GoLocalPDX

August 24, 2014 § 2 Comments

Hey there,

Quick shoutout of a Sunday evening for GoLocalPDX, a digital local-news site, launching its West coast presence in Portland this week. 

GoLocalPDX PIC

I will be writing their weekly literary events round-up and reviewing books by local and regional authors. I love Portland’s literary community and am excited to spread the love and learn new things. 

Please be in touch if you have readings or events that I can share with Portland’s writers and book-lovers. 

Thank you! 

 

 

Whiskey. Tango. Foxtrot.

July 29, 2014 § 2 Comments

It took me an unusually long time to get through Whiskey Tango Foxtrot. 

I kept putting the book down, turning to my husband, who’d read it before me, and shaking my head.

“I know!” he said.

“Seriously!” I kept saying. You couldn’t dream this shit up.

Except, somehow, David Shafer had.

Whiskey Tango Foxtrot

Long before the world had heard of Edward Snowden or the man on the street was decrying the NSA over an IPA in his local pub, David Shafer was imagining a cabal of industrialists and media barons on the brink of privatizing all the world’s information and personal data.

And the way they would achieve this is through the Node: a phone—a sleek, shiny phone, that people, people like you and like me, will admire and covet and purchase and come to depend upon. Want, turning so quickly to Need, as it does.

“It’s a product and a service. It’s order. It’s the safeguarding of all of our client’s personal information and assets. But it may be a while before our clients discover that they are our clients,” says Straw, the squizillionaire behind the evil Committee.

Though Evil might be too easy a word. It’s thrown around a lot, these days, but the reality is much more banal I fear.

“It’s strange,” someone says to Mark Devreaux—the self-betterment guru The Committee has hired to sell their product, and a palatable version of reality, to the public. “I read your book, and I must have missed the part where you advocate for the construction of a diffuse remote network of offshore data vaults.”

Diffuse remote network of offshore data vaults? “Well I believe I did go on about preparedness,” said Mark. “You know, as a generality. I suppose remote whatever offshore data vaults kind of fit in with that.”

It would be so wonderfully easy if it was all an evil conspiracy. Rather, Shafer’s novel reminds us that people are generally not very evil, only very stupid and careless and misguided and ignorant. Both the beneficiaries of corruptness, and its victims.

And yet. Victims. That’s another problematic word.

“Our privacy policy is reviewed regularly, and our mandate to collect is spelled out in the implied-consent decree of 2001. We’re just keeping this stuff safe anyway,” one of their technicians reasons.

Does any of this sound familiar yet? When was the last time you read every single convoluted line of the Terms of Agreement before you checked the box and pressed Submit? To your bank, to your airline company, to your social media site du jour?

Whiskey Tango Foxtrot scared the shit out of me but not because of its bad guys (who are deliciously bad). Rather, I was scared by what I recognized as my own complicity, my willingness to consume—and my dependency upon—technology, social media, and corporations that control me to lesser and greater (and greater and greater) degrees.

This is a novel, if you’re reading it correctly, that will make you deeply anxious and uncomfortable because the truths you’ll recognize in it are the truths within yourself.

Which brings me to another thing you couldn’t dream up—but Shafer did.

The truths within yourself? I mean it’s true… But also: Ugh.

A few weeks before I read an advance copy of the book, a well-known actress announced her decision to Consciously Uncouple from her well-known rockstar husband.

That’s all I’m going to say about that.

But, needless to say, I just about lost my mind when I got to the part where Devreaux is talking about his best-selling self-help book on national TV. A book that admonishes us to ‘Futurize’ and reach ‘Consciousclusions’ and ‘Try Again Tomorrow’.

“Oh, the Knowledge Blanket!” says the chat-show host. “I love that concept, Mark. I pull mine out all the time.”

“This is too good!” I yelled at my husband (who, as he was in agreement with me, asked me to stop yelling at him). “This is too fucking good!” (The timing and seeming prescience of Shafer’s novel is in so many ways exquisite.)

Knowledge Blankets. Consciousclusions.

This stuff would be laughably ridiculous if it wasn’t so tragically recognizable and ubiquitous.

I do love a little cynical poke and sardonic jab. Shafer’s perceptive humor is gold. His is a wry voice and that’s okay by me (enter at your own risk would seem to be the takeaway, in more ways than one).

And yet.

And yet.

Goddammit.

I think that Devreaux, or Shafer, or somebody, is onto something. I think maybe we should be making consciousclusions.

I mean, isn’t that the whole point? That individually, and culturally, we aren’t making consciousclusions and all these terrible things that seem like the stuff of techno-thriller stories are going to come to pass? Or already have?

Whiskey Tango Foxtrot is a seemingly “light” novel. In the sense that it’s a page turner. And unabashedly funny. And should be and probably will be a movie by next summer.

But it isn’t light at all. It’s deft and tricks you into thinking that it is light when really there are some serious questions posed within its pages and nothing, and no-one, is as straightforward or black and white as we’d feel more comfortable with.

