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Reading / Writing / Publishing / NYC

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“Town and Country and Back Again”

April 27th, 2014 by Dustin Parmenter · General, Thoughts

I don’t know about you, but I had myself a very nice, down-home, Norman Rockwellesque type of Easter back at my family’s home in Michigan. Ham, egg hunt, family members both embraced and avoided – the whole nine yards, really.

That was that, and then there were my forays into Detroit. In two days, I went all over town; I visited the DittoDitto digs where I talked to co-founder Maia Asshaq about the Detroit literary scene, how DittoDitto came to be, and whether or not she might benefit from an intern this summer. Between moving her shop from a gorgeous coworking space in Eastern Market to a brand new spot in Corktown, she said she could use all the help she can get. At the Salt & Cedar / UDP:D letterpress studio, I got to see how Matvei Yankelevich, co-founder of Brooklyn’s own Ugly Duckling Presse, helped transform what was a live-in printshop into a gorgeous studio and bookstore during his resident directorship these past few months. Turns out they could use an intern too, and the perks would be learning all about hand crafting gorgeous books, and the finer points of letterpressing. Music to my nerdy ears. One of the good folks at S & C pointed me in the direction of The Scarab Club, a 100+ year old piece of Detroit’s living history.

2nd Floor Lounge, Scarab Club

2nd Floor Lounge, Scarab Club

The signatures of famous artists such as Diego Rivera, the pertinently aforementioned Norman Rockwell, and Marcel Duchamp all grace the ceiling beams of the second floor lounge. The first floor is a more modern looking art gallery and a venue for poetry and fiction readings. They’re looking for volunteers as well – anybody else want to make the jump?

On my second trip, I stopped by the Heidelberg Project. This has become something of a tradition for me, and those who’ve known me for any length of time are probably sick of seeing pictures like this, but these are for the rest of you:

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The Heidelberg Project is a gorgeous, open-air art environment that’s been continually remade and maintained over the past 28 years by local artist Tyree Guyton. He’s basically repurposed the whole block with a few cans of paint and a crazy collection of discarded everyday objects. Arson is a chronic issue in Detroit, and in the past few years even this block hasn’t been spared. But the project continues – change and transformation only add to the conversation. From there, I went to the John K King Bookstore – basically Detroit’s version of The Strand. In business since 1965, it’s Michigan’s largest bookstore. Five enormous warehouse floors, filled wall-to-wall with every imaginable book. I wanted to buy them out of all their vintage Purdy editions, but this writer had nothing but lint in his pockets at the time.

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Who needs New York, anyway?

 

 

 

 

 

 

While I was there, I exchanged contact info with just about everyone I met, promising to stay in touch, and asking them to reach out if they’d heard of any job or housing opportunities for the summer. I was back in Brooklyn for about 48 hours when I got a call from Maia Asshaq’s former next door neighbor; he had some interesting information to share. First off, he has a room for sublet, for the entire length of my summer vacation. Second, it’s furnished – I’d have a bed, a desk, and a dresser (more than I can say at the moment, here in Fort Greene). Third, he has a bike he’s willing to let me use. Fourth – and here’s the real kicker – he’s going to be in New York City in late May, playing with his band, and he’d be willing to give me and my luggage a ride back to Detroit. I’m not one to believe in signs, but I do appreciate a freshly paved path; it wasn’t long before I was ready to pull the trigger, and commit to a summer in Michigan, getting stories down on paper, getting involved the local literary scene, and learning how to make books by hand.

As much as I want to lock down these opportunities, I still haven’t pulled the trigger. I’ve run it by a few friends here, and most can’t fathom why I would want to sacrifice a summer in the city for a 12-week sojourn in a “post-apocalyptic wasteland.” They say too that I’d be “giving up” on New York, that I’d surely be missing out on all kinds of opportunities here if I left, and that surely if I just try a little harder I can get myself a satisfying job or an internship that can get me somewhere. Though at 9 months in I’m certainly not immune to the charms of Brooklyn living, I still can’t palate the average New Yorker’s conceit that this place above all is where it happens – it’s just another place to eat, move, and talk, but people here pay a premium for the emotional strokes that come with repute by association. Half the people here can’t tell me which time zone Michigan is in; how could I expect them to understand what Detroit really is?

