Nicole and the girls stopped by for a three-week visit recently. Here are some highlights:
-We met in Paris and stayed four nights. It didn’t seem like the best idea to jump into such a bustling world metropolis right off the bat, but things actually worked out better in the end, I think. We had an apartment in Montparnasse through AirBnb–so there was a kitchen, separate rooms for adults and children, and the flat usually was home to two boys the same ages as our girls, so there were toys and appropriately sized beds that allowed for a long nap once the family arrived. Maybe I’m remembering things rosier than they actually were, but the time difference wasn’t such a massive problem as I feared it would be. For one thing, we kept finding ourselves stranded from the apartment late at night. Since we didn’t bring along car seats, this meant long walks through the city after midnight. Daughter 1 put in a lot of miles over a couple nights, with complaints that seemed to taper off as the routine of getting lost and marching, marching, marching took hold. I think she was a little excited/scared to be out so late too, even if it only felt like late afternoon to her body.
I had one night in Paris before the family arrived and also spent the night wandering around Montparnasse. As someone who’s spent a lot of time walking at night, Paris after dark was irresistible.
In general the girls got along pretty well in Paris. Everything was new and exciting. We had that on our side. Look, the Eiffel Tower! Look, Notre Dame! Look, Van Gogh’s Starry Night! Look, jugglers on a Seine quay! Only about every twenty minutes did one of us stop and ask, “What the hell were we thinking?”
Daughter 2 developed an interesting habit of shouting out dire warnings at inopportune times. Like, “Everybody get off this airplane now!” And, “Oh, no! The Eiffel Tower is falling down! It’s broken!” Luckily she doesn’t actually have the shining. None of her visions came to pass.
I was pleasantly surprised how helpful a lot of Parisians were too. Like when we kept getting trapped in Metro gates because there isn’t enough time to push through two small kids while carrying luggage, stroller, etc, so the backpack or an arm gets clamped in the gate. Or the lady at our neighborhood bakery understanding my broken Franglais, sometimes sprinkled with Latin, sometimes Spanish. The waiters in the cafes we visited were particularly helpful. Very surprising. Checking three times if, “Yes? You know steak tartare is raw meat?” before being served at Au Pied de Fouet. Getting high chairs and complimenting Nicole’s French. Always having special desserts for kids–ones that didn’t have egg wash baked on top, so daughter 2 could eat dessert too, even with her egg allergy. Not batting an eye when daughter 2 knocked a glass of water over the table. (Even though I haven’t gotten over the fact that she washed the au poivre sauce off my steak. I’d been waiting my whole life for that sauce!) I feel like most places in Paris (within our price range anyway, which maybe pointed us in the right direction) were pretty accommodating.
-Next we took the train to Stuttgart. After sweating it out in the city, the castle and surrounding forests at Solitude were perfect. We ran around the tunnels and corridors of die Schloss, hiked in the woods, went to the city for dinners, kicked a football around the lawn. We also napped.
It seems like we didn’t do a ton in Germany. As Solitude was home, we mostly tried to recover from Paris and prepare for an upcoming trip to Rome. There were a few events around the Akademie, including an exhibition of fellow Samir Harb’s comics Introduction to [Arch]comicology about Palestine. There was getting groceries and walking out to see the horses that live here. There was finding snails and slugs and frogs on the hiking paths. Getting stuck in rainstorms on the way to Bärenschlössle im Rotwildpark, twice! Mostly we just enjoyed Solitude. It’s an amazing place up here and I’m grateful to have had the opportunity to share it with my family.
-Then there was Rome. We stayed four days at Lido di Ostia, a beach resort community on the coast. This is technically part of Rome, about an hour away by train, and was the seaport of ancient Rome. More recently, the area experienced a boom in the post-war years as a tourist destination for modern middle class Romans, and apparently hasn’t been redecorated in quite some time. Everything was so wonderfully 1960s, when Federico Fellini and other Italian cinema icons transformed this stretch of beach into the Roman Riviera. Between a couple days at the beach and strolling the boardwalk, we took the train to the city and saw some sights from ancient and modern Rome.
Italy kind of surprised me. I guess I’d always thought of Italy as more-or-less the same as Western Europe, with some Southern European flair. The loud cousin, right? However, I was reminded much more of the Middle East than anything being there. This makes sense, as Italy is the gateway between Europe, the Middle East, and North Africa. Just walking the streets. The attitudes and postures, the way people spoke and argued. I found it very interesting.
