Friday’s a Dumb Day to Blog.

I love this plant. It looks like a space plant. I do not know what it is. I took this picture at the residency in Wilkes Barre.

It’s not like anybody’s hanging out on the internet to kill time at work.  They’re all doing all the stuff they didn’t do while they were hanging out online earlier in the week.

Also, Friday’s becoming my catch-up day.

Also, I recently read an article about not-Friday being a bomb-ass day to post stuff on Facebook and Twitter.

So I’m thinking about making my blog schedule Monday, Wednesday, and Thursday, and changing my posts from uploading very early in the morning (usually between 6-7:30 EST) to later in the afternoon (3:00 EST).

I’m also going to be out of town the next two weeks, so my posting schedule might get wonky anyhow.  I’m going to try to share cool pictures and happenings, but I also begin grad classes, participate in a Major Family Wedding, and engage in the usual poverty-battling activities.

I’m not complaining.  I choose to live like this.  It’s the best way to be a reasonable mom for now.  There will be plenty of time for capitalist ambition.

But if you live in the tri-county area, you should consider taking my Writing Workshops at Penn College in the Workforce Development and Continuing Education program.  They are unbelievably inexpensive, and they will be loads of fun, plus open, welcoming, liberal, and kind.

Is Class-blind Literacy Responsible for Shitty Books?

from Flickr user

I shared an article on Facebook.  It was called “My Stephen King Problem: A Snob’s Notes by Dwight Allen” from the L.A. Review of Books about how Stephen King doesn’t write literature.  I’ve been thinking and reading a lot about SK, but nothing by SK, except for On Writing.

The article inspired a lot of impassioned comments.  Some of the commenters felt anger and annoyance.  All directed at the guy who wrote the article.  And I am really confused about how people could get so angry with Dwight Allen.  He actually read SK’s books, a good number of them, and with thoughtful consideration to SK’s body of work, which I am mostly unwilling to do.

In the piece, he said, “Yes, I have read these books, and they are mostly without literary merit, but SK is the most famous-and-rich writer alive, and that’s really fine with me.  But I become annoyed when he is awarded prestigious literary prizes, like the one for his contribution to American Letters in 2003, just because he’s a nice, liberal guy. Also, why do we choose to read this when there are so many better things to read.”  That’s pure paraphrase.  The article was wonderfully written, full of money vocab and openly a little snobby and pretentious.  Go on, click the link.

But I get it. Because I think what’s going on here is that there’s a chasm between my sense of literary merit and that of the unwashed masses. We writers are a little bit uppity about our relationship with craft, and we have every right to be.

I mean, it’s simply not fair that people who write utterly un-extraordinary sentences, and sometimes people who write horrible books that are full of tropes, redundant phrases, flat characters, and totally predictable turns of plot get to do so and make money from it, while many more people who honor the craft are labeled snobs and relegated to academia or the reviewer’s circle.

Other commenters said, “But you’re wrong!  SK does write literature!”  He does not.  It’s not a value judgement, it’s a fact.  SK writes books that a lot of people like.  That does not, as we know, literature make.

And that brings me round to the review of 50 Shades of Grey by EL James that I read (and shared on facebook) yesterday by PhD candidate Alison Balakskovits in The Missouri Review, a literary journal.  And after my inital twinge of “OMG, why the hell are they talking about that turd in a literary journal or even on its blog,” I read the article.  I was deeply amused.

And the Facebook comments on that review were mostly “Yeah!” and “I’ll never read that shit!”  And I’m glad my friends feel that way.  But the only difference between EL James’s contemporaries and SK’s is that SK got started when there were still gatekeepers, and when books meant something more than money to publishers.

Though it’s a stretch to slide SK and EL James in the same file, it is a much grander stretch to file SK and say, Joan Didion together.

I’ve been wondering a lot and for some time about this disparity between the popularity of books that are strict genre fiction and books that are literary.  I’ve written a bunch of blog posts about it, including one for Jane Friedman’s blog that has a lot of terrific comments and also impassioned views.

And I was thinking before that maybe the problem is the labels we put on books: that genre labels are unhelpful.

And I still think they are, perhaps, part of the problem; though I recognize the need for some finer classification than just Fiction and Nonfiction, because the shades of variation of each are greater than fifty to be sure.

