Summer Writing & Welcome to the New Website - June Update

Hanging out with Totoro 

Hanging out with Totoro 

After a wonderful honeymoon in Japan and Hawaii plus an inspiring week teaching and relishing literary community at the Martha's Vineyard Institute of Creative Writing, I have finally settled into a summer writing and reading routine. Over the next couple of months I'll be finishing work on my second story collection, How High We Go in the Dark, and working on revisions on a novel, Girl Zero. Onward and upward (and lots and lots of YouTube animal videos along the way). My wife, who is also a writer and waiting as her agent shops her first novel, will be accompanying me this summer on writing benders. We'll be periodically rewarding ourselves with museums and canoeing etc. if we do well each week (and blaming our cat's cuteness if we failed to hit our mark).

In writing some of the stories in this 2nd collection, which is tied together by death, coping with loss, and funerary practices, I tried to challenge myself to write more realist, conventional pieces. And certainly part of this urge was so I could submit to places I historically couldn't (and maybe part of myself kept saying that if I wanted a broader audience for this book I needed to reign my weirdness and formal play in). And while much of the book is much more grounded than Where We Go When All We Were Is Gone, I couldn't help but infuse the fantastic and magical into some of the stories. So, yes there is a black hole in a scientist's head and there are giant orbs glowing with memories that you can walk through, but that's about it! I suppose part of what helped me remain in this world while still scratching other worlds is how surreal death is to begin with––the stories we tell ourselves about our bodies and spirits, the rituals we take part in, the psychological and emotional spaces we inhabit in grief or when we can't help but see the end. We live in a world where people study how we decay from blowfly to bone, where people with tattoos have their skin preserved, where hotels house the bodies of the deceased for relatives to visit and spend time with, where someone has designed a concept roller coaster meant to euthanize people through a series of inversions. 

I leave this inaugural post (I'll try to post personal/writing updates here monthly apart from event  oriented posts) with a photo of Okunoin Cemetery, the largest graveyard in Japan. My wife and I stayed nearby at a Buddhist monastery and had the privilege of strolling these grounds at night with a monk and also during the early morning before other tourists arrived. As we explored, my wife said, "I wonder if you have any ancestors here". It would certainly be an undertaking to find out and is something that I desperately want to be true. And I was struck by how much I wanted this to be true when my wife spoke. I thought of my great-grandmother who left Japan in the early 20th century for an arranged marriage in Hawaii, I thought of my 23 and Me DNA test. I probably will never know. But at least I have storytelling as way of helping me connect to places like that, to help me understand how it is that a place you've never been before (a cemetery no less) could feel so utterly like home.

Okunoin Cemetery in Koyasan, Wakayama Prefecture, Japan

Okunoin Cemetery in Koyasan, Wakayama Prefecture, Japan

Reading Plans this Summer: 

All the Birds in the Sky by Charlie Jane Anders

Sing Unburied Sing by Jesmyn Ward

My Year of Rest and Relaxation by Ottessa Moshfegh

Fight No More by Lydia Millet

The Water Knife by Paolo Bacigalupi