Names and Pseudonyms

I’ve never really felt particular attachment to my first or last name, which is something I try to avoid mentioning around my dad, even though I’m pretty sure he knows how I feel about it. Maybe it’s because I just don’t enjoy being named after someone else at all – I just don’t like the concept of being a namesake. Maybe it has something to do with the fact that I still feel like a teenager in that I always want to be my own self, my own distinct personality outside of family ties (or any ties, really), and I find it strange at times to be a part of a family with a lot of shared identical names. Maybe it’s also the very simple fact that I just crave originality.

For those who don’t know this already, Dante isn’t my surname – it’s actually my middle name. “Joseph Dante” is the writer pseudonym I’ve chosen for myself. I had ideas about completely reinventing my identity and coming up with something entirely new, but I ultimately went down this road instead. It’s simple enough, yet it also sounds writerly. It has some kind of commanding presence, despite my understated tendencies. My middle name is a literary allusion too, which probably helps, although it’s probably not the one you’re thinking of. My mom didn’t actually name me after the Medieval Italian poet, but rather the protagonist of the novel The Count of Monte Cristo, Edmond Dantès. She was so smitten with the character at the time that she decided I had to have it. So I guess this actually makes me both a namesake and a reference. I’m really glad she decided to do that though because she was particularly adamant about avoiding having a son that’s a complete copy. I’m content with the Dante part.

I started thinking about my real name and my writer name and what they both mean to me after reading this fantastic essay by Kathleen Alcott. Unlike myself, Kathleen comes from a family of writers and feels a very special affinity for her name. I can’t help but feel slightly jealous of her in these regards. I’ve also been thinking a lot about names and how they relate to our sense of identity in terms of my own fiction – it was just recently, in fact, that I sent out a coming of age story to an up-and-coming online literary journal about a boy who feels so little attachment to his name and real identity that he actually starts to forget it entirely. He creates all of these aliases for himself for comfort yet he continues to feel so completely detached from all of them that he starts speaking his own language. I’ll be sure to let you all know about that story when it finds its proper home.

Carousel #1

So I’ve decided to introduce a new feature to this blog: carousels.

Essentially, this is where I send you on a trip around the internet. Special places that helped define my week, highlights that include fascinating things to read, look at, listen to, watch. Things to inspire and thoughts to turn over. Enjoy!

  1. I watched my first Jean-Luc Godard film, Masculin, Féminin. I’m still uncertain how I feel about it, but I liked just being able to sit down and listen to all the conversations taking place. You can watch the whole thing on Youtube, and it has English subtitles.
  2. A strange short story: The Fisherwoman’s Daughter.
  3. A short poem by Allison Titus: Inclement.
  4. I really wish Maurice Sendak were my grandfather so we could be bitter curmudgeons together. Here’s a video on his work, childhood, and inspirations.
  5. More poems to look at that left an impression: Flowers in Stone, Gender Studies, Advice for the Manic / Instructions for Grieving. You can also listen to some of the authors read their works.
  6. Watching this music video by Gotye should be used to gauge humanity. If you cry, congratulations! You’re not a robot. Not that there’s anything wrong with robots, of course.
  7. I started reading Zazen by Vanessa Veselka, which I’ve been seeing everywhere around the internet. From the reviews, it seems to be pretty difficult to define. You can read it in its entirety on Red Lemonade.
  8. I read The Depressed Person, a genius essay by David Foster Wallace, which is so powerful and convincing that it literally caused me to have a physical feeling of revulsion.

(If you ever wish to include anything in these lists – anything of yours, or otherwise – feel free to write to me and let me know.)

Another Pointless Trip to the Bookstore

A few weeks ago, I took a trip to a local Barnes and Noble. I hadn’t been to this particular one in a really long time, or even to any other actual physical bookstore. The only other local bookseller around here is a place called Volume One, which I’ve been to a few times. It’s nice (and there are shelves and shelves of books there, with that great old book smell that you want to shove your face in), but their books are all used and they don’t really have any new stuff by contemporary writers. And then we come to my other dilemma: Barnes and Noble no longer seems to carry what I want either.

On this most recent trip, I noticed how things had changed considerably. Nooks are in the very front instead of a showcase of new bestsellers that just recently came out, and they completely rearranged the store’s shelving. Poetry is non-existent except for Homer. I also noticed a distinct change in genre: there were a lot of new sections dedicated to “young adult” books. Not only that, but these sections were further divided according to sub-genre: fantasy, dystopian, romance, etc.

