Standing Separate Leg Stretching Posture #bikram

Today, I touched my forehead to the ground in standing separate leg stretching posture in a noon Bikram yoga class. Here is what it is supposed to look like:


I’m sure I did not look like that.

To be clear, I’d touched my forehead twice before–little taps against my towel. But I’ve never actually set my forehead on the ground like this before and just relaxed into the posture. It was a strange moment for me because I wasn’t actually concentrating on the posture itself. I was thinking about this spot on my back between my shoulder blades that had been tight for several days and wondering how far I should try to sink into the posture and then my head was on my towel. It shocked me. It was the second set of the posture and I hadn’t even realized I’d grabbed my heels. I was so astounded that I couldn’t even get it together for triangle, the next posture.

Just to prove it wasn’t a fluke, I went to another class this evening and touched my forehead in both sets. I’ve heard some teachers say that once your forehead touches, you should shorten your stance to make it harder. That’s all well and good, but two years into my Bikram journey and I can’t see moving on just yet. In my next class, I’m going to put my feet in the same place and see if I can set my forehead right on the yoga mat. Then I’m going to hang out there for a while.

On reading Lydia Davis’ Almost No Memory #amreading #litchat


davisWhat in the world is Lydia Davis up to? If she were up to one thing, the thing she might be up to if she weren’t up to other things, we might know her better, or think we know her better, or not. But if she is up to other things, things of which we are unaware, then we are lost in what we believe. These things: words and not words; space and not space; what comes next and what comes not next; what comes next when we are expecting the first thing, not the second thing, and when the second thing come first; the long stories and the short stories and the stories that are not stories at all but are fiction. The stories that are not stories but are not poems are something, but that something is lost as it comes through first, or maybe second, or maybe not at all. We keep reading, trusting Lydia, or not trusting her, but allowing ourselves to be thrust into this space of not trusting and trusting at the same time. There are the stories that are longer than poems, but lyric, and some of us think of poems while reading the long stories and think of stories while we are reading the short stories which are not really stories but poems. These things: cats in jail and the men who kill them; Lord Royston and the unknown reasons for his travels and all the things that are not said in the travels and all the long and sacred moments and the majesty and the light of the land and the fury of the sea; thinking not thinking; mice; what is story and what is not story and what is the center of stories and what lies on the outskirts of stories and what we believe might be a story, or not, or a poem, or a bit of both, or of neither; a country of people who watch Othello every single night; this condition of being and not being; of our shallowness and our skins and how we are not the people we are, and do not do unto others as we would have them do to us, or we do exactly what we would have done to us, but is not what we thought it might be. What is Lydia Davis doing in these worlds that are not worlds, stories that are not stories, in language that rises and sinks and crests and pulls us along in swift currents when we do not want to be pulled along, but perhaps do, perhaps finding solace in these shifting things?

Stories that I’ll be teaching this fall #teaching #writing #shortstories

booksEach semester I teach a dozen or so stories to my fiction classes. I always keep a few of my favorites, teach them again and again. But I throw a handful of new stories in each semester. It’s a strange struggle to find stories that I love and that I think will resonate with students. Sometimes, what I think will resonate, falls flat. And often, those stories that I think will be a tough sell, really hit home. I’ve been combing through some books looking for the right stuff. Here’s what I’ve come up with:

  1. “Going” by Amy Hempel
  2. “Boys” by Rick Moody
  3. “We Make Mud” by Peter Markus
  4. “A Good Man is Hard to Find” by Flannery O’Connor
  5. “Good for Your Soul” by Tim Gautreaux
  6. “Kansas” by Stephen Dobyns
  7. “North Country” by Roxanne Gay
  8. “What We Talk About When We Talk About Love” by Raymond Carver
  9. “What We Talk About When We Talk About Anne Frank” by Nathan Englander
  10. “Safari” by Jennifer Egan
  11. “The City in the Light of Moths” by Tim Horvath
  12. “Murke’s Collected Silences” by Heinrich Boll
  13. “The Last Speaker of the Language” by Carol Anshaw
  14. “Means of Suppressing Demonstrations” by Shani Boianjiu
  15. “Clear Over Target, the Whole Town in Flames” by Fiona Maazel
  16. “Hot Ice” by Stuart Dybek

