Friday, October 1, 2010

Am I blue? Not entirely...

At one point during our trip through the great American south I flipped the radio over to NPR.

After about 20 minutes Leopold looked over and started to laugh.


"You love listening to the news."

"Why do you say that?"

"You're talking back to Michele Norris."

Which I was and which I do...a fact that Leopold knows better than anyone. After all, on more than a few occasions he has walked into our house to find every radio in the house tuned to NPR so I don't miss anything as I move from room to room.

If you're having trouble reading this post because you're simultaneously rolling your eyes about "The Media" (1) it's not that I am an individual of blind faith. Sometimes when I'm talking back to Michele Norris or Michel Martin or Jim Lehrer, I'm telling them that they're missing the point. That they're getting it wrong. That there's another way to look at the story that they're covering.

Which is really the way that relationship is supposed to work. Watching the news or listening to the news or reading the news isn't meant to give you the answers. It's to help you reach your own conclusions.

Which is why I'm so excited about the publication of Our Patchwork Nation by Dante Chinni.

Before you ask (2), yes, I know Dante. He's a good friend and a fantastic writer.

But what most intrigues me about the book and what I've loved about the Patchwork Nation project is that it embraces how complicated our country really is. No red state, blue state. No conservatives think this way and liberals think that way. It wonders out loud about the issues that influence ideas and opinions and recognizes that the circumstances that cause me to think one way about an issue will not be the same for someone else in another part of the country...even if our profiles might seem the same in a 20 second soundbite.

So I'll be picking up my copy of Our Patchwork Nation and, yes, I'll be getting it signed.

And yes, you should too.

1. Which is high up on the list of words and phrases that drive me insane...mostly because it doesn't mean what the people who use it think it means. But that's for another time.
2. Not that you would.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Solo act.

Here's the funny thing.

Tonight I find myself with one of those rare evenings where I have no where that I'm expected to be. 

I'm not on deadline for the magazine.

The work that I have to have done for tomorrow is done. 

The work that I could be doing that will be claimed by someone else as their accomplishment I have no interest in doing.

The work that I'd like to be doing for myself is not interested in being done. There is a temptation to say that I'm experiencing another bout of writer's block but it's not that dramatic. It lacks the depth of desperation I generally feel when I realize that I'm experiencing a creative freeze. It's more a complete lack of inspiration. 

And, in a way that is not usually me, I'm finding a certain amount of satisfaction just sitting here with my laptop, writing here in the blog. Not engaged in some big project. Not stressing out over what I'm not accomplishing.

Just writing because I like to write.

When I was in graduate school I remember a conversation with the person I thought should be my mentor because the work we did shared some kinship though I would never, ever put my writing anywhere near the work that he had done and continues to do.

In the course of one of our weekly meetings he asked if I was planning to do a novel for my thesis.

My response was no, I didn't know that I really had a novel in me. I quickly added that it felt like something of a deficiency on my part. At the time it felt like everyone was working on a novel or digging up the bones of one family member or another for a gut wrenching memoir. I told man who would not be my mentor that I didn't really feel like anything sufficiently bad had happened to me to allow me to run with that creative nonfiction crew. 

The man who would not become my mentor laughed and said that not every writer is meant to write a novel. We don't really all have one of those big books in us. We write what we write and we worry about what it will become later.

So tonight I'm letting myself worry about it later.

Yeah, that's right pile of dirty laundry. That goes for you too.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Am I blue?

The other day, in response to a review I had written, someone posted a note in the readers' comments.

They suggested, because I had not liked the show they had enjoyed, that I was perhaps "...having an off night."

That comment has stuck with me (1).

I mean, if I was an architecture critic or the person that tested bathroom cleansing products then, yes, I can see where the potential of a foul mood coloring my judgment would be an item for concern (2).

But I write about the performing arts.

The argument could be made that, if the group in question was really doing its job, they should be able to turn the most grim of moods around (3). Short of my cutting out of the funeral of a much beloved aunt to make the trip across town so I could be in my seat in time for curtain, there should be very few things capable of making my mood the culprit for a negative response.

That's the beauty and the challenge of being a professional when egos and the arts are involved.

So there.

1. Leopold will attest to this fact.
2. Though I'll say here and now that I have a peculiar fascination with the field of architectural criticism. I don't know why. Just add them to the list of types of writers I find cool.
3. Allow me to add here that I was not only in a good mood, I was well rested, well fed and full of great anticipation for this particular assignment.

Close, but not so loud.

Leopold and I hit the National Book Festival on Saturday.

Despite the fact that, as Leopold correctly called it when work required him to leave the Roller Derby Queen and I on our own, the day ended up with Derby and I sitting at a bar wondering why everyone in the world hasn't realized that we are, without question, two of the funniest people on the planet, much book-related fun was had.

I will say with some pride that I purchased no books while on our National Mall.

This is not to say that books are not on the near horizon but, for one day, I was a model of abstinence and self-control.

Leopold and I did not make it there in time to see Jonathan #1 (1) but did catch Jonathan #2 (2). J#2 spent the majority of his time talking about his newest nonfiction book, Eating Animals, much to the thrill of the GAP tank top suited throngs of skinny jean and flip-flops girls in the audience.

To say that there was an air of cult wafting through the Contemporary Life tent when J#2 spoke is perhaps putting it too gently. It was something closer to the shovel-thick scent of Polo cologne that once filled the halls of most American high schools for that bright, shining era of the 1980s.

What I appreciated about J#2 was that he was extraordinarily thoughtful in his discussion of the book and took particular care to note several times that his book was NOT about the virtues of a vegetarian lifestyle. He was not out to convert people to vegetarianism. He was not even going to try and convince people that there was something particularly reprehensible about the practice of eating meat. He is, as he noted in his opening remarks, one of those vegetarians who will tell you that meat is delicious and tastes very good.

This was, I have no doubt in my mind, not what most of the individuals in the audience heard. I am relatively certain, based on the applause that sprouted up, much like a Starbucks, at every opportunity most of the young and adoring in the crowd heard only, "Blah blah blah BAD blah blah blah MEAT blah blah blah MORAL CHOICE blah VEGETARIANISM."

But the point of Eating Animals is to look at something that our household has already accepted. While we are not at the place where giving up meat is something we are entirely interested in - though we do go meatless at least one night a week as part of Leopold's practices - we do our best to avoid mystery meat. Meat of unknown origin. Meat that comes from factory farms and goes from cow to styrofoam tray in the blink of an eye.

When we eat dinner with The Farmer and his wife I always get a little thrill when we find out that our meatloaf was once Bob or the oxtail in the soup belonged to Stu (3).

So I appreciated J#2's desire to articulate the nuances of his argument and his desire for clarity.

Eating Animals is not one of the many books currently waiting for my attention right now, nor is it hanging on the shelf with a growing number of neglected brethren.

But I have a sneaking suspicion it soon will be.

1. The Franzen.
2. Safran Foer. In my mind I like to picture them not unlike Superman's Bizarros...with chunky medallions around their necks stating #1 and #2.
3. These are cows lest you get the wrong idea.