And who said anything about giving up, anyway? New York isn’t going anywhere – but I can, and I can come back too. With experiences in my pocket, and pages, and pages, and pages.

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Spring / Summer Plans

April 16th, 2014 by Dustin Parmenter · General, Thoughts

Though I definitely feel too old for it, I’m extra grateful for spring break this year. A solid two weeks off class at just the right time – seems like everybody’s feeling the burn this time around. I’m going back to home to metro Detroit in just a couple hours, to see family, recoup, and read Infinite Jest - again. Yeah, yeah, yeah; roll your eyes, see if I care! Bet you couldn’t even get past the first two hundred pages. It’s become something of a tradition for me to read it on *extended* visits (read: 5-9 days) to my childhood home.: no WiFi and no readily available car means quite a bit of downtime, and I’m feeling fit to finally bury D.F.W. in my mind’s eye. I’ve liked him too much for too long, and I’m going to find seams in this strange space ship even if it bores me blind.

Besides all that reading, on Friday I’ll be going to visit some folks at Detroit’s own publishing outfits DittoDitto  (a small art book publisher) and Salt & Cedar (a letterpress studio) both located in the Eastern Market, and see about potentially interning at their shops over the summer. My plan’s always been to come back to Detroit after the MFA – might as well start laying the foundation now. But S & C is especially interesting, at least to me, because Matvei Yankelevich (co-founder of Brooklyn’s Ugly Duckling Presse) is currently the resident director and principal of the collaboration between UDP and S & C, cleverly titled UDP:D.

 

Leads are tough to come by, but I’m glad to have them even if they might take me somewhere unexpected. I’ve got a few irons in the fire in Brooklyn… but I’d be a liar if I said I didn’t hear Detroit calling my name.

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New Story / Scamtrak

April 8th, 2014 by Dustin Parmenter · Beautiful Words, General, New Work, Thoughts

                So, I wanted to put this up a while back, but was thinking about submitting it to a few journals, or using it for my Amtrak Residency application. Did you hear about that, that Amtrak was offering free cross-country train rides to aspiring writers? It sounded pretty sexy, until word about the fine print got out; namely that upon submission, all application materials – writing sample included – become property of Amtrak. But of course, right? Win or lose, your work is now Amtrak’s, and thus unfit to print anywhere else but their website or other promotional materials. All that for, what – a free ride in a slow metal box… to Detroit (16+ hours)? New Orleans (30-48 hours)? Chicago (22-28 hours)? I do love writing, and I do love train travel, but after a couple delayed journeys from Ann Arbor to Chicago (4.5 hours have turned into 7 on more than one occasion), who would want to put themselves at the mercy of the Scamtrak? Then again, I hear people do sometimes get a lot of writing done in prison.

                Anyways, here’s the story. It’s still very much a draft, but it’s in its later stages. Let me know if it makes you feel something.

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Update / Guess Who’s Getting Published?

April 6th, 2014 by Dustin Parmenter · General, Thoughts

                Long time no see, eh? Hope you’ve been well – I know I have. It smells like spring today in Fort Greene Brooklyn; I’m at Red Lantern Bicycles (a coffee / bike shop) and Myrtle Ave is positively hopping. I have, for the first time in a long time (ever, maybe?) no complaints. That’s right! You heard it here first. But don’t worry – this too shall pass.

                Lately I’ve been working as an assistant to an appliance repairman – he’s a Brooklyn transplant too, but by way of Appalachia. He’s been doing appliance repair work for 25 years; it’s his family’s business in Southeastern Ohio, and it’s seen him through life in all kinds of cities, New York being no exception. Most days find us walking around Brooklyn neighborhoods like Prospect Heights, Bedford-Stuyvesant, and Williamsburg, with the occasional jaunt to Manhattan demes such as SoHo, Inwood, and Wall Street. It’s a lot of walking, but it takes us to all kinds of gorgeous apartments inhabited by all kinds of people, and I usually pass the time listening to his stories. He’s got a lot of them. I’ll see if I can some day get away with telling you one in particular – it involves a Westie terrier and an ancient Indian surgical technique. It’s about as strange as you can imagine.

