Today was a good day. Three really nice things happened, and I’ll go backwards in the order of their appearance.
Tonight I went to Kent State’s Trumbull County campus, a satellite of the main campus which is actually in Kent, Ohio. The Trumbull campus is a place where a lot of students in this region get a start, and tends to function, in its own way, hovering somewhere between community college and full-on university. I began my own undergraduate studies there back in 1993, staying for a year before moving on to Youngstown State University. It’s a place where small town-y people like myself go for a variety of reasons: tied to the region out of inability to access resources to take them to a different university, tied to a marriage or children or a job they can’t afford to leave or don’t want to leave. I was the sort of kid who had grown up in so small a rural community that my graduating class was around 50 people. The prospect of going far away to school was really frightening to me, but aside from that I didn’t really have a lot of people around me that could help me figure out how to get funding to go away in the first place. So I started my education beyond high school at this little campus. This afternoon I went back to meet students in classes who have been reading my first novel, set of course in and around their own home places, and to give a reading. It felt like a bit of a homecoming (as Youngstown, which I write about as a setting often, is sometimes mistakenly thought of as the place where I grew up–it’s not, it’s where I came to eventually complete college, and is my second home, really; Ami, Japan being my third after that), and I saw people I hadn’t expected to ever see again (an old schoolmate from kindergarten through senior year’s mother) and people who knew me when I was a child, though my recollection of them, like a child’s, was a bit fuzzy. I love this sort of thing.
Secondly, I was asked by The James Thurber House in Columbus, Ohio to come this summer, the day after my birthday in July, to participate in a reading by New Voices in Ohio for their literary summer picnic series. I’ve added it to my list of appearances on the site, and am incredibly excited to go and do this, even though it’s months away.
Indeed, I don’t know if people who have grown up in the post-Cold War years have a stronger literary advocate than Christopher Barzak. Half of this is that Barzak gets it: it’s not that Barzak’s young characters are apathetic, it’s that they desire to feel strongly and truly in a time when all existing cultural systems of thought and action have been revealed as simplistic, confining, and false. Too often cultural traditions seem at war with a desire for self-awareness and self-expression, sharing and intimacy. Magic and the supernatural in Barzak’s writing become a way of articulating the disconnect between what characters are told of the world and their own intuition of its possibilities. So many of Barzak’s characters are ghosts because they are unable to instantiate themselves, unable to find anyone able to listen to what they need to say. So many of his characters are able to speak only through impulse decisions and actions that break with norms and traditions—his characters reflect a sense that the only choices that are truly ours, are our impulses: to fall in love, to leave, to remain; a lover, a nation, a life.
And there’s plenty more lovely review writing where that came from, courtesy of one Matt Denault, who has provided a really amazing perspective on some of the aspects of my novel. Stuff like this, too, I love. It’s one of the things about writing that makes it hit all the right spots for me. Sending out messages in a bottle, getting messages back in return.
I’d say I wish every day could be as nice and good a day as today was, but then, if that were so, I’m sure days like today wouldn’t feel at all special.