29th Annual ODU Litfest

The theme this year is “Colonial Encounters”.

Speakers include:

Shalom Auslander (short stories)
Michael Blumenthal (poetry)
Bernard Cooper (fiction/non-fiction)
Dagoberto Gilb (short stories/novels)
Tyehimba Jess (poetry)
Matt Klam (short stories)
Rebecca Solnit (essays)

and

yours truly (short stories)

Please check out the Literary Festival website at:

http://www.lib.odu.edu/litfest/29th/

Festival begins Oct. 16 and runs through Oct. 20.

Thomas Alva Edison Dreams of the Women

Found the following excerpts from the diaries of the inventor Thomas Alva Edison quoted in a book by a young Englishwoman, Gaby Wood. The book is called Edison’s Eve, and it’s Wood’s first. Published by Knopf in 2002, it chronicles man’s fascination with androids, mechanical life, and other such simulacra:

“Thought of Mina (who was to become Edison’s second wife, a year later), Daisy, and Mamma G. (the wife of one of Edison’s colleagues). Put all 3 in my mental kaleidoscope to obtain a new combination… Took Mina as a basis, and tried to improve her beauty by discarding and adding certain features borrowed from Daisy and Mamma G. A sort of Raphaelized beauty, got into it too deep, mind flew away and I went to sleep again.”

That same evening, Edison felt compelled to write in his diary again:

“I will shut my eyes and imagine a terraced abyss, each terrace occupied by a beautiful maiden. To the first I will deliver my mind and they will pass it down to the uttermost depths of silence and oblivion. Went to bed. Worked my imagination for a supply of maidens. Only saw Mina, Daisy, and Mama. Scheme busted— sleep.”

And, a few days later, after going for a walk, he writes:

“Saw a woman get into a car that was so tall and frightfully thin as well as dried up that my mechanical mind at once conceived the idea that it would be the proper thing to run a lancet into her arm and knee joints and insert automatic self-feeding oil cups to diminish creaking when she walked.”

Calling Dr. Phil….

Melville and Kafka

In my Freshman English “Intro to Literature” class, we’re studying Melville’s “Bartleby the Scrivener” and Kafka’s “The Hunger Artist”. Think I may have messed up by scheduling these stories the same week that their first literary analysis essays are due. Because, of course, today, no one had read “Bartleby the Scrivener” except for one or two confident souls. Not surprising, considering the story is 30 pages long, and our book has tiny tiny print that makes me go cross-eyed.

Last week, when introducing the stories, I asked the students, “Have you never heard of Melville before?” Shaking of heads.

I was, quite frankly, incredulous. This has got to be a total act, right? But then, they hated Hemingway last week, and when we finished discussing “A Clean, Well-Lighted Place,” instead of being blown away by Hemingway’s clean, manly prose about nada y nada y pues nada, the students, even my brightest ones, said it was “depressing”, a “letdown”, apparently felt nada after reading it.

So, I’m desperately trying to whip up some enthusiasm THIS week. “Come on,” I say. “You’ve all had to read Moby Dick.”

Nooooo. No one in my class of 25 freshmen has read Moby Dick.

OK, I say, you’ve heard of Kafka.

No one quite shakes their heads (Can they possibly be scared of little ol’ me?)

“He’s the man who wrote Metamorphosis, the story of the man who turns into a bug,” I say.

“Didn’t he turn into a fly?” a sweet girl named Jessica asks.

“No,” I say. “It was some kind of bug. I’m sure it wasn’t a fly.”

Then I ask, “Why must we study Kafka?”

No one knows why.

“Because,” I say, “because he died poor and ignored and he loved American movies.”

