Monday, September 15, 2014

A Song Lost and Found

Tonight while writing a post for Hevria, this amazing new group blog about art and G-d and Jewish stuff, I had to look up something in my own old blog at Diaryland. I got swept up in the tsunami of ego and started reading all these old entries, parts of a self I barely remembered.

The last entry I posted was about the novel I'd written that had just come out, Losers. Almost all the chapters are named after Cure songs, and I was writing liner notes to them, one by one (the chapters, not the songs). In one of the notes, I got lost mourning for a song that I could never find, one that my best friend put on a mix for me before he died:

Another Cure chapter. The song "A Night Like This" is a beautiful song in its own right, track 8 on "The Head on the Door," which some poet-friends in Melbourne performed a track-by-track jam of poems influenced by the songs. But there's another Cure song that my best friend Mike put on a mixtape for me that was just Robert Smith's voice and a brilliant string section and tympani drums that's called something like "Other Nights Like This" -- the handwriting was scratchy. I never remembered to ask him, and now it's too late. Now the tape's broken, and I keep googling the first words, but I can't find anything.

That was 2008. Before I had kids, before I had a job or style or a pager (I still don't have a pager). At that point, it was already three years since I'd spoken to Mike. It wasn't until tonight that my ex-roommate, dear friend and how-does-she-do-it-and-with-kids-too-type person Andrea saw my whoa-remember-this post and found it on Facebook.

And, like, I'm sure it isn't as good as you think it will be, but it's been fermented in my memory, and every second of it is about a time I remember more than anything will ever happen again.

And now I am crying.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Here's Your Next Reading List (or mine)

Just finished with my writers' group, a collection -- a straining? -- from my master's program. I think when we all decided to meet up, it seemed like an excuse for a reunion (and to drink). Turns out, it's more of a working night. We workshop two stories, and we go pretty hardcore. The way I know it's going well is, I learn more and get more out of the workshops where other people's stories are being workshopped than the ones where mine are put under the spotlight.

Anyway, we've been coming up with cool interstitial activities to do between workshops. Tonight, our assignment was to talk about whatever we're reading. Here's what people said. I'm mostly writing this because I feel psyched and energized and I want to read all these books. Enclosing links, mostly to the Brooklyn Public Library, so hopefully at least I use them, and you can too. I'll let you know how it goes. I hope you'll let me know, too.

Nobody Is Ever Missing, Catherine Lacey (recommended by Elisia). Elisia knew her years ago, when she was trying to sell her first novel. It never sold. This is her second, and it is apparently all over the place. It's a great story (she read us the first bit), and it's great to keep in mind when you think that you're never going to get anywhere as a writer.

CosmosWitold Gombrowicz (Laura). Long sentences, a crazy meandering plot, purely beautiful writing. Laura tried to make this a beach read and it was so not beach reading, but it was amazing anyway.

Story of a New Name, Elena Ferrante (Ben). Really beautiful quiet moments, mundane, but with surprising moments of violence.

(By the way, I should mention that the six of us destroyed four bottles of wine, so if there are details that I'm messing up, it is my fault alone, and not the fault of the recommender.)

My Struggle by Karl Knausgaard (Marc's reading it). It's named after Mein Kampf. Messed up? Yeah. It focuses on mundane, trivial moments and really blows them into microscopic thinking. Apparently a lot of men are reading this and really digging it. "It's about a guy who wants to be a writer, but can't because he has to raise a kid," explained someone. "What the fuck is the big deal?" I said. "You squeeze it in. You make it work. How do you think people have been doing it for the past thousands of years?" Yeah, Knausgaard. I'm on kid #3. I'm probably messing it up bigtime, but that's life.

Plainwater, by Anne Carson (Caitlin). "I like reading poetry before bed. It resets the rhythm of my brain."

Interlude: Someone tells the rest of us about an 11-year-old whose father is reading Infinite Jest to him and they're recreating it in Lego.

Skippy Dies, by Paul Murray (Caitlin). "You must read this," she told me. I am still not sure why, although the title, and the fact that it's a 3-volume book, have intrigued me for a while.

Oh! And here are mine:

Cujo by Stephen King. In his brilliant (!) book on writing, he says this is the book he can't remember writing. For me, it's seamless. Not just metaphorically but literally: it doesn't have chapter breaks. It's a moment-by-moment, play-by-play story. He commits so fully to the conceit of the book, the situation of the characters and the moment that all the stuff is happening.

And the books I'm actually reading:

The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis. I know that it's actually an allegory for Christianity -- thank you, o eleventh-grade Christian fundamentalist girl who I had a massive crush on, for pointing that out. But it's such a good story. And so purely good. I should probably write a Kveller post about my intellectual conflictedness on this issue. But as a storyteller, I could not get behind this more.

Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage, by Haruki Murakami. It's not my favorite of his, but after 50 pages of goodness-but-not-blow-away-ness, there was a moment where the emotional force of the story pummeled its way through -- it's about a guy who's always been part of a group of friends, and suddenly, for no reason he can discern, they kick him out -- and hit me squarely in the gut. And then it keeps hitting. It's not the best book ever, and there are lines that would totally embarrass me if I were Murakami (especially that one about "Tsukuru Tazaki's life was changed forever, as if a sheer ridge had divided the original vegetation into two distinct biomes"but it's a really solidly good book.

I included everyone's names as a way of sort of quoting/attributing to them. Hope it's okay.

Friday, August 29, 2014

2:00 A.M., Thursday night

I'm half asleep. There's a scuffling from downstairs. Eventually, Itta, freshly home from her restaurant, trudges upstairs.

