Archive for June, 2010

Overheard in New York

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I didn’t write this article, but I’m quoted in it–scroll all the way down to read about my favorite book series when I was a kid.  I sound a little like a surfer chick, which I suppose is fitting now that I’m on summer vacation!

20 Under 40

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I’m turning 27 in three days.  My impending birthday serves as a reminder of the limited time I have to achieve one of my personal goals:  to make a “thirty under thirty” list.

These lists appear at least once a year in various magazines I read.  The premise is that young talent is more noteworthy, more remarkable, than talent at an older age.  There’s apparently something special about being able to say, “I’ve achieved XYZ… in my twenties!”  I remember interning at a literary agency 2004, when advance copies of 22-year-old Natalie Krinsky’s Chloe Does Yale were being distributed, and feeling jealous that I hadn’t made my grand authorial debut yet.

Ultimately, though, I know it’s silly.  Success at any age is commendable.  Look at Frank McCourt, who taught high school English for decades before writing Angela’s Ashes.  Heck, I feel happy when one of my friends reads my manuscript and says she laughed out loud. 

Either way, it’s only fitting that The New Yorker released their “20 under 40″ list this week.  I’m excited to see a lot of authors I admire–and some I’ve even met!–made this list, and I look forward to working my way through the issue to read their stories and meet new writers.  The website has interviews with each of the writers–check them out, along with the cool sketch-portraits that go with each of them.

Of course Jonathan Safran Foer is too cool to look directly at his audience. 

Okay, okay.  Young-author-jealousy has now been fully exorcised.

The David Foster Wallace Connection


I’m a little late in jumping on the David Foster Wallace bandwagon.  I remember my classmates being pretty broken up when the legendary author committed suicide in our first semester of the MFA program, but I didn’t feel anything personally, having never read any of his work.  Only now, as I’m beginning to read his collection, Brief Interviews with Hideous Men, do I see why such a writer would be an icon for many other artists.

Taken by the first few stories of Brief Interviews, I started doing some research on Wallace and began to find little connections emerging. 

First, I stumbled on this video of Wallace talking about the importance of brevity in writing.  It speaks to what I try to impress upon my own students and, indeed, myself as a writer. 

Additionally, John Krasinski, star of one of my favorite TV shows, made a film based on Brief Interviews with Hideous Men.  I haven’t seen the movie yet, but I found this clip of Krasinski reading one of the stories from Brief Interviews.  When I read the story myself, I didn’t think it was funny, but it’s interesting how Krasinski’s reading draws out humor that I didn’t even realize was there.  That’s the thing about stories–there are so many ways to read them.

Another random connection:  here’s a clip of Wallace reading an essay published in Harper’s at the New School, my MFA alma mater.

Next up?  Wallace’s Infinite Jest, which I bought on a whim last summer but never read (my brother and sister-in-law were reading it at the time, so when I saw it on line at B&N, I picked it up).  It’s over a thousand pages.  How’s that for brevity?

The Final Countdown

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It’s the end of the year–time to say goodbye to the students of 2009-2010.  In  high school, though, it’s unlikely that you’ll witness big, tearful, emotional goodbyes.  You’re more likely to see kids sweating over finals and teachers grading like madmen, squirreled away in various quiet spots of the building. 

Which makes sense.  We teachers have to be somewhat detached to do our jobs effectively.  If we cared too much about how students felt about us, it would be difficult to keep standards high, to assess accurately, to keep kids focused when they’d rather be doing something else, somewhere else.  Sometimes that means students aren’t always happy with us, and we don’t exactly get dramatic, moving goodbyes in the style of Glee

That’s okay, though–it’s the way it has to be, and any teacher worth her salt knows that.  If teachers got upset every time we were treated with indifference or disrespect, most of us would have nervous breakdowns before reaching tenure.  So we go through the year, knowing that what’s best for the kids usually isn’t what’s most popular, all in the hopes that they’ll leave our classes having learned something, whether they realize it or not.

Here’s a secret, though.  When we do get a sincere sign of appreciation, it means the world to us.  I’ve saved every card and every memory of a time when students said they learned from my class, that they applied something we discussed in their lives outside the classroom.  Those moments, rare and precious, are what make being a teacher special.

We live in reality, not in the romanticized world of Glee, but watch the teacher’s face as his kids sing ”To Sir, With Love” to him, and you’ll see what I mean.

Issues with The September Issue

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I recently saw The September Issue, a documentary on the production of the 2007 September issue of Vogue magazine.  The September edition of Vogue is the year’s largest issue.  The items featured in it have a huge effect on the success of specific collections as well as the styles women buy for the entire year.  The documentary focuses mostly on Anna Wintour, the editor-in-chief of Vogue.  She is the most powerful woman in fashion and has a reputation of being an ice queen, especially since the success of her former assistant’s 2003 novel, The Devil Wears Prada.

It bothers me that so much attention is given to Anna Wintour’s personality.  She’s run one of the most successful magazines in the world for over twenty years.  Does anyone ever comment on Steve Jobs’s personality?  Bill Gates’s?  Donald Trump made “the cobra” famous for firing people, but the world took that to mean that if you want to make it as his apprentice, you better be up to snuff–as opposed to, “Oh my gosh, he is soooo mean.”  So why does Anna Wintour get the eye rolls and behind-the-back comments?

It’s because she’s a woman.

Don’t get me wrong; I love The Devil Wears Prada.  But it’s a work of fiction.  In real life, if you work at the top publication, you can bet your boss is going to be a stickler.  You’re putting out a huge book every month in a competitive market.  You don’t run a company like that by being indecisive. 

That’s not to say that you have to have warm fuzzy feelings for Steve Jobs because you love your iPhone.  The point is that personal feelings are irrelevant when it comes to business.  When you’re running a company, the focus should be on the product and how good it is, not on the catty gossip and personal feelings that surround its creation.  I think that oftentimes, the public’s attitude falls into the latter category when dealing with women because… because I don’t know why.  Why do women still make less money than men?  Why did people call Hillary Clinton “Hillary” and Barack Obama “Obama” in the Democratic race for the 2008 election?  Why are women writers still snubbed during book award judging?

Maybe the solution lies in education; maybe it lies in setting an example.  Maybe the solution is as simple as women of all professions taking a stand… or ignoring the images laid before us.  There might be any number of solutions. 

Here’s my solution.

Read Virginia Woolf. 

Women have served all these centuries as looking glasses possessing the power of reflecting the figure of man at twice its natural size.
Virginia Woolf, A Room of One’s Own