Three Muppet Songs For When You’re Feeling the Query Blues


Check out this great “Query Blues” Booster from our friend John Cusick from Armchair/Shotgun!

Originally posted on John M. Cusick:

Sometimes you need to go to your happy place. Mine is pretty much any Muppets movie ever. Here are a few Muppet songs for when you’re feeling the query blues…

Movin’ Right Along, “The Muppet Movie”

Highlight: I’m ready for the Big Time; is it ready for me?

You Can’t Take No For An Answer, “The Muppets Take Manhattan”

Highlight: You gotta hang on to your optimistic outlook
And keep possession of your positive state-of-mind.

Rainbow Connection, “The Muppet Movie”

Highlight: I’ve heard it too many times to ignore it
It’s something that I’m supposed to be

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The End of the Tour (2015) – David Foster Wallace in Mostly-Self-Aware Snapshots

TEOTT PosterThe End of the Tour (dir. James Ponsoldt, 2015) tells the story of writer David Lipsky’s unpublished Rolling Stone interview with David Foster Wallace, in which Lipsky (Jesse Eisenberg), an emerging writer of some acclaim, follows Wallace (Jason Segal) on a five-day book tour, pitching questions the whole way along the road of junk food, hotels, and indie bookshops packed with fans. The screenplay, by Pulitzer Prize winning playwright Donald Margulies, is based on Lipsky’s memoir Although Of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself: A Road Trip With David Foster Wallace. When first meeting Wallace in The End of the Tour, he is strikingly wry, reclusive, and aloof, which could be mistaken for the personality of a writer too full of his own genius to be close to the world. But soon Lipsky and the audience see that Wallace’s distance is the product of anxiety, his cutting quips are deflection, and that his evasive or non-existent answers stem from his fear of what people might believe about him if he presents himself wrong. Wallace lets Lipsky see this vulnerability early-on, unable or unwilling to keep up the pretense. Even when Wallace’s over-eager desire to behave well ultimately folds on itself, it’s in a charming, nervous, very forgivable way. Lipsky, who shares Wallace’s vulnerability, goes from holding his breath to sighing in relief many times over throughout the course of interviewing Wallace, yet these fluctuations still give way to a kind of constructed intimacy between the interviewer and his subject. What makes The End of the Tour enthralling is Lipsky’s almost-loving attention to Wallace’s authenticity, and the question of whether or not authenticity is even possible. Here is a writer celebrated as a genius for his momentous tome, Infinite Jest, trying to put everyone at ease—the reader, the aspiring and emerging writer, the writers on the scene with less fame and critical appeal—by assuring us all that he is not as smart as we are, that he needs pen and paper, a library, and so much time to sound clever, that in any moment of this off-the-cuff, on-the-record interview, he will seriously fuck this whole thing up. Lipsky calls him out on these in-authentic reveals repeatedly, pointing out those few moments when Wallace is comfortable in the assumption that he is the smartest person in the room, moments, which of course, tread on Lipsky’s own ego and jealousy. Lipsky’s journalistic (and rather personal) finger-pointing comes out particularly when the course of their intellectual, maybe unrequited, bromance is made rocky by many social slips, mostly rooted in their own fears of baring the self, but also, predictably, the presence of a desirable and amiable lady, Betsy (Mickey Sumner).

Perhaps because the relationship between Lipsky and Wallace is built on pretense, they are deeply dimensional characters on screen—their intimacy, while it has moments that feel, and maybe are, genuine for both of them, is ultimately faux and thus reveals so much more complexity. They remember, from time to time, that this friendship is an interview, and both of them have a game. “This is nice,” Wallace tells Lipsky, “but it isn’t real.” And yet, it does feel real, and the viewer is left to wonder if so much of his despair comes from the short-sightedness of waving off the constructed interactions we all share, day in, day out, as necessarily meaningless. Throughout the film, Wallace despairs perhaps the most because of this inability to accept and trust the truthfulness of relationships. The people who are kind and close to him – editors, colleagues, publicists, agents – are nice but not real to him. The film reveals that there is real intimacy even in pretense, and as Wallace’s character shows, there is authenticity even in inauthentic behaviors, although he can’t see it himself.

