I am going to be homeless for a week, let’s talk about plays

Going to put this on automatic update, just so I don’t miss another week.  See, my abroad program incorporates a week of “free travel” into it, which is supposed to be more or less equivalent to Spring Break back home.  A vacation, if you will, or a holiday as they are called here.

This is where we run into problems.  I’m not much for vacations, you see, and I didn’t have to read any Jamaica Kincaid or DFW essays about lobsters to make me like this.

There’s this horrid little neologism that’s made the rounds recently, the ‘staycation.’  That is, a vacation where you stay home instead of going out somewhere; the thing is, every vacation for me is a staycation, and it always has been.  It may surprise you, given my seething antipathy towards fun, good will, sunshine, and human beings in general, that I really, really dislike going out onto beaches or to theme parks and seeing various things/people/situations that only intensify my disgust and displeasure with life on this earth.  When I have time off I don’t want to fucking go anywhere, I want to lock myself in my house and sleep for twelve hours and read books until three in the morning.  This is how I relax, this is how I unwind.  This is what a vacation means for me.

Not for most other people, unfortunately.  The “free travel week” my program has is a bit misnamed.  You see, it’s a misnomer because 1) if it were truly a “free” week I could stay at my house and sleep, as would be my preference, or 2) if it were “free” in the pecuniary sense, it would be a lot more appealing.  As it happens, for seven days I am required to leave my house and travel either on my own or with friends and fend for myself.  My host family is not being paid rent for that week.  In essence, I am being kicked out.

My program, for whatever reason, thinks it’s a good idea to have a mandatory crash course in homelessness.

This all sounds a bit whiny, I’m sure, as I am a privileged young white male college student in an abroad program, which puts me a damn sight ahead of 80% of my cohort.  I’m in Europe, aren’t I?  I should be taking in the culture and traveling and seeing the sights.  If you’re thinking that right now, then I have an offer: you fucking pay for it.

I’m a goddamn scholarship student.  I’m only on this abroad program because I am incredibly, indescribably lucky — my tuition has been covered, thank god.  But on the other hand, I’ve had to pay for plenty of other stuff out of my own pocket — plane tickets, clothes, supplies, food, various other travel expenses such as cabs and trains.  My personal savings were drained by this trip, and supporting myself as an itinerant for a week will pretty much reduce me to nothing.

If I were the kind of person who read literature as being, in its heart, about class conflict, or if I were the kind of person given to screeching about systemic classist elements of any setup, I would have been bitching about this sort of thing long before now.  So while I normally don’t care about it, I’ve finally come into a situation where it really irks me.  (Enough to blog about it, anyway.)

To put it succinctly, I don’t have the money to live on my own in a foreign country for a week.  My family does not have the money to help me.  This is not something I can do.

But I’m doing it anyway, because I don’t have a choice.

Luckily I have some connections in Stratford-Upon-Avon who are willing to put up with me for a few days, though they’re in the process of moving so I can’t stay there the whole time.  My family back home has managed to get me enough money that I can stay in a hostel (as much as I hate hostels with all my soul they are cheaper than hotels) in London for the remainder of the break.  I’ve been living as a spendthrift over the last seven weeks, saving large amounts out of the grocery stipend I receive, so I have enough money to eat and buy various little stupid things I need, so I should be all right.

I’d still like to lock myself in a house and read all day, though.

Anyway, excitement: while I’m away I’ve used WordPress’s handy autoupdate feature to organize a series of short reviews of plays I’ve seen recently.  These should be popping up at various points during the week, digitally prepackaged and intellectually microwaved for your consumption.  It’s not going to be in the vein of the Psycho series, since there’s less for me to string together, so I figured it wouldn’t be bad for me to throw up all three reviews in a week.  We’re looking at a Monday/Wednesday/Friday thing here, so stayed tuned.

So foul and fair a day I have not seen

No entry last Friday because, as it happened, all that day I was traveling north.  I spent the weekend in Edinburgh, which was definitely the most awesome place I’ve seen so far in Britain.  While London is neat in its own way, mainly because it’s London, Edinburgh is really notable because it also has a lot of history, and most of this history wasn’t bombed to hell by the Germans and replaced with horrific 60s architecture.

