Saturday, May 29, 2010

What We Talk About When We Talk About Raymond Carver

The answer: alcoholism and short stories. Not poetry.

But Carver did write poetry. And his second wife, who is still alive, is poet Tess Gallagher. His verse, like his short fiction, is very narrative, drawing on colloquial diction and stark, realistic imagery. I find myself more of a fan of his fiction (especially his story "A Small Good Thing"), but I think it's interesting that he wrote and published successfully in both mediums. Anyway, I'll leave it to you to judge. Below is one of his more well-known poems and one that I do like; despite its brutality, I think it taps into something very true about creating art out of ugly or tragic things.

Your Dog Dies

it gets run over by a van.
you find it at the side of the road
and bury it.
you feel bad about it.
you feel bad personally,
but you feel bad for your daughter
because it was her pet,
and she loved it so.
she used to croon to it
and let it sleep in her bed.
you write a poem about it.
you call it a poem for your daughter,
about the dog getting run over by a van
and how you looked after it,
took it out into the woods
and buried it deep, deep,
and that poem turns out so good
you're almost glad the little dog
was run over, or else you'd never
have written that good poem.
then you sit down to write
a poem about writing a poem
about the death of that dog,
but while you're writing you
hear a woman scream
your name, your first name,
both syllables,
and your heart stops.
after a minute, you continue writing.
she screams again.
you wonder how long this can go on.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

You give me fever

...."You" in this case being strep throat. I've got it, and my temperature today at the doctor's office: 101.8. Is it hot in here, or is that just me?

Having a fever really validates that you're sick. It's like the ultimate trump card, definitive proof that you are not well and thus cannot go to school, work, etc. No one questions you if you have a fever. I rarely get fevers, which is maybe why I still find them sort of exotic. As a kid, I always hoped the thermometer would give me numerical evidence that would make it seem merely coincidental that I had been struck down by illness on the very same day as my math test. Unfortunately, my temp was usually a stubbornly normal 98.6 and I had to rely on my acting skills to get out of school.

Today, however? Today I have an actual fever. Which sucks, because from what I can tell, it's gorgeous out. But I'm contagious and thus have to spend all day indoors, with only Maude to keep me company. And let's face it, she's not the greatest conversationalist. And even if she were, I can't really talk anyway since my throat is so sore. I cannot swallow without severely wincing and/or crying out.
I've tried Chloroseptic, lozenges, gargling salt water, and copious amounts of ibuprofen (seriously, I practically OD'ed on Advil yesterday, taking 6 times the recommended daily dosage), but nothing soothes the pain.

I've had tonsillitis twice and strep throat several times. Apparently, my tonsils just aren't up to their designated task, which is to keep me from getting sick, not make me sick. From the Wikipedia entry on "tonsil":

These immunocompetent tissues represent the defense mechanism of first line against ingested or inhaled foreign pathogens. Like other organs of the lymphatic system, some believe them to be involved in helping fight off pharyngeal and upper respiratory tract infections, but there is no conclusive evidence to that effect.

Immunocompetent? More like immunoINcompetent if you ask me (zing!). I give my tonsils about a D- and that's being generous.

Another thing about tonsils: they are really ugly. Seriously, this is the stuff of nightmares:

Let's get a closer look, shall we?

I'm sorry, but THAT'S FUCKING DISGUSTING. That picture came from a decidedly anti-tonsil site that had this to say about tonsils:

Although the tonsils and adenoids, when healthy, do help fight infections, sometimes they cause much more trouble than they are worth. If the tonsils are frequently or chronically infected, they are no longer working properly. In fact, they have been 'subverted' by the enemy bacteria, acting as reservoirs for infection.

In other words, your tonsils can become TRAITOR TONSILS!

I hope, right now, a battle is taking place on my tonsils and that the antibiotics I took this morning are kicking some serious ass. This is what I imagine the antibiotics look like:


*Ok, I know I'm abusing the ALL-CAPS. But cut me some slack: I have a fever, remember?

WTF ADDENDUM: I have just learned from my doctor that my throat culture came back positive for Group C strep. Apparently, I have an unusual strain -- A & B are the common ones. All Wikipedia says about group C is:

Includes S. equi, which causes strangles in horses,[10] and S. zooepidemicus - S. equi is a clonal descendent or biovar of the ancestral S. zooepidemicus - which causes infections in several species of mammals including cattle and horses.


Am I unknowingly a cow or a horse?

I am stunned by this new development. Fortunately, the antibiotics I am taking should work against my weird farm animal variety of strep. Thank God for small favors.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Blogger's block

As my more devoted readers may have noticed (hi, Mom), my blogging has slowed down lately. And I can't blame school, because the semester is over. But for some reason, I have found myself struggling to come up with things to blog about.

Have I lost my blogging mojo? And if so, how can I get it back?

I hate the idea of blogging about something I don't care about, just for the sake of posting regularly. I started the Vagnino Monologues not because I wanted to be a blogger per se (I still really don't read blogs) but because I thought I had some funny stories to share and to get myself in the habit of writing on an almost daily basis. And usually, I have so many ideas for posts that I have to write them down and parse them out over a few weeks.

But here I am, 8 days since my last post, writing about having nothing to write about.

Which is a cliche.

