Category Archives: Photographs

Good News: a Cupboard Pamphlet Chapbook and Beyond

A landscape painting of the countryside, painted in the late nineteenth century.

1) What I Remember of My Love Affair with the Bird and Other Stories is on its way! It’s available for pre-order now; the book will be officially available starting on Friday.

I seem to only write updates here on this site semiannually these days, but I’ll write another post soon with more notes about the book and the lovely things some very smart people have had to say about it.

In the meantime, I also made a few updates to my publication history page. More on those changes, below.

2) A month ago, I finished writing the book I’ve been thinking of and referring to as The Years of Living Autobiographically: Book III. (Back in late March, I posted an excerpt: entries I’d written during the previous month, the month during which everything in the U.S. changed.)

Now my working titles for the three books are as follows. I’m worried that these may cross the line into affected and grandiose, but as of this writing, this is what I’m working with.

The Years of Living Autobiographically

Book One
(2011-2012)
Fly Away, Tiny Lazarus

Book Two
(2015-2016)
To Be Alive Should Be Enough

Book Three
(2019-2020)
An Origin Myth for the Stars

I feel like I have even less of an idea of how to pitch this than I did before. I imagine the final product looking something like One Hundred And Forty Five Stories In A Small Box, the beautiful box set of three story collections by Deb Olin Unferth, Sarah Manguso, and Dave Eggers. I imagine the books being right at home at a press that publishes “experimental books about death,” which is what this trilogy is, really. Or with a press that publishes, say, “work that extends or challenges the formal protocols of nonfiction.”

But since I haven’t found a book contest for Oulipian trilogies about death—not yet!—I’m guessing this will most likely come to fruition as a kind of secondary deal to the following:

3) I’m still looking for a home for Intercalated Days: A Novel. I’m still sending queries to agents, and as I wrote on my publication credits page, I’m also now querying small presses, and I’ve entered the novel in book contests.

Onward.

4) Unrelated to writing news: the picture above is the afternoon sun falling on a nineteenth-century painting, lighting up a detail of the landscape; the structure caught in the light is a mill. The shape of the light, to my eye, looks like a speech bubble. Which feels like a metaphor for writing, or any new creative undertaking? In the sense that everything we do contains echoes of and indebtedness to everything that has come before. (Jean Rhys: “All of writing is a huge lake. There are great rivers that feed the lake, like Tolstoy and Dostoevsky. And there are trickles, like Jean Rhys. All that matters is feeding the lake. I don’t matter. The lake matters. You must keep feeding the lake.”)

5) Also unrelated—except that it’s related to everything in America, all the horrific and deadly unfairness and institutionalized cruelty and endemic sexism and racism, and also the nihilistic death cult that threatens to drag us all down with it in its petty, suicidal, revanchist fever dreams—is the Electoral College, the worst Confederate monument of them all. It should be abolished. (Previous notes on this subject on this site, over the past two decades: “The Electoral College!” from 12/4/2000, right before the disastrous Bush v. Gore decision, a short film which may or may not still be visible; “Possible Outcomes,” from 10/14/2004, a kind of speculative utopian fiction of how we might escape two never-ending wars, then both still so young; “13 December 2004; or, A Few Things I Know About the Electoral College from Reading Books,” which I posted 11/11/2004, and which is comprised of the things I could remember from the research I did to write the script to “The Electoral College!” video; “The Truth About the Electoral College,” which includes that script, and another attempt at making the Flash Player thing work. Sort of related, I guess, as one more speculative-comedic progressive-realpolitik fiction: “I’m with Senator Coco.” Back when we had some sense of how outlandish and combative American right-wing politics were becoming—the intellectual/strategic spawn of Lee Atwater and Newt Gingrich—but we still had no idea (or at least, I still had no idea) how bad things would eventually become.

Some Updates on My Status Updates

The screen of a scanner.

“False Documents,” by E. L. Doctorow, on its way to PDF form: see below.

I am completely off social media now—unless you count writing a blog post update like this once every six months or so, which seems like a different creature altogether.

