The Door at the End of the Runway

To the uninitiated, art exists in a dimension far removed from the practicality of commerce.  It’s regarded primarily as something delightful to be consumed, like discovering a pleasant truffle in the forest.  At best, it’s seen as a clever diversion or as an expression of social idiosyncracies, stereotypes, and moods.  How it arrives and the... Continue Reading →

The Inner Work of Being a Writer

The transition from dilettante to serious artist is always indistinct.  As with any art form, one becomes what one does.  One becomes a writer by saying, “I’m a writer” and then writing.  I suppose one becomes “serious” after demonstrating or announcing one’s seriousness at some later date.  But isn’t it a little absurd to say,... Continue Reading →

The Library Might Burn

There are libraries in this world so beautiful that the visitor can almost believe humanity has a chance.  One thinks of sweeping architecture, polished stone, cool quiet atriums, deep stacks, the smell of old paper.  One imagines a certain reverence for knowledge, for words and learning, in a place dedicated to the best of what... Continue Reading →

Player Piano

The first time I realized I didn’t have the temperament to be a concert pianist, I was sitting in an enormous practice hall at San Diego State University with my teacher, Dr. Conrad.  I was 16 years old.  Eight years before that, through a serendipitous confluence of family connections, happenstance, and generosity on the part... Continue Reading →

On Knowing If You’re Any Good

  If you’re a writer, you’ll live your life not knowing if you’re any good.  And you’ll die not knowing.  I think John Berryman said that.  After Phil Levine published his first book of poems, people said, yeah, but can you do it again?  Then he did it again.  Then they said, yeah, but have... Continue Reading →

Writing the Hard Thing

If I could tell you the number of stories and novels I’ve begun writing and not finished, we’d be here too long.  But “not finished” doesn’t mean “discarded.”  It means what it says.  The difficulty comes when I’ve convinced myself that I’m one sort of writer (the consistent, cheerfully productive kind) as opposed the other,... Continue Reading →

Surpassing Meritocracy: the Artist’s Way

There are many different paths to greatness, not just the ones most commonly identified by conformist culture.  As long as your basic needs are met, where you put your energy—how you pursue excellence—is completely your business.  Realizing this can be difficult and gradual. It seems true, even if we admit that discourses (value systems) will... Continue Reading →

The Heat Death of a Wandering Star

A fortune teller in Northern California looked at my palm and said, “You’re going to lead an unnaturally long life.”  Then she slid my money back across the table and added, “I feel bad for you.”  This was in 2008 or 2009.  My memory of the year is less distinct than the mournful expression on... Continue Reading →

This Mad Dance

Looking at photos of relatives from the early 20th century, I’m struck by how incredibly normal they look, how I could walk down any street and see the same faces.  Such an insight comes easily since I live near the locus of my ancestral lines, but I think it’s a realization one could have anywhere. ... Continue Reading →

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