The film itself is, for the most part, made with the same nail-biting self-awareness. Says director James Ponsoldt: “Biopics have a tendency to flatten out and reduce the complexity of a life. I usually have a fierce aversion to them. The End of the Tour is more like a snapshot of two lives taken over just a handful of days.” There is one aspect of the film that lacks the character-vibrancy of these biopic snapshots—the female characters and the role of women. Wallace and Lipsky talk at length about women, just as they talk about art and the cosmic palpitations we all feel. Wallace wants women and a partner to have children with, but he frets that getting close to any woman who might admire him, as people often admire their partners, may make him look like he’s using his book to get his “dick sucked,” a reduction which is both attractive and vile to him. In Wallace’s eyes, and perhaps Lipsky’s too, women are reduced to a one-dimensional femme fatale (or her opposite), even though the film shows, through one line of dialogue, that Wallace clearly respects women writers. The film, however, does not make the same artful reveal about the three-dimensionality of the women around them that it does for the realness of Wallace and Lipsky’s own structured intimacy. If this riveting film with brilliant performances by Eisenberg and Segal has a downfall, it’s that in all of its heart-breaking reveals to the audience of what the two characters are missing, it failed to be self-aware of the trope of the one-dimensional woman. Lipsky and Wallace speak of the women in the film, likely out of normalized fear rather than malicious intent, as objects that fulfill or fail to incite sexual desire and emotion from them. This is unchallenged by the film—the female characters have no moments of revelation, do not show us their power, their realness, or in short, what the main characters are missing. Considering that Wallace’s failure to bring himself past the façade of human existence and connection is both the crux of the film and the subject of discussion between himself and Lipsky, both in terms of his life and Infinite Jest, it seems all the more important to give the women in the film three-dimensional characters that, at the very least, pass the Bechdel test, and ideally show-up the myopic tics that Wallace and Lipsky share. When so much of the beauty and poignancy of this film deals with revealing the ever-shifting fullness and authenticity of the characters in it, even the authentically inauthentic qualities of people, the woman who incited so much angst (Betsy) was at most an avatar of Lipsky’s and Wallace’s imagination.

And while the film has very limited diversity, it lifts the skin to reveal the anatomy of Wallace’s melancholy and unflinchingly reveals the structure of his privilege. We have all heard privileged, white male writers emerging and struggling to carve out a place in their MFA programs or writing communities, complaining that because they were neither poor nor abused, neither a minority voice nor traumatized, no one cared about their stories of middle-class, white guy directionless angst. I have two reactions when I hear this: one primarily of rage and jealousy, the second of rage and confusion.

1. It must be nice. If you had any idea what you’re wishing for, sweet baby

2. The nameless angst of privileged white men is the majority of whom and what gets published. Check the numbers—VIDA has them.

These kinds of men with these kinds of complaints rarely make anything of value because they are not thinking in interesting directions. Their self-absorption is an un-ending loop. Their inability to look outside themselves, to explore that feeling of lack rather than childishly resenting the often debilitating horrors or centuries of oppression that they believe make someone “interesting,” is what castrates any virility their work might have. I also wonder how many writers of color and women writers they read, but that’s another issue altogether. The End of the Tour shows a man who is all too aware of his position and still aches, and aches from awareness, and aches from guilt, and aches from the inability to foster the intimacy he needs, but he recognizes all of this and makes something great of it. The film, through device and the clever awareness of device, reveals a writer who has “exhausted” too many ways of living, and ultimately closes the miles between himself and sleep, but with both eyes wide open.

– Jessica Reidy

“Lo que una vista espectacular!”

Day 6

This morning there was no class scheduled, which gave us a chance to either sleep in or further explore Granada.   
I revisited some of the spots I missed and hit a few of those touristy shops with Spanish goods, Moroccan imports, leather bags and parachute pants and some other things that tend to be on the kitschy side.  For lunch, I went to Bella & Bestia for tapas. I love that they play continuous music videos (as many other places do) because it gave me an insight into Spanish culture. I especially enjoyed “Talk About You” by Mika.