(To be continued. Next class is Wednesday, let’s see whether the poor darlings come up with some profound thoughts on Bartleby, who everyone agreed at the end would make a good character for a play, especially if portrayed by Steve Buscemi…)

Books I Am Interested in Reading (After Perusing the September 17, 2006 Issue of The New York Times Book Review)

(1) After reading Erica Wagner’s review of Gregoire Bouillier’s new memoir, The Mystery Guest: The Mystery Guest; and anything else by Gregoire Bouillier

(2) After reading Terence Rafferty’s review of Haruki Murakami’s new compilation of stories, Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman: Haruki Murakami’s early 90s collection, The Elephant Vanishes and After the Quake, Murakami’s stories inspired by the 1995 Kobe earthquake

(3) After reading Neil Gordon’s review of John Le Carre’s latest book, The Mission Song: Le Carre’s The Looking Glass War

(4) After reading Susann Cokal’s review of Michael Cox’s novel The Meaning of Night: Cox’s The Meaning of Night

(5) After reading David Bowman’s review of Daniel Woodrell’s novel Winter’s Bone: Woodrell’sWinter’s Bone

Me and Joyce

6:54 AM. Bleary-eyed, but have a bunch of student papers to check. Must get started before the energy flags…

Yesterday students behaved like little trolls, whispering all throughout their classmates’ oral presentations on the poems “Cigarette” and “Without.” Tried everything: stopping the presentations and casting dagger looks at the guilty parties; discussing the “Friday afternoon class syndrome.” Nothing. At one horrible moment, there was a loud thud and books fell to the floor. Wished I could close my eyes and disapparate, like a character in a Harry Potter book.

But no, I have decided that writing and teaching do not mix, and if I’m to survive this semester, with these trolls, I should concentrate and not attempt to write or finish anything. So, the book I was in the middle of reading was Joyce Carol Oates’ The Tattooed Girl– and even though I’m just beginning it I think it’s about a misguided intellectual who, in his anxiety to choose just the right assistant to help him (answer his fan mail? We should all be so lucky!), chooses exactly the wrong one, the girl with the tattoo who hates him and wishes him ill.

And, because I was so into this book yesterday, it’s with real regret that I think of the vast gulf between a struggling writer like myself and a successful one like Joyce Carol Oates. Standing next to my living room heater, trying to warm up at 6:59 in the morning, I suddenly try to conjure an image of what Joyce Carol Oates must be doing right now, on the 16th of September.

She’s probably in her study already, busy writing (At this point, hubby who I thought was sleeping, bursts out with frantic calling of my name– why, why, why? An apparition? A nightmare? I soothe him and he goes back to sleep.). Plots seem to flow out of her in limbic array (What does “limbic” mean, a student asked me yesterday. I had not a clue.). How, how does she do it, I wonder? How does she turn out a book a year, all of them gripping page-turners about misguided characters (like myself, who think they can teach when they actually cannot teach) in dire emotional or physical peril?

I understand Oates teaches in the Creative Writing Program at Princeton University. In fact, I think she’s the Chair of said program. But she has not allowed this niggling fact to deter the never-ending flow of her creativity. On and on and on, the books keep coming.

The last straw, the absolute last straw, would be if I were to look up her ranking on Ratemyprofessors.com and see that not only has she been awarded the coveted smiley face, but also the red hot chili pepper…

What is an Island?

1 Okinotori Island, Ogasawara Village, Japan

This is the postal address for a tiny strip of land, 1082 miles south of Tokyo, whose highest point lies only 2.9 inches above the ocean.

Nothing grows on Okinotori, which the Japanese refer to as “Okinotori shima”. (The literal translation is “offshore bird island.”)

The United Nations Law of the Sea defines an island as “a naturally formed area of land, surrounded by water, which is above water at high tide.” So, technically, Okinotori IS an island (How did the Japanese determine that it was 2.9 inches above sea level, I wonder? I think of scientists going out in a small wooden boat that rocks precariously in the ocean swells while one of them leans over with a measuring stick. In my imagination, these scientists are always dressed in white lab coats, as though they’d stepped straight out of a research facility…)

I read about the island years and years ago, in a small New York Times article. Something about islands has always fascinated me. Just this past summer, when A and I were in Palawan, Susan E. took us snorkeling on an island called Snake Island, on Honda Bay. Thankfully, then, we didn’t see any snakes, just two enormously fat, old Australian tourists wearing thong bikinis. I never saw them plop down on the sand. Instead, they stood close to shore, in knee-high water, and stared at something– fishes, presumably– down by their feet.

