Monday, June 29, 2009

Michael Jackson: My Latest Excuse

Perhaps you heard. Michael Jackson died. I don't want to be premature or negative but I suspect drugs. When the autopsy results come out, remember, 3 Ps broke this story first.

As I continue to avoid writing, I admit I've been scanning the You Tube. The memorial silks and wreaths piling up at Neverland disturb me. Why would people pay tribute to a pedophilia lair? Okay, maybe only God knows the truth about what really went on in there, but we all know this: whatever went on, it wasn't right.

I also found a live performance video, and watched thousands of people pee their freaking pants when MJ pulls a glove out of a suitcase. It's crazy that MJ could create such drama out of what, if we really think about it, is a pretty silly fashion statement. But he did. He really did. I'm not sure if that's good or bad, but it's something. One thing I know for sure, Bilie Jean has the kickenist bass line evah. And MJ singing as a young child? Undeniable. Makes me cry I am filled with such sorrow over what will happen to him.

For me, MJ died with Thriller, and the rest has been a protracted, excruciating, most ungraceful exit. I'm relieved the spectacle is over.

MJ's death inspired me to reconsider life as a bizarre recluse. Time for an activity besides lying on the floor with my cats, sweating in front of a fan. Time for an outfit besides wife beater and boxer shorts. So I went to the Seventh Ward yesterday for the MJ tribute Second Line. I have learned I do not have a future as a documentary filmmaker, but here's the vid.

And here's a little number I call "Yeah, Shake That Ass (It's On My Mind). " Man, I wish I had run the vid longer than five seconds. I swear, this is a hit.


Writers Behaving Badly

Alice Hoffman takes to twitter to complain about a bad review. Gawker gives the play-by-play.

I'll give her this: the review is poorly written. The writer may wish to revisit the difference between summary and analysis. Hoffman's response, however, is way out of proportion to the crime.

The lesson? Count to ten before you twitter.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Summer Submissions

As we know, most lit mags shut down for the summer, but here’s a few that read year round. Personally, I just can't wait until fall for those little slips of paper that say, "Sorry, I don't love you."

Cimarron Review

Prairie Fire (In Canadia, therefore requires special postage)

Glimmer Train (Caveat — entry fees and monthly guidelines)

Hayden’s Ferry Review

Missouri Review

Boston Review

Mid-American Review

The MAR and CR claim slower summer response times. You can submit online for free to TBR, for a small fee to TMR, and for a large fee to GT.

If you know of lit mags that read during the summer, post below.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Dave Eggers, You Make Me Feel Inadequate

I picked this story up from fellow New Orleanian blogger and MFAer (LSU), Emilie Staat. Dave Eggers has a nonfiction book about Katrina coming out soon, that relays the story of a Muslim family in Uptown. The profits of Zeitoun will be given to the poor. You probably heard about the movie already. And he's putting out a newspaper, in the traditional style, this September.

After working through feelings of jealousy and low self-worth, I find my curiosity is most piqued about the paper, because I'm also of the theory that newspapers are failing because there's no reason to purchase a print version of the cheesy wire service stories posted on Yahoo. Eggers is going with the radical concept that publishers should pay quality journalists to write in depth stories.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Monday, June 22, 2009

P is for (Re) Publication: A Reprise

Earlier I posted that one success of the year was my appearance in The Pop Culture Zone, a book in which a profile on Gary Larson I wrote for Mental Floss Magazine is anthologized. I knew the pub was some kind of textbook, but not what kind, exactly.

Well, I finally received my copy, and turns out the book is designed for freshman comp. You! My old nemesis. The concept is “students relate to pop culture, so they will be more willing to think critically about it.” Having engaged in such ploys myself, I am skeptical. Only freshman could sleep through Pulp Fiction and whine at the end, "I didn't get it." (To which I reply in my mind, Fuck you motherfuckers. For next week read Tristram Shandy.) I suppose we must try. Although I fear the professors Smith, Smith and Watkins didn’t consider that the John Hughes movie era was at its peak about a decade before the current crop of Freshman were born.

No matter. I will certainly order this book when I teach Comp. Because of course I’m thrilled. I am referred by last name. I am indexed! And…I got to read the much anticipated discussion questions.

My fav: "Why does Ferguson hope that Larson will emerge from retirement 'long enough to draw a python that strangles The Family Circus'"?

Answer Key: Because the Family Circus blows. Why does academia insist on making everything so complicated?

I can’t wait to make my students buy this sixty dollar beast and assign myself as homework. Awesome.