I’ve barely touched the surface of a fully globalized novel that zips between Myanmar, Portland, Dublin, London and New York City. I have yet to mention Leo Crane, the “unhinged trustafarian” who I adored and wanted to hug and carry around in my pocket right after I had throttled him. And Leila Majnoun, the weary, disillusioned non-profit worker who triggers the events that brings all three characters together and who eventually must attempt to make decisions—conscious ones—about the knowledge they’ve discovered; or stumbled upon as is often the case in life.

Whiskey Tango Foxtrot is a novel about what we do with our knowledge blanket. Knowledge about the world and its ‘wicked’ ways. Knowledge about ourselves. How there’s no direct link between awareness and doing things differently, let alone any better. In more ways than one, it is a novel about addiction and dependency and the impossible but essential struggle to claim and control your identity.

And that, my friends, is heavy.

 

Whiskey Tango Foxtrot is available in stores on August 5th. David Shafer will be reading at Powell’s in Portland, OR on Wednesday, August 6th, at 7:30PM.  Mark it.

“The gift of writing is to be self forgetful…

May 3, 2014 § 1 Comment

…to get a surge of inner life or inner supply or unexpected sense of empowerment, to be afloat, to be out of yourself.”

- Seamus Heaney.

Rehearsals of ‘Buried Child’ begin at Profile Theatre

April 22, 2014 § 2 Comments

Last evening, cast and crew gathered in a back room for the first read-through of Sam Shepard’s Pulitzer Prize winning play.

The very first production of Buried Child was directed by Robert Woodruff who, many years later, would have Profile’s Artistic Director, Adriana Baer, under his tutelage at Columbia University. Last night, Adriana addressed her actors, crew, and guild members, speaking of her excitement to step into her chapter in this particular lineage.

The Pulitzer was awarded to Shepard based solely on the merits of the written page (performance/production is usually taken into account by the Drama jury) and the actors were encouraged to read through the play naturally. Often Shepard’s plays are read and staged ‘heightened’ because of the surreal and crazy situations his characters find themselves in.

For now, it was okay to just have the words—“we’ll find the situation later,” said Baer who encouraged us to embrace the play’s contradictions without judgement. For the characters in Buried Child, everything is true in the moment, and the truth changes, while remaining true, from moment to moment. The play only seeks to ask questions and the audience is to find their own answers to whatever they feel, think, believe, those questions are.

Before the read-through, we also heard a little from those lovely folks behind the scenes who are busy with costumes, music, props, and lighting. I particularly liked this little model that holds true to Shepard’s sparse stage conception. It’s a visceral as opposed to a literal architecture. The designer imagined the home as a contorted place that is reacting to and rejecting the people who exist there, poisoning their own lives, perpetually stuck inside their story.

Bleak stuff.

And yet, not—or not always.

Typical of Shepard, humor cut through horror, levity grappling with loneliness and longing, and the reading elicited many laughs and wry smiles from those of us who were lucky enough to sit in on it last night.

The actors are already so good—particularly those playing Dodge and Shelly. It’s fascinating to attend these first readings and I’m excited to see where they go with it in the next six weeks.

If you’re living in the Portland area, Buried Child plays May 29th through June 15th and I think it will be one to watch.

Buried Child at Profile Theatre Portland

 

Who Was Changed And Who Was Dead

April 12, 2014 § 3 Comments

“After lunch I’ll go out in the boat again; I might see something interesting. There should be a lot of interesting things around after a flood like this. Surely in all this water someone must have drowned.”

Offbeat, droll, macabre. Whimsical, charming, strangely delightful.

Barbara Comyns’ Who Was Changed And Who Was Dead is the last book that I was truly smitten by.

(At this point, it might be worth noting that the word Smitten is the past participle of Smite which means to strike with a firm blow. It is equally correct to say She was smitten by the handsome boy; she was one smitten kitten, as it is to say, The town was smitten with an outbreak of influenza—or madness; or murder.)

I don’t write too many reviews these days—I might start calling them “For Your Consideration” pieces—but this dark, enchanting book, and the sometimes ghastly, sometimes lovely, Willoweed family it follows, has lingered with me long after I first read it.

First, there is a flood:

“The ducks swam through the drawing-room windows…. Round the room they sailed quacking their approval; then they sailed out again to explore the wonderful new world that had come in the night.”

Then there is a death.

Well, many of them. The sorrowful hens commit suicide, the peacocks are drowned. Then Grumpy Nan who lived in the cottage by the mill croaks it. Then Mrs. Hatt, the doctor’s wife. Then another, and another. It is all very strange. It is all very dark and funny and matters terribly and doesn’t matter at all. Life goes on.

“Upstairs Emma sat on her bedroom window-sill and combed her marmalade coloured hair. She closed her eyes and forgot the sad, drowned sights of the morning. A feeling of deep satisfaction came over her as she felt the warmth of the sun and combed her hair, dreamily…. “Oh, how I would love to go to a dance and wear a real evening dress,” she thought, “but nothing like that will happen—no dances, no admirers. I shall just me me, and nothing will happen at all.”

