Process Letter to My Advisor 2.5November 30, 2007
How have you been? I am so glad to finally be in Buffalo…(I wonder if anyone’s ever said that before?) The new space is absolutely gorgeous, high ceilings, concrete floors, and wall-sized industrial windows. I have a writing studio. Michael can do sculpture and video. Our kitchen overlooks a space that they are turning into a community garden for the neighborhood. Sure it’s a slum, but I can afford to live in the glamorous level of poverty I’ve become accustomed to over the years. People here smile at strangers in public places. It’s kind of creepy. Aren’t people on the East Coast supposed to be mean? I keep thinking I’m getting hit on, but then realize people are just being friendly (Why is this 90 year old woman flirting with me?). People in Seattle are EXTREMELY polite, but secretly they hate you and are really stand offish (That’s what happens when you get too many Norwegians, heroin, Lutherans, and bi-polars in one place with no sun). It’s also nice to be in a place that isn’t so concerned with being hip. A lifetime of the politics of hipness can be tiring.
Oh and the most amazing thing happened. Moving across country I finally know absolutely nobody here. I’ve been living in this tiny fishbowl for the last several years running one of the higher profile art non-profits in the region, doing selections for exhibitions, and awarding funding… in a town of like 200,000 people… so I couldn’t even pee without knowing someone (or a student, or a student’s parent, or someone from the board of my work) and having them either schmooze or shit talk me (if the schmoozing didn’t work) everywhere I went… The grocery store, the gas station, my work, coffee… I honestly wasn’t aware of how oppressive it was becoming until I’m here and now it’s gone. My boyfriend was always amazed how I could go anywhere and somebody would try to chat me up (I know it sounds like I’m exaggerating, but I’m not). I couldn’t even roll out of bed to take the dog out, and I’m not even famous or anything. I’m just some dude who lived in a crappy town. Did I tell you that I had four newspaper articles just about me moving? In what town is that news? That’s just dumb. Oh and they weren’t even nice articles glowing about somebody’s accomplishments as they move on… People were mad about me moving and abandoning my projects (never mind I transitioned them all to another organization and the gallery we ran would have closed anyway because I was in grad school and didn’t have the time or resources to continue development and fundraising… and had to teach fulltime to make ends meet) Okay, I’m ranting. Greetings from Buffalo! It’s snowing.
In the last three weeks I’ve flown cross-country, drove from LA to Buffalo, moved or sold everything I owned, annotated four books, and even completed new creative work for my manuscript. Who knew? Life is good and now I’m ready to hibernate and just work on writing for the next year or so. Oh and I’m sick.
How’s the semester wrapping up for you? I think I’m really into Darcey Steinke as my advisor with Douglas Martin as a backup. They both look really interesting. Thanks for the advice. Yeah, Atlantic Center was great although I was getting antsy to get back to whatever my real life might be towards the end. It was hard just being in limbo for so long. Now I just want to hide out, but this whole displaced thing was probably the perfect transition between how rooted down I was getting before and the new place in Buffalo. It made it more of a journey or experience. Yeah, the artists were definitely cuter than the writers at the ACA (with a few exceptions and some fierce old ladies thrown in for good measure). Why is that exactly? Farm poetry? Wow… sounds delightful… Yeah, ACA did a really good job of integrating the different art forms. I think that was a strong point of the residency. It kept it interesting and it was cool to explore common ground.
Yeah the casual attitude towards life and death in Oz was troublesome for me too… There were just no consequences for actions… My boyfriend said it was like watching EXTREMELY bad little boys at recess. Did you ever hear the anecdote about how if someone was late on the set, the directors would have that person’s character get raped or do a full nude scene as consequence? Yeah, Beecher and Keller were pretty amazing and I definitely agree about the two older guys. Did you mention you know or are friendly with Lili Taylor? I forgot that she was on Six Feet Under when we were talking about it. She was so odd there, the creepy glazed earnestness. Do you like Rachel Griffiths? I think she’s usually pretty interesting in things, although crazy in that. I have kind of a soft spot for her, oh and Toni Collette does some interesting stuff too. Are they both Australian? Lately we’ve been watching old movies that we “should’ve” seen, but for some reason never did. We just watched Cleopatra, which felt like a diorama at times and of course was too long, but was actually better than we were expecting. I haven’t caught Little Britain or the Catherine Tate Show. I’ll look them up.
My cover letters are my best writing? That’s a compliment, right? Actually I’ve gotten variations on that before. I agree that would be interesting to bring into SA, but I’m not exactly sure how at the moment. They just feel very different to me. You’re also seeing me at my bloggiest… I think whatever writing project I do after SA will have to be a lot more engaged by design or it will all just be a big mess. Right now the SA thing is still interesting to me probably because it is a lot different than how I’ve approached writing in the past. Maybe I can become a professional Process Letter writer. How does that pay? Is there union? When I was touring my video work and exhibiting more I used to have to write around fifty cover letters a month (of course most of that is just re-tailoring and absolutely nothing like this) for the gallery and projects… I used to muse about just turning my cover letters into my visual practice for galleries. I also like the idea of the Russian Paper Architects and Constructivists who never had money to realize any of their projects, so they just existed on paper. I’ve flirted with the idea of just doing away with my visual work (most of which is very process based and takes years and grants to realize) and instead just writing about the projects as if they happened, but that’s kind of hard to justify after Conceptualism. Similar approach, but for different reasons.
