hill of beans
Dammit, this El Señor Presidente I bought turns out to be some sort of young-adult easy reading adaptation, complete with study questions in the back. I didn't know; it was the only one in print. Now I have to send it back and start combing the used shops.
Also, Justin reports and Julia corroborates that the red light in the sky at the Halloween party was none other than the aurora borealis. I guess we are kind of far north, but you don't usually think of it that way. It wasn't rippling or anything really dramatic; it was just red.
All right, but seriously, folks... last night we had another of these awful we're-fucked-after-graduation conversations at the bar, and afterward I went home and thought for a while, and after thinking I have determined things. The first thing is that I'm not getting one of these Michener fellowships that everyone is salivating over. For those outside Iowa, vide the Workshop brochure: "Through the generosity of James A. Michener, the Writers' Workshop is able to award up to eight annual grants of $15,000 for writers launched on prose books which are near publication." What that means in practice, if last year's recipients are any indication, is that they go to people who have book deals or seem poised to nail book deals in the near future. Which I suppose only makes sense, given that the awarding of fellowships is sort of like placing bets at the track: you want to pick a horse who will return on your investment. And I am not that horse. I'll still apply, since I should have a book-length semi-linked stories+novella collection done by the end of the year. But nobody has shown interest in publishing any of these stories, I don't have an agent, and I'm certainly not going to have a book contract by June; so I ain't expecting no favors, honey.
The other, place-specific fellowships are kind of silly too; there's certainly no reason to move to Massachusetts for seven months when all they give you is an apartment, plus a $500 monthly stipend. In Boston? That'll barely cover moving expenses. I will still apply for the Madison, since it's not too far and I could use the teaching experience, and also the Stegner, since it's a two-year program and I have oodles of friends dispersed around SF. But these are long shots, and realistically it's time to stop fixating on these appointments as if they're the Holy Grail. It'll be just like here, only higher-pressure (if that's possible); and you will be older, so that the months will acquire an added urgency as they slip by and you make no discernible advances, still cut off from the world in your hermetic bubble of academe, still living a life that seems more theoretical than applied, still hanging on faculty opinions as if they were the final word in your worth as a being and the dispensation of your soul, still dirt-poor, still rootless and loveless. Free time is all well and good, but you have to watch how much of that free time you spend writing, as opposed to lying on the couch and staring at the ceiling.
So what am I personally going to do? I require little. I'm currently living on $1400 a month with money to spare; if I economize, I could cut that down to around $1000 and make out fineit would be Spartan but manageable, especially since I don't eat meat. Part-time work, 20-30 hrs/wk, seems the way to go. Under those circumstances there's no reason I couldn't maintain my current productivity. I don't know anyone who spends more than a couple hours per day actually writing. The necessary concentration simply can't be maintained, unless it's right before a story is due or something, and that just leads to rushed and o'erhasty work. As far as where: last year I had certain commitments which I thought would influence my choice of place, but as of a few months ago those commitments have been annulled. So...
Iowa City. The main argument in favor of staying here is that moving is ass, especially if you own wagonloads of books. I love my '89 Accord dearly, but I really don't trust it to pull a U-Haul trailer packed with my library over the Rockies. Also, many friends may hang around here. The arguments against staying here are 1) the weatheroh Lord the winter, oh Lord the soul-annihilating winterand 2) there are no jobs here. I know this because of the dismal job-hunting experiences of Workshop significant others who bit the bullet and moved here, the poor lambs. If there were no jobs 18 months ago, there certainly won't be any this coming June, once the Second Great Depression is in full swing. And there is no reason to remain in this town if it's going to force me to wear a silly uniform and wipe tables. Fuck itunless something drops in my lap by June, I'm packing up and heading west.
Tucson. In favor: I grew up there and it's beautiful and I love it, and I have a couple good friends and a father still around, plus a sister who might choose its pharmacy school. Against: Tucson doesn't really have jobs either, so far as I know. Granted it's about 15 times the size of Iowa City, so there's more volume, but I have no idea what I'd do. The real issue is one of pride, I think. I left Tucson at age seventeen with a cranium full of improbable artistic ideals: ideals that the world has not yet beat out of me because I've spent the last six years hiding from it. If I go back to Tucson now, I'll have nothing to show for my time away except a couple of diplomas barely worth the paper they're written on. Somehow I've managed to amass six years of elite higher education without acquiring any useful skills. It's hack work if I go back to Tucson, and while I have no problem with doing hack work for a while I don't know if I can do it thereI'm too absurdly sensitive to appearing a failure.
So it's looking like Reno. I have rather a lot of family there, which means a) big support system and spare furniture I can borrow and so on, and b) some tendrils of connection throughout the town, so that although Reno has no jobs either I could probably find one of those nonexistent jobs sooner. It would not be a glamorous or even a particularly enjoyable life, but it would be tenable for at least a couple of years, which would be long enough to finish a book or two and see whether I can do anything with them. If so, then all rightthe ball starts rolling. If notwell. I don't know what I'll do if it comes to that. In some sense this writer thing is a long shot I've been running with since age sixteen, and I really never expected it to go this far. My luck has got to run out sometime. But hell, here's hoping. Bet the bank on number 7 and give her one last spin.