Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Bloomsday 2011

I saw a tweet earlier today and thought that I had missed Bloomsday, but I googled it and found that it's tomorrow, June 16. Yea! I will celebrate it by starting my reading of Ulysses by James Joyce. I still have a ways to go with Drood, which I wanted to finish this week, but I will interrupt it for a day. If I didn't have to work tomorrow, I might spend the whole day reading, and I could start the day with my a story from Dubliners for my daily short story.

Speaking of those short stories, yesterday I read George Saunders' "Home." It is in the New Yorker's summer fiction issue. I saw Saunders read once, and I thought I would like his work. I bought a copy of his CivilWarLand in Bad Decline. If I remember correctly, they were okay stories, but I felt like either they or I was missing something. I felt the same way about "Home." Today, I read another Murakami story (I've read several of his this summer) from The Elephant Vanishes, and I found it funny and thought provoking, but I'm still not sure that I'm seeing the greatness that his fans proclaim. I definitely think I would like to read one of his novels some time soon.

I know it's early but it's time for bed now. I have to teach a blogging workshop tomorrow morning. Later.

Thursday, June 09, 2011

Biking and Books

This is my 3rd post in a week! Can't remember the last time that happened, if it ever did.

I just returned from my second bike ride of the week. I'm not doing a very good job of biking more than driving, but I'm glad that I didn't give in to my laziness this morning. I rode farther than I did on Monday, but I still didn't make it to the library. Road construction caused me to rethink that destination.

Honestly, it wasn't just road construction. Most of my time on the bike, so far, I feel old and awkward and even more self-conscious than normal. I'm really worried about embarrassing myself by looking like I don't know how to ride a bike, and I'm not young enough or old enough for that to be cute. I can't imagine learning to ride a bike for the first time as an adult. Luckily, children don't worry as much about embarrassing themselves with a fall. They might be afraid they'll hurt themselves, but they know those kinds of hurts heal. They can't wait for the training wheels to come off and mommy or daddy to step away and let them be free.

There are moments, though, when I've felt good riding the bike. There really is something freeing in it, something like flying would feel, I think, something like driving very fast does feel. I have a friend who likes to jump out of planes, maybe the feeling of freedom is the draw for him. I thought I might segue to books from this feeling of freedom, but now, I see how cheesy that would have been. I'll just start a new paragraph and a new subject instead.

I started my third Summer of Short Stories (or #shortstorydaily as I'm calling it on Twitter). I've read two stories from Haruki Murakami's The Elephant Vanishes and one from A.S. Byatt's Little Black Book of Stories. So far, my favorite is Murakami's "The Second Bakery Attack." It's about a newlywed couple who wake up starving one night and have nothing at home to eat. While they are drinking beer to try to quash their hunger, the husband tells the wife about the time he and a college chum held up a bakery for bread (the eating kind not the spending kind). They got bread but not in the way they had planned. The wife decides that the botched hold up has cursed her husband and caused their extreme hunger pangs. The only way to break the curse is to attack a second bakery. The story is quite funny with some truly unexpected details.

In addition to the short stories, I'm reading A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan, my book club's current selection. I've never read any of her writing before, but I know she is much loved by literary critics, and I can see why. I'm responsible for this selection, and I'm so happy to be enjoying it. My last selection, Sag Harbor by Colson Whithead, fell flat. Most liked moments in the book but thought the book didn't hold together as a novel very well. I think Sunday's discussion of A Visit from the Goon Squad will be much different, if more than one or two of us has read the book, which seems to be a problem lately. I actually think that her novel is very similar to Sag Harbor in structure, but I'm finding hers more successful in creating a whole. I have more to say on this, but I'm going to save it for book club discussion and a later blog post.

Now, I need to do some housekeeping. Later!

Wednesday, June 08, 2011

Poetry Writing Workshop Blues

Today was the first meeting of the Teachers as Writers Poetry Workshop that I'm attending this summer at Inprint. I've done several of these since 2004, including a short story one last summer which I really enjoyed. The class was full--15 participants, three of whom were also in the short story with me. Some of them are kind of scary. One has an MFA in poetry and has published a chapbook. One just graduated from undergrad with an emphasis in creative writing before teaching this past school year. One is using the class as a way to get back into writing before applying to an MFA program. Even some of the others who are "just" teachers seemed especially talented when they read their bad poems, which we wrote as a writing exercise. I'm not sure that I ever felt this intimidated on day 1 of a workshop.

