Stay Awake: stories

I haven’t written anything in awhile.  I had planned to write about my new job, working in an office that is an interesting mix of Gen X and Millennials, with a few Boomers thrown for good (or not…) measure, but that hasn’t really happened, now has it.

Yesterday, though, on my way home from work, I had to stop at the bookstore — Barnes and Noble because there are no more Borders (B-o-o H-o-o) — to by a copy of “Stay Awake,” a new collection of short stories by Dan Chaon.

I have been waiting for this book to come out ever since I first learned of it’s existence, which was some time ago, although how long exactly I can’t quite recall. No matter. It is here.

I have been following Mr. Chaon since his very first collection of short stories, “Fitting Ends,” was published in 1995 by Triquarterly Books.

I  was still a graduated student in the MFA program at Western Michigan University, hoping to be a writer of short stories myself some day. I must have come across this book at John Rollins bookstore in Portage, MI, right up Westnedge from Kalamazoo, where WMU is located. That was a great independent bookstore. But I’m not sure it exists anymore. A google search does not turn it up. <sigh>

Anyhoo…. I recall being so taken by the stories in “Fitting Ends” that I wrote to the publisher in hopes of contacting the author, Mr. Chaon. This was before it was so easy to track someone down via the internet. To my surprise, the publisher passed on my letter to Dan and he eventually wrote to me. For a time we exchanged letters and emails, which was a fresh technology at the time. Eventually, though, the correspondences ended and life moved on.

I remember I was in the Borders on Woodward in Birmingham, I’m pretty sure, when, scanning the shelves for something to read, I came across Dan’s second collection of short stories, “Among the Missing.”

I remember sitting and reading it but ultimately not buying, perhaps because it was in hardcover and I was a new father and concerned about money and therefore didn’t feel right about dropping that kind of cash on a book (huh, if only my ex had felt the same sense of fiscal responsibility when it came to her hair or clothes). But later I did buy it in paperback.

A few years later, not long after I started my job at the Baldwin Public Library, one of the hot fiction books at the time was Dan Chaon’s first novel, “You Remind Me of Me.”

I spent my early lunch hours absorbed in this exceptional novel.

And of course I was super duper excited when, years later, still working at the library, I saw that Dan’s new novel, “Await You Reply,” was to be released. I counted down the days until the book was available. And immediately devoured it once it was. Of course, because I was the main copy cataloger at the library I was the first one to get my hot little hands on this novel. I had the first hold.

In fact, I believe I wrote a blog spot about it.  Ah, yes. Here it is. In it I identify Dan Chaon as a GenX write, a label he agreed with, you’ll see in his reply to my post. Of course, I was tickled that he’d managed to find my meager little post on my meager little blog.

I remember being exceptionally fascinated with the premise of this novel, at least in part because it was about characters who “just walk away” from their life. I made a comparison to the movie “Grosse Pointe Blank” because it deals with the same sort of thing with John Cusack’s character, who had walked away from his life abruptly one day. I can’t help wondering now if that interested me so much because at the time I secretly wanted to walk away from the life I was living — the oppressively soul-crushing marriage to a narcissist part NOT the being the father to the sweetest little girl in the world part.

Anyhoo…. this brings us back to Mr. Chaon’s new collection of short stories, “Stay Awake,” which, after reading the first two stories, I am sure is going to be exceptional from beginning to end, and which is going to be on of my favored collections for years to come, if not eternity. Well, my eternity anyway. I wonder. What will my daughter do with all my books when I am gone? Will she just donate them? Toss them? Keep perhaps a few? I should probably discuss this matter with her at some point. But probably I should concentrate on getting her through middle school and adolescence and all of that first, hug.