Honda Bay is studded with islands, and on our way home, just before sunset, I asked A, wouldn’t it be wonderful to live on one of these? No, he said. What would you do?

Well, I said, we could walk from one end to the other, and fish. Or we could just lie on the sand.

I continued, I’d like to buy an island. Someday.

No you wouldn’t, A said. You wouldn’t want to live there. And anyway, what about pirates?

Perhaps it’s the romantic in me. I AM a writer, after all. I imagine being in a tiny house, gazing out at night over a moonlit sea, knowing that no one is coming. Flying fish jump merrily in the distance. If I had a net, I could make sashimi.

I wouldn’t know how to scale a fish, though. I’d have to study how to do that. Eventually, I might want to increase my island’s square footage so I’d start sowing foraminifera, which I’d read somewhere were hard-shelled organisms that attach themselves to rocks, cliffs, coral reefs.

The New York Times article said that Okinotori was no larger than “a small bedroom.” Imagine waking up in the morning to the sound of seagulls, the water of the great Pacific lapping, literally, around your feet.

Ghosts

Had a strange dream last night.

I dreamt about my sister, dead these many years, and it seemed she was in a place of ghosts. In my dream I put my face up to hers and kissed her cheek and said, “I’ll always be your sister.” But she turned her face away and closed her eyes and her cheek was cold.

I said, “Do you want me to take you away, dear? Come, come, let us go!”

But she only looked sad and didn’t speak.

My son was with me but in my dream he was a young boy—maybe seven or eight—and he was impatient with my sighs and tears and wanted to get away from that place. He was bored.

I gave him a pencil and told him, “Draw!” He took the pencil obediently. He drew. But it seemed to cost him great effort.

Now and then I would peep at what he was drawing: a series of empty rectangles.

I asked him, “Why don’t you put people in your drawings? See, here, and here, and here. They are all around us!”

He looked up and slowly I saw understanding dawn on his face. He filled his drawings with the outlines of people. I understood then that he, too, could see them, these ghosts.

I told my sister: You are under a spell. You should never have gotten married.

She nodded, but she didn’t seem to want to do anything about it.

Eventually I left, I left my sister there in that cold white house in the middle of a barren plain. The landscape looked like that of a northern country, all bare brown fields as if struck by winter. All white trees.

In the back seat of my car was a white box. It made an angry buzz. I wanted to throw it away but I couldn’t because I knew somehow that there was something in that box that belonged to my sister.

When I got to my own house, after a journey of some distance, I took the box out but now I felt it was evil. I wanted to get away from the box but I felt some sense of loyalty, too, because in that box, possibly, were pictures of my sister.

Eventually I forced myself to open it and inside were a collection of photographs. My sister was in all of them, but around her were people I didn’t recognize. They were on either side of her, staring straight at the camera. My legs felt cold.

When I awoke from my dream, there was a terrible ache in my chest and my cheeks were wet. A leaf had turned. It was Wednesday, I saw from the calendar on my desk. The 13th of September.

My sister’s name, if you must know, was Paz Gertrudis.

Coming Soon to a Gallery Near You…

Soon to be released!

HER MARK 2007 Calendar from Woman Made Gallery
G   A   L   L   E   R   Y
685 N MILWAUKEE AVE
CHICAGO IL 60622
TEL: 312 738 0400

Copies can be ordered after October 8 — a great gift to yourself, family and friends–a calendar and datebook filled with visual art and poetry by women artists.
 

http://www.womanmade.org/whatsnew.html

 
Sunday, October 8, 2006 – 2-4pm – Free
Her Mark 2007 Release Party
Poetry reading by some of the women from the Her Mark 2007 calendar; exhibition of select work plus calendars will be available for sale.

