photo: An entry from the book “Grapefruit” (1964), by Yoko Ono. Photo by MCD.
As always, a thousand thanks to all of you who decided to take The Lab in this past year and to those of those who helped spread the word.
I just returned home from New York, where I spent a month gathering material for the Fall and Winter sessions. As many of you already know, The Lab is a generative writing workshop. We don’t talk much about what we’ve already written. We expand existing projects and write brand new material. We examine and imitate the processes of artists that most move us with their art. Artists whose persistence, rigor, and dedication to their craft inspire us to dig deeper, push harder, find what was hidden. We aim to surprise and delight ourselves and our readers with work that matters.
When imagining the experiments for The Lab, I focus on what artist Takashi Murakami said:
“We want to see the newest things. That is because we want to see the future, even if only momentarily. It is the moment in which, even if we don’t completely understand what we have glimpsed, we are nonetheless touched by it. This is what we have come to call art.”
Junot Diaz helps me, too. When he was fiction editor for The Boston Review, he said: “I’m looking for fiction in which a heart struggles against itself, in which the messy unmanageable complexity of the world is revealed. Sentences that are so sharp they cut the eye.”
Some of the artists we’ve studied:
Roland Barthes (writer/photographer)
Pina Bausch (dancer/choreographer)
Jean-Dominique Bauby (memoirist)
Mary J. Blige (singer)
Rafael Campo (medical doctor and poet)
Margaret Cho (comedienne)
Alain de Botton (philosopher)
Song Dong (installation artist)
Wayne Koestenbaum (essayist)
Ann Hamilton (visual artist)
John Cameron Mitchell (actor/writer/filmmaker)
Richard Pevear (translator)
Claudia Rankine (poet/essayist)
Patti Smith (musician/visual artist/writer)
Ursula Von Rydingsvard (sculptor)
A sampling of the themes and/or organizing principles we’ve experimented writing into:
All of the artists we study at The Lab care about the world. They’re worried. As much progress as we’ve made in some areas, we’re steadily regressing in others, and utterly failing in others still. Directly or indirectly, with whispers and shouts, the artists I choose invite their audience to feel something, think something, change something. We study artists who challenge the status quo. Often, they remind us of what we avoid. They expose the racist, the rapist, the greedy, the self-loather. They reveal the tender parts of us, our shame, the human longing and desires we want to conceal and hide.
While in New York, I waited for feedback from a trusted reader on a recently-completed draft of a manuscript, and stayed sane by creating a spreadsheet of every single artist/thinker we’ve studied at The Lab since 2008. With each session I reviewed, I remembered something a Labber read out loud. Something that enabled me not only as a writer, but as a person.
Participants of The Lab have been doing such incredible things. This is but a partial list of links of projects/magazines/publications by those who’ve taken The Lab:
Shideh Etaat just won The James D. Phelan Award.
Morgen Eljot has a new illustrated story at Juked.
Arthur Isaac Hofmayer and Ashley K. Nelson both have stories in this issue of Fourteen Hills (along with Yours Truly).
Ashley K. Nelson also has work in The Atlas Review, and is the co-publisher of a new imprint called Transit Books.
Lorelei Lee was interviewed in The Los Angeles Review of Books.
Michael Mullen wrote and performed music for this incredible hybrid music/video/iBook, featuring Lab favorites: Adam Klein & The Size Queens (lyrics/lead vocals), Joy Williams, Rick Moody, Lynne Tillman, and Melanie Rae Thon (texts). Former Labber Liz Wood, who is now in NYU’s MFA in Fiction program, wrote this about the project.
Ethel Rohan landed a book deal with St. Martin’s Press for her novel.
And Rebecca Rubinstein has been writing away while running Midnight Breakfast.
Our next 6-week cycle starts September 15th, 2015 and enrollment is open. I hope you’ll join us.
When: 6 consecutive Tuesdays, starting September 15th, 2015.
What time: 7-9:30pm.
Where: A cozy salon in Pacific Heights on Bush and Fillmore.
Class Size: 10-15 people.