Archive | August, 2013

New Fairy Tales from the North

8 Aug
JaneAlexander

“Bom Boys” by Jane Alexander

After the Tin House conference, M. and I went to New York to visit family and get our fill of art and food. We structured our visit around three bizarre-sounding art exhibits: Matthew Barney’s drawings at the Morgan Library, Paul McCarthy’s massive installation at the Park Avenue armory, and Jane Alexander’s eerie sculptures at St. John the Divine.

Barney’s drawings were often framed in “self-lubricating” plastic, which was fascinating in and of itself, and sometimes more  interesting than the faint, conceptual sketches contained within. Most intriguing in this exhibit were his copies of Norman Mailer’s Ancient Evenings, heavily marked up, cut up, splashed with gold leaf. This is part of his newest project, “River of Fundament,” a seven-part “opera” drawing on  Mailer’s novel of Ancient Egypt and the Egyptian Book of the Dead and transposing it to 20th century American car culture.

“WS,” McCarthy’s exhibit, took up the entire armory with projections and sculptures of Snow White, the seven dwarves, and Walt Disney in an extremely debauched frat party. The set from the projected film took up the center of the armory, and you could walk around it, peeking into windows, catching sight of some very disturbing after-the-party messes. An enchanted forest lay beyond the house, and you couldn’t quite walk inside of it, but just below it, which was unsettling, along with the fact that trees intentionally resembled turds. And in side galleries, a series of other films with the same characters included food porn and  a naked Snow White accosting Walt Disney’s mouth with a bar of soap. It was an impressive production, though I regret bringing my mother.

The most moving and complex was “Jane Alexander: Surveys (From the Cape of Good Hope),” which explores the legacy of Apartheid. Tucked away in various chapels at the back of St. John the Divine, these child-sized beast-human sculptures were strange and haunting. I half-expected them to start moving around and addressing me. Because of a calendar error, we caught the show on its last-last day, as it was being packed up, so it was doubly strange to see these small creatures being put into crates. Particularly arresting was “Security.” It featured a large wingless bird enclosed in razor-wire inside a courtyard that was once the north transept of the church before the roof burned down in 2001. Surrounded by red rubber work gloves and rusting machetes and sickles and standing atop wheat and earth, the bird is watched over, sort of, by a dull-eyed, monkey-like “Custodian” perched on a window sill and a pointing “Monkey Boy”. The New York Times has a photo gallery here.

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In other news, I’m very happy to be on a panel at the 2014 AWP in Seattle! I will be reading at “New Fairy Tales from the North” with Maya Sonenberg, Valerie Arvidson, and Rikki Ducornet. The panel description begins with this choice Angela Carter quote from “The Werewolf”:

“It is a northern country; they have cold weather, they have cold hearts.”

Tin House Writer’s Workshop 2013

7 Aug

Whew, July was busy. I went to the Tin House Writer’s Workshop for the first time, and I hope not the last. And I went to New York for a week after that (more in a subsequent post). There’s still a ton of information from the conference sifting through the crevices of my mind, but here’s a grab bag of favorites, with some bolded text and lots of links just for fun.

  • I studied with Benjamin Percy, who advised our short story workshop to “Grab [readers] by the throat and drag ’em down the rabbit hole,” which might be my favorite writing advice, second only to “Forget the reuben. Focus on the ninjas.”
  • In a panel on publishing and Tin House, Rob Spillman advised, “Don’t send your work out when you’re feeling creative. Send it out when you’re feeling organized,” which is a useful reminder, and at the agent panel he called debut author advances “Capitalism at its scariest,” which is something that will lurk in a corner of my brain for a good long while.
  • On character, Jodi Angel said, “We don’t go to the page to make friends. We go to see something other and apart from who we are.”
  • Karen Russell gave a talk on the art of long sentences and how they can give an “occult sense of how another mind moves, from word to word.”
  • On place, Luis Urrea urged, “Don’t use place. Inhabit it. [….] You are a place. As a place, you must be a shame-free zone [….] Writing prompt: go out and rub dirt on your face.”
  • On time, Jess Walter suggested: if you’re stuck in a story, consider making the clock more specific.
  • Anthony Doerr‘s talk on failure ended with this.
  • Also, I fell in love with Dorothea Lasky. Her latest collection of poetry is Thunderbird.

Again and again, throughout the week, it seemed everyone suggested you should write the story that only you can write, that you should pay “ruthless and tender attention” (Steve Almond, there) to life. At least some of the talks will be available online sometime. In the meantime, here’s a link to podcasts from previous conferences

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