Thank you to the jurors, Kymberly Pinder, Ginny Sykes and Beate Minkovski for making the selections for the Her Mark art entries. The following 21 artists will each have one work in the 2007 edition:

Visual Artists : Tai Lei Apolinski, Lauren Simkin Berke, Kristina Bogdanov, Anne Canfield, Eunwoo Cho, Pat Dumas-Hudecki, Imelda Cajipe Endaya, Frances Ferdinands, Beatrice Fisher, Naomi Grossman, Melissa T. Hall, Virginia José, Cristina Longo, Jayne P. Lunz, Jane Maxwell, Jeanette Martone, Joetta Maue, Cella Neapolitan, Lisa Merida-Paytes, Lidia Simeonova and Marilyn Avery Turner.

Thanks to the jurors, Lisa Alvarado, Pamela Miller and Kelly Zen-Yie Tsai for making the selections for the Her Mark poetry entries.

Here are Pamela Miller’s observations: Jurying a poetry competition is always a great refresher course in what separates a truly exceptional poem from the good, the very good and the close-but-no-cigar. I looked for poems that communicated women’s experience with clarity and sharply focused precision, with rich texture and vivid detail, with sure-footed imagery and a contagious joy in the power of words.

Above all, I looked for poems that moved me, made me laugh or struck me with their strangeness–poems with the power to catalyze the reader rather than just sitting there prettily like a vase of flowers. And oh, did I find them in this year’s entries, again and again! If only there were many more than 12 months in a year so that there would be room for every single one of the extraordinary poems that deserved to be included in Her Mark 2007. -Pamela Miller

Poetry juror Kelly Zen-Yie Tsai wrote the following statement: Over the last few weeks, I have been blessed with the opportunity to read, experience, and absorb over 240 poems from women across the country who chose to boldly reveal their stories with courage, conviction, and pride. Their stories span the earth from the most intimate portraits of garden flower petals to the horrific violence of Hurricane Katrina. They draw from the rich roots and textures of our various cultures that survive in direct opposition to domination, hierarchy, and isolation.

In these poems, I re-discovered the passion that we, as women, bring to our families and communities, our responsibilities and freedoms. Reading each poem, I was renewed with the sense of why this work is so important. We write to communicate with our own hearts, to commemorate people and places that have slipped from our grasps, to explode our own sense of what is possible, to re-write what lays before us.

My deepest hope is that as you jump into these pages that you too can sit with the humanity that so clearly presents itself with every image and every stanza break. Thank you for entering into this challenge to carve new space for ourselves by listening thoroughly to our own hearts and those that inhabit this earth with us. My only regret is that we do not have enough pages to publish all of the positive effort that these women have dared to put forth into the world. -Peace and blessings, Kelly Zen-Yie Tsai

Congratulations to the following 21 poets who will each have one poem in the Her Mark 2007 edition:

Poets : Tamiko Beyer, Maureen Tolman Flannery, Marina Garcia-Vasquez, Claudia Van Gerven, Lucia Galloway, Penny Hackett-Evans, Irene D. Hays, Luisa A. Igloria, Allison Joseph, Jane Knechtel, Kathy Kubik, Ellen LaFleche, Laura LeHew, Natalie Olsen, Susan Richardson, Purvi Shah, Bonnie Summers, Valerie Martt Wallace, Jennifer Weigel, Sarah Zale and Andrena Zawinski.

Photo-a-la-carte

Monday morning, 8:27 AM. ONLY two classes to teach today, hmmm… Must squeeze in some writing. Current story is about a 17-year-old bar girl in Cebu, very hard to wrap my mind around dialogue like “Hello, my big honey!” at this time of the morning, so…

I turn my attention to photo postcards. I want a bunch of them. They used to sell them at Wolf’s Camera in the Sequoia Station, but the store closed YEARS (Did I tell you I am constantly 10 years behind the times?) ago.

But I kept the packaging from the very last time I bought the picture postcards (You know what I’m talking about, right? The ones that have a peel-off back, that allow you to turn any photograph into a postcard?), knowing that 10 years later I would certainly get around to wanting more.

Alas! Packaging has no website info. So I decide to google “Photo-a-la-carte.” Find a website with a number. Phone rings– ring, ring, ring!– but it’s a very funny ring, sort of like the ring of an old rotary phone in an empty house…

Then, a man picks up: ‘Allo? ‘Allo?

Pardon me, I say, have I reached FRANCE?

