Tag Archives: nonfiction

Making Room for More Books

BooksYou can never have too many books, unless you have too few bookshelves. Recently, I’ve accumulated about three dozen more books than I had at the beginning of the year, but I’m not ready to get a new bookshelf. I don’t have room for one in my apartment, unless I put a small bookshelf in the shower or above the toilet or next to the heaters, and all of those options have their pitfalls (water, fire, weird smells).

So, I sat down in front of my bookshelves and pulled out a handful of books that I no longer need or want, for the foreseeable future. Mostly, I chose books I had purchased for past English classes as an undergrad and from my MA program. Others were books I bought, read, used, and simply have to sacrifice now. It became easy to identify books I hadn’t thought about in a long time. It was harder to pull them out and not identify a possible need each one. I’ve found uses for books I’ve forgotten about, or loaned them to others who could use them. Other books I want to reread when I have the time (whenever that will be, sometime down the road, possibly in sixty years). Soon, I had a small stack of books I was willing to donate to a local used bookstore for store credit.

I won’t be buying new books for a while. I already have plenty to read, for class and for pleasure. This semester, I have thirty books in total for classes, plus books for research projects for class assignments, plus whatever books I can read for fun. Last semester, I set out to familiarize myself with a few standard critical theory texts, but that has fallen by the wayside amid the novels, memoirs, biographies, essay collections, and cultural histories I’m reading this Spring.

I may need another bookshelf soon. When I moved to Moscow, I had five creative nonfiction books. Now, I have two shelves devoted to the genre I’m pursuing, and I have two more years in the program. It’s good to make room for the new and dispense with the old. It’ll be better to cultivate room for expertise.

I have a biography of Janis Joplin, a critical reflection on the Talking Heads album Fear of Music, and Rebecca Solnit’s collection of cultural biographies The Encyclopedia of Trouble of Spaciousness. I have John McPhee’s book about oranges (just oranges) and W. E. B. Du Bois’s biography of John Brown and Virginia Woolf’s unfinished memoir. I have Ta-Nehisi Coates’s letter to his son and James Baldwin’s letter to his nephew and Franz Kafka’s letter to his father. Creative nonfiction encompasses journalism, memoir, reflection, and criticism. I need an entire library of creative nonfiction to cultivate a proper expertise. Though I had to remove some books to make room for more, right now I think I have a pretty good start.

-jk

The Life and Times of a Short Story

short-story-draftThe young short story begins with a bang as the author manages to write six thousand words in several non-continuous sittings over the course of two weeks, though the author will later describe it in workshop as a single moment of creative pure truth. The short story matures with each passing workshop, experiencing growing pains, expanding and then suddenly being cut by a thousand words repeatedly, and not just because Rick from workshop said it “felt a little novelish.”

Still young for a while, the short story has a weird look. The story has a lot of split endings and wears a tight title that leaves little to the reader’s imagination, which the author is unaware of for several weeks because the author is too busy trying to understand Rick’s workshop submission, which involves a duck and how great New York apparently is.

Eventually, the story graduates from college with a sense of completion: the story has a clear beginning and ending and a fitting title. The story is submitted to four small literary journals. Like many American short stories, this story waits confidently for six months while resting in the back of the author’s hard drive with several older, wiser short stories.

After the first four rejections, the short story wonders about getting a better title, or if there was something wrong with the cover letter. The author polishes the story a bit with a quick makeover and pedicure to work out the typos and plot holes, then sends the reinvigorated story out to five journals. The short story’s determination is palpable.

But palpable determination is not enough, because after five more rejections, the story spirals into a mid-life crisis and gets two new characters and a new ending and then loses five hundred words after going to the gym. The short story feels better and is sent off to seventeen journals, six of which have already rejected the story as politely as is possible in an email. Meanwhile, Rick from workshop has been coasting on his one probably accidental publication in The New Yorker.

Seventeen rejections later, the short story finally decides to retire out of frustration. The author sees the potential in the story, but understands the difficulty in publication and ultimately thinks that better stories are waiting to be written. The author could dwell on the story for ten more years, but several new ideas have emerged in the author’s imagination, so the short story quietly goes back into a file on the author’s computer, solemnly labeled “Short Stories,” and is never heard from again. But the story lives on quietly in the author’s memory, and the memory of Rick from workshop who said it was pretentious and overwritten, but his characters are all just watered down versions of himself, so he can go lick a brick.