And I was thinking that if we could just get more smart books and writing in front of more people, change the perception of “literary” that inspires fear and angst in the hearts of previously-tortured high school English students, that’d be terrific. People would read them and see, and smart books could enjoy at least equal market share.  And I still think that’s true, too.  I think a lot of the reason that high school kids hate literature is that they’re not yet mature enough to understand it.

I think maybe those people who teach classics in well-done, well-written comics are onto something.

But it occurred to me in this morning’s wee small hours, as I sort of talked myself through what I know of the history of literacy (which is admittedly little) that reading used to be a thing that rich people did. Poor people didn’t read.  They didn’t know how, and they didn’t have time.

Rich people were tutored by classically-trained teachers, learned to read Latin long after it was a dead language, learned not only reading, writing, math, and science, but usually to play a musical instrument, which is shown to be beneficial to a person’s intellect.

But it seems to me that the advent of books for mass-consumption in the US coincides nicely with the latest stages of the industrial revolution, with a kind of upward slope after WWII when attending school became compulsory for all US children of a particular age.

So now, 60-70 years in, we’re in a place where not only can everyone read, our educations are so diluted that we don’t even know what good reading is.  We’re so ignorant on that topic that people actually read and enjoy! BS like 50 Shades of Grey.  And worse, anybody thinks she can write a book!

I mean, I’ve read tons of books, and my canonical, classical reading repertoire is shit.  And mine is loads better than a lot of people. I can at least say that I’ve read one or more works from all the major literary periods.

Not at all to vilify teachers and education, I’m beginning to think that the misfortune of literature is owing to the logistical problems with literacy and education for everybody and funding of it.  Of course, I’m not proposing that we return to the class-determined education model.  Certainly, I would be a laundress (though I do love doing laundry), but I’m suggesting that perhaps we ought to re-evaluate how we do book teachin’ at the primary and secondary levels.

Do you have any ideas?

OBX: Houses on the Effing Beach

Shortly before I came here, I was hanging out at my professional space at The Pajama Factory, and I said to a mixed group of people, “I’m going to the Outer Banks.  I’m not sure if they keep my people there.”

“Why do you think that, April?”

“Generally high-end SUVs driving around with those OBX stickers, they prolly own jetskis and shit.  I shop at Target, man. I used to think OBX was some kind of extreme sport, not a dang vacation spot!”

I was right.  They do not keep my people here, at least not on the north side.  But man is it breathtaking.  Here’s a picture of sunset behind a house that you have to drive on the beach to get to.  Seriously.  No paved roads.  Therefore, one MUST own a four-wheel-drive vehicle with some ground clearance to get there.

Why, yes! That is a gigantic house! In the valley of some sand dunes!

Sunset on the beach is the best.  This makes me miss living 15 minutes from the ocean terribly.

Here’s a picture of a pretty sea shell on the sand from earlier in the day:

There used to be a critter in there!

And here’s fun:  the obligatory-you-can’t-really-see-my-face-I’m-a-cagey-blogger photo.  I totally dig this hat.  I think it is going to be part of my uniform for the rest of the year.  It alleviates the need for a sunglasses solution, which is tricky owing to my impaired vision.

Hey, cute hat, chubby girl.

Finally,  all (and I mean all) of the houses here are on stilts.  That means that every time you go up or down stairs, or someone in your house does, it feels like somebody is doing it hard in the room next to you.  Or like a mild earthquake.  I don’t know if I would ever get used to it.


OBX: Turtle Signs & Monuments

Yesterday, we went to the Wright Brothers museum/memorial in Kill Devil Hills, NC.  It’s about 30 minutes south of where we’re staying, and it was fun.

Here’s a picture of the monolith.

Yes, it was 100 degrees, and yes, we did walk to the top of that hill. This is a view from almost to the top.

But I think my favorite part was learning about all the women of aviation.  Of course, they don’t have their own wing, but there was a groovy timeline of historical figures in aviation with portraits in oils and pastels.

Also, there was this cute thing.

Also, here’s a little sand crab buddy.  Can you see him?

do you see him?

And that is all for today, kids.  The rest of it will be napping and writing and reading in the A/C.

OBX post: Writing home & the Beach

This is my first time in the Outer Banks.

I am here because I have generous friends who love me, not because I am actually rich enough to go on vacation.

