Sunday, August 31, 2008

Plus One....

Barry is putting the Writers' Playlist (@Wigleaf) on disc and asked me, since there's leftover room, if I wanted to contribute a pick too.

There's only so much temptation a dude can take!

"The Best of My Love," The Emotions

When I was a kid, my parents moved us from the suburbs (read 'White') to the city (read 'Mixed'). I have a permanent memory of Music class that fall. These three black girls performed a synchronized dance to the Emotions' big single, which one of them brought from home and had Miss Quinn put on the record player. These girls were awesome. I couldn't believe I was sitting there watching them in a school room. The dance, as I recall it, was slightly disco-inflected (this was the late 70s), but just slightly; it was more the stop, crouch, twirl, point, step, step, step stuff I might have seen (but didn't) on TV. It was awesome. I felt awe, and that feeling was upped later that year when one of the girls called that same teacher, Miss Quinn, an "old bubble-eyed bat" to her face.

[Scott Garson]

Did You See This?

Randall Brown interviews Chad Simpson at SmokeLong this month -- about Chad's writing and teaching and stint as Selecting Editor for the Wigleaf Top Fifty.

In his blog, Matt Bell drew some deserved attention to one of Chad's recent stories, "Let x" in Esquire. Here's another, a small gem from Dogzplot -- "Preparation."

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Numbered Thoughts on Matthew Savoca

If you're like me, you loved Matthew Savoca's "Natural Seismic Phenomenon" in a kind of senseless way the first time you read it. I've read it more times than you probably. And I've reached a new stage in my relationship w/ it. I'm ready to do what I threatened to do in an email to Matt this spring – start offering some observations.

Maybe the observations will add up to something, maybe they won't…..

1. Concerning the prose: "I am sleeping. Tectonic plates shift somewhere. This happens because of a sudden release of energy beneath the surface of the Earth. Some kind of stabilization failure along what is called a fault plane. The ground shakes and so does the building. I wake up three inches from where I went to sleep. I get up and walk to the door."

I get from this a sense of equanimity. What's it derive from? Science is an obvious candidate. Rationality. They're prized, generally. Here, though, their appearance could be taken as ridiculous because things are—uh… Falling down.

2. So my first impulse is to say that maybe that the narrator's 'tools' are comically inadequate when it comes to coping w/ the situation. Science as a target of satire, I'm thinking. But then no. The tools are actually just fine. He doesn't panic. He protects his eyes….

3. What about those eyes? Cornea, retina, cornea, retina…. The song gets stuck in your head, huh? This aspect of the story seems very natural to me, and I love it. It is -- as people who don't like to think always say -- what it is. But since I'm thinking right now…. What interests me is that it's the eyes. The corporeal mechanisms for seeing, as named by the doctors of science. I start to imagine that to preserve them is to preserve the whole narrative, the whole way of being….

4. Then there's the electronic communications aspect of this story….. Do you realize that the narrator never once actually speaks, outside of his dream? He's in the middle of the ultimate upheaval, right? Literal upheaval. Communication might seem important, and narrator does communicate, but only through email and cell, then very placidly in comparison to the shouts of his dreams…..

5. Back to number 3: does the narrator want to 'preserve the narrative,' as I was saying – 'preserve the whole way of being'? I get the sense from the dream that he might not, and that he might not even know it. I get the sense – and I’m thinking of the drama and emotion of the dreamed TV reports here, the 'shouts of his dreams,' as I said in #4 – that on some level he might want to be shaken, to be opened in awe…. You might expect something of that kind at a time like this, right? What that would mean is that all this could MEAN something, if you see what I mean….

Doesn’t the narrator seem to want that? Or seem maybe to have misplaced the part of him that would want it?

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Dear English 398

Your professor and I go way back. Let me tell you about your professor. One time she and I were at this bar and –

Sorry. Forgetting myself here. On to business.

I'm tempted just now to use a fancy term to describe the writing of 'flash,' as people call it. Like all such terms, it loses in exactitude whatever it might gain in sex appeal, but I'll go ahead and use it: the art of the dive.

Whatever could I mean by this? Let's see.

For readers, the full-length short story might offer immersion, twenty minutes, half an hour's worth. This accords w/ that dictum of Poe's that you've all probably read at some point or at least heard about: the short story has to be readable in one sitting. What this doesn't accord with, at least in most cases, is the experience of writing a full-length story. It takes time. It takes some people (wince) a lot longer than it does others, but it takes time, and because of that many of the writers I know are liable to think of full-length stories as an investment, one that is made hopefully but that entails (sorry for the unpleasant terminology) risk.

