Category Archives: Musings

“And the heart is hit / In a city far away / But it feels so close”: Art, 9/11, and an Oregonian girl

This Wednesday I attended a reading at Nicola’s Books about Granta 116. The British literary magazine’s latest issue is focused on 9/11’s global impact. Granta sponsored similar events in fifty international cities. Panelists at the Nicola’s event included Jeremiah Chamberlin (fiction writer and director of Michigan’s undergraduate writing program), V.V. Ganeshananthan (novelist, journalist, Michigan visiting professor), Linda Gregerson (poet and Michigan professor), and Megan Levad (poet and assistant director of Michigan’s MFA program).*

As to be expected, the audience at Nicola’s was made up almost entirely of writers and passionate readers. Given the mutual interest in art and literature, the conversation turned to whether it’s possible to make art out of tragedy. And, perhaps more to the point, what creative expression the panelists felt best expressed their experience of the events of 9/11. Each panelist gave a thoughtful response that spoke to the very personal way that 9/11 affected each person. I found Levad’s response particularly interesting. She lived in New York City at the time of the attacks and shared that she found dance performances the most cathartic because of their physicality and use of silence. This made perfect sense to me. I hadn’t realized it before but my response, far separated from the immediate events, was latently physical. I remember being so sad and confused that I hurt. (Teenage angst may have played a small role.)

I had just begun my junior year of high school in September 2001. I lived far away from New York City and had never visited. Although I’d seen them in the New York skyline in movies, I didn’t even know those two tall towers had a name. We aren’t a family that listens to the radio in the car or watches Good Morning America so I didn’t know anything had happened until my friend Maura told me in the hallway. “You’re too happy,” she said. “You must not have heard.” My world was so small, I assumed she was talking about a pop quiz or some other high school trauma.

We were released early because my school was downtown, near government buildings, and no one knew if the West Coast would be attacked as well. When I called my mom and asked her to come take me home, the timbre of her voice was so calm and assured, it made me worried. My mother is a former nurse and only uses that voice when things are serious. Like so many other people, I spent all evening watching the news, watching the towers fall, watching bodies falling, watching newscasters cry.

Given my sadness and anger despite my geographical distance, the piece of art about 9/11 that means the most to me is the album One Beat by the Portland-based band Sleater-Kinney. Looking back, I don’t know if their Northwestern, feminist perspective was my own, or whether theirs shaped mine. In the months before I graduated from high school and embarked on my adult life, the lyrics of One Beat‘s title track seemed to say it all. “If I’m to run the future/ You’ve got to let the old world go.”

I’d like to highlight two stand-out tracks that refer specifically to the events of 9/11: “Faraway” and “Combat Rock.”

“Faraway” encapsulates the majority’s experience: watching the towers fall from a distance, on television, and being overwhelmed with fear, anger, and sorrow.

7:30 am nurse the baby on the couch
Then the phone rings
“Turn on the T.V.”
Watch the world explode in flames
And don’t leave the house

And the sky overhead
Is silent, waiting
Clear blue holds it’s breath

And the heart is hit
In a city far away
But it feels so close
Don’t speak of why you’re afraid
Don’t breathe the air today

(Standing here on a one way road
And I fall down,
So we fall down)
No other direction for this to go

Why can’t I get along with you?

And the president hides
While working men rush in
To give their lives

I look to the sky
And ask it not to rain
On my family tonight

I love that the song opens with a line about breast feeding. When’s the last time you heard that in a rock song?

Much as Levad found solace in the silence and wordlessness of dance, I remember thinking that the loudness and distortion of “Faraway” were just what my ears needed. Corin Tucker is known for her powerful vocals and here they are put to full effect. The chorus is a keen that transcends its simple, child-like question: Why can’t I get along with you? At face value, the question is posed to the terrorists. But of course Tucker is also questioning the American government, where class distinctions and social standing determine who is put on the front line (“And the president hides/While working men rush in/To give their lives.”)

