Come celebrate with us! There will be new words, old friends, and plenty of cupcakes.
The official launch party for Hibernate will be on April 5th at Cuppa Pulp Booksellers, with a reception at 6pm (cupcakes, I tell you!) and a signing at 7pm.
It means the world to me to have my former student and Manhattanville MFA candidate Donna Miele hosting the launch. Donna is a wonderful writer, and it was a pleasure to read the early stages of her novel-in-progress.
Trust me, if you don't already know Donna's name and her work, you will in the very near future.
Here we are talking about stories, frogs, cadavers, and pointy-headed dogs.
Friday, February 14, 2014
Dear Ms. Woodyard,
Hearing your name makes me fifteen years old again, at the very best moment of fifteen. Not the fifteen when one is lost – which is so much of life at fourteen and fifteen and eighteen and twenty-one and twenty-five, longer than any of us would like to admit – but the fifteen of SDS, the fifteen when one is called into the office of Jo Woodyard.
So you’re in there and the winter light is coming through the windows and you’re a little scared because you know she’s going to talk to you about the future, which feels ungraspable, which likely will entail college in some strange place, a school occupied by those older SDS alums who come back to give talks about where they are now, leaning on desks or sitting on desks and seeming cocky and wise with the secrets of academia. They have girlfriends and boyfriends and they drink and do internships and they no longer live with their parents, which frankly blows your mind. But anyway, forget that. Focus.
Jo Woodyard is standing across from you, ready to talk about The Future. What schools? What plans? Do you want to be a big fish in a little pond, or a little fish in a big pond? She asks you this, and you realize you have never really thought of yourself as a fish before, but now that you think of it, there are a lot of options. Probably you wouldn’t want to be a goldfish in one of those koi ponds, all burnished in glittery scales with no place to go. Maybe you’re one of those bottom dwellers, those nurse sharks with the crazy, wiry mustaches, cruising the sea floor, or a rare pink dolphin in the Amazon, making do in cloudy waters with very little, only showing your beauty to discerning eyes. Come on, cut it out. Focus. Jo Woodyard has advice.
Jo Woodyard seems serious and grave and invested in you when, truth is, you’re not really invested in you. Your whole life only seems to consist of now, with your friends, when you laugh so hard it really does feel like you’ve ruptured something deep inside, one of those superfluous organs like the spleen or a spare kidney. Your whole life is listening to Enya and crying under your bedspread. Sneaking out of Mike Johnson’s philosophy class to watch movies at Converse Cinemas. Pretending you know what’s what because you’ve had your first coffee, your first cigarette, because you’ve read poetry in a room with people who didn’t laugh you out of the joint. If there is a future out there, it’s too far away for you to see, and probably, you have always thought, you just have to age yourself into it, like how wisdom teeth grow without any of your own doing, because of some wide-mouthed, prognathous cave man ancestor – no offense to him. The future, you have always thought, happens by accident.
And anyway, Flip and Heather and Meagan are waiting for you in the art room where you, de facto members of the Loser Arty Group, go to eat lunch. If you do imagine a future, you pray it’s one in which you are Cool Arty Types living together in a ramshackle house writing poetry, all of you with Winona Ryder’s hairdo, all of you dating Ethan Hawke. After this is over with Jo Woodyard, after you figure out whether you’re a nurse shark or a pink dolphin, you’ll go back in that room and sit on the plastic milk crates that make a bingo game of your ass cheeks, and Meagan will ask, how did it go? “Did she suggest that you have a future in the custodial arts?” Flip, who has memorized the entire class’s GPA from a list he clandestinely read upside down on Jo Woodyard’s desk, wonders if you want to know your rank. He is eating a chili dog. You have Lunchables, which you’ll read about in ten years as being only slightly above pork rinds as the worst possible thing for human consumption.
How did it go? You say it was fine. It went fine. You don’t tell them about the light in the windows or how you scanned Jo Woodyard’s bookshelf and her photographs because all adults, especially teachers, are Fascinating Mysterious Unicorn Creatures. How weird is it when you run into them outside class at Belk or Hardees and they’re masquerading as Regular People, people who get oil changes and file taxes and trim their toenails? It’s all too much. You don’t tell them that Jo Woodyard was serious about your future, which kind of made you serious about your future, like maybe it didn’t have to be an accident after all. Maybe writing was something that, you know, maybe, possibly, could be done. By, like, you. She didn’t even seem to be kidding. You thought maybe she’d hold the door to her office as you were leaving and say, psych. Good luck, kid. You’re gonna need it. But Jo Woodyard didn’t.
And so you leave, your head doing that thing where someone praises you, someone believes in you, and now the whole head is beating like a heart or a fingertip, that rush of blood, and you want to tell everyone and no one, keep it a secret, because when you tell too much, when you share too much, or with the wrong people, it’s like being robbed over the course of one whole day, a little bit missing every time. And now, see, there is this thing called The Future, and even if you never figure out whether you’re a nurse shark or a goldfish or a pink Amazonian dolphin, you know you can be smart about it. Be brave or fake bravery, at the very least.
