April 16, 2015 § Leave a comment
We’ve got a very special Jokealong today: the #AWP15 edition. Last week, the Twin Cities were lucky enough to host writers, editors, publisher, and professors from across the globe for the 49th annual Association of Writers & Writers & Writing Programs Conference. If you’ve never been, it is a blast, and you can get a feel for the general atmosphere in this New Yorker Recap.
With it in my hometown, this was the first year I wasn’t overly distracted by the tourist sights and culinary delights of the host city, and I managed to stay on task for most of the conference, spending lots of time in the book fair selling chapbooks and meeting authors while working the Red Bird table, as well as taking daily laps of the other tables were I gained a ton of cool books, journals, and new acquaintances.
That said, I didn’t really hit the panels like I used to. While I feel there is always a lot more to learn about craft for a writer at any point in their career, I am not convinced you can learn much about writing from a fifteen minute speech followed by a Q&A. Reading, writing, and reading again feels like a better use of time to me. Worse still are the panels about the secret to this or that aspect of the business. If there is a secret, no one is going to tell it to a room full of a hundred twittering writers, but the confused and contradictory accounts of success only make it clear that no one really knows what they are doing. If there is a joke to be found in these sorts of panels, it is that the only secret to success is pretending that there is one and you know it.
So I went in search of panels that would instead entertain and inspire me—and that’s where I found the bets jokes, too!
One of the funniest moments came as part of Keri Miller’s interview of Charles Baxter and Louise Erdrich for a special Talking Volumes. I love both of these authors, and it was great to hear their wisdom and insights on everything ranging from craft to the midwestern landscape, but the real laughs came when they tried a few different recitations from memory: despite the fact that they both listed the Bible as an early education in the importance of story, both had an easier time remembering bad reviews, word for word, than any psalm.
The biggest laughs of the conference, for me at least, came in the awesome panel Rain Taxi put on about hip-hop and poetry, making good use of our local luminaries POS, Dessa, and Kevin Beacham, along with poet Adrian Matejka. Highlights included Eric Lorberer quizing the panels on whether certain lines came from rap or page based poetry, but POS was responsible for most of the big laughs (which I never would have guessed, listening to his mostly punchline-free music). It was great to know that he shares an affinity for another one of MN’s most famous word-smiths, F. Scott Fitzgerald, especially once he revealed the secret to overcoming his early distaste for the author: a friend told him to read it again and imagine Gatsby was black.
My favorite moments came, though, as he looked through the rapgenius.com exegeses for several of his lyrics. One of the best was his line “Who really listens? Precision with a verse draws a crowd,” from “Let It Rattle”. A commenter wrote that the line is, “A commentary on the fact that most people don’t understand the meaning behind the words, they are only interested in the rhymes and whether or not it sounds good,” which POS explained he was flattered by, though all he’d actually meant by the line was that he was great at rapping so lots of people came to his concerts. In a conference dedicated to dissecting every little aspect of a business that really just comes down to whether you are actually writing or not, it was the perfect bit of levity.
That said, I know I didn’t hear a hundredth of the jokes that were told by and about writers at the conference, so please relive the fun and post your favorites below—jokes about Minnesota and Minnesotans are especially welcome.
June 18, 2012 § 1 Comment
I thought I’d take this week off from theorizing to share some of my own work, especially for all my friendly readers out there who aren’t from the Twin Cities and can’t make it to the reading I am taking part in this Wednesday.
I’ll be reading the first few pages of my first novel, Half Drunk, for which I’m currently seeking a publisher or representation. This opening section is titled “Free View” for metaphysical reasons, but it works as a title for this post as well. Here it is, your free sneak peak at Half Drunk. Thanks for reading!
Simon is still half asleep when he hops onto his bicycle and into the street. He’s barely conscious of the reason his alarm went off earlier than it ever has before but makes a smooth right into an alley and an easy left at the other end, comfortable enough with St. Paul geography to find Summit Avenue’s bike lane after nearly getting lost on his way out of the shower just five minutes earlier.
As his hair dries into a lucky mess of blonde wisps, he watches the night sky, still black behind him, turning purple over downtown. Accelerating towards this dawn, he tongues his teeth for the taste of mint. He can’t remember if he remembered to brush; awake at this hour for the first time in years, all he can think of are all those long nights when the rising sun seemed like the only thing that could blur him to sleep.
He tells himself he is different now, and as proof, when the sun bulges over the horizon like the pit of a halved peach, he becomes more alert to his life instead of slipping deeper into senselessness. He is celebrating today—he finally fully remembers—with an eight-hour bike route that doesn’t officially begin until he reaches the opposite end of the High Bridge.
This is his warm-up ride, a mostly downhill glide through the outskirts of downtown, which at dawn are crowded only by parked cars. Shadows of fruit flesh fade to bright blue morning on their westward route over his head, but Simon keeps his eyes down to watch the street lines shiver back and forth beneath his front wheel.
The bridge follows a slight incline over the Mississippi River, and he exerts himself enough to actually feel awake by the time he dismounts in the two-bench sliver of a park on the opposite end’s bluff. Simon always starts his recreational rides here: the best view of downtown St. Paul you can find for free. With the bike’s frame resting against his hip, he has an overview of everywhere he is about to ride.