I'm just about to arrive at some kind of point here. Hang on!

If you're a writer, and you're going to invest time in something you know from the outset might fail, there's going to be a temptation: work more carefully! Keep your eyes open! Catch mistakes before they kill you! But here's the problem. The part of your brain you stimulate when you urge yourself to take care is not the part of your brain that writes good fiction. (This might be one explanation for what people call 'writer's block'….)

So. A dilemma. For me at least, the very short story is one way out. It's a dive. An escape from the daylight of my brain, from my plans and ambitions, etc. Swoosh, I'm in the water. And I know that I'll be back up soon – so the investment-risk thing doesn't apply.

Yes, the analogy is cloying…. We'll leave it behind.

I'll say this: I think some of my own best stuff is very short stuff. In that category one of my personal favorites is a story that I wrote on a day when I was busy and not technically 'writing.' I was busy, as I say, but when I had a second at one point I read a short by Lydia Davis. I'm embarrassed not to recall the title just now, but I loved it. I wasn't sure why I loved it. I didn't immediately see what made it a story. But I loved it as fiction, and when I set it down my blood was fizzing. I wanted to write something, you know. And so I did. What I wrote hadn't been an 'idea' in advance -- or an image, a 'kernel,' any of that. It had been nothing.

Of course this is all simplified. I'm not suggesting, for example, that with shorts there's no rewrites (stuff in the first paragraph of the one I just mentioned ended up in the last paragraph of the final version). I'm not suggesting…..

Oh enough of this. You see what I'm suggesting, right?

Happy writes, all. Bedevil her for me,


Tuesday, August 26, 2008

More Dumb Car Names

Sean Lovelace mentioned one that had me tittering: the Ford Impact.

Here are some others. (Yes, I used to have a long commute.....)

Aspire (FORD)

I saw one of these recently. The name was in cursive, the paint job rose metallic. I thought, Women's underarm odor preventative.

Celica (TOYOTA)

Celica, Cellulite, Fat….
Celica, Silica, Silicon, Implant, Leak….
Celica, Cellophane, Crinkle….
Celica, Monica, Cigar

Acclaim (PLYMOUTH)

This name makes life an even bitterer joke for the poor individuals who have to drive this car.

And from my friend Piers, some more:

Odyssey (HONDA)

Because, when it comes right down to it, what could possibly be more like Odysseus' heroic struggle against
the Trojans and his remarkable battle against the Cyclops than you picking up your eight-year-old, Petra, from her Jazzercise class?

Avalanche (CHEVROLET)

Now, here's great branding: Link yourself up to a cataclysmic calamity that frequently kills people. You want some more correlated associations? Out of control. Deadly. Terrifying. Suffocation. Frostbite. Coming soon: The Tsunami!

Jimmy (GMC)

See, you're sort of backwards and dimwitted and no one wants you to play on their basketball team because you can't shoot, and the ball always hits you in the face, knocking your glasses off and leaving you bewildered and with a gushing nose bleed, trying not to cry in front of everyone and your mother will freak when she sees you, calling every one else's mom to complain how their boys are treating you so badly, and, later, they beat the crap out of you back behind a Dunkin Donuts and leave you huddled over a flattened bag of day-old jelly glazed.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Radio Call-In: Dumb Car Names

DJ Mike: Ron, you're on Talk Talk

Listener Ron: I want to talk about this one, Mike. The Mazda Protege.

DJ Mike: The protege.

Listener Ron: Protege, Mike? The protege? Seems to me that if I'm driving down the road I'm not going to want to entrust myself -- right? -- to somebody's protege. Seems to me that if I'm driving down the road -- with my family Mike, my two little kids -- I might want to know that I'm in a vehicle that's already done its apprenticeship, shall we say. Protege? Well you're learning. That's good. Your somebody's protege. No shame in that. Everybody's got to learn, Mike. Everybody has to study under somebody who already knows. Go ahead, be a protege. That's perfectly all right. BUT DON'T TRY TO DRIVE ME DOWN THE ROAD WITH MY FAMILY!!! All right? Yeah, I'll stick my baby, my EFFIN' TWO-YEAR OLD, in a PROTEGE. Hopefully the protege will have learned something. Right. Give me the Master, Mike. The Mazda Master. Protege? The MAZDA EFFIN' PROTEGE?

DJ Mike: Good take, Ron.

Listener Ron: Protege. I'd like to know who the hell thought that one up. Protege. Some asshole getting paid to sip coffee at a sidewalk table.

DJ Mike: All right, Ron, thanks.

Listener Ron: Yeah I'll have a cafe oley with a fresh protege please.

