“Wild”: The David Denby Review (The New Yorker, Dec. 8, 2014)

Aha! A fairly recent issue of The New Yorker — Hallelujah!

In this issue, David Denby reviews “Wild,” the film adaptation of the Cheryl Strayed memoir.

Self saw the movie several weeks ago, after which she posted a few remarks on Read the rest of this entry »

“Xanthopsia” by Maxine Kumin (The New Yorker, July 1, 2013)

In honor of The Daily Post Photo Challenge theme this week — YELLOW — an excerpt from Maxine Kumin’s poem “Xanthopsia” in the July 1, 2013 New Yorker (If you haven’t figured it out by now, yes self does tend to hang on to everything)

It wasn’t absinthe or digitalis
in the Yellow House the two of them shared
that led him to layer the chrome coronas
or yellow the sheets in the bedroom in Arles
or tinge the towel negligently hung
on the hook by the door, or yellow the window,
be it distant view or curtain, yolk-lick
the paintings on the wall by the monkish bed.
No, it wasn’t sunstroke or the bright light
of southern France that yellowed the café terrace
at the Place du Forum, a pigment
intensified by the little white tables, the white stars
in a blue sky, the deep-saffron floor, it wasn’t
some chemical or physical insult that stained
the vase with twelve sunflowers a urinous
yellow, the water in the vase yellow,
also the table under the vase — such
a troubled life of yellow leading up
to Vincent’s hurled wineglass arousing
Gauguin’s rapier to sever his best friend’s left ear

Kumin, a former U.S. Laureate, has written 18 books of poetry.

Stay tuned.

Also Reading Jeremy Denk’s Essay “Piano Man”

It is Thanksgiving Day, 2014.

The best decision self ever made was to order a turkey and fixings from somewhere. And now she has a chance to catch up on all those back issues of The New Yorker that have been building up since last year (and the year before, and the year before).

From The New Yorker of 14 October 2013, an essay by Jeremy Denk called “Piano Man”:

I was saved the first time from financial ruin by a stroke of luck — I entered a piano competition, in London, and won third prize. Years of grad-school indulgences (liquor, Chinese takeout, kitchen appliances) had left me with a Visa bill of forty-five hundred dollars, and I was able to erase it in a flash. All that remained of my glorious prize, of all those months of practicing, was a photograph of Princess Diana handing me my award onstage at Royal Festival Hall, which I faxed to everyone I knew.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers.  Stay tuned.

“Pipeline” Problem, Silicon Valley Edition

First of all, to the entire universe:

HAPPY TURKEY DAY IN ADVANCE

Also, self has geared up her loins, stiffened her spine, and agreed to see “Mockingjay, Part 1″ today, even though she knows the closing scene is going to just about kill her.

Now to the ostensible reason for this post, a report on hiring practices at Silicon Valley high-tech companies — a list that includes icons Google, Apple, Facebook, and Twitter, among others.

A 2008 study found that more than half of women working in the industry ended up leaving the field. The pipeline isn’t just narrow; it’s tapering.

—  James Surowicki, “Valley Boys,” p. 52 of The New Yorker (Nov. 24, 1014)

Further in the article:

Tech companies may pride themselves on being meritocracies, but unconscious biases shape the way they hire and promote. Such biases can be tremendously powerful. A 2012 study asked top research scientists to evaluate job candidates with identical resumés. The scientists judged female candidates to be less capable than male ones, and suggested significantly lower starting salaries for them. Even more striking was a 2005 experiment in which participants evaluated applications for a job as a chief of police, scanning resumés that included varying levels of formal education and on-the-job experience. A male candidate who had less schooling would be credited with street smarts, but a woman with an identical resumé would be dismissed for not having enough education.

Further still:

. . .  until the nineteen-seventies classical-music orchestras were almost entirely male. Once blind auditions were introduced, the percentage of women quintupled.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers.  Stay tuned.

2014 Mendocino Writers Conference, July 31 – Aug. 2

The Mendocino Writers Conference starts Thursday, July 31 and runs to Saturday, Aug. 2 at College of the Redwoods in Mendocino.

The conference is now in its 25th year, which is pretty amazing.

Kudos to the Mendocino Art Center folks, who work so tirelessly to Read the rest of this entry »

Darren Aronofsky Quoted in The New Yorker (Mar. 17, 2014)

Tad Friend (who wrote a spectacular piece called “Jumpers,” in a long-ago issue of The New Yorker), had been wanting to visit the childhood home of filmmaker Darren Aronofsky, who  directed Noah. But Aronofsky balked:  He “worried that exposing his finite store of childhood imagery would sap its seminal force . . .  Once you let all that stuff into the world, it no longer fully belongs to you.”

