Sunday, October 14, 2012

Philadelphia wandering

I flew in on remarkably small planes from GSP to Dulles to Philly and a few hours later, I was visiting my older sister and her family in always sunny University City. After we all ate at an Indian restaurant, I walked back through Penn and Drexel's campuses and saw new buildings and construction all over. The University of Pennsylvania had a whole bunch of new restaurants where I used to frequent the other movie theater as a kid. It was either the Eric III on Campus across from the library on 40th or the G-- on Walnut. But that was so many years ago and now even the Marathon Grill that replaced the Burger King is long gone. It seemed like a happy, healthy, economically stimulated area on an early Saturday evening, far removed from any evidence that American median incomes have slipped by four grand over the past four years or that our median family is worth 77K. It's probably bad form to bring all that up, yeah, I know.

So I walked down Walnut in the colder-than-I-thought-it-would-be weather and popped in to the University of Pennsylvania Bookstore to make sure my same signed paperbacks of Fight for Your Long Day were still on the shelf. Yep, they were. Untouched and unread, so I took them out to check for my signature and then replaced them all save for one which I left open to display, leaning on the paperbacks on a higher state of shelf. Will someone find it and read or at least give it a quick glance? Will a reshelver take this as a clue that it's time for the books to be returned? There appear to be sales in new and used online, but it's a little unclear if the everchanging quantities of new and used available on amazon are genuinely indicative of such.

Who cares, right?

Yeah, so I sauntered over to the magazines and found the latest editions of Boulevard and The Paris Review. Boulevard had an Anis Shivani follow-up, a retort and reply, to the AWP/MFA gangs who've been dissing his disses on the question of whether creative writing can or cannot be taught, or is not or is a form of therapy. And, well, I must confess it is making me feel a little better right now, the writing is therapeutic I should say, but the whole thing seems like some ridiculous binarism than even kids who didn't write their first messages on IBM punchcards can easily debunk, deconstruct, or de-whatever-they-want-to-call-it.

For the average applicant, as talented as she or he may be, the programs themselves seem increasingly impossible to gain admittance to although evidence suggests that in some cases cheating and plagiarism can work for other elite programs. If I remember correctly, George Saunders reported almost 600 applications for 6 spaces at Syracuse, so there seems to be very little reason not to resort to criticizing them as part of one's own quest for readership. If I'm not mistaken, Roberto Bolano did worse than this kind of thing as a young poet in Mexico, and I'd suspect that this is part of how he established his "name" even if he wrote his long novels years later in Spain. The actual writing of the books would be the minor problem, right?


But back to rejection and economic doom, Saunders's underlying economic message is that one is most likely to become just another rejected statistic who has lost hundreds of dollars in application fees so that a handful of select writers might indulge in tuition wavers and "generous stipends," all the while dreaming of healthy salaries, quality health benefits, and secure retirements that may prove to be entirely out-of-reach or nonexistent. The finances are most likely to be middling at best either and any way unless the poet is willing to resort to some other art for the sake of turning a buck. But aside from the fact that he is dying, just like the rest of us, and must endure such terminal pleasure in cold, dreary upstate New York, Saunders is doing quite fine.

Me? I played it warmer, if poorer, and stayed in South Carolina when my wife moved to Ohio for her good opportunity. I wanted to live with my daughter full-time this year, but there was no job for me, and I couldn't bring myself to apply for one of three sales positions advertised at Subaru of Dayton or return to begging for adjunct classes while some other "important" writers write the same books over and over again. (I'd love to see more of these capitalist repeaters show some cojones and say something public, and positive or negative, about Fight for Your Long Day. Books are being written on top of women with no benefits teaching six classes, and the higher-ups mostly ignore this situation.)

For the record, in car sales, the opportunites to write are even more fleeting than they are for the adjunct instructors of English comp, but health benefits are generally still available for full-time workers at the dealerships. When I sold Toyotas over 20 months in Philly, I'd drink beer and scribble in a bar late at night, but I never produced anything more than the roughest sketches. I was tired, naye, exhausted, most of the time, and it's as if nothing has really changed over time.

So I put down Boulevard, hoping Shivani is enjoying the fact that he has so many readers for "frenemies" (a term borrowed from this recent Alexander Chee), and although it's the one I'd prefer to be loyal to, and its editor was briefly kind to one of my rejected stories, alas, I'm just another writer with a kid who shouldn't be indulging in any full-retail-price literary journals, and so I felt like I was doing something wrong when I purchased The Paris Review instead, at a corporate-U. B&N no less, by slapping down a plastic amazon card. Its contents included a "novella" by Sam Savage, an interview with both a poet and fiction writer, and news of their $10,000 prize, which although I'll never win, I might enjoy indulging in dreams of such.

So that's it. Then I left the bookstore and walked home, through the mad, overbearing construction at Drexel University, buildings being built on what used to be the cement sidewalk, where I could likely still be an adjunct instructor if I hadn't made the decisive break in August, 2007. No novel and no little girl I'm almost certain, and now it remains to be seen as to whether this newish trajectory produces any more books or kids.

I'm feeling more optimistic about the second novel. A second child seems highly unlikely.

But one way or another, the second novel, the true first novel and the weirder and more original one, is going to come out.

For some crazy reason, maybe just the 45 minutes of editing I put in at 7 a.m., I know this to be true.

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