He tries to squint the whole panorama in from under the shade of his palm as some skyscrapers give off the smooth green glow of an antique coke bottle and others pop with cop-shade glare. On the left, the grey and gold dome of the Cathedral of Saint Paul tops a leafy hill, while to the right, downtown rises in more jagged peaks. With the world waking to his eyes, cars start to grumble past Simon and onto the bridge. As they shrink into the city, he imagines himself beside them, a precious model of his bicycle scurrying between skyscrapers.
If he thinks back to a similar but less ambitious ride he took to commemorate his 24th birthday two weeks earlier, he can picture each of the streets below from the inside out. Buildings pass beside and then waver above him, and the Mississippi—its smell, sound, and calmer air—flows up the banks and through the blocks by subtle degrees. But he can (and sometimes does) imagine these rides street-by-street while alone in bed; he crosses the High Bridge so he can see it all at once and imagine himself as the magic-marker on a map. Miniscule again, but large enough to be everywhere, he chugs up a hill towards the Xcel Hockey Arena while, blocks away, another one of him coasts hands-free down a soft decline to squirt water in his mouth.
It’s a fleeting satisfaction, pretending his eyes are already everywhere he is going to be, because Simon only has to look at the hills to the left of the bridge to lose the illusion that his city is an open map; every street—and nearly all of the houses and brownstones that line them—are hidden by the trees that climb through St. Paul’s residential neighborhoods.
If Simon could cut through the leaves like one of the sunbeams that find those distant streets from over his shoulder, he could see all the houses ignited by this morning’s light instead of in the hazy noon through which he will ride past them. If this distant vision were as good as being there (as he pretends it is), he would watch them buzzing awake instead of empty and waiting. And he might even have the luck to see Diana Sundergaard getting ready to leave for the day.
Not that he’d recognize Diana; she’s new to the Twin Cities and, having moved in to her older brothers’ skinny, blue house a little over a week ago, she hasn’t been much of anywhere besides a few hipster bars. But Simon would surely notice Diana as she leaves through the backdoor, blonde braids shining after a shower. As she takes her antique, three-speed beach cruiser from the garage, he’d wonder if she actually were somehow prettier than BB, the girl he assumes will always be the only girl he will ever love. He’d silently watch Diana push off into the street and imagine meeting her, falling in love, and growing old together—all without actually doing anything to stop her from riding away.
Diana only makes it half a block before her feet spin off the pedals, though. She walks the bike back home and wrestles it into the screened porch to find her oldest brother smoking a cigarette on the couch. She’s only half surprised, but curses anyway: “Shit, Burt, I thought you were up in the attic.”
Picking the can with PBR still in it from his collection of empties on the coffee table, he asks, “How in the hell can you get up this early after all that beer last night?”
She stands the bike up in front of him and pulls the chain back onto the big sprocket. “How the hell can you stay up all night after drinking all that beer?”
“I felt inspired, so I sat up to write some songs.”
She looks around the porch. “Don’t you usually need a guitar or paper for that?”
“A lesser genius than myself might.” He shrugs as he drops the cigarette into one of the empty cans. “Seriously, what the hell are you doing up so early?”
“I’m going to go explore for some ‘Now Hiring’ signs,” she says and looks down at the grease on her hands. “I’ll come back with a grip of applications, and you, Geoff, and Marley can tell me which ones are worth filling out.”`
Burt always wears V-neck undershirts that are as thin and grey as a page from the sort of old book it takes a whole summer to read. As she finishes explaining her plans, she rubs the grease down his chest, and even though it is a barely noticeable addition to the week’s worth of grime already there, he slaps her away. “What the fuck?”
“To ensure that you’ll do laundry tonight,” she says and sits down next to him to dig through her messenger-bag. “Damn chain has got me stressed, though. I don’t want to apply for jobs covered in grease.”
Burt looks up from his shirt, annoyed that the subject has changed from how annoyed he is, but Diana has a special smile—tongue twisted sideways between her teeth— that she uses to disarm him. “Yeah, you look awful,” he says and reaches for the pack of cigarettes, but she stops his hand with a glass pipe packed full of marijuana.
“Come on, let’s smoke this instead. It’ll help me start my day in a better mood, and it will help you finally get to sleep.”
Of course, Simon misses all of this. He can’t see through trees or walls or miles, just like he can’t see into the future. He can’t see over the hill to the side of St. Paul that borders Minneapolis, and he can’t see this afternoon, where and when he’ll meet Diana on a bridge over the Mississippi. If he could, he’d probably stay on this hill, watching himself go nowhere.
Thankfully, Simon can only see these trees and this morning, so while Diana shares a toke and some of her smile with Burt, he gapes at the city’s whole blur until summer spreads fully across the empty sky and the haze of last night is burnt completely off the back of his brain. When he turns around, the sun is bright enough to bring tears out of his eyes, high enough over the horizon for it to officially feel like a whole new day.
Monday, July 6th, and Simon Creek has been sober for two whole years.
He cuffs his jeans with one big fold that reaches up past his knees, mounts his bike, and begins to coast down the bridge, into each street and moment, one after another.