Let's see what the experts have to say about writing and writer's block:

"Writing is 90 percent procrastination: reading magazines, eating cereal out of the box, watching infomercials. It's a matter of doing everything you can to avoid writing, until it is about four in the morning and you reach the point where you have to write."
(Paul Rudnick)

Hmmm. That makes sense to me. But you know who disagrees?

"Planning to write is not writing. Outlining--researching--talking to people about what you’re doing, none of that is writing. Writing is writing." (E.L. Doctorow)

Fine, Debbie Downer Doctorow. Way to rain on Rudnick's parade.

"The writer's duty is to keep on writing."
(William Styron)

Sage words, Styron. Not particularly useful, though. Now I just feel guilty because I'm not fulfilling my duty.

"I carry a notebook with me everywhere. But that's only the first step. Ideas are easy. It's the execution of ideas that really separates the sheep from the goats." (Sue Grafton)

If only I respected Sue Grafton enough to take her advice. Alas, I don't plan on titling my first chapbook "P is for Poetry."

"Lower your standards and keep writing."
(William Stafford)

I feel so inspired! Unsurprisingly, that depressing tidbit comes from the poet responsible for this devastating stanza (from the poem "Ask Me"):

Sometime when the river is ice ask me
mistakes I have made. Ask me whether
what I have done is my life. Others
have come in their slow way into
my thought, and some have tried to help
or to hurt; ask me what difference
their strongest love or hate has made.

Ready to kill yourself yet?

Faulkner, cocky bastard, had these choice words to say about his process:

"I only write when I am inspired. Fortunately I am inspired at 9 o'clock every morning."

Gee, Faulkner, must be nice. At 9:00 a.m. I can barely string together enough words to buy a coffee.

"To write is to write is to write is to write is to write is to write is to write is to write."
(Gertrude Stein)

Ah, of course! Everything is clear now.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Making it easy for the clean up woman

The title of this post refers to a 1971 Betty Wright song from one of my favorite 80s movies,
Maid to Order, starring Ally Sheedy, Beverly D'Angelo and Tom Skerritt. It's a Cinderella tale, with Sheedy playing a hard-partying spoiled brat who gets her comeuppance when her father (Skerritt) wishes, after she's arrested for drunk driving, that he had never had a daughter. Magically, this comes to pass, thanks to a Fairy Godmother (D'Angelo). Sheedy is forced to actually get a job and the only one she can get: maid.

Why is this movie on my mind today? Well, on Monday, I hired a cleaning lady to clean my apartment for the first time ever. I decided after two years in a small space with a shed-happy cat, it was time for a professional to come in. If I ever want gentleman-callers to stay the night, I need to feel confident that they won't leave the next morning covered in cat hair.

I turned to Yelp for advice and found Neide Teixeira, who agreed to come to my studio and give it a thorough scrub-down and dusting. Sunday night, in preparation, I engaged in a somewhat funny ritual: the pre-cleaning cleaning. People who've paid for cleaning services before, you know what I'm talking about -- the cleaning you have to do BEFORE the strangers show up to clean your house. This involves hiding porn (which wasn't issue for me, unless Neide was planning to clean the hard drive of my laptop), drug paraphenalia, and anything else that might be questionable (The Cutting Edge 2: Going for the Gold on DVD) or illegal (pet ferret).

Neide and two other women showed up on Monday and got right to work, while I took Maude to the vet for a check-up. When we came home, my jaw dropped open -- I had no idea such cleaniness was possible. Surfaces were gleaming, my bed was made and THE INSIDE OF MY ANCIENT CRUSTY TOASTER OVEN WAS CLEAN, bereft of the burned residue that had been accumulating basically since I inherited it from my father back in 2003.

Very pleasing.

Epiphany: I just downloaded "Clean Up Woman" and it's totally not about actual professional cleaning women, but rather the woman who steals your man when you've been ignoring him. So "making it easy" for the clean up woman has nothing to do with doing a preliminary sweep or stashing contraband. You learn something new every day.

Friday, May 7, 2010

That's "Professor Vagnino" to you

Great news: after a grueling and fiercely competitive application/interview process, I have successfully landed a teaching position at Emerson for the 2010-2011 school year!

I will be teaching two courses: Intro to College Writing in the fall, and Research Writing in the spring. Both are freshmen composition courses that meet 3 times a week (each class is 75 minutes). The pay is basically slave's wages, but I'm not complaining -- I love teaching writing and this will be great experience and hopefully open up other professional opportunities after I leave Emerson.

The first semester course is pretty structured -- already broken down into four units and all the readings come from books that the department has chosen. I'm more excited for the research writing course, which is much more open and allows students to experiment in different genres. Instead of position papers, I can assign them to write memoirs, graphic novels, op-ed columns, manifestos, press releases, film reviews, blogs -- whatever genre/rhetorical situation I deem fit that will require them to do some research into the genre's requirements and audience. And I get to pick all the readings. Mwahahahahaha!

The research writing course can also involve some multimedia projects, if you subscribe to composition theory god Joseph Harris's belief that "texts" are not just written documents. Texts are "objects that have been made and designed -- artifacts that can in some way be shelved, filed, or stored and then retrieved and reexamined" (Rewriting 11). Under this definition, texts can include movies, songs, plays, advertisements, photographs, web pages etc. Emerson students are very tech-savvy, so I plan to take advantage of this. Check out some of these "texts" that were created by freshmen who were studying PSAs as a genre:

Pretty impressive....anyway, I can't wait to start crafting my syllabus!

Emerson College class of 2014: I look forward to meeting you.