-jk

The Tunnels

Brick wall triptych 1.jpg

The English department at my Alma mater, Northern Arizona University, has released a cool new student literary journal called The Tunnels, and I’m pleased to announce that I have two pieces published in its inaugural issue: a poem, “List of Lists,” and a creative nonfiction essay, “Between Brick Walls.” The first was written after a First Friday Art Walk; the second is about photography, forest fires, and climate change. Both pieces are part of my never-ending love affair with Flagstaff, AZ. However, I mostly want to advertise the journal as a whole.

Two wonderful and talented professors, one in creative writing and one in literature, are the journal’s editors and creators, but it is heavily student-run. Last year, I was a reader for its earlier iteration, JURCE. The Tunnels is an academic and literary journal, and features literary criticism as well. One of my friends has a paper on one of Isaac Asimov’s stories; another friend of mine has a paper on Luigi’s Mansion. The whole journal is an excellent collection of literature and criticism, and a lovely reminder of how many people from Flagstaff and NAU have inspired and continue to inspire me. It also makes me excited for future editions.

So feel free to take a gander at this hip new journal, and I hope you enjoy it!

-jk

P.S. I listened to “Paper Moon” by Chic Gamine while writing the poem and “She Got Lost in the Observatory” by Motionless while writing the essay, to get in the right writing mood.

A Public Apology From This Blog

FOE

It has come to my attention that there is a slight possibility that some readers of this blog might find my portrayal of writers to be unfair.

It was not my intention to portray writers as living in the excesses of caffeine, alcohol, or both, or as people who experiment with certain stimulants that some states have outlawed. I did not intend to give the impression that writers are difficult people who have trouble coping with rejection, or that they have limited social skills. I also had no intention of portraying writers as hyper-critical egomaniacs who write for revenge, and who publish unflattering stories about their friends and families when they feel resentful of their almost constant sense of rejection by publishers, friends, strangers, and that guy at the bookstore with the mustache.

Additionally, it was not my intention to portray writers as the kind of people who use creative writing workshops as a means to external validation by submitting work that has already been accepted for publication, to insist upon the value and merit of their submitted workshop material on the basis that it has been accepted for publication, while simultaneously engaging in pretentious, esoteric discussions of craft that have little, if anything, to do with the actual content of their peers’ work, leading their peers, instructors, loved ones, and Rick from the bookstore to question if they ever actually read their peers’ work and merely have a list of bland, useless comments that can easily apply to any written work, or as people who spend their time rubbing their toes on others’ property and rummaging through Rick’s medicine cabinet when he’s not looking, and who drunk text their lovers at 2:34 in the morning while standing outside Rick’s house and wondering why Marsha’s car is there, or as the sort of people who deliberately loan you their sunglasses when they have pinkeye and leave their beard shavings in your glove compartment.

It was not my intention to portray writers this way, but I can understand why some readers might think that I had such an agenda in mind.

While I’m at it, my lawyers inform me I should apologize for my portrayal of historians. Any interpretation of historians, based on this blog, as resentful, conceited, pretentious, hyper-liberal anti-social Harvard rejects who hate their countries and take pleasure in reducing anybody’s joy in holidays to a crime against humanity and who spend their free time burning copies of the U.S. Constitution in their backyards in their underwear in a massive green cloud of pot smoke, is merely a misunderstanding.

As always, I thank you for your concerns about my portrayal of people on this blog.

-jk

60 Things to Do Instead of Shopping on Black Friday

Birds

 

