Today, I read that George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four is coming to Broadway. Man, just think of the musical possibilities: Come for the angst of Winston Smith journaling while singing “The Minitrue
Over the weekend, we “discovered” a British series, Blandings, based on the works of P.G. Wodehouse, specifically his Blandings Castle novels and stories. It centers on the estate of Lord Clarence Emsworth, the silly family members who refuse to leave him to raising his pig, and a rotating roster of amusing characters.
In case you don’t know me, or if you’ve never been within hearing range of my voice, I’m an ardent fan of Wodehouse. If you haven’t read him, do so, and sooner than is convenient, if possible. If you ask me, he’s only one of the finest comic writers to ever scribble down words in the English language.
Of course, Jeeves and Wooster, starring Stephen Fry and Hugh Laurie, is the gold standard for Wodehouse-inspired fare, but Blandings is also damn good. It doesn’t hurt, of course, that the series stars Jennifer Saunders, but the rest of the cast ably inhabit the trademark Wodehouse characters: Timothy Spall is Lord Clarence Emsworth, Mark Williams is the staid butler Beach, and Jack Farthing is Emsworth’s flighty son Freddie Threepwood.
“Galápagos” was partly inspired by an article I read last year about Harriet, Charles Darwin’s Galápagos tortoise, who died in Australia in 2006. Yes, 2006.
The magazine will be available in print soon, but you can find the online issue here. (I’m on page 24.)
Check it out, lit-mongers. My poems “5/15/1984” and “Red Planet” are in the Summer 2015 issue of Flapperhouse.
I’m smack in the middle of reading my copy now, and as is always the case, there’s some excellent work in this issue. And I haven’t even gotten to my pieces.
(I’m on pages 39 and 40, by the by.)
Quite a few years ago, when I first read Stephen King’s On Writing, I thought about how great it would be to have as many rejection slips as him, the ones he talks about collecting in a desk drawer. Submit a story, get a rejection, into the drawer it goes, out goes another submission.
Eventually, the story is published and you can look back at all the publications foolish enough to pass on it, and you can smile. Or, I suppose, you could dance, call the rejecters to gloat, or even get drunk and make the slips into some kind of papier-mâché obelisk or light them into a glorious ceremonial pyre. Don’t rule anything out, is what I’m saying.
The point is, the rejections King is referring to are not only battle scars—they’re ribbons of valor. They are proof that he is a writer: He writes, submits, edits, toils, weeps, hyperventilates, re-works, re-submits, all the things a good hard-working writer does. And yes, as part of that process, he gets rejected.
There’s a catch, though. That romanticized notion of getting turned down as an emblem of paying writerly dues only holds for a while, at least when you’re not Stephen King. We all know King got published, became famous, and was eventually able to look back fondly on all those early rejections.
For the struggling writer, though, there’s no bright ending to look back from.
Rejection hurts, at least a little bit. It needs to hurt, in fact. If it doesn’t, maybe the things you’re sending out into the world aren’t especially dear to you.
My heart leaps up when I behold
A rainbow in the sky
Unless, of course, the day is hot,
In which case I’ll have found a spot
Indoors to keep me nice and cold
Or else I’ll die!
You might think me a lazy lot.
That’s as may be, but I’m the chap
Who’s having a cool, relaxing nap.
Every year is getting shorter, never seem to find the time
Plans that either come to naught or half a page of scribbled lines
I haven’t been here in a while, at least not to share anything of any real substance, and there’s a good reason: I haven’t made the time to write anything of any real substance.
Sure, I could say I haven’t had writing time because of teaching, planning lessons, editing, or binge-watching Parks and Recreation, The Daily Show and BBC’s Horrible Histories (seriously, if you haven’t checked those out, do so as soon as possible, but, you know, after you finish reading this piece), but that’s all just window dressing. The truth is I haven’t been making time to write.
Usually, I follow a statement like “I haven’t been making time to write” with “but that’s about to change,” sort of like the New Year’s resolutions that claim big changes are about to happen. I stopped making those pronouncements a long time ago, not that I think they’re pointless or silly but rather because I don’t think I need to say them. They’re clearly implied. The only major resolution that ever worked for me, by the way, was when I quit smoking sixteen years ago, and I’m pretty sure that happened in October.
Not making writing time, though–I’m not going to say that’s going to change.
But it is going to change. Stay tuned.
Your Christmas hello was delightful,
But the postscript it bore was most frightful.
You wrote—like a jerk—
“Season’s Greetings Won’t Work!”
And thus sounded bitter and spiteful.
“Happy Holidays” sets you complaining.
We get it, there’s no need explaining.
You’ve told us at length,
How this saps all your strength,
So please, hush, now, our patience is straining.
You seem to think you’re bound to please us,
While, in truth, we just hope you’ll release us.
It may seem quite bold,
But it’s grown rather old,
Your pedantically referencing Jesus.
Toward you, we feel nothing but deference,
When it comes to your religious preference,
But it seems rather pissy,
If you throw a right hissy,
When you hate someone’s holiday reference.
In the process of showing your ass,
And revealing a side that was crass,
There’s one tidbit you missed,
An unfortunate twist,
Now the world knows you’re lacking in class.
Please don’t think I’m laying a trap,
And I’m not trying to cause a big flap,
But, between you and me,
We all wish you’d take a long nap.
I take it all back, you’re the best,
It’s not in my nature to jest*,
We know you’re a rebel,
Such a trailblazing devil,
Don’t believe those who say you’re a pest.
Just kidding, there’s still some to tell.
I’ve one last true statement to sell.
It’s important to know this,
I’m at pains to help show this.
Your whines are annoying as hell.
