The New Yorker

Frank Stella at the Whitney Museum

frank stella painting

In a “retrospective” on Frank Stella’s work at The Whitney Museum, Peter Schjeldahl writes in The New Yorker about the “swagger” of this hugely influential artist. I rarely encounter a human in possession of such lopsided genius, in that Stella’s mastery of the abstract shines a bit more than his talent for the concrete. Yours truly visited the exhibit in question this week, and I must say, Stella is something! But that’s not right. Maybe he is “nothing,” in the sense that abstract impressionist art is most palpable in the ephemeral realm of the mind?

Pardon me while I adjust my monacle.

Stella’s “black paintings,” for example, are wonderfully puzzling creations that meld texture with form and shape. They aren’t really black. Nor are they paintings. So what are they then, you ask? I will tell you. They are art. That is all. Magnifique.

At one point during my stroll through the Whitney, I accidentally passed between a lady photographer and the subject of her gaze – one of Stella’s creations. She hissed at me irritably and lowered her lens until I moved out of the way. I dare say that I was not used to this sort of treatment, particularly not from a photographer. At that moment I perceived that Frank Stella was truly important.

I would enjoy hearing your thoughts on Msr. Stella and his wonderfully-inscrutable works. Tweet me your thoughts @City_Sasquatch. The seventh human being to do so wins an autographed copy of a sheaf of oak bark from yours truly.

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The New Yorker’s Response To My Last Post

reading papers

My last post – “How To Launch A Literary Journal” – highlighted some glaring problems with the current landscape of literary magazines today. Heads turned!

Stephen Burt responded to my allegations in the pages of The New Yorker. In “The Persistence of Litmags,” Burt admits that there is, in fact, a “surprisingly weak correlation between operating a literary magazine and writing clear, cliché-free prose.”

Really? But aren’t they supposed to accept only the best writing? Hm.

He goes on to say: “What a new litmag should not be is simply a farm team: we already have plenty of those.” I believe there he is talking about the Brooklyn Nets. Or perhaps the New York Yankees. He continues: “If you don’t have a particular aesthetic… or a kind of writing you want to promote, you might seek editorial experience…” Haha! “Maybe you just want to boost your friends.”

One of my best friends is Lorin Stein (although he doesn’t know it yet). But I have yet to get published in his little journal – The Paris Review. If only I had not lost his number (AHEM). I would compose a SMS textual message to remind him of how talented I am.

Burt concludes with some poignant advice.

“A new journal needs a reason to exist, a gap that earlier journals failed to fill, a new form of pleasure, a new kind of writing, an alliance with a new or under-chronicled social movement… a program that will actually change some small part of some literary readers’ tastes.”

Change OUR tastes? Aha! Haha! But my taste is impeccable. I read The New Yorker, don’t I? And if any publication has a reason to exist, it is that austere magazine. It obviously exists as a visual signal to indicate who is well-read and who isn’t. That’s why I prefer to read it in public places where humans can see me, such as on subway cars, street corners, cafe lines, and roller coasters.

All in all, an intelligent and thoughtful response to my buzzworthy post on literary journaling. Did The New Yorker get it right? Send me your thoughts at chetsasquatch@humanoid.net

 

How To Launch A Literary Journal

literary journal cover

Oh precious, darling reader. You’ve accompanied me through thick and thin. For that I owe you a great debt. But I’m afraid, despite our fraternal union, we are both guilty of a gross oversight. In these annals I have cataloged the erudite and informed publications of our day, the journals that we all depend upon for literary insight and inspiration. The Paris Review and The New Yorker, for example. Or The Bellevue Review, Slice, or Electric Literature. Then again, there’s also The Atlas Review, Tin House, and Conjunctions. Ploughshares, A Public Space, and Gettysburg Review. And McSweeneys. And the Iowa and Missouri Reviews. Not to forget Agni, Boulevard, and New England Review. And a few others. And still others. And, actually, others as well. And… others.

So, as you can see, we are now faced with a scarcity of literary journals in this country. There simply aren’t enough of them. And that is why – my loyal, trustworthy reader – we must join forces to launch a brand new journal to address this pathetic shortfall. We begin immediately.

