Sarah Wrote That

That Spring

I cannot say what anyone wore. Were skirts
about the knee? Was it the year of crochet
or of failed pants no matter how we belted?
I remember we had squirrels. The weed killer men
arrived while we slept. You rushed undressed
and though we were soon hidden
the way you stormed back to me I wondered
who had seen you and what they would say
if I knew who to ask. Later that week or the next
you said: where did the squirrels go?
We have the worst answers.
In the passenger seat of a Honda Civic
at dire speed over half New Jersey
I felt the weather compel our flight while NPR
considered all things except what we were thinking.

On this coast houses are clearly references.One winter was for a long while like the last.No one meant to vacuum away the old calendar.Still, by the time I wanted the habitit was gone. Now every method shifts with practice. The best chords are suspended.They sustain the absence of a root. The toneof this moment takes seven or eight dubs. Each replay,the note I want seems like the first note.

On this coast houses are clearly references.
One winter was for a long while like the last.
No one meant to vacuum away the old calendar.
Still, by the time I wanted the habit
it was gone. Now every method shifts
with practice. The best chords are suspended.
They sustain the absence of a root. The tone
of this moment takes seven or eight dubs. Each replay,
the note I want seems like the first note.

The Best Kind of Mistake

image
photo: Mario Tama/Getty Images in The Atlantic

Our friendship was extremely convenient to major transportation, I said, and Vicky laughed, and immediately we had that, the line, and that we seemed to appreciate it equally, as a joke, and didn’t care that it was true. Her evening proofreading shift began at my preferred train’s departure time. So we had that, too, she said. Jostled between men in sweaty-backed shirts in a narrow bar on Forty-fourth Street, we’d hurriedly decided on an overly flowery white wine and were bent close over small glasses.

“The best kind of mistake,” she said. “Twenty minutes and it’s done.”

“How will that work, with the proofreading?” I asked.

“It’ll have to work, won’t it?” she said.

Read on →
On grey Saturdays, snatches of city weekends return to me that even now are less likely to come from my own years than from my sense of in-between scenes in Annie Hall-era Woody Allen or Kramer Vs. Kramer—movies that seemed grownup and urban when I was not—or from when my aunt and uncle lived off Connecticut Avenue, and returning with my parents to our suburban house I carried not the three AM sirens from the fire station across the alley or the sweet and sour and stir fry scents vented from the Chinese restaurant, or the roaches, or the earwigs, but rising late to pancakes made from scratch and a stroll to the National Zoo, all in a day; and after, when someone asked, what then, if we dithered, and well into autumn defaulted to ice cream, it was because so much remained equally, mundanely conceivable.
The camera pans across friends or a couple animatedly finishing lunch in a coffee shop window, or the shot is a lock-off inviting us to settle into a parlor floor living room for the afternoon that has passed, or it is a tracking shot back across Central Park at a pace that in real life would vex me to incoherence unless I was helping along a toddler, which, in the movie, I am delighted to do. The weather cannot be so fine that outdoor activity becomes imperative; in the overcast light, no shadows point out how far four o’clock has come from eleven. Nor does the day drive with rain or snow. We might stay in, might as well go out.
These are days we walk to, no traffic to be jammed in, no train to miss or wait for, unless the wait is on a platform whose buskers we agree should be stars, or with a view of the district where soon we will be in theatre seats, or of office towers in which  all the cubicles are dark.
We may be any combination of friends, lovers, or spouses; we are more than one and likely six or fewer. We don’t run out of things to say. We likely live in apartments. We have no lawns, or mowers, or leaf-blowers. Our neighborhood might be an Upper West Side not yet overrun with ATMs, or Cobble Hill when only those who lived there knew its name, or Seattle before Microsoft or Brussels before the EU. We dread its appearance in the Times’ “If You’re Thinking Of Living In” section. It is likely in a city of a half a million or more; on all sides, or at the far end of our leafy block, the currents continue, in cars, on foot, with strollers that, from our distance, get in nobody’s way. We aren’t new arrivals; dozens of things we’ve done push subway headlights through dusty reminiscence to bright marquees. Not today. Today we are here.
photo: The Lake, Central Park, from near West 76th Street, October 2008

On grey Saturdays, snatches of city weekends return to me that even now are less likely to come from my own years than from my sense of in-between scenes in Annie Hall-era Woody Allen or Kramer Vs. Kramer—movies that seemed grownup and urban when I was not—or from when my aunt and uncle lived off Connecticut Avenue, and returning with my parents to our suburban house I carried not the three AM sirens from the fire station across the alley or the sweet and sour and stir fry scents vented from the Chinese restaurant, or the roaches, or the earwigs, but rising late to pancakes made from scratch and a stroll to the National Zoo, all in a day; and after, when someone asked, what then, if we dithered, and well into autumn defaulted to ice cream, it was because so much remained equally, mundanely conceivable.

