A Week in Culture: Maud Newton, Part 2
June 10, 2010 | by Maud Newton
This is the second installment of Maud Newton's culture diary. Click here to read part 1.
8:07 A.M. I don't work on Wednesdays, but I'm up early anyway, mildly hungover and with tea in hand, to write. The dinner scene looks clunkier now; commence line-edits.
9:30 A.M. Online grazing: Garrison Keillor publishes an infuriating death-of-publishing op-ed. Kingsley Amis argues that Keats isn't a great poet. Graydon Carter says that Kingsley Amis was “an accomplished womanizer, drinker, and conversationalist” who was “funny and raffishly rude, and had the thinnest, whitest skin I've ever seen on a man—like a condom filled with skim milk.” The NYPL and the Brooklyn and Queens library systems are beginning major layoffs; protest by joining the postcard campaign.
10:30 A.M. More writing, further consultation1 of Memento Mori.
12:30 P.M. For lunch: bagel with tomato, onion, lox, and cream cheese. I've set aside a little time here because I'm excited to take a look at the galley for my friend Amitava Kumar's A Foreigner Carrying in the Crook of His Arm a Tiny Bomb2, about the U.S. terrorism-detection machine/industry.
2:00 P.M. Back to work on my novel draft.
8:12 P.M. After six hours' work, I'm feeling more optimistic about the way all the hullabaloo with the dogs leads into the dinner scene.
8:45 P.M. Sushi and drinks with Max. Lately when I drink gin, I've been doing it Kingsley Amis' preferred way, with a little ice, lemon, and water. It's growing on me. I don't know why3 I'm drinking the things he and Muriel Spark did.
11:00 P.M. Time for another episode4 of Damages (second of Season Two).
1:23 A.M. Amis on owing to/due to: Never say5 “Due to lack of interest, the carol service has been cancelled"—only “Owing to...”
7:58 A.M. Ack, up late. Tea, etc. I'm stopping by a friend's birthday party tonight, but I have to leave the house with wet hair now and hope for the best.
8:50 A.M. On train read Rebecca West's “Why My Mother Was Frightened of Cats,” a charming reflection on the allure, grace, intelligence, and uncanny perversity of one of my favorite animals. West says she's never depressed by her lovers' imperfections or jealous of an attractive woman because no human ever be as beautiful as a cat6. Coming from a long line of hoarders, I concur.
9:10 A.M. Work. The Financial District seems even more crowded than usual this morning. Dig around in my bag for my work ID while the security guard waits patiently. Buy a small coffee before going upstairs. I used to like it black, but now I drink what a friend calls kids' coffee. The guy smiles when I ask for half-and-half and three sugars.
9:15 A.M. In the tax world: a couple of cases, and I still have to revise parts of the online treatise to reflect recent law changes.
10:00 A.M. Online grazing: Nabokov contemplates translation. Ghost World creator Daniel Clowes talks about his books, obsessiveness, and heart surgery.
10:10 A.M. The caffeine doesn't seem to be taking effect, but I slog through these cases nonetheless.
7:00 P.M. I really am sworn to stay in at night through at least the middle of September, but I had some existing plans, and one of them was to celebrate my friend Katherine's birthday at her neighborhood bar, which overlooks the Hudson River. Fun! Friends! But I only let myself have one drink.
9:30 P.M. Home again. Write and edit for three hours. So far this iteration of the novel is going about as quickly as planned7.
7:30 A.M. Pack bag for long weekend8 at my sister's place.
8:30 A.M. You can tell it's Memorial Day weekend. There are four other suitcases on my subway car alone, and we're still pretty far from Manhattan. I've brought along Nicole Krauss' October novel, Great House9, which, according to her publicity materials, “is a breathtaking exploration of memory, longing and the burden of inheritance, pressing such questions as: What do we pass on to our children and how do they absorb our dreams and losses? How do we respond to disappearance, destruction and change?”
9:00 A.M. Work, aided by “French Roast” coffee.
11:30 A.M. Online grazing: Melville's Redburn: His First Voyage arguably prefigures Moby Dick. James Wolcott, a longtime Mailer fan, marvels at the posthumous gossip surrounding the The Naked and the Dead author. Francine du Plessix Gray returns to Beauvoir's The Second Sex and offers a mixed assessment. Written author interviews are becoming more common again. Apple's iBookstore will allow individuals to submit their own ebooks. BP impedes journalists' efforts to report on oil spill.
5:40 P.M. As usual, I'm standing in Penn Station with my dinner getting cold in a take-out bag when the sign says this Friday night Amtrak train to Springfield, MA, is going to be delayed a half-hour.
7:00 P.M. Finally situated on the train and headed north. I'm reading Nicole Krauss' Great House, which is beginning to try my patience10.
8:00 P.M. Write, write, write. At first it's slow-going because someone a few seats up is popping gum, and I'm a little like the killer in “The Telltale Heart” when it comes to irrational, quasi-autistic aversions, but I switch trains in New Haven, and ahhh, peace.
12:03 P.M. In bed at sister's place, reading Memento Mori. I laugh so hard, the cat gets up off my legs and glowers at me before circling and settling back on my shin.
10:00 A.M. Strong homemade coffee and chocolate-covered almonds for breakfast. My sister's at work already, but her partner has read and enjoyed Memento Mori, so we talk about that.