-A few more days at Solitude followed before a return trip to Paris by train. We stayed at one of the American style hotels by the airport. The girls were besides themselves they were so happy. Room service. Big rooms with hideaway couch beds. Showers with drains that worked. Kids’ play rooms off the cafe. Daughter 1 wasn’t shy about letting me know that this was what she expected when we told her we’d be staying in some hotels in Europe. Duly noted, kid.
-Below are some more photos. (The good ones were taken by Nicole.) Just a couple more weeks before I head home.
Below are some highlights from our family trip to Chicago over the weekend. Maybe tears were shed–some even by the children–but some day we’ll look back fondly on all the fun that we conceivably had.
I’ve been sitting on some big news for a couple months now. Something very difficult for a guy like me who, while sneaky, is no good with secrets. So I’m excited, very very excited, to announce that I’ve been awarded a fellowship and three-month residency from Akademie Schloss Solitude!
There are many cool things about the fellowship, some of which I will enumerate here. Paid airfare to/from Stuttgart, Germany, where Solitude is based; studio space and lodging in a baroque castle surrounded by forestland (Castle Solitude, pictured); a monthly stipend to cover living expenses; a double-housekeeping benefit to help supplement my rent at home; the opportunity to live in German culture (Swabian to be exact) for an extended period, sort of a reverse of what the characters of my novel do, my German-Americans; a chance to research and work on my next novel, part of which will take place at and near Ramstein Air Base.
Best of all, families are welcome to join artists during the residency, so Nicole, Maddie and Clara will be coming over for at least part of next summer. This is a pretty rare thing for residencies. Among the many things I’m grateful to Akademie Schloss Solitude and the state of Baden-Württemberg for, the opportunity to share this with my family is up near the top of the list. In fact, we’re so excited that we’ve decided to change the spelling of our youngest child’s name from the Anglican/Latinate Clara to the Germanic Klara as a sort of tribute to my benefactors.
You can read more about the program here and its vision of Esprit Solitude here, and see what past fellows were up to during their residencies here, but the gist of it is that Baden-Württemberg funds this program in order to encourage emerging artists from around the world to expand and further their work in ways they wouldn’t be able to within the strictures of their normal home life. It’s really an astonishing investments in the arts, and a recognition that personally elicits massive amounts of humility and gratification whenever I think about it. I was actually offered an eight-month residency, but it seemed like that might be too much of a good thing. I’ll be spending the summer of 2014 in Germany.
My sincerest thanks go out to juror Maxi Obexer, who selected me as a fellow, Jean-Baptiste Joly, who is Director of the Akademie, and Silke Pflüger, who, as Grant Coordinator, has been dealing with my many questions.
This continues a good run of recognition for my novel, as my application was accepted based on the strength of a full manuscript version of The Uninitiated. This manuscript also took first prize in Tarcher/Penguin’s Top Artist competition, while an excerpt is forthcoming in Boulevard this fall. A different excerpt was a finalist in the recent Summer Literary Seminars contest. And now, Solitude.
From everything I’d heard, the one thing that seemed certain about our trip to LA was that we were going to need a car to get around. So, while we did have a car to get to and from LAX, it was gratifying to leave that swank Dodge Avenger blissfully parked outside our rented Echo Park bungalow for pretty much the whole five days we were in Los Angeles.
Besides saving money and aggravation, it was nice to get some exercise between meals and drinks, and street burritos, and ice cream sandwiches, and was especially nice since we had a big crew for the first few days. Nicole and my brother, Matt, were on the tail end of business trips; superfriend Justin R. came down from Seattle; friend-of-the-blog and aspiring weapons trainee, Country Club Bill, came up from San Salvador, and his brother, Rob, turf specialist for the Dodgers, who happens to live in Echo Park, in a monastic cell where he is feted with chicken head soup and other Szechuan wonders. Below are some highlights:
-The six of us partook of the PBR/tequila special (and some mysterious tacos, is it dog food? could be) at The Gold Room on Friday before heading up to the stadium for the Dodgers/Brewers game, which was followed up by a stop at Sunset Beer Company for supplies. No one was injured.
-Tracked down a foodtruck, Egg Slut, in the Toy District for breakfast. Boxed water? Raw denim? Plenty to go around here.
