Posts tagged Porochista Khakpour
"articulate why this collection matters, what makes it important"

I'm working on a chapbook-length collection that uses 30 local city papers (a.k.a. art zines) from 30 different cities, all collected from the week of my 30th birthday. Here's the process: take a phrase from the cover and make it the piece's title; take a phrase from every single interior page, and one from the back cover, and use these phrases in the order they were found to string together a narrative. Particular challenges are those sex ads/classifieds at the end of all the city papers (a lot of my pieces have to work in a weird fetish sort of thing toward the end), as well as the nature of the constraint leading to many of the pieces sounding like first-person dramatic monologues from narrators who share the same bizarre manner of speaking. Oh, fireworks (because of July 4th events) tend to pop up frequently as well. Not to mention the Air Guitar Championships and the movies Bad Teacher, Conan O'Brien Can't Stop, Midnight in Paris, and Tree of Life. 

I was asked recently to articulate why this collection matters, what makes it important to me, and I thought about that a lot. Several years ago, when I was a fiction student in the MA program at the University of Cincinnati, Porochista Khakpour came to deliver a lecture and said that she'd always wanted to have a book by the time she was 30. She'd just squeaked by, as her first book, Sons and Other Flammable Objects, had been published before her 30th birthday. I was 26 at the time, and I thought I'd never be able to make a book happen by the time I was 30. But I was wrong. We Take Me Apart was published in December 2009/January 2010. I was 28.

But time passes. I'm 30 now and haven't written a book, much less thought of publishing one, since WTMA. This is why "30 Cities, 30 Years" (working title) matters to me, then, because it is commemorative. It is the first collection I've worked on since WTMA. To be honest, I had no intention of working on a manuscript right now; writing has taken a back seat to other interests, like publishing. Cow Heavy is getting a complete makeover and Lit Pub is being redesigned at this very moment! I didn't think I wanted to be writing. I thought maybe I'd pick it up again in the winter, or maybe next summer. I remember talking to Michael Kimball about this in a bar not too long ago. I said something close to what I was getting at, something like: "I'm waiting until I have something to say again." I feel like you hear writers say stupid shit like this a lot. That statement smacks of self-everything. But I meant it. WTMA got at some real things for me, at that time when I wrote it, and I haven't really FELT anything since then. But when I was asked if I could come up with about 30 pieces for a chapbook, I said yes. Practical reasons aside, I said yes because it was the right time for my 30 cities, 30 years project. The solicitation and the timing of the deadline gave me the perfect excuse to start and finish this project. 

I'm starting now to really warm up to this collection. The pieces that are emerging from these city papers document the events of one week all over the U.S., from major cultural hubs like NYC, San Francisco, Philadelphia, Atlanta, as well as cities like Des Moines, Nome (Alaska), and Fort Collins. People all over the country were going to see the same movies, were all getting ready for July 4th events, were all being sold the same products (Bud Light and American Apparel, most commonly), and were also, more interestingly, dealing with issues relevant to their own cities. For example, some of the smaller city papers run Obituaries and Missing Person announcements; other, more liberal cities, seem to advertise five, six, seven different stores for medicinal marijuana, almost all of the advertisements using a busty blonde or brunette in a sexy nurse's costume to entice you on down to the clinic for a free sample with purchase of $50 or more. What's especially great to see, again and again, in all of these papers, is how they celebrate the arts. Music, from symphonies to rock concerts to local open mics; film, from artsy to blockbuster; literature, local poetry slams and open mics, mostly, but also some author events at local bookstores; museums and gallery openings of all kinds; as well as libraries, gardens, pet grooming, face painting at the farmers' markets, etc. 

I'm becoming, in the process of writing these pieces, to really feel, in my own way, patriotic. Not flags and booming cannons but, like, hot dogs and cable TV. I mean, every day, every week, every month year moment, lives are happening. People are living struggling dying loving fighting going to all-night dance parties and horses-welcome patios. They're going to Broadway and '80s night at the local roller rink. They're inspiring these little pieces, these made-up voices, these other people who are beginning to collectively represent us all. In short, lest I continue to ramble on and on about the glory of the U.S. of A., it's gratifying to be working on a book again, albeit a small one, and it feels special, commemorative for my own personal reasons (e.g. birthday) but also because of the larger picture of America that seems, with every new piece, to grow clearer and stronger, filled with the voices of so many individuals living so many unique lives. It is, surprisingly, turning into an emotional writing experience, and I'm grateful for it, if for no other reason than it seems to prove that I have something to say after all this time, after all, and because the release is living up to the buildup of all that pressure to write something that would matter, if not to anyone else then at least to me.

