I Remember – #981

I remember sending, on birthdays, photos to two different friends.  This was at its strongest with my friend David from ~2013 onwards (and still going, more or less), and it involved doctoring photos of either ourselves or writers we admired with streamers, hats, balloons, googly eyes and other such nonsense via MS Paint.

-29 May 2017

This post is part of the I Remember series.

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The Journal of Failure – Week 22 of 2019

Week 22 of 2019 – 20 May 2019 to 26 May 2019

Goals

Reading

  • Goal – 101p / day, or 707 / week
  • Achieved – 856/707 – Success!

Writing – I Remember

  • Goal – 7 / week
  • Achieved – 1/7 – Failure!

Writing – Small Projects (Fragments, short stories, etc)

  • Goal – 28 minutes / week
  • Achieved – 26 minutes/28 minutes – Failure!

Writing – Large Projects

  • Goal – 35 minutes / week
  • Achieved – 1 hour 37 minutes/35 minutes – Success!

Getting myself out there

  • Short story reviews – One (Six total for the year)
  • Submissions – Two (Ten total for the year)
  • Rejections – One (Five total for the year)
  • Acceptances – Zero (Zero total for the year)

Commentary

Overall, a week of success.  Let’s unpack why.

Reading went very well.  I didn’t read a thing on Saturday and Sunday, because I have a seven month old daughter and that is impossible, but all other days were quite fruitful there.  My to-read pile is ridiculous – I think fifteen books – and growing larger rather than shrinking.  Happily I think I bought zero books, though, so at least I am making some headway.  But there are, I am sure, books I own now that I will die before reading.

The short story rejection was unpleasant.  It’s a story I really like, and I just haven’t found a good home for it.  Alas, alas.  This time the rejection was from 3:AM Magazine, which is a prestige publication for me.  But it wasn’t to be.  I will continue to post this story about for a little while yet, and then if there are no acceptances at all I’ll put it on ice for a couple of months and see what fresh brings in, say, 2020.

I submitted two stories, Automatic/Typewriter Keys and Liberty Leading the People, to Meanjin this week.  I saw a call for submissions and so I did.  There’s really nothing much else to it than that.

I am running low on ‘submittable’ work, though, as I haven’t written a new short story in a while, and as can be seen, didn’t spend too much time working on short pieces this week.  That can be explained by my enthusiasm for the longer piece (see below), but it is obviously quite difficult to submit short stories when, ah, I don’t have any at hand!

I have gone completely away from the flash fiction concept because I realised I just didn’t like reading them.  So, why write them?  2,000 – 4,000 words seems more my wheelhouse.  The sub 1,000 word stories seem, at times, too ephemeral, needlessly quirky, needlessly experimental, flowery without purpose, and so on. I want a bit more time to breathe a story.

I wrote quite a bit on a new, novel(la)-length piece, and I’m pleased, so far, with how it is going.  I mentioned last week that I was cribbing from Roberto Bolaño to get me started, but it has moved sufficiently away from his writing that it’s off in new territory.  So, give me another couple of thousand words and I’ll start to remove the Bolaño ties at the start and then have my own distinct piece of writing.

I took the piece from basically 0 words at the start of the week, to just under 3,000, so it has enough meat there that I can start to see a shape.  I am attempting to do rushed-writing, so I substitute names of characters or ideas with TK and just keep on writing, with the intention of returning to them later at some stage.  There are, currently, 75 TKs in the document, which is frightening – but most of those are repeated names that I haven’t yet determined.

The primary talking point this week is, I think, my shift from pen and paper, to computer.  I love writing with my pen.  I use a Mitsubishi uni-ball eye blue micro pen.  I have for years.  The feel of the pen against a notepad immediately puts me in the right frame of mind for writing.  But.  I find it very difficult to look back at what I have written and continue on, and this is mostly because my hand writing is shocking and I spend just enough time trying to decipher my writing that my brain starts to switch to some kind of editing mode, and the creative drive diminishes.  And so I am writing in a Google Docs word document.  My main concern there is, I suppose, versioning and the history of the text, but I know that Google saves these things.  And, there’s something rather wonderful about having a stack of paper of my scribbling, and I definitely lose that using my computer.

