Monthly Archives: September 2013

Let’s Get You an Agent” – An Agent’s How-to for Writers

an agent did you sayMy latest piece for Ploughshares Literary Magazine  posted today – featuring advice for writers, from a literary agent. (I KNOW.)

So get to clicking, and go pick up 5 tips for writers – from the agent’s POV.

(You’re welcome.)


findingbuyinghaving vs the Creative Self

“the self is as strong as it is active. There is no genuine strength in possession as such, neither of material property nor of mental qualities like emotions or thoughts. There is also no strength in use and manipulation of objects; what we use is not ours simply because we use it. Ours is only that to which we are genuinely related by our creative activity […] The inability to act spontaneously, to express what one genuinely feels and thinks, and the resulting necessity to present a pseudo self to others and oneself, are the root of the feeling of inferiority and weakness. Whether or not we are aware of it, there is nothing of which we are more ashamed than of not being ourselves, and there is nothing that gives us greater pride and happiness than to think, to feel, and to say what is ours.”
Erich Fromm, Escape from Freedom

We creatives love to ask our successful counterparts about possessions.

What gear should I buy? What software are you using? What apps did you use while writing your last novel? What kind of [fill in instrument] is that?
If not possessions, perhaps situations. Locale. Circumstance.
Do you have a studio? Should I move to [fill in big city] too? Should I get a nanny? Do I need to switch to part-time? Do I need to switch to full-time? Do I need to get a(nother) degree? Should I be teaching? Should I stop teaching?

While such questions may get a craftsperson somewhere (sometimes), they’re ultimately distractions. Really sexy, productive-feeling distractions.

But their beds look great.For instance, if I can make the craft all about gear, tools, and/or assorted circumstances, I can avoid the terrifying relating-to-myself required of all creators. I can ignore the sense of weakness and inferiority I feel in front of a blank page, or when sitting (empty) at the piano.
I can believe that my lack of creation is due not to my failure or weakness (or lack of discipline, talent, motivation, skill), but to a lack of materials or access to a specific situation. Cue the bemoaning of low funds, lame writing space, poor connections, limited gear. I’d be ridiculously prolific if only I had that one thing.

Since I’m good at following whine-stimulated rabbit trails, I then spend my restless (creative!) energy researching tools, books, instruments, software, gear, and/or assorted jobs. I put myself at languorous pseudo-ease by accomplishing a non-necessity vaguely related to my art! Hooray! #winsthatarefails

Meanwhile, I’ve only moved things around. I haven’t created anything. There is no strength in use or manipulation of objects.”

wood paneling or no

Okay so here’s the thing.
Possessing is no artistic sin. It’s not even shady territory through which we artists should creep warily, lest we lose our Artist Cred.
But it does get in the way.

Primarily because while we’re busy asking questions about possessions, we aren’t asking anything else: of ourselves, of our craft(s), of the blank page, the instrument, the gear we DO have, the ideas we’re back-burnering into eternity, our own unique abysses.

Having and buying shit – blah blah blah. Think, feel, and say what’s yours.

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On the obscene… from (the widely-censored) Henry Miller

The most insistent question put to the writer of “obscene” literature is: why did you have to use such language? […]

Someone has said that  “the literary artist, having attained understanding, communicates that understanding to his readers. That understanding, whether of sexual or other matters, is certain to come into conflict with popular beliefs, fears and taboos, because these are, for the most part, based on error.” […]

People who would be revolted by drawings in Ecce Homo will gaze unblushingly at African pottery or sculpture no matter how much their taste or morals may be offended. In the same spirit they are inclined to be more tolerant of the obscene works of ancient authors. Why? Because even the dullest are capable of admitting to themselves that other epochs might, justifiably or not, have enjoyed other customs, other morals. As for the creative spirits of their own epoch, however, freedom of expression is always interpreted as license. The artist must conform to the current, and usually hypocritical, attitude of the majority. He must be original, courageous, inspiring and all that – but never too disturbing. He must say Yes while saying No. […]

It was demanded of [mankind] to know love, experience union and communion, and thus achieve liberation from the wheel of life and death. But we have chosen to remain this side of Paradise […] In a profound sense we are forever delaying the act. We flirt with destiny and lull ourselves to sleep with myth. We die in the throes of our own tragic legends […] If there is anything which deserves to be called “obscene” it is this oblique, glancing confrontation with the mysteries, this walking up to the edge of the abyss, enjoying all the ecstasies of vertigo and yet refusing to yield to the spell of the unknown.

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Joshua 6

Let there be complete silence

Not a single word from any of you
until I tell you




from Joshua 6:10, New Living Word
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Joshua 1

I will be with you. I will not
abandon you or fail to help you.

You need only obey
to the letter every law.

Think about these laws
every day and every night.

Be sure to obey all of them.



from Joshua 1:5-8, New Living Word
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Joshua 10

Joshua destroyed the city of Makkedah.
Not one person was left alive.

Then the Israelis went to Libnah.
Every last person was slaughtered.

From Libnah they went to Lachish.
The entire population was slaughtered.

The Israeli army captured Eglon
and killed everyone in the city.

After Eglon they went to Hebron,
slaughtering the entire population.

Then they turned back to Debir,
and they killed everyone.

So Joshua and his army
destroyed everyone in the land,

just as the Lord God had commanded,
slaughtering them.



from Joshua 10:28-41, New Living Word
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breaking it

You won’t come spinning out of the madness as if nothing happened.
They say you will.
You won’t make their promise true by needing it.