                But first, more good news: I’m getting published. Remember that story I put up a while back? The one with a lascivious monkey? Well, a small art magazine called Carrier Pigeon was looking for something gross and macabre, so I sent it over and apparently it fit the bill. And voila, it’s going to be in their fall issue – with illustrations (!).

                There’s plenty more to tell, but I’ve got to ration these gems so y’all don’t get spoiled. I’ll have a new story up for you mid week – stay tuned.

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Galveston / Tell Me What to Read

March 15th, 2014 by Dustin Parmenter · #NowReading, Reviews, Thoughts

So I promised you a review of Nic Pizzolatto’s Galveston, but I’m afraid there’s not a whole lot to say. It’s good, if you’re game for some southern ne0-noir action. It’s a whiskey soaked ~250 page romp through the deep south; the protagonist, a drunk New Orleans helical named Roy Cady, gets diagnosed with lung cancer the same day his boss puts a hit out on him for past involvement with his present girlfriend. After the hit goes awry — Roy manages to off his hitmen — Roy escapes with a young, moxy-laden prostitute named Rocky, and a young girl she claims is her sister but is actually her daughter (!).

Guess where they go to escape their would-be assassins? Galveston, Texas. Pizzolatto employs the same time-jumping narrative strategy as he does in True Detective, to similar effect. Roy Cady of the future is worn and hobbled, impossibly ravaged by his past and yet still alive — much like Rust Cole. It’s a quick read, and one I recommend, though I think Pizzolatto’s creative vision is more fully realized in his TV series than in his first novel. All the internet writing about True Detective did turn me on to this book, however:

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It’s a short story collection by Robert W. Chambers, (an early influence of HP Lovecraft) published in 1895, set in a dystopia version of New York City, with many familiar landmarks. The common thread in all of the stories is a fictional play called “The King in Yellow”, which causes anyone who reads it to go insane from its “undeniable truths.” I’m only a couple stories in, but I’ll keep you posted on how it’s going.

After this though, I’m going to need something new to read, and I’m at a loss. I want to tackle something big – I’m thinking of Proust’s In Search of Lost Time, or maybe Infinite Jest (again). Thoughts? Suggestions? Leave them in the comments section.

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Last Day of Winter

March 13th, 2014 by Dustin Parmenter · General, Thoughts

This season really got to me this time around, and I know I’m not the only one. I haven’t met a soul who hasn’t confessed to a higher-than-average Netflix / HBOGo binge-watching rate in months — thank god for House of Cards, True Detective, and The Wire — and people don’t seem to be interested in doing much else besides moving in quick vectors form obligation to obligation, heated place to heated place.

But in the background of all this, at least for me, there’s been constant flux. As you might remember, I moved from Bushwick to Fort Greene just after the new year, quit my terrible job two weeks later, spent six weeks interviewing for a “dream job” that would’ve taken me out of the Queens College MFA Program*,  spent another three weeks looking for palatable employment… and now, it’s all over. That is to say that winter and the threat of destitution have finally taken the hint, and realized that I’m here to stay. Last week, it practically rained jobs: I became an SAT / ACT tutor (get at me for hourly rates), was offered a part-time stocking gig at a Bushwick wine shop (politely declined), was offered another gig helping a Brooklyn-based appliance repairman (Dustin now works for Justin; A-to-Zen Appliance, at your service!), and got a call for an interview at a Manhattan ad agency for a copywriting position (I cancelled today’s interview yesterday). So, two jobs accepted, two snubbed – not bad for a week’s work. Employment: check. School: check. Springtime: check.

Writing: ________. Not much progress lately, except for personal scribbling. What with the busy job search and figuring that half of the work is the evolution of perspective and letting the concepts bounce around the ole bone cage, I’ve been sitting on the “manuscript” since sending it off to those folks in Chicago, who I’m still waiting for feedback from with bated breath (HINT HINT; NUDGE NUDGE). New things are coming down the pipeline though. I can feel it.

That’s all for now. More soon.

D

 

*There are such things as bad dreams, you know.