Before our first strategic planning meeting, it would be meet to agree upon a few golden rules. Without further ado, here are 7 Rules For Launching A Literary Journal:

  1. Your “Mission Statement” should be a terrific hodgepodge of vague declarations and general proclamations about “fostering talent” and “exposing the best literature to the world,” etc etc. The broader the better. We wouldn’t want anyone knowing what the journal’s goals actually are.
  2. Be weird. SNARFLEPLORG!
  3. Don’t pay your staff. Paychecks will only give them hope.
  4. Beg for submissions from anyone who will listen. Have no dignity.
  5. Frantically close submissions when your Submittable is carpet-bombed with 100,000 stories about youthful,  yet precocious protagonists surrounded by idiots.
  6. Quickly plan 3 years worth of special “Themed Issues,” because working writers have nothing better to do than put aside their best material in order to pump out half-baked microfiction about Latvian Eco-Terrorists Named Igor.
  7. Pray.

Excellent. It feels good to take stock. Now then. Onward! Our brand new literary journal is still only a fragile seed, yearning for water and sunlight. Before it will germinate, we must provide it with vital nourishment – an aesthetic, and a title.

Did I forget anything in today’s list? Oh dear. Remind me what I’ve forgotten at chetsasquatch@humanoid.net

 

 

Rosendale by Paul LaFarge

Paul LaFarge, in a September, 2014, issue of The New Yorker, begins his story “Rosendale” plainly: “Dara lives in a ramshackle white house on top of a steep hill.” The adjectives are even a bit sleepy. But by the end of the piece, the prose wakes up. An art project created by the protagonist’s friend – LaFarge calls it a “golem” – becomes animated and begins to haunt her waking life, until she realizes her drug habit is out of control. A moment of tenderness between the girl and the monster alludes obliquely to Shelley’s Frankenstein, which appears intermittently throughout the text.paul lafarge rosedale

Who would have guessed a story that begins this innocuously would end so subversively?

April P, a transplant from the east coast, convinces her roommate Dara to engage in a horror story contest, much like the famous competition between Mary, Percy Shelley, and Lord Byron that produced Frankenstein. Ostensibly, both of the girls produce uninspired writing. But several pages later, LaFarge reaches out to seize the reader by the lapels:

“Notice that we haven’t mentioned the golem in a while. Maybe it got tired of April P and moved on to another club? But the thing about horror stories is that they let you believe life has gone back to normal only in order to surprise you again.”

Well, it worked, dear reader, because I was surprised by this declaration. Up until this point, we did not know we were actually reading a horror story. “Rosendale” surprised and delighted and, yes, frightened me. I loved this bizarrely poignant story about a troubled girl who finds her muse the hard way. I really did. Perhaps my lack of irony is a bit… spooky? I hope not. When have I ever been ironic, anyway? It is the least entertaining of all literary devices, after all.

More Wonderful Fiction from the NYer

Tim Parks had a lovely story in the Dec. 8th issue of The New Yorker.

Reverend” is the tale of Thomas Sanders’s relationship with his late father, a fervent minister. A dogged persistence and a spirit of inquiry endear us to Thomas as he recalls “watershed” moments from his Nyer Dec 8Father’s life – spirited sermons, the “thrashings” he gave Thomas’s brother, the man’s “aura of vulnerability,” and a nervous breakdown that precipitated the family’s move from the country to North London when the narrator was ten. It is a stirringly human portrait of a “hot” personality coming into contact with other, “colder” family members. The measured pacing and introspective voice lend humility and suspense to the story as we see the Father and his wife speaking in tongues and leading a failed exorcism of the wayward older brother. In the end, we receive a beautiful image of Thomas and his father going for a swim in the “slow gray swell” of the ocean.

This piece reminded me a bit of an earlier story in The New Yorker called “Ordinary Sins,” by the 5 Under 35 writer, Kristin Valdez Quade. Both stories feature complicated clergyman who seem to have failed somehow in their pursuits. However, the priest in “Ordinary Sins” experiences a crisis of faith, while Thomas’s Father is a more conservative man who retains his faith all along.

Brad Watson’s “Eykelboom”

Literature mimics life; life mimics literature. This cliche is supposed to elicit respect from one’s audience. So… respect away, dear reader.