By the time of the album’s release, in August 2002, America had begun seeking retribution, leaving many citizens uneasy. Hence, “Combat Rock.”

They tell us there are only two sides to be on
If you are on our side you’re right, if not you’re wrong
But are we innocent, paragons of good?
Is our guilt erased by the pain that we’ve endured?

Hey look it’s time to pledge allegiance
I love my dirty Uncle Sam
Our country’s marching to the beat now
And we must learn to step in time

Where is the questioning?
Where is the protest song?
Since when is skepticism un-American?
Dissent’s not treason but they talk like it’s the same
Those who disagree are afraid to show their face
Let’s break out our old machines now
It sure is good to see them run again
Oh gentlemen start your engines
And we know where we got the oil from
Are you feeling alright now?
Paint myself all red, white and blue
Are you singing let’s fight now?
Innocent People die, uh oh
There are reasons to unite
Is this why we unite?
If you hate this time
Remember we are the time!

Show you love your country, go out and spend some cash
Red, white, blue hot pants doing it for Uncle Sam
Flex our muscles show em we’re stronger than the rest
Raise your hands up baby, are you sure that we’re the best?

We’ll come out with our fists raised
The good old boys are back on top again
And if we let them lead us blindly
The past becomes the future once again

When I first heard this song, I, like many Americans, was disillusioned and skeptical of the way our government was conducting itself. “Combat Rock” burst into my life and let me know it was okay to question. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve thought to myself “Since when is dissent un-American?” while watching the news.

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*Read the Michigan Daily article about the event here.

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Filed under Field Trip, Klickitat Recommends, Musings, This Business of Writing

What’s past is prologue*

One of the advantages of remaining in the same town as your graduate institution is the chance to participate in alumni forums. At these events, faculty solicit feedback from alumni on their professional experiences, with an eye to improving future curriculum. I attended such an event last week. In the midst of a very thoughtful discussion, one question was raised that is still tumbling around in my brain.

Should library students be taught “library history”? (i.e. how libraries came to be, early pioneers, etcetera)

Currently, the University of Michigan’s Library and Information Services (LIS) track does not a course devoted just to library history and theory. In contrast, the Archives and Records Management (ARM) track (of a similar structure) does. Having double specialized in both tracks**, I have a slightly different perspective on this issue than most alums. The ARM intro class (where all the theory and history was imparted) was far from my favorite. While I’m grateful to have a strong knowledge of the history of the profession, a lot has changed in the archives world (see: glut of electronic records) and knowing what people were doing a hundred years ago isn’t incredibly helpful on a practical level. Especially in the current tight job market, where hands-on experience is golden. Remember, this is a two-year program. Minus three mandatory foundation courses, there’s a lot of ground to cover in a very short time.

Yet, I’d also argue that knowing the history of the profession can be very powerful. Neither libraries nor archives were established without a lot of hard work and thinking on the part of many individuals. Bogged down by recent budget cuts and hiring freezes, it’s easy to think that our profession has never faced such adversity before. But that, of course, is wrong.  The challenges might have been different but libraries have always struggled to meet the demands of their communities, whether that means establishing the first children’s rooms, serving new immigrant populations, or figuring out how to introduce e-books into the collection. The truth is, the profession has never not been in flux. It’s important for librarians and archivists to realize this so that they’re better prepared to innovate themselves. A history course provides much needed perspective.

Credit: State Library of North Carolina’s Public Library History Files

What do you think? Did anyone take a “library history” course in graduate school? Was it valuable for you? Any current students with thoughts?

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*That’s right. I’m taking my English major cred to my grave.