Self couldn’t disagree more.  It’s when you don’t “let all that stuff into the world” that you allow it to linger in your psyche, like a festering wound. (Oh!  Self belatedly realizes that Aronofsky is referring to happy childhood experiences.  In that case, it’s OK not to share them.)

This is what sharing her personal experiences means to self:  Release. Ownership.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers.  Stay tuned.

End of Life (Tuesday, 22 April 2014)

Regular readers of this blog know that self has been sending out her stories like crazy: at one point she had no less than 38 stories in circulation.  Right after she announced that figure on Twitter, however, rejections began coming thick and fast.  Now she only has about 21 stories wending their lonely way across editors’ desks, all across America.

Of all things, a few days ago she had one story picked up by two publications.  OK, egg on her face.  She absolutely lives for these two words: SIMULTANEOUS SUBMISSIONS.  It’s just never happened to her before:  two magazines wanting the same story.  She must be in some kind of zone.

Then there was a new message yesterday, from Café Irreal.  They’ve published her once before: that story was “Appetites.”

The one they will publish this August is “The Secret Room,” an odd little story which she wrote last year, It begins with these lines:

For years the Queen had tried to learn what was behind the locked door in the east tower of her husband’s castle.

The locks were intricate couplings of brass and silver.

Self loves writing fables.

And, in a last-ditch effort to storm through her Pile of Stuff, she picks out yet another New Yorker. Appropriately enough (given the subject matter of “The Secret Room”), it is an article on Death Certificates, written by Kathryn Schulz, from the April 7, 2014 issue.  Apparently, the Death Certificate had its start in “in early sixteenth-century England, in a form known as the Billy of Mortality.  The antecedent of the Bill of Mortality does not exist.  No earlier civilization we know of kept systemic track of its dead: not ancient Egyptians, for all their elaborate funerary customs; not the Greeks; not the Romans, those otherwise assiduous centralized bookkeepers.”

One would have thought the early Christian church would have stepped in here, but no:  “the church was interested in the fate of the soul, not the body.  If the goal of life is to gain access to heaven, and death is in God’s hands, there’s no point, and no grace, in dwelling on the particulars of how we die.”

Alas, self can blog no further.  7:46 a.m. and she’s still got to prepare a manuscript to send out today, to yet another literary contest.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers.  Stay tuned.

3rd Friday of April (2014): Still a Humongous Pile of Stuff (Sigh)

And here we are, another week gone, and yet another issue of The New Yorker pulled from the humongous Pile of Stuff, but this one’s from 2012.

What the — ???

She remembers the story, one by Said Sayrafiezadeh (and no, don’t ever expect her to remember how to spell that name).  That is, she remembers beginning it.  And googling the author.  In the two years between 2012 and now, he’s achieved some measure of success. Having a story published in The New Yorker can do that to you.

The story in this particular issue (January 16, 2012) is called “A Brief Encounter with the Enemy.”

A man volunteers for the army and gets shipped overseas (Country isn’t named. This might be science fiction, for all she knows).  The story begins with his platoon, marching towards a distant hill.  But the man’s mind keeps wandering (as self’s mind would keep wandering, too, if she was ever forced to take a protracted hike.  It wanders when she’s in yoga class, even.  Which is supposed to be pleasurable, with the cool wood floors and the dim lighting and the mood music and the fabulously toned teacher whispering encouragement in dulcet tones.  Where were we? Better get cracking, self, as you have to return a whole pile of books to the library, books you checked out months ago, which you never got around to reading, and probably never will because next week you are going to Ireland)

Anyhoo, if anyone is planning to read this story, then read no further because THERE WILL BE SPOILERS.

As the narrator muddles on, he realizes

that I’d come here for all the wrong reasons.  Vanity and pride topped the list.  Girls, too — if I was being completely honest.  In other words, ideals were very low.  Staring at a hilltop that was getting closer and closer, I would have traded all of it never to have to see what was on the other side.

But the inevitable, ineffably boring future arrives:  they take the hill.  And, nothing.  No enemy soldiers, no fortifications.

After we’d discovered nothing is when the boredom set in.  Excruciating boredom.  We’d eat, we’d shower, we’d clean, we’d train.  In that order.  Then we stopped training, because there was no point.  That was about the fifth month.