The camera pans across friends or a couple animatedly finishing lunch in a coffee shop window, or the shot is a lock-off inviting us to settle into a parlor floor living room for the afternoon that has passed, or it is a tracking shot back across Central Park at a pace that in real life would vex me to incoherence unless I was helping along a toddler, which, in the movie, I am delighted to do. The weather cannot be so fine that outdoor activity becomes imperative; in the overcast light, no shadows point out how far four o’clock has come from eleven. Nor does the day drive with rain or snow. We might stay in, might as well go out.

These are days we walk to, no traffic to be jammed in, no train to miss or wait for, unless the wait is on a platform whose buskers we agree should be stars, or with a view of the district where soon we will be in theatre seats, or of office towers in which  all the cubicles are dark.

We may be any combination of friends, lovers, or spouses; we are more than one and likely six or fewer. We don’t run out of things to say. We likely live in apartments. We have no lawns, or mowers, or leaf-blowers. Our neighborhood might be an Upper West Side not yet overrun with ATMs, or Cobble Hill when only those who lived there knew its name, or Seattle before Microsoft or Brussels before the EU. We dread its appearance in the Times’ “If You’re Thinking Of Living In” section. It is likely in a city of a half a million or more; on all sides, or at the far end of our leafy block, the currents continue, in cars, on foot, with strollers that, from our distance, get in nobody’s way. We aren’t new arrivals; dozens of things we’ve done push subway headlights through dusty reminiscence to bright marquees. Not today. Today we are here.

photo: The Lake, Central Park, from near West 76th Street, October 2008

Two Serious Ladies

Premise: a female lead, smart, ambitious, hapless and at times narcissistic, is denied the position of her dreams and must contend with relative powerlessness, though still within an exclusive society whose members are keenly aware of its exclusivity and confident that it is the only place to be. Her entourage is self-interested, abrasive and frequently hapless, and prone to their own crises, but this is a comedy, so things always somehow turn out OK.

photo: Los Angeles Times

HBO’s Girls and Veep have both received Emmy nominations for Comedy Series, Comedy Actress, and Casting (Girls also received nominations for Lena Dunham for Writing and Directing for a Comedy Series). Both were renewed relatively early on, after three episodes of Girls and two of Veep. At the time, Veep led in per episode viewership, but Girls yielded five times Veep’s Google results. Not surprisingly—HBO didn’t pitch Julia Louis-Dreyfus’s vice-president Selina Meyer as the voice of her or a generation. Veep itself has not even winkingly suggested anything of the sort, and with its obsessions superficially contained within the Beltway, with familiar faces and a more polished, familiar style, at times only a few degrees separated from The West Wing or The Office, it may lend itself less to dissection. Maybe people simply have more and stronger opinions about younger women, and late thirtysomethings and up are more likely to simply like to watch. But I’m struck less by the difference in noise than by the relative silence that these, of all shows, should be neighbors.

Read on →

On Rejection

Last night I received the 45th rejection for a story I think is one of the best I’ve written. A number of its rejections have been of the personalized, please-send-us more variety—the Rejection Wiki breaks down the tiers, journal-by-journal—and the story is in such a late stage of revision that for now I’m not going to revisit it unless I receive specific comments, but 45 is approaching my record and I can feel tugs of the old existential fear—what is it that I don’t get that all these other writers and stories are doing to get accepted and lauded when I’m often left unmoved after reading them? Maybe I’m not only a shitty writer but DON’T GET PEOPLE…

Once started down that track, I was usually able to think of pretty compelling circumstantial evidence for some flavor of my fear, and that I needed to do something about it RIGHT THEN OR ELSE. The resulting revisions were indeed sometimes breakthroughs, less because of anything in the rejections than because of my distance from the pieces and willingness to jettison once-dear things if that was what let the pieces find their true shapes; but many revisions were ill advised, particularly when I was trying to second-guess editors who’d made no suggestions.

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Sunday Lessons

a fragment after Sebald

The autumn before I had moved just off the park, and I recall the late rosiness of a midwinter Sunday, when the branches that interleave down every street in that section of the city were bare and visible to such a distance in the slantwise light that they lent the grey cracklature of Flemish masters to intersections a half-mile off through which the few cars slid with the appearance of silence, their acceleration impossible to distinguish from the ambient roar, even in those years when the city was not so prosperous and many shopfronts remained broken-glassed or boarded, parked cars secured with locks across their steering wheels, and a buttoned-up hurry perceptible in the strides of passersby, less from quickness of their steps than from their hands in pockets or held close to their sides, gazes averted or cast far ahead, tensed and ready muscles palpable in their staccato steps, spines rigid, heads locked into safe angles as if tight against the cold.

