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Three non-fiction books and one short story collection is not necessarily a great mix.  I think the proportions are a little off, though, in truth, the short story collection reads like actual stories taken directly my childhood.  I grew up in the 70’s and 80’s, and Lorrie Moore’s collection Self Help reads exactly as the title suggests:  a manual for your childhood and early adulthood.  I love it, painful and uncomfortable as it is.

I just finished reading Alan Cumming’s memoir  Not My Father’s Son.  The title suggests some paternal issues, but it’s so much more than that.  There are many revelations in this book (none of which I will spoil here) and to a sensitive soul such as Alan, they prove difficult to navigate.  Cumming’s journey begins with the TV show “Who do you think you are?” — a show that searches out your roots, your genealogical secrets.  There are dual stories running throughout the book, as well as dual timelines:  the present (2010, during which he is filming the TV show) and chapters of “Then” which flash back to his childhood.  Cumming’s father was a brute of a man, abusive to his family in multiple heartbreaking ways.

What sets this memoir apart, in a spate of celebrity memoirs, is that Cummings is incredibly insightful; he has a strong sense of self. He is articulate without being self serving. Yes, he is emotional, but who wouldn’t be in the midst of the family revelations and drama he weathers? At an early age, Alan decides he will not feel shame about himself; this, to me, is in large part why he stays so strong.

Cummings writes short, descriptive episodes, writing dual stories about the present (which was 2010) and his childhood (only titled Then). There are some delightful photos throughout, and candid revelations. A quick, interesting read.

Two other outstanding books I’ve read recently: The Empathy Exams by Leslie Jamison, and Bad Feminist by Roxane Gay. Both incredibly smart, talented writers who put together two brilliant essay collections. (See also what Cheryl Strayed had to say in the New York Times regarding the “golden age for women essayists– why do we need a qualifier?)

Next, a return to fiction.  Can’t decide between Tartt’s A Secret History or Chabon’s Kavalier and Clay.  Any thoughts?

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The Tiny Book of Tiny Stories 2 might be small in size, and its stories might be short lengthwise (just two pages long), but these stories are long on imagination and possibility.

I like this book better than the first; the collaborative effort seems more cohesive, the stories more fantastic, the drawings more tender. Stories we invent in order to live in this world.

The genre of the short-short story (or micro-fiction) is so appealing; in our overly busy and technology heavy lives, we need tiny escapes from the madness. That is just what this collaborative effort does: gives us a break from the madness. In short-short form. Who has time for long reads these days, anyway?

I highly recommend this book along with Volume I. Volume III is already in the works, so if you’re a writer/artist looking for a great project to work on, check out the link. And get to RECording.

Tiny Stories II

In late 2009, in response to a Twitter message, I joined something called Bite-Size Edits.  The idea was that writers would upload stories and other contributors would make editing suggestions, which the writer would then accept or reject.  Hitrecord.org goes just a bit further.

Where Bite-Size Edits was more editing help, hitrecord.org is full-on collaboration– and not just text, but audio/visual files too.  Any kind of art is welcome– drawings, recordings, words.  But, as they warn you when you create an account, anything (including your profile pic, so think carefully!) is up for grabs.  Anything can be edited and re-submitted.  In fact, this is the whole point.

I am lucky enough to be on the list of book reviewers for a major publisher & therefore got a review copy of the latest from the hitrecord collaboration, The Tiny Book of Tiny Stories.  It is indeed filled with tiny stories (some only six words) and whimsical illustrations for each.   The Tiny stories are reminiscent of the short-short story or the six-word memoir:  short, concise, and often laced with humor and wit.  Often poetic and sometimes dark, these tiny stories are just plain endearing.  I dare you to read this book and not laugh or nod in happy agreement at some point.

I was worried, as I read through the book, where all the writers & artists were listed?  At the end, there is a list of contributors and their record numbers.  Your records, I found out later, are your contributions.  Intrigued by the list of usernames and record numbers, I looked up hitrecord.org on the web.

After perusing the website for oh, say, 30 seconds, I immediately created an account on hitrecord.org.  As a writer, I have often collaborated with others.  It’s not always been pretty:  in grad school, my memoir class professor hooked me (a self-proclaimed atheist with a very sarcastic tongue) up with a young, religious and straight-as-an-arrow editor to work on a chapbook.  In my memoir, I talk about smoking weed and cursing god.  I don’t think my editor appreciated it.  As a result, the collaboration didn’t work too well.  But this type of collaboration– on the nets, and in a way anonymous– might just work.  It might work out just fine.

