Thursday, June 20, 2013

Tampa, Denis...you hurt.

We've done enough free writing exercises by now that you'd think I'd be able to jump right into this with no issue, but I don't know how or where to begin.

I'm back in Tampa, where I've been for the last week, and I'll be leaving in a couple days.

I miss Tiffany, I miss Former President Andrew Jackson, and I miss the not-quite-as-oppressive climate of the First Coast.

I've had wonderful and engaging conversations, both intellectual and sophomoric, with the likes of Brock Clarke, Steve Kistulentz, Mikhail Iossel, Kevin Moffett, Erica Dawson, and many others who are just as worthy of namedropping (but maybe not hyper-linking). Our seminars and readings have been top-notch, as always.

There was, perhaps, more drama than in previous semesters. This had to be expected, due to the increasing size of the program. I also may or may not have been paying closer attention to the social aspects of the residency. There were grievances and issues, but I also felt a stronger sense of camaraderie (which was ironic).

I was in the same room (multiple times!) with Miranda July.


There was the usual fawning over our more famous guests, and such behavior always grosses me out. I was not alone. I was not the only student with mixed emotions regarding the presence of a certain Denis Johnson.

Though he and Miranda were both the most anticipated guests of the semester, the buzz around Denis was amplified by his absence (back injury) during the previous residency. From my understanding of the events, he approached the university, not the other way around, for a chance to try again this semester. That's damn cool. On top of that, Denis' body of work is beastly and diverse. Jesus' Son is incredible. It hurt me, in all the right ways, much like this residency.

However, my confusion in regards to Denis, stems from his standoffish behavior. Writing is solitary. Artists are weird, and many of the greats are pricks. Denis was paid to be with us (and joked about this with a degree of self-deprecation that I will always respect), but as I've mentioned, he is the one who asked for the mulligan. Given the context of the situation, it was odd and unsettling that he showed almost no interest in interacting with students outside of his seminar, and of course, the reading.

I won't go into detail regarding the specific examples of his social disinterest, because again, writing is solitary, artists are weird, and traveling/teaching/performing is tiring. I just couldn't help but think that, had he not been a big name, but still approached us with the same schtick/demeanor, he'd have upset and insulted a lot of people. Instead, because we writers so desperately crave success and validation of our art, most people just laughed it off. We give the successful people a pass.

I'm glad, to an extent, that the events transpired as they did (and this is how I have viewed every less-than-positive experience at the residencies thus far), because it was educational. It also further served to bolster my view that the art and artist, though very much related to one another, cannot be viewed as one and the same.















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