These stories, so far, are hard stories. Harsh. In fact, there almost seem like horror stories in a way. Very grim. Unsettling. But I love them for that very quality. Unlike the  reviewer on amazon who didn’t like the collection because people suffer in it, because it troubled him. This is an attitude, frankly, that I don’t get. What do people want? Short stories are not TV shows; they are not meant to make you feel good so that you’ll be in a receptive mood for whatever advertising comes between portions of the show. But…everyone is entitled to his/her opinion….for good or ill.

What really struck me about the first two stories in the collection  — The Bees and Patrick Lane, Flabbergasted — was how for each main character there is this confusion between what is really happening and what is just a trick of the mind or perhaps a dream or even something else, something unexplainable, and how these worlds, real and imagined and otherwise, mash and mix together. It’s the kind of thing that I like to experiment with in my own writing from time to time, particularly in a longer piece (novella length) that I have been working on.

Having said all that, perhaps far too much at this point, I am eager to get back to the book now.


Made my move….

Last weekend my brother and BIL came in from Indiana to help my move out of my apartment and back into my parents place. We got all the big stuff and some other things. I’m still not fully moved out yet. Still a few things left and I’d like to give the place a bit of a cleaning before turning in the keys, but essentially I’m moved into my parents’ condo.

This move has prompted me to consider all the times that I have moved in my life. Of course for the first 19 years of my life I lived in the house that I was born into in Warren, Michigan. My parents were not the type to move. Once they got settled in they didn’t want to change things.

After a failed attempt at engineering school at Lawrence Institute of Technology (LIT), as it was dubbed back in 1986, (now it Lawrence Technological University, I think((LTU))) I did a semester at Macomb Community College (MCC) and then began then began the next Fall at Central Michigan University (CMU) in Mt. Pleasant, MI. Last there about three weeks.

Moved back home.

After a couple more years at MCC I moved to Ypsilant, into Jones Hall on the campus of Eastern Michigan University (EMU).

Moved back home at the end of the school year.

Then back to EMU the next year. Lived there through the school year and summer and through the next school year before moving back home again.

After a year at home, working at B. Dalton’s Bookstore in Universal Mall, I moved to Kalamzoo, where I attended grad school at Western Michigan University. I lived in on campus apartments my first years. Moved to another on campus complex the second  years. My third years moved to a brownstone at Rose and Vine in the downtown Kalamzoo student ghetto. And for my last few years lived in an apartment complex, the name of which escapes me now.

Moved back home. Lived with folks in Warren house.

Moved into Troy apartment with girlfriend (now ex-wife).

Moved to an apartment in Ypsilanti.

Moved into a condo in Madison Heights with now ex-wife after she got pregnant.

Moved to a house in Birmingham. Lived there about 6  years.

After separating from wife, moved into Royal Oak apartment at Thirteen and Coolidge. Stayed approximately 5 months.

Moved back into Birmingham house.

Divorced and moved back in with folks in their new condo in Sterling Heights. Stayed a few months.

Moved into Troy apartment, which was actually same complex that I lived in with now ex-wife who was girlfriend at the time. Lived there a year.

Last weekend moved out of Troy apartment and back into condo with folks.  Plan to be here for awhile, to save money, so I can buy my own house, where daughter can have her own room and space. Not sure where, though. I don’t have a house to sell since ex got house in divorce. So once I save enough money I have my pick of places. Needs to be close enough to my daughter and her school but not too close to the ex.

Seems like a lot of moving to me. Is that normal for someone of my generation?


GenX Lit

Title: It Feels So Good When I Stop

Author: Joe Pernice

Genre: novel

feels so good_

This is basically slacker fiction, about a  white, 20-something [nameless narrator] who bolts his marriage after only one day. Not sure what the point of not naming the narrator is exactly. Is it supposed to make him more of an “everyman,” a concept that I’ve always found rather pretentious? That particular descriptor doesn’t seem to quite fit this book. Maybe Pernice just never got around to naming the character. Sort of like the “you” in Bright Lights, Big City, which I’ve read many times, and I’m still not sure where the main character’s name is actually mentioned, if at all. Maybe Pernice is paying homage to BLBC. Who knows? Does it matter?