** My abbreviated degree is ARM/LIS. Such a satisfying lame joke.

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Paul Simon As Short Story Writer

I’ve always thought of Paul Simon’s songs as musical short stories. If you know me, I might have talked your ear off about his brilliance at some point or another. Probably in a car, on a road trip, when you can’t escape. (Sorry about that.) My annoying proselytizing aside, there’s no doubt that Simon is a genius at capturing character and emotion in a single line or phrase. I think “Slip Slidin’ Away” rivals Carver or Hempel at their best. This verse, in particular, stands out:

And I know a father
Who had a son
He longed to tell him all the reasons
For the things he’d done
He came a long way
Just to explain
He kissed his boy as he lay sleeping
Then he turned around and headed home again

Or take this verse from “René and Georgette Magritte With Their Dog After The War,”

René and Georgette Magritte
With their dog after the war
Were strolling down Christopher Street
When they stopped in a men’s store
With all the mannequins
Dressed in style
That brought tears to their
Immigrant eyes

Lovely.

Needless to say, I was happy to find Phil Sandick’s in-depth exploration of Simon’s storytelling in the Fiction Writers Review archives. I can die happy. Someone else understands.

http://fictionwritersreview.com/essays/what-the-short-story-writer-can-learn-from-paul-simon%E2%80%99s-lyrics

Fiction Writers Review » Blog Archive » What the Short Story Writer can Learn from Paul Simon’s Lyrics

After reading Sandick’s article, I put Paul Simon: Lyrics 1964-2008 on hold at the library so I can read it post haste.

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Filed under Klickitat Recommends, Musings, Quote of the Day, This Business of Writing

Can A “Poor Reader” Affect A Love of Books?

There’s an interesting discussion happening over at Fuse #8 today. Betsy asks if it’s possible for “bad readers to affect a love of books.” I’ve enjoyed reading people’s thoughts. What do you think?

For the record, here’s my response:

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Filed under Audience Participation, Musings, Youth Literature in the Wild

How You Benefit From A Rival’s Success

It’s no secret that creative types are prone to jealousy when their rivals succeed. But, in a recent post on his blog, Cockeyed Caravan, screenwriter Matt Bird argues that spite is the incorrect response. Instead a rival’s success should be celebrated because it’s a win for the creative community at large.

Bird explains:

“Every success story helps all of us. The danger is not that people will see the other guy’s movie instead of your movie. The danger is that people will stop going to the movies. Anyone who gets people into theaters is creating a bigger audience for everybody. There is almost no limit to the potential demand for movie tickets. When people see good movies, then they want to see more good movies. When people see bad movies, they want to see a good movie next time instead. If you want to sell movies to people, then anyone who gets people into theaters is your friend.”

He’s addressing screenwriters but I think it’s a viewpoint from which all writers could benefit. Just replace “movies” with “books,” etcetera.

Read the full post here.

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(Review from the author)

I asked earlier if authors should rate their own books in social media and used Goodreads as an example. Now I notice that Goodreads has updated their site’s coding so that reviews from the author are identified (see below, emphasis mine). I think this is useful because there’s less guesswork and it places the author’s comments in context. How about you? Does this alter your opinion?

Credit: Goodreads, Susan Issacs' Angry Conversations with God


Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have some three day weekend sunshine to appreciate.

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Catching Up

Credit: California Literary Review

I’ve recently found myself catching up on bits of pop culture that I missed during the height of their popularity. I haven’t set out to do this in any organized fashion. No, it’s just worked out that I’ve been spending a lot of time lately obsessed with phenomenons from decades past. I find it interesting to finally encounter something in its entirety that I’ve heard quoted or referenced for years. I often encounter a sort of mental shift afterward. For instance, a lot of playground conversations make a lot more sense now that I’ve seen Beetlejuice. Same too with The Karate Kid, which I only saw three years ago. Is this useful knowledge to acquire? Maybe not. But still. There you have it.

So, please forgive me if I’m a little unstuck in time of late. Between concurrent viewings of the second season of Twin Peaks, Designing Women, Alien, and the back catalog of Doctor Who, I’m not sure I would be able to accurately tell you the current president, should I be struck on the head. But I do understand that you do not mess with a Sugarbaker woman, know that the owls are not what they seem, and am relieved that the afterlife comes with an instruction manual. Surely that’s good for something.

What pop culture have you enjoyed after the fact?

This post was sponsored by the Television on DVD Council of the Americas.

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