“No!” He goes. I hear barking. “Where are YOU?”

“I’m in California!” I say.

“Oh,” he says. “So am I! Where in California?”

“The San Francisco Bay Area,” I say. “You mean– YOU are in San Francisco, RIGHT NOW?”

“No,” he says. “I mean, I’m FROM San Francisco (which explains the French accent– somehow everything is WONDERFULLY CLEAR right now, ha ha ha!), but I’m in Las Vegas right now! That is, I’m in a PARK. I’m walking my DOG.”

“Oh,” I say. “Let me call you back. I can wait until you get home…”

“No,” he says. “Let me take your order. How many postcards do you want?”

“A dozen,” I say.

“A dozen?” (Dog yipping and barking and slobbering, very close to the phone, apparently. Suddenly there is an eruption of horns bleating, also very close.)

“Uh–THREE dozen, I mean!” I say.

“OK,” he says. “Give me your name.”

At which point things become very complicated, I am shouting M-A-R-I-A-N-N-E into the phone, over the sound of the dog’s excitable slobbering and the bleating car horns. Things are more complicated because when I say, “M for Mary,” he comes back with “M for Michael”, and when I say “N for Nancy” he comes back with “N for November.”

Eventually, we get it all straightened out, and now he says “Card?”

And I say, “Yes, I want the photo postcards.”

And he says, “No! I mean your CREDIT CARD.”

And I say, “But I’m worried that you’ll lose the slip of paper with my credit card number on it while you’re walking your dog!”

And he says, “No! I’m in my car now.” (Oh. Must explain the sound of “dings” I hear at periodic intervals now, like the sound an elevator makes when it arrives at a designated floor and the doors open…)

So I give him my credit card #, because now he and I seem like old, old friends.

“My name is PIERRE,” he says, after he’s written my credit card information. “The photo-cards are my own invention.”

“Oh,” I say, “They are great. I just love them.”

“I can send you cards in any language,” he says, “French, Dutch, Spanish. You want Spanish?”

“No,” I say. “English will do.”

“You want designs on the back? San Francisco? Las Vegas? Hawaii?”

“I want San Francisco,” I say.

“No, they’re not ready yet,” he says. “What about the Statue of Liberty?”

“No, no,” I say. It’s not just the fact that I’m NOT from New York, but also the fact that I’m thinking of all the bad associations the statue– and any reminder of New York– has for me today, of all days.

“I’ll mail you the cards today,” he says. “The charge will be $18.”

“Yes, thank you, Pierre,” I say.

And thank you, too, for the fascinating conversation.

“Now that buyers are sought after, they can play hard to get”– LA Times, Sunday, Aug. 27

Sunday morning. 8:36 AM. Flipping through the news channels. Dick Cheney is on “Meet the Press”. I keep it on there for a few moments (still a bit sleep-dazed), until I realize I hate Dick Cheney. Flip to “Face the Nation”. Guest is Condoleeza Rice. Oh.

Here’s an interesting article from an LA Times of a few Sundays ago. “With the price of sales slowing and the inventory of unsold homes rising, buyers are in a better position now to bargain than at any time in this decade.”

There follows a list of instructions for buyers. As I read down the list, it amuses me to imagine these applying to writers as well. For instance, to those writers who might find themselves in the unenviable position of pitching a first novel to a skeptical agent, literary editor, or publisher. To wit:

(1) Buyers, don’t expect miracles (ha ha ha ha!).
(2) Remain stoic at all times (further ha ha ha ha ha!). Apart from a little small talk, stay away from the listing agent, using your agent as a buffer to insulate yourself from more than minor contact.
(3) Adopt a poker face. From the minute you meet real estate agents or sellers, be approachable but not overly engaging. Resist extensive conversations. (buwah-ha-ha-ha-ha)
(4) If you are going to engage in a little chit-chat, use the conversation to your advantage.
(5) When touring a house, even if you like the place, don’t linger. The longer you roam around or stand in a particular room, the more the seller and his agent can see your wheels turning. Limit picture taking too.
(6) If you return to a house more than twice, you risk tipping your hand.

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