Upon reading a not-so-recent issue of The New Yorker, I discovered some eerie similarities between my brad watson authorown experience and those recounted in Brad Watson‘s story titled “Eykelboom.” Watson describes a small town in the distant American past. We assume it is a Southern town, due to the characters’ flippant dismissal of anything “Yankee.” One such “Yankee” is the boy known only by his surname, Eykelboom, a newcomer to town. Using an innovative 3rd person style of narration, Watson delivers the story of this unfortunate pariah, as seen from the POV of a group of boys who spend their days wandering the wooded marshes behind an old man’s sprawling plantation property. The boys investigate the natural world and build a tree house out of dead timber. Wayne, the leader of the gang, decides to deny the awkward Eykelboom membership to their brotherhood, leaving him to watch them sullenly or tag along at a distance. The outcast’s abusive father adds a wrinkle to Watson’s story that makes the ending all the more complex.

new yorker cover 11.24.14I could not help but notice the parallels between this story and my own background. “Eykelboom” takes place in a mysterious, unnamed location. I was raised in an undisclosed location in the Pacific Northwest. The unfortunate character of Eykelboom was spurned and feared by his peer group, just, alas, as I have been. Eykelboom disappears into the forest to salve his wounded ego, as I so often do. He mangles unattended bicycles and other relics of humankind, just as I have done (still no buyers of my “Girl’s Bike Shaped Like A Hot Dog” impressionistic sculpture… sigh).

What peculiar similarities, don’t you think? Next time you see me in the woods, meditating by myself, dig deep down for the compassion to carry out an act of kindness. Just say, “Eykel-BOOM, THERE IT IS!” And I shall know it is you.

Purchase Brad Watson’s story collection, Aliens In The Prime Of Their Lives, on Amazon.

5 Ways To Get Your Book Noticed

cat and books

As a soon-to-be-published (?) memoirist and a creature of myriad opinions, I think it’s high time to offer you, cherished reader, some of my patented unsolicited advice. Consider the following if you are having difficulty getting your book noticed:

1. Proclaim the end of “<insert cultural trend here>”

Hipster mustaches. Brushing your teeth. Those fuzzy hats with ears on them. Be incendiary and grandiose as possible in your language.

2. Don’t harass your dream editor. Beckon unto them.

beckon to mconaughey

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

3. Preserve your dignity.

An illustrative anecdote: Upon arriving in this glittering metropolis, I proceeded forthwith to the offices of The New Yorker. There, I brandished a homemade sign emblazoned with the words “BUY MY MEMOIR PLEASE LORIN STEIN” and began chanting loudly. Strangely enough, passersby scattered. Within moments, I had cleared the sidewalk entirely.

My point is, precious reader, to preserve your dignity. I suggest taking your sign indoors and whispering vehemently. And if that doesn’t work, there’s always Facebook.

4. Guerilla marketing.

Just stuff your book in people’s mailboxes. I actually saw a guerilla do this once. You humans should have a much easier time with your hairless opposable thumbs.

5. Scratch n’ sniff book cover.

I recommend banana or a citrus-based fragrance like lemon. Psychologically, these scream ‘clean writing.’

There you have it. Don’t employ all of this advice at once, or you may develop a writing hernia. Do you have any book publishing tips to contribute? Send them to me at chetsasquatch@humanoid.net

Sacrifice and Kristin Valdez Quade in the NYer

I do enjoy it when a fictional character bucks conventions and throws caution to the winds. This very mien permeates my own life choices. Cousin Earl, when I professed my desire to move to the big apple, called me insane and a human-lover, among other things. But I paid him no heed, and here I am today – larger than Life (speaking of that, who is this Monsieur or Mademoiselle “Life?” I am dying to meet him/her so that we might compare our respective statures and put this debate to bed once and for all).

Kristin Valdez Quade has dreamed up a character who fits this model of non-conformity to a T. In Quade’s recent story in The 2014_10_20-800New Yorker, “Ordinary Sins,” we meet a young pregnant woman named Crystal working as a bookkeeper and administrator for the parish in a small community. The bland routine of her job is interrupted by the prying of the effusive, formerly-alcoholic Father Paul, who believes his tenure in the parish is being threatened by the arrival of a stern new priest from Nigeria. We learn of Crystal’s vague dread concerning her impending motherhood, and a spate of indiscriminate promiscuity that occurs in tandem with her growing worries. In a tense confrontation, Father Paul reveals that he has “fallen off the wagon,” and Crystal surprises herself by demonstrating a genuine and decidedly maternal compassion for the priest who she had so recently despised. However, Crystal must make a sacrifice in order to truly support Father Paul.