Some of us went to the Alhambra, which means “the red castle” in Arabic. It was one of the highlights of my trip to the see the beautiful medieval palace, Islamic architecture, enchanting gardens, and fountains.  Its view over city was exquisite.  I learned the expression “Lo que una vista espectacular!” which means “What a spectacular view!”

We met for yoga at 7pm, an hour later than usual, since it was a particularly hot day that reached 110 degrees by 4 p.m. Yoga class was great and comical. Sometimes a big distraction is a great way to challenge yourself and your own ability to control your focus in yoga practice.  We began class with nadi shodana pranayama, a breathing technique to draw your attention inward so that you are not so easily distracted and pulled out by what’s going on around you.

A man on a loud Vespa came by twice during class to check out the scene — it was the local security patrol. We must have looked very suspicious on our yoga mats. A group of young boys and later two elderly ladies sat to watch us as if it was a performance. In spite of all the distractions, I felt that yoga class was very successful. By the end I looked around and everyone was calm, happy, and focused on their goals for the rest of our trip.

Dio’ que calo’ 

During the fifth day of our writing retreat, Peter Orner taught a fascinating three hour workshop on Spanish literature in the morning and afternoon. We jumped right into Don Quixote, book one, chapter XV. Don Quixote is arguably the first fiction novel. We read interpretations by Unamuno and Kafka, among others. We talked about the brilliant invention of the character of Sancho Panza, the beloved friend that plays along with Don Quixote’s fictional world. Peter asked us to think about our own writing, our character’s own Sancho’s. One of our goals for Sunday’s class was to invent a secondary character who is willing to play along and see beyond the scope of what the character can.     
Later in the afternoon, the temperature reached a stifling 110 degrees. I bought a magenta fan at one of the touristy shops that have Moroccan imports, leather bags, parachute pants and some other things that tend to be on the kitschy side. There is such a fantastic selection of fans that you can find in the tourist shops, on sheets laid out in the street, or high-end shops where scenes are painted on the fans. We boasted about a “fan language”, which has been fun to play around with. A swift downward movement says, “I’m not interested.” Quick movements like the flutter of a hummingbird say, “I’m smitten.”

During siesta in the late afternoon I was surprised to hear rain beating on the roof of our hotel. Although it was only drizzle, the pink sky indicated thunderstorms. In Granada it only rains an average of eight days per year. What a relief that today was one of those days! The rain cooled everything down and by the time we were finished with dinner at Jardins Alberto the sky had cleared, the rain had stopped. and the roof above the restaurant had opened. It stayed light until about 11pm.

 “Lo que pasa en Granada se queda en Granada” 

I heard some juicy gossip today but I can’t say what it is… What happens in Granada stays in Granada or “Lo que pasa en Granada se queda en Granada.” The server at our nearby restaurant taught us this phrase when he noticed us talking secretively. He said it’s an important phrase to know in Granada and put his hand over his heart: “Un phrase de Granada muy bonito con sentimento.”

This morning Norma led a fascinating workshop called “What’s At Stake?” Her theory is that “What’s At Stake” is the central driving force of a piece of writing.  When something is at stake for the character (either in the personal, social, professional or political sphere) it makes the character more believable, creates intrigue, and gives us a glimpse into the psychology or inner world of the character. We took ten minutes to write about a moment in time (5 seconds) in which something is revealed. We went around the table to read our stories of suspense: two past lovers meeting and being trapped between two glass doors were just a few of our stories.


We went to our yoga spot at 6 p.m. and took some photos before practice for fun.  Yoga was focused on the 3rd chakra, which represents will power and the self, or the ego. We ended with meditation — this time with the Tibetan purification meditation. It involves a lot of visualization and helps clear the mind of all that we are processing at a given time.