But in the end, it meant I was able to write for 1 hour and 37 minutes which, while it isn’t what I want to end up doing, is much better than the usual 0 minutes.

Oh, and I only wrote one I Remember, which is terrible, but of all the areas to fail in, that one bothers me the least.

And that was my week of failure.

Each week I aim to provide an update on the Journal of Failure.  These reports are intended to provide an impetus for me to achieve as much as I should/more than I do, and also to provide a further ongoing record of my life, as it is. 

The first 40 books – 2019

As of 20 May 2019 I have read 40 books for the year.  Let’s take a look at some statistics:

  • 7/40 or 17.5% were written by women
  • 29/40 or 72.5% were translations
  • 4/40 or 10% were by Nobel Prize winning writers
  • 5/40 or 12.5% were fantasy novels

Before we discuss the elephant in the room, I will say that, broadly speaking, I am definitely pleased with the number of translations.  I aim to keep that number high, and really it’s the fantasy novels that tend to drag it down, as they are very often written by people writing in English, very often by men, and very often by Americans.  Not always, but it’s a clear difference to the majority of the literature that I read.

I started the year quite heavily focused on fantasy, which I have put down to wanting to ease into the year with some books that weren’t going to challenge me and which would ensure that I started the year strong in terms of page- and book-count.  And I did, or near enough.  But at the same time, I would like fantasy to challenge me more, to push me.  I recognise that this is largely due to the kind of fantasy I tend to read – the fantasy of my youth, of nostalgia, of memory.  Of my teenage years, when I had no taste whatsoever.  Sometimes I wander down more interesting paths, but so far, not this year.

In terms of translation, I spent a good chunk of March reading Roberto Bolaño, because I love his work and I wanted to celebrate my birthday in some way.  So that was the way.  Curiously, I have not read a single work by W. G. Sebald this year, and only one by Enrique Vila-Matas.  Very often these works dominate my year, and yet here we are, close to halfway, and not much to speak of.

Ok, so the elephant in the room.  17.5% of all books read this year so far being women is just not good enough.  I haven’t put enough effort in here, and that’s really all there is to say.  That number should be much higher, nearer to 50%, but it isn’t.  I could explain it away by saying that I don’t own anywhere near as many books written by women as I do by men, but isn’t that also part of the problem?

(I will note that since writing this I have read one more book, and it was by a woman, but even still).

Consequently I’m going to make a great push over the next month or so to even those numbers out a little more.  I have Rachel Cusk’s wonderful Outline Trilogy at hand, and while I’ve read the first two I haven’t yet read the third, and this is, I think, a fine time to read the full trilogy.

But I do fully recognise that I need to read more widely and regularly, and that I am neglecting a significant part of literature by doing so.  I have the books.  I have them – translated writers, prize-winning writers, big books, small books.  I own them, they are there.

Time to act.

Short Story Review – Empar Moliner – In Search of a Man for Friendship and Possibly More (trans. Novia Pagone)

I work alone, and I don’t keep secrets from myself.

Empar, probable homebody, is on the search for a man who will take her to the Ebro River Delta, a place where ‘boyfriends tend to take their girlfriends’.

By the third sentence of this story she’s off to a dating agency to see what they might be able to do for her.  Why can’t she find someone on her own?  Doesn’t matter, I suppose.

“What don’t you like about your personality?” she ventures. “I like everything,” I tell her. And it’s the truth. When she asks me about my life goals, I declare that I don’t have any. “How important is sex to you in a stable relationship?” she wants to know. If I say five, will that look bad?, I wonder. In the end, I rate it a four, but only because I’m feeling romantic this year.

Empar, or rather, the character in the story named Empar, is an entertaining and funny woman.  Her inner self makes jokes and pokes fun at who she is and what she’s trying to achieve, though outwardly she comes across as a touch awkward and uncertain.

She seems here, at this dating agency, less to find a match, and more to understand the kinds of questions a dating agency would ask in order for her to better know the milieu that is contemporary dating.  It’s all so much to think about, so much to plan for.

