Tuesday, October 26, 2010

This Thing of Ours

Sometimes I get frustrated. Out of whack. Writing will do that to you. Just trying to write will do that to you. The other night I was emailing a fellow writer and it all just kind of fell apart for me. Or came together in that weird way collapses combine what wasn’t before combined.

I crib from that email here because I feel the impetus to do so. You see, I’m in a weird place: I’ve got this novel that I would really, really love to get out into the world, but those things take time and as those things are taking time, I’m trying to make a living and trying to keep writing and trying to raise a family and trying be something that simulates normal. It’s all just a dog pile after awhile.

This thing we do ... this writing thing ... it’s a fight. It’s a fight against the cultural impetus to hang it up. And it has been a fight since the moment we realized we want to write, hasn't it? I mean, everything I've encountered in life has tried to push me into something less-than art. My job as a copywriter is the perfect example. What a ruinous compromise! Or, rather, it would be ruinous if I was to convince myself that it’s enough to call those websites and brochures and ad campaigns real writing. I have to fight to keep them in their place. To call them a paycheck. To give them no more emotional weight than money deserves. I often fail at this. I often let my day be destroyed by the petty happenings of my job.

Even now, I think: oh, shit, I shouldn’t be writing this. Someone who pays me will read it and assume I don’t care, that I’m not giving my copywriting my all. But that’s not the point. The point is really the opposite: to make a successful living – to feed a family and all of that – you better as hell give it your all. But giving your all to one thing makes it that much harder to give your all to another thing, particularly when that other thing is this pursuit – this mostly uncompensated pursuit – of something that might be art.

It’s brutal out there, out here. Doesn't matter what your choices have been. Single. Married. Kids. No kids. Rich. Poor. This is not a culture that values what we do in any grand sense. This is a culture of enterprise, of capitalism. Dreamers are rewarded only by the economic viability of their dreams. We are not rewarded merely for the capacity to express those dreams in ways no one else can. And yet we choose to keep at it -- to try to pierce through the culture, to expose some small bit of truth or beauty or horror or failure. We jab and jab and jab and only those who keep at it can hope to succeed.

So I keep at it. Because the alternative is shit. The alternative is giving into all those little nits that try to fill me with self hate, that try to tell me I’m nothing but mediocre. That say: make a damn living, man. Go to Vegas. Drink good wine. Forget this thing with words.

Can’t. Won’t.

I’m in a mood. So I write.

Monday, October 18, 2010

What Wal-Mart Doesn't Have

I needed things last night. An assortment of items affiliated only by their eventual ownership by me. A wireless router. Some light bulbs. Bananas. I went to Wal-Mart because it was close and it was late and sometimes convenience wins.

But I really dislike Wal-Mart. I’m not talking about its business practices, I’m talking about their stores. They are unwelcoming. Soulless. They grab you by the back of the neck and shove your face into the fact that you are a consumer and every damn thing is a commodity. You like to eat? Tough. Wal-Mart doesn’t sell the joy of eating. They sell packaged foodstuffs. You like to look attractive? Wal-Mart doesn’t sell fashion, they sell body coverage items.

It’s all about the sell. Where what cog fits into what hole.

Sure, there are those who will say that’s what all stores do. And there are those who will blame the soul-sucking nature of capitalism in that weird, simplistic way people like to blame complex, inexact systems for the majority of our problems. But I believe that most of life is just people interacting with people. And while the fulfillment of basic needs is obviously essential, people don’t just connect through basic needs. We have passions and fears and desires and insecurities and we pursue those or try to mitigate those through human interaction.

Wal-Mart removes all of that upper-level stuff.

I mean, sure, they try to make their stores bright and clean, but they go to no effort to relate to their customers on anything more than a transactional level. Just because I am a person who needs to buy an item doesn’t mean I have to be reduced to a personality-less consumer. I go to a place like Target (which provides essentially the same items as Wal-Mart) and I feel that there’s someone human behind the store – someone who has taken a few minutes to consider what I might want, not just what I might need.

I could go on, more examples and all of that. But I’m going to end up talking in circles. My point isn’t to throw Wal-Mart onto the pyre, it’s to note how alienating their business-model is and how that alienation is becoming such a defining feature of our society. I don’t much go in for the overheated cries that our civilization is failing, but I take notice of all these ways we’re removing ourselves not just from each other but from our own personalities, our own identities.

I mean, we talk about what the great literary/artistic themes of this period are and will be and I keep coming back to this notion of alienation. Not the lost generation stuff of nearly a century ago, but a far stranger alienation, one that can only be broken through with increasingly bold leaps of faith (in love or God or just in the very notion of truth).

I read a lot of these writers publishing on-line (Roxane Gay and Ethel Rohan and Matt Bell and Amber Sparks and all the others I've referenced on this blog) and I read others like Edward P. Jones and someone like the late David Markson (whose Wittgenstein’s Mistress was about 20 years ahead of its time) and I see all these characters hoping and dreaming for these connections that might not even exist or are only found at great costs, and I think, my God, this is what’s happening. This rebellion against alienation. Taking to the barricades. Maybe in failure but always in passion. The return of sentimentalism not as some saccharine or moralistic device but as a real attempt to forge connection, one person to the next, through this bizarre period where a trip to buy a router and bananas can make you feel as if your very identity has been bludgeoned.

I overstate. Or oversimplify. But maybe the point is in there.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Zombi Love

This story has been praised by others, but some stories deserve all the huzzahs they can get.

The story is ”There is No ‘E’ in Zombi Which Means There Can Be No You Or We” by Roxane Gay at Guernica. I should say the inimitable Roxane Gay. Her stories always get me. And this one is just phenomenal.

Check it out if you haven’t already.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Goings On

Several things.

Journey to The Ancient City in its permanent home. Amber Sparks did such a great job with this. It’s so cool because it’s not so much an editor’s aesthetic as it is the project’s aesthetic. Great writing abounds.

My story “Bad Hands” is out in Coal City Review #26. Thanks to Mary Wharff for giving this story such an excellent home.

And a huge thank you goes out to the anonymous and extraordinary folks at > kill author for nominating my story ”My Father Believes” for Best of the Net. This is my first nomination for anything writing related and for it to come from one of my absolute favorite journals is just incredible and so frickin’ exciting. And, adding to the good news, the wonderfully talented and cool Jason Jordan was also nominated by > kill author for his piece ”Do Not Let Them Take You”, a creepy, marvelous story that you should read right now if you haven’t yet.