The two panoramas I have here were taken from the top of Arthur’s Seat, and climbing it was probably 1) the coolest thing I did in Edinburgh, and 2) one of the most rewarding experiences of my life.  It is one of the most marvelous things I’ve ever done, and the view was outstanding.  When I got to the top I began reciting “God’s Grandeur” by Gerard Manley Hopkins over and over again, and I’m not even particularly religious.  It was just that amazing.

And, of course, how could I have possibly gone to Scotland and to Edinburgh Castle, the ancient seat of the Scottish kings, without snapping this little beauty:

Good times are to be had in Scotland.

In other, almost entirely unrelated news, while on the train to and from Edinburgh I managed to read quite a few books.  This is because the train ride is damn long and I’ve apparently developed some sort of speed-reading capability, but since (as I’ve mentioned) there are  a million used bookstores around here I can pick up new material for cheap.  So I managed to reread Joyce’s Dubliners (good, of course), along with reading for the first time William Hope Hodgson’s The House on the Borderland (pretty okay, still need to find a hard copy of his The Night-Land since I’ve only read it online), and something like two dozen of MR James’s ghost stories.

I also read some in a classy little hardcover I picked up on a whim — it was only 75p and clocking in at just over 100 pages it has that “old-timey tiny hardcover” mystique, but unfortunately it isn’t that good.  It’s a collection of poetry and prose, but the stories are mostly plotless social realist vignettes that are sort of infuriating (when I finish it seems like nothing has happened, but I have the annoying feeling that the author’s played a trick on me) and the poetry is just sentimental and/or maudlin.  It’s called The Chameleon and is by a guy named Ignacio Muez Ajedra.  Yes, that name seems very Spanish, but the book is written in British English.  I don’t know if he was an immigrant or if the book was translated because the copyright page only says it was published in 1900 by Crane & Sons, as you will see, Google yields nothing on the man nor anything on his publisher.  There’s something a little neat, though, about having an old book that no one remember by a forgotten writer — kind of an Shelley’s Ozymandias vibe or something, or maybe I’m just a melancholy jackass.  At any rate, whoever Ajedra was, his name will now be forever linked with my blog once the Google bots start crawling over these words.  Sorry, man.

Also this week I saw a production of Measure for Measure at the Almeida here in London, and I have to tell you, it was superb.  I mean that as sincerely as I can, and I can’t relate to you how great this production is without sounding hyperbolic.  Let me put it this way: when I read Measure for Measure for the first time a few months back, I was pretty unimpressed.  The play seems sloppily written, perhaps somehow corrupted or even half-finished, and overall as a reading experience it’s very unsatisfying.  In the end it just doesn’t make any damn sense.  It is the job of a production, in my opinion, to find some way to fix these problems — not rewrite it or anything, coming up with fake Shakespeare dialog or whatever, but to find a way of staging it so that the audience is presented with a coherent and cogent reading of the play where the textual faults are levered as assets.

This production, suffice it to say, does that with flying colors.  I may write a whole entry on it later, when I have more time, but over the next few weeks I’ll also be seeing productions of Twelfth Night, Richard III, King Lear, and a recently written “sequel” to Macbeth called Dunsinane. If I can find some way to string my responses to all or some of these plays together I may put together a weekly series like my American Psycho exercise a few months back.  We’ll see.

And they rode on

With the Psycho series finished (and tagged accordingly to make it easier to find), it seems like I won’t have much of an excuse to update here.  Of course, having an entry at least once a week is good practice and gives this site some reason for existing, so maybe I’ll try that.  I got into the habit of posting on Fridays, so I’m making that my Completely Official Blog Entry Day (Except Of Course on Days When I Can’t or Don’t).  Incidentally, a visiting poet in my creative writing class yesterday made the comment that to be an artist you also have to constantly self-document — to prove that you’re really doing what you say you’re doing.  WELL I GUESS I HAVE THAT COVERED.

Ideally I’ll have a lot more to say in about a month, when I’ll be in England and doing the AtME series.

