Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Heavy Stack, Light Blogging

One happy consequence of the fact that I’m writing scholarly stuff again is that I’ve read a bunch of books which I want to tell you about—or compose my thoughts out loud about—and I haven’t had the chance. So I have this stack of books that I carry from my bedroom to the dining room (where I work), from a corner of a hidden shelf, to out in the open without actually composing the posts.

So, as a kind of teaser, here is the stack:
  • Teaching Community by bell hooks (purchased in Louisville at the CCCConvention last weekend)
  • Push by Sapphire (which I loved)
  • Trailer Girl by Therese Svoboda (the title novella of which is utterly stunning, though the stories that follow are less even)
  • A Coffin for Dimitrios by Eric Ambler (a great classic thriller)
  • Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott (which is really weird and disappointing)
  • A Guide to College Writing Assessment (O’Neill et al., another CCCC purchase, but one I’m unlikely to blog about here)
  • Some small press catalogs
  • And my comments on a couple dozen essays nominated for the upcoming edition of the Norton Reader

Maybe some of these will get a post of their own one day. But for now, I’m going back to the stacks—the Woolf stacks, that is. Time’s a-wasting.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

The Wertheim Study

“I’ve made us a cup of tea.”

Can there be any nicer sentence in English? When you meet someone for the first time, how lovely to already have that person caring for you.

When I knew I had a research leave coming up, I applied for one of those very amazingly fancy New York Public Library Fellowships. I didn’t get one; I didn’t expect to. But I did root around the website and found that, much less competitive than a fellowship were the two study rooms, the Allen (for people with book contracts) and the Wertheim (for scholars). I asked if I could have a space and was put on the waitlist.

Then, in February, I got notice that a space would come open on March 1. Could I fill out a form and come in for a chat?

I was nervous, but Jay Barksdale, the wonderful librarian in charge, put me at ease immediately with the aforementioned cup of tea in a real china cup with saucer. Really, the point of the meeting was just to make sure that I knew the rules and the procedures, but how many times nicer to learn about all of that with a cup of tea in hand.

What are the rules? I have a special electronic key card, but the room is open whenever the library is. There are special call slips for the Wertheim, too. Many, many people have access to the room—and, more to the point, the shelf where I can keep—yes, keep—any books that I need to use for my project, though the room really only comfortably seats about 15 at a time at its 3 wonderful long tables. And, to my immense narcissistic pleasure, I was asked if I would be willing to speak to, say, the New York Times, should they have an urgent need for a specialist. (Urgent needs for Mrs. Dalloway specialists being rare, I am not expecting a call.)

The Wertheim and Allen rooms run a series of lectures by the scholars at work there at the Mid-Manhattan Library (catty-corner from the big NYPL) many evenings at 6:30. Here is one upcoming event. And you can become a fan of the rooms  on facebook, which is a good way to learn about upcoming and recently past lectures.

I cannot describe to you how much of a difference this space, full of silent scholars (when people sneeze, no one even says bless you!) hard at work on projects. But the light posting here since March 1 is perhaps the best indicator of the fact that I’m not just “writing” in quotes, I’m writing.

One more cool thing: the room was established by author and scholar Barbara Tuchman. Isn’t that awesome?

Here is the official description:
To assist researchers making intensive use of the general research collections for a prescribed period of time, The New York Public Library has made available the Wertheim Study.  Established in 1963 by author and scholar Barbara Tuchman in honor of her father, Maurice Wertheim, publisher of “The Nation” and a founder of The Theatre Guild, the Study serves individuals engaged in research projects requiring extensive consultation of research materials related to the humanities and social sciences, preliminary to the preparation of a publication, report, or other research project. 

Monday, March 29, 2010

Black Hair

“Um…thanks, Anne.” That was Allison Keyes’ response to my taped comment to her really fierce essay about how much she loathes having her hair touched.

Yup, I know. Fernham is not exactly your source for thoughts on black hair. Believe me, I know the limits of my expertise. But I was listening to Tell Me More last Monday. Guest host Allison Keyes read an essay about why she hates having her hair touched—and how often people touch it. It was far from the usual NPR fare: she was still imagining a mainly white audience, but she wasn’t gently helping her audience understand. She was irritated. And she meant for us to identify with her irritation.

I liked it so well, that I fired off a quick email comment to the show. I was one of 400+ people to do so. Imagine my surprise, then, to get an email from producer Lee Hill. Could he call me to record my comment?