Goodbye, Facebook

For years, I would deactivate my Facebook account for long stretches of time (see: posts related to The Year of Living Autobiographically). But finally I listened to the advice of Virginia Heffernan, among others; the following I cut and pasted, perhaps ironically, from Twitter.

Call it sophistication, call it boredom with the interface, call it misanthropy, call it a productivity hack or a cognitive-security precaution or a weight-loss measure. Just find a reason and get off Facebook. You have nothing to lose but your chains.

I downloaded everything, then deleted my account.

A screen grab of deleting Facebook.

You’re about to permanently delete your account.

Goodbye, Instagram

I really enjoyed Instagram, and I think I would pay for a similar service—so long as it had nothing to do with Facebook, and had nothing to do with people influencing other people. I’d like to avoid places where the covert advertising of envy, despair, and rage occurs, where hostile foreign powers with highly sophisticated military intelligence operations seek to divide us, where corporations exploit beautiful young people to make us feel bad, convince us to seek out their products in fruitless attempts to salve our despair.

I just like sharing photographs. But I’m happy to have no photo sharing tool—especially no free, weaponized, democracy-eroding tool—for some time. I’m happy to wait until someone with more skills than I have reads Jaron Lanier’s Ten Arguments for Deleting Your Social Media Accounts Right Now and then creates the solution to the problem Lanier is describing.

In the meantime, I downloaded everything, then deleted my account.

Goodbye, Twitter

I was barely on Twitter. I wrote and endlessly edited Twitter posts and essays that I never posted, which I know (and knew) is a waste of time.

I took two recent examples of this foolishness, and turned them into blog posts; I posted them retroactively, with the date and time stamps of when I stopped editing them (“How Are Things in Mandragora?” in December and “Empathy and the Obligations of Freedom” in November).

I asked a writer whose work I admire greatly, whom I’ve never met in person, and who is famously not at all on social media: “Do you happen to have any suggestions for how to stay away from such distractions, either mostly or completely?”

She replied: “As for Twitter, in my experience, addiction can’t be curbed; it can only be quit, usually after hitting bottom.”

She’s right.

Zadie Smith is right too: “I have seen on Twitter, I’ve seen it at a distance, people have a feeling at 9am quite strongly, and then by 11 have been shouted out of it and can have a completely opposite feeling four hours later. That part, I find really unfortunate […] I want to have my feeling, even if it’s wrong, even if it’s inappropriate, express it to myself in the privacy of my heart and my mind. I don’t want to be bullied out of it.”

So I quit.

I downloaded everything, then deleted my account.

Hello Again, Fakery

Separating the phone-number tabs on a bulletin-board flier.

Help with the fliers for my fakes class.

In other news, I’m teaching two creative writing classes this semester: one on monologues (both in fiction and drama), and one on false documents.

A photograph of two fliers on a bulletin board.

My class is not called “Affordable Mimeographing.”

The latter is based on Faking It, the seminar I taught at Columbia in 2012.

Spines of books on a bookshelf.

Some of the assigned reading for my classes, plus recent reading, plus Anne Lamott.

I’m using Fakes again as a textbook, edited by David Shields and Matthew Vollmer. And I recently read Vollmer’s Permanent Exhibit (BOA Editions, 2018), as well as Shields’s How Literature Saved My Life (Vintage, 2013). Both are excellent. (All pictured above.)

Hello Again, Fiction

Also, as long as I’m updating various statuses: way back in 2017, I said I might post updates here on how the novel I’m writing—trying to write—is going. I knew, and wrote, that I might fail to accomplish this. Which I have.

I’ve been calling it Xeno’s novel, meaning that as soon as I seem halfway done with the work I have left, the next half of what remains looms before me, and the finish line recedes away. Which is quite obviously not unique to me, or to this project.

The end result may be so small, so slight, that some readers might ask—if it ever has readers—This took you how long to write?

Manuscript pages.

Following Instructions: A Journal of My Second Son’s First Year.

