Process Letter to My Advisor 2.4

October 31, 2007


How have you been? “The Atlantic Center for the Arts needs no introduction and is recognized internationally as one of the premier art communities.” Sorry I couldn’t resist (it actually says that), there’s a whole stack of promo material they leave in our rooms. It’s a lot like Skowhegan, but with a focus on writing as well. It’s very interdisciplinary. I think Edward Albee helped set up the foundation, but I could be wrong. The facilities are gorgeous. Think money in the jungle, Spanish moss, 80s log cabin Bauhaus buildings, little boardwalks leading from building to building, very picturesque at night.

Each residency has three master artists and a team of associate artists. Our three are Gioia Timpanelli (writing), Paul Pfeiffer (video and conceptual), and Sarah Skaggs (dance). Gioia is really amazing and generous and positive. She’s worked a lot with Robert Bly and Eva Hesse. We are working a lot with fables and honing images in writing. I made the mistake of watching Paul Pfeiffer’s Art:21 right before coming here. It was part of the curriculum for the class I was teaching… but made me a little star struck when I met him.  The master artists get their own little two story houses. Maybe you should do it? I’m an associate. Above my bed is a poster from a residency Nick Cave did about ten years ago… He’s in some goofy suit made of carpetbag embroidery and Spanish moss, looking like some sort of sasquatch doll. The residency lasts for twenty-one days. The schedule changes a little each week. This week we meet for 2-3 hours everyday to seminar on specific topics and lecture. It’s pretty intensive. I’ve been impressed by the caliber of everyone involved. We also do a lot of outreach and demonstrations at the art center and the community. I actually wish Goddard residencies were a little more like this. Sometimes I feel like they just scratch the surface, but that probably has a lot to do with the length of the stay. Oh, I heard a space shuttle launch last week. Very loud. Oh and I saw a coral snake… ah poisonous nature.

So I am here until this Saturday then back to LA… then drive across to Buffalo. I’m sending this in early before I hit the road and have been pulling late nighters to get ahead on my reading, so hopefully the trip won’t throw off my overall schedule too much, right? Ha, wishful thinking, but I’m optimistic. I just want to be in a home at this point. I feel like I’ve been displaced since the end of June, and am getting worn out by always having to be around strangers and “on”… It wears me out. I also miss the bf. I just realized that this is probably the longest we’ve been apart in our six-year relationship.

I’ll email Cooper when I get back to civilization… He and I were going to try to go grab coffee before I left LA. He was in town from Paris (wow, must be nice), but our schedules didn’t quite line up and I haven’t really been in contact out here. Yeah, I’ve heard of Little Caesar. I think Cooper has a collection of poetry coming out soonish if I’m not mistaken. You are watching OZ? Cool. Yeah my bf and I did that recently and enjoyed it. The narrator in the wheelchair really annoyed me for some reason (too much like bad college experimental theater monologues maybe?) I wanted him to get killed off (I know I’m bad), but then he does, but he’s still there! Did you ever get into Six Feet Under? I thought that started and ended well, but got a little muddy and annoying in the middle.

Oh yeah, I knew Douglas dated Stipe. I’m not a big Stipe fan. He’s a little too repressed (is that the right word?) for my taste or something, although some of the early/mid career REM was interesting I guess. I just thought the story would be more interesting if it was about Fred Schneider… Think about it…. Fred enters a crowded club as somebody puts the Rock Lobster single on, or maybe something more obscure like 6060 842. That’s way more interesting than mopey old Stipe, although I have to admit I don’t really find Schneider attractive either. Oh and it’s still Athens-centric. What’s the point of writing a blind item if the reader can’t speculate even a little bit about who it is? My biggest complaint about that book was that it relied too heavily on Stipe’s status as Stipe. Does that make sense?

I’ve heard a little of Wainright’s aunt and mother, but I should probably go back and listen some more. Lately I’ve been listening to the Labeque sisters while I write, oh and a little Kiki and Herb. I had my itunes on random while writing this and it started out with Kiki and Herb, then went to the Creatures, veered into Hebrew for Dummies, Air, then went into a podcast by Karl Lagerfeld… I’m not sure if that’s a good thing or a bad thing, but I had to turn it off.

