This is the first line of Alice Kim’s mind-blowingly baller story, “Mothers, Lock Up Your Daughters Because They Are Terrifying,” in the new issue of Tin House. I am somewhere in the chasm between terrified and in-love.
From mermaids to the Midwest, this episode has something for everyone: poems from Matthea Harvey and fiction from Emily Gould. Also some musings on cat ownership and writing and how they’re maybe the same thing, plus some ambient construction sounds from recording at Emily’s apartment. Apologies…
I made it 12 episodes without posting a picture of my cats to the show notes. Here is episode 13.
“This is the inside joke of creative writing programs in America. We know creative writing doesn’t make money, and yet we continue to graduate talented writers with no business acumen. At best, it is misguided. At worst, it is fraudulent.”—
The cafe where I like to write gets occasionally swarmed with toddlers. (The demographic shift when you go one neighborhood west of mine is intense.) Today I got swept up in the weekly morning sing-along, just me, a dozen babies and their caretakers, and a guy who also plays in a surf-rock band called Coffin Daggers or something like that.
It was pretty chill. Afterward, a three-year-old named Henry and I had a great convo about whether he was inside or outside, what’s in the sky, why rocket ships have fire, and cupcakes.
“My first act as a Chapel Hillian was to walk through the four rooms of our new house and sob. She was supposed to come and hang my curtains, to remind me to remember to buy drying racks and shelf-liners, to tell me not to be afraid of wood spiders clogging our corners… to tell me how to live like this. She was supposed to do a lot of things. And we were supposed to come into our stride again, to talk to one another not just as daughter and mother—half bickering, half hand-holding, plus that desperate, complicated love—and learn how to be women in each other’s company.”—and so it goes | Southern Exposure: Going to the Chapel (Hill)
Had this really fun day at the beach with my mom and my nine-year-old niece. Lots of frolicking in the waves. Then my niece asked me about how I wrote, like what I did all day, and I told her in detail, and then I stressed the importance of discipline and my mother said, “Do you know how many people in the world would like to be a writer? And some people are even good at it. But how many people actually get up every day and do it? She’s trying to tell you that you have to work really hard at it every day in order to write a book and make it your job.” Then I was telling my niece that sometimes other writers ask me how long I think something should be, like how many pages a scene should be or a chapter should be. I said, “There’s no math to any of it.” And my niece said, “Right. It should be as long as it takes to tell the story.” And I said, “My genius child.”
I might need to hang that quote from Jami’s mom up over my desk.
(I remember telling my thesis advisor in college that I wanted to write novels like the ones I read, Annie Proulx and AS Byatt and, though I hadn’t read her yet, Meg Wolitzer. And my advisor, who’d been reading my work for two years, was basically like, Yeah, no, tough shit, and gave me some weird disjointed plotless stuff to read. And I read it and was like, Oh, I get it. But that’s the story of why I don’t write fiction at all any more, too.)
“Seen with the naked eye, the Pleiades is a smudge, a weird diffuse patch in the sky. If you stare hard at it you can make out seven individual stars. If you stare really hard and lie, you can see fourteen.”—
This essay, by Ben Lillie, goes on to be about high school and learning to be a human being, and astronomy and geology, and I love it all, but I am so enamored of that little throw-away joke in the third sentence.
I said, “There are two possibilities. One is that it’s just another book I need to throw away. Or, it’s the book I’ve been working on for years that is finally ready to be fully realized.” It could be either, this is what we discussed for few minutes. And that it would be OK for me to throw it away when it came time. Because not everything that gets written needs to be read.
But I go forward in good faith that it could be good enough or necessary or important enough to be read. I also go forward so I don’t have to sit still any longer.
I went to a reading last night and everyone there seemed fancy. Like they blow-dried their hair, like they worked in publishing, like they worked in midtown. I couldn’t tell if I was reading the room right or if I’d just been surrounded by teenagers for the last several hours/days/weeks. I perched on a table and held my bike helmet in my lap, and the readings were great. I gushed to the writers afterward, and then talked with a woman who works in publishing but doesn’t scare me about the surprisingly long time that we’ll feel stuck between being fans and real people in the world. I ate a $2 slice of pizza and biked home. I sang “Let It Go” very very quietly to Brooklyn. I pulled up at a red light behind a man about my age. He turned around and looked at me. I returned his “hello” but then he turned forward again and kept talking, to himself, to his hidden phone, who knows. Who knows if the “hello” was even for me. I hung back behind him for a couple blocks to try to figure him out. But then I passed him and made the left onto Fulton without having to wait, which was really nice.
In this episode: lost love, found accents, following Phish, rare neurological diseases, the Great American Novelist that never was, thunderstorms, sleeping bags, and indescribable mystical experiences. Otherwise known as: poetry and fiction.
On the new episode of The Catapult, Lynn Schmeidler reads poetry about rare neurological disorders and the Great American Novelist who never was; Ted Thompson reads from his new novel, The Land of Steady Habits; and I talk about asking Margaret Atwood about sprayguns, asking Edan Lepucki about apocalypses, and a new Catapult feature called long-distance Q&A.
I was looking for something else on my computer and found a file called “after agee” from my first semester of grad school. It’s a less-than-page-long document about living alone and the farmers market and cooking - I don’t even know what class this was for. I don’t remember reading any Agee in grad school! I see how little bits of it snuck into an essay I wrote a year later, how I’d been getting words ready for their ideas. But it feels like a stranger wrote this, too. This is how it ends:
There is a cat sleeping in the window, and my knife slices through stems, heavy and deft. Cutting into smaller pieces, down and down, and I am alone in the room and alone in my home, but I am alone in my head and the inside of my head is vast. I had never known this place before I spent so many hours quiet, knocked on some door with the rhythmic hits of my knife blade on the cutting board after it’s sliced through a stem.
The whole piece is in italics and I have no idea why.