If you’re reading this, and you’re wondering what the hell this is a picture of, Following Instructions exists within Intercalated Days. I’m almost done with the former. Then I can build it out into the latter.

I keep at it.

Sibling March

a button found on the ground at the sibling marchHe found it on the ground at the March for Our Lives sibling march on the Walkway Over the Hudson. He asked if he could keep it. He knows the word, in part because Emily and I have said it a few times, but mainly because of Hamilton, which has something like three curse words. During many of the times when we’ve listened to the soundtrack in the past two years, we’ve talked about these curse words: how judiciously and precisely they are deployed in the libretto, how Lin-Manuel Miranda used them when no other word could do. Could he keep it? Could he put it on his hat? Yes and yes. Fuck the NRA. Fuck you, NRA, or rather, fuck you, the nihilist death cult that took you over from the inside, ever since the “Cincinnati Revolt” coup in 1977 (see Jill Lepore, “Battleground America“). Yes, this boy (this proud Jewish American, this proud Son of the American Revolution) can wear this on his hat, and yes, I will proudly follow him and all the children leading us. (The winds on the bridge were fierce and cold. We wanted to turn around. What would Alexander Hamilton do? I asked. He’d keep going, my older son said. But we’re not at war, he added. Well, we kind of are, I said.) I will follow you, Hamilton generation, as you lead us into a risen-up democracy and a new peace.

Purim Saves the Day; Or, Abraham Joshua Heschel’s Mezuzah

batman and darth vader take out the trash and the recycling

I look forward to the day when the time change in the spring must happen, according to the American candy lobby, before Purim, because Purim will have become completely assimilated into the wider corporate American culture, as candy and costume manufacturers (and drugstore chains and large retailer chains etc.) will have realized that it’s a readymade Halloween II, almost perfectly spaced on the calendar (give or take a lunar month), and that it really doesn’t have to just be for kids being raised in the wonders of the Jewish revival of early twenty-first century; it doesn’t have to be just children dressing up as Esther and Haman and IDF soldiers and beyond (the beyond is key to the assimilation and corporatization, of course). Like gentile kids who go to school with Jewish kids being raised in the marvels of the Jewish revival of the early twenty-first century, corporate America will widen its eyes with wonder at the news that yes, even more marvelous than getting presents for eight nights instead of one morning is the fact of a whole other Halloween, a spring Halloween, with all the candy and all the sugar and all the sugar crashes. There will be confusion over the timing—when is the time change this year, it seems like it’s early this year, that’s because Purim is early this year and the American candy lobby (at least, in secret, or at least, in secret according to myth and Purimist conspiracy theories) controls when the time change happens because of all the money they make now on trick-or-treating for Purim, also known as Halloween II. That dastardly candy lobby! But all of this will be good for the Jews, and will wither the nasty, jealous rage of the anti-Semites whose awful power is currently on the rise in America, because it will be as if Judaism regained the power it once had, centuries ago, as a proselytizing religion: this is a rigorous club, not an exclusive one; you, too, can be a part of it; in the meantime, you and your family can participate in this rediscovered and syncretically reinvented holiday; you don’t have to figure out yourself exactly which weekend the time change is going to happen, because the time change (and Purim, and Easter, for that matter) is on your smartphone’s calendar; and also, while we’re at it, everyone needs to stop toppling headstones at night, like a bunch of racist cowards, please. We are all stronger together, not divided, like the troll farms and their authoritarian overlords would like us to be. Purim, like Esther, can save the day.

Abraham Joshua Heschel's mezuzah

PS Look, I wrote a blog post! That felt good. Although writing this, I realize it may become a part of an essay I am hoping to write. Topics touched on may or may not include and Abraham Joshua Heschel’s office-door mezuzah at the Jewish Theological Seminary, shown here in this picture I took on December 5, 2016 (quoting Emily’s and my ketubah, using text that appears in the ketubah template in the back of Anita Diamant’s The Jewish Wedding Now, “as we customarily count time“). The essay may also reference Arnold Eisen’s talk “The Blessing of Assimilation—Then and Now.”

