Saturday, June 3, 2023

James Baldwin on writing

Reading a James Baldwin interview from The Paris Review in 1984, on the art of fiction.
It's all wonderful and devastating and inspiring. 

I'll be pondering these interchanges about writing for awhile:

Q: As your experience about writing accrues, what would you say increases with knowledge?

A: You learn how little you know. It becomes much more difficult because the hardest thing in the world is simplicity. And the most fearful thing, too. It becomes more difficult because you have to strip yourself of all your disguises, some of which you didn’t know you had. You want to write a sentence as clean as a bone. That is the goal. 

Q:What do you tell younger writers who come to you with the usual desperate question: How do I become a writer?

A: Write. Find a way to keep alive and write. There is nothing else to say. If you are going to be a writer there is nothing I can say to stop you; if you’re not going to be a writer nothing I can say will help you. What you really need at the beginning is somebody to let you know that the effort is real.

Q: Can you discern talent in someone?

A: Talent is insignificant. I know a lot of talented ruins. Beyond talent lie all the usual words: discipline, love, luck, but, most of all, endurance.

Saturday, May 27, 2023

Hold off

Hold off on the Egan book.
A pal gave me news about the author this week that I'm still processing.
Apologies for vague-blogging but yeah. Hold off.

Wednesday, May 24, 2023

What I’ve been reading...2023 part deux

New Orleans' own Maurice Carlos Ruffin’s book of short stories, The Ones who Don’t Say They Love You, is a funny, incisive, painful look at the New Orleans I haven’t often read about. The characters are real people trying to find joy and get by.

I also read Timothy Egan’s Fever in the Heartland, about the rise of the KKK in America in the 1920’s. Everything I thought I knew about America’s embrace of the Klan was underestimated and wrong. The white-hooded menace reached beyond what we like to think of as the backwards Southern states, deeply into the Midwest and out to Oregon and Washington. White women embraced it and preachers not only took the KKK’s money but endorsed the hypocritical hate group from the pulpit. Egan’s story focuses on the prosecution of the rape, torture and murder of a white woman in Indiana as the ultimate derailment of the Klan’s grip on America. With the rise recently in open hate and racism and homophobia on the right, you have to think the rot and repulsiveness is still there, festering away.

Margaret Verble remains one of my favorite writers, with Stealing, and Cherokee America, complex, witty, compelling Native American protagonists doing their best to survive and thrive in an America that seems intent on driving them out and away.

I wanted to enjoy Zehanat Khan's Blackwater Falls more than I did. The mystery part of it was fine but the personal lives of the Muslim characters felt flat, muddled somehow. I wanted more life and character in the detectives!

Trayvon Generation by Elizabeth Alexander, whom I had the privilege of hearing at Tulane recently, provides incisive, beautiful meditations and prose poems on art, culture, and race in America.

README.txt by Chelsea Manning was gripping and left me wanting more. I hope she’ll continue.

Celeste Ng’s Our Missing Hearts is beautiful fiction, about family and resistance and love and loss.

In my ongoing pursuit of knowing New Orleans better, I read Five Days at Memorial by Sheri Fink. Covering the five days after Hurricane Katrina at Memorial Hospital, it’s anecdotal and long and claustrophobic and sometimes messy and ultimately, worth a read.

Sunday, May 21, 2023

What I’ve been reading...2023 part one

Well, a lot, I guess!

Libby makes it super easy and now I’m equipped with a NOLA library card too. The list is lengthy so I’ll start with some memoirs.

Not quite intentionally, I read three memoirs of escape from North Korea:

Every Falling Star by Sungju Lee, The Hard Road Out by By Jihyun Park, Seh-Lynn Chai, and Sarah Baldwin, and While Time Remains, by Yoenmi Park.

I found the first two especially compelling, with often hard-to-read details about hunger, cold and deprivation, executions and delusion. Sungju Lee writes for the YA audience but the book is beautifully written and includes the Dickensian years he spent living in a boy gang on the streets, stealing and fighting to stay alive. The third turns into a right-wing polemic and so I felt pushed away by the writer, who also suffered undeniable horrors only to be swept into another form of scolding, right-wing delusion in Europe and America.

A Heart that Works Rob Delaney was an unexpectedly compelling read, because I didn’t know Delaney’s story going in. He writes about losing his young son to cancer in the most direct, funny, angry way I’ve ever read. This is the book on loss and grief we needed (in companionship with Didion’s Magical Thinking).

As a Top Chef fan, I enjoyed Savor, a visit into Fatima Ali’s short but passionate life as a Pakistani-American cook before losing her life to cancer.

Wrong Side of Murder Creek Bob Zellner was also an unexpectedly interesting and complex read; Zellner was a Freedom Rider in the 1960’s, and he writes humbly and deftly about supporting the Black civil rights fighters including John Lewis, his beatings and arrests and flights for his life in Georgia and Mississippi and Louisiana.