“Young adult” is very popular now. I’ve read quite a few articles popping up here and there claiming how more young adults must be reading avidly now, considering how popular this new genre has quickly become. But really, I can’t help but wonder: Is it really more young adults reading young adult fiction, or more adults reading (and writing) more young adult fiction? I’m not sure.

I always thought of coming of age stories as stories that anyone could write. Hypothetically, I mean. If people were forced to actually write books, even if they weren’t “writers” themselves, I would hypothesize that this would be the genre they would naturally gravitate towards more than any other, just because we all grow up and we all remember what that’s like. But therein lies the problem: not all of them will be particularly good reads (or particularly well-written).

I hope this isn’t coming off as too cynical. I just really want to give my money to a bookseller other than Amazon, but it’s fairly difficult if Barnes and Noble doesn’t even carry what I want and ultimately forces me to return home, bookless, and order what I want online anyway (and probably, for less money elsewhere). I wish there were more local independent bookstores. I would open one up myself, in my dreams, but somehow, I don’t think it would be a particularly wise investment here (even in my dreams).

Ode to the Paper in My Hands

I had a pen pal from New Zealand when I was in the seventh grade, but I don’t really remember a thing about him. I figured I must have just treated the whole thing like another assignment for school. It’s funny how, looking back on that, I ended up going on to build so many relationships like that anyway – something I would’ve probably completely ignored before. Now, having friends that I’ve kept in contact with from all over (the U.K., Singapore, Australia, and yes, even New Zealand), it’s quite different. And it grew different quite fast.

I started writing notes to my friends in high school, even if we saw each other regularly. We wrote to each other when we didn’t have any work in class to do, or when we were bored. That was when I also started writing letters to these other friends across the sea. It’s even stranger now, how we’re always hooked up and stuck in the clouds, how the internet has become so entirely ubiquitous – we are always attached, but only just hovering. Only just glancing and skimming through. When you pull out of the stream for a while, you really do look forward to having a message on paper in your hands. You look forward to an earnest conversation. You sit down, gather your thoughts, write them down, and send them out. And you wait. You wait for a while too, and it seems like a century in comparison to all the comments, messages, tweets, and reblogs happening all at once.

It seems almost nostalgic, the letter-writing, even though it wasn’t long ago and despite the fact that I still do it. I still keep pen pals anyway (I’m writing to my friend Thea right now, from Wisconsin) even though it really could be instantaneous now – you really could just send an email. But I think there is something to be said about taking that time and waiting. Waiting a week or two in anticipation for a response, and having a quiet, intimate conversation develop in between the spaces. Especially now, in 2012, when you can feel so entirely detached and alone, despite all the fast-speed connections going on around you. It’s hard to really listen to anyone with all the noise.

The Best Thing of All

I have a simple question for you: What is the best thing you’ve written?

I’ve been asked this before, but I always find myself unable to respond. Was it the short story I won an award for in college? Was it the first time I ever got paid? Was it the unfinished, self-indulgent fantasy novel I let my friends read in pieces on the bus ride home? Was it the children’s story I made out of construction paper for my mom when I was just a kid? Was it that even more macabre retelling of the Cinderella story? Was it a random personal journal entry that I wrote in a fit of angst late one night and never let anyone else see?

I’m never sure, and it doesn’t help that I’m always changing. It doesn’t help that I’m always reading and writing, and most of all: going back and revising. The books I like are always changing and the way I write is always changing. My creative writing teacher in high school called me a Romantic (not lower case, not the same thing! she says), a creative writing professor in college thought I was reading too much Virginia Woolf, another professor appreciated my newly discovered minimalism. I’m like a literary chameleon, and I’m always confused how anyone can find something they call a “voice.” I seem to be unable to settle into a style or a genre. I can’t get comfortable or cozy with what I’m working with. I want to write essays, journal entries, poetry, short stories, children’s books, adult fiction novels; I want to play around and laugh, but sometimes I want to unsettle and creep around; I like to dance around in tangents and I like to cut it straight down the middle. I never feel cohesive because each new opened document sits by itself and doesn’t want to have anything to do with the others. My issue has never really been the actual writing process, but just figuring out where to get started with all the sorting and rearranging I have to do.

Am I just a curious wanderer or am I really completely lost?

Maybe this question isn’t so simple if you write a lot, but I’ll still leave it out there. Or let’s rephrase it like this: Is there any particular piece that keeps coming back to you?