Frankly, I was very surprised but mostly thrilled. Here is what I said:
Thank you so much. I am so enjoying your great piece on touching hair and just wanted to add a tiny little footnote that might amuse you: I am a 43 y.o. white woman. I grew up in Seattle where I was bused for voluntary desegration but my middle school bus was racially integrated. I'll never forget the day when a black boy pulled my long, straight hair out and passed it round as "white girl hair." It was funny. It hurt. I got it. I never touch anyone without asking. But I get why people are curious. Thanks for a sharp, strong essay.
Hill called me to confirm I had time to talk, called me back on a recording line, and I recorded my comment.

It was really exciting for an NPR fanatic like me and the lukewarm “um, thanks Anne” is thanks enough.

You can hear me here. More to the point, you can hear Allison Keyes’ essay here and learn more about her here.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Three Great Ways to Help Girls Write Now

Those of you who read this blog know that I’m a passionate member of the advisory board for Girls Write Now, a New York City mentoring organization that pairs high school girls with professional women writers. If you’re in the New York City and are interested in getting involved, there are 3 great ways you can do it.

1. Listening
Maud Newton is curating the wonderful CHAPTERS reading series, featuring the work of New York City's best teen writers and the professional women who mentor them, and a dynamic, diverse line-up of special guest authors. This Friday, March 26, will feature Nami Mun, author of Miles from Nowhere. CHAPTERS readings will be held at the Center for Fiction (17 East 47th Street bet. 5th Ave. & Madison), from 6:00PM to 8:00PM.

2. Shopping
10% of anything you buy at any of Eileen Fisher’s New York City stores on Saturday, March 27 goes straight to Girls Write Now! You know you want a new skirt! (I’m pretty much head to toe in Eileen Fisher at the Public Library these days. No one makes a more flattering skirt that works for work.)

3. Mentoring
If you’re a professional woman writer, why not apply to be a mentor for the 2010-2011 school year? Applications are here are due by May 1.

And, of course, near or far, a quick click on the Network for Good website will allow you to make a donation.

Wednesday, March 03, 2010

Progress Report

You think you can do these things, but you can’t, Nemo, you just can’t!
March is upon us. My sabbatical is two months old. How has it been going?

  • I continue to be grateful for the time. Every day, I feel blessed to have some of the many stresses of teaching and administrated lifted from me for this spell. But, as each day passes, I feel under increasing pressure to achieve what will feel like a worthy achievement come August. And, of course, removing the pressure of a full schedule has meant that I've caught up on all kinds of time-consuming errands that still do keep me from my writing (dentists and more).
  • I have kept to my resolution of exercising five days a week and I’ve been better than usual at tracking my exercise and eating over at WeightWatchers. But I’ve only lost five pounds. That’s five more than zero, but five less than I’d like to have shed by now.
  • I have made progress on the most odious project of the Dalloway edition: collating changes among editions. But I’m not done.
  • I have begun three new (non-scholarly) essays. But finished none of them. And I’ve read a lot.
And, twice last week while walking the dog, Nemo’s dad’s horrible advice popped into my head unbidden: You think you can do these things, but you can’t, Nemo, you just can’t! Who knows why we are so cruel to ourselves. This version of self-flagellation is particularly hilarious and ridiculous: the whole point of that moment is that Nemo can do these thing, that, in hearing himself limit his child, the father has an epiphany about expectations and limitations. The other problem here is that after 10 years of higher education at top-tier universities, my super-ego can be blockaded by an animated clownfish from Pixar.

I need a new mantra.

Tuesday, March 02, 2010

Advice for memoir writers, c.1923

From Woolf’s letters:
“A little comb and a brush is all thats needed. You know how Clive conceals his bald patch? Well, that’s how to treat your memoirs.” (L 3.41; 21 May 1923; to Molly MacCarthy)
It’s a wonderful quotation. Woolf loved to tease about her brother-in-law, Clive Bell's, bald spot. Still, it’s very odd to hear Woolf, who, with Lytton Strachey, so famously transformed biography from Victorian reverence to modernist honesty, advising her friend to just comb over the truth. I must say, fan of memoirs though I am, I often do wish for a little concealer.

Monday, March 01, 2010

Advice for Writers

Oh, I’m in trouble now.

I finally clicked over to the excellent Guardian compilation of advice for writers. Roddy Doyle’s first rule stopped me dead in my tracks: 
Do not place a photograph of your-­favourite author on your desk, especially if the author is one of the famous ones who committed suicide.
I have to laugh! The bathroom may be the only room in our house without a picture of Virginia Woolf in it. (I have a really good fridge magnet of her…)