food movement and all other movements, but also speaks to the tendency to reduce action and activism to too-specific ideals.

He writes:
People in movements too readily learn to deny to others the rights and privileges they demand for themselves. They too easily become unable to mean their own language, as when a “peace movement” becomes violent. They often become too specialized, as if finally they cannot help taking refuge in the pinhole vision of the institutional intellectuals. They almost always fail to be radical enough, dealing finally in effects rather than causes. Or they deal with single issues or single solutions, as if to assure themselves that they will not be radical enough.

And so I must declare my dissatisfaction with movements to promote soil conservation or clean water or clean air or wilderness preservation or sustainable agriculture or community health or the welfare of children. Worthy as these and other goals may be, they cannot be achieved alone. I am dissatisfied with such efforts because they are too specialized, they are not comprehensive enough, they are not radical enough, they virtually predict their own failure by implying that we can remedy or control effects while leaving causes in place. Ultimately, I think, they are insincere; they propose that the trouble is caused by other people; they would like to change policy but not behavior.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Apartment Hunting

For the past six Sundays--my only day off from three "day jobs"--Kip and I have run ourselves all over parts of Brooklyn looking at apartment after apartment, in many different neighborhoods, at many different levels of nice and nicer (some were decidedly not nice) until, this week, we decided to move ahead with a beautiful space on East 7th Street in Kensington. Barring any unforeseen strangeness on the part of the owner, or, say, plumes of volcanic ash, we should find ourselves unpacking boxes and arguing about paint chips on June 1.

So, today, I got to spend the time doing what I like to do best: eat, sleep and watch TV. Kip can sleep through anything, and does, so I usually wake up before him, sit around surfing the Internet and chatting with other early risers, and then after and hour or so, I crawl back into bed and see if I can get a few more minutes rest. Then we lay there petting the cats and talking about what we plant to do with the rest of the day.

We decided that since we didn't have to schedule or re-schedule apartment seeing, wrestle with agents who show up or don't, whose listings are either genuine or not, and whose interest level is probably in direct proportion to the amount of distrustful, shocked looks we tried to hide while they showed us something that had been on the market for many, many months. Not to readers: You don't want to live in an apartment with floor drains in the middle of every space they are calling a bedroom.

There were, however, some incredibly beautiful spaces, and for not that much money. We looked at a place in Crown Heights that retained all the original woodwork from the 1910s, and, oh yeah, had three fireplaces. But, ultimately, the layout was a bit strange and we couldn't figure out how to use the space with the way we wanted. We also looked at a full three-floor house in Lefferts Gardens that was, quite simply, not to be believed. Front porch, backyard, two-car garage, three bedrooms upstairs, three bathrooms, washer and dryer, dishwasher, antique stove, and more and more and more. We decided that we couldn't afford it. Or that we could afford it, but then we'd find ourselves house poor. (Additionally, I didn't want to pay the outrageously high broker's fee to a broker who showed up 15 minutes late in his white Corvette and departed quickly to make it to his martial arts class.)

I'm nervous about the changes ahead. But also looking forward to them. Here's hoping that the cats make friends, that the presence of the dishwasher means that Kip actually does the dishes that I dirty when I cook, that the central air lulls us to sleep every hot summer night, and that the small square of dirt in the back bursts forth with whatever we plant there. Movin' on up, indeed.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

If You Can Hear Me

If you can hear me,
know that I love you.
Years from now, after
you have solved the housing crises
of the thin, coast-stroking nations
of Southeast Asia,
and rounded the spikes of classism
in the wide, collapsing communities
of South America, with
your youthful grin,
I will smooth myself against you
like a balm of kisses.

After you have wrestled with
the sea monsters of all literature
you tuck yourself inside a wooden shoe,
and sleep the great sleep of
a brave boy who jogs up and down stadiums,
absorbed by the sound of
your heartbeat, which does for me,
what hope does for you.

