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Culture? Writers? Nah

One consequence of walking around a lot (as I did last week, in New York) is that you look in your bag to see if you actually need to be carrying all that shit in it around. If you're smart, you look before you go walking — with the notable exception of when you might want to write about it later, in which case your subconscious will doubtless realize that it's always more interesting to confess how stupid you are than to boast how clever. (Your conscious, moreover, will later delight in the resulting paradox).

Which, I maintain, is absolutely why I carried three old issues of the New Yorker and the Christmas issue of the Economist down and up Manhattan Island. That and because you never know when you might get really, really bored in Manhattan.

In any case, today I actually looked at them. There are two sorts of old magazines I hold on to to "finish" later. The first consists of issues that contain some article I enjoyed, didn't want to put down (even though I had finished it), and thought I might want to come back to later. Inevitably, when I come back to it later, I haven't the slightest clue what I was holding on to the magazine for, and start reading the articles again in a vain attempt to figure it out.

The second category of old magazines comprises the ones I for some reason never got to read. Into this category falls the Oct. 15, 2001, edition of the New Yorker (which, at 220 pages (it's the "Culture Issue"), is a poor choice for carrying on extended schlepps). (I was driving across the United States the week of the 15th, so, I submit, I've good excuse for not reading it then. I guess that magazine and I have travelled a long way together.)

And it is for the sake of a passage from an article in that magazine that I write this now. The article, by Rebecca Mead, concerns something called the Bread Loaf Writers' Conference, which comes across as a place for writers of various sorts to mutually agree to forget they are or ever were adults (if ever any one of them so believed) and play at being college freshmen again, albeit somewhat talented ones. If ever you wish to console yourself for not being part of the writerly scene, this is the piece for you. And it is in this spirit I quote for you the following:

The triple compulsions of Bread Loaf have, traditionally, been getting published, getting drunk, and getting laid; and, though each is honored more in the breach than in the observance, the reputation lingers. The conference is informally known as Bed Loaf — it comes as something of a disappointment to discover that, in coining a nickname, the finest literary talents of the twentieth century couldn't come up with anything better than a low pun.

Of course, the college culture isn't the same as it used to be (or so I understand), and neither is Bread Loaf's:

These days, the sexual preoccupation of most Bread Loafers appears to be figuring out whether anyone else is getting any, rather than getting any themselves. There are, though, intense bonding experiences between roommates, such as the two women in their thirties who, one night at a bonfire party, announced that they had discovered, while changing into their pajamas, that their breasts were exactly the same shape.

Now there's something to write home about.

March 29, 2002 1:48 AM


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