-The speedball at The Viper Room came highly recommended, for a brief foray into Hollywood, but Nicole and I ultimately decided to abstain, and hit up Book Soup instead. I feel like that was a solid choice.
-Saturday night brought bowling in Tarzana to celebrate the thirstiest birthday of friends Joey Joe Jo and Brandi along with Benji, Jeff, and a host of other Nebraska expats who relocated out there.
-All the other out-of-towners left after a couple days, but CCB and I stuck around a few extra days for two more Dodgers games, another stop at Sunset Beer Company so CCB could fill his suitcase with microbrewed delicacies largely unknown to Central America, and a Neil Hamburger-headlined comedy night at The Satellite in Silverlake.
-We also hit up the Red Lion Tavern for some serious day drinking. Much happiness resulted from the liters of fine Spaten and Bittburger served here, although the food was pretty disappointing. There were also like twenty people getting rowdy on a Monday at 11am, taking advantage of the sunroof. We knew it was pretty serious when the guy with long gray hair holding an ornately carved walking stick complained to the beermaid that another guy who long gray hair (this one with an eye patch!) thought he was a “big shot!” To the victor go the spoils, I suppose. (Ed. note: CCB talked to the guy with the eye patch in the bathroom, and testified that he seemed pretty nice. So there you go.)
-My favorite part of the trip, however, was the kid we saw biking between Echo Park and Silver Lake who was holding a cross-stitched little portrait of two guys kissing. The hipsters of LA are taking it to a new level.
-Seriously, though, it was a genuinely relaxed and gratifying weekend. We talked about how none of us ever really felt the need to experience LA before, but that it was actually pretty awesome. Could it be that the most over-hyped city in America could be kind of underrated?
We spent last week in New York, holed up in Times Square as Nicole was summoned on a business trip. As she worked, I spent my days walking the city, and I found myself enjoying some great ethnic food and beer in Hell’s Kitchen (German), the East Village (Middle Eastern), the West Village (Ukrainian & Bengali), and Soho (Belgian), among others. We also swanked it up at Koi (Japanese) off Bryant Park. I probably did things other than eat over the five days we were in the city–but, frankly, I’m drawing a blank about what that might be. Maybe these photos will help…
We were able to bring our baby home today. She was born on Friday (8lbs, 5oz, 20.25 inches long). The delivery went pretty smoothly, both Nicole and baby did great. There was some trouble with Clara’s breathing that led to five days in the NICU, but all is well now and we’re grateful to be on familiar footing.
We celebrated my thirtieth birthday a couple weekends ago. It’s a pretty weird age to turn, at least as milestone ages go. It isn’t really all that old–so people who are older still scoff at you, as probably always happens–“you think eighty is old, wait until you turn ninety!”–but it sounds pretty damn old to anyone in their twenties. I suppose it’s an adult-sounding age, the age by which you have settled into a life path of sorts, or not. Supposedly forty is the new thirty, but I don’t really think that’s the case for me. Thirty is pretty thirty. I kind of like adult life. Marriage, kids, a full-time job, these aren’t things I want to avoid. I try to find myself within them, not outside.
I did point, in the past few years, to being thirty as a sort of edge for my goals. I had a few informal “To Do By Thirty” lists. Most of the advice I received from friends who recently turned thirty ahead of me was to avoid thinking in terms of things that I wanted to accomplish by now, but didn’t, as that can only lead to disappointment. I’m going to anyway.
My main goal was to have a book published by thirty. It didn’t happen, and nothing is on the horizon either. I think this is my main disappointment, I guess–although I’ve published short fiction in lit journals more widely than I really expected too, frankly, if there’s mitigation here. I’ve still never seen an Irish game in Notre Dame Stadium, although I’ve seen games in Lincoln and Colorado Springs. I wanted to have an MFA degree, or be working toward a PhD, but that didn’t really pan out. I’m mostly okay with that. I do have an MA, and I really enjoyed the experience of earning it.
I became a world traveler this summer when Nicole and I went to Tel Aviv in July. Of course, if one really did all the travel they wanted to during their twenties, there wouldn’t be time to do much else.
I’m married, and we have one incredible daughter with another on the way. These were things I didn’t really plan on. They’re the great surprise of my life.
I haven’t fulfilled what I foresaw for myself when I was twelve–living in downtown Kansas City with Royals season tickets, working as a plotter of X-Men comics. I have not fulfilled my dream of being a spokesmodel for Hungry-Man Dinners.