Oh, and if all this wasn't too much already, Joy Williams and David Sedaris are in the same book. It’s like, we’re touching!

Cold feet and bat ears

The act of watching a play strikes fear into my heart. Only at first. I begin by worrying that one of the cast members won't arrive for this particular show, a little like imaging worst-case-scenario Kate Blanchett's run in with a motor vehicle in Benjamin Button, and then discovering the understudy maybe didn't expect that today would be the day and left her only pair of run-free stockings at home. What then?

What if the actors recognize that I just reached down to temporarily discard of my concession stand snack wrapper and mistook it for fidgeting in the middle of Act III? What if that guy in the audience laughed at the wrong time (say, during a key character death, a la Hamlet) and I feel embarrassed for him?

But the overarching freak out has to do with all the projections I'm placing on the actors in regards to their perseverance and hopes/dreams/feelings. I'm all wrapped up on the stage fright anxiety I never really shook from early high school, which consisted of sitting in Spanish class with my brand-spanking new slobber-enhancing retainers, reciting my conjugates. I also contemplate the overall spirit of the people--with a huge range of experiences--who have committed to getting on stage to recite the exact same two hour play for a few months for a few shows a day, possibly many shows a week. I'm not an actor and I'm not a big character developer when I write (poetry/prose dividing line?), so I know little about the kind of dedication this particular task takes. I'm just sitting there, waiting for the lights to dim, biting my nails over the potential cold feet happening backstage. This is me transferring my own flight (not fight) instinct that threatens to take hold of me re: being an artist/"artist" (cough, cough).

I recognized these emotions and ended up putting all of the above labels on what I was feeling yesterday, at Batboy: The Musical at the Village Players theater in Oak Park. This is not a true/objective reflection of the experience--no one was running off stage or fainting or renouncing acting for a career in investment banking. I'll just always have this lingering feeling anyone, while outwardly committed to their art form, could unpredictably beat feet at any moment.

In the show's program, a small blurb announced Obama's funding just pumped into the NEA grant-giving wing, providing a jolt to its dying little moneybag. This funding, part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, gives $50million over two years. Half of this is expected to go to each state's arts councils for individual grants and the other half to, I suppose, art-related programming in general. Sigh. Let's see for one year, assuming all states are created equal, that's $25m / 50 states =$500,000 per state / 2 = $250,000 for a whole state's fund for individual artists' awards. I think the little blurb in the program was worried. And the world turns...

Next post: a exposition on my moral and "spiritual" commitment to art sans talk of money in any way, shape or form. I'm starting to feel a little grimy framing everything in relationship to money or the lack thereof so often.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

I against I: Indolence, The Writing Life and Hauntings of Childhood Malaise

I have been unable to write a word while my sister-in-law births. This was not my intention. Grace Ann was my first “live” birth. As a relative, I love my brother’s wife and wanted to be there for her. As a writer, I was eager to bear witness. Surely this would all be material for a story someday.

Yet there was an uncanny lack of drama. The wringing of hands, the pacing, the damp brows — all notably absent. The Relative was grateful, but The Writer bummed.

8:00 Family arrives at hospital for birth.

8:15. Chris’s abdomen cut open

8:43 Baby displayed in window. Hi Baby! Hi!

9:30 Family at local Cracker Barrel for breakfast

9:38 Another plate of biscuits, please?

Sadly, I can’t blame Grace Ann, a 7 pound, zero-year-old, for my indolence. And tweren’t my belly sliced. The real problem is when I return to Alabama, I slip into this mind-numbing vortex. I become a blob held together by skin capable of nothing but watching TV and shoving processed food in her face. Think of David Banner transforming into The Hulk. Then picture the exact opposite.

I haven’t blamed my parents much in recent years, so I reckon they are due.

Growing up, my parents took me on interminable drives to “look at houses,” or to eat a Spam spread sandwich at a state park. They both possess this zen-like quality whereby they are, I swear, just that easily amused. I am not. I am a picky little bored bitch. I learned to bring a book, much like a person might make sure to carry an epi pen. On these rides (sometimes cross country) I would sit, read, and stare out the window, quietly waiting for the day my life would begin.

I’m 40. Waiting for life? Uh, this might be it. Nora Ephron tells me the neck sags at 43. That means I have three freaking years to enjoy a book tour with a neck.

