This fall I’ll begin the second year of my Masters in Fine Arts (MFA) program in fiction. Heading into my final year, I’ve noticed that I’ve picked up a few new sayings. Call it MFA slang, or a collection of terms and phrases used by writers talking to other writers about their writing. For example, a popular way to offer suggestion to a fellow classmate is to do so by means of negation: “Not to be prescriptive but [insert prescriptive suggestion].” Someone might describe a story as too “plotty” or praise good writing for being “understated and quiet.” A major buzzword in most workshop discussions is “stakes.” But I want to hone in on one particular piece of MFA slang.
It is often overwhelming to read the news, and particularly difficult to stay up on current events. Every morning the front page is packed with new information and ever-changing top stories. Conflict in Ukraine gave way to headlines on Israel and Gaza. Attention then focused on Ferguson, MO, and then scanned back out as the U.S. steps in to help fight ISIS.
I read nonfiction to appear more interesting to other people. Nobody wants to hear, “I know this really compelling protagonist” at a cocktail party. I know full well that breaking news and acts of the rich and famous make the world go ’round, but I’m much more enticed by a novel with narrow margins and complex character development.
In spite of my penchant for fiction, I’ve made a grown-up habit of hunkering down to read the New York Times on weekends. I happily plow through Sunday Styles Modern Love column and ruminate over Chuck Klosterman’s latest ethical dilemma in the Times Magazine. If the Sunday Review contains articles about education, sustainable food production, or urban renewal, then I’ll devour those, too. Last but not least, I browse the Book Review for upcoming fiction, and to size up the week’s bestseller list.
I (Laura) was in sixth grade on September 11, 2001. An avidToday Show fan at the time, I clearly remember flipping on the TV that day and not quite understanding the gravity of the lead news story. As the day progressed, I slowly began to understand what terrorism was. This week, we remembered that day and our personal connection to it. May those who mourn be comforted and those who are weak find strength.
1. As adoring fans mourned Joan Rivers this week, the doctor who worked on her stepped down from his position at a Manhattan medical clinic. Based on the New York Timesreport, it seems the doctor is to blame for the complications leading to the celebrity’s death.
I found my great aunt Ann waiting for me at the MoMA. An 80-year-old woman from the suburbs of Richmond, she looked perfectly at ease in the museum’s pristine, avant garde lobby— a feat I hadn’t yet achieved despite my best pretensions. I had met her only once in my remembrance, and that was at my Papa’s funeral exactly one year earlier. Aunt Ann was his sister. I don’t remember what we talked about on that first solemn occasion, but I do remember that her presence was like a cool drink of water. She was spry and sharp in her old age, a hopeful contrast to the last nine years of my Papa’s life, which had been slowly overtaken by dementia.
We went to the Whistler exhibit and ate at Cafe 2.
“Does your father garden?” she asked me as we sat across from each other in the crowded cafeteria.
Laura brought up a great point yesterday: many of us are in communities of like-minded people. Like-mindedness has its benefits: as C. S. Lewis writes in The Four Loves, “Friendship is born at that moment when one person says to another: ‘What! You too? I thought I was the only one.’” But we are sharpened and our perspective is broadened when we have friends who think differently. Do you have friends whose opinions are vastly different than your own? What are the benefits of those friendships? What are the challenges? We’d love to know.
I hosted a ladies night last weekend with some friends from graduate school. We had wine and cheese and bread. We did it right.
In the course of the night, we realized that some of us didn’t know each other that well. So we played my favorite social-bonding game: hot seat. In the hot seat, someone has to answer questions for two minutes. Silence is not allowed, but “I’m uncomfortable answering that” is.
1. Early this morning, S. Truett Cathy, the founder of Chick-fil-A, passed away. He was 93. Cathy grew a small Atlanta hamburger joint with a chicken sandwich, the Dwarf Grill, into a chain and brand with over 1,800 restaurants across America. He was a devoted Christian, a smart businessman, and a dedicated philanthropist. More over at the Atlanta Journal Constitution.
A friend recently recommended Feedly to me, which I’m going to try out this weekend. Do you use it? I have the New York Times and Wall Street Journal apps on my iPhone, which I use frequently on my commute, and I love, love, love Pocket. How about you? News apps you love? News apps you hate? Or do you stay informed a more traditional way, like getting the newspaper?
The Mirinovs lived in a drab, geometrically uninspired apartment block leftover from the Soviet era. They were on the fifth floor and had a view of the hockey rink and basketball court used by the children who lived in the complex.
Mr. Mirinov worked at a publishing company and often had overnight shifts. He seemed withdrawn all of the time and was content to let the TV help him on his chosen path of least resistance through life. Mrs. Mirinov was a nurse. She was slightly shorter than her husband, but was built like a small refrigerator —- sturdy, wide, and capable of storing and carrying everything for the family. Her ripe cheeks tended to get rosy as she worked around the house, and she had a magnificent sparkle to her eyes when she smiled.
There were three more members in the family: theira daughter, Natasha, who no longer lived at home because she married Mikail and was raising their five-year-old son, Anton, and theira son,: Alexy, a college student studying to be a mechanic. He lacked confidence internally so he tried to make up for it with external things, like gadgets and toys that college-aged men like. He bought his father’s old car and while it was no gem, he kept that Ladna in pristine condition. For all his uncertainties about life, he was genuinely kind and cared for people, especially his girlfriend, Masha, for whom he would have gone to battle for.
This summer has been tumultuous, to say the least. The past few months have seen the shooting of Michael Brown and the resulting riots in Ferguson, Mo., the persecution of Christians in Syria and Iraq, the Israel-Gaza conflict, the revelation of the sexual abuse of over 1,400 children in northern England, and Vladimir Putin’s increasing thirst for Ukraine. News has been heavy; unrest seems to be spreading.
In light of all that’s been happening both at home and abroad, this month at In Earnest, we’ll be considering what it means to be informed. How do you know what you know? Where do you get your news and why? How do you form opinions on events and issues?