Recent Thoughts and a Much-Needed Update

I haven't been here for a while and thought that it was high time I checked in, as I have no intention of letting this blog go to seed.  The fact is I've never even managed to keep up with it for more than a week in the way I would really like to, as I've always had very high standards for it.  What I would like is to be able to provide quality, interesting entries at the level of magazine articles, 2-3 times a week, to whoever wants to read them, and to be able to afford to never worry about where else any of this could ever be published or where my energy could be spent at a higher profit to me, and to never put any advertising on this blog.  That last one is a pretty easy commitment to keep, the rest is a bit more challenging for the sheer reason that it's a lot of energy that I might not have, whether or not my heart remains in the right place.

I've never been the kind of person who wants to retreat to a cabin in the woods and do all of my work there.  Sure, it sounds appealing sometimes, but I'm naturally quite social and want to be communicating with people often, even when I frequently don't necessarily want to leave my apartment to do it.  I get sick of the attitude that a writer is someone who separates themselves from society, or that the work of literature is something to be done as separate from a life as a human being.  To a certain extent, even as I'm typing this, I realize there is some truth in that, and I'll try to cool the antagonism a bit as I spend far too much time having arguments in my head with people who don't exist.

Part of how I see it is that if you're someone who is sitting around reading James Baldwin on a Friday night with a glass of Campari in hand by choice, you're already somewhat separate, you don't really have to force the issue.  You don't have to.  If you personally feel it's better to separate yourself, physically or socially, that's a different issue, and you have my blessing.

I don't think it's better for me, though.

In any case, it seems to me that despite my desire for quality and what that often means in my head, I originally started this blog because I wanted to be able to communicate with the outside world and start my own conversations about literature and language in a way that could involve other people.  Since I've started doing that I've caused myself to approach and confront writing differently, if only just in arranging my thoughts in such a way as to be able to share them.

To continue that communication in a way that makes sense to me and to do it more regularly, I think I might have to be slightly less precious about it, to write even when I don't necessarily have a good, specific idea to write about.  It might mean getting a little more personal in my entries, as I often tend to shy away from this place when I'm caught up in personal issues and thoughts and feelings, and it also might mean not writing things that I don't really want to, even if they are intelligent and interesting.

In that spirit, something has changed for me in the past few months.  I've started to understand that I've never really been able to find my niche in academic or popular writing, which is part of the reason why I've only been published minimally and remain at a loss for how to advance any kind of writing career.

Part of what has helped advance my understanding of my situation is, plain and simple, the writing of Mikhail Zoshchenko.  This probably requires a bit more explanation than is included in the linked blog entry.  Suffice it to say I see in his work (albeit in translation, I never take this fact lightly) an example of intelligent writing for the masses.  It's not that I don't see plenty of literary writing these days that could be read by just about anyone who was literate and willing, nor do I think that less immediately accessible writing should bear any critical black mark for not engaging a mass audience to that degree, but when it comes to what I personally want to do, I don't see a whole lot of examples of that in lit mags.  That has changed somewhat as I've started looking at smaller journals and e-zines, and I've been pleased with that, a lot.  There are also other examples of modern writers who have engaged a mass audience (like Etgar Keret in Israel) to the same degree, but not so much in the U.S.  It might be more a matter of a lack of nationalistic unity than personal factors.  I respect Chuck Palahniuk for what he does, but he doesn't cut it in the same way.  Anyhow, I'm working on expanding my awareness of and focus on all of this, but it's Zoshchenko who has helped give me this start.  That's really the most concise explanation I can give for something that has occupied my thoughts in a major way for the past two years at least, but I would like to try to give more such explanations, as it's a way of sharing something rather than just sitting on it and thinking, "No one would understand or be interested anyway, and it's too complicated."  As in the James Baldwin example above, if you've gotten this far, I believe you probably are interested, whether or not that spells doom for you, me, or us both.

Another thing has been that I've been playing a flash fiction game with some people online, which has allowed me to stop being so precious with my writing.  Writing specifically NOT for publication changes one's perspective a bit, which can be helpful.

I've always felt that writing should be fun, but on the other hand I've always been hampered from this by the fact that I'm kind of a snob.  I've had some schooling that's contributed to me being that way and then I've put myself in an even snobbier position by rejecting all of that to a certain degree.  It makes things awkward.  But there's no reason why it can't primarily be fun, despite a focus on and desire for quality.

There are many ways to be successful, and they don't all start by following a prescribed path, even within the world of publishing.  I've been very afraid to step away from that prescribed path because I've felt that being a college dropout requires me to do things three times as formally in order to be taken seriously, that if I don't get published in some major lit mags, get an agent, and get a publisher, in that order, it's just not going to work.  I might still end up doing that, and I'm not going to stop submitting my stories to top tier lit mags (among others), or just start posting it on the Web and throwing out publishing rights, but I also might try doing other things, too.  I might look into starting my own flash fiction game here, or try to start publishing in much smaller arenas with content written in a shorter amount of time.  I want to keep up with the entries, to talk about what's really going on, what really concerns me, and not just continually force a square peg into a round hole and write off the splinters as a loss.


  1. What Zoshchenko would you suggest reading as an introduction to his work?

  2. I'll have to think about that. I would love to just learn Russian and translate all of his stuff myself before answering that question, as his work has been translated unevenly and sparsely into English. The stuff that's closest to my heart is from Before Sunrise, but as a whole the book itself is somewhat uneven and I wouldn't necessarily recommend reading all of it. If you did want to read all of it, though, I would lend you guys (I'm not sure which one of you I'm talking to here) my Gary Kern translation - I have no idea how many copies of this actually exist but I get the impression it's astoundingly few. There's a pretty good mix of stuff compiled in a collection much more easy to locate called Nervous People and Other Stories - I can't remember at the moment who did the translation for that, though. Really any of his comedic work or any of his autobiographical stuff is trademark Zoshchenko to me, though regrettably I haven't even read all of his stuff that's available in translation. While I appreciate his comedic stuff now, I don't know if it would have had the same effect on me if I hadn't come across the Before Sunrise snippets first. They made obvious to me a certain depth in his other writing that might have entirely escaped me otherwise. Anyhow, I'll still think about that some more and get back to you.