just bought dfw’s Oblivion and am apprehensive about beginning. i can imagine it already. short story after short story, each one sucking you into a portal of uneasiness and confusion, making you feel as though there is something grand, lofty and amiss going on but you cannot quite grasp what because you’re too stupid to see what bears seeing. i’m not sure if i’m ready to be subject to the confusing intensity of dfw, whose dense “smartest-boy-in-class style” hits aspiring writers like an anvil. it was Grace who told me Lorin Stein had moved to New York to write his novel but then read Infinite Jest and gave up – dfw had beat him to everything. with Oblivion just one download away on my Kindle i am imagining a similiar virgin suicide that could possibly occur to myself and… i tremble.
of course, it is this very trepidation that excites me. it is foreplay. i want to be bullied.
this quarter has been a lot about stories. short stories. on a whim i signed up for a fiction writing class, thinking i should finally delve into this world of unwieldy daydreams with which i keep flirting but never commit to. i wasn’t quite prepared for the American vibe (by this i am actually thinking of the overwhelming female American presence) the whole class came with, and i think i am on the verge of dropping it. the professor is a smiling, overweight woman always dressed in tight black, with tattoos on her chest and foot, and has hair so black you immediately think of dye. she looks like she’s stepped right out of an episode of LA Ink, but when she starts to speak she is a lot more like good old American Pie—sweet, firm and wholesome, all smiles. the class has nearly a hundred students, all aspiring, all fresh and young with bright eyes and ready clichés. amidst the aspiring innocents there are a few hipster posers with tight jeans, bowler hats and jaded eyes behind their black glasses. the TA’s are earnest mothers-to-be, one having just gotten married and another looking as though she is ready to fall in love any moment.
the environment is so maternal that i have the uneasy feeling i am sucking off teats. editorial criticisms are, very sweetly, banned. we are supposed to speak about each others’ pieces as though they have already been published and are above admonishment. last week, my starry-eyed TA thought it necessary to prep us by asking “is there such a thing as bad writing?” without expecting an answer, she swooped to the board and wrote in huge capital letters: “YOUR WRITING IS AWESOME!” we’re not being graded on talent or technique, but on perfunctory things like attendance, quizzes and completion grades. it seems to me that we’re hardly writers, we’re babies in a nursery. there isn’t a living soul here who would Tiger-Mom your ass.
despite all this i am a bit reluctant to drop the class. the professor has been uploading shorts onto WebCT every week and i’ve been gleefully devouring the scanned goodies. in this way i’ve discovered some real gems – The Blue Wallet by William T. Vollman, The Bloody Chamber by Angela Carter, Isla by Susan Steinberg, We Didn’t by Stuart Dybek – and i’m reluctant to let go of my treasure trove. if there is one thing this class has done for me it has been the introduction to the short story. i’ve always been a bit of a book snob but now i think if there is anything that has come close to heralding my conversion it would have to be this. the short story! so dense, so compact, so much more potent than the maximalist bulk of a novel. with a short, the whiplash comes in less than 10 pages. an afternoon of readings leaves me feeling embattled. the brevity packs so much more punch, it sucks you in and devours you and spits you out. no ceremony. it is like a short thrill ride on a steep slide and all you want to do is climb back on and go on it over and over again.
dfw beckons. oh boy.