Posted by: zhiv | October 30, 2012

Picking Things Back Up

The other night I stumbled over to a fairly tony lit party, given by one of my most beloved old pals, introducing and honoring the new incarnation of the Paris Review. I suppose I go to more than my share of glam show biz events, although I wouldn’t say that I frequent them. On rare occasions I manage to calibrate the wine and the crowd correctly and start to flow, assuming a clubby, outgoing and even hey baby persona, ever ironic of course, that I barely recognize. I have great old friends and know all sorts of people and I have a basic strategy for quelling the anxiety and ennui, mostly involving alcohol, but it’s a delicate equation, and it’s just as well that I don’t get out much. I’ve been through a rather lengthy gauntlet of challenges I guess, and I’ve been beating myself up more than usual, out of rhythm and out of touch and out of focus. My reading has been poor for the most part, not absolutely pathetic but pretty close. So I didn’t have anything to blog about, not really. I think it would be a good idea to do a list of the books on my bedside shelf, just to have a sense of stuff that I’ve started and put aside, to understand where things are.

At the beginning of the year I started writing a book about last year. There was enough going on in 2011, or at least it seemed like it, that I didn’t write anything new, aside from some blog work (with another extended summer break, getting to be routine), and I just tried to keep up with all the craziness in my journal, which reached new levels of length and detail. I thought it would be pretty easy to go through everything and turn it into a narrative, and I guess I got off to a pretty good start. I wrote up a piece on the last five years of my writing, doing most of it on a plane ride back from New York, and I was going along pretty nicely, with a break or two, but it all seemed kinda peachy.

Then there were a couple of significant disturbances, and at a certain point this year started looking like last year, a struggle. I had a couple of graduations coming up, my daughter from college at Wesleyan and my son from high school down in Costa Rica. Ma femme’s 50th birthday preceded those events, and I managed to rally for that.

On our way home from an extremely well-appointed birthday weekend celebration our daughter informed us that she had decided to become a business woman, and she was going to break up with her boyfriend, who was going to Cambridge and studying philosophy, and abandon her own literary studies, declining her admission to get her masters in London in the fall. It took awhile for this to sink in, and I’m not sure that I understand what it means to me even now, but it has had some sort of effect. We went to her graduation and a bunch of other shit started happening, a pretty rugged patch, and the next thing I knew I was struggling to get by again, just like last year. I really enjoyed reading Chad Harbach’s The Art of Fielding right in the midst of it all, but nothing else stuck, and I didn’t think about blogging. I stopped working on my new narrative early on, and weeks started going by and then months. I managed to write up a short version of the most recent harrowing sequence of events. I was waiting for something to happen, something to get me going again. After the May-June-July tumult our daughter reconsidered the business woman plan, and she went to Paris in August, getting back on track with the Brit boyfriend. August in Paris, September in Greece (working for free lodging at a commie bookstore), and now October in Cambridge: rough life. In the meantime my son is doing a 13th year studying art at a boarding school in Idyllwild (along with a Russian Lit/Creative Writing class, Art History, and a couple more academic classes), an easy 2 hour drive up into the mountains to the east of LA. So far so good.

And so I go to this party, and I loosen up, talking to a few old friends, enjoying myself. I don’t really work the crowd of folks I don’t know, but I pick up a few stray bits of interaction. The question seems to be what I’m doing there, what anybody is doing there, what do books and literature and reviews mean these days, especially in LA. But these are definitely serious people milling about, and the next thing you know I’m one of them. Zhiv here is a writer and producer who studied at Berkeley way back when–two of my pals at the party were at Berkeley at the same time I was. One is a screenwriter, the other is the hostess, a lawyer and book-to-movie agent and now a Paris Review personage, on its board. And suddenly I’m not shy, and I talk about doing graduate work on Leslie Stephen–oddly enough, to a few people who actually know who Leslie Stephen is. I talk about this blog, a true rarity, and I’m trying to remember the books I’ve been most excited about the past few years. I get into a big conversation about George Gissing, and another one about Theron Ware and Harold Frederic. I was happy. I had a great time.

I even have a little follow up going, working on a couple of Gissing notes, rereading my last posts, thinking about how I failed to bring up May Sinclair in conversation when I had the chance. I was surprised when some one who knew Woolf and Stephen well had never heard of Schreiner and Story of an African Farm. And today I pulled out a relatively recent notebook, wanting to look back at the Gissing stuff, and I found two posts that I had never typed up. So maybe I’m back. A little typing, some reading, a few notes and thoughts. A change in the weather.

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