Tuesday, June 28, 2011

richard yates, collected stories

I identify so deeply with the writing of Richard Yates and am ashamed to just now read his collected stories. Sure, I've read many of them in anthologies and of course Easter Parade and Revolutionary Road. To read the stories is to admit that Yates drew the bulk of his material from his life experience: World War II, tuberculosis, Hollywood screenwriting, failed marriages, and a dash of current events.

"Oh, Joseph, I'm So Tired" remains one of my favorite stories of all time with it's frustrated sculptor mother whose pride causes her to say hateful things and embarrass her children who hold fast to their sense of imagination for hope.

"Saying Goodbye to Sally" is an homage to Yates time in Hollywood. He compares his adventures to those of F. Scott Fitzgerald (fun for Fitzgerald nuts like me). From his salty-hut of a writing studio by Malibu beach to the drama of Beverly Hills and the glamour of expensive hotel-bar cocktails after a day of work, he makes me miss LA only I know that it is his LA and not a shade close to the one I had.

The collection has a wonderful introduction by Richard Russo, a writer clearly inspired by Yates. In the introduction, Russo recalls that his former student at the Iowa Writer's Workshop, John McNally, collected used copies of Yates books so that he could hand them to anyone who hadn't discovered what a terrific writer he was yet. I find this charming and funny as Yates is brilliant but certainly not for everyone. His greatest gifts are his keen observation and his ability to humiliate his characters. He will not look away from a character's worst suffering. And, the suffering is almost always sourced from loneliness and the variant directions of trouble that one feeling can push us towards.

And little did I know until now, that Yates died not too far from me in Alabama when I was ten-years-old. He'd been teaching while in poor health at the University of Alabama - Tuscaloosa. I like to imagine that all those childhood trips to see Bama games in Tuscaloosa also held the sight of an aged Richard Yates passing me by. I doubt it but it's a nice thought. One last anecdote before quotes is that in college my mom took an active interest in what I was reading. She put down her pot boilers and was floored by books like The Bell Jar and stories by Harold Brodkey. Sylvia Plath considered her book a pot boiler and while it may be overly modified for my now MFA-critic self, it still holds a dear place for me. I doubt my mom admitted her new favorite reading to her P.T.A friends (she was the President) but it's remarkable how many women of her time looked for mystery novels less out of their craving for the macabre but their fear of how nuanced realism would make them feel. I have friends to this day that I'm sure my writing and others writing depresses. I can't imagine not being able to witness. I didn't realize until a bit after the time of my mom's reading my library that she wasn't just trying to be a friend to me but she was truly marveling over what she had missed by denying her own curiosities for fear of being defined by them.

Below are favorite quotes culled from "The Collected Stories" but there are so many more I would have shared were it not for space and not boring you:

"She never seemed to lose her temper, but it would almost have been better if she did, for it was the flat, dry, passionless redundancies of her scolding that got everybody down."
From "Fun with a Stranger"

Edith talking about the sound of NYC -
"I don't mean just the loud noises," she said, "like the siren going by just now, or those car doors slamming, or all the laughing and shouting down the street; that's just close-up stuff. I'm talking about something else. Because you see there are millions and millions of people in New York--more people than you can possibly imagine, ever--and most of them are doing something that makes sound. Maybe talking, or playing the radio, maybe closing doors, maybe putting their forks down on their plates if they're having dinner, or dropping their shoes if they're going to bed--and because there are so many of them, all those little sounds add up and come together in a kind of hum. But it's so faint--so very, very faint--that you can't hear it unless you listen very carefully for a long time."
And referenced again in the last sentence -
"We would probably never see Bart again--or if we ever did, he would probably not want to see us. But out mother was ours: we were hers; and we lived with that knowledge as we lay listening for the faint, faint sound of millions."
From "Oh, Joseph, I"m So Tired." That last sentence will always make me gasp!

"She was a handsome woman, blond, sturdy, and still young, with a full-throated laugh for anything she found absurd, and this wasn't the life she had planned for herself at all."
From "Trying Out for the Race"

"I loved the girl who'd wanted to tell me all about "the theater," and the girl who'd stood calm and shy in the thunderclap of applause that followed her scene from Dream Girl. I didn't much like the dependable typist at Botany Mills, or the grudging potato peeler, or the slow, tired woman who frowned over the ironing board to prove how poor we were. And I didn't want to be married to anyone, ever, who said things like, "Oh, you can take care of what?"
From "Regards at Home"

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Thursday, June 16, 2011

thanks to google/the origins of a diner

Whenever anyone mentions the simple times before internet research, when writers spent weeks in libraries searching (not that we don't do this occasionally), I sigh in approval. But, in the process of my book, I've made discoveries through google that I wouldn't have looked for. They've come at me sideways.

One, for example, is this essay by John T. Edge that was published in a 2003 Oxford American. I was simply searching "were there all night diners in 1968?" and this essay was a few links down. Googling isn't just a time thief but sometimes a comrade. With how long it's taken to write this novel, stories like this revive me.

Essentially, Edge starts with a love of third places (where unrelated people relate equally--typically diners and bars) and traces back the history of his favorite diner from college and its silk camisole wearing, chain smoking owner. He unearths some serious grit on old microfilm reels and meets the diner matron again, after he's learned what her and her husband contributed to the Klan.

Read the essay here.

And maybe you'll think about your favorite mom and pop dives and wonder... I dare you to dig.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

the boy in the egyptian wing

This poem is so wonderful. I'm thinking of putting it before my book. It has become that eerie close-to-the-end time where I'm finding poems, daily sights, etc., that seem to be speaking straight to me. This one dropped my jaw. Is Dan speaking straight to me? No, but maybe a little.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

new orleans

Yes, I'm okay with moving here.

I love these two

More Alexis and Anis.

Photos by David Mendolia.