In Memory of Denise Gess (1952-2009)

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Denise was a visiting professor during my MFA tenure in Wilmington. We had our disagreements (like whether or not Sophie's Choice lived up to its reputation), but we also agreed on other things - the novella is an amazing form and Francine Prose is amazing in it. I've kept this e-mail from her for more than 7 years. It's her response to me after I complained of harsh criticism from another professor, who referred to my writing as a donut: pretty on the outside, empty on the inside.

"[He] wants you to get fierce. If he tells you you have a donut, show him it's a jelly donut, not a donut with a hole. Beautiful, shimmery on the outside and thick, rich, oozing with flavor, color, substance on the inside. He wants you to dig in and prove him wrong. So get to work; you can do it!!!!!"

I just found out from a friend that Denise passed away over the weekend after a battle with cancer. I thought of this e-mail in an instant and the picture of us at The Pilot House where we dined the night before she left; the rickety antique table she gave me when she departed; the odd fluorescent-lit room where she taught Forms of Fiction to a class with a left-of-center dynamic; and Firestorm at Peshtigo, the book she worked on during her visiting semester. I expect 7 years from now, 17 years from now, if I hear Denise Gess, I will still think "donut" first.

May she rest in peace.

What's Good for the Gander

Sunday, August 16, 2009

I read this article from Saturday's New York Times about how the hippest new accessory for the Brooklyn hipster (of the male varietal) is the pot belly. The article suggests that the pot belly-volution is a ripple effect - backlash against the six-packed bicep baring men's magazine models. Not to diminish the pressure that men feel to be buff and bulging, but I couldn't help feeling a wee bit like...excuse me? As though the rise of the uber-fit male can somehow trump the endless barrage of women's magazines (not to mention television, movies and advertising) touting the tall toned tanned Air Brushettes. It seems like the guys got to rebel before they were even oppressed.

Resigning myself to an "it is what it is" attitude about men getting to relocate their bulges from their biceps to their bellies, I decided to channel my energy into a revolutionary wish-list of things to banish when the fairer sex gets to reassign our own appearance-obsession to the passe category.

* Plucking - Little hairs marring perfect arches and creeping across the bridge of the nose must go. Not to mention what I refer to as my "errant eyebrows" - otherwise known as chin hairs - that make me feel uncomfortably close to a bearded-lady candidacy.

* Shapers - However you wish to address them - control-tops, body shapers, Spanx, contour undergarments, or, in the words of Bridget Jones, "scary stomach-holding-in panties popular with grannies the world over" - they're modern day torture device that attempt to disprove that matter cannot be destroyed by using super-freak elastic to suck, tuck and smooth the fat away. And also the will to live.

* Gym Memberships - Sometimes I feel incomplete as a woman because I do not have - nor have I ever had - a gym membership. I don't like to work out, and the thought of doing it in a large room amongst other people who are skinnier, prettier and more athletically inclined makes me want to eat chocolate.

* Skinny Jeans - Unless the name of the jeans indicates the effect they have, I'm not interested.

I mostly like being a girl - make-up, high heels, handbags. I think I would just like it better if I could accessorize with chub.

Excuses, Excuses

Saturday, August 15, 2009

It's amazing how quickly you can go from gung-ho to heave-ho. I started emdashery, all zeal and zest and dedication and fell flat within weeks. I have plenty of excuses for what went wrong, but in the end, I realize that F. Scott Fitzgerald was right: "A writer not writing is a maniac within himself." And while I'm in no way lumping myself into the category of FSF's greatness - nor am I suggesting that blogging will be the cure-all for my mental faculties - I am quite certain that more regular postings will make for a less em-bittered ash. Even though I don't have a presidential pardon to show for it, I do have a list of "buts" to explain my absence.

* But my computer died.
Sadly true. After many threats and allegations that it would make its exit, the whirring clicking mess finally went kaput. I feel like it had a remarkably short life given its purchase price, but I suppose I was rather abusive to it during my thesis-writing days. It was also unmercifully shuttled back and forth from North Carolina to Georgia, was owned by a PC-incompetent writer, and gave me fair warning before its final click-tastrophy.

* But I was on vacation.
I took a trip to Cleveland to see my best friend from grad school. It was the first time I'd seen her since her wedding in October more than a year ago, and it was my first real trip to Cleveland. (The trip for her wedding which mostly afforded me views of the hotel, her parent's house and a white dress doesn't count.) And while I'm guessing that your notion of vacation does not include Cleveland as a destination, it proved to be quite enjoyable. I left feeling like Cleveland gets a very bad rap...and also, that these two videos are hysterically accurate.

* But I've been house hunting.
When I moved back to Georgia after living in North Carolina for almost six years, I set up shop at my parents' house. After realizing that I sometimes go to the storage unit to visit the rest of my life, I decided that it was time to settle down and find somewhere to get my life out of a metal box. As one of the world's most deliberate human beings, this excuse gets extra merit. For me, house hunting isn't just an activity. It's a moral dilemma. I'm trying to be persistent, but it's so easy for me to get overwhelmed and think I can just live at home until I die. But then, I remember all my books, boxed and moldering, and a few pair of shoes that didn't seem to make it in "not storage" boxes, and I go back to the Real Estate Book with a Sharpie.

* But I'm getting old.
Also, sadly true. I celebrated my 30th back in July. I thought that reaching the three-decade mark would make me feel desperate and panicked about all that I hadn't accomplished before the end of my 20s. Like going to Europe and New York City. Or writing a book and getting published. Or, you know, like getting married. But instead, turning 30 felt like a relief in some ways. An opportunity to start fresh, to reorient those goals for the next decade, and to feel like I have plenty of time for everything.

None of these excuses may truly beg my pardon for being absent for two-plus months. I started to throw in that I also experienced a moderate bout of writer's block, but that seemed like too much of a dog-ate-my-homework. So now that I've made my excuses, I will get back on the blog-wagon and be more diligent. If for no other reason than no one wants to see me become a maniac.

The Truth Hurts

Monday, August 10, 2009

Last night, my good friend Tommy took me out to a belated birthday dinner. We were discussing all of our happenings since the last time we met - incidentally at his 30th birthday celebration.

"I've got a new blog," he said.

"Oh, really? You should send me the link. You know, I've got a new blog, too."

"emdashery? The one you never write on?"