Monday, April 05, 2010


I'm sitting here with the unbound version of Yield that will soon go to a printer to be returned to me in galleys. I've been told by the production editor at Kensington to check for "the accuracy of data, typesetting and editing." This is the first time I've seen the book look the way it will look when it is actually a book. Initially, I wrote in 11-point Times New Roman--probably because this was the default on my Word at the time. Then when I started sending the manuscript around to agents I changed it to 12-point Courier because this seemed to be the way they all wanted it. (I was probably wrong about that, but here I am.) Now the book is in something else, I don't know what it is, but it's fluid and has a nice blankness to it, a kind of anonymous-looking font that fits well with the story. But, I've never seen the book like this, and it's proving difficult to adjust.

When I was writing, I paid close attention to the white space on the page. I paid close attention to single words hanging off a line. If a single word fell at the beginning of the line by itself, then I changed the sentence so it wouldn't be like that. I think, now that I've had some distance from the writer I was in my early 20s, that this was all: an attempt to control what you can't control, a concern for something that doesn't really matter that much to the reader, who isn't you, and who doesn't care about that kind of thing, or at least doesn't notice, and also the only way I knew how to tell if the writing was, well, musically, how it should sound.

Suddenly, the book is new again, looking beautifully together, but still strange to me. I'm reading it again, page by page, remembering all the nights spend struggling with it, all the weeks that summer where the pages were plastered all over the walls, the circled verbs, the highlighted sections of imagery, the re-ordered chapters just to see what that was like.

Books sitting on hard drives only serve to corrode the will. But as grateful as you are that you're being published, you feel a certain sadness--not sadness, actually. Growing pains, maybe. You relive the insecurity of starting the thing, the uncertainty of the characters in the beginning, and you remember all the nights spent alone at the desk and the amount of work you have put into it is overwhelming and, perhaps as self-protection, almost impossible to remember.

I'm excited. But also anxious. And insecure, and suddenly shy about it. The reader won't have the same emotional peaks that I have when I read the book--they will have their own, of course, at least one hopes--mine are mostly about my own experience during the crafting of it.

So many disparate things can be true all at once.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Three Upcoming Readings!

FRIDAY, March 26
7:30pm Doors, $15.00 (no one turned away)
One Arm Red
10 Jay Street, #903, Dumbo, Brooklyn
(F to York, or A/C to High Street)
as part of: Great Small Works Spaghetti Dinner.

8pm, Free!!
Nowhere Bar
322 East 14th Street, Manhattan
as part of: LOVE PANIC!
also with Jimmy Lam, Nyna, Brandon Lacy Campos and Chadwick Moore.

8pm, Free!!
envoy enterprises
131 Chrystie Street, Manhattan
as part of: Brother, My Lover
also with
Justin Bond, Saeed Alan Siama, Aaron Tilford, and Colin Fitzpatrick

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Spring Cleaning and Other Things

--Jennifer and I went to see Keigwin+Company last night at the Joyce, which was fabulous. The most real revelation of the evening: horizontal lines with vertical lines going in a diagonal is so satisfying. If you are here in New York, and you can still get a ticket, do go. If you are not in New York, I bet you wish you were. This piece, Runaway, (which for the Joyce run was scaled down a bit) was, for me, the highlight of the evening.

--The plan for the next few weeks is to get some of this shit out of my house. Spring cleaning, if you will, of the shelves and the psyche. Thinking about publicity for Yield has given me such explosions of excitement and anxiety, that I feel I need to get back to the center somehow. I have so many books. Really. And some of them could find new owners.

--Theatrical Roundup! We saw Looped, which sucked hard. We saw God of Carnage, which was, well, what I expected it to be. There seems to be a lot of these plays in the past few years, where adults act like children and are terrible to each other, and they are supposed to be comedies. Janet McTeer, in this one, however, is remarkable, and brought me to tears in her final speech, which is, believe it or not, on the phone. Back in January, we saw the 39 Steps, which seemed stale but born of some brilliance, and then I saw Turandot at the Met, which was incredibly good.

--If you are nearabouts Ft. Greene, check out No. 7 Restaurant, particularly for brunch. We've had, at this point, everything on the brunch menu, and everything is great. I particularly like the fried hominy which comes alongside the grits, and the banana butter that comes with the waffle. Yo can also get a half fried chicken at 11am, which seems intense, but a lot of tables were ordering it as a shared course, which I also recommend. Of course, when you go, the menu might be very different, which is what I also like about No. 7.