The idea that we can boil down a potential partner to a series of questions and answers is absurd, of course, but it is an appealing concept nonetheless.  But how can it possibly be true if we find it difficult to boil ourselves down in such a manner?  We don’t know ourselves well enough to condense our personality on to a single page, and yet here Empar is attempting to recreate a full man from a series of yes/no.

Empar, the character, recognises this absurdity, and she loves it.  And then Empar, the writer, finishes the story with a fine comic twist, and away we go, off to write an email to a fascinating woman.

In Search of a Man for Friendship and Possibly More is a short story by Spanish (Catalan) writer Empar Moliner and was translated by Novia Pagone.  You can read the story at World Literature Today.

Author Empar Moliner
Title In Search of a Man for Friendship and Possibly More
Translator Novia Pagone
Nationality Spanish (Catalan)
Publisher World Literature Today

Please visit the Short Story Reviews page to see all of the available reviews.

The Journal of Failure – Week 21 of 2019

Goals

Reading

  • Goal – 100p / day, or 700 / week
  • Achieved – 738/700 – Success!

Writing – I Remember

  • Goal – 7 / week
  • Achieved – 8/7 – Success!

Writing – Small Projects (Fragments, short stories, etc)

  • Goal – 21 minutes / week
  • Achieved – 26 minutes/21 minutes – Success!

Writing – Large Projects

  • Goal – 28 minutes / week
  • Achieved – 41 minutes/28 minutes – Success!

Getting myself out there

  • Short story reviews – Two (Five total for the year)
  • Submissions – One (Eight total for the year)
  • Rejections – Zero (Four total for the year)
  • Acceptances – Zero (Zero total for the year)

Commentary

Well, I gave myself an easy week.

I suppose it is nice to succeed at an easy week, right, friends?

The main ‘win’ here for me this week was to truly benefit from late night writing and reading.  I struggle, it seems daily, with the idea of whether I wake up early or I stay up late.  As my daughter becomes a touch older (she’s seven months now), it is becoming clear that staying up late works best.

So, each night this week I stayed up until about midnight, and very often I would read and write.  It went well!  I certainly wasted quite a bit of time, but I gained some momentum with both reading and writing.

One of the books I wasted 150 – 200 pages on was Murakami’s 1Q84, which is proving itself to be a simply horrendous book.  Murakami is, it seems, something of a slimy old man, one who is devoted to the breasts of women and their propensity to masturbate and/or enjoy sex.  It’s really quite something, because his fixation on genitals and pleasure isn’t written particularly well, or even particularly poorly.  It’s just there on the page – like a lot of his writing.  At least Updike gave his schoolboy fantasies a bit of a vocabulary polish.  At least Roth tried to connect his fondness for sex to cultural and political movements in America.  Murakami?  No, female characters just take off their clothes and look at their naked bodies in the mirror.  Sure, sure, sure.  We’ve all been there I guess – but multiple times when in your late twenties?  I don’t know.

I’ve reconnected somewhat with Hermann Hesse, which has been nice.  He works best in the small realms, the short stories and novellas, though I do have an immense fondness for The Glass Bead Game.  I expect I will be reading quite a bit of his work over the next few weeks.

And Rachel Cusk!  I finally have the third book, Kudos, from her recent trilogy.  She is an author I came to late last year, and I hold her up alongside Karl Ove Knausgaard, which I promise is actually high praise because, well, she’s a woman, and womens’ stories are less told, or at least less read.

In terms of writing, I have been working on a short piece which is intended as a bit of a departure from my ordinary writing in that it involves gambling, violence, and the stink of the underworld.  We’ll see.  I’m enjoying writing it, though I don’t quite know yet if it has any kind of legs.

The ‘long’ writing I am doing is, basically, a complete and total copy of Roberto Bolaño’s Woes of the True Policeman.  I am using the general framework to basically just start moving my pen across the page, and that has been reasonably successful.  The intention is to use it as a guiding mechanism to write and then eventually to jettison all of the copy-work and go out on my on.