ITTA: Sorry, I ate your leftover falafel.
ME: I was planning to take it for lunch tomorrow!
ITTA: You should've gotten food for me!
ME: You work at a restaurant!
ITTA: I can't eat restaurant food all the time!
ME: But my leftovers were from a restaurant!
ITTA: Okay, I'll make you sandwiches to take for lunch.
ME: You so don't have to. It's two o'clock in the morning.
ITTA: It's fine.
ME: You really don't have to.
ME (thinking): jackpotjackpotjackpot
ITTA: It's fine.

ITTA proceeds downstairs and makes two sandwiches. I return to sleep.

And that, my friends, is what is known in the vernacular as a win-win situation.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

The End of Lost Time

From LitBooks' Twitter, here is the last page of Proust's In Search of Lost Time.

Kind of reassuring to know that, after writing 3000 pages, you're still not entirely sure about everything in your story.

Monday, June 30, 2014

I Hate Birthdays

First thing: I promise this is not a subtle, passive-aggressive way of saying that you should really say happy birthday to me. Second: I really am grateful to my parents and Hashem and everyone who's pushed me out of the way of a moving vehicle or woken me up out of an alcoholic stupor or otherwise contributed to the very unlikely occurrence of my still being alive.

So I guess, technically speaking, I do not hate birthdays. But all the same, every time someone wishes me a happy one, or goes out of their way to talk to me when they wouldn't otherwise talk to me, it feels like a knife applied to a particularly sensitive and recently-fed area of my stomach.

Most of all, it's that I haven't done anything to deserve it. Like, what is this day which demands more compliments and wishings of wellness than any other? I didn't do anything. Actually, if we're going to get technical, today's the day I probably least deserve it, since I put my mother into more pain than she's ever been and started the long downhill slide of dependency on other people for my basic human needs.

Like, can you please save it for when something good happens that I've actually earned? Because my pirate novel is still sitting in a corner unsold, and I'm still wearing crappy clothes that don't entirely fit, and I just demanded an entire dialogue rewrite, which is probably necessary, but is going to cause a bunch of people a bunch of nightmares, and I haven't brokered peace between Israel and Palestine, or even between my 6-year-old and 4-year-old.

But I know at heart that it isn't a bad thing that people are wishing me stuff. Even if it's something I would rather gets slipped under the table and forgotten, good vibes are -- should be -- always appreciated. And I don't mean to shoot you down, and I can just see my mom's face when she reads this, But don't you feel good when..., and at this point in my life (old) (sick) (and kind of sweaty) I can use all the points I can get. So if you really want to wish a happy birthday today, probably the place to go is here: My mom's facebook page. Feel free to post on her wall. She deserves it.

In Judaism, you don't really get presents for your birthday. Instead, you're supposed to give blessings to people. Maybe that's the way it's supposed to happen, both to relieve my birthday depression and to make me work a little harder: instead of getting stuff, maybe I should be giving. So, seriously, hit me up.

Oh, and here's a present: They Might Be Giants are giving away their first album free. I know. I know. Happy birthday to me.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

36, Stage Fright, and You Should Hang out with Me on a Farm

Last week I was performing, and then there was a Q&A session afterward -- which is always kind of weird; I feel like I should be the one asking everyone else questions, "What did you think?" and "Did that make any sense?" -- and someone asked me about my blog. "Yep," I said, "it's my weird place where I write whatever random stuff is on my head and doesn't fit anywhere else." "I guess you haven't had many random thoughts lately!" he said, "since you haven't written anything in almost 2 months." While I was reading, he'd Googled me and called up my site on his phone.

I have got to get better at covering my tracks.

matthue roth performing

I have suddenly started doing more readings, which is a weird thing. Not sure how it's going to square away with my anxiety issues -- that is, if I start hyperventilating onstage or ducking and hiding behind the monitor speakers, you'll know why -- but, so far, so good. Tomorrow night (Wednesday!) I'm going to be reading a very new story at Soda Bar as part of the Buzzards' Banquet series, and there will be music, too. And at the end of the month, I'm giving classes (and probably speaking, too) all week at ArtFest on this amazing kosher organic farm. And if you're there, my kids can teach you how to milk goats, because they know.

And the other big thing is this:

Itta and I were named two of the 36 under 36 by the Jewish Week. Here's Itta's and my feature directly, but you should check out the full suite of characters.

Oh! Cover photo by Karuna Tanahashi, taken at Chevra Ahavas Yisroel.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014


BAD: This morning, one kid refused to get dressed, just refused. I cajoled. I promised rewards. In the end, none of it worked and I had to throw a My Little Pony out the window. I am a horrible person. (I think it was even Twilight Sparkle. Like I said: horrible.)

GOOD: On the train the kids played one of the games I designed, and they were actually liking it, liking it a lot.

BAD: Dropped them off. Got on the subway. Was really hungry, and was going to snag a part of my lunch. Opened my bag and realized that same kid left her lunch in my bag. The train was coming in 7 minutes.

GOOD: Ran the distance. Bolted up the stairs, gave the kid her lunch. Was halfway back down the stairs when she called me back. I implored her, "Poppa really has to leave." She beckoned me again. I ran up. She thrust one hand in each of my pockets. "These are the blue crystals," she told me. "Just in case you run into any evil purple crystals on the train, you can make them better."

BAD: On the train, I realized I'd forgotten not only my notebook, but any sort of paper. I dug in my wallet. I found a Duane Reade receipt for a bag of chips I'd bought for a class party eons ago, and I had to continue my story on that.

GOOD: I continued my story. And I'd been plugged up on it all week. And now, in spite of (or maybe because of) forgetting my real notebook, it all came out.

matthue journal

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