This story is so good, it’s like Joseph Heller and Kafka, all mixed together.  There is not one instance of bonding between the narrator and his fellow platoon members, so no, this is not the second coming of Tim O’Brien.  But self likes it.  Maybe it’s a little bit like Kobo Abe.  The Woman in the Dunes?  That kind of perplexing (and hopefully never explained) mystery.

A Letter to a Member of Our Armed Forces (80% Redacted)

A Letter to a Member of Our Armed Forces (80% Redacted): In the Story “A Brief Encounter with the Enemy,” by Said Sayrafiezadeh, The New Yorker, January 16, 2012

This is probably the only New Yorker story she’s ever encountered that has an accompanying visual: a letter to our bored soldier, everything redacted except for the salutation and the “xoxo.”  Ha, good one!

Stay tuned, dear blog readers.  Stay tuned.

 

 

Digging Ever Deeper (Into the Pile of Stuff): The Sea, Islands, the Poet

From The New Yorker of 3 February 2014, a review by Adam Kirsch of The Poetry of Derek Walcott (Farrar, Straus & Giroux):

A poet who comes to consciousness on a small island — like Derek Walcott, who was born on St. Lucia in 1930 — is doomed, or privileged, to spend a lifetime writing about the sea.  The subject matter for Walcott is as consistent and inescapable, potentially as monotonous, as the five beats in a pentameter line.  But, like so many great poets before him, he shows that constraints do not have to starve the imagination; they can also nourish it.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers.  Stay tuned.

1st Saturday of April (2014) Reading

First, there is The New Yorker of January 16, 202 (Don’t ask.  Self just can’t explain), a short story by Said Sayrafiezadeh called “A Brief Encounter with the Enemy.”  This story is the first post-“Things They Carried” war short story self has ever read.  And since she first read Tim O’Brien ages and ages ago, she thinks it’s high time!

Here’s the narrator describing a mission:

To get to the hill you have to first take the path . . .  I was loaded down with fifty pounds of equipment that clanged and banged with every step.  I might as well have been carrying a refrigerator on my back.  But after the first month the fear dissipated and the path started to become fascinating, even charming.  I was able to appreciate the “beauty of the surroundings” . . .  even the trees that I was constantly bumping against.

Oh, that is fabulous writing, simply fabulous. Hilarious. She wonders (since she hasn’t yet finished reading the story) if it ends in tragedy.

The other thing self is reading is of course Hunger Games fan fiction.  She landed on this story just yesterday.  It’s no use hiding the fact from dear blog readers:  in the past few months (probably since last December), self has completely surrendered to the charms of Alternate Universe Narratives.  She reads one every night before she goes to bed.  Her filters are “Angst” and “Peeta.”

In the one she is currently reading, charming Miss Katniss Everdeen has been summoned home to America, a country she had not seen since the age of eight (Self is all too cognizant of the fact that the tone of the particular piece of fan fiction she is reading — it’s set in 1832 — is beginning to bleed into her blog post, but anyhoo), not since she was enrolled by her parents in a very ritzy London private school called Panem’s Better School for Girls.

The ship she books passage on is called the Mockingjay.  Her chaperone is a ditzy woman named Miss Effie Trinket.  Just as she boards, however, Katniss discovers that Ms. Trinket has to go, and there is no other female presence on this dastardly ship.  Worse, the captain’s name is CORIOLANUS SNOW. The first mate, a man with mutton chops and “dark, glittering eyes” is called SENECA CRANE.  Before you can say BOO, our heroine encounters yet another unsavory sort, a sailor named ROMULUS THREAD.  Sailor after sailor attempt to warn her that she would be best getting off the ship and embarking on another — say, The Virginian.  But our Miss Katniss is an extremely stubborn soul.  It appears she is more terrified of appearing weak than of actually experiencing any sort of physical (or moral, or emotional) harm.  The last doleful warning comes from a rheumy sort who begins addressing her as “Sweetheart.”  Still our plucky Miss Katniss refuses to budge.

Self’s heart was pounding a mile a minute — that is, until Miss K happens to make the acquaintance of the cook.  This man — or boy — happens to have eyes of cerulean blue and the longest eyelashes she has ever seen.  At which point, self felt like standing up and screaming:  KATNISS, STAY ON THAT SHIP!  YOU DON’T WANT ANYONE TAKING YOU OFF THAT SHIP!  BELIEVE ME!

Stay tuned, dear blog readers.  Stay tuned.

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