Welcome to summer, you say? Welcome to June, more specifically, and it’s currently 78 degrees outside, which is still not an agreeable temperature for the sensitive cauliflower plant, who has been hunched over on the porch like an old lady with an afghan wrapped around her shoulders, begging us to please bring her inside where she can rest on a proper feather mattress, like the poodle does all day long?

Why, thank you for having me. Here is my advice for the day: quit your job (you never liked the commute anyway, or Paula in Accounting, who clicks her teeth together all day), stretch out on the couch with Elizabeth Strout’s Abide with Me, and read while you eat Pringles chips in that very efficient way where you pull a stack of seven out and then slide them off one by one on your tongue like communion hosts. And then seven more, seven more, etc., until the book is finished, and you can’t decide whether the rolling nausea you feel in your gut is due to the envy you have of Strout’s magical ability to slide between narrative points of view so effortlessly, or from the 78 chips you just ate (not counting the jagged crumbs at the bottom of the tube, which you poured into your mouth with no shame whatsoever).

Also on your to-do list for the week: read Rachel Dratch’s new memoir (even better if you buy the audiobook, so you can hear her read it herself. There are a few jokes that are way funnier when they’re hollered).

Book-spine poems

Finished my thesis, and for the next couple of weeks until my defense, I have whole hours to gaze upon the stories on my bookshelf.



It’s warm outside, again. We found a baby squirrel on the sidewalk. We took him home to make him comfortable, and he was, and then he died. The dog was very maternal, very careful, tiptoeing as best a poodle can tiptoe around the box. That was a good day, lots of sunshine.

Here he was, pink and alive and sleeping:

omg, awp

Fresh from the AWP conference in Chicago, where I listened to Marilynne Robinson talk about fiction and morality, gazed lovingly at Starlee Kine from the back of a packed panel on radio storytelling, crammed a tote bag full of postcards and journals and pens, ate not enough food and not enough water, and stayed up far, far past my bedtime every night.

Shared a pleasant train ride back up north with an enthusiastic man who announced that he absolutely loves the train because it is so relaxing, before gathering his laptop and power cords up and bidding me adieu for the lounge car, where he leaned back in a booth and slept with his mouth open, snoring (this I know because I passed him several times on my way to get water) for the entire 8-hour ride. He returned to our seat thirty minutes before the train was scheduled to arrive in Minneapolis, pumped my hand and said it was wonderful to have met me, best of luck, and then he put on his hat and stood at the door, waiting for the train to pull into the station while the rest of us turned back to our Words with Friends.

The AWP conference was okay, a little frantic and disorganized (schedule Dan Chaon to speak in a room that can only hold 25 people and you will have a clusterfuck of hatted literary types struggling to push through the door), but it was pleasant to be in Chicago on its birthday and see old friends and laugh hysterically because we were eating dinner at 1:00 in the morning, and we’re thirty years old, can you believe it?

Happy Monday.

Prague, day 6

Two months! I win the prize for worst blogger. But life has been busy. Here I am:

Except I’m in a cafe, and there is a pianist playing a violent version of “Memories” from the musical Cats, and the tap water costs 400% more than the beer so you can guess what thirsty me ordered when I arrived.

My Czech is so bad all I can say is thank you, and I’m sorry, and excuse me and yes, please, which, I realized, is a good majority of the vocabulary I use out loud in daily life anyway.

It’s strange to be in an old city–in Minneapolis we organize double-decker bus trips to see a building from the 1880’s–but it also feels very natural to be here. You can live fairly easily in a city without a grasp of language or literacy. Because we all want the same things: food (point to the menu or learn the word “goulash”), a bathroom (say “toalety” or grimace), and long walks alone, without anyone to disrupt our perfectly ordinary thoughts that don’t manifest in either English or Czech, but rather in squares of color and textures from our childhoods.

Oh, dear. A man selling roses went to every table but mine because I am all alone. Now I feel like an outsider.

Love Wins

I read an article in Time magazine on the Stairmaster today about an evangelical pastor named Rob Bell, whose new book, Love Wins, puts forth the wild un-conservative notion that there may not actually be a Hell.

Bell wrote the book in response to a note that was left by a visitor to an exhibit at his church, a note which said that Gandhi is in hell.

Gandhi: a real dick

A lot of questions came up for me as I read:

  • Gandhi? The skinny salt guy?
  • But if we don’t believe in hell, how can we make our children behave?
  • Won’t that just make us a lawless species?
  • Isn’t it safer to err on the side of believing?
  • When did I start being the kind of person who read magazines on a Stairmaster?