Okay, down to business. For this packet I have included annotations for the Kiss, the Discontented Dervishes, On the Road, and Let Us Now Praise Famous Men. Luckily I got ahead on my reading at ACA or I would’ve been really screwed with this move. I have to confess I didn’t like the Kiss, which I know you like a lot. Something didn’t sit right with me (and it wasn’t the subject matter or anything). It was well crafted, and maybe too much so for my taste. Too deliberate or constructed or something? Does that make sense? I don’t know, but I definitely think it was a good book to be on my reading list and annotate. Discontented Dervishes is pretty flat, as you’ll see. It was exactly the opposite of what I was looking for when I put it on my list. I’m hoping it was a problem with translation, or else… On the Road was okay. Micheline recommended I read it since I had never read any Kerouac. She wanted me to do it while I took my road trip to Buffalo to try and tap into more of the freedom for the kid’s train ride in SA. Maybe if I was more interested in Benzedrine and binge drinking, it would’ve paralleled my journey more, but actually I really enjoyed certain elements and in certain portions it really worked… but the “do-doo-dee daddy-o” the sounds of jazz-man spelled out portions… don’t hold up well. It also felt like it should have been cut into two books. Isn’t there some theory that every time Kerouac described a scene about another naked guy, there was a scene that was cut that was supposed to be about them having sex; like a code or something? There are so many rumors around all that, so it’s hard to know. For the annotation I tried to only work within the text when exploring that stuff. Let Us Now Praise Famous Men was great, but hard to annotate. You mentioned nobody had annotated it? I know there was some resistance towards it from people, but I enjoyed it. I tried to read it for what it was and not dismiss it for cultural expectations that didn’t exist at the time. It was very soulful and beautiful. I was talking about it with a writer at ACA and she said she always wanted to do it as an opera… which was interesting for me to think about as I read it. A lot of my research for utopian experiments and for projects I’ve done comes out of that New Deal/ Depression era, so maybe I was a little biased in its favor.
Oh, you asked about XXXXX in the last letter. She is actually great, a big advocate of trusting the process and learning from it. Her biggest drawback was that she was new to Goddard and I was a G1, so she didn’t know the same things I didn’t know about the program. She’s a great writer though. She’s smart and very genuine. Sounds like she went through kind of a messy divorce though.
With my annotations from last packet, Timpanelli was on my list, but I added the Tolstoy to kind of go with the direction I was thinking along at ACA. You’re right though, he does sound pretty riddle-like in that collection. I was trying to pin it down, but hadn’t thought of it that way. I haven’t read Uses of Enchanted. Should I think about adding it to my list for next time? Stuff like that can be so hit or miss sometimes. I did pretty well with it last semester, but had a couple of duds this time around. Yes, I really like Imaginary Life. Good suggestion. You’re right about the minimal amount of dialogue. That’s odd that I latched on to that. Maybe it subconsciously jumped out to me? Usually when I read for annotations I have a little stack of post-its and I look for patterns that develop as I read it. Usually I just mark certain passages, maybe a star or a couple words if it seems important, but more or less I’m just looking for patterns or how something fits with something else. Those sections were just a crystallization of the patterns I’d noticed in how things in that book were very symmetrical. I might actually expand that annotation into work for my Long Critical if I find another good example of a really symmetrically structured novel. Any suggestions? I’m not feeling the Cooper critical at this point.
I’m trying to decide what to do for my Practicum. I already teach and the last several months have been so exhausting that I want to do something that would be fun and different from what I’ve been doing. I don’t have any connections here yet (been here almost two weeks!), but I was thinking it might be interesting to try to teach a writing class at a queer teen drop-in center of maybe at the LGBTQ center? Who knows? Do you have suggestions for short stories that would be appropriate?
Stalking America: I hear you on the last chapter. I’m glad to hear it’s mostly working. Sometimes I don’t unpack things because I feel like I’m becoming too wordy about something already, so it’s good to get examples on where to unpack like the Nico part or the story of Claire interviewing. I’ve never read any David Mamet. Did he write Speed the Plow? Should I look into putting him on my list for next semester? Hmmm how to work on interesting mundane dialogue… I definitely see myself having a predilection towards the contrived in my writing, so I’m always trying to cut that out or second guess if something is or not. I think it’s interesting that you commented that I went right for the subtext in my annotation, because in many ways I think I understand subtext a lot more than text. I always get stuck on the “yeah, but what does that mean”, the dark underbelly of studying too much semiotics and feminist/queer film theory in undergrad.
Somebody: What’s it about?
Me: I don’t know, but look at all this stuff over here.
For this packet I’m sending another re-imagined Claire section. This portion is sandwiched in the middle of the old chapter where the Claire’s Friend character gets the accident settlement and learns to stalk the guy in the band. That part needs to be completely re-written, but wanted you to have context and know it’s not stand alone. I think this new section needs a re-write, but I’m not sure which direction it needs to push. It could probably use the air sucked out of it to make it a little denser. It’s the first real stalking in Claire’s Stalking America. Sometimes I worry that it sounds a little too much like Nancy Drew giving a tour through a diorama. It kind of all rolled out a little too matter of fact, so I tried to fracture the telling in a way to engage it a bit more… But is it working? Anyway, I’m sick and it’s making me second-guess everything.
I hope you are doing well and had a good semester. We kind of had a rough start… but I think its come together pretty well and have been getting a lot out of your feedback. I never asked you what are you working on these days, or are you mostly teaching? Now I think I need to go drink some orange juice and sleep for a month.