A Helpful Prescription

John Jeremiah Sullivan has a lovely, generous answer to a query from someone who worries (with good reason!) about his literary ignorance. Some highlights: “Don’t fall for the inferiority/superiority racket. We’re not on a ladder here. We’re on a web…That feeling you’re having is culture.” (!) Also: “It’s not the where-you-start so much as the that-you-don’t-stop.”

Zadie Smith Reading Programme

I learned the other night, again, that I don’t know anything about literature.

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On New Year’s Day, Everyone’s On a Diet

When I met William three years ago, he reminded me of Francis Tarwater, the protagonist of the Flannery O’Connor novel The Violent Bear It Away, which I was reading that fall.  Tarwater is raised in the woods by his great-uncle, a superstitious Christian who believes Tarwater will grow up to be a prophet.  When the old man dies, Tarwater must re-enter society after being sequestered in the woods for most of his life, and he’s terrified.  He trusts no one.

The first day William showed up to my class, he took a seat near the window and slouched down in his seat.  From here, he could see the Brevoort Houses, where he lived.  He had covered the front of his notebook with the word Brevoort and the name of a well-known Brevoort crime syndicate.  His feline face was stony.  In crossing the street to come to school,  he’d entered enemy territory.

We soon learned that William was merry and affable, that when he trusted you, he loved you.  Continue reading

It’s Everywhere

I had coffee yesterday with a student of mine who just graduated—she’s off to college upstate in a few days.  (Does this make her my student emeritus?)  She’s a lovely, poised, sincere girl named Olivia.  I had planned to give her the “Lady Goes to College” talk: Don’t let anyone hand you a drink, don’t drink to get drunk, always walk home with your girls, if a boy says it’s too cold to walk back to his dorm from yours, don’t buy it, etc.  Olivia turned out to be—as I suspected—quite level-headed and informed about all of it, and she claims she doesn’t even like to drink.  (!)

Then we started talking about sexual harassment.  This, it seemed, wasn’t something she would be able to avoid, like getting falling-down drunk and waking up under a coffee table.  Continue reading

Hi again!

Sigh.  Apologies for updating this so rarely.  I wonder if, like Meghan Daum, I am just not a blogger.  I’ve been writing (though not as much as I should, or certainly as I’d like), but it’s all short stories.  And long stories.  I’ve got five or six on burners and more stashed in files, hibernating.

And I’ve been busy.

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Scenes at a Museum

Scene 1:

I never thought I’d be listening to Karen Finley talk about her “twat” in the context of a museum field trip, with 14-year-olds.

In the “Looking at Music 3.0” exhibit at MoMA this afternoon, Corey says, all jumpy, “Claire!  You gotta come listen to something!”

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Say What

Well, fuck me.  Somebody went and found some rabbits up in here.

This morning, I’m surveying a room of 26 teenagers in the half-light, bent over their paperbacks, sustaining their silent reading.  Some of them have chosen well – a juicy YA romance here, Twilight there – and a few struggle nobly, having erred and plucked the random Kafka or Camus from the pile.  No one talks, no one sleeps.  This is what it’s like the first day: no fast moves.

And Kellye Washington walks in.  Kellye Washington!  The most defiant, flinty student I have ever taught! (See previous entry.)  My blood turns to ice.  I play it cool.

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