Carmen Maria Machado

Carmen Maria Machado on being an adjunct:

I don’t want to give away my expertise for so little. But I don’t want to stop teaching, and I don’t want my students to be afraid to reach out to me after we part, either—I don’t want them to do what I would have done. I thrive on their news: they’re heading to graduate school, or they’re submitting work to be published, or are publishing, or have a new project. I don’t only want to teach; I want teaching to be a career, something that I can afford to keep doing.

Illustration by Rachel Levit

I went to AWP this year with a fair amount of dread. Isn’t that kind of inevitable, with all the “How to Survive AWP” listicles floating around? But I surprised myself: I enjoyed it. Yes, I was exhausted by Saturday night and ready to be home and in pajamas, but I got to see old friends and meet new friends, and I actually introduced myself to writers I admire with a minimal amount of anxiety. It was so great to read with other amazing Sacramento-area writers, too—thanks to those of you who came to our early morning panel. Another unexpected thing that happened: I got to visit the Story Magazine table to pick up a copy of the new Migration Issue, which happens to have a story of mine in it. Surreal—the story, and the experience—especially because the issue also features a piece by Stephen Dixon, and I spent much of my college-era internship at McSweeney’s transcribing End of I., from typewritten manuscript pages to computer, by hand. Isn’t there a better way to do that, I wonder now?

Here are some of the things I wrote down in my notebook and/or tweeted during panels:

Your real concerns come out naturally when you’re paying attention to words on the page. (Brian Evenson)

LA is a short story; the La Brea Tar Pits are a novel. (Amber Dermont—I loved the thing she read for the Long and Short of It panel. Hopefully it’ll end up published somewhere. Also: SHE IS A SLOW WRITER TOO!)

Writing a story is like stealing a car, driving it fast as I can, crashing, & walking away unscathed. Writing a novel is like buying a car with a low-interest loan, driving around in search of something. (Kevin Wilson)

Replace “plot” with “movement,” something felt and actual rather than contrived. (&) If stories get sucked into the novel and then get sucked out again, that’s okay. Do whatever keeps you interested and keeps you moving forward. (Ramona Ausubel)

Precision of language is beautiful. (Carmen Maria Machado)
The Moon Over the River Lethe | Carmen Maria Machado
Dance marathons, interstate driving, lust, Allen Ginsberg, forgetfulness, and other reasons to stay up all night.

I could have gone to bed. Or, I could have sat at the table in the kitchen and watched the scene from behind the windowpane, but that, I thought, would be like putting this night in a museum—removed, too-soon forgotten. I wanted to experience it. Sit with this, I thought. Don’t forget this is happening. Tomorrow, you will probably push this away. But here, remember.

I come back to this essay a lot because I remember so many similar moments myself. Tiny moments in the middle of a fight or crisis when the wrongness of it all would take my breath away before I would be swamped with a very functional kind of forgetting. They were always isolated, like the light of streetlamps in the dark, little pools of amber that never touched. But they were there.

In the morning, the woman who made me ill with fear brewed a pot of coffee like nothing had happened. And, as if I’d slept, my day started all over again.

I would always forget, or pretend I did, if forgetting proved impossible. Because those moments when I knew what was actually happening hurt too much to hold on to.

Carmen Maria Machado on memories of Chuck E. Cheese:

“The interior smelled like a roller rink, a pungent fusion of sweat and grease. The pizzas were homogeneous discs of cheese, rubbery and uniform and completely unchallenging in any way—to my eight-year-old mind, perfect. The arcade seemed like a gateway into some pseudo-adult universe.”

Photograph: Justin Sullivan/Getty

ICYMI, this week on Catapult:

Carmen Maria Machado recounts some of the more memorable all-nighters of her life, from 24-hour dance marathons to seemingly never-ending drives across state lines.

In new fiction from Emily Flamm, she captures tiny moments in seven super short stories.

For her last pick from the Quick Fiction archives, Marie-Helene Bertino brings you a mysterious short story by Rachel Yoder.

Sara Majka serves coffee to Karl Ove Knausgaard and thinks about the “imaginary selves” that populate her favorite fiction books.

In “Birds 101,” Anna Journey explores the seven “narratives of longing” that can move a person to create taxidermy.

The Boy Scouts’ Image Problem

In 2012, donations to the Boy Scouts dropped to $27 million from over $61 million the previous year. Carmen Maria Machado on why corporate sponsors are abandoning support of the organization:

“Large, publicly traded companies must contend with a simple economic equation: public support for gay rights is consistently climbing, which means that gay people’s buying power—not just their own, but that of their friends, families, and allies—is growing. … By extension, the same appears to be true of nonprofits.”

Friday Read! "The Cartographer Wasps and the Anarchist Bees" by E. Lily Yu

The Cartographer Wasps and the Anarchist Bees” by E. Lily Yu is one of the most gorgeous, surprising and strange stories I’ve ever read. Some stories just seem to wing free of convention, to follow an unexpected trail to something excitingly new. Sometimes Carmen Maria Machado does that. Sometimes Kelly Link.

Lily Yu masters the technique in this beautiful story, made even more striking by the fact that she published it so early in her career. In recognition of this piece and her other first publications, she won the Campbell Award for new writers in 2012.

The Cartographer Wasps and the Anarchist Bees:

For longer than anyone could remember, the village of Yiwei had worn, in its orchards and under its eaves, clay-colored globes of paper that hissed and fizzed with wasps. The villagers maintained an uneasy peace with their neighbors for many years, exercising inimitable tact and circumspection. But it all ended the day a boy, digging in the riverbed, found a stone whose balance and weight pleased him. With this, he thought, he could hit a sparrow in flight. There were no sparrows to be seen, but a paper ball hung low and inviting nearby. He considered it for a moment, head cocked, then aimed and threw.

Much later, after he had been plastered and soothed, his mother scalded the fallen nest until the wasps seething in the paper were dead. In this way it was discovered that the wasp nests of Yiwei, dipped in hot water, unfurled into beautifully accurate maps of provinces near and far, inked in vegetable pigments and labeled in careful Mandarin that could be distinguished beneath a microscope.”

Read here.


Top image by Brandon Chew/NPR

Esme Weijun Wang’s The Border of Paradise is chock-full of secrets, betrayals, death, incest, a crumbling mansion and a terrible fire – but reviewer Carmen Maria Machado says Wang’s beautiful writing pulls the book back from the edge of pulp:

The result — the story of an American family stretched and manipulated into impossible shapes — is an extraordinary literary and gothic novel of the highest order

Find the full review here.

– Petra