In the evening, our visiting teacher and novelist Peter Orner arrived!  We welcomed him with a night out to see Flamenco at El Taller, which is near Place Nueva. The four musicians sat in a straight line facing forward and clapped fiercely, while the man in the middle sang with intense emotion. We waited in anticipation for the women in black lace to dance.  After 20 minutes of build up she finally danced, expressing her pain through movement and her facial expressions.

Poeta en Nueva York

At breakfast a few of us recounted the night before at the theatre in the Alhambra gardens.  We went to see a play about Gabriel Garcia Lorca called Poeta en Nueva York.  It was especially interesting since some of us are poets and writers from New York. The play was artistic and contained less words and poetry than we expected. Yet, I appreciated the collaboration between the projected film and the Flamenco dance that seemed to be an interpretation of Lorca’s story.

After breakfast, Rita led a thought-provoking workshop on narrative development. We discussed elements of narrative, and how to explore and defy them. We read Maya Sonenberg, whose work doesn’t follow a traditional plot line but seems to wrap in concentric circles and get closer to a middle understanding.  Someone compared it to a centrifugal force where the plot spins around a center, then in the moment stops and falls. We dissected the narrative of a few stories, including one of my favorites: “The Kidney Shaped Stone” by Haruki Murakami.

Yoga was focused on the second chakra, which is related to the water element, creativity, flow, and sexuality.  We practiced yoga asanas to open the hips, pigeon pose, half moon, and baddhakonasana (goddess pose). Class ended with the visualization of water to help relax, followed by meditation and the option for participants to write a few words in their journal. It was a prolific day — we all chose to stay close to the hotel and get lots of writing done.

En Grana no pasa na’

Today we meet for breakfast at Jardins Alberto — the “j” is pronounced as an “h.”  We are beginning to use Spanish, like “Medas un caffe con leche.” which means “A coffee with milk, please.”

After a leisurely breakfast, we met for Norma’s class on voice.  Everyone read a section of writing and recorded their voice readings. I read from Clarice Lispector’s novel A Breath of Life and other people read from their own writing. Norma went over the different elements of voice and layed out a series of questions we could use to engage in self reflection about the underlying question of the class: “What gives shape to your voice?”

Our assignment was to incorporate any of the elements of voice into our reading, like cadence, tone, or volume. For inspiration, we listened to Tennyson, Yeats, Allen Ginsberg, Gertrude Stein, Elizabeth Bishop, Langston Hughes, Saul Williams, Jade Sylvan, Saeed Jones and some of Norma’s own work, like a collaborative poem and video entitled “Moth Light.” The unique voices of poets and writers seemed to make their words come alive.

Close to our hotel there is a relatively unknown spot that a local, Javier, told me about. There, a structure with columns and covered with weaved grapevines peers out to the hills in the distance. I taught yoga there at 6 p.m. It felt cool and breezy underneath, although any earlier would have been too hot.  Our first class was based on the first chakra, which represents grounding and security. It is the place I usually start with new students. I focus on working the legs and feet, in addition to physically building a foundation from the ground up.  After a warming physical practice, I gave the option to meditate or write or any combination of the two to help “hit the reset button” and clear the mind for writing.

It was an engaging yet leisurely day. Victor taught us the phrase “En Grana’ no pasa na’,” which means something like “Everything’s good in Granada.” That seems to be the case.

Bienvenidos a paraiso! 

Granada, day 1

We were warmly welcomed in Granada by the hot sun, it’s dry heat and the colorful character of the city. Today is our first day together and for many of us it was our first time in Spain. After checking into our rooms in the late afternoon, we met for orientation. At 6pm, we sat around a large table in the lobby of our hotel and introduced ourselves. It already seems like such a great group!

One of our CWW faculty members, Victor, lived in Granada for two years and made for a fun and excellent tour guide. He studied Flamenco guitar here and made us feel familiar with the city’s best venues for Flamenco shows, tapas joints, and its little idiosyncrasies.

We went to Babel, where we were seduced by the free tapas and friendly atmosphere. Granada is the only place in Spain that offers free tapas with a drink. We were in paradise! Our favorite drinks were sangria and “tinto de verano,” a rose-colored drink known as the tint of summer. Rita Banerjee led a class called “Literary Taboo,” where you can’t use the word written on your card in your writing. Others try guess your word after you read. Some words were: vampire, mulberry bush, rain, and femme fatale.