It’s set in 1996 and from what I can gather I’d be about the same age as the narrator. In 1996, I was graduating with my MFA from  Western Michigan, after which I hung around Kalamazoo for a couple more years, teaching adjunct at the university and working maintenance and cleaning at Oasis Hot Tubs.

I like this book. I’m still in the midst of it, though. Good narrative drive. Witty. Sarcastic. And just the right amount of pop culture references; doesn’t feel forced, like the dude is trying too hard. Of course, I particularly love the music references, something I wished I was better at in my own writing, but my knowledge of music is simply not very sophisticated (is it redundant to say “simply not very sophisticated”?).

I have to say after starting strong, though, the first part seemed to rush to an end, with an incident that seemed perhaps overly dramatic and then isn’t really dealt with afterwards, or at least not yet. It’s not a big deal. Not something I’d call a flaw even. More of a quirk really.

I wasn’t familiar with Pernice before I picked up this book. Or rather I wasn’t aware that I was familiar with him. He appeared on TV show the Gilmore Girls, which my wife loves.  I like it too, for it’s very GenXness, especially the sarcastic, quick-tongued humor, and boundless pop culture references.

This is the kind of book I wished I could write, not just in subject matter, but in size. My writing tends to spiral out of control, growing and growing like an invasive species or something. I’d like to be able to keep it more…controlled, you know. Condensed. I think that creates an energy in the prose.

New Featured Blog

It’s been awhile since I last updated my Featured Blog. Partly because I’m slacker extrodinaire. And partly because fuck if I knew what to change it to. So a couple of blogs got an extended ride on the jundrawer67 Featured Blog spotlight, which must have brought them so many hits their hard drives started smoking. Oh yeah…….. I’m big baby!

Anyhoo… my NFB belongs to author Bonnie Jo Campbell, whose latest collection of short stories, American Salvage, was recently nominaged for the National Book Award.  I was totally blown away when I read about it the NY Times Sunday paper, which I’d put on hold some time back and it just started up again this Sunday. Of course, I probably would have learned this news eventually.

I was an MFA student at Western Michigan University at the same time as BJC. So it was particuarly exciting news. Although not all that surprising. BJC was, as I recall, one of what we lesser scribblers in the program called the Big Gun writers. You just knew she was writing great stuff, and that she was going places, writing-wise.

So a big congrats to Bonnie Jo Campbell. And here’s hoping you bring home the prize. And if not, fuck it, have damn good time while you there!

And just to add a small self-egrandizing kudos for myself. Of the five works of fiction nominated for the NBA I’ve read three. The novel Far North by Marcel Theroux, which I recommend; most of BJC collection, American Salvage, as well as Lark and Termite by Jayne Anne Phillips, who has long been a favored author of mine. Column McCann’s novel Let the Great World Spin was on my reading list as soon as it passed through my grimy  little paws at the library — no seriously, i’m not bsing. And, as for the story collection In Other Rooms, Other Wonders by Daniyal Mueenuddin I did pick it up and start it but filly admit to never finishing it and never getting around to returning to it.

I’m just saying that after picking three Pulitzer winner: Cormac McCarthy’s The Road, Junot Diaz’s The Brief Wonderous Life of Oscar Wao, and years back The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Klay by Michael Chabon,  plus some other, I’ve got a pretty good nose for prize-winners when I read them.

Impressive, eh. Yeah. I know. Not so much. But can’t you just let me have my little dillusion for a little while. It ain’t hurtin nobody.

Late night bowl of Lucky Charms

When I moved to Kalamazoo to attend grad school at Western Michigan, I moved into my first real apartment. Sure, it was a university apartment but it was removed from campus, a complex of units not at all like a dormitory, so you know, it qualifies. Anyhoo…one of the first things I did was go shopping and buy me some Lucky Charms cereal. We never really had it as kids. The closest we ever got to Lucky Charms, the Holy Grail of cereals as far as I was concerned as a kid anyway, was maybe Frosted Flakes, which are Greeeeat! Don’t get me wrong. But no marshmellows, so they can be only so great.

