Days like today

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.

And last (or first, since I’m listing backwards) I came across the most beautiful review of The Love We Share Without Knowing at Bookspot Central, posted just today.  Here’s a clip from it:

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.

The Oasis Video

Okay, so this video is now officially making the rounds in the blogosphere.  It’s a song by Amanda Palmer, of the Dresden Dolls, whom I love, and before I say anything else, I’ll say I love this song and the video.  But I have a sort of critique of it, too.  So far I’ve read a lot of posts online that are defending this video because over in Britain, where Amanda is launching her tour for her new album, Who Killed Amanda Palmer?, the BBC was possibly going to censor this song/video, spoiling Amanda’s marketing team’s ambitions to have it be a radio/music channel release, which would totally have been depressing, I agree.  But in fact, if you ask me, Amanda has nothing to complain about.  If someone was going to censor one of my books, I would be totally down for it.  Everyone knows that censored material actually gains more audience than art that does not spark a nerve with the culture.

Which brings me to my other aspect of this semi-critique.  As much as I love this video, I don’t think it’s being contextualized correctly.  Even Amanda has sort of talked about it as a sarcastic, ironic and sad critique of the sort of girl she’s portraying in this video, but really I think it’s less a critique of that sort of girl so much as it is the culture that’s produced her.  And in my mind, she’s sort of a hero, adamantly denying not just the Fundamentalist Christians who tell her Jesus hates her, but all of the other ridiculous elements of American society that inspire a sort of blithe disregard for anything but self and now and fun in her.  She seems more angry to me than stupid, acting like a caricatured version of the most normative roles we outline for kids to grow into at this juncture.  Whatever.  It doesn’t really matter in the end how it’s interpreted.  In the end, it’s sad and funny, the sort of thing I like in any kind of art, whether it be story, song, painting, film or persona, which is an art form in and of itself.  You can take Amanda Palmer as an example of that last form, really.  She’s sort of interstitial that way, the music and the persona itself both being integral to what she’s doing, and what she’s doing is an angry, funny, sad, beautiful thing.

Locus Poll

Hey, go figure.  The Love We Share Without Knowing is on the Locus Recommended Reading List under the fantasy novels category for this year.

It’s also one of the options on the Locus Reader’s Poll for best fantasy novel.  If you have the time and inclination, go over and vote for it, or for whichever books on the lists in their various categories are your favorites of the year.  You don’t have to be a subscriber, so don’t let the box that asks for your subscription number ward you off.  It’s not necessary to complete the poll.