A Dispatch from the Cold Front

After many months of unemployment, I was hired to teach English part-time at The Park School.  I am excited to start working there next week.  For one thing, I’ll be able to stop collecting unemployment.  For anyone who finds himself without a job, I would recommend applying for unemployment assistance– it feels like free money and it can be extremely useful.  The money I received allowed me to continue living the way I had been and it gave me some room to entertain the inevitable letters of rejection without falling into a state of despair.  I will say, however, that there is something vaguely bruising about the whole process.  For instance, I had to meet with a reemployment advisor on three occasions at nonnegotiable times (“What else do you have to do?  Work?”) to discuss my “skills.”  Also, every week for the last six months I had to enter online every “work search activity” I had done, at least one of which had to be a job application.  I was freelancing the entire time, but of the many articles I published, I was paid for only two of them.  Whenever you earn any money, you have to declare it to the Department of Labor, which I did, and which uncharacteristic honesty the Department rewarded by sending me a form that I had to fill out and mail to them within five days detailing why, exactly, I had not asked for all of my benefits for that week or else they would suspend my benefits entirely.

But I really do feel thankful.  The only thing that my unemployment cost me (besides countless hours I might have spent feeling happy that I instead spent feeling like a complete loser) was my car.  The new job will not pay me enough for me to be able to afford a new car, but the next academic year looks more promising.  If things go well at Park this semester, my position may be expanded, which is an exciting possibility.  I also submitted eight applications to graduate programs during this cycle: one MFA and seven PhD programs (some are in English departments, others are in comparative literature).  For those keeping track at home, I would not have been able to afford to apply to those programs ($75-$90 for each application, plus $25 for each GRE score report) without my unemployment assistance.  Hopefully one of those two irons in the fire will bear some sort of iron fruit.

I have been very fortunate in the meantime to be able to write for The Public, which has taken off spectacularly.  This past week, my review of Becoming Richard Pryor by Scott Saul was published.  The biography was certainly interesting, but I did not particularly like the review I wrote.  It is difficult to write about a biography, especially one that does not seem to want for anything.  Maybe it’s because I was up against a deadline, but when I sat down to write the review, I wanted to just say, “Richard Pryor was a funny asshole who had a painful life,” and leave it at that.

My review of Miranda July’s The First Bad Man will be in next week’s issue.  July’s publisher sent me an unsolicited review copy, which was a big surprise considering my review in Artvoice of her last book.  I do not like Miranda July’s work very much at all, and I have written about that a lot.  The publisher of her last book even requested that I send her the review once it was published, which I did.  So someone read this and either forgot to take my name off the reviewer list or decided that I should still write something about her new novel:

This is not to mention The Future, the film she struggled with writing. Have you seen it? I watched it in preparation for this review and it is not very good. The two main characters, Sophie (July) and Jason (Hamish Linklater), look and act like caricatures out of Portlandia, with more matted hair between them than a bichon frise. But the biggest problem with The Future is its only barely questioned self-seriousness, as if the problems of these two boring, unkempt, mumbling balls of quirk are really a metaphor for the obstacles we all face. And we are asked to gasp at the sincere profundity of it all when she unplugs her computer, or when she tries and fails to do some weird stilted dance alone in her apartment, or when he reignites the passage of time by pushing out the frozen waves on the beach. (Whatever, just watch the movie.)

I struggled with the question of whether or not to review The First Bad Man.  I do not enjoy writing negative things about writers or their work.  I felt like I would be too biased against July (based on everything else she has done) to judge the book in a fair manner, and with so much great new literature in the world, why should I waste time being a jackass?  But the book has so far generated reviews that vary widely.  Michiko Kakutani at The New York Times had mixed feelings.  The A.V. Club, which I love and read every day, pronounced it “the first great novel of 2015.”  That could be because the book is great, or it could be because it was published on January 13th, which makes it one of the only novels of 2015.  The A.V. Club has extraordinary coverage of television shows, but I think its book reviews tend to be bizarrely weak.  The two most frustrating novels I read last year, Haruki Murakami’s Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage (my review, their review) and David Mitchell’s The Bone Clocks (my review, their review), both got A grades and glowing reviews from Noah Cruickshank.  I wish I could write for AVC, but their FAQ says, kindly, “No. The A.V. Club does not accept outside submissions of any kind.”

So, we’ll see.  I used to hate it when people would say entire years had been bad, like, “Oh, 2009 was the worst.”  How could you say something like that?  Each day proliferates inconceivably with innumerable moments.  All of them were bad?  And yet, here I am, and I’ll say it: 2014 was not a very good year for me.  I lost my job, lost my car, worked my ass off for little to no pay, had my novel rejected three times, etc.  But things were never so bad.  And I got a job.  And I decided to start writing a new novel, which I finally started writing and which I enjoy writing.  I also found this incredible album of Irish music that I had been looking for for the last couple of years.

Also, I just finished reading Going Clear, and incredible book about Scientology by Lawrence Wright.  I woke up yesterday at 3AM and read it until the sun rose.  Then I ate some toast and had a cup of coffee.  It was divine.