Quade – one of the National Book Foundation’s “5 Under 35” Honorees this year – offers us a strikingly heartfelt look inside the psyche of a  young woman facing the inexorable approach of a life-changing event. She writes:

She’d thought that she could disdain Father Paul’s kindness, and that it would somehow remain intact: unconditional, holy, and inhuman. Astonishing that she had been capable of such faith.

We all face moments where we must make a sacrifice for our own good. In my case, it was leaving the creature comforts of the forest for the blare and bellow of the urban jungle. You might think of these moments as forked paths in the lush wilderness of life (or Life?). In one direction lies a mystery dragon, and in the other, a mystery chimera. They each carry a delicious sandwich clenched in their jaws… And, ah, money as well. Yes. $12 American dollars! Er. You see, the point is, that they offer great riches, but also danger. Ahem. You see my point?

Have you ever been forced to make a sacrifice, dear reader?

Victor Lodato in The New Yorker

Words no longer seemed chimeric to Jack, no longer seemed approximations for something else. They were earthbound now, which was what happened when you were sober.

So writes the seer-like Victor Lodato in “Jack, July,” a wonderfully-voiced short story about a meth addict whose binges allow him temporary relief from his demons.

2014_09_22-800I met a chimera once, in the halcyon days of my youth. As a young monster, I roamed the nether regions of a great many beautiful places – earthbound, you might say, but soaring on the wings of my literary imagination – such as the catacombs of Paris, the  Mongolian steppes, Nepalese mountain ranges, and even The New Yorker‘s slush pile (How I miss bandying those stacks of paper about. Using those rejected stories, I made a diorama to commemorate my travels abroad). It was in the Sinai desert where I stumbled upon the Chimera. He was sunning himself on a dune and reading McSweeney’s. Imagine my surprise, dear reader! Instant comaraderie. Msr. Chimera even sported a smart-looking pair of silver-framed bifocals that I’d had my eye on for a long time. He is far more dashing than he gets credit for.

So Msr. Lodato, if you would be so kind, keep this in mind for the next time you publish. My comrade from the Sinai could use a bit of positive PR. I would consider it a personal favor if you would treat him more gently. His gratitude, of course, would be effusive.

If I may, allow me to heap more praise upon this very satisfying story. Witness Lodato’s description of sorrow as Jack’s character experiences it:

The sadness bloomed in his belly. It always started there – a radioactive flower, chaotic, spinning out in weird fractals until it found its way to his arms and legs, his quivering lips. Then the telltale buzz of electricity in his hair.

What a command of sentiment! What poetry! Ah. Thank you again, NY’er editor, Deborah Treisman. You have made my soul a radioactive flower of happiness.

Read the story here, or purchase Victor Lodato’s lauded debut novel, Mathilda Savitch, which has been translated into 13 languages (not including Chimeric).

 

Getaways for Writers With Poor Self-Esteem

Subalpine trees - Cascades Washington - University of Chicago

I frequently peruse a lovely online meta-journal called The Review Review. While eating bark salad. During Finding Bigfoot commercial breaks. As I self-groom. And so on. The Review Review’s (@TheReviewReview) critiques of art journals are indispensable for literati of both the homo sapiens and monsterly varieties. I’m still stroking my cheek whiskers over Susan Pohlman’s recent publishing tip, in which she recommends travel as an antidote to writer’s block and mental defeatism (“I’m too beautiful to succeed in this city,” etc). She declares:

To develop as writers and human beings we must leave our safe havens and challenge ourselves by heading into the world and experiencing diverse cultures and landscapes firsthand.

Too, true! And so I submit to you, precious reader, my list of travel destinations to spark your own creative genius. Visit one of these magnificent places the next time you’ve got the traveling itch:

  • Grainy, black-and-white mountain ranges
  • An undisclosed location in the Pacific Northwest
  • Lorin Stein’s office while he’s not there (I haven’t asked him if this is ok, but I’m sure he wouldn’t mind)
  • The upper boughs of a healthy live oak
  • Street corner in front of The New Yorker‘s editorial offices
  • The zoo
  • …anyplace where others will notice you and be impressed

And there you have it.

Do you have any others you would like to add? Email them to me at chetsasquatch@humanoid.net or tweet them to me @City_Sasquatch