Thursday, December 27, 2007

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Letter from Gordon Lish

In the spring of 1987, on April 3, a month before my 25th birthday, Gordon Lish accepted my first published short story, "Chinese," for The Quarterly. I had already changed the title to "Chinese" from "Table-Talk" in the hope of using "Table-Talk" as the title of a short story collection. He subsequently accepted two more short stories, "Fairness" (one I had originally called "Hieroglyphics" and "Domesticity") and "Hors-d'oeuvre." In the course of a year, we wrote notes to each other about contracts for the short stories, proofs of them, and editing suggestions. I was already writing like a minimalist, so editing suggestions were rather minimal, too. Then, in the letter below, which must have followed a sudden, plaintive burst from me -- which might be in one of the banker's boxes in my office; his to me are in a blue-dot file marked "Lish, Gordon" -- he writes that he would not be interested in publishing a book of mine.

25 April 88

Dear Ann,

I'm at your service, but what to do? Sure, I'll read, but my guess is that I am only going to see two or three entries that would make for a book I'd do. But always happy to counsel if that is the thing you want. Damn shame you wasted time schooling yourself as you did, for I am guessing that you would have profited rather considerably from time in my classes--if only in the context that you would have ridded yourself of these doubts, wantings, keenings. You are never going to survive as an artist if you are not entirely self-sustaining. I am even understating the matter--by a lot.

As for the small prose here [rev. as "Almanac"], it is its weakness that makes me say no, not its brevity. If you keep watching Q, you will see prose fictions as short--I believe several show up in Q10.

Look, Ann, you are breaking my heart. Call me if it will help any to shoot the breeze. I am always tickled to meet with you if you come to NY. Please know that my heart and mind are wide open to you. As for making it with me with your writing, the solution is simple: get the work as strong as it is in you to get it--and make certain that the surface writing could not be more exactingly made.

This was a shitty letter. No time--and nothing to say, really, to the matter before us, given that your shrei was too general for me to mount a useful statement in reply.

Be well, feel good, thrive,

Gordon Lish

P.S. My God, Christa Wolf! Does take me back.

Sunday, December 09, 2007


I write like someone who never lived a happy day; oh, the good girls wouldn't know: all our happy days went in the coal trap with recovery. I used to drink too much alone. It lasted for about three years and three months, a discernible pattern. When I drank too much in public, people were glad to have me do it, then women looked askance at it, then modified their boyfriends' behavior, then their own, but the drinking itself didn't bother me or ruin my schedule. Later I entered the religion of AA. AA behaved normally culturally, and normal for me is tantamount to cruel. Mostly they were specialists in recovery -- whatever that is -- not artists. I remember in writing "professionally," wh. was more truly "academically-creatively," that I had to fight against a dark corner -- this metaphor came up more than once. Writing was a dark room w/o doors or windows. Writing was a dark room with a dark door in a dark corner.

What is it I mean by "given up sex"? I mean, that. That it is past. The Texas women I knew valued sex more than any other human being, endeavor, hope, or project. They did not want children. They wanted sex. They were tough and pretty and thin, and men were attracted to them. All put in a pretense of having meaningful relationships, but they were really invested in their own sexual prowess. It didn't bother me then, but if we were all in a room today, I'd bout w/ them. Those values hurt our thens and nexts. Rebuilding is likely, possible, and even necessary -- that beautiful, dirty word. Without sex, life has meaning; w/ sex, life's only meaning is sex. With sex, life has meaning; without sex, life's only meaning is sex.

Of course, I intend to have sex again, when I am married, which is pencilled in for about ten days from now. I planned a winter wedding in a scenic park, but the groom wants to marry spur-of-the-moment in a faraway city. Women I knew had ceremonies of their choosing then divorced. I waited. I'm marrying the kind of man who proposes marriage in magic marker on the phone, who has -- orated proposals -- for five years, but he pencils the date in his thought process. I love him.