You slid out of a womb already breaking.
You make all your decisions
via hints the madness left.

When you speak, it’s with the madness
in your throat. You move with whatever it bequeathed
to your bones.

When you live at all, you’re the wreckage of the world
the world intended
when it first opened its mouth.

The rains came down, and the floods came up.
You won’t return to anything
but dust.




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sometimes, “staying together for the kids” needs to suck it

Note: I’m in a (long!) marriage that I love, and I don’t have kids. That said:

this will be greatMany of my friends are contemplating divorce. And I’ve noticed that, when kids are involved, a super-sized ever-present argument gets touted about how parents should “stick it out for the kids.” If you’ve experienced a more nuanced approach to divorce with kids, hooray. This blog isn’t for you. For the rest of us, imma punch the “stick it out” thing in the face.

The cultural assumption is that, if parents base their divorce decision on what’s best for their children, they’ll of course decide to stay together. Um.

As if kids are only or primarily benefitted by living with the same two people for 18 years, even if those people don’t like one another. Even if, and even if in subtle ways, those people routinely inflict emotional harm on one another. Even if those two people are never able to find fulfillment as human beings, and thus never able to model fulfillment-finding to their kids. As if no positive impact can possibly result from two adults’ divorce and subsequent happiness-finding. (And I’m not just talking about marriages that involve an abusive or addicted spouse.)

HOWDY KIDSI readily acknowledge that some couples consider divorce, decide to stay together “for the kids,” and find later that they’ve fallen in love again. That’s great! But it’s not the rule, so let’s move on. Of course divorce can be bad for kids. But so can staying together, for different – but equally significant – reasons. Let’s not make this simpler than it is.

Ultimately, good models for deep, respectful, fulfilling, intimate human relationships may be the best possible gifts a child can receive from her parents. So here’s this:

Dear Parents Considering Divorce,

Your children won’t be fooled by the fact that you live in the same house or sleep in the same bed. Instead, they will learn what to expect out of a relationship by watching yours. They’ll glean ideas about what they’re worthy of, what they should tolerate, what they’re allowed (and not allowed) to hope for, etc. Because of this, it’s possible that the best gift you can give your children is to model what it looks like to believe you’re worth being loved for your whole self, and not just for the sake of tradition, a promise, or some ideal familial construction. Sometimes, such modeling requires divorce. More than having everyone under one roof, it’s possible that your children will prefer to learn how to respect themselves and their dreams, by watching you do it.


The ideal is of course that parents can be personally fulfilled and stay together. But when they can’t, we must admit that sometimes, it’s divorce that allows for possibilities, love, and fruitful Life Education for children. Sometimes, the best parenting move is to move on from a relationship that fails to model the potential inherent in human intimacy. Yes, children of toughing-it-out parents get a model of commitment, perseverance, and sacrifice, and this is worthy of respect. But let’s not pretend the “perseverance model” is automatically the one a child needs – or later appreciates – most.

hey kids! we hopeFor one thing, (this rarely gets heard), the choice to tolerate one another “for the kids” may turn into a Great Burden of Guilt that your children take up once they recognize the choice you made (and why). That’s too much for any child to have on her head, even if it takes her years to see it.

Two, the choice to “persevere and sacrifice” may model – disastrously – the idea that a longterm relationship is not a situation in which individuals can or should expect to be fully loved, fully respected, and/or fully themselves – at least not if they have kids.

I’m not saying that by choosing to stay together, parents are always and necessarily committing themselves to misery. In fact, there’s good reason to hope that couples at the brink of divorce can come back from it more loving, more respectful of one another, and able to present even more solid examples to their children of fulfillment, connection, vitality, and commitment. When this happens, it’s beautiful.

But when this isn’t possible, we must admit that children will suffer regardless. If parents divorce, the family is broken and life irrevocably disrupted. If parents instead “suck it up” in a hopeless situation, children grow up in the context of a relationship defined by mere functional co-parenting and personal martyrdom. Let’s not pretend the latter is unequivocally preferable.

The divorce + kids quandary is the grief-worthy result of broken-down love – of lives that shift, evolve, and/or cease to connect. It is complex and imprecise. We have to be wary of simplistic black/white notions of what it means to wrestle with love that isn’t working.

i just love an easy solutionDivorce is not always (or even often) the best solution. Sometimes it’s just the selfish, easy one. In such cases, marrieds should swallow our pride, work hard, get help, and press on. (So been there.) But we must also be willing to recognize when our perseverance isn’t yielding a healthier marriage. And if that sad point comes (here’s hoping it won’t), we must refuse simplistic solutions where kids are involved.

The suck-it-up-for-the-kids message is everywhere, and many parents have swallowed it blindly. So I’m agitating for nuance. Hear me roar. There’s remarkably little said about the negative impacts – on children – of parents’ forfeiture of a fulfilling intimate relationship… And of the positive impacts – on children – of parting ways. So:

I reject the assumption that divorce is always selfish,
that having a parent who actively pursues his/her personal fulfillment is a loss for his/her child (I find this notion particularly heinous),
and that parent-Togetherness is always best for a child.

I suggest that watching a parent esteem him or herself enough to work toward self-fulfillment, respectful intimacy, and a healthy partnership may be the best gift a child could receive. (How else will s/he learn that it’s possible? Or how to do it?)

When love is broken, children will be hurt – either via divorce or via f*cked up ideas about self-fulfillment and intimate relationships. In either case, these children will require healing. Let’s respect their inevitable aches enough to recognize they’re far from simple.

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