Getting in the ocean first thing today, and drying off saltily in the early sun and breeze was lovely. I enjoy the water, less the sand and heat. I took a shower in the outdoor shower stall at our condo, but disturbed a bunch of mosquitos as I dried off, so now I have a collection of welts on my belly and back.

Here are some cool pictures I took.

Light house across the dune in Corolla at 8:00 a.m.
Listen, I know it’s a little lame to just take a picture of the ocean like that, but I don’t get out much, and this struck me as magnificent this morning.

I also got some post cards to write, and I’m having fun with them!  I forgot how awesome it is to send mail when one is on vacation.  My mom told me that she used to “live for” my mail home from camp.  That warmed my heart right up.  I used to love writing the letters home.  I did it with a kind of thorough excitedness.

Here is a picture of my pile of postcards:

Yes I am working in bed. What’s it to you? I’m on vacation for chrissakes.

I miss Child.  More than I thought I would.  We’ve been apart a lot this summer.  It’s not really that cool.  But it’s good for her to be with Grandma, and with my sister who she won’t see very often for a some years starting in August.

On her postcard, I wrote about what I bought her (an on-sale, glow-in-the-dark t-shirt), and how much I miss her.

Did you know that post card stamps cost 32¢ now?  I remember when it cost less to mail a letter.  I think the last time I sent a post card, it was 23¢.

“Change is Hard, I should know.”

Today, all I can muster is a song.  A horribly sentimental, juvenile, self-pitying, ridiculous sort of song.  But it’s great.  And everybody likes to start a Friday with a nice little ditty about requited/unrequited love, right?

This trend of titling posts with quotations is one of which I’m becoming rather fond.

Enjoy this track, “Change is Hard” from She & Him Volume 1.  Zooey Deschanel and M. Ward.  They had a cover of Bust.  Which is a terrific magazine.  I hope that in the future, opportunistic 20-year-old men who say they want to get to know their gendered enemy will read Bust instead of Cosmo.

But it is the future, right?

“You Can’t Touch the Music, but the Music Can Touch You.”

from Flickr user Robert Couse-Baker

Child’s been watching Regular ShowI love this trend of hipster cartoons.  I would argue that it started with Spongebob, but maybe Scooby Doo is the original hipster cartoon, adjusted for period and culture.

My favorite hipster cartoon is Adventure Time.  If you haven’t seen it, do.  You will pee your pants.

I was in Urban Outfitters with my sisters in State College.  I used to love Urban Outfitters.  I still do.  But I can’t afford it now.  I couldn’t before, either, but I didn’t know that yet.  Anyway, this gorgeous, pixie, tattooed hipster girl helped us look for the perfect mary janes in the perfect size, and she’s shooting products with an iPhone with some kind of scanning device attached.  I said, “Damn hipster store.”

And my sister leaned over and stage whispered, “They don’t like to be called hipsters.”

She can say that with authority because she is a hipster.

The title to today’s post is from an episode of Regular Show in which Mordecai and Rigby get a really catchy song stuck in their heads.

But the poignancy of the quotation really struck me.

I grew up playing piano.  And aside from that I had a bargain basement teacher who didn’t teach me anything about theory–and when I finally discovered on my own that there was a theoretical aspect, it was a little bit too late.  I could’ve studied it and learned it, but I wanted it to be easy, internalized the way the keys still feel under my fingers.  And I should’ve.  But I was stubborn and charging forward with my life.  I was on to the next art, drawing, and hoping to go to art school, but hoping more to get the hell out of my parents’ house and pay rent.

What was I thinking?

I’m 31 now.  Officially in my 30s.  But–and I’ve been talking about this with people, it seems I’m not alone–I feel like I can return to myself.  Somehow, being “in my thirties” gives me permission to honor who I am.  But I’ve spent greater than a decade changing my mind about myself.  Trying on different jobs and hats and lifestyles, always being a creative person underneath it, and gravely desirious to make my living with creative pursuits.  So now that I’m at home with April Line, artist/creative; I feel like I’m 20!

The world is my oyster.  (You win if you just read that in a NY accent).

A few months ago, I tweeted one night when I couldn’t go to sleep that “Sometimes I feel like a prisoner in my own bed.”

Being a prisoner in one’s own bed is bad, but being a prisoner to one’s cultural expectations is far, far worse.

Today, I am free.