PPS See also the Danny Trejo monologue from Reindeer Games (which is hilarious in context, but isn’t really at all funny taken out of context): “It says here the retail industry does 50% of its business between December 1st and December 25th. That’s half a year’s business in one month’s time. It seems to me, an intelligent country would legislate a second such gift giving holiday. Create, say, a Christmas 2, late May, early June, to further stimulate growth.”

PPPS See also: “The daylight saving time debate makes headlines for a few days each year, but I’m skeptical that there’s enough political will to modify the system that has largely been used for decades (a few tweaks to DST start and end dates notwithstanding).”

Maple Fest

This past Saturday, the boys and I were some of the earliest arrivals for Maple Fest at the Ashokan Center. This is unusual for us—it’s usually a challenge to get two young boys out the door—but I convinced Toby that if we were there first, we’d get the freshest of the pancakes. In hindsight, I was wrong: being there first meant we did get the first pancakes, but the first pancakes were the ones that had been sitting out on the warmer for a while. Nevertheless, Toby ate two servings of them, after running around the empty music hall.

IMG_5462

Then we made sure to wash all the Ashokan maple syrup off our hands. Although rustic, the Ashokan Center features the joys of Xlerator hand dryers.

the joy of an Xlerator

We listened to Jay Ungar and Molly Mason do their sound check. I hope they didn’t mind.

Then we went for a walk on this beautiful, disturbingly pleasant, early spring day. First, the boys explored ruins on the property.

exploring ruins

Then we walked down a switchback trail to a covered bridge over the Esopus River that dated from the late nineteenth century. It had a great view of the waterfall coming off the mill pond just a little ways upriver.

IMG_5474

Even though it was a strange and mild winter, the Esopus still looked swollen—presumably from runoff, although I think the Ashokan Center is downriver from the Ashokan Reservoir, so presumably the volume of water there is not entirely natural, and controlled by the reservoir’s spillway to some degree (if that’s the right way to describe it).

In any event, it was a perfect opportunity for throwing rocks.

IMG_5476

We got back from the river in time to hear Jay and Molly’s first set. They closed with Jay’s most famous composition, “Ashokan Farewell,” the theme song to Ken Burns’s The Civil War (and one of the reasons for the Ashokan Center’s very existence). I got a little choked up.

Jay Ungar and Molly Mason

We also got to hear an Ashokan Center environmental educator perform the work of John Burroughs. Unsurprisingly, Toby was more interested in this than Emmett.

Then we hiked out into the woods on the mile-long path to the sugar shack. Along the way, our guides taught us that although hemlock is the name of a genus of flowering plant famous for being poisonous, it’s also the name of genus of evergreens. Eastern Hemlock, they taught us, is delicious and nutritious.

When we got there, they taught us the history of tapping maples. The kids got to help drill a hole in one of the trees.

tapping a maple, one of two

And they got to help hammer a tin tap into the tree as well.

IMG_5483

The strange winter meant that the season was short and early—but the sugar shack was still warm and homey, and it smelled absolutely delicious.

the sugar shack, looking up

Not everyone was as impressed with the place as I was, though.

Toby in the sugar shack

Memorial Day

Here’s what I wrote in my essay “Memorial Day,” published about a year ago in Tablet, about a month and a half before my dad died:

Elizabeth Hopkins, my father’s mother, is buried in a cemetery in Lyndeborough. I called the town’s tiny government offices a few years ago to ask them about the grave, when we were trying to figure out what to do with my dad’s remains when he dies. The Hopkins family plot, the kind man who answered the phone told me, does not have enough room for another body, but it does have room for ashes and one more marker. Once the electrodes and wires and titanium-enclosed battery pack are at last removed from my father’s head and chest, and his body is placed in a plain pine box (“like Ann’s,” he wrote in funeral arrangement checklist, when he could still write), then cremated, it’s my wish to bury his ashes there. It’s also my wish to have a stone there with text carved into it that makes it both a headstone for my dad and a cenotaph for my mom—so long as I can convince myself that this will not offend the living or the dead.

