Monthly Archives: February 2012

The Art of Waiting (a new essay in Orion)

The other week, at a reading of his new book, Broadway Baby, the poet Alan Shapiro said something about writing that I had to repeat to my students: “Writing is a way of being happy. Even if you’re writing about something sad.” I’ve said similar things to them, but never as well as that.

“The Art of Waiting” is an essay I wrote for Orion magazine, one of my favorite publications. I’m so honored that Orion published my essay, which is probably the most personal and difficult piece I’ve ever written. But writing it–when things were very hard, and very sad for me–was a gift. It was a way of reminding myself not only that I’m not alone, but that the natural world is interesting, mysterious, and wonderful, and provides purpose and healing that we did not expect. Click here to read about Jamani the lowland gorilla, marmoset reproductive suppression, Virginia Woolf’s diaries, the sound of 13-year cicadas, and my efforts to come to terms with my own infertility.

(Pictured above: sunset in Siesta Key, Florida)


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Bedside Reading

Some books I’ve recently enjoyed…

From top to bottom:

Swamplandia! by Karen Russell

A Civil Action by Jonathan Harr

Let the Dead Bury Their Dead by Randall Kenan

Late Wife by Claudia Emerson

The Tiger’s Wife by Tea Obreht

Assumption by Percival Everett

Salvage the Bones by Jesmyn Ward

Binocular Vision by Edith Pearlman*

(and on the Nook: The Flight of Gemma Hardy by Margot Livesey, Flannery: A Life by Brad Gooch, and Running the Rift by Naomi Benaron. )

*I’ll post more about this one soon. But my quick recommendation is that you buy a copy for yourself and one for your favorite short story reader.

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Cute Stuff in My Yard, and New Work

Just so you know it isn’t all propane tanks and old car parts:

I also wanted to share a new story that has been up for a little while on Blackbird. I’m honored to be included in the fall issue with Clifford Garstang, fellow Bakeless winner Nick Lantz, and so many other talented writers. Blackbird, which is published by VCU’s English department and New Virginia Review, is a great place to read new and established writers, and they have a terrific online archive of poetry, fiction, and nonfiction.

Please click here to read “Death Panel.” It was inspired by the play God of Carnage, which Sky and I took our parents to see in 2009. My mom and I got the idea to write a play about her family, but about the farthest we got was the set–my grandmother’s living room, with an armchair and a Christmas tree decorated with a deflated Easter balloon–and the general mood. So I wrote a story instead.

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Another Valentine!

This time a story I wrote with Richard. Dave Daley, of the awesome site (and publishing house) Five Chapters, asked me to write a story about a troubled celebrity marriage. I thought it would be more fun (and funnier) if Richard helped, so we wrote it together.

It was a surprisingly easy collaboration. I thought of the idea (I was obsessed with the rumor that Demi was sent to the hospital for whip-its–how is that possible? And why would she do them? Couldn’t she have a whole nitrous tank if she wanted, like Dennis Hopper in Blue Velvet? That seems more elegant to me.) Then Richard wrote a hilarious screenplay-style skit. Then I worked on it, turning it into a story. Then Richard made some final changes. Then we argued about the title (Richard prefers “Dog Day Afternoon”). I do seem to be writing about pets a lot lately.

So! Click here if you’d like to read it.

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Ugly Stuff in My Yard (a valentine for Jen)

Recently my friend Jen and I were talking about our love/hate relationship with certain design and lifestyle blogs–I won’t name any names, but you know the kind of blog I’m talking about. Perfect, stylish apartments and houses, beautifully photographed. Eames chairs that are not rusty, sofas that have not been shredded by cats, renovations that are up to code. Chalkboard-painted backsplashes, bookshelves arranged by color (so dumb!), children who look French. Sometimes I visit them just to make myself feel bad. I would hate for my blog to make anyone feel bad (especially Jen), so here is some stuff that is in my yard. This is not a before-and-after, as I am unlikely to do anything about this stuff:

This is my propane tank. Propane tanks are always ugly (and sort of depressing), but you can’t really do anything about them. We use propane to cook and heat our water. And when the power goes out (please don’t, power), to heat the house. (Bonnie Jo Campbell has a good story featuring propane tanks called “World of Gas.”)

This is one of our wells, with the stuffing coming out. We have two wells, which is also sort of depressing when you think about it, because it means one of them isn’t good enough (our house is situated very high up a hill, in the woods). We switch back and forth, every week or so. I think it helps us save water, thinking about the wells. Anyway, this one is ugly. I guess we could get one of those fake rocks to cover it up, but that would probably be worse.

Before we bought our house, different kinds of animals used to live in different incarnations of this cage. Some vultures? And then some dogs? That’s what I’ve heard.

We have to be on the alert for trees that might fall on our house. This one was a suspect. We don’t heat our house with wood (thank God), so we don’t have anything to do with the logs. Sometimes I think about becoming a firewood lady.

