This area around Cliff House is the setting of Jack London’s post-apocalyptic novel, The Scarlet Plague.
Haven’t really left the apartment all that much in the last week. Instead of reading for the class I’m teaching online, I’ve read:
A Visit From the Good Squad by Jennifer Egan.
The Emigrants by WG Sebald
Super Sad True Love Story by Gary Shteyngart
Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman by Haruki Murakami
And just starting Open City by Teju Cole, which is starting out really good.
“Knife after knife was plunged into the poor author. It was hideous, the utter collapse of his hopes. One after another his protests were beaten down unmercifully, so that he sat silently, scarcely daring to speak. ‘But the things you say are bad spring from faults inherent in my temperament!’ he finally cried desperately. ‘How can I correct them?’ There was a silence that lasted several seconds.”
—From “Flaubert and Madame Bovary,” Francis Steegmuller. This is Flaubert getting raked over the coals for an early draft of “The Temptation of St. Anthony.”
“To ‘become known’ is not my chief concern—that can afford complete satisfaction only to very mediocre vanities. And besides, can celebrity be considered proof positive of the value of one’s work? Even the most widespread fame during one’s lifetime may not suffice to endure afterwards, and seldom can anyone but a fool be sure of posthumous glory. Thus even to one’s self illustriousness is no proof that one has accomplished great things, and obscurity no proof that one has not. I am aiming at something better—to please myself. Success seems to me a result, not an end in itself…When I think that I have gathered the fruit of my efforts I shall not refuse to sell it, and I shall not forbid applause if it is good. If on the other hand when it is gathered no one wants it, that can’t be helped…If a work of art is good, if it is authentic, it will be recognized some time—and if one has to wait for recognition six months of six years until after one’s death, what’s the difference?”
—Gustave Flaubert in a letter to his editor/friend Maxime Du Camp
Me standing next to Jack London’s and Charmian London’s grave. Glen Ellen, California. He’s under the rock.
Left Singapore at 8:10am Saturday and arrived at SFO at 10:45am on Saturday. How can I be so tired if I only traveled two and a half hours?
Back in California, where we drive on the correct side of the road, and where I’m in less danger of looking the wrong way and being struck by a car. It’s nice to be back, even though the workload doesn’t let up for the next few weeks. I’m writing class evaluations for my students, getting to know the next batch of online students, and writing course descriptions for new work. All of a sudden there’s no time to read for myself (although I don’t really get paid to read for myself). I’m also not sure which writing project I should be working on right now, if I were writing.
There’s a ton of Singapore photos that haven’t gone up yet.
bronspix said: love yr blog, the pics & journ entries - what r yr biggest influences: writers, music, poets and art wise? Would have asked on yr blog but it didn’t seem to work. Have a great day:) rgds Bronwyn
My desk. Current books, neglected writing on the computer, favorite lamp from college, keys.
Waited two hours for the student dentist at UCSF, which was fine, considering how long they’ve been waiting for me; this was a long overdue visit. The good news is that my mouth is not rotting from the inside out, but I’m going to have to get my wisdom teeth yanked at some point, and they’re talking braces because one of my lower teeth is rotating in socket because the molars are pushing on everything forward.
I still don’t know what I’m writing. I’m teaching literary technique and craft, and every time I post something I feel guilty about not applying my advice to my own writing. Instead, I’ve continued the reading I started in the spring. Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy is a great fantasy if you’re suffering institutional resentment and lack of inertia, but it hasn’t inspired me to pick up my abandoned American Indian spy novel. I’ve also been reading a lot of short fiction. I read Junot Diaz’s latest stories in the New Yorker, and I wonder how he’s able to slip the exact same story by the editors time and time again.
It’s very difficult to write from this position, and very few good books have been written because the author has needed a credential. In a more idealistic part of my life, I believed that my work should be completely divorced from trifling concerns like making a living, but I find it difficult to move on with my career without publishing, and difficult to read the Times and see reviews for books written by friends (and enemies) and not feel the pressure to produce and produce yesterday. At this point, it’s not about being a famous writer (a laughable prospect, I know); it’s about being a competent storyteller.
I’m headed home to Minnesota for a couple of weeks in August, and along with my mother and brothers, will receive my Ojibwe name from an elder. Like the going to the dentist or finishing the novel, it’s long overdue. My mother seems to believe that it will bring us closer to the community (even if I’m out of its orbit in California), that it will answer certain existential questions that we have. I hope she’s right. I think it’s significant to get a name at the end of my youth, and maybe that means something, to go forward with a new name in the old language.
Anyways, cheers to taking care of things that were supposed to be done long ago.
Whenever I spend the day reading, I have an urge to gossip with real people about what fictional characters were up to. I usually keep it to myself.
Went to UCSF School o’ Dentistry to get my teeth x-rayed for next week’s comprehensive visit. As he threw the lead apron over my chest, the technician asked me where I was from. I told him, and he said that he was from Minnesota, too. I asked him where, and he did that thing where he mentions the big city first, and then almost apologetically because you’ve probably not heard of it: “Apple Valley.” No way! Did you go to AVHS? No way! You were in speech? No way! The tech graduated in 2006, which made me feel old (‘99!). So we tried to bond over our shared hometown, except this was difficult because most of the time I had huge plastic sensors jammed into the back of my mouth. “Wow, you still have your wisdom teeth?” he said from behind the safety glass. “Mine are out. I’m sure you’re glad you know. The things that we talk about!” He seemed anxious the way I would be anxious teaching class when I was 24, his age now. When the x-rays were done (confirming my 3rd molars are growing in sideways, proving I have a big mouth) we shook hands and I left. It doesn’t happen very often, two people from the exact same hometown, but I was just getting my teeth x-rayed, and as much as we would have liked to chat, the task was complete. I guess when you run into connections with the world outside, they can turn out to be rather mundane. Still fun when it happens.
I walked down Judah and wandered into Great Overland Book Company. The poets usually read there, but I’d never gone to see them, so this was my first time inside. I spent almost an hour browsing. This happens to me in all types of stores—the grocery store, book store, video store (when they existed). I’ll just fall into a trance, wander aimlessly, and come out with one thing, maybe two items, maybe nothing. This time I came out of the bookshop with George V. Higgins’ “The Friends of Eddie Coyle,” which reads just like the movie, but without the visuals of the movie, and without Peter Boyle and Robert Mitchum.
At Dash, I finished “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy,” and requested the sequel from the library. I think I understand what happened. I think I preferred living in the world of the book to the actual plot.
I was in a routine despair jag over the state of my writing when I was tagged in a Facebook post by one of my former creative writing students from Cornell. He quoted something from class, and I guess I said it: “Remember your favorite book, and remember that you’re trying to write someone else’s favorite book.” I guess I said it? I’ll take it. The exact wording was probably way more profound and articulate (yup), but that’s what I meant.
I wanted to write a book that an outsider like me would carry in a coat pocket, or a backpack, and always have it ready. I still do.
The old bookstore clerk said it was the best combination of books all day. Yay to dubious accomplishment! And to cheapie mass market paperbacks.