Sunday, February 28, 2010


I went to the Park Rapids Enterprise homepage to renew my subscription, suffering severe Incident Report deprivation, and found that not only has the Akeley (pop. 412) bank been robbed, but there is an important poll for readers to answer.
Guess which one is winning? I will draw back the curtain in the comments.

Thursday, February 25, 2010


These were savvily placed side-by-side at McNally Jackson bookstore in New York. I went to New York for a week in January to meet up with my friend Mona. (She flew from Cairo, I flew from Ohio. New York seemed at least metaphorically equidistant.)

In the first few hours before Mona arrived, I browsed McNally Jackson for a while and then went to find a seat to write at Housing Works Used Bookstore Cafe. I wondered, How did I ever live here? Did I love it? I know I did love it. I mean, there's a lot to love about it. But everyone in McNally Jackson's cafe looked roughly the same, and everyone in Housing Works looked roughly the same. Different ethnicities, sure, but the same scuffed polish, bookish stylishness, turn-of-the-thirties, knowledgable and aspiring. Basically they all looked like they had MFAs, were getting their MFAs, or aspired to an MFA. I'm not exempting my own MFA'ed ass here. But it was totally disconcerting to be among such a blatant Demographic, and it gave me not the feeling but the reminder of the feeling of panic and self-doubt and competitive anguish I used to feel when I lived in New York and tried to comprehend My Future As A Writer.

I think it's good to have a handful or two of writers in your everyday life but too many might mess you up. This is one reason why the Stegner program was way easier on the soul than Iowa. This is also why I like to keep company with people who make other things. Scholarly research, videos, music, art, advertisements, movies, coffee, drinks, photographs, baskets, hand-hewn cross-country skis*, whatever. I feel a lot calmer now than I did back when I lived in New York and was supposed to be in the Center of It All. It didn't stimulate me, it distracted and paralyzed me. I have only written one story ever that took place in New York, about my very first job at the very strange magazine Opera News, and it's an oddly-structured mess. I can't even revise that story because every time I go back into it I come out feeling disconsolate and unmoored all over again.

But anyway, then Mona showed up and the rest of the trip was more like this.

And this.

I have known Mona since 1996. She was one of my best friends in Oslo. I used to wonder, Who are the people I will know my whole life? Sometimes I am surprised at the ones who fell off, or my younger self would have been, but more and more I love how the answers become clear.

*I'm not just making this up. My polymath woodsman brother Nate made me a pair of cross-country skis by hand for Xmas. It blows my mind too.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010


1. When people call coffee "java."
(Endemic to quippy newspaper and magazine articles where the writer apparently believes it's a faux pas to use the word coffee twice, and to the names of bad coffee shops. No coffee shop with "java" in the title is any good.) Runner-up: "joe." Who in real life calls it "joe," honestly?

2. The term "gal pal."
(Again, common to bad magazine writing.)

3. The word "gal" generally.