I was born and raised in New York City and my first book, Here Beneath Low-Flying Planes, won the Iowa Short Fiction Award. My stories and essays have appeared in McSweeney’s Quarterly, VQR, American Short Fiction, Best New American Voices, and others, and short-listed in Best American Short Stories and Prize Stories: The O. Henry Awards. I began studying creative writing at UC Santa Cruz and went on to earn my MFA in Creative Writing from Columbia University. I’ve been a fellow at Yaddo, MacDowell, VCCA, and Bread Loaf, and I’ve taught creative writing for over a decade at many institutions, including Pratt, California Institute of the Arts, Cal State San Bernardino, Colorado College, University of Maryland, Columbia University, and the Writers’ Program at UCLA Extension.
This video-essay and the accompanying essay on the process of crafting this piece were published by Electric Literature!
A woman, a dog, the open road & the things we carry to the middle of nowhere
A video essay? A photo essay in video form? A lyric essay in filmstrip form? Whichever way, we’re definitely not in Kansas anymore.
How Did We Get Here? Notes on Craft & Process
Once upon a bleak set of years, I did nothing but drive back and forth across the country. I had no job, no house, no partner, no plan, and, in the wake of various concurrent losses, I no longer had faith in my own desires.
On one of these junkets, I pulled over at a roadside rest stop in Kansas. The landscape reminded me of Andrew Wyeth’s painting, Christina’s World, and so I tied the dog to a picnic bench, set up a timer shot, and somehow spent hours trying to reenact the painting. At some point later on, I tweaked the color on a single shot, posted it to Facebook, and promptly forgot that this particularly lonesome day (and its attendant series of photos) had ever happened.
When I first sat down to write about these dog days of roaming, I went poking around an old back-up drive and discovered the forsaken photos I’d taken that day.
The images are poorly lit and lackluster, and they certainly don’t get into the logistical grit of the drama going on in my life at the time, but, true to the old creative-writing adage show-don’t-tell, the photos manage to conjure the emotional truth of the story without explicitly stating a thing.
The isolation is clear in the landscape. The repeated attempts to get the perfect shot reveal a mounting desperation. The light changes; the sun fades. The sheer number of shots belies the fact that I had nowhere to go and no burning desire to get anywhere.
I wrote a brief essay-ish sort of piece, almost as if captioning a contact sheet, but it was difficult to read on a small screen, so I tried to find a form that would function in service of both image and text.
Video essay? Slideshow narrative? Lyric filmstrip? I’m not sure what to call it, but even with the rudimentary skills I was able to work up in the crash course of a 14-day software trial, as is often the case with revision, this exercise in form furthered my own understanding of the story at hand.
Some shots were taken in such rapid succession that by setting them in video sequence, it’s almost as if I’m reset in motion. This animated humanity and my voice on the audio track, bring to the project an intimacy that I find both strange and pleasing. This pit stop in Kansas marks what I can only hope is the loneliest I’ll ever be; the dog was the only one to hear my voice not just for those hours in the field, but for days. By offering a belated chance to both speak and move, the multi-media form seems to do more than just capture the experience I had with the dog the day we got stuck in that field; it somehow seems to release us from it.
Form + Function Notes On Creative Process I wrote an essay about the years the dog and I spent driving back and forth across the country and called it Vanishing Point: A Mobius Atlas because there was never an end; we just kept going on this endless loop. Even after the piece appeared in McSweeney’s, I still kept imagining it in the form of a handmade accordion that fastens into an actual möbius strip, the form echoing the essay’s elliptical content. Relying on Scotch tape, refrigerator magnets, and Kinko’s coupons, I jury-rigged the essay into book form. The biggest challenge … Continue reading Forays In Book Making: Vanishing Point
“This Land Is Your Land” by Woody Guthrie POETS OFF POETRY, SONG OF THE WEEK | MONDAY, DECEMBER 14TH, 2015 I just spent 11 days driving across country with my 81-year-old mother. She grew up in the Bronx and has spent her whole life in New York City, squelching her more artistic desires to cater to our family—but, for a brief time in the early ’60s, she considered herself a folkie. With my dad recently dead and without any offspring to offer as distraction, it seemed that the best thing I could do was drive my mom around the entire country instead. … Continue reading “This Land Is Your Land” by Woody Guthrie
My essay on the use of text and image in memoir was published by the Los Angeles Review of Books!
Writing Afterimage: Show Versus Tell and the Multimedia Narrative
A woman, a dog, the open road, and the things we carry to the middle of nowhere.
Inventing Superhero products by the dozen, naming them, writing product descriptions, and spray mounting labels onto empty cardboard boxes and paint cans—stocking the Superhero Supply store until the wee hours definitely proved writing’s power to invent a new world.
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