Take a bite of that PB&J and look around the SDS art room one last time. You can’t know this, but about fourteen years after you graduate – my god, you’ll be ancient! – you’ll come do a reading, stand up there in a bookstore near that place where you had your first coffee and read putrid poetry that no one laughed at, that place that is now a noodle shop, and you’ll be reading from your novel, and right there in the audience? Jo Woodyard. The Future is now. Jo Woodyard is sitting there while you answer questions, most of which are posed by your mother in the front row who doesn’t realize she is embarrassing you by publicly vocalizing her abiding desire that they Make Your Book Into A Movie. Still, all you can think is, Jo Woodyard.
What is she thinking? You can’t tell now, any better than you could then. You’re not fifteen. You are thirty-two. Even Flip probably no longer remembers his class rank. It’s winter-dark, save for the Christmas lights on Morgan Square. Someone is asking you your best advice to writers, something you’ve answered a dozen times in the last six months. And so you say, leaning on that lectern, “be stubborn.” That’s the truth. You were just stubborn about it. You decided the future wasn’t an accident, or at least, it didn’t have to be, sometimes. And when she leaves – when you leave, Jo Woodyard – you are walking out that door when you say the very best thing possible. “I’m glad you were stubborn.”
I’m glad you were stubborn about the future, Ms. Woodyard. We all are. And thanks for letting us swim in your pond, big fish.
SDS, Class of 1996
Thursday, January 9, 2014
What she says, instead of the name, is “over there.” The name of the place she won’t say is Afghanistan, and the soldier serving is her cousin.
“Hope you get some turkey over there,” she told him at Thanksgiving via Facebook. Once she called it “far away,” but usually it’s “over there,” George Cohan’s WWI anthem, with Johnny and his gun, the indomitable Yanks, a cheerful bleating that sounds less like a war score than kicking music for the Rockettes. If you need proof of how far we’ve moved psychologically, listen to the scores of war movies. The sugar-toothed patriotism of “Over There” becomes the slo-mo sturm und drang of Barber’s Adagio for Strings in Platoon, becomes Zero Dark Thirty’s Jason Clarke quipping Wu-Tang Clan between waterboarding. We’re a country of ad men because we know when to nudge the dial.
But she knows the name, just as she knows what she wants. For her cousin to come home safe, for the photo of an explosion on his Facebook page to be a movie still, for his leave to roll around so he can spend time with the family. Instead of his fire cloud, his Christmas tree garlanded with ammo rounds, her page displays her little girl garlanded with a pink beaded necklace over her bare chest, a princess tiara sliding from her scalp.
“Over there” feels like something a child would say. Like “down there,” hands cupped over her privates when she has to pee. The shame of what is happening in places you’ve never seen. George Cohan of course would disagree. FDR awarded Cohan the Congressional Gold Medal for “Over There.” Being vague is the point. Wikipedia: “As the specific country ‘over there’ is not named, the words can serve as an exhortation for sending troops to any foreign military intervention.” We’re a country of ad men because we understand one size fits all. “Over There” was also used as an advertising jingle. “Pack your little kit, show your grit, do your bit.” WWI becomes a commercial for a Gillette Pro-Glide Razor: Johnny in the shower, running a blade over his jaw.
But here is the best part. She says, “Hope you get some turkey over there,” and he says, “I blew something up, does that count?” A day ticks by before she responds: “If it made someone safer, yes, it counts. Now go eat turkey.”
The specificity of the turkey is what kills me. So many unknowns in this “over there” – where war is happening, who “someone” is, how to score the war that never ends. But let’s give thanks for that big uncomplicated bird.
Life exposes the fallacy of “over there.” Boston marathon bombs in pressure cookers. American kids in mansions stock-piled with ammo. An Afghanistan or a US in which two things can exist side by side: a girl in a princess tiara and a soldier’s severed leg.
If life exposes the fallacy, so too must literature. Often war writers use second person or first person plural, injecting us into what is foreign, the battlefield – Tim O’Brien’s The Things They Carried – or home ground, alien ground for those left behind. “Our fathers, so many of them, climbed onto the olive green school buses and pressed their palms to the windows and gave us the bravest, most hopeful smiles you can imagine, and vanished. Just like that.” Ben Percy’s “Refresh, Refresh.” Siobhan Fallon: “You also know when the men are gone. No more boots stomping above, no more football games turned up too high…no more sneakers on metal stairs, cars starting, shouts to the windows above to throw down their gloves on cold desert mornings.” These writers don’t leave blanks.
Maybe it’s the writer’s job to complicate what’s “over there.” Maybe the job is to simplify. A soldier’s brain, plain gone. Legs gone. A brand new face.
Now that you’re looking at them, are these the least or most complicated of images?
The best writers let us decide for ourselves. Put us inside it. Make it here, where it counts.
Saturday, December 21, 2013
Tuesday, October 15, 2013
Saturday, September 28, 2013
Come join us at the Asian American Writers Workshop's Page Turner Festival in Brooklyn!
On Saturday, October 5th, I'll be reading with fellow Iranian American writers Nahid Rachlin, Mehdi Okasi, and Maryam Mortaz on a panel celebrating New Iranian American Writing.
And be sure to stop by the Make-A-Poem booth to say hi to Manhattanville MFA's fabulous Mark Nowak and Camille Rankine, along with our Mville students!
New Iranian American Writing Panel 1-2pm
Roulette & YWCA, Atlantic Ave & 3rd Ave, Downtown Brooklyn