10:45 A.M. Check e-mail. Continue ongoing exchange with my friend Laura Miller about iPad applications that may be useful for readers and the impossibility of finding those hypothetical applications amid the clutter of the online store. We both use RSS readers, Instapaper, Kindle, iBooks, Epicurious, Netflix, Twitter apps.... There are supposedly thousands of options now, but as she says, “to look at that #$&! app store, you'd think it was more like 500.”
11:00 A.M. Nine hours of writing and snacking. I'll spare you the details.
8:00 P.M. Glee. The last two episodes are my first exposure to the show. They are obsessed with the show Chez Sister12, and as a former musical theater and chorus nerd I can see why.
Maud Newton won the 2009 Narrative Prize for an excerpt from her forthcoming novel, “Generational Curses.”
- After reading Brad Gooch's biography of Flannery O'Connor last year, I internalized her (and Elizabeth Hardwick's) prohibition against allowing the same word to appear twice on a page, and my prose strains in places as a result. I wonder: did O'Connor read Muriel Spark? If so, confronted with such hilarious and inarguably brillliant repetitions—see, e.g., the sticks—how could she have continued to adhere to her rule? Also, how did Spark reuse words so imaginatively? She built humor through the sameness but somehow made the descriptions fresh every time. I wish she could revise this scene I'm getting ready to work on now, the one with the dogs in the car.
- I'm especially fascinated by the section about the Bangladeshi-born, New York City-raised Muslim artist who was detained in June 2002 after returning from a residency program in Senegal, on suspicion that he'd fled the country on September 12, 2001, and left a bomb behind in a locker. After being detained for questioning and then subjected to a six-month investigation that included nine polygraph tests administered in one day, the suspect launched The Orwell Project, which includes photos of and details about all the meals he eats, the urinals he uses, and the products he buys. "His aim,” Kumar writes, “is to overwhelm those who have him under surveillance... With the information they need.”
- I have no (conscious) belief that doing this will have any talismanic effect.
- Maybe I'll be happy about all the plot points later, but right now the story is starting to feel cluttered—not to mention seeded with coincidences. Obviously Patty had some sort of relationship with the scientist whose wife was just murdered, and I have the feeling we're supposed to wonder if he is the father of her son. Did he really have to be carrying on an affair with General Counsel for the Evil Energy Company, too? And then there's all the drama with Rose and the “fellow support group member” who obviously has something to do with Frobisher and who's going to get her into bed. The FBI plot is fine, but it's getting buried amid all this other stuff.
- I would like to think I would avoid using either in this formulation, but a quick run through old entries using Google might prove otherwise. Rather than worrying about this, I prefer to focus on the ancillary question of the double “l"; when did we stop writing “cancelled” or “travelled"? When did the single “l” become the default?
- But you should read this essay, if you read this essay, for the part about the cat repeatedly showing up to terrify an old man in a bath. It reminds me a little bit of a piece Sven Birkerts read at the University of Pittsburgh in April about a tomcat that wandered into his apartment a few times Except Birkerts won his cat battle, while the bathing fellow just sat there in the water, paralyzed.
- I'm a quarter of the way through the draft now and pushing to get to a third by next Wednesday. Mostly I'm filling in gaps and revising, but the last quarter remains to be written, so that's what I'll be doing, I hope, from late July through the end of the summer
- It'll be a hybrid trip—part pleasure, part writing, part avoidance. (Max has spent the last several weeks planning and building a “human turntable"—although a couple days ago he started calling it a “rotating platform,” “because it sounds safer"—for a 3-D music video he's going to be shooting at our apartment. I will be impressed with the results, but I don't want to witness the hot dog being made.) I can't wait to see her. Our interactions probably seem a little downbeat to outsiders, but that's us, just being ourselves. The day after my grandmother's funeral we were driving through a pretty area of Nashville near my aunt's neighborhood, and as the rest of us admired the houses nestled back on their lush green lawns, my grandfather cleared his throat and frowned. “Sure would be a shame if a tornadah came through hear,” he said. My sister and I both try to anticipate disaster like that, too—except, as she points out, we also get it from our mother's side. She's a new nurse, and what with the trying to keep the psych patients from shitting on the floor while she's dealing with a stroke patient, doesn't have much reading time, but I hope she'll eventually get around to that copy of Memento Mori I sent her, if only so that we can laugh at our future selves.
- I admired The History of Love and so far, just a few pages in, I'm interested in this book. The narrator's boyfriend has left her, and for weeks it storms outside, windows howling as she rushes around with a special tool to tighten their bolts.
- The fantastical elements of the story are distracting me; I just don't believe the narrator. Maybe the sightings seem less random and less self-consciously imaginative in the context of the overall story, but even after the narrative voice changes in the second section I'm not in the mood to continue. Instead, I decide to take a look at Marilynne Robinson's Housekeeping, which I have on my iPad, as an antidote and for ideas about structure.
- I checked in with him about the draft at a couple stages because the piece is partly about the time, after the building had gone into bankruptcy and been abandoned again, that we decided to sneak up to Al Capone's old suite. I like to get the go-ahead before I write about friends.
- Little do I know, seeing Sue Sylvester bossy and rageful in her track pants, that Sister and I will encounter the actress in person at the Woodstar when we're buying coffee on Monday.