  1. Sleep in and eat a breakfast of turkey sandwiches from last night’s Thanksgiving dinner.
  2. Go for a walk around the block.
  3. Ruminate upon the life the turkey you ate for breakfast must have lived and decide the turkey was named Phyllis.
  4. Feel disappointed that the air is not as cool as you remembered in childhood in a quaint New England village and wonder if the consumption of turkey is involved in the warmer temperature; decide that it is not and keep walking.
  5. Read your favorite novel.
  6. Write your favorite novel.
  7. Write your friends’ favorite novel.
  8. Rake the leaves in the yard.
  9. Take a nap.
  10. Try yoga.
  11. For those already practicing yoga, try being a couch potato.
  12. Play a board game with your family.
  13. Donate to a charity.
  14. Write to your governor (about anything, guns, refugees, mashed potatoes)
  15. Volunteer at a refugee center.
  16. Make a really excellent quesadilla.
  17. Make a really horrible quesadilla and vow to do better next time.
  18. Try peyote.
  19. Put off your novel for next November.
  20. Pet your dog.
  21. Pet your neighbor’s dog.
  22. Have a philosophical conversation with your neighbor’s dog after the peyote kicks in.
  23. Adopt a dog.
  24. Adopt a highway.
  25. Clean up trash on somebody else’s adopted highway because Troop 1620 just isn’t pulling their weight.
  26. Plant a tree.
  27. Hug a tree.
  28. Apologize to a tree because the peyote is still doing its thing.
  29. Have a face-to-face conversation with your neighbor.
  30. Learn how to have a face-to-face conversation after spending several minutes staring at your neighbor’s face looking for the “like” button.
  31. Eat another sandwich made from Phyllis’s leftovers.
  32. Clean the kitchen.
  33. If you cooked Thanksgiving dinner last night, tell your in-laws to clean the kitchen but micromanage from the side.
  34. Find a special on the History Channel about Thanksgiving.
  35. Tally up every historical inaccuracy in the History Channel’s Thanksgiving special. Trust me, this is fun.
  36. Research the actual history of Thanksgiving. Trust me, this is depressing.
  37. Go for a hike in the country’s last remaining wilderness, but not after researching the history of Thanksgiving. Knowing whose land you’re traversing is also depressing.
  38. Have a conversation with your family.
  39. If the conversation does not last more than thirty seconds, have a conversation with your family about politics or religion.
  40. Go through your closet and look at where your clothes were made.
  41. Wonder how many children were involved in making your clothes. Cry.
  42. Take a selfie and put it on the Internet with forty-seven hashtags; when nobody likes it, passive aggressively like everything posted by all your online friends. Cry.
  43. Wrap yourself in the fear that digital isolation will engulf you forever. Drink.
  44. Throw your phone against the wall and break it, but don’t look at sales for a new phone.
  45. Delete all your social media accounts in a frenzied attempt to purge your soul of online superficiality, then regret it ten minutes later. Drink or cry; either one works here.
  46. In picking up the carcass of your phone, realize that it too was made by sweatshop labor.
  47. In a panic-induced rage, tally up the countries all your products were made in, pin them on a globe, then despondently spin the globe.
  48. Eat more turkey.
  49. Realize that global capitalism is a machine that chews up human dignity by forcing the participation of all members of society through its universal institutionalization over the past five hundred years into every aspect of culture, religion, and language, and has imprisoned millions in an inescapable superstructure that will devour all that is beautiful from the world in the last few remaining decades of human existence, leading you to the epiphany that the very holiday of Thanksgiving was just the beginning of consumer culture in America, pitting puritanical fundamentalists against innocent indigenous populations in survivalist competition and setting off a continual narrative of colonialism, imperialism, and consumerism.
  50. Burn down your house. Cry and drink.
  51. Wish you still had some peyote left.
  52. Accept the firefighters’ invitation to join them for dinner.
  53. Give your last remaining dollar bills to a veteran in need.
  54. Observe the camaraderie of firefighters convivially eating leftovers.
  55. Find that the only remaining products inside your house are a guitar and the last slice of pumpkin pie.
  56. Pick up the guitar and strum a few chords as the sun sets and your neighbors walk their dogs, who give you strange looks as they pass you on the street.
  57. Realize that reactionary property destruction is an insufficient coping mechanism. Crying and alcohol and peyote are also insufficient, though understandable.
  58. Walk down your street strumming your guitar late into the night beneath the stars. Proceed to be overcome by the beauty of the moment for ten to twelve sweet minutes of peace.
  59.  Recognize that you are still connected by art to the human spirit across time and space (despite the mechanical oppression of corporate power struggles played out upon your very body through the food you eat and clothes you wear).
  60. Be thankful that American history is not just a pattern of consumerist oppression but also of communal unity, from Native American resistance movements to the Montgomery Bus Boycott to the unpublicized heroism of the decisions made by thousands of people on a daily basis to count their worth in friendship, creativity, and community, and not in cheap, unneeded products on sale for crazy-low prices. Crying is optional (but recommended) here.

