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.