In the meantime, I haven’t updated my rejection counter in a while, so I better get around to that.  I am (at the moment) up to 34 rejections, one of them being the second for my novel, Brutal, which was apparently “read with interest.”  Since there are pretty much no publishers with an open submission system except for the ones I’ve already tried, I now have two options: go after an agent to solicit the manuscript, or put the novel away for a while and focus exclusively on getting short fiction published.  I’m not sure which way I lean on this currently, but in any case I know that another draft of the novel is warranted, as I’ve grown unhappy with certain things about it.  Hopefully I can work it into such a state that I won’t want to completely hate it in twenty years.

EDIT @ 10:40:  Look what I found in Google cache!

HaroldBloomGoogle

misery, thy name is visa application process

So we had another orientation session today, filled out some roommate papers and so on.  We also got the load of visa applications dumped on us, and let me tell you, that is terrifying.  I have to get biometric readings, do a criminal record check on myself, and come up with a bit over two hundred dollars to pay fees.  In three weeks.  I also have to fill out an application for the particular program in London my college is working through, write a résumé, and write a mission statement.

This is all because, of course, a key portion of my program is a volunteer job placement, ideally one suited to my academic interests.  There’s even a list of these academic interests in the application we have to fill out, and hilariously enough most of them do not coincide at all with my interests.  Things like “human rights/conflict resolution” and “homelessness/housing” and “environment/sustainability” and “gay/lesbian issues” and I really don’t care.  I know that as a student at an institution that values justice and progress and charity and many other fine things, I should feel more strongly about these and many other issues than I do.  I sometimes feel a little guilty and say to myself, “Man, you should really do some volunteer thing about like immigration or fossil fuels or whatever it is the TV is telling you to care about today.”  Nothing ever comes of it, though.

We’ll see how this job placement pans out, anyway.  Providing I don’t fuck over my visa app.

AtME: So it begins

Yesterday marked the first orientation meeting for my eventual trip to England at the beginning of next year.  While there is nothing of particular interest to report, we did get our handbook of orientation materials, which includes a packing list, suggestions for social conduct, etc.  There is an extensive and hilarious section on culture shock, which such section headings as “What is culture shock?  Will it ever end?”  There is also a shorter, equally delightful section on dating and how you, the American, might interpret certain signals as communicating some romantic or sexual interest  but which do not strike the Briton you are talking to as such.  It’s so vague that I literally have no idea what they’re getting at, since even among Americans there’s such a thing as receiving mixed signals.  The rules for social conduct include such tips as “don’t be loud and obnoxious” and “don’t cut in line” and “don’t insult people,” which again I think is (or should be) pretty standard American etiquette.  Well, whatever.

Today I also tried to get my paperwork in order and turn it into the International Programs Office here on campus, since the deadline is fast approaching.  Naturally I forgot it was Labor Day, since my school does not take seriously such paltry holidays and I had class, but this meant that most of the college’s clerical departments were closed for the day.  So I wasted a trip.  Oh, what I thrilling life I lead.

Older than I’ve ever been, and now I’m even older, and now I’m older still

By way of John C. Wright‘s LJ I’ve discovered this wonderful piece by John Scalzi detailing the nearly glacial movement of fiction publishing.  In it, Scalzi explains how novel writing is a rather time-consuming business.  I have no qualms with that statement — I know it’s true.  But he echoes certain common wisdom that pervades the industry that makes me somewhat unsettled, namely, the idea that you simply need to be older to write a novel.  To say this is always the case is of course untrue — we have enough Jonathan Safran Foers and Brett Easton Ellises to demonstrate that — but as a young person, it definitely makes me feel cagier.  I sure as hell am not a Foer or Ellis.

I’ve written three good-sized novels, and one shorter novel that I mentioned a few entries ago.  I am 21 years old.  My first novel — if you want to call it that — was about 100,000 words long, and it was a rambling, disgusting mess.  Essentially everything that Scalzi says first novels are was true of this thing; it shames me to look at it, but I keep the file in my archives just so I don’t forget how far I’ve come.  I wrote this novel when I was 14.  My second novel, 90,000 words written at 16, was better in many respects, but still a pretty sorry thing; a good friend of mine who read it was kind enough to point out its good points, the things he enjoyed, and the things he thought didn’t make sense.  There were a lot of those, and I was glad he pointed them out to me.  But overall it was more directed, had a solid plot, and greater depth of character, as far as that went.  (Incidentally, no one has read my first novel except me, and I plan to keep it that way.)

