2.16.2005

The best way to get me to do anything around the house is to put on This American Life and tell me to wash a dish. I'm in a way anti-domestic phase (ask me and I will tell you how to screw up making a salad) but This American Life will work.

Mulling over this now: the folks at This American Life are very Cupcake: they famously work their asses off, and freelancers I know who have submitted are in awe of how high their standards are and how good and specific the work has to be to get on the show. This American Life has created a space for substantive, interesting work. They made the careers of Sarah Vowell and David Sedaris within mainstream publishing via the relatively low-tech, low-profile method of a weekly NPR radio show. How many weekly NPR shows are there? A lot. A big bunch of them. But through quality and vision and work TAL created a little world, and I mean come on, Sedaris is the latest substantive revolution I can think of in the mainstream publishing world (just look at people's Spring Street Personals for five seconds, or take a writing class, and you will see what I mean here, my cupcakes).

I teach writing classes, so I am always coming up with these little lessons in response to peoples questions, discomfort, pain, agony, frustration with their writing process and the question of why the hell they're writing anyway if it's so hard to get substantive work out there. My lessons include:
Never start a short story with the alarm clock going off.

Writing is like a color photocopier (you have to take the class to hear this one).

Thinking about getting a book deal is pure poison and will make you feel crazy for however long you keep obsessing over it. It's really not that far from trying to make your financial plans based on winning the lottery or landing a rich husband. These things can totally happen, and I hope they do happen for you, but trying to get these things to happen in most cases, especially if you're not writing a book about purses and rich husbands, is going to seriously mess you up and is a waste of your time.
The folks at This American Life did not try to get a book deal first. They created their little world and people came to it. That is what we are doing here, and that is also what I am about to do with Demimonde Books. Be the change you want to see in the world: that is so true. That is not about just sort of smiling with compassion at someone being a callous asshole and taking breathing classes and sitting around a zendo trying to forget that Buddhism comes out of a patriarchal tradition even though it's got so much great stuff going for it. Being the change you want to see in the world is about kicking ass and taking names. It is this: if you want to read more interesting books, then teach people how to write more interesting books, put a focus on the interesting books that are already out there, and create a way for the books that are too challenging, substantive, whatever for mainstream publishing to get out into the world. That's what it means for me. What does it mean for you, darlings? I can't wait.

In the meantime: TOTAL REQUIRED LISTENING. This one blew me away. "DIY" is the story of Collin Warner who was wrongfully imprisoned for 20 years for a murder he didn't commit, and Carl King, who worked his ass off and got him out of jail. This is not "knit a tampon case" or "make a skirt out of a pillowcase" DIY, Cupcakes. You must listen.

(The link is to audible.com, where you can buy it, but if you go to the This American Life main site now it's up on that top page and you can listen to it for free.)

xo
Elizabeth
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