It's up to Providence and Virginia.

Saturday, December 08, 2007

Presidential candidates

I visited and took a test that indicated my choices in presidential candidates. Before reading all about each issue, going on gut and memory, my candidates are, in order:

1. Barack Obama
2. Dennis Kucinich
3. Hillary Clinton

After that come Gravel, Dodd, Biden, Edwards, and Richardson. Then I read all the way through about each issue and the summation of the candidates' views. For viewpoints, I came out liking Kucinich better. He is my candidate if we, the people, must decide everything for ourselves. Clinton is my candidate for leadership on issues; I found I trust her to play politics more than the others, and I have an emotional attachment to hiring a woman leader. Obama is fine; some people I know feel he is too young for the position. On the first round, I ranked slightly closer to him on issues than to the others. When I read the report in detail, however, I found closer agreement to Kucinich and Clinton. Obama is a little more prison-happy than the others. I like the others' idea to have separate drug courts and treatment for those offenses. I like Kucinich's gun control and moratorium on the death penalty with DNA releases. I like Clinton on reproduction. As for the war, all three are against it. Kucinich favors impeachment of Cheney. If the primaries were today, which candidate would I vote for? Hillary Clinton. If it were another world, a future, a better world, I would vote in Dennis Kucinich bec. his policies, enacted, would give us a finer civilization. If I had the chance to meet him in person, I'd probably like Barack Obama.

Friday, December 07, 2007

My obsessions

What obsesses me lately? I can see, reading scroll p. 1 of this ms. (& others of the scroll pp.), that I have been concerned alternately with religion and health, but also w/ sex ending. I mean, sex has ended. The larger cultural idea that I have yet to put in words but wh. I believe, is that sex has ended for the many not for the few, who in their pride over it, rush the rest of us in a crowd. It isn't due to being on the slender side that sex has ended. If I were on the heavy side, a TV audience would clap & laugh if I met a man w/ whom to have love and romance and sex -- they would advocate it or me -- the larger women all behaving as each other's advocates in the slow process of attracting the right men and of disliking thinner women, thinking thinner women have it made in that regard and have no worries. As if we aren't sisters. The heavy women blew out friendships, like candles after dinner, out of a love for hypothetical men they had yet to meet. To admit love for us as women seems perhaps lesbian, and that they reject. There was no middle ground -- we are in love as friends and keeping our ties -- was not proposed. So, I gave up sex. I can't say it is for good or the good, but I can't reverse it. I find sex to be unjustifiably boring and wasteful, wanton, hurtful and needless. As if I might never recover my adjusted happiness-in-sex phase (or remember how many other times seemed to be going wrong), wh. I think I ought to do, when the current phase is over. When my religious phase is over, I will have learned deep lessons about it. I can see why people might rather avoid religion in the first place, but if you have made the mistake and gone toward it, and the people have shunned and maimed in the name of religion, the antidote for it is religious. It isn't spiritual. Unless you wish to be carved by them -- the men of addiction groups who vie w/o Christianity for your achievements and may hate you as women who aren't inferior -- the church is the place to live and be. There is a harsh center conquered by love, and the love is not worldly or even kind, but is born of pain.

* * *

The other obsession lately has been with my work as a literary panelist in a grant competition. I would love to write more openly about it here, but the context for it is missing. I learned a lot from it, and all my selves integrated, and I was in strong form within the boundaries of taste, and I realized that I had learned to critique from years of workshop and writing, and that the talent is defensible and demonstrable and pertinent and should lead to a living -- would you agree that a talent of that sort should lead to a living? We as panelists worked in defense of talent for a month, and it was invigorating. We were not publishers in this capacity; nor teachers; we were closest to being readers, or the reader, but we have the expertise of publishers and teachers, not only the reader's desire. The reader reads out of wishfulness and isn't overly critical. We were sometimes overly critical but not of talent. Talent we championed. We worked in faith over talent. Publishers and agents lose that part of faith in dealing contracts. Talent is worth less to them than marketability. The reader, who works on desire, is consulted in absentia. They assume the reader has no desire for unfinished talent, though we as panelists did; we understood and appreciated it. They assume the reader cannot appreciate it. Perhaps the main thing I realized, as a writer on a panel, is that plot matters. How many years did I pretend to the other argument? That only sound and language and mild events not united mattered? Plot matters, bec. it causes a story to enter the memory. That memory of united event provokes memory of other elements as well, of mood, atmosphere, theme, characterization, and so forth. I will not become fanatical about plot, but I will write for it in the future.