As part of a writing exercise, we had to brainstorm some first lines of poems, and then we had to share the most interesting one and tell why we selected that one to share. Once we had our say, others could say where they would go with that first line, and then we had to give the first line to one of the others to write the poem. I was first to give, but I ended up getting the last person's poem, and not for lack of trying either. So here's the first line of my poem:
  • You with the teeth that balloon like porcelain scrotums--this poetry is not for you
What the hell am I supposed to do with that line? The person who created this line said that he was thinking about the two conflicting approaches (not sure if that's the right word or not) to poetry, one that poetry should be rather academic and not easy to understand by just anyone and the other that poetry should be written so that anyone can enjoy it and find meaning in it (Billy Collins is often cited as taking this approach to poetry). Even knowing what he was thinking, I still don't have a clue where this line will take me. At least I don't have to have the poem that comes from this line workshopped. I can choose to submit another poem for that next week, but I am expected to write this poem.

I should probably get to work on one of those poems now, but first, I need to do some work-ish type things. Later.

Monday, June 06, 2011

Summer Vacation Plans: Reading & Not Reading

Summer vacation is here! And I'm going to be doing this all summer. I got a bike for my birthday in December, and I have a goal to ride it more than I drive my car this summer. Despite the predictions of record heat and little rain for most of the summer, I'm very excited about riding around the neighborhood. (For those of you who recognize Jessica Fletcher, I am not hoping to run across any dead bodies on my rides.)

I have lots of other ideas for filling all my free time too. Maybe too many plans. I've been feeling very stressed lately. The end of the school year can do that to me. But I don't want my summer vacation to stress me out, so I'm not making many promises. I'm definitely taking a poetry writing workshop this summer through Inprint. I've taken several of Inprint's workshops, including a short story writing workshop last summer. I was hoping that short story would be offered again, but poetry and memoir were my choices. I chose poetry. I've done them both before and enjoyed the poetry writing more than memoir.

It won't surprise anyone who knows me to know that I have reading ideas/plans for the summer. I want to read the following:

  • Ulysses by James Joyce - I like to read a big book in the summer, and I recently decided Ulysses would be it. I probably won't start it for a week or so, but I will get to it this summer.
  • A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan - This is our current book club selection, my choice, and I have less than a week to read it. I read the first chapter right after we picked it in May, but I let Valerie have it first because I was reading a young adult book that I wanted to finish first. We usually can get one copy from a library, so we don't have to buy two copies, but this book is popular right now. We couldn't find it at Half Priced Books, and our library holds never came in. Our second copy should be delivered tomorrow. I'll put other books aside so I can read it by Sunday.
  • Summer of Short Stories 3 - For the third summer in a row, I plan to read one short story each day. I think I need a better name for this personal reading challenge; I've decided to call it Short Story Daily. I try to blog about them but don't always get around to it, but I'm pretty good about tweeting about the stories as I finish them. I'm going to start today with a Murakami story from The Elephant Vanishes, which was loaned to me by my new-ish friend Eddy. I've never read any Murakami but feel like I should. Hopefully, these stories are a good place to start.
  • I need to finish the previous book club selection Fortune Cookie Chronicles & Drood, which I've been reading non-stop for the last week. It's a big book, 700+ pages, but a fast read.
  • I want to read some young adult books this summer too. I usually bring a bunch home and only read one or two. We'll see how it goes.

In addition to reading, I do have some other ideas for filling my summer vacation hours. I want to catalog all our books into librarything. We have lots of books! I also want to make Valerie a Christmas stocking like my grandmother used to make. I'll use mine as a pattern/model. I think this was on my last summer project list, but I was lazy and didn't do it. I hope to not be as lazy this summer.

Well, I guess I better decide where I'm riding my bike to this morning if I'm going to go for a bike ride. I have a book on hold at the neighborhood branch of the public library. Maybe I'll go get it. Later!