So before I go home I make grand plans to begin My Great Southern Childhood Story. I pack a little sparkle notebook to capture those tiny details that have slipped into the memory abyss. For one, I had somehow forgotten those pine log trucks you get stuck behind on two lane highways. Semis that haul stacks of felled pines, red flags tied on the end. These flags, presumably, are so you can focus when the log slips, smashes the windshied and gouges out your face.

There! Wasn’t that a lovely detail? But that’s all for now. Mom has Cinemax. And I know where she stashes the cookies. Those nasty packaged cookies that I would never purchase at home. I’m going to sneak just one more. And then really, really, when I get home my life will begin.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Lunch poem: 6/19/09, 12:34ish-12:51pm

After Dorothea Lasky

Turnstile Charlie you are my best friend.

The rain hits the bus window.

You are who gets a call

When I need picked up, arms full of groceries

Taking on water. Charlie,

A certain type of field grass grows ripe

Upon hearing its name. You say the name sweetgrass

It neither responds nor snubs. Charlie, I have

The distinct belief you are the individual

Responsible for this non-growing

At the time of other grasses’ growing season.

You may stunt and find impartial its

Shoots. This is because of you, the attention

Paid to me at the time when I didn’t most need

It. I do not feel it necessary

To address your nickname.

At the sight of the large scythe

Just entering our field of vision,

I turned to you.

You were a granite curb, scraping me, a hubcab.

I need you to know you were callous

At that moment because you granted

No grass an escape.

At that moment

I was made into a self constantly inquiring

As to my whereabouts or the status

Of constricting boxes’ dimensions.

Where do my whereabouts lead? Have you

Followed them undetected?

Thursday, June 11, 2009

A Literature of the Workplace, pt. II

Ask and you shall receive.

An excerpt from the Salon article:

"In 'The Pleasures and Sorrows of Work,' Alain de Botton tackles the modern problem of labor in his characteristically untamed, thoughtful style, revealing the ways work can bring us meaning or strip our lives of it, depending on our circumstances. De Botton explores 10 different professions, from biscuit manufacturing to entrepreneurship to painting to rocket science, examining each with a magnifying lens in order to better fathom it. Interspersed with the text are 200 original black-and-white photographs -- a janitor vacuuming the floor at an aerospace convention, electrical pylons in a weedy field, women in hairnets sorting biscuits -- that complement the book's moody tone."

Which brings me to my own work: I received an eleventh hour reprieve from layoff when a coworker moved to California earlier this month. I am now a "publications specialist," which means I generate and update training materials for my department's staff development courses. Which means I do a lot of formatting and proofreading in Word 2007, which is not terribly different from the lion's share of my former academic work. It's a half-time position, which means my life can be stripped of meaning and I have time to spend outdoors should I choose to. Which I don't, mostly. Mostly I spend my non-work time watching reruns of House and hating myself for it. There are so many ways to strip our lives of meaning. Work is just one of them.

The I Hate Filing Club and a Poetry Reading Summarized in Simile

We just received a shipment of office supplies, including a box of tabbed file folders. Prominently displayed on the exterior of the box is an advertisement for a companion website, (which, sadly, just goes right to the corporate website). Below the URL, “Join the 'I Hate Filing Club' for FREE filing tips, organizational ideas and solutions.” Wait. But I thought I was joining the club to proclaim that I hate filing, so why would I want you, file folder company, to tell me how to organize and file better? Will this make me not hate filing? Doubtful. On the website I discover you can earn prizes as a member of the I Hate Filing Club, by turning in UPCs and otherwise relinquishing your dignity. Some select items with description:

Spa Box: You’ve had a hard day, it’s time to relax and revitalize. Treat yourself to some calming therapy with candles and incense.

Pendy Bear: Warm, Cute and Cuddly and needs a home. The new Pendy bear sits eight inches high.

After I read this, I let my thoughts wonder to the recesses of my fractured mind, imagining other clubs to join that unite members in their hatred of some other office task.

Last night, I saw Joshua Marie Wilkinson and Dorothea Lasky read at Danny’s Tavern.

This bar is, for better not worse, remarkably like experiencing living in my apartment, but with much more beer and a nicer bathroom. The walls are the same, they’ve gone through some plastering snafus, but it is dark and no one focused on the walls anyway. So, I hunker down on a tiny stool at a tiny table and stopped worrying about the interior decorating.

Joshua Marie Wilkinson’s reading was exactly a basket of red eggs intended as a gift for a neighbor. (These specific eggs are the stuff of a remarkable image that appears in his 2006 collection The Book of Truants & Projectorlight, which he read from.)