Onto Stalking America.:

I cut the end of that paragraph on p. 122. You’re right it does sound better. With a lot of the dialogue I’m not really planning on having that be the final version. A lot of the time it is more of a structural placeholder until I figure out where I’m going with this overall (I need to get over that, I know… but am not quite there yet. I usually try to elevate in later drafts…). One thing though is that I want it to sound really pedestrian in many ways. One of the main themes here is how dumb and ineffective and polluting small talk is. I hate chatter on things like planes or trains… This gets developed more later in the story, but that’s one of the main things in chapter one and three. I just need to find a way to write stylized mundane conversations that works with the plot. Maybe I’ll read some Pinter. No. I actually wish I could structure it so that my dialogue didn’t need to be in quotes (especially in the S.A. storylines… like how they do in memoirs because nothing is truly a direct quote, just recollections), but my writing isn’t clean enough for that. I actually played around with format a lot in my creative work this time, but didn’t have much success and changed it around. Is it okay that everything is block paragraphed? I don’t do that in my annotations, but it seems to be clearer in my creative work and in here. I think it is my natural writing form.

Yeah, the main character is seventeen and through the whole first part of the book he is going to resist and pull away from every chance he has to connect to somebody who tries to talk to him. You don’t hang out with many seventeen year old these days, eh? They have no interest in connecting and even when they love ya, are resistant down to the bone. That’s very much who he is. That’s also a big part of his growth over the novel. Hopefully he starts changing in the next section? You asked if the guy on the train stays in the book. Yes and no. He’s there at the beginning of the next section, but the bulk of the interactions will be between the kid and the guy’s nephew. The good news is that I conceive of the nephew as essentially a copy of the uncle… only the same age as the main character, although he may or may not make an unwanted pass at the main character (I haven’t decided) at the end of the second section… that opens into the third section. I think there are some flaws in the logic in that section you were talking about (the girl/mother story with their resulting conversation)… so I’ve been working on that and trying to clean it up a bit, and will come back to it in the future. I think it crystallizes pretty well around a number of the ideas I’ve been exploring without being too heavy handed.

Yes, that story about the kid’s impressions of the town was in the previous chapter. I have done this in a number of places. For me it’s about the difference between how the kid thinks about it in his head as opposed to what exactly he says when he’s trying to tell somebody else about it. He’s done it when describing Home and in a couple other places. I’ll probably have to redo that then…

For this packet’s creative work I went back and completely rewrote the first Claire chapter. It’s not a revision, but a complete attempt at re-imagining that element. This is actually a second attempt during this packet period, but the first one was far less than successful. I did approximately 5 or 6 pages trying to completely re-imagine Claire as a character and approached it from her perspective… but the results came off really hokey and less relevant. I basically had to throw those out and start over mid-packet. They just weren’t working. What I am submitting is a new version, re-imagining Claire. For this one I didn’t work with the original chapter. I simply wrote out a few of the plot points and went at it from scratch. I think it is stilted in places, but what I need to know is, does it work? Are any of these ideas interesting or do I need to just shelve the S.A. storylines until I am surer of the story? I also have an idea of inserting plot point parallels to her story that follow a specific myth… Not anything overt (slight mirroring), but I’ve been exploring the idea of TV as contemporary folk culture (for better of worse) and this fits with that. I don’t know. For this chapter I was attempting to simplify the story while layering more. Do I just need to drop it for now and try to pick up the new narrative of the kid off the train? When something is good I feel it when I’m writing it… unless I start to over think it. If something is close to good, I can’t tell until I reread it a couple weeks later. These Claire stories are important because she is the dream reality resolution for the larger story once everything goes wide at the end. Her story on S.A. remains unresolved but is deferred towards the kid when he has his metaphorical voodoo (not really) epiphany in section three with her. I’m having a hard time plotting ahead with this novel, so I keep butting up against what I do know and don’t… Certain sections I know exactly what I’m writing towards (the last two chapters) and others I still don’t… Once I’m moved into Buffalo I’ll probably try to map it out visually and more explicitly, but for some of these scenes I still only have like three key words of something that needs to happen.

Also I reread the complete manuscript twice since I’ve been here and made notes, so that should help. I also went through and made some minor revisions to make facts and scenes agree after some of the plot changes I’ve done in the last couple chapters.

For this packet period I am submitting four new annotations. See, I told you I’d be able to catch up my average. I should be able to do four or possibly five next packet depending on time. Anyway that would bring me up to 15-16 annotations this semester. For this packet I annotated Micheline’s Three Apples Fell From Heaven, Malouf’s An Imaginary Life, Tolstoy’s Fables and Fairy Tales, and Gioia Timpanelli’s Sometimes the Soul. I have always had a strong interest in fables, fairy tales, and dream reality… so have definitely been taking advantage of having Gioia Timpanelli as a resource these last several weeks.

So I was just informed that a “tropical depression” is headed our way. Is that a polite way of saying a hurricane? I hope you are well… and the next time you hear from me I should hopefully be in Buffalo, sometime around the 11th or 12th of November. Oh, I’m still planning on switching to Vermont next semester. Do you have any recommendations for faculty after working with me and having read what I’m working on?


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