"According to Rowling, Hedwig's life represents Harry's innocence."

Today's title comes from Wikipedia. Hedwig reminds me of Christmas, I think, because of the first movie, which reminds me of Christmas when I think about it. I saw the latest flick twice. Both times I thought, What an incredible thing she accomplished, as I stared at the backs of so many heads of so many people in the rows and rows before me and thought about how all of us in that theatre and all of us in all the theaters in the US and the UK and the United movie-watching World all over were having the shared experience of watching before us the lives of three main and however many minor characters that we have come to know and care about these many years. Having not read the books, I was very sad when I saw Hermione erase herself from her parents' lives. I was sad when the Dursleys just up and left. I was very sad when Hedwig died and Moody died and the one twin's ear got blown off. I was very sad when that little Dobby guy died (although I will say that the second time I saw the movie, I thought, Well, if he had just gotten them out of there without stopping to monologue he might have survived but I guess that's beside the point because his speech is the point, right? Live free and die, etc.?). But anyway, what a sad movie; the thought came to me again and again: How hard must it have been to let these characters go. I felt in awe of Rowling then. It is a nice feeling to have had and to be reminded of now. 

I wonder if there is anything according to anybody that represents my innocence. Nothing obvious that I can think of. But if I suddenly figure it out, I'll be sure to share. 

Christmas always feels like the end of the year to me. It's strange.

J. A. Tyler sent me a nice message on behalf of MLP. It made me very sentimental because 2010 has been a good year. Today is the first time I've thought about it. So much of my life has changed in these past twelve months. When I think "December 2009," though, I immediately think of WTMA, which came out December 15, 2009. When I think of that, I remember what I was doing, where I was on the east coast, celebrating a sort of mini-tour. I remember that copies of my book were waiting for me in Cambridge, where Timothy Gager had invited me to read. I opened that box and saw my book for the first time and held it in my hands and shook a little. I called J. A. Tyler immediately to gush and cry. He was like a worried father about those books, the contents of that cardboard box: "How do they look? Are you happy? Are there enough copies? Etc." I remember sitting outside and exploding. I probably splattered all over the sidewalk. And then I was off to Providence, where William Walsh had invited me to read. And then I went back to Philly, then back to Providence to hang out a bit, then back to the midwest, then back to Philly, and over the past year WTMA took me to Baltimore, New York, Philly, Denver, New York, Baltimore, Philly, Baltimore, Washington, New York, and Ann Arbor. And in all of that, I had a book to read from. It is a special thing to have, and I am grateful to all those who helped make it possible. Maybe this is silly, but I remember Porochista Khakpour came to the University of Cincinnati to give a lecture and she told us her goal had been to publish her first book by the age of 30. When she said that I made it a sort of secret goal for myself, too, but I never believed I would accomplish it. What an exciting year it has been. It is difficult to believe that it was only a year ago that WTMA came out. So much has changed — among other noteworthy differences, I have so much more security in my life, security I never thought I'd need or want, so I am grateful for the decisions and changes I made; and while these meant major life-altering decisions and geographical and mental shifts and etc. that loom so much larger in the memory than the little things that fill a year, it feels like WTMA has been a part of my life always. The wonderful thing about that sentiment is that it will be a part of my life always, so I am very grateful to J. A. Tyler and Mud Luscious for believing in me, in my words. Many, many thanks to J. A. Tyler (it's weird typing that because I don't call him that) and his family, and best wishes to everyone at MLP for the new year. 

It is so nice to have this chance to reflect like this, because I have pretty much not been doing anything but beating myself up all year because I have not written another book. I suppose major life-decisions and geographical and mental shifts and etc. are contributing factors, but really I know they are just excuses and poor ones at that. So I am resolved. 2011, here I come: I want to bring readers to tears, want them to be that emotionally invested; I want to write unforgettable characters; I want to write images that stun and awe; I want to give readers all the pleasures of the novel and all the pleasures of poetry and all the pleasures of film in a single go; I want to grab hold of their collars and never set them free. I want to gather all those who want or need to be captured and give them a world worth visiting while their real world hushes and fades. I want them to want to come back, and to stay. Perhaps these are silly wants, but they are mine and we shall see what comes of them.