In sum, birthdays are always overblown. After the hangover was hydrated, I actually felt quite a bit better than I had in a while. What I manage over the next thirty years is what will matter more, after all.
Since returning from AWP in early April, I’ve been preparing to query agents, and I’m happy to report that this week I’ve finally reached the end of this process—and the beginning of the next phase of actually finding new representation. It’s taken much longer than I anticipated, mostly because of a few rewrites that became necessary in these middle stages of editing. (With big thanks to my wife Nicole for helping me to see how the shape/plot arc of Hyphenates Part I was not all it could be.) My first-choice agency requested full manuscripts almost immediately and is now deliberating. Wish me luck! Coincidentally, I received an out-of-the-blue email from a pretty big-time agent at the end of last week requesting some work. That was pretty cool. Maybe I’ll be sending him something before long, depending on how my first-choice responds.
It’s been somewhat of a weird process the last six months. My first agent left her agency right before Christmas last year, which left me without representation. It was kind of jarring at first, to be let loose like that. I’d probably put too much stock in having an agent, let my sense of self-confidence become too large based upon the fact that, like Don DeLillo, Al Pacinco and A-Rod, I had an agent out there stumping on my behalf. We worked together for over a year on my story collection and, what turned out to be failed, first novel. There were a lot of good things that came from the relationship–such as the idea to switch focus to the historical thread I’m telling with Hyphenates–and I feel much richer for the experience. But it was nice to move on, frankly, to have some free space to work out exactly what I was doing with my books, to dig deeper into myself, and to do so as a writer, rather than as a producer of potential market share. It reminded me of the reasons why I really love doing this, having the chance to indulge daily in the small acts of creation and destruction that eventually tease out a story. These six months have given me the opportunity to refine my projects considerably. And I’m thankful for them. But now, it’s time to get back in the game, to pursue book publication with all I’ve got, and to provide for my family as best as I’m able.
Next week it’s back to work on Part II, which is nearly completed in rough draft form. Hopefully by the end of the summer I’ll have it in some kind of acceptable shape and can move on to actually finishing the book by the end of this year. Not to jinx myself or anything.
Thanks a ton to all my readers who helped work my manuscripts into shape before I sent them off, sometimes on very short-notice. Amber, Bill, Mary Helen, Nabina, Nicole, Travis—you’re the best! And likewise for Jonis, Brent, Gregory, Justin, and Timothy, for giving advice and being advocates on my behalf. All of you are also the best.
-Nicole, Maddie and I were off in Fort Collins last weekend at a wedding. The photos in this post are from the trip.
Dispatch from The Hyphenates of Jackson County
“She was in the same clothes as before, the heavy red dress, torn and dirty by then. Her hair was thin, unpinned and breezy about her face. ‘Is that her?’ Strauss asked. ‘That’s the one you were on about last week?’ Jacob said, ‘Yeah,’ still with his hand on the Pfarrer’s shoulder, their faces close together as they stared at the girl. She was only twenty yards away from them, steadying herself against the trunk of a locust tree, one of the trees Jacob had slept under his first night in Omaha. ‘Her betrothed skipped town,’ Strauss said. It was obvious that the girl lived on the street now, that her family had turned its back on her, or she’d gone crazy and willingly exposed herself to the mutilating fractions of a city.”
Personal Rejection Notes, Requests for More, and Other Nice Versions of No Thanks
Electric Literature for “The Current State of the Universe”; Alaska Quarterly Review for “On a Train from the Place Called Valentine”; Nashville Review for “The First Night of My Down-and-Out Sex Life.”
The Turk and My Mother by Mary Helen Stefaniak. The first novel of a beloved Creighton professor, this one is highly enjoyable. A kind of folksy post-modern historical novel that seems largely drawn from family history and deals with the tumultuous love lives of our parents and grandparents before we knew them. MHS has a second historical novel coming out this fall, by the way.
What He’s Poised to Do by Ben Greenman.
The Lonely Polygamist by Brady Udall.
Books That Came in the Mail
What He’s Poised to Do by Ben Greenman. The Lonely Polygamist by Brady Udall. Novel History by Mark C. Carnes. Bad Marie by Marcy Dermansky. Three Delays by Charlie Smith. The Great Lover by Jill Dawson. Lean on Pete by Willy Vlautin.