Now that I’m back in my own apartment, it seemed appropriate to indulge myself and buy a box of Lucky Charms cereal. And, like when I was living in Kalamazoo, a strange city, unable to sleep late at night, I’m having a bowl right now.  They’ve added a few new marshmellows since my early grad school days but it still tastes the same.

As of today, I’ve been in my solo pad apartment for one month. Funny, seems longer somehow, and yet the place doesn’t even come close to feeling like home. Not that it’s bad really. But I can’t escape the feeling of existing in a kind of limbo. Perhaps that has more to do with me then the place itself.

Who knows….

The weather yesterday…

…was strange, wasn’t it? In this part of Michgan it was anyway.

I don’t think it got warmer than 68 degrees and that didn’t last long. Plus the skies kept toggling from partly cloudy to gray and overcast. It rained off and on. It was cool and breezy and didn’t seem at all like early August in Southeast Michigan weather, which always makes me think of stifling heat and humidity that makes it seem as if you breathing through a wet wool blanket. I got that description from a Lorent D. Estleman book, one of his Amos Walker PI novels.

The weather yesterday made it seem more like the first weeks of the new school year in September. That’s what the cool breezes wafting through the screen door made me think of anyway. And for me that meant Ypsilanti where I attended undegrad at Eastern Michigan University and Kalamazoo where I attended grad school at Western Michigan University. And to a lesser degree Ann Arbor, which is of course right down the road from Ypsilanti.

I always really liked that time of year, especially when I was in college. Classes had just started so there wasn’t that much work that you had to do yet. Even if you were already slacking off you couldn’t be that far behind. Besides, you knew that winter was coming up soon and with it a lot of time to catch up. Until then you just wanted to get outside, out on campus, into town or whatever.

At Eastern we’d hang out on the front steps of Jones Hall, the sister dorm to Goddard Hall. Together they formed the Community of Scholars, housing mostly the University Honor’s Program. Jones was an older dorm buidling, which meant instead of one big room we had two seperate rooms, a bedroom and a study room.

Sometimes there would be impromptu touch football games on the front lawn of Jones Hall. Or people would toss around a Frisbee or something like that. At the end of the school year, when it got hot, the front lawn of the dorm would turn into a kind of beach, people laying out, soaking up the sun. It was pretty cool.

The Jones-Goddard complex also had a courtyard. It was lined with bushes and there were a few larger trees. There was also a sand volleyball court. Sometimes people would linger in the courtyard until after dark and even late into the night. You could hear them talking, even the slightest of whispers through your dorm room window. Occassionally, couples had sex out there. You could hear that too.

At night, I liked to wander around campus, sometimes alone, sometimes with a group of people, sometime with a girl. I liked to sit up behind the library and smoke cigarettes and watch people stumble back from the bars on Cross Street late at night. You could do that even in the middle of winter because the big grates behind the library would blow warm air.

I have no idea why I am babbling about this, except that I am susceptible to nostalgic reminiscing, for good or ill. Something as simple as the weather can set me off. Often it is a smell.

I do wonder if my dauther will enjoy the same kind of college experience. I hope she does. She says that she doesn’t want to go away to college, that she wants to live with Mom and Dad forever. Of course, she is only 7 years old. I’m sure by time she hits, oh, say, 12 or 13, that will change. I hope it does anyway. I don’t want her to miss out on things like going away to college, living in a dorm, meeting new people and making new friends.

Perhaps I am just tired of spewing about the election. I don’t know.

Another review/interview with Jeff Gordinier….

…author of X Saves the World. The article is from March but fuck it!