DJ Mike: Susie, you're on Talk Talk.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Fantasy Literature Basketball, or 'Crap out of My Ass #1'

saw a new one in a cover letter recently. You almost never see a new one but recently I did: the writer listed a couple names of OTHER writers s/he was in a certain issue of a certain journal w/.

this got me daydreaming a brilliant new game possibility: Fantasy Literature Basketball. How it works: you get to draft a starting five of writers you've been in issues/postings of journals with. Your starting five goes up against other people's starting five. How would the winner be determined? Maybe you can help me with this part. I'm more interested in getting together a mean starting five. Let's see..... Tao Lin (he gave me a cigarette to put out for him in an issue of Fourteen Hills, but there was a drag left and I took it...)

Mary Miller (she gave a line smile in a cell phone portrait I took of us in an issue of Storyglossia)

Kim Chinquee (she used my shades lens to check her lips w/ in an issue of Quick Fiction, and when she was done she brought her thumb to the glass and said, Here, you've got a smudge)

Keith Lee Morris (he kept a very kind look on his face while listening to me tell a story I'd told him before in an issue of Puerto del Sol)

And then somebody from the rock 'n roll fifth b'day issue of SmokeLong. Kinsella? No, I'll trade him for Blake Butler and a bunch of draft picks that will be kicking your Fantasy Literature Basketball team's ass in a few years' time.....

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Dialogue w 3yr old while Walking Down the Dock

L: What is it today, Daddy?

S: What's the day?

L: La.

S: Thursday.

L: Thursday?

S: Yeah.

L: That's a beautiful name.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Scott, Barry and Mary Lynn @ Five Star

T.J. Forrester is doing some great stuff on his newish review site Five Star Literary Stories. This week I have a bit there, speaking on behalf of Wigleaf, and Mary Lynn Reed reviews Barry Graham's "This Story Is Not about Ham And Cheese Sandwiches."

Friday, August 8, 2008

Nicolle Elizabeth for Prestidigident

She's got a fun story up @ Wigleaf this week. Fun as in it's a pleasure. Pleasure as in I read it and then go, yes, let's do that again.

I think she's probably the same one who had a story at Night Train a couple weeks ago. I'm pretty sure. And it looks like she gave them a little more in her bio. Will there be a hula hoop factory story, N? We'll fight Night Train for it. Oh no, we won't..... (see previous post...)

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

What I Didn't Learn in Anger Management Class

I punched out my boss once. This was a while back. My brother called not long after and answered my hello with laughter and said, "Living the American Dream." I was happy about that. But slugging my boss had been a bad idea. The dude was angry and did all he could to make the assault charge stick. I had to spend more money than I had then on a lawyer my sister hooked me up w/ (this was in D.C., and my sister worked for a D.C. law firm). She was pretty good, that lawyer, and got me off w/ a no-contest plea or something like that, some deal where it ended up legally expunged from my record. The only real consequence, besides the money I was out: I had to do community service and go to anger management classes. The classes were held in a big room on the first floor of a Ramada hotel. They were painful. I remember about the instructor that she was bored and overweight, and that she always talked about 'invitations' to anger. You will receive invitations to anger, she said. And like any invitation, you will have a choice. Do I want to accept that invitation or perhaps is this one I should decline?

She looked very silly, dramatizing this. I would end up thinking, Am I here? Is this actually happening?

But lately her advice seems less ridiculous to me. I still lose my temper too easily. And I think, when it's happening, that it's good, that nothing could be better than releasing my bad weather....

nothing could be better
than releasing my bad weather....

But then, you know, inevitably, I end up wishing that I'd fixed before me the image of that bored, overweight woman with red nails and powdery make-up, and that I'd repeated along w/ her: no, thank you. I see that you're kindly offering me an invitation to anger, but no thank you, not just now, thanks... I believe my datebook is full!

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Very Brief Dialogue

me: you don't like my blog?

R: yeah but you're just pulling crap out of your ass to put on there.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

To His Underage Girlfriend

Who else knows the trip

of your heart and how really

unfair your mom can be?

Saturday, August 2, 2008

On Not Counting Stats

I don't have any way to guess about who you are if you're visiting this page. So if you're a Ruby Ridge type, be comforted....

Maybe I would have put a statcounter on this, at one point, if I could have easily. I didn't know how. Now I know how but don't want to. It's like, if nobody ever reads it, that's disheartening. On the other side, if this ever outdrew Wigleaf, even for a day.... again, disheartening...

I'm not saying that a journal automatically deserves to outdraw a blog. But Wigleaf is a lot better as a journal than this is as a blog....

That's the natural ending point for this post, isn't it?