Deep thoughts on great literature

I was reading about authors and the books that changed them or if not changed them, then at least stayed with them over the years, captured some part of their imagination and wouldn’t let go. I have many books like that. Many of them look like this:

I loved this book. Polaris. And I don’t remember a single thing about it aside from the cover and the title. Before I wrote this post, I hadn’t seen the cover since probably 1984 and yet I could conjure it very clearly in my mind. I felt very comforted when I went searching for the image and found it quite easily. I’m sure the book–5 & Dime Sci-fi at its finest–is no great shakes. But I bet I’ll remember that cover until I’m old & demented.

Summer Writing Awesomeness

I drafted by longhand all summer with a strange feeling of joyishness about the work. I did not look behind. I wrote forward, a slim plot scratched out to keep me on track. I was unsure what I wrote each day because I never reread. Only forward. Only now. Now, I’m transcribing the longhand to a word document, typing it out, the first step in a multi-step revision process. And although I feel strange admitting to liking the story–let alone loving it, or being totally jazzed by how it is unfolding–that is exactly what’s happening. It’s a very strange story but on each strange page I transcribe, I feel like I’ve tapped into something good. I still have miles to go before I sleep, but–dare I say it? Admit it?–this writing is making me happy.


Several Stories I’m bouncing around for the Hallmark Channel #amwriting

Terri Garr stars as a grandmother with lupus who has to save her grandchildren from a life of crime while her own daughter deals with a cheating husband and his sexy research assistant.

Florence Henderson stars as a grandmother recovering from brain tumor surgery who is running for city council against a sexy but ruthless grandmother played by Joan Collins. In the climatic scene, they debate each other over parking meter jurisdictions during the worst ice storm in the county’s history. Alan Thicke guest stars as a never-say-die city worker who vows to salt the roads no matter how bad the storm becomes.

Alan Thicke returns to Hallmark as a no nonsense defense lawyer who has trouble keeping his romantic life in order as he represents a suspect in a murder. Valerie Bertinelli co-stars as the prosecutor who breaks down his tough exterior to restore order, and balance, to the court. Possible title: Hearts of Justice

Hey, I’ve been writing strange fiction for a long time. It’s time I started giving the people what they want. Right?

Queries and Responses, #grr #arrgghh

In the old days–maybe 10, 15 years ago–when you queried an agent, one had to send a letter, sample, and SASE (self addressed stamped envelope, for the uninitiated) and wait a month or two or five for a response. Now, in the “future,” most of this is done via email in the digital realm.

Then, I rarely didn’t receive a reply. It might take a while, and the reply was nearly always a form rejection, but it was a reply. Now, it is common for agents not to respond at all, even though the mediums for queries and responses have vastly simplified the process. Many state on their websites that “no response means not interested.” At the same time, they say they can’t tell you how long a no response will take. How long should I wait before deciding that you’ve ignored my email long enough for me to consider myself rejected? This is, to put it mildly, maddening and thoroughly unprofessional (imagine if I took this approach at my job–sure, you can hand in your essay, but I can’t tell you when I’ll read it and if I don’t respond to it, that means it’s a failing grade…good luck!).