-jk

After Two Years of Blogging, Your Guess is Still as Good as Mine

toastWordPress reminded me that today is my two-year blogiversary. I missed last year’s for the obvious reasons (grad school applications, Macbeth, mud wrestling, etc.). Today, though, I slide two years into the past when I was surrounded by the mess of my education: Beloved, essays on the Holocaust, a textbook on linguistics,¬†The Outlaw Bible of American Poetry, and drafts of my own poetry. The liberal arts defined my life, but lacked definition; in a confused fervor I wrote my first blog post asking simply, why get a liberal education in the first place?

Two years have gone by. I created this blog to explore the liberal arts generally, the life of a wannabe writer specifically. At varying times, it has served as an open journal, editorial, bully pulpit, and archive of my writing. I started out posting short vignettes satirizing myself as a freshman, but moved on to better creative writing, philosophy, travelogues, history, and humor. If my blog feels eclectic, it’s only because my brain is eclectic. I move rapidly from Steinbeck to colonial Egypt to writing a short story. This blog is one part journal, one part art, and one part scholarship, with three extra parts marked “miscellaneous.” I strive to make sure no two posts are alike, which may be a bad idea when blogging is supposed to be about consistency and ritual, two qualities I lack.

I’ve explored numerous moments in my life on this blog: I mourned Pete Seeger, challenged myself to write a poem every day each April, founded a photography business, announced publications, had breakfast in Ireland, lunch in Jerome, dinner in Wisconsin, went to my first big fancy writing conference, broke up with my hometown of twenty years for graduate school in Nebraska.

For the most part, though, I’ve read, and written about what I read, and read what others wrote about what I wrote about what I read. An endless reading list is the bedrock of any good liberal education.

Liberal Education

On this blog, I’ve also reached many half-baked conclusions, but one thing has remained clear post after post: a good liberal education is worthless if it stays inside the classroom. Sitting around reading and writing is no way to be a writer, if it’s all I do. I have to experiment with baking or acting, work for a charity, travel, read for a literary journal. I should traverse the gridlock of cities, the innards of bars, the vast organs of campsites. My blog may be ineffectively unconventional; the only binding theme is the continual mess of my lifelong education and my desire to be a writer. But I know blogging has made me a better writer, a more considerate reader, a more confident thinker. It’s been an eclectic two years. I hope the next two will be even more eclectic.

jk

Why a liberal education? Your guess is as good as mine, and I mean that. If you’re engaged in the liberal arts, especially outside of academia, let me know in the comments what you study or write or create, and why.

-jk

Who’s Afraid of Creative Nonfiction?

trail

I’m pleased to announce that my creative nonfiction essay “Connecting the Dots” has been published in the Fall 2015 edition of Away. I also have the pleasure of announcing two additional publications, one poem and one nonfiction essay, forthcoming in Spring through NAU, but those will get their own post when the time comes.

This publication marks several firsts for me: the first nonfiction publication, the first piece that was workshopped heavily in a creative writing class, and the first time I’ve worried about how my audience will react. Creative nonfiction is difficult to write; unlike fiction, in which I can distance myself from the conflicts through artificial characters and situations, nonfiction requires me to place my own life under the lens. And now I have two nonfiction essays about to circulate. One is a love story; the other is about a moment in my life when I came close to committing suicide.

Nevertheless, labeling something nonfiction lends an air of authority to the subject. I can claim responsibility for my actions and thoughts more concretely, and thereby claim more certainty in how I articulate my understanding of the truth. I’m proud of this publication, and I’d be honored if any and all read “Connecting the Dots” as well as the other great nonfiction essays in Away.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got more writing to do.

-jk

P.S. While writing this essay, I listened to Bizet’s Menuet from his L’Arlesienne Suite No. 2, which I reference directly in the essay; “All is Well” by one of my best friends Ryan Biter, which encompassed what I felt at the time; and Chateau Lobby # 4 (In C for Two Virgins), by Father John Misty, for no particularly special reason whatsoever.