Read on →

From Met Life Tower:
1. Looking south toward Battery and New York Harbor
2. Looking Up Fifth and Park Avenues
George Grantham Bain Collection, Library of Congress
[color corrected, with dust and scratches removed]

These are undated, but must have been taken between 1909-13. Downtown, the Woolworth Building is still an indistinct block, lower than the Singer Building; in Midtown, Grand Central Depot is in its last years. Madison Avenue is still lined with high-stooped brownstones, but the new public library is visible in the upper left, below it the dark mass of the Waldorf Astoria that in twenty years will be demolished for the Empire State Building, and at right the Queensboro Bridge. The photographer is at the top of the tallest building in the world.

I find an intense temporal vertigo here. Most of the old photos that circulate through Tumblr are either so different from the present, or so artfully composed—Stieglitz, Abbott—or cropped, that they feel irretrievably remote—or else a few steps away. Here, the visual scale compresses time: buildings have since changed, els have been demolished (look down Fourth Avenue), but districts have kept their relative shapes. Were I to descend the elevator from the 1909 observation deck, the IRT would be at the foot of the building to take me to Brooklyn; downtown, there is the Paragon Sporting Goods building, the campanile off Washington Square, the huge white building off Astor Place that’s now a Kmart (is it still?). I could not vote. In a few years, I might be taking tiny steps in hobble skirts—or, with my ancestry, more likely be sewing them.

In the lofts to the left of Washington Square Park, women are locked in the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory, with a few years until they burn.

After reading Alexis Madrigal’s Atlantic piece on how Google and other web companies track our clicks, I installed Collusion, the Firefox add-in Madrigal mentioned. I was interested not in how many ad companies tracked me, but how they did it—what did I pick up where? (And yes, I’m thinking that, too).

It was a good few hours for a test—I had too much work for more than 5 or 6 idle clicks. I went to the NY Times, which added a few cookies. No surprises. From Tumblr, I clicked through to the Discovery News piece about the first grey wolf in California since 1924. That added a lot of cookies, but they all remained separate branches, with Tumblr as the root. I went to my bank, and paid my Massachusetts excise tax. Then I went to an NPR piece about a giant walking stick rediscovered near Howe Island, off Australia. At the end of the NPR URL there’s this: “?sc=fb&cc=fp” appended to the actual page address. Boom! NPR itself didn’t add many cookies, but immediately the cookies from the Times and Discovery connected—and immediately Facebook, which I hadn’t visited that day, was tracking me on nearly every site I’d been to, including my own (which of course it doesn’t know is mine).

Facebook’s tracking was mostly limited to actual sites I viewed. Google’s, YouTube’s and Doubleclick’s—between the three of them they tracked me on nearly quadruple the domains Facebook did—was mostly with other ad sites. The worst culprit, not surprisingly (location data! yum!) was Map My Run, which both added trackers and linked them into Doubleclick.

Quantserve/Quantcast intrigues me most. Tumblr uses them, through an invisible .PNG, to keep track of users’ dashboard activities (you can see it if you view your Tumblr’s source). But I hadn’t known how the Quantserve tracking cookie would connect to other ad servers. Does it correlate their information with my Tumblr habits? I delete most cookies from my browser every day or two anyway; but it does suggest revenue avenues that might be undertaken without the vaguely seedy omnipresence of ads on Facebook (are they really making all their money from “10 tips of a slim belly” and “you’re getting robbed on [your state] car insurance”?)

Among Silicon Valley types, apparently, the big question is who’s going to be the next Facebook, the next Facebook-like thing? Ad views, ad tracking, smart ads, smart video are what has everyone buzzing (so says my family connection in the biz). I love the web of 2012—most of my writing is there, I’ve connected with writers and editors I never would have otherwise so quickly. But I wonder where all this money and hours and ingenuity are going. I wish the gold rush were for something more difficult and solid.  I wish any of things I’d like those brilliant young entrepreneurs to be working on—greener cars, solar cells, spacecraft—were as solid as Mark Zuckerberg’s billions.

AWP 2012 is next week, and for the moment almost every conversation around my corner of UMass at some point veers into some variation of “are you going to [x] [party/reading],” “after AWP…,” “I’ll be at AWP,” “last year was such a [zoo/mess/pain/scene/incubator for [x]].”
I’m not going, partly because I missed the deadline for proposing a panel, and partly because money, but mainly because I’m trying to stay in the zone with my book (can I call it that when it’s not done?) and at this point my deadline scares me more than any missing out.

AWP 2012 is next week, and for the moment almost every conversation around my corner of UMass at some point veers into some variation of “are you going to [x] [party/reading],” “after AWP…,” “I’ll be at AWP,” “last year was such a [zoo/mess/pain/scene/incubator for [x]].”

I’m not going, partly because I missed the deadline for proposing a panel, and partly because money, but mainly because I’m trying to stay in the zone with my book (can I call it that when it’s not done?) and at this point my deadline scares me more than any missing out.