Any ‘record’ you post to the site– be it text, audio, visual, or any combination of these– is a record that can be downloaded and edited and changed by any other member.  It’s really freaking exciting to know that someone out there– someone you don’t know– can take something you started and turn it into something else entirely.  Open-source, creative, collaborative.  I love it.

And The Tiny Book of Tiny Stories is the result of such collaborations between 83 members.  And they all get to share in the profits:  on the hitrecord.org site, it states explicitly the percentages shared with contributors.  It’s a pretty good deal.  And the book is simply charming.  Really.

Some of my favorite Tiny Stories in the book are the darkly humored ones (the egg who optimistically follows the orange off the kitchen counter)  or the ones that reflect something much deeper about our lives (the person who doesn’t get dressed anymore because they ‘don’t feel like it’).

These are the whimsical, witty, dark and delightful stories that make up our lives. This is the first volume of Tiny Stories, and I hear the 2nd volume is in the works. I can’t wait.

PS:  here’s a link to the Tiny Stories video made by Joseph Gordon-Levitt:  Watch Here.

Last night, I fell asleep while watching the new “Red Riding Hood.”  I woke up a third into the movie screaming my head off and crying “it’s over here, it’s over here!”  Yeah, I don’t remember any of this, but the boyfriend says it happened.

In case you’re wondering, “Red Riding Hood” isn’t all that scary; I have no idea what I dreamt about last night, but I’m pretty sure it didn’t involve wolves.  Or at least not the literal type.

I’ve been hunting jobs since last May, and have a year’s worth of resumes (hundreds) and interviews (few) to show for it.  It’s disheartening to a person who has lots of (overrated and expensive) education plus tons of (relative) experience that she cannot find a fulfilling, full-time benefitted job.  I don’t need horror or fairy tales to scare the pants off me:  life is right fucking scary enough these days.

This rant also comes on the heels of an (outrageous) electric bill, which was fattened up by a leaky water heater.   Our apartment is a scant 600 square feet; the electric company is gouging me for over $200 this month.  Robbery is the word you are looking for.

Before class today, I went to the student lounge to get a package of M&M’s.  There was only one student in the lounge; he was sitting at a table directly in front of the vending machine, which afforded him a perfect view of what happened next.  I put my money in, punched the numbers, and the metal coil turned once and froze.  And there sat my bag of candy, suspended.

The student at the nearby table let out a huge (and unappreciated) guffaw.  I had a few words stuck in my mouth, but, since I teach at this school and there was a student nearby, held my tongue.  I dug around in my bag for more change; what else could I do?  I refused to walk away without something.

As I dug around looking for more spare change, I heard the sound of the bag drop on its own.  I let out a triumphant “Ha!”  but no one was listening.

As I walked to class, I thought of the word patience.  I keep repeating it to myself, like a chant.  Patience, patience.  Patience.

I felt excitement the first moment I knew that I had been published in a literary journal while an undergrad.  I never knew a moment of regret or worry over it, although it was not the best poem I’d ever written. I was satisfied.

Not so with the publishing of my first e-book.  There was excitement at first, yes, closely followed by fear and anxiety.  I began to wonder if publishing the ‘traditional’ way was a more legitimate way than via e-book.  I began to doubt myself, my work.  I began to panic.  Did I do the right thing?  For myself?

My incipient dream:    to see my book, my pages, my words on bookshelves in bookstores.  On bookshelves in homes all across America, all across Europe.  Is this what writers dream of?  Do dreams have to keep up with technology & the constant flux of change in the world?  Why do we always want things to change or want to keep things from ever changing?

So, the e-book changes things a bit.  No hard-cover, no numbered pages.  No tactile experience; no smell.  No feel.  No weight of a newly pressed hardcover.  Just some words on a screen.

But is reading a text the same regardless of the source?  Do we read text messages, online magazines differently than novels?  It’s all just words, right?  I’m asking these questions because I’m not sure of the answers.

Arguments over the future of publishing aside, I feel like I’ve given birth, and am now in postpartum depression.  Teary, weary, worried.  Wondering how my words are being perceived by others.  How will they see my work?  What will others think of  me and what I’ve birthed?

They’re just some words on a screen, right?

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