Here is the coup de grace, though:

We have an outhouse. (Though it might surprise my in-laws, we do have an indoor bathroom. The outhouse is full of car parts and hasn’t been used in 20 years, FYI.)

Happy Valentine’s Day, Jen! xo

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Why Share? On Diane Daniel’s “Losing Him, Loving Her”

Writing something personal and sharing it with your community is hard. Fiction gives you plenty of places to hide–of course that isn’t my dad, smoking that cigar and talking loudly on a cell phone! That is a totally different Baptist Church in that story–a made-up one!

But the anticipation of something you know some other people won’t like–that’s even harder. Recently, I talked with local writer Diane Daniel, who interviewed me before her essay, “Gender Change: Losing Him, Loving Her” was published in today’s News and Observer (her story is somewhat like the fictional Melinda and Jonas’s). Diane’s essay is beautiful–thoughtful and brave–but she was nervous about what people might say, in the comments. Most of the negative comments on Diane’s essay go something like this: “and you think this is news? Why does writing something personal make you special? Why publish it at all?”

Because other people need to read it, that’s why–I’m not even thinking of the people who are hateful or ignorant, but people who feel isolated and alone, people who might draw some courage from Diane’s story. Recently I shared a very-difficult-to-write essay with my senior AP English students, and it made a huge difference in what they were willing to tackle in their own writing. My essay will be in Orion’s March/April issue. I’ll write more about it soon.

In the meantime, please check out Diane’s essay here. Writing something personal, and being willing to share it, does make you special. I tell my kids that all the time.

(pictured above: Lina Kok and Diane Daniel. Photo by Takaaki Iwabu of the News and Observer.)

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Walkerton Cats on Broadway

Yesterday my mom and I went to Symphony Space in New York. Merritt Wever, who plays Zoey Barkow on Showtime’s Nurse Jackie, read my new story, “Havahart,” during a special edition of Selected Shorts hosted by Roz Chast. The theme of the night was What I Hate from A-Z (inspired by Ms. Chast’s new book), and my story featured feral cats–and rabies. We decided we had to be there to see the performance.

We took the train. It was spacious and quiet. My mom tried playing Zip-It (a Bananagrams-type game), but didn’t get the part about the words connecting, or the prohibition of proper nouns:

That’s okay.

After checking in to our hotel, we went to MoMA, saw the Diego Rivera exhibit (wonderful), and wandered around for a bit. One thing I always think when I’m there is that Jacob Lawrence’s Migration series, which is together on one of the painting floors, should not be split up (the other half of the 60-painting series is in D.C., in the Phillips Collection).

Of course we were really early for the performance, uptown at Symphony Space on Broadway. People in my family (my Boggs family, that is) are great to travel with if you’re worried about being late because we always try to outdo each other about how early we should leave.

It gave us time to check out the arriving crowd, though. I was nervous about the story, which I wrote specifically to be read aloud for Selected Shorts and had only shared with Richard and my mom. Were these people who would appreciate stories about loneliness and feral cats?  They certainly had interesting eyewear and footwear (my mom was sure she’d spotted Roz Chast in a woman wearing a tremendous brown coat and striped socks and glittery eyeglasses, but I willed her not to say anything and it worked; it was not her). I think many of them had season tickets; everyone looked as happy to be there as we were.

My nervousness disappeared as soon as Merritt Wever began reading my story. She was fantastic–perfect pacing and expression and tone. I wish I could take her along with me to all my readings–sort of like Kathryn Stockett and Octavia Spencer, except without the weird racial overtones.

The rest of the actors were amazing, too, and Roz Chast killed it (of course). Anne Meara read Shirley Jackson’s creepy and darkly funny “The Witch;” Jerry Stiller read Bruce Jay Friedman’s terrifically depressing “Wonderful Golden Rule Days,” and Stephen Lang read Tom Chiarella’s “Berard’s Rapture”–a long story, which can be difficult to read well, but I think we felt by the end that we’d seen a film.

The audience was great: warm and responsive. I mentioned this quality about Sewanee’s participants, and also about the Frank O’Connor International Short Story festival, I think. Audiences–readers, listeners–add so much to performances, and they’re out there, people who are passionate about art and literature, who want to hear something new. They give something to writers, too–encouragement, pleasure, eagerness to write something new. I appreciate Selected Shorts’s commitment to the short story–it’s a great experience to sit back and listen to someone read you a whole story, which honestly is rare at book signings and readings. At so many author readings, the authors apologize for anything over twenty minutes, like they’re afraid of taking up people’s football-watching time.

Sometime in the fall you should be able to listen to the evening on PRI or download it as a podcast. I’ll post a link then, but in the meantime there are many great Selected Shorts performances to download here.

(pictured above: Remy Ma, one of the inspirations behind “Havahart”; pictured below: my mom and me after the performance)

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