What a nice first day!  We went back up the hill to our hotel and passed through the beautiful gardens of the Alhambra on the way.  Our hotel room windows look out on olive groves.  There is still so much left to explore in Granada.

Last Day in Paris: Bon Voyage at La Closerie de Lilas

Today was our last day in Paris, and we made sure to make it a great last day. Our final workshop was held in the morning, with David Shields giving his last workshop on Collaboration. Shields, whose bibliography includes numerous books on the subject of collaboration or involve collaboration with other authors and individuals, discussed how collaboration works and the value of it.


He informed the participants on how it allows the writer to make art from what they think and see. The workshop also had a writing portion where the participants were free to collaborate on a piece. Some of them worked together to write a piece, while others “collaborated” with different items, such as street signs or emails.

To end the retreat, our staff and participants gathered at La Closerie des Lilas for one last meal. The restaurant, which has been the dining place of famous writers like Ernest Hemingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald, offered our participants a chance to eat and create in one of Paris’ most famous restaurants. During dinner, the participants and staff shared their writing goals from here on out, discussing what they hoped to create once they returned to their homes and any publishing goals they had for the future. We also played one of our favorite writing games, Mis/Translations. Each person brought a poem written in a foreign language and read it aloud for the others in the original language. Everyone else would write down what they thought they heard in English, creating some nonsensical and hilarious poems. The writer would then share what the poem actually meant if translated, leading to some wonderful contrasts.

With that, our week in Paris came to a close. It went by quick, but we were all happy to have taken the opportunity to see the city and use it to help with our writing. We’d like to thank all the participants who came along the trip willing to learn and to work on their writing with us. We wish you all the best of luck in your writing endeavors. We’d also like to thank our guest lecturer David Shields for joining us and sharing his work and film with us.

Day 5 in Paris: Collage and Spoken Word

IMG_1512Today our participants engaged in our second lecture with author David Shields. Shields presented a lecture on the subject of literary collage. Practiced in some of Shields’ books like Reality Hunger: A Manifesto and How Literature Saved My Life, literary collage is a method of writing where one writes fragments of text that seem unrelated, but carry similar themes and show the thought process of the writer.


Shields also read pieces by authors Marie Suter and Dinty Moore to show examples of how literary collage can be done and the many different ways an author can create collage.

The lecture also included a short writing portion. The participants were encouraged to take some time to try and write their own collage. It could be in any genre or format, and it could be about anything. While some of the writers found it difficult at first, everyone still managed to produce a unique and interesting example of literary collage.



That evening, some of our participants and staff members made their way to Au Chat Noir for Spoken Word Paris.


The event was an open mic held in the bar’s underground space. The crowd, mostly consisting of American ex-pats, performed a variety of performance pieces, from poetry reading to stand-up comedy to singing.



Special guests Zarina Zabrisky and Simon Rogghe each performed a piece with musical accompaniment, while performer Fat Mandy read a poem about Black Lives Matter before singing the American National Anthem with her fist in her mouth.


Some of our members also performed their work. CWW Director Diana Norma Szokolyai read three of her poems, one of which she read the Hungarian version of while CWW Yoga Instructor Elissa Lewis read the English translation.



CWW Intern Alex Carrigan also read a poem of his titled “All My Love to the Monster Currently Devouring Me,” much to the amusement of the audience.




The reading was a good chance for our participants and staff to meet other artists and to share their work with others.


CWW Staff Members and Friends at Au Chat Noir before the event (Left to right: Elissa Lewis, Rita Banerjee, Antonia Klimenko, Simon Rogghe, Zarina Zabrisky, and Diana Norma Szokolyai)


CWW Staff following a fun night at Spoken Word. (From Left to Right: Alex Carrigan, Rita Banerjee, Victor Pachas, Elissa Lewis, and Diana Norma Szokolyai)