Tuesday, October 27, 2009


Dear Mr. Carver:

I know that you were frail. I know your alcoholism was not too many beers at the bar. I know that it wasn't just embarrassing at dinner parties. I know that sobriety makes a drunk feel vulnerable, weak, as though the booze were an extra layer of skin. I have seen the newly sober try to make their way from a door to another door without their cozy armor. I have seen, in other words, men suffering from self-doubt.

Still, still. To see how you let someone come in and control you, someone like GORDON LISH of all people, a buffoon, an ass-kisser, a self-promoter. Was he your maker? Or just your teacher?

What is important is the work. I haven't been able to get the work out of my pen, though I only recently realized that it was there. Getting turned-on by your work is an old habit of mine, one that can never be cured, even by controversies about authorship.

And I've been there, Ray. I have had people tell me--after so long, after waiting and waiting for someone to pick up the ringing line, as I sat with the phone cradled, slipping off my ear from sweat, I waited and waited for an answer, and when it finally came, how could I question the quality of the voice? I know what it is to hear someone you don't know, someone who seems to be in possession of some power, say without reservations, "I believe in you."

Well, not without reservations. "I believe in you, but..."

It's okay, Ray. And anyway, you freed yourself from Lish's apron strings eventually. Maybe if you'd studied, like I do, if you'd been subjected to the opinions of so many critics, you would have gotten there anyway.

But even if you hadn't, I forgive you, Mr. Carver. Your work has meant so much to me. Thank you for writing it. I will thank Mr. Lish, should I ever have the opportunity, for editing it. I would not be the same writer without it.

All the best,
Ilana Manaster

Friday, October 16, 2009


I was at a bar near my school last night. The place was lousy with writing students, pleasantly pickled from the free wine we'd guzzled by the styrofoam cupful at the school-sponsored reading we'd just attended, chatting amongst ourselves between sips from our $3 PBR tallboys. And maybe the combination of cheap red wine and corny beer overstimulates the tendency for alcoholic honesty. Or maybe there was something about the night, cold in a way that is impossible to dress for, cold-wet, weathery. Whatever the cause, I found myself engaged in one intense personal conversation after another with people with whom I'd had only the most superficial exchanges in the past. Relationship questions, questions of the heart, of beauty, of happiness. Sexuality and anxiety. These were the topics of conversation. Sip. Sip. Can I have two more PBRs please? Anyway, so your girlfriend is a sex worker. Sip. Sip. So you escaped the wilds of gay San Francisco. Hm. You're afraid you may never find love again.

Strangely, and those who know me will agree that it is strange, I was doing very little of the sharing. I just tippled happily, enjoying the warmth. Someone mistook me for a transvestite. I comforted him. He just misunderstood something I said, I didn't want him to feel embarrassed. We were all feeling fine.

"You're very intense," one man said to me while he was waiting in line for the bathroom. "You look people in the eye."

Soon it was time to go. I'd surpassed my cutoff time of midnight, after which the trains get wonky, lengthening the journey home by an hour or more. I said goodnight to my newly exposed friends and descended the subway stairs.

I am reading an excellent book. I have so much assigned reading, but I am reading this book anyway, because I like it too much to stop. It's called The Washington Square Ensemble and it is by Madison Smartt Bell and during the very long journey home I immersed myself in it. The chapter I was reading was about the Attica riots of 1971--good, nasty, violent stuff.

At 14th street I got out to change trains. I heard my name called--it must have been 2AM. Sitting across from me, undoubtedly for the better part of an hour, though I didn't notice him, was a student from my school. I have a workshop with him, and what I will say about him is that he has achieved a fair amount of success as a Hollywood actor. I don't really know him very well, and my attempts to engage him in conversation have not gone well up until then.

Well, it seems that the PBR truthiness did not affect only my classmates, because next thing I know I am launching into a conversation (would you call it a conversation if the other person is only smiling and nodding?) about fame and personal relationships and god knows what else. I ask him if he has a hard time with it. I tell him I work for an actor--as if that would explain why I could so easily talk to him like a regular person, which I was clearly incapable of doing. How do you like the workshop? That would have been another way to go. What are you working on? No. Sigh. I am an idiot among fools.

We said goodbye and I walked to my transfer. I hit myself on the head with my phone in embarrassment. I wished there was somebody I could call, but it was so late, and anyway, I was underground.