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Tools of the Trade

February 28th, 2014 by Dustin Parmenter · General

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Goodbye, Clarice / New Work

February 27th, 2014 by Dustin Parmenter · #NowReading, Beautiful Words, New Work

Have you ever begun reading a book that you thought was going to be great, only to find yourself losing interest within the first one hundred pages? Of course you have. It happens, and sometimes – especially if you’re a blogger who promises a review of said book – it’s rather inconvenient. The book practically fell from my hands after C. Lispector spent her thirtieth page describing her mental state in reaction to the cockroach in her former maid’s quarters. I’m just not in the mood for solipsis, I guess, or the ambient sort of thing she was going for. Or something. One of the things I’m trying to work on in my own writing is narrative structure and progression – basically, how to move things along. I too can dwell for damn near forever, muse on minutia till kingdom come, but if you’re not telling a story – or at least leading the reader to believe that you are – you’ll surely end up losing your audience. Or at least that’s my fear with my own work. So, in short, it’s really not “Goodbye, Clarice” – it’s “See You Later.”

Just about the time when I put down The Passion According to G.H., I started watching HBO’s new series crime drama, True Detective. It’s easily the best thing on television right now – a noir-y, psychological thriller set in rural Louisiana, the show features Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson as partnered detectives trying to find a serial killer. It’s like a mix of The Wire and Twin Peaks; how can you resist?

Classic Marty (Woody) & Rust (Matthew)!
Classic Marty (Woody) & Rust (Matthew)!              

The series is written solely by a fella named Nic Pizzolatto, who happens to be a novelist. He wrote a book called Galveston which I’ve just finished reading. It features a lot of the same themes and structural elements as True Detective, but I’d say he realizes his vision more fully in his television series. Not that it’s not worth reading. For a sample of his work, check out two short stories he’s got published in the Atlantic, here and here.

Lastly, I’ve got another fiction piece for y’all. It’s a little ditty about leaving Chicago. I’m fond of the piece for many reasons, and I had a lot of fun writing it, but I’ve been told that it “falls flat.” I’d love to disagree, but I can’t be the reader and the writer. Check out the piece here, and let me know if you think it works or it doesn’t in the comments section.

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And Counting

February 21st, 2014 by Dustin Parmenter · Beautiful Words, New Work

I recently sent out a packet full of pages to a couple close friends / fellow writers in Chicago (you know who you are, or at least you will by Saturday) as well as to a couple people here in Brooklyn for their consideration. Those pages contain a handful of stories I’ve been working on, and quality-wise I think they probably range from “readable” to “as done as they’ll ever be.” One of the aforementioned people happened to refer to this packet as a “manuscript”, and suddenly it occurred to me that I’m actually working on a collection of stories, though I guess I’m only about 25-30% done.  But that’s 25-30% more done than I was before I got here – doesn’t that count for something? It’s working title is Looking At Old Photographs. I like it, but who knows if that’ll stick. 83 pages and counting.

Anyways, over the next several weeks I’ll be posting the aforementioned stories here, for your reading pleasure. This one, called “The Curiosity Shop”, was the first *full* story I ever put down in a paper. I guess you could say I was feeling feverish in the library stacks during finals week sophomore year of undergrad, it sort of just poured out of me in a fit. I came across it not too long ago, and thought it could use a little dusting off, so I reframed it and cleaned it up a bit. Well, cleaned it up a lot. Caveat: it’s weird / gross, but it’s other things too, and hey, give me a break, I was 19. Maybe even 18? Anyways, click here to cop it.

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It’s Cold Out There

February 13th, 2014 by Dustin Parmenter · General, Thoughts

It’s been a while, huh? Lots of changes on my end since 2013 – how about yourselves? I’m sure you’re still waiting with bated breath on that Clarice Lispector review. The book is coming along, albeit slowly, but it’s shaping up to match my expectations pretty squarely. That is to say, it’s starting to rattle the ole cage. In the meantime, read on – if you care for semi-personal updates from the author of this blog.

