Navigating the world of literary agents, at The Millions. Some good stuff here, except that the longshot theory of “it’s all who you know” isn’t really true. I got my first two literary agents before I knew freaking anyone, and one of them was a really hot agent whose clients were snagging Pulitzers and Bookers. What’s true is that even having an agent like that won’t necessarily sell your book. What’s true is that New York publishing has a certain group-think about what’s marketable in that moment, and if you don’t fit the mold then who you know doesn’t mean squat. Which, I want to say, is cool for people who don’t know anyone anyway. Don’t believe otherwise. When people live in an incestuous world, they start to think it’s the only world, maybe. But that’s bullshit and always has been, in the sense that it isn’t bullshit 90% of the time, but the other 10% could happen to anyone, including you.
Jillian Lauren is the nicest chick you’d ever want to meet, who happens to look so much like Angelina Jolie’s twin sister that you wouldn’t be able to bear standing next to her if she wasn’t so freaking cool. Here she is on the virtues of crying in public, at HuffPo. My favorite bit here is about her aunt, grieving as she became a widow. The week before my wedding, my best girlfriend’s grandmother lost her husband of more than 50 years, and I attended the wake, watching said grandmother sit by the casket and stroke her dead husband’s hair, murmuring to him quietly throughout the night. At the time, I thought that had taught me everything I needed to understand about marriage and my future. Later it turned out that Said Grandmother also had led a double life, by an alternate name, with a lover for a couple of decades. Every time you think you have anything resembling a formula for life, you’re wrong.
I’ve been grooving on this quote this week, from an essay in the New York Times called “Raising Successful Children:” “Parents also have to make sure their own lives are fulfilling. There is no parent more vulnerable to the excesses of overparenting than an unhappy parent. One of the most important things we do for our children is to present them with a version of adult life that is appealing and worth striving for.”
At the risk of sounding like an asshole, I don’t care about raising successful children. I have three kids, and it’s not like I want them to live in their cars and run meth labs, but I tend to feel profoundly disinterested in the way “success” is defined in the parenting culture to which I’m generally exposed. What I’d like for my kids most is for them to be excited by their lives. What that means is different depending on the person, of course. For some people maybe it does mean going to the Ivy League and becoming a brain surgeon and making a lot of money. I’m not sure, on the other hand, that it ever means your nine-year-old’s soccer team really needs to finish first in its kiddie league that requires obscenely early weekend practices. We need brain surgeons, sure. I doubt we need every middle-to-upper-middle-class American child to be an outstanding soccer player. But okay, whatever, that’s my bias because when I was a kid, the only relationship I ever had with balls was their hitting me in the head in gym class when I was daydreaming about something else. People who like obsessing about sports and top colleges aren’t wrong, but I’m not interested in what they’re interested in, so if my kids end up like that, it’ll be a parody of Family Ties or something, where the mildly-ex-hippie parents have a young Republican teen. I’d like my kids to grow up to be people whose lives I’m interested in hearing about for reasons beyond their being my kids and my loving them no matter what. I may not get that wish, and that wish is no more valid than any other wish for our children–maybe it’s less valid, like I want my kids to entertain me in my old age, according to my own subjective tastes. Still. A lot of parenting essays/books/blogs/conversations mainly sound like Greek to me, except for that one quote, which sounds like something every parent might want to consider having tattooed on their arm.
One of the things the article also discusses is how kids who aren’t told they’re smart actually do better at solving puzzles. I wouldn’t disagree that kids today are often overpraised on a kind of steroidal autopilot of “building self-esteem” (and overparented to the point of their lives being run like mini-corporations)…but at the end of the day, this also presumes that solving puzzles is more valuable than knowing our parents consider us smart. Sometimes what’s taken as a given maybe isn’t. Parenting is complicated. It’s also not that complicated, in that there are no books you can read to stop you from making a gazillion mistakes, and that if you didn’t make mistakes your kid would end up some Stepford spawn who would bore you in your old age…so there’s that.
This all makes me wonder how my children will remember me when I’m dead. Whether it’s remotely important or not that they understand existential things like who I ”am,” or if it’s only truly important that they know I loved them unconditionally. I don’t know the answer. And I don’t have a link for that.
Brad Listi interviews Lidia Yuknavitch on Other People.
Other People is coming on its 100th episode. Leah Tallon, The Nervous Breakdown’s Assistant Fiction Editor, will be interviewing Brad for The Sunday Rumpus soon. Brad’s a guy who doesn’t seem as freaky as he is until you get to know him better. Here’s a delightfully deranged playlist he made for Electric Literature, to celebrate Other People’s 100th episode.
Elizabeth Searle in VIDA, on what it means to have a Room of One’s Own for Generation Basement.
Someone linked Stephen’s 2007 piece, “The Score,” in The Believer on Facebook. Parts of this later made it into The Adderall Diaries, but not in exactly the same way. There was something stunning, sad and raw in this particular configuration.
Friend of the Sunday Rumpus, Claire Bidwell Smith, talks about what Facebook doesn’t reveal about us over on HuffPo. I’ll be honest: two friends of mine recently had, in my presence, a very lively debate about this essay. One found it highly comforting and related to it strongly. The other felt like what Claire was claiming as a secret or ugly “downside” was still a huge upside compared to most people’s lives, and that the piece was privileged and insular. I liked listening to them. I think they’re both right. I think Claire would agree.
PEN USA Award Winners announced.
My plans for the Queretaro Writing Workshops, launching in Mexico, July 5-14, 2013, are coming along pretty damn swimmingly. Josip Novakovich, Rob Roberge and Pam Houston are on board to teach. Stacy Bierlein and I will be doing publishing lectures every night that involve copious amounts of wine. There are hot springs. Now all we need are participants. You should come.