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Brief Ramble / The Unbearable Lightness of Keith Gessen

September 23rd, 2013 by Dustin Parmenter · General

Main Street, Flushing, Queens

Main Street, Flushing, Queens

“How much money does a writer need? In New York, a young writer can get by on $25,000, give or take $5,000, depending on thriftiness. A slightly older younger writer—a 30-year-old—will need another $10,000 to keep up appearances. But that’s New York. There are parts of this country where a person can live on twelve or thirteen thousand a year – figures so small they can be written out. Of course it depends.” –Keith Gessen, “Money”, n+1 magazine, 2006. (http://nplusonemag.com/money)

I was 15 when Keith Gessen, editor of n+1 magazine / defeated writer, wrote the rather tiresome article in which those words occur – an article about being a writer in ‘06. At the time, I was a sophomore at Detroit Catholic Central High School, and my biggest concern at the time was whether or not to quit the Track team.

Seven years later – “a figure so small it can be written out” – and I’m on the cusp of 23 years old (my birthday is Thursday, September 26th; so good of you to ask) and living in Brooklyn while trying to hack it here at Queens College’s MFA Fiction program, which regrettably offers no tuition rebates or stipends for its MFA students. So, after tuition, I have about $7,000 of income – all from loans – leaving about $1,600 in unfunded rent in my one-year lease. At this point in my calculations, I haven’t even eaten yet, nor have I left my house. So besides taking a full course load, I’m working at a metalworking shop in Gowanus for $10 / hour, and interning (unpaid, of course) at the Center for Fiction in Midtown.

But yet and still I’m not complaining, just laying out the facts – I’m just starting and I know I’ll get things sorted out eventually, one way or another – and trying to put myself in Gessen’s shoes of 2006 (undoubtedly leather, and without the visible besmirchment of any logo yet heard of then, in the year that I was 15), to really out-and-out attempt to empathize with the Harvard graduate who apparently failed to graduate from Syracuse’s MFA program – from which he received about $42,000 in stipends – for failing to submit an original work of fiction, which is sort of the whole point of going to an MFA program, no? It’s almost a full-time job not getting caught up with the “five or ten or fifteen others, also working on novels, who are just total fakers.” This is what I meant in my first post, when I said I’m finding myself in a city full of writers – though perhaps I should have said it’s a city full of people who call themselves writers.

“’Eventually you find someone to publish you. And you earn some money. You even find a wife. Things work out.’ It’s true. It’s mostly true. And when you think of the long-standing idea of art in opposition to the dominant culture, if only by keeping its autonomy from the pursuit of money—the only common value great writers from right to left have acknowledged—you begin to sense what we have lost.” -Keith Gessen (again), quoting and responding to Sergei Dovlatov, a Russian émigré writer who lived in Forest Hills upon arriving in the US

Will there ever be a day when writers and artists dispense with the childish pose of bohemian malaise? If there was ever a place where art and money went unabashedly hand in hand, it’s New York City. But I guess if I don’t make it as a writer, I can always start a magazine.

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#NowReading

September 23rd, 2013 by Dustin Parmenter · #NowReading

Wittgenstein's Mistress - David Markson. It's about to get weird.

“Wittgenstein’s Mistress “, by David Markson. It’s about to get weird.

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Beginnings

September 10th, 2013 by Dustin Parmenter · General

Whether you’re a native or a newcomer, New York City is ever a mystery, too big to fully fathom even in a lifetime, and central to countless myths and fables of Americana. It is the proverbial city that never sleeps: the Big Apple. A place where people lose themselves as often as they find themselves, it is born anew every day out of relentless and perpetual flux.

We’ve all heard the story of the hayseed come lately to the Big City with dreams of having the genius of its urbane favor bestowed upon them, sparking an inner odyssey in which they become other than themselves for a time, only to find truth proper in their origins. Is this just fable? How exactly is it that a city can inspire metamorphosis? Or: what is it about a city that can transform its people? Why did I tell myself that I had to come to here to “be” a writer – why is Chicago any different? Is there something in the water, some sacred geometry in the NYC skyline at night, that has roused the muse in so many? Or is this city just what happens when 8 million ambitious groupthinkers are living on a pile of money?

This is my year of transition, of major flux, in which I either start the Next Great American Novel or wind up back in Chicago (or better yet, Detroit). Over the next year I’ll be blogging about what it means to be a writer in the American Literary Mecca, or what it means to be a writer in a city full of writers. What it might mean, if it means anything at all, to put pen to paper in the same borough, cafe, bar or alley as Joseph Mitchell or Phillip Roth, as Hubert Selby Jr, Paul Auster, or Sylvia Plath. I’ll also be ranting about life as a writer, posting notices and photos from literary events past and future, thoughts on what I’m reading, etc.

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