Wed Dec 1 10, Bernal Heights, SoMa, New York City
What a coincidence that The New York Times article on our itty bitty little lit scene went live the day after our watershed one year-end show! I would like to say, though, that as good as the article is—and as pleased as I am to be quoted there!—it is Stephen Elliott‘s words in yesterday’s Daily Rumpus that have me beaming. It’s more culturally significant to be talked about in a letter from Stephen than to be in the New York Times. Think about that.
Maybe a lot more people will check out Quiet Lightning and Litseen because of the NYT; that’s not at all what I mean. To make it into the paper—any paper—is an impressive thing. It means what you are doing is somehow notable and should be shared, is even worthy of print. Let me tell you: there’s plenty that’s worth far more than ink but never gets printed; there are only so many dollars, and space is limited.
But to be printed in a major newspaper, even a world-leader like the Times, generally means that what you are doing is already understood or in some way fits into a tight package. Newspapers aren’t cutting edge; they’re print! The article that Gregory Dicum wrote for the NYT was started way before Litquake. He contacted me several times before, a couple times during, and once or twice after the festival. The piece was supposed to run directly after the festival but it’s December 2—Litquake ended over 3 weeks ago.
My point is that the article is conceived by a freelance journalist, pitched to the agency, accepted and then often refocused (and some times entirely restructured) and then it’s a matter of back and forth between writer and editor, with the editor having final word. Each paper has its own opinions, if you will, things it will and will not say, ways it shapes a story, what function it tries to serve, a self-image. In this article, as you can see, the stress is travel, so the Times clearly wanted Dicum to include specific locations with their specialties (get the pint glass margarita!), but they also want an introduction, some people-sighting (he picked a good book), and, of course, an intermittent comparison to New York and its literary scene.
Context. This is how we make sense in relation to the rest of the world. According to this news agency. But with blogs or newsletters, or mailing lists, or whatever The Daily Rumpus is, what you get is Stephen trying to understand what’s going on in the writing and publishing worlds and to make sense of his own personal experiences; he does this with such honesty that conclusions are not usually the point—the point is true mastication. Honesty taken to its conclusions yields either speculation or facts, and usually only a few of the latter. Newspapers don’t print speculation.
That’s why yesterday, as I woke up a bit groggy from Quiet Lightning, Neighborhood Heroes, v.2 and read The Daily Rumpus, I was thrilled to find Stephen’s words:
Wait, where was I? I was talking about the mumble of my neighbor through the walls, the sheetrock sealed over with a half inch of styrofoam. I was thinking about how when someone is mad at you you can miss them like they’ve gone to another country. Even though they’re right there, and you know it’s only a matter of waiting until you’re talking like you always do and things return to normal. But in the meantime it’s like a hunger, like your stomach is empty, except it’s not your stomach, it’s your heart. I was thinking about the reading last night, the Quiet Lightning series. I was there with Melissa but the room was filled with people I knew, the San Francisco literary diaspora. We only see each other at these events. The two Charlies read, and I spoke with Michelle Tea for a while. Allen Ginsburg said there was no Beat Generation, just a bunch of writers who wanted to get published. Bucky Sinister read a poem last night that shot through my bones and later we were talking and he said he missed poetry. He’d been doing other things. And we agreed that a poem was a more direct route but it’s hard in the face of the modern predicament and the success of others. And Charlie screamed, one hand over his face, Poetry is an affliction! At one point I left Melissa and stood in the second room where there were paintings and a single table and I held a grown man while he cried. It felt good, gripping his big arms and back, stroking his neck. Starting to let go and then changing my mind and holding him tighter, wringing the last tears from him, at least for the night. But I still don’t know exactly what I’m getting at. There is no larger theory wrapping this story like a slice of bacon encasing a hot dog. Just another day of life.
There is no larger theory wrapping this story like a slice of bacon encasing a hot dog. I can (and have) talked for many hours, written half a dozen articles about what Quiet Lightning is and what it means, but I don’t know any more than I know what any person means. Of course Stephen has a self-image, as we all do, but a person’s self-image (after a young age) is composed of many question marks. Unlike a newspaper, which prints stories rather than organic threads of thought, The Daily Rumpus is not reporting. It is a journal—way more honest.
I’m not trying to take anything away from Dicum or his article or The New York Times or newspapers in general, and I’m not trying to write 1000 words on how great Stephen is or The Daily Rumpus is. My point is only that, on a personal level, yesterday I understood the event had significance (in addition to experiencing it, of course) not because it encapsulated much of what was said in the Times but because it’s worth being talked about honestly, as a means to an end, an accurate vehicle to get at something larger than the event itself—it’s not a bacon-wrapped hot dog but a fishing pole.
About a dozen of us went to Spec’s after the event. We talked about so many things that I wish I could have spent the day in recollection. APN talked about the difference between Bucky and Jonathan Siegel and how that sequence was the best part of the night and why; Ian Tuttle and I marveled at the fact that we met in the Verdi Club during the beginning of Litquake ’09 as two aspirants entirely new to the scene—and even to the city, and now we share the stage with our newfound neighborhood heroes. I don’t know. I don’t want to talk about what I’m doing. I wrote a lot of this yesterday and had to change all instances of “today” with “yesterday.”
I want to talk more about why I think it’s so significant to be talked about in The Daily Rumpus. Everything Raja and I have put together as Quiet Lightning has been inspired by the other reading series in the Bay Area, primarily The Rumpus, Writers With Drinks, Porchlight Storytelling, Literary Death Match (as a foil), Bang Out, InsideStoryTime, and Babylon Salon. The original goal was to bring all of these people together, channel our talent and our warblings into a giant megaphone and call it community (macaroni was taken). We are most clearly affecting each other with this Feedback Loop. Someone outside of the scene can talk about it, and the NYT can print it, but are they part of it? Do its readers truly understand what was fit to print? Or does the article direct them to Litseen, to The Rumpus, where the things of which the article speaks actually happen?
Week in and week out I go to these events. The monthly ones, the quarterly ones. Some that happen every week are important. I look up to the founders of these series and various projects as people who have done and are doing what I want to do, stand as proof of the possibility of the person I want to become, and look forward to seeing them on a regular basis. As Stephen said, we only see each other at these events. But as Gregory said, this is a place you can see a dazzling performance by night and the next day find yourself sitting right next to the performer. I looked around Tuesday night and realized I was sitting next to Kim Addonizio, could see Charlie Jane Anders and Michelle Tea and Stephen and Jack Boulware and realized there were a lot of my heroes in attendance—too many to list, certainly; they were there not because they were reading, or because we asked them to be there, but because their friends were reading and/or they wanted to be there. Maybe some people came to see what the hubbub is all about. A lot of people saw the lineup and realized Tuesday was a don’t-miss event. If you didn’t make it, and you’re reading this, don’t fear: the videos will be up later today.
Excuse my scattered ruminations. I’m not going to tie this up. This is my website, damnit. I hope you’ll think about some of these things. Maybe you’ll post a comment. Go where it’s warm, they say. Yes. Thanks for coming here.