From the balcony of my room at the Hilton
The Hotel del Coronado
Beach at Coronado #1
Beach at Coronado #2
Tower at the Hotel del Coronado
As close to the border as we got. That mountain is Tijuana.
Hello from the food court of the San Diego International Airport, Terminal 2. I'm on my way back to JFK after spending the weekend here for a reading and workshop at the University of San Diego. I couldn't have had a better time, no small thing given the fact that it came at a hectic point in the school year. Sweet, smart students; sweet, smart faculty. And Brad Melekian's introduction was the kind of introduction that every writer dreams of: serious, exact, compassionate. Brad's sending me a digital copy later, which I'll post in an update here.
As to how they coaxed`180+ people to come out to a reading on a Friday night? I think a part of it might have had to do with the fact that the work of the visiting writers is taught as part of the curriculum. Not just in English and writing classes, but in other humanities classes. (And here I'd been thinking maybe...thirty people?) The mark of an amazing, ambitious curriculum.
I hadn't realized how much I'd needed a weekend of escape. Warmth and sun and palms and tropical plants. A little like pushing the reset button. And here I thought I'd been so tired....
After Saturday's workshop, I met up with my good pal Deborah Lott, who took me to Coronado. We had a happy, peaceful lunch at the Hotel del Coronado, the big Victorian, Falcon Crestish compound on the ocean. I inadvertently mentioned our proximity to Mexico one too many times after our lunch, so after we left, Deborah started driving south in that direction. We drove through Imperial Beach. We drove through San Ysidro, where the signs along I-5 say: Guns Illegal in Mexico. What is it about borders? What is it about the other side that's so compelling? Of course neither of us had our passports with us, but we drove as far south as we could before turning west at the last exit. And a few hundred feet south was that steel wall, lit up by lights right out of a maximum security prison. And there was the same wall rising up behind the outlet mall, ominous in sodium vapor glow.
Update: Here's Brad Melekian's generous introduction, which I should pin up next to my desk, as something to aspire to!
Paul Lisicky Intro
Good evening. For those of you who do not know me, my name is Bradley Melekian, and I am an instructor in the English Department here at the University of San Diego.
It is my great pleasure this evening to welcome you to the Cropper Writers Series. If I may take a moment, I'd like to second my colleague Joseph Jeon in extending our gratitude to Barrie and Dorothy Cropper. This semester, I have had the privilege of guiding a group of writing students here at USD in a series of Saturday morning workshops that runs in conjunction with these readings. If anyone is currently a college student, was at one point a college student, or knows a college student, then you'll know what a remarkable fact it is that this group of students voluntarily wakes up early on Saturday mornings to attend class, and does so with enthusiasm. This, I believe, is a testament to the excitement for the writing program on our campus, much of which would not exist without the support of the Croppers. I would also like to note the very real impact that the interaction with authors has had on these students, all of whom are here this evening, as they set about the work of developing their own voices in writing stories, applying to graduate writing programs, and thinking about what a writing life is in the twenty-first century. Having the opportunity to interact directly with exemplary writers makes all of the difference in the world, and it is not overstating the case, I do not believe, to say that the work of the Cropper Writers Series is changing lives here at USD in a very real way.
All of which brings me to this evening's event, and our distinguished guest tonight, Mr. Paul Lisicky. Paul Lisicky is a graduate of the world-renowned Iowa Writers' Workshop, and is also the recipient of awards from the National Endowment for the Arts, the James Michener/Copernicus Society, the Henfield Foundation, the New Jersey State Council on the Arts, and the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown, where he was twice a fellow. Mr. Lisicky has taught at Cornell University, New York University, Sarah Lawrence College, Antioch University-Los Angeles, The University of Houston, and The Bread Loaf Writers Conference. His books, Lawnboy, a novel, and Famous Builder, a memoir have been received with critical acclaim. The Pulitzer Prize-winning author Michael Cunningham has referred to Lisicky as "a writer who deeply respects the complexities of love and desire, who can find tragedy and transcendence almost everywhere he looks."
In his more recent work, Lisicky has turned that power of observation to the limitations imposed by genre, writing pieces of literature that transcend classification as fiction or non-fiction, defying even the generously broad labels of prose poem, short short, hybrid and so on. Instead Lisicky is simply crafting pieces of literature whose form, subject and tenor warn against easy taxonomy. In reading these pieces, I am struck by how the disregard for genre leaves a reader without the typical ballasts with which we tend to steady ourselves, forcing us instead to focus solely on the words on the page. And what is on the page in reading Lisicky is an intense power of observation, a commitment to the impelling force of a well-crafted and highly musical sentence, and most often a pronounced meditation on identity.
One such moment comes early in the novel "Lawnboy," when the book's 17-year-old protagonist, Evan Sarshik, is faced with the specter of deciding what type of person to become against the backdrop of his own homosexuality. "Was I becoming myself?," Evan wonders. "Or was I stalled, trapped before some rust-clenched gate while everyone else was getting somewhere?"
Throughout his work, one sees in Lisicky's characters just this type of reflective search for what constitutes a meaningful identity. Lisicky's focus on the interior lives of his characters is a means of asking his readers to consider the requisite components of a personhood, and in doing so, he jolts his readers awake to the ways in which life will happen all around us if we don't, to use a literary term, assume agency over our own lives. In an era when technology has all but liberated us from the tediousness of interacting with one another, it is just this type of reflection that makes the case for the necessity of literature in the twenty-first century. For, even as he creates characters burdened by their perceived isolation, Lisicky is suggesting that these struggles for identity are part of our shared humanity. You read Lisicky, in other words, and you realize that you are not alone. For I doubt if anybody in this room can, with just such honest reflection, say that they've never felt themselves standing before that rust-clenched gate, wondering whether they were becoming themselves while everyone else was getting somewhere.
It takes a perceptive person to recognize these truths, but it takes an extraordinary writer to draw them out so fully on the page.
Please join me in welcoming Mr. Paul Lisicky.
(Me at Podium)