Or, more likely, to use it as an exercise to start writing properly.  At the moment I don’t mind much as long as I am writing, which I think is the primary goal at this stage. I’ve gone too long without writing.  I feel it, my muscles ache for it.

Each week I aim to provide an update on the Journal of Failure.  These reports are intended to provide an impetus for me to achieve as much as I should/more than I do, and also to provide a further ongoing record of my life, as it is. 

Short Story Review – Simonetta Olivo – Microverses (trans. Sarah Jane Webb)

Oh now, I do like this.  Let me wear my opinion on my sleeve, hold up my affection right here at the start.  I am very fond of stories such as these – clever, twisted, turning, playful with the structure of a story without being tiresome in its trickery.  Take everything I write with a large grain of salt because I am, it appears, congenitally disposed towards like such fictions as this.

We open with the heading “Panic”, and then:

There’s still some snow on the path. Last week, this same mountain went suddenly quiet. It was snowing. Just like in fairy tales, she had thought, slowing her pace, beautiful and sad. And so unlike today’s desolation: everything looks naked, cold, inanimate.

A woman, nature, mountains, snow.  The beauty of nature.  Yes, yes.  Two paragraphs later, the sky explodes and the world ends.

Another section, also opening with mountains, snow, a woman.  It begins calmly and then a sting at the end – a date far in the future, a reference to robots, and to humanity being dead.

Another section, another repeat.  What’s happening here?  On the cusp of this becoming tiresome, the woman is extracted from these scenarios, revealed to have been logged into some kind of virtual reality or Matrix-like environment.

Very good, very good.  Ha ha, quite the twist you put me through there, Simonetta Olivo!  The woman wants to go back into the simulation and her partner (lover?) puts her back in, though he has misgivings.  Is she losing her self to the simulation?  We don’t know, because we don’t spend enough time with her outside of the snowy mountainous world.  That suggests that yes, she’s losing her identity.

Another section, this time titled ‘Making Universes’.  The snow, again, and mountains, again, but this time written in italics.  This is a shift for us, and it’s unclear what it might mean.

The world tilts, and we are taken out of the simulation to arrive not with the disgruntled man who wants his lover back with him and unhooked from the machine, but the writer herself, the creator of the text, a layer placed upon the other layers. She acknowledges that her task is to create universes, and the story ends.

There’s so much here in so few words.  It’s quite astonishing, particularly given how Olivo refrains from succumbing to overblown terminology or the philosophical underpinnings of what it means to create.  Instead it’s simply there, clear on the page.  I become tired, sometimes, of writers who play games with structure and form also overburdening their text with the weight of the thesauruses they have purchased.

So, what does it mean to participate in a created world, and to create a world?  Olivo doesn’t say, but it’s clear that the woman in the story has given up on the world she properly exists in in order to spend time in a doomed place where humanity is extinct and robots have survived.  And isn’t that, in a way, what a writer does every time they sit down at their desk and conjure up people and places that never existed?  Isn’t it, no matter how closely hewn to the essence of humanity, a rejection of living?  Does a writer truly live in the world, or do they instead consciously separate themselves from it in order to dispassionately observe the world created by others?  I would say yes, emphatically so, and would be surprised to find much resistance.  Writers may not create a utopia in which to devote their intellectual and emotional talents, but they certainly attempt to reflect back to the readers their vision and understanding of the world, and in this reflection we are able to better determine who they are, too.

And we don’t need to like what we see, do we?

Microverses is a short story by Italian writer Simonetta Olivo and was translated by Sarah Jane Webb.  You can read the story at Words Without Borders.

Author Simonetta Olivo
Title Microverses
Translator Sarah Jane Webb
Nationality Italian
Publisher Words Without Borders

Please visit the Short Story Reviews page to see all of the available reviews.

I Remember – #980

I remember the wooden gate at the top of the external staircase at our home which had three rusted nails in it, three nails that liked to loosen and protrude every few days and which made closing the gate challenging.  And on top of that, we put up with this hassle for – three years before fixing it?  All we needed was a few new nails and a hammer.  Our ability to become accustomed to minor irritations is astounding.

-28 May 2017

This post is part of the I Remember series.