If one thing is certain about living in New York City, it’s that things are never not changing. I jumped ship from my old apartment on Bleecker Street in Bushwick just after the new year, due to general landlord shakiness – see the article clipping below; I just happened to chance upon this in a Williamsburg coffee shop, and I have to say I’m not surprised to see his name in print – and moved out to Fort Greene in an apartment right across from the Brooklyn Navy Yard. Surprisingly, the rent is $150 / mo cheaper, and the neighborhood is infinitely better. If I can survive the winter here, the area is going to be paradise in the summer – Fort Greene Park is gorgeous, and it’s a totally different stretch of Myrtle Ave than in Bushwick, not to mention the proximity to DUMBO and Downtown Brooklyn. Definitely an upgrade, all things considered.

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(Avoid renting from JBI Management at all costs)

Apart from that, I also left my job at the welding shop. I’ll refrain from publicly disparaging my former employer, but suffice it to say that she wasn’t easy to please, and circumstances had been changing rapidly over the past couple of months. Imagine working in a small room with the air quality of a chimney, the temperature of an igloo, and being surrounded dozens of screaming power tools that’re pretty much always ready to make you bleed. When I wasn’t being yelled at, I was probably getting myself cut or burned. I’ve still got metal splinters in my hands, and only just got over the sinus infection I got from working there. I was still blowing out black metal dust snot a week after I left. I don’t have a job now, but student loans are disbursing tomorrow – I was only holding on to this job until then, even in spite of the upcoming trip to Israel I was supposed to take – and I’ve been interviewing over the past few weeks for what looks likes very well may be a dream job (aside from writing, of course). But it’s been five weeks since the initial point of contact, and the process has been exhausting to say the least. It’ll be over by the end of the week – or at least it should be – and no matter how it ends up, I’ll be glad to have it resolved. It’s been driving me to distraction, calling to mind all sorts of questions; if I were to be offered this job, I’d almost certainly have to leave the QC MFA program, resign this blog, and put my writing on the sideline for a while. On the other hand, it would provide me the kind of financial security that I’d previously only been able to dream of, while giving me the opportunity to do meaningful work at the same time. Would that make me a sell out? Or is that line of thinking just the height of naivete? Having little or no financial security is almost always more oppressive than liberating; I’m tired of surviving on hard boiled eggs and peanut butter sandwiches. But if I’m working 40 hours / wk, can I still call myself a writer? All things to consider, but they’re still all speculative questions. I haven’t been offered anything just yet. I’ll keep you posted on that too. Any way you slice it though, definitely another upgrade for the 2014 life forecast.

With all these changes, both present and pending, combined with the rising tide of free time and increasingly indoor living, I’ve been forced to give perhaps too much time to my thoughts and anxieties about what exactly it means to be a writer, both within and without the context of an MFA program. Throughout the past weeks I’ve found myself losing and regaining degrees of faith in what I’d previously considered my best intentions – moving halfway across the country to “start over”, to get my dreams down on paper in hopes that they might connect or even resonate with an audience of one more people, in lending credence to the possibility of meaning in what I’m striving to create with my words. Then I found myself thinking of a quotation I used to rely on to bear up during such crises – it comes from Alejo Carpentier’s prologue to his novel The Kingdom of This World, where he took a stand in addressing the nascent Surrealist movement, which in his opinion was producing art borne out of little more than empty, juvenile shock-posturing:

“There is clearly no excuse for poets and artists who praise sadism without practicing it, who admire the supermacho because of their own impotence, who invoke spirits without believing they answer to incantations, and who found secret societies, literary sects, or vaguely philosophic groups with passwords and arcane goals that are never achieved, without being able to conceive a valid mysticism or to abandon their pettiest habits in order to risk their souls on the frightening card of faith.

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Faith is a small word with enormous implications. But if you don’t claim it for yourself and your own art, you’ll be hard pressed to find someone else who will do it for you. It’s essential, I think, to not only surviving in a world that doesn’t do any favors for talented people who have yet to prove themselves, but to keeping your own artistic vision intact. Believing in yourself, and in your art – in things that, for all intents and purposes don’t exist, at least not in the forms that you want them to yet – seems to be its own kind of mysticism, requiring an enormous wager on seemingly impossible odds. But to not make that bet is to give up before you’ve even begun; it is to admit defeat. Faith might be a gamble – but what if that’s the only way to realize your vision? Let me know what you think. In the meantime, stay warm – it’s cold out there, and a storm’s coming.

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