And here’s what we did—which ended up being not all that different from what I thought we’d do, really—this past Memorial Day weekend; this is Emily, Toby, and me, honoring my son’s grandmother, grandfather, and great-grandmother:

May their memories be a blessing.

What I Said Last Night About What I Did On My Summer Vacation

Last night, at the new student orientation in the Low Library Rotunda at Columbia, all of us teaching in the university’s graduate writing program got up to introduce ourselves.

When I write “all of us,” it’s an awe-inspiring list: Deborah Eisenberg and Richard Ford were sitting next to each other, just to name two fiction writers.

We were all asked to respond to the prompt “What I Did On My Summer Vacation,” and to keep our remarks under a minute; to accomplish that, we were urged to think about what we wanted to say in advance, or even to prepare some notes on paper.

Out of a few dozen writers, all lined up in a row, I went second. Here’s roughly what I said (and what I didn’t say):

My name is Tom Hopkins, and I’m teaching a seminar this fall that I’m calling “Faking It.”

I* spent a week this summer on an island off the coast of Maine. I stayed in a cottage on a lake. The cottage had a canoe. One day, I took the canoe out in the water until I came to an island—an island smaller than** about exactly the same size as this room. I found a place to come ashore, and a tree branch where I could tie up the canoe. I walked on paths soft with pine needles up a slight hill. Then I came to a clearing, a small vale.*** At the bottom of the vale, [I]n the middle of the clearing, I saw a loon. I realized that it was nesting. It was facing away from me, but then it turned its neck, slowly and deliberately, until one bright, burning-coal red eye was aimed right at me.

I don’t know if you’ve ever been that close to a nesting loon, but she looked ready and able to take me out if she wanted to.

I got within ten feet of something as precious as new life, protected by love that fierce, a beautiful thing, protected by layer upon layer, hidden in a vale clearing on an island in a lake on an island in the ocean.

And that**** is what I’m hoping my seminar this fall is like.*****

* It was actually my son and me, the first time I saw the loon. But I thought the story would sound better—more fairy tale-like—if I told it in the first person. (It’s not factually inaccurate in the first person, but it is not as true as it could be.)

** I’d never been to the Low Library Rotunda before. What an incredible room! And it seemed about exactly the same size as Rum Island, in the middle of the northwestern finger of Long Pond, on the western half of Mount Desert Island, which was where we found the loon.

*** When I wrote down my notes, I wasn’t anywhere near a dictionary, either electronic or hard copy. I wasn’t completely confident that I was using the word “vale” correctly, so although I wrote it down in my notes, I didn’t read it out loud. I think the clearing where we saw the loon was too small to be a vale, technically, so omitting the word in the reading was probably the right decision.

**** I tapped the podium when I said the word “that”; the microphone was either jostled by the tap, or picked up the sound of the tap. Either way, it was audible through the speakers.

***** This feels right—it feels intuitively true—although I don’t know if I’m able to articulate the connection in a completely rational way. Since the fiction we’ll be reading in the seminar is work that either makes use of not-fictional forms within a work of fiction, or that takes on another form entirely, it seems like it’s not wrong to say that the truth or the meaning of the work is thereby buried an additional layer deep than it would be in a work of fiction that does not costume itself that way—that takes on the form, rather, of conventional storytelling (which is itself a costume or mask, but one that strives to be invisible to contemporary readers).

Addendum: the loon! Thanks, Madeline! More photos of Maine here and here.

(photo by and © Madeline Stevens)

A Year and a Few Days Ago

When we went to the hospital, we had no idea that Toby was going to be born three hours later (it was a scheduled ECV, and the Searses never mention oligohydramnios)—so the only camera we had was the one on my RAZR.

It took me a while to find the time to figure out how to get the pictures from my phone to my Mac.

Nine minutes old:

Two hours old:

Four hours old:

A day old:

Two days old: