What I Did This Summer – A Very Partial Report

Two essays appeared this summer, at The Morning News and The LA Review of Books. Both began as blog posts here and had to, per the rules of this blog (any post extending over 800 words must be considered as an essay first), get sent off.

The Morning News essay, “Go Away”, is an account of my experiences at three arts residencies–the VCCA, MacDowell and Civitella Ranieri–and a look at the entire reason you’d go away to one at all.

Fiction writers are often portrayed as fussy prima donnas, and I won’t say we aren’t, but to explain, when we write fiction, we are, all in one head, the actor improvising a scene, the director, the writer writing down the results, and also all the other actors, as well, improvising all the other parts, plus camera, set decorator, grips, etc. When we’re home, we’re also often our own catering and makeup crews, and then we must also be the person we agreed to be to everyone we know.

Colonies provide the time and space to work unbothered. If you interrupt us at work, a complex piecework of notions falls apart. I don’t know if I could have put it that way back in 1998, but I felt it, desperately.

The second, at The LA Review of Books, “Parvenucracy”, was an experiment in metacritical TV writing–an account of the writing that appeared around the BBC/PBS hit Downton Abbey last year, with an eye toward understanding the sensation, the backlash, and the thing itself.

LAST YEAR WE WERE a people in a country with roads that would take out your axle, watching a show about people learning to use cars for the first time. All over the country, we were learning that you could pronounce the “t” at the end of “valet.”

We were said to be watching it because we were stupid Americans or we were watching it because we were nostalgic for being ruled over or because we loved Jane Austen or country houses or Upstairs Downstairs or (the first) Brideshead Revisited. Or for more reasons than this, or for fewer reasons. But we were watching it, we were watching it, watching it, watching it, watching it.

More work is on the way–a short appreciation on the writer Julian May in a forthcoming issue of Tin House is up next. And of course the novel, but news on that in the very next update.

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