Yes, it is a weird little gem of a book.

I was surprised to read that it was first published in 1954—by a woman born in 1909 and raised in an English country house with servants and a governess. Its simple, playful sentences; steady accumulation of strange details and observations; non-sequiter dialogue and diversions; and surreal images encountered by her characters as mundane or a nuisance, seem to predate the postmodern writing of the 1960s á la Donald Barthelme. Others have compared her to Angela Carter and consider Comyns a neglected genius. Still others have said she is not like anybody else at all and that is fine by me too:

“Barbara Comyns is always being compared to writers X, Y or Z “on acid.” The acid part is a cop-out; her voice is clear and direct, even when describing surreal or hyperreal situations, and her crisp descriptions are not kaleidoscopic or druggy in the least. The comparisons to other writers, apt or not, are never a list of her formative influences; she didn’t have any.” – Emily Gould, writing in The Awl in 2010. 

What is certain is she has been largely overlooked and I feel lucky to have happened across her.

Who Was Changed And Who Was Dead was banned by The Irish Censorship of Publications Board (though, what book wasn’t? one might ask). I happened to hear about it one night, deep in the interwebs, when I came across Dorothy, a publishing project who reissued the by then out of print novel.

“Dorothy is dedicated to works of fiction or near fiction or about fiction, mostly by women. We want to publish books that, whether conventional or un-, are uniquely themselves, that do not lean against preconceived ideas of what is wonderful, but brilliantly and purposefully convince us that they are, themselves, wonderful.”

Marvelous! I thought. And it really was.

For your consideration:

Who Was Changed And Who Was Dead

 

 

Battle of the Bards meets Battle of the Broads in Powells Poetry Madness, 2014.

April 1, 2014 § 2 Comments

Last April, Powells bookstore presented a battle of the poets, wherein Emily Dickinson was declared the Best Poet Of All Time.

Controversial.

This year, in recognition of National Poetry Month and the Year of Reading Women, Portland’s favorite bookstore has us battling it out again with an all-female line-up.

I am into it.

Check out the contestants and cast your vote here.

There are a good many on the ‘bracket’ that are unknown to me so you know how I’m spending my next few evenings. Any favorite poets on the list? Happy for any poem recommendations!

Happy happy Poetry Month!

Powells Poetry Madness 2014

I still had two friends, but they were trees…

April 1, 2014 § 1 Comment

The Two Trees
by Larry Levis

My name in Latin is light to carry & victorious.

I’d read late in the library, then
Walk out past the stacks, rows, aisles

Of books, where the memoirs of battles slowly gave way
To case histories of molestation & abuse.

The black windows looked out onto the black lawn.

~

Friends, in the middle of this life, I was embraced
By failure. It clung to me & did not let go.
When I ran, brother limitation raced

Beside me like a shadow. Have you never
Felt like this, everyone you know,

Turning, the more they talked, into . . .

Acquaintances? So many strong opinions!

And when I tried to speak—
Someone always interrupting. My head ached.
And I would walk home in the blackness of winter.

I still had two friends, but they were trees.
One was a box elder, the other a horse chestnut.

I used to stop on my way home & talk to each

Of them. The three of us lived in Utah then, though
We never learned why, me, acer negundo, & the other
One, whose name I can never remember.

“Everything I have done has come to nothing.
It is not even worth mocking,” I would tell them
And then I would look up into their limbs & see
How they were covered in ice. “You do not even
Have a car anymore,” one of them would answer.

All their limbs glistening above me,
No light was as cold or clear.

 

I got over it, but I was never the same,

Hearing the snow change to rain & the wind swirl,
And the gull’s cry, that it could not fly out of.

In time, in a few months, I could walk beneath
Both trees without bothering to look up
Anymore, neither at the one

Whose leaves & trunk were being slowly colonized by
Birds again, nor at the other, sleepier, more slender

One, that seemed frail, but was really

Oblivious to everything. Simply oblivious to it,
With the pale leaves climbing one side of it,
An obscure sheen in them,

And the other side, for some reason, black bare,
The same, almost irresistible, carved indifference

In the shape of its limbs

As if someone’s cries for help
Had been muffled by them once, concealed there,

Her white flesh just underneath the slowly peeling bark

—while the joggers swerved around me & I stared—

Still tempting me to step in, find her,

And possess her completely

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    "Sigh," said Wander Van Mousen. "Why am I always late to the party?" By Lavina Blossom. From 'Attempts At A Life' by Danielle Dutton. Light is a cipher. #throwbackthursday Making yummy Nonna's Noodles with the wonderful @felixbenjaminboo 💫 #ThrowbackThursday to yesterday evening and a fond farewell & Bon voyage dinner at Ava Genes. I will miss you mammy and daddy, it was so great to see you xx Dear Nonna, thank you for everything and everyone you gave us. You truly made the world a lovelier, more nourishing and delicious place. Your life will live on in our hearts and bellies. I'm glad to have been a small part of the world you helped create. Grazie Mille x
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