It seems that Pastor Bell’s argument is presented for those Christians who struggle with the question of whether or not belief of Jesus Christ is the only ticket to redemption. What if, say, there was a hypothetical person who was not raised in a Christian household but practices love and forgiveness more often than even our beloved TV Evangelicals? Or what if a person can’t intellectually grasp the concept of the crucifixion and resurrection but implements the practice of compassion in his everyday life? Or what if this hypothetical person was Hindu but used nonviolence as a way to gain independence for an entire country?

Who is going to hell–A, B, or C? Or everybody, just to make it even?

I was thinking of this today because my Facebook wall was cluttered with joyous posts about Osama bin Laden’s death. Here’s a sample: “I feel joyous knowing that bin Laden has a painful eternity of pain while burning in hell!!!”

(This is a person who would also comment on pictures of my dog with “OMG she is sooooooo preeeeecious.” A person who emits glee regardless of circumstance, I suppose.)

Shirley: heaven on earth

And maybe I am a terrible person, maybe I have eternal fires waiting for me, but I just cannot justify an eternity of pain for anyone, no matter what pain they caused during his life. I can’t even picture this kind of torture without feeling nauseous with empathy. And if god’s love is roughly 239,573,297% greater than mine…

I don’t know, though. Does anyone? But I thought this was a nice bit from the article:

One thing heaven is not is an exclusive place removed from earth. This line of thinking has implications for the life of religious communities in our own time. If the earth is, in a way, to be our eternal home, then its care, and the care of all its creatures, takes on fresh urgency.

A Very Quick Update.

The copy machine never works when I need to use it, Minnesota hasn’t yet cracked the 45° mark so we keep putting boots away and pulling boots back out, Obama was born in Hawaii, we all already knew Obama was born in Hawaii, royal people are getting married, Christina Aguilera has a new show where she sits in a spinning chair, Nurse Jackie is the best Netflix decision I’ve ever made, the Wikipedia entry for Insidious was scary enough for me to decide not to see the movie, I drank three beers and nearly cried because Flannery O’Connor is not alive to talk to me, tornadoes are plowing their way through the country, every day we’re closer to finding the God particle, none of us has any idea what that means, Androids are terrible phones that shudder and power off when you’re trying to make an important call, I read Endless Love and hated it, I read The Violent Bear it Away and loved it, I’m reading Empire Falls and I’m ambivalent, Jennifer Egan won the Pulitzer, one of the students at my university was killed by a semi truck, it’s still snowing and it’s almost May, Lindsay Lohan is working in a morgue, in Oklahoma they want to give you a life sentence for cooking hashish, they say Tina Turner has a drinking problem, the rivers are high in Iowa, the sky looks like Saran wrap today, the dog is asleep, and still there are so many other things.

A Good Day.





It’s going to be spring soon, and I know this because our driveway has melted and sent a flood of sand and gritty dirt cascading down to form a pool at the curb, where our caretaker has gallantly placed the spare satellite receiver from our basement and the garbage men have politely declined to accept it every day.

There are so many layers of life that emerge when snow melts. Odd articles of clothing and plastic wrappers pepper the gray slushy highway. And I think, how in the heck do you lose your shoe in a Minnesota winter? There are a few possibilities: it fell off your foot, or maybe sailed out the car window when you rolled it down to flick a cigarette, or maybe it fell out of your gym bag as you trudged along?

And then I think, why in the heck are you walking along the highway in the first place?

Minnesota is full of things I don’t understand. But it is sunny today:


And I just finished reading The End of Vandalism, which is a very funny book with a plot that takes its time. So life is good.


Though I continue to neglect this blog, always I think of you, dear reader, and wonder how you are.

What is up?

1. The Oscars.

I was annoyed to watch The Social Network win for best adapted screenplay. That movie is, in my very correct opinion, an excellent example of how modern cinema is failing in the narrative-construction department. There was no real drama or conflict; the movement of the entire story was forced; the dialogue was so artificial and the performances so stiff that I performed my requisite Groaning and Moaning and Bitching all through the film, yet waved away any annoyed offers of turning the damn thing off and watching Jersey Shore instead. (I like to make a scene).

2. Weather.
It’s cold here, still. I think it will never end.

3. The baby.
Is all grown up, a year old.