I’m planning to head to Washington, DC this weekend (I give “Washington” for the benefit of of my worldwide audience — ha! — but we just say “DC” around here; I always roll my eyes when movie characters who are supposed to be from the area talk about ‘Washington’, because nobody says that). I lived in the DC area for four years; specifically “Northern Virginia,” another geographic term with locally significant meaning. I remember that an out of state student in my first-year dorm at the University of Virginia got offended when people kept telling her they were from “Northern Virginia”. She thought they were avoiding her question/didn’t want to tell her where they were from. But really, it’s just a generic term for the DC suburbs on the Virginia side. I don’t think people in the Maryland suburbs say they’re from “Southern Maryland” — they give the county or the city; and if you’re talking to someone who’s not local, “near DC” is usually sufficient. You have to live there to realize how spread out it all actually is. (Or conversely, how some places that sound like different places — Fairfax, Falls Church, Annandale, etc — are all really part of the same corridor of sprawl.) Anyway, I lived there for four years, which is longer than I’ve lived anywhere for my adult life. Though I’ve been back in Richmond for three and a half years, now — and, God willing and the creek don’t rise as we say in the ‘real’ Virginia, set to stay here for at least a few more. So the connection’s starting to fade, but DC’s still my cultural hub in a lot of ways. I don’t miss the sprawl but I do miss things about the community.

I’m going partly to see friends — it’s not fair that I always make them brave I-95 or Amtrak to see me — and partly for the PEN/Malamud Reading at the Folger Library. I used to go to these all the time when I was a grad student, and this time they’re featuring Amy Hempel, who’s both one of those MFA-writing-program short fiction legends and a writer who I actually find really enjoyable to read (which, you know, isn’t always the case; I appreciate the influence of Raymond Carver but I don’t think I’ve ever picked up one of his books for fun). Somehow I never saw Hempel in my writing program-nerd days, so this should be interesting. Alistair MacLeod is also on the program, but I don’t know anything about him.

As for Hempel, you can read her story In the Cemetery Where Al Jolson Is Buried online. This is one of the stories I zeroed in on as a dabbler in fiction writing workshops and said, “Yes, yes, I want to do that.” This is kind of strange to me because it’s a story about disease and death, which — along with divorce and adultery and first sex and writer’s block — is a topic in literary fiction that usually makes me sigh, “What, again?” Not that the topics aren’t important, of course they are, yet after a while the literary fiction reader has to wonder if there’s anything new to say about them. (There’s a whole other topic in here, about literary fiction and genre fiction and their audiences, the way they’re different and the way they’re not at all — maybe later). But “Al Jolson” is genuinely original and inventive, and (for me, at least) absolutely heartbreaking. I keep thinking I’ll be able to read the last paragraph one day without bawling like a baby, but it hasn’t happened yet. In the interest of full disclosure, I have the same reaction to the musical episode of Buffy; probably for different reasons, although I’m not even sure about that. Our emotional reactions all come from the same place, and I’m going to end this paragraph now before I start talking about the Id Vortex.

So that’s the highbrow part of my plans; the low brow part is getting drinks and maybe Chinese food or onion rings with friends, afterwards. Also, since it might snow on Saturday, I’m taking provisions in case I get stuck at Samantha’s apartment over the weekend. “Provisions” mostly consisting of DVD’s. She wants to show me Generation Kill and I want to show her Mad Men, though it’s entirely possible we’ll end up watching Arrested Development again, because there is no bad in that. If I do get snowed in, I’ll probably miss blogging tomorrow, since the netbook is still in a coma and I don’t really feel like hauling my laptop.

See you all on the flip side, in any case.

-Caroline

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