My third novel, Brutal, is 88,000 words long.  I began writing it when I was 19, a few weeks before my twentieth birthday, finished my first draft in the dorms that fall, and have gone over it a few times since then.  I hope it doesn’t sound too presumptious for me to say that I think Brutal is a pretty good story.  I tell you this after admitting that the previous two books I wrote were utter crap — I say that comparatively this book is haute arte.  On its own I think it’s pretty fun; a handful of people have read Brutal and the response has been positive, something that definitely would not have happened for my prior two exercises.  The book has been rejected once, of course, but only (I think) because I simply sent it to the only slushpile house I could find — I don’t want to try for an agent until I have a few short pieces published — and the house didn’t really specialize in horror.

But there’s also another possibility: that I’m simply not old enough to have written a competent novel.  Scalzi’s ruminations touch on this; the novel, according to Ian Watt, is vested almost entirely in the importance of individual experience.  Can I write well about individual experience when my own is so limited compared to these people who are writing with 30 and 40 and 50 years of life behind them?  This is definitely an anxiety of mine.  Am I simply too juvenile, at the moment, to be a writer?  The fact that I’ve written three novels (or at least one novel and two things that look uncomfortably like novels) in the past seven years only intensifies my self-doubt.  To have written so much while so young may be the mark of a productive but sloppy author, a lifestyle that turns up a few glittering jewels in what is otherwise a sea of crap.

But there’s another issue here: Brutal is a novel about high school.  In some ways it’s a novel about leaving high school behind and finding yourself in a much larger world.  I felt I had to write it last summer because my experience of leaving high school was growing ever more distant, more blunted; I needed to commit those emotions to the page before I lost them entirely.  This could go two ways: I could have ended up with something startlingly genuine or something embarrassingly incoherent.  Salinger proved that you don’t have to write just after leaving high school to nail the teenage mindset, but I am not Salinger.  The people who have read Brutal have not raised issues with my portrayal of the Teen Experience, so I it is possible I lucked out in that department.

But the people who have read my novel are not publishers.

I know that since I’ve written one thing I’m fairly pleased with, nothing else will necessarily follow suit.  The short novel I wrote earlier this month was not something I hated entirely, but it still didn’t sit right with me.  I allowed a friend to read it, and he agreed: it was terrible.  Terrible, but perhaps salvageable.  All of the issues I suspected the manuscript had were indeed issues; having the second opinion was handy for focusing what kind of changes need to be made.

While on the subject, Scalzi also links to this fascinating article about working on a slushpile.  The idea of a website where writers post their rejection letters and rage about them perplexes me somewhat.  I mean, in one sense that’s what I’m doing here on this blog, except I’m not really raging, just keeping a running count.  I also don’t post copies of the letter and make petty swipes at the readers or editors — to do so seems, well, childish.  I don’t think I’ve ever been truly shattered over a rejection letter; I’ve mentioned one that really confused me, since it seemed like the reader was being unwarrantedly snide, but I didn’t bother pursuing the matter, I simply found another market.  I’ve had two letters that contained something like actual criticism, and while criticism is never easy to swallow, I felt like they were the most helpful.  The majority of my rejections fall in the category Teresa Hayden calls “Appropriate Disinterest” — “Thanks, but no thanks.”  As I’ve pointed out, I’m not sure what this says about me or my writing.  Am I submitting to the wrong publications, or what?  Hayden offers a handful of possibilities:

7.  Author can write passable paragraphs, and has a sufficiently functional plot that readers would notice if you shuffled the chapters into a different order. However, the story and the manner of its telling are alike hackneyed, dull, and pointless.

8.  It’s nice that the author is working on his/her problems, but the process would be better served by seeing a shrink than by writing novels.

9.  Nobody but the author is ever going to care about this dull, flaccid, underperforming book.

10.  The book has an engaging plot. Trouble is, it’s not the author’s, and everybody’s already seen that movie/read that book/collected that comic.