What cheers me lately? Hope. I heard in church that we have no choice in the matter but to hope. The glass is half full.

Sunday, December 02, 2007

First snow

Driving years

In a message dated 11/30/2007 10:26:33 A.M. Central Standard Time, Bobbilurie writes:
Steve---frustrating to be narcissist in diseased state--for isn't it a diseased state, this need to make in order to...?...(however that manifests) with or without drugs the voices come and Conrad thinks: no Muzak (sp?) anymore: i cant be on the streets this time of year anyhow...and non-existent journals are always the best as are non-existent poems paintings/ isn't that why we keep making them? our anonymity is our freedom i believe--why careerism is the real disease (narcissism: isn't that just looking into lake searching for reflection of what's inside?)--but think: to finally be free to speak to nothing but the earless air?--BL

Bobbi, as I think I might have indicated to you, I have been this person alone for months at a time, without the usual constraints of time placed upon me; I suppose it was a deep luxury, but it came about through poverty in its ironies. I had to learn not to be angry at financial limitations, galling stops, and to become soft about it, my poverty. I played to an audience of one, but the more convincingly I did this, the more it started to feel as if there were listeners. No, I did not plug in a camera or turn on a recorder. I suppose, as it heated up, I ought to have written or something, but I didn't want to write. Call it dream, but it was physically active. It reminded me of acting. I was a statesman, too. I was men; I was women. I looked like certain people. My looks, never studied in much detail before, became plastic. By attitude, I could enact anything. I pretended to be John Stuart Mill on an errand to Carlyle's house, with his woman waiting in the carriage. I was Rod Carew. Harrison Ford. Julia Roberts. I wasn't on drugs. Or alcohol. My mother, who has grown deaf and with whom I live, didn't know this or what was going on for a very long time, years, I suppose. Local friends saw me as in hybernation. This is what they saw or else they were polite about it; I was so together, yet so alone. The aloneness was a magic barrier. I talked to myself incessantly even in stores, and passersby seemed never to notice. Thinking of books, much, and doing a kind of architectural drawing of them with my steps. Two years I quieted and read constantly. Once, driving, I was outlouding to myself that certain women make more money at marriage than Mailer makes at writing. All these goons came in the car then, novelists. It was like a poker game, and I was a gal in it. This is the imagination. I called "Help!" feeling friendly out of league, to a writer I know in Pennsylvania. I was driving east, and he's east of here. Then he came, in presence, to guard me for a night. It was phenomenal. I called him on the phone two days later, and told him what had "happened" and what it was about, and he seemed to realize something. Another time, art punks from Houston were driving the car which was riveted to the road, to the orange signs by it and the lines. My imagination was perfectly open. There was a form to it, not reproduction. I wanted to write Moby Dick without a man in it. But I didn't do it. It's like a seven-year diary, and it did happen. I might write it as memory then.

So, for you to imagine the diaries unwritten as the best ones, or the real moment when there is no audience as the ultimate in freedom, I salute you.

This is not what I put on the women's list.

My mother likes me much better now that I'm more normally sociable. Not just laughing too much. It's really due to her that I ate or slept at all. She is a civilizer, a strong ark. I was taking medications for bipolar while my years rained on me. It must have blown over, because I feel creatively ordinary now and misunderstand people's sense that I have written anything yet, you know, because ... did I?