*Full Disclosure: It is most definitely in my nature to jest. In fact, I do it almost exclusively.
Recently, I did an e-mail interview with a colleague’s student, talking about some of my thoughts on literature. I enjoyed the experience of writing the answers so much that I thought I’d include them here.
What is literature to you?
To me, literature is humanity. Whether it’s fiction or non-fiction, it contains the best and worst of everything we have done, our aspirations, mistakes, successes, hopes, dreams, our deepest darkest secrets. It’s a doorway into the past, a way for us to see not only how we’ve changed, but also how we’ve stayed the same. Literature is also philosophy, science, mathematics, music—you name it. If we’ve done it, it’s there. And the age old tradition of the story speaks to a need in all of us, that unbearable itch to be entertained. It’s really something that I think people should be more excited about than they seem to be, this access to other cultures, times, and places.
Why have you chosen to make literature your career?
Partly because of the appeals I’ve discussed above, but making it my career goes a bit further than that. First of all, I’ve been reading for longer than I can actually remember, so it was a natural fit on that level. Also, literature shouldn’t be something to slog through. That’s not to say it’s easy, nor should it be. In fact, sometimes the difficulty is part of the experience, but that doesn’t mean it has to be unpleasant. For instance, a poem can be enjoyed on a superficial level for its musicality, its use of metaphor, in the same way we might enjoy an excellent song on the radio. But approaching that poem analytically can help us become better at analyzing other things, at applying critical thinking. Does everyone like the same things? Nope, and that’s fine. But if you’re never exposed to a wide array of literature—things you may or may not have discovered on your own—who knows what you could be missing? That’s why I write, read, study, and teach literature, so I can be a part of helping others discover that power. Also, it’s fun.
What makes your favorite author, or authors, special to you?
I actually do have a favorite author, but I’ve only discovered this over years of consideration and elimination. Kurt Vonnegut is go-to writer because of his ability to use simple, conversational language to talk about incredibly complex topics. His works deal with everything from war, life as a prisoner of war, human evolution, the uncertain future of humanity, time travel, and the importance of love, just to name a few, and he does this all in simple prose that could easily be read by a third grader. But as I said before, his ideas are anything but simple. Vonnegut also effectively breaks two of the most widely accepted rules of fiction writing: never address the reader directly and never, ever write yourself into a story. How does he make it work? I wish I knew.
A few of my other favorite writers are Michael Chabon, Oscar Wilde, P.G. Wodehouse, Connie Willis, Jane Austen, and Neil Gaiman, in no particular order.
Why is the Victorian era a favorite of yours?
There’s an idea out there that the Victorians were a bunch of stuffy, repressed people with more problems than sense, and that’s somewhat true. But it’s also an unfair generalization, and it’s probably been the case for select folks in just about any era or culture. The reason I love the Victorian era of literature is because it comes out of one of the greatest periods of historical change: the power and influence of the British Empire and the beginnings of its decline. It’s also where we see some hugely important writings on social justice from John Stuart Mill, Christina Rossetti, and Charles Dickens. We have the Brontës, the poetry of the Brownings, the sensational fiction of Wilkie Collins, Arthur Conan Doyle gives us Sherlock Holmes, and H.G. Wells gives us, to a large extent, the origins of science fiction. The era has some of just about everything, in a literary sense. Oh, and it has Oscar Wilde, which is saying a lot.
Do you have a fall back piece of literature or possibly an author, something that acts as the equivalent of comfort food in book form. If so what is it and why?
Yes, I do, and I’ll refer back to one of my previous answers: Kurt Vonnegut. To me, sitting down with a Kurt Vonnegut book is like passing time with a friend, and when I read him, it’s as if he’s talking to just me, as if he came up with these brilliant insights and decided to share them with yours truly. My favorite work of his—also decided after multiple readings and lengthy deliberation–is Mother Night, a novel about an American playwright who agrees to pose as a Nazi propagandist during World War II and is subsequently tried for war crimes. Vonnegut writes that the “moral” of this story is that “We become what we pretend to be, so we must be careful what we pretend to be.” I’ve read this novel at least ten times, and now that I’m thinking about it, I’ll probably read it again. a close second for me, with respect to a work of literature I go back to again and again, would be John Irving’s A Prayer for Owen Meany.
Are you reading anything modern right now that you’d recommend?
I just finished Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. Flynn takes a standard genre trope, the missing wife and the guilty husband, and turns it right up on its ear. Gone Girl is anything but a cliché; in fact, it’s a nice, brilliantly written surprise. Next on my list is Gaiman’s The Ocean at the End of the Lane. I’ve been meaning to read it since it released, but I have yet to find time. Maybe this weekend, after I re-read Mother Night.
If there were one thing about literature you could share with the world, what would it be?
I’d probably tell everyone that literature is really, truly for everyone. Okay, that’s not an original thought, but it is one that needs to be shouted again and again and again, ad infinitum. Yes, we’ve all heard the truism that literature is an escape. It’s a truism for a reason, though, and not everyone realizes literature’s sheer power, either because they haven’t been properly exposed to it or have yet to find the thing that speaks to them on a deep, personal level. Give it a decent chance to win you over, I’d say.
– My wife, the beautiful Shannon Stanley Walker, because she is who she is, and she has decided to be who she is with me
– My dad, William Walker, who is here with us now
– Family and friends
– Carpe Diem Highlander Grog coffee, because if you’ve ever had it, you know why
– Comedy, because it gives me something to do
– My guitar, because I can’t read and write all the time
– The films of Christopher Guest, because Christopher Guest
Here’s a link to a book review I wrote at Court Street Literary Collective for Howard Odentz’s Bloody Bloody Apple.