I dig Jeff’s explanation of the Gen X viewpoint:

HO: What is the Gen X viewpoint?

JG: “I think the Gen X viewpoint is indirection. The boomer and millennial viewpoint is “I want to be in the fucking spotlight.” Gen Xers are uninterested in the spotlight. They’re more interested in dodging it and doing good work quietly. I think there’s a sort of comfort in the margins. Our influence on American culture has been in the shadows. It has been from the margins, even if we’re talking about something as macro as Google. Its genesis was microcosmic.”

Jeff gives credit, in part, to punk rock for this the Gen X sensibility:

“And, let’s be honest, punk rock has a lot to do with it. It just does. Not just the music but the sensibility. That attitude is so different than the boomer attitude. The attitude of people like Jello Biafra and Johnny Rotten, so scabrous and questioning and unwilling to be pinned down, unwilling to be lumped in. That seems to be so much a part of the Gen X sensibility.”

And I like his argument against the slacker label:

I’ve been a slacker. I wasted my time. I drank beer, I played chess with old guys, I sat around, I wrote a couple pieces, but, you know, so I slacked. Who hasn’t? It was good times. But for the most part, I was just unemployed, looking for work. I mean, I wasn’t slacking. I wanted a job, you know? We had a hard time finding work. That’s different than not wanting to work at all.

I dig how unapologetic he is about his slacking initially. I agree. So what? I’ve fucking slacked too. Shit, my whole grad school career was one long slack for the most part. I mean, come on. I got an MFA in fucking creative writing. Shit, I didn’t even have to hand in a finished thesis for crying out loud. It was part of a novella. I like grad school so much that I stuck around Kalamazoo, where to WMU, for a couple more years and taught part time as adjunct and worked doing maintenance and cleaning at a Hot Tub spa. It was way cool. The owners of the Hot Tub spa threw rocking Christmas parties!

I was never in a hurry to graduate from college. I took my time at community college — three years. I’d go to class during the day, study until I got booted from the library, then hit my buddy Mick’s house where we started drinking just to get tuned up and then hit the bars and clubs or went to a gig for somebody’s band that we knew. After three years of that I took off for Ypsilanti and EMU for ungergrad. I was in no hurry to get my degree. I was an English/creative writing major. I was having fun. Then I took a year off before grad school and worked in the bookstore in the mall — hey, it was full time — and partying some more.

I guess I just always had this impression that there was nothing all that great about the “real world” as people say, like it was a threat or something. And you know what? I was fucking right. I got my first “real job” in corporate publishing and it sucked ass. Especially my fucking gumpy ass, pear-shaped boss with the square head and bad fucking hair and creepy child hands who practically cracked the concrete floor she was such a hard-walker. Of course, the most annoying thing about her was that she “just loved her job” and “just loved being your guys’ team leader.” Yeah, I learned that your boss isn’t called a boss, she’s a team leader. By age she wasn’t a Boomer — she was younger than me — but by obnoxious corporate cog standards, oh, they just didn’t come any Boomer.

And anyway. Isn’t slacking what everyone aspires to anyway? Isn’t that what retirement is? Slacking around in the sun by the pool? Sleeping in. Going to Denny’s and hanging out for hours just drinking coffee and talking about pointless shit. Wandering around the mall or whatever. Listening to music. Going to movies. No real order to your day. Just doing whatever.

But of course you’re supposed to earn the right to slack. That’s the American way. And I think what pissed off a lot of people — Boomers, I mean. Is that we, Gen Xers, hadn’t “earned” it. We just fucking did it. Why hadn’t they fucking thought of that? Oh, that’s right. They were too busy planning the revolution. Sorry. Maybe in your next life a-hole!

But like Jeff says, we weren’t slacking. We were mostly just unemployed or under-employed. The job market sucked. Nothing else to do. Why not drink beer, smoke cigarette, and hang out in coffee shops?

Slacking is a much maligned, much misunderstood endeavor.