See what I mean about wanting to be here?

Friday, March 12, 2010

Being Present

I am thinking these days about presence. About what creates it. About what makes it real, or maybe palpable, since what is real and what is unreal, these days, I find difficult to decipher. (And, of course, the other huge question here is: Does real matter?) More specifically, I am thinking about how much energy it takes to be present. To respect another person's presence by showing up, by becoming present yourself.

I am first thinking of how being present can take everything out of you. As evidence: me standing on South 4th Street and Bedford Avenue, waiting on the blessed B62 (which, by the way, hasn't gotten better since the restructuring.) There was a man standing there as well, mid 50s maybe, something slightly off-kilter about his clothing. (But this is New York, and you never know anything about anyone, really.) I notice that he's looking at me. Not looking at me like one New Yorker looks at another New Yorker. He's trying to make eye contact. I get the feeling that he wants to ask me something. (This is natural at the bus stop. People often have logistical or directional questions at bus stops, and I, apparently, look like the kind of person who has the answers.) So, I take the bait, and look back at him.

"My wife died," he said. "Two weeks ago. She was 62 years old." "I'm sorry," I said. He said thank you, and we stood there a minute, quietly, waiting on the bus, with this fact suddenly between us.

For the rest of the day I carried all that around with me, and before I crawled into bed, I spent an hour playing thrashy folk songs on the guitar, maybe annoying the neighbors, until all that was out of me and I felt like myself again. He needed to say it out loud. He needed to give some of the weight to someone else so that he could go on with the motion of living. This makes sense to me. Sometimes saying something out loud can make it real. Or sometimes we say things out loud that aren't true at all, and it's a way of feeling the realness of them, if only an instant, like trying on a new pair of strange glasses, or like sliding your feet into a pair of your father's shoes. That guy just needed me to be present. Or, by default, my presence contributed his relief. Even if he made it all up, I was there, and we shared that weird, horrible, tragic conversation. And there was nothing to say afterward.

Second, I went to MoMA to see the Marina Abromovic retrospective. In addition to filling the 6th floor with lots of photos and videos, there are several recreations, or "reperformances" as Abromovic is calling them, by actors, dancers and other performance artists, of her previous work. Meanwhile, for the duration of the exhibit--about 700 hours that is--Abromovic herself will be seated at a table in the main atrium. Museum guests are invited to sit across from her for a duration of their choosing and do nothing but meet her gaze and feel whatever you feel, in a piece called "The Artist is Present." This is what it looks like, from the outside:

Sitting in a chair for an hour is difficult. Try it for 700 hours, all the while under the gaze of lights, viewers, the art world, critics, fans, people who hate you, etc. Marina ain't kidding, y'all. I've been thinking so much about presence after seeing this piece because of the way the reperformances failed to create the kind of excitement, mystery, emotion, verve--any of the things you feel when you see "The Artist is Present" in the Atrium.

So then what is creating that feeling? The situation is so simple, and other than blinking and the slight movement from her breathing, she didn't move at all for the half hour I stood watching her. So how can it be that the reperformances don't carry the same weight, if the actions are the same as in the original pieces? And Abromovic herself has been coaching and training the performers for the past several weeks. It begs the question, what is performance? Is it the sum of the actions, or is it the intention behind the actions? (I recall Yeats here and "how can we know the dancer from the dance?") And if the reperformers are supposed to be truly in the moment, and truly present, then why not call them performers? Why divide the past from the present, if what you are looking for--I think--is the magic of the moment?

In the new piece, Abromovic is basically doing everything at once, controlling every aspect, either directly or indirectly, by just being present. One museum-goer opted to sit across from her for about two hours. This made me angry--this person was taking up so much time, other people were waiting, how selfish! But what does that say about my sense of time? What does that say about my own selfishness? What does it say about what I think about the act of being present, and the limits, or extensions of it?

One of the things I like most about "The Artist is Present" is that the catalog copy calls the piece "generous." Such a rarity in art, I think. A kind of slow, meaningful present generosity.