The last memoir I’ll mention is Lost to the World by Shahbaz Taseer, a tale of kidnapping, torture and a decade of survival. Powerful. It reads like a thriller.

Tuesday, May 9, 2023

BSP’s first jazz fest

I’ve been longing to go to Jazz Fest for a long time and last week it finally happened. I signed up to volunteer and in March was awarded two shifts. Volunteering is competitive; some of my fellow ushers asked me how I’d landed positions and I have to admit I don’t know. I signed up, got the call and on Thursday presented myself, sweating, sunscreened and nervous, at the volunteer gate.

Two minutes later I had my badge, time sheet and ticket, asked the security guy which way to the closest entrance, and waited as he cackled and pointed. Literally around the corner.

I got lost a few more times looking for my station, parking lot N3, but roamed the dusty racetrack under my sunbrella taking in the competing musical acts, beer vendors and hundreds of sweaty attendees.

No one told me anything at N3 either, so I waited around until the supervisor Miss Porsha sent me to a waiting minivan. The driver barked, Who told you to get in here? Um, Miss Porsha, I said, scared. She gave me some more shit and when I was about to turn away, teary, she relented and let me in. I spent the next three hours with 69 year old Miss Jackie, who’s been attending Jazz Fest for 45 years and working it for 12. She gave every person who got into the van the same good-natured shit. In between pickups, we said hello to her son who’s also a driver, a niece who’s a cop, and multiple cousins. She showed me pictures of her cat, her kids, herself in gorgeous makeup. At the end of my shift she drove me and another volunteer across the hot, dusty track to check out. I walked home down St. Bernard, enjoying the slightly cooler evening and the continuing festivities all along the street.

Day two I was less fortunate. I got to N3 early and was assigned to ride with a first-year transplant from Massachusetts, a white guy know-it-all who kept leaning on my seat and mansplaining literally everything. We were busy, shuttling musicians around the grounds, me hopping out to help people and equipment in and out. We had a whole van of second line performers, little kids in seersucker suits, tired Moms, a man with a feather headdress who told me how he hacked his knee surgery. We brought some of Jon Batiste’s family to one stage, a friendly and excited group.

During any down times, my driver literally passed out. Ten seconds and he was asleep, head back, eyes closed, waking with a snort. It was weird. Once he followed “Doug” around the track, an old white man in a golf cart covered in plastic, who he said ran Churchill Downs and this race track and is his sister-in-law’s nephews friend or whatever nepostic shit, who got them VIP passes last year and he parked on site and blah-fucking-blah. How he was going to see The Cure and Depeche Mode and whatever other tired old white bands were coming tow town. Toward the end of my shift, he kept interrupting me while I was asking him what time he needed something and finally exasperated I interrupted back and he got pissy, apologizing to our lone passenger that “he had to hear that.”

I hopped out at the N3 parking lot and went to the trailer to pass a message to Miss Porsha. I mentioned that he kept falling asleep so she had me write it up while she signed my timecard. He returned to pick me up but I said I was done and he drove off, irritated. Miss Porsha thanked me and zum Gluck, Miss Jackie was about to drive a vanload of volunteers to check out. I hopped in, all of us laughing and talking. I caught the last 15 minutes of Ludacris, the crowds excited, dancing and singing in the hazy sunset. I walked home down Bayou Road this time, the party in the streets continuing, people selling beer and jello shots from coolers, two brass bands playing. Wow.

Saturday, May 6, 2023

the girls of New Orleans

I have a crush on the girls of New Orleans. Not the bachelorette parties lurching around in their heels and sashes, or the moms partying in their beer pedicabs although they have their place (I guess?) and aren’t hurting anyone or anything but their livers and probably their wallets.

The chicks, I guess you’d say. The cyclist riding her bike through a sudden downpour, me on the sidewalk getting soaked, her cruising by, both of us grinning when we made eye contact. The mulleted walker in pink sunglasses. The taco stand clerk, saying Y’all look so familiar, both of us cracking up when I admitted I’d never been there before.

There are tons of cool girls of all ages, and a lot of them call me baby and smile and take a little extra care. It’s not me, it’s women taking care of women, I think.

Seeing each other and making space.

In this chauvinistic world, it feels pretty great.

Saturday, April 29, 2023


Good old Goog shut down my blog this week.
We're back though. 


I had a wonderful chat yesterday with two dear friends, one recovering from surgery, the other on a voyage of nebulous and almost pleasant existence between travel, not working and not being entirely well. Laughing together made me feel right with the world, briefly.
On my mind is an update on What I'm Reading but before that, I need to share a magnificent writer, a truthful and bold New Orleanian, Maurice Carlos Ruffin. Last week I finished The Ones Who Don't Say They Love You, a beautiful and devastating short story collection and the topic of this discussion. Next up, We Cast a Shadow.