With that bit of background, I’d like to thank the astute and efficient readers of the Lippincott Massie McQuilkin Agency. Today, I queried one of their agents about my Apocalypse Nation manuscript. The time stamp on my email was Thu, Aug 8, 2013 at 1:11 PM. I expected the normal delay in response–a week, a month, a year–before realizing that they weren’t, in fact, going to respond at all. So imagine my surprise when I received a reply in a very short span of time (time stamp August 8, 2013 2:48:35 PM)–just a little over an hour and a half. Of course it was a rejection–that in itself isn’t surprising–but it was speed at which their dedicated readers and decision makers decided to look at my letter and decide against it that truly impressed me. Their form email informed me that they were thankful that I considered their agency, but after “careful consideration” they decided that my work wasn’t a fit for their team.

It’s the “careful consideration” that really earns my praise. I imagine a roomful of interns fighting over the incoming submissions, valiantly attempting to make their mark in the literary world, “carefully considering” the merits of each piece before copy/pasting a form letter and sending it back to the author. Some agencies wouldn’t even send that letter. Some agencies would have just ignored it. Deleted it. Pretended like it never happened, like some author whose been paying his dues for a long time hadn’t carefully considered their agency and studied their website and agent profiles seeking a good fit. But the Lippincott Massie McQuilkin Agency isn’t that kind of agency. They care. They consider your work carefully, for at least an hour. Maybe over lunch. Maybe while running on a treadmill at the gym. They work for you, even though you aren’t a part of their team, yet. Their consideration is all that really matters.

What really happened: Someone got my email query in a stack of other email queries, glanced at it for less than ten, fifteen seconds, and hit the automatic rejection reply email button. Seriously, dudes. If you’re going to send something back to me in the amount of time it takes for me to read a short story, you should take out the “carefully considered” line. It cheapens you.

What writers do with their time, #amwriting


I teach at the University of New Hampshire. I have what most people, including myself, would consider a nice work schedule. I get summers off if I want. Usually, my summer schedule leaves me wondering how I ever find time to work during the spring and fall semesters. My goal has always been to write in the summer, to just dive in a get creative work done. My experience is that this rarely happens in the way that I imagine it will happen. This summer, it did. Today, I finished a rough draft of a novel. It’s longhand and it’s a mess of awful sentences and half-baked scenes and unrealized characters, but it’s a whole and complete story. Also, it’s a very, very strange story. I don’t know why I can’t write a more straightforward story that someone might actually want to read, but I can’t. My wife says if I could write something like that, then I wouldn’t be me. Still, even by my standards, this story is strange. It is six and a half notebooks of strange. Now, of course, the real work of writing begins, but I am satisfied and relieved and astounded that I was able to follow the path of my imagination in just this manner since the end of the semester last May. I’m fond of saying recently that I don’t know what it means to be a writer any longer, but I sure spent the summer writing.


Novel, in Progress #amwriting

I have no idea what it means to be a writer these days. But I am writing. This summer, I’ve filled up six notebooks with this new novel. Today, I started notebook #7 (picture below). A week away from a very rough first draft. Of course, that’s when the real work begins. Maybe that’s what being a writer is–knowing that the real work begins with revision. When I tell people I write longhand and that I’m finishing the first draft of a novel, they often say, “when can I read it?” I have to laugh at that–I’m so far away from having a readable draft. Light years. Right now it’s so rough and so completely rudimentary that I can barely think of it as a novel. Right now it is just a bunch of sentences. Maybe being a writer means that I know those sentences, as they are, are only the barest beginning. Or maybe being a writer means something different. One thing I’ve discovered this summer is that being a writer means I don’t have to worry about what being a writer means. All I have to do is write.


Henry Miller and all the other greats I’ve never read

There are so many great books I’ve never read. I keep writing, trying to add more books to the pile (unsuccessfully, to date) and I wonder why. Wouldn’t it be easier to try to read the great books instead of laboring to add a tiny voice to the pool? I doubt I’ll quit, at least not this year. A few days ago, I started reading Henry Miller. He is both profane and sacred, vulgar and cerebral, deadly serious and gut-busting funny. Here is a paragraph t makes me laugh every time I think about it. It just seems so ridiculous and perfect that he says “fuck a duck” here. Enjoy.