martedì, febbraio 09, 2016

Anche tu, Jhumpa? (Jhumpa Lahiri loves Italy)

Jhumpa Lahiri has somehow read my thoughts – and my diary. Yikes! 

She doesn’t just love Italy. She lurves it. Like me. The Pulitzer Prize winning author has taken the almost unprecedented step of ceasing to write in English, the language of the works that catapulted her to success, and instead has begun a new literary career in Italian. She does so because, as she’s admitted in many interviews, she’s become obsessed with Italian, and feels almost ill whenever she must be away from Italy.

O, guarda, Jhumpa, anch’io. Me, too. I’ve already confessed as much in an essay published last year on Catapult. I think crying over Italy after you drop your son off at daycare qualifies as some kind of illness. Who knew I had such august company?

Today’s the official launch day for her new memoir, In Other Words, written in English and Italian (or rather I should say, written in Italian, her Italian, and then translated into English). I don’t have my copy yet but I’m reading an excerpt of it in the Italian literary magazine Nuovi Argomenti, and that’s just fine with me. I’m not sure I really need to read the English version, right?

Nonetheless, certain words from Ann Goldstein’s translation stand out. In The New Yorker excerpt of the work, Lahiri says she “felt a sense of rapture” in Rome. Yep, rapture, check.

Here’s what she’s in for the rest of her life:

When I returned briefly to Rome last year, I quickly realized I had paid for the Nostalgia Tour. 

I spent five days retracing my steps. I stumbled into a tiny piazza and stumbled back nearly 20 years to a weekend getaway to the Eternal City – my first with my partner. I looked up at the street sign – Piazza San Pantaleo – and my mind, photographic for things like street names and addresses and the dates important moments happened – recalled instantly that we had stayed maybe two nights at a small pensione on the piazza. Two nights or a lifetime.

I revisited old stomping grounds like Campo dei Fiori and the Pantheon, taking the temperature of the city. Eavesdropping on conversations, watching the interactions between the barista and the regulars at the coffee bar. Listening along with the taxi driver to the Juventus game on the radio, and returning his smile in the rear view mirror as he pumped his fist over the key goal. Looking in the shop windows, including the pharmacy, hoping to find the house shoes I used to wear when I lived in Italy. 

Observing with a loving glance Italian children, shouting out commands and observations to their mothers while they lick gelato and haul their heavy backpacks home from school (“Oh! Mamma! Vieni qui!”)

Then returning from Italy and your mind is already bifurcated, split down the middle between Italian and English. Forever translating. Get used to it (she probably already has).

She’ll forever be tethered to Italy. Wishing she was “there” while failing to make the most of her time “here.” A creative tension, to be sure, but one full of heartache.

Rapture, indeed, Jhumpa. We’re in for it.

lunedì, febbraio 08, 2016

Fall arrives 'via FedEx' (Lost diary entry)

From my diary:

Sept. 24, 2014 

Nothing comes gradually anymore. I say this as fall appears to have arrived in Atlanta via FedEx, rather than snail mail.

venerdì, febbraio 05, 2016

From my Bennington journal

Nostalgia is a kind of fictionalization. We're often nostalgic for things that never happened.

(Mark Wunderlich lecture)


If you've ever cried while reading a book, it was probably because of a period.

All creative writing is about silence.

(Mark Slouka on the use of silence in writing)

venerdì, gennaio 29, 2016

giovedì, gennaio 28, 2016

Talky Time

Try hard (very hard!) to remain firm when your toddler tells you that instead of quiet time, he'd prefer "talky time."

And he happens to pronounce the words "talky time" in a way that instantly supersedes every funny thing you've ever heard.

mercoledì, gennaio 20, 2016

What I'm reading (for the next five months)

Here's my reading list for my final term in Bennington's MFA program for giggles... 

(Note, it's half the length of a normal term's reading list because we're writing our theses and preparing a public lecture in the final term)

1…Dante Alighieri, Inferno
2…Jane Austen, Sense and Sensibility or Emma
3…James Baldwin, Notes of A Native Son or Nobody Knows My Name
4…Roberto Bolano, By Night In Chile (novella)
5…J.L. Carr, A Month in the Country
6…Raymond Carver, What We Talk About When We Talk About Love
7…Junot Diaz, Drown
8…Flaubert, Madame Bovary
9…Mavis Gallant, Paris Stories
10..Marie Howe, In the Kingdom of Ordinary Time (poetry)
11..Denis Johnson, Jesus’ Son
12..Denis Johnson, Incognito Lounge (poetry)
13..Jamaica Kincaid, Annie John
14..Antonya Nelson (still need to decide which one...suggestions?)
15..Muriel Spark, Public Image

domenica, gennaio 17, 2016

We get to illuminate the human condition

Novelist Charles Bock came to speak at Bennington during the Winter residency.

And he leveled with us about hard it is to produce a novel, to find time to write along with all of the other responsibilities life has assigned us.

And then he said, but you know what? It's not really that hard. It's not that bad of a trade.

Because we get to illuminate the human condition.

Well, sure, when you put it that way, yeah, it's okay. It's more than okay.

venerdì, gennaio 15, 2016

Lost entry from the Leo Journal

From a diary entry, last October, uncovered here at Bennington, while I have some time to review and revise:

“I have a story to tell you.” 

Isn’t that one of the most joyful statements one can hear? Oh fantastic, I think, a story.

But it's gets better. Because in this case, it’s Leo who has made this announcement.

I'd told him I needed to go fetch something from the bedroom, and that was when he said it.

"When you come back, I have a story to tell you."

And when I came back, he said, "Once upon a time, there were five tigers..."

He's now going to tell *us* stories. 

It does not matter that he then said the five tigers were going to eat other tigers and then thought better of the idea (he's already learning to revise). 

He’s beginning to tell stories, hovering as he is between three and four years of age. 

Oh the places he will go with those stories! (Cliché, cliché...but nonetheless a true sentiment).

lunedì, gennaio 11, 2016

At Bennington

Went swimming. Has nothing to do with writing. Nothing and everything.

Because it's a way of seeing new things, especially when you swim somewhere you've never been.

And it's intense. Plunge your head under water for 30 minutes.

Intense isolation in the purest, most gorgeous form. Sounds like writing, no?

Plus I went swimming with Daryln from Western Pennsylvania, something I only do at Bennington.

So many things I only do at Bennington, where I'm enrolled in the Bennington Writing Seminars' MFA program.

Like consuming the writing equivalent of a Thanksgiving feast -- every day.

Wake up and write. That's my routine wherever I go now.

But here at Bennington, I wake up to the silence of rural Vermont, so thick it feels eternal. I look out the window at campus, marvel at the opportunity I've been given, the opportunity I've seized, and I get to work.

Then breakfast, and I'm off. We're all off -- to a day of student lectures, and a master class, and later workshops, followed by a craft session, maybe and then student readings, and eventually faculty readings and more student readings. Each segment soldered to the next by conversations you have along the way.

Conversations and writing swapped and tips shared and books recommended, all around.

Went swimming this morning.

I lose myself in the strokes, and then I leave the pool, and since I'm at Bennington, I return to my room to lose myself in the writing.