11.  Someone could publish this book, but we don’t see why it should be us.

12.  Author is talented, but has written the wrong book.

But I think most of these things might be pointed out in a rejection letter?  Except of course for the one about visiting a shrink. You don’t want the crazies to come after you.  The only thing that will give me answers to these questions is, I imagine, time.  More submissions, more rejections, more writing.

EDIT: Going back and reading my previous entry wherein I discuss rejections in-depth, I must say here that I am probably luckier than most.  As I admit there, many rejections I receive encourage me to submit again — assuming that’s not some commonly accepted form rejection.  My previous rant on this phenomenon mostly had to do with how absolutely goddamn bewildering it is to be told “thanks, no thanks, BUT PLEASE TRY AGAIN.”  I’m all for perserverance, but when you get rejected without any real criticism and an invitation to have a second round it’s kind of alarming.

I’m Burning for You

I just finished my last final, which was for an Intro to US History class and ugh whatever it’s over.  Time for summer.

I haven’t been blogging about my DAILY LIFE because honestly I’ve been so fucking busy it’s not worth it.  However, that doesn’t mean interesting things didn’t happen to me.  For instance, about a week and a half ago I went to wash my hands in the dorm bathroom and the water came out boiling hot, so I spent the night in the emergency room because you would not believe that pain goddamn.  Apparently there had been a problem with the pipes the day before and campus maintenance thought they’d fixed it.  Anyway, I got all the blisters popped and even though it was only second degree burns I had to visit a plastic surgeon to make sure the healing process wasn’t going to do something weird, since my fingers were burned and I guess finger burns like to heal by webbing your digits together.

But things are fine in that regard now, I’m off the bandages and the dead skin on my hand is falling off in horrendous sheets like some disgusting snowstorm.  I’d post pictures but that would be totally gross!

In other news, I’ve hit 22 rejections, almost all of which gave responses that were generally unhelpful.  Here is something I will outline that frustrates me about the speculative fiction market at the moment: There are form rejection slips (which I understand completely) but they do nothing in the way of telling you why something was rejected.  I do not feel like counting the number of form rejections I’ve received that run along the lines of “Thanks for the manuscript, it was really great, but no.  Also, please submit again in the future!”

What the hell do you want from me, people?  Of course, I’ve received a few personal rejections that also ran along these lines, but that was less infuriating.  That was at least some human contact.  A form rejection implies my story wasn’t good enough for special attention — okay, I get that — but why.  I have no idea where I should be taking my writing if I want to sell based on these responses alone.  The only assumption I can operate on is that my fiction is bone-crushingly fantastic in every way, but I’m not submitting the right stories to the right markets.

The few responses I’ve received with actual critcism (even if it was a few words, like “Fails to hold interest”) have been the most helpful.  Of course, criticism can sometimes be inscrutable — an sf story I wrote was called a Bat Durston rather pejoratively, for instance, but weirdly enough that was what I wanted.  That was why I wrote the story, because Bat Durstons are hilarious!  And I submitted it to a venue specializing in comedic sf!  But, well, you win some and you lose some.

Incidentally, I also had something of an acceptance recently.  My campus literary journal, Crucible, accepted a piece of flash fiction I wrote entitled “A Measure of Weekend Minutes for a Penny,” making a total of three pieces of mine to appear in its hallowed pages. Well, three pieces I know of. (The other two were in my freshman year.) I didn’t even know this was accepted so I didn’t attend the release party, I found out from a friend later, and I think that’s pretty hilarious. Anyway, here’s the story.

Continue reading I’m Burning for You

hmm uh what

my lord the power went out at 9:00 last night and people nearly rioted around the dorms, shouting and setting off fireworks and being jackasses until about two or three in the morning like it was a goddamned party and I wanted to shout

WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU PEOPLE, DOES THE POWER NOT GO OUT WHERE YOU’RE FROM

WHEN YOU GET YOUR PEACE AND GLOBAL STUDIES DEGREE ARE YOU GOING TO DO THIS EVERY TIME YOU CAN’T AFFORD TO PAY YOUR ELECTRIC BILL

and I am so near death right now

This is my life I think that is how normal people use blogs