Listening to his poetry was like shifting through a sand trap, or, rather, traversing a landscape covered in sand. You can take this to mean it was like being in a sandbox, playing, or trying to reunite with a buried object you dropped a little while ago. As for the uncovering part, listening to his poems proceed, you can imagine yourself on a tour of the interior space of the speaker’s mind, tripping and stumbling on the animal cages, pistols and trees littering the landscape. In this sand-covered world you can pull out all the little items you’ve lost and now found, and the sand slides right off. Unless of course the item in question is a pair of eyeglasses, in which case the sand will have scratched the lens. What I mean to say is his poetry is rewarding as litany and for its explanations of the interpersonal gestures that make possible keeping our heads above water.

With the second reader, Dorothea Lasky, I felt like I was shifting through a dumpster. The Chicago alley dumpsters, where getting trash anywhere in a three foot radius of the lip of the dumpster counts as having successfully taken out the trash. While I’m mentally working my way though her space of phrases and experiences once discarded, now reclaimed, I realize I am extremely happy because I just uncovered an unspoiled, untouched box of one dozen donuts, or a still chilly bottle of unopened Brute champagne. A celebration!

From Lasky’s “Outside Chattanooga, TN”:

Nowadays the young people
They have no children, they eat canned pineapple
Their mouths spilling out with nails and their intestines, they
Fall dry and brittle in their houses.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

An entry that involves the use of a space bar is so not one word

Excuse me, but "Web 2.0" is not a word. It is a word and two numbers with a punctuation mark shoved in the middle, or, in other words, two words, sort of.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

The Union is in a State

Linh Dinh, visiting poet at Montana (Spring 2008), now blogs on Happy Days, a New York Times blog! Among his many other ventures, he updates a stunning photo collection at a new blog, State of the Union.

Monday, June 8, 2009

The Tabby Recommends

Theodore highly recommends The God of Animals by Montana MFA grad Aryn Kyle.

He found the depiction of stable life to be generally convincing, although he did wonder about the barn cats. He worried about them drowning in the canal like Polly Cain. He believes Alice’s mother would have enjoyed a cat to watch TV with, and that the cat, in turn, would appreciate her stillness.

He totally agreed with Alice that Sheila Altman was loud and annoying. Sheila Altman is the type to yell “kitttyyy!" and pet too aggressively. If Sheila Altman came over to his house, Theodore would hide under the bed.

Theodore, like Nona, would like to meet a cowboy. He was down with that plotline, too. His only real complaint was the unanswered questions regarding said God of animals. If there is such a God, why are there fleas? Eve ate the apple, but what did cats ever do? He wishes the intelligent and lovely Ms. Kyle had dedicated more lines of her lucid, insightful prose to this important topic.

A final note: Theodore liked the part where Alice has clandestine phone conversations with her teacher. He also enjoys hiding in closets. They are a great place to pee.

Thanks, Stephen Burt!

Post labels work. Early in May I posted about Stephen Burt's response to the dismal number of poetry readers reported in a recent NEA poll. Seems he found us and wrote a gracious note about our blog on his blog, Close Calls With Nonsense. To keep the pinging going, here's what he had to say in a May 14 post:

Three University of Montana MFAs in writing have their own blog. (It mentioned me last week, which was how I found it; it’s really a disarming miscellany– reading, teaching, reflections, pictures, “money-saving skills.”)

Thanks again for the link.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Our inner ear balance disorder

7:30am: Bed Bugs. They Are Back. No Really. The CTA is full of the anti-bed bug mattress cover advertisements. Should I make light of bed bug and bed bug awareness campaigns? I’ll refrain.

10:30am: I always catch snippets of things out of context. Today, a CNN graphic, as I passed a television monitor right before walking into the spray of an herbicide applicator (man with machine) because a) I wasn't looking and b) applicator man wasn't looking. (Should he really be doing this out on the sidewalk, at the campus center, in the daytime? Can you wait until no one is around the entrance, please?):
Q: What is a recession?
A: Why is this chair wobbly?
What? How does that answer the question? Should we really be answering a question with another question?

A simple Google search reveals the new “it” word to describe the economy. Wobbly.

Some recent headlines:
Everyone is wobbly! They want us to believe the instability is rooted in a nation’s inner-ear balance disorder. In other news: Our inner ear area is referred to as the labyrinth. Amazing.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

A literature of the workplace?

Found an article neither terribly charming nor persuasive, but only because it is arguing for a body of work that is lacking. However, I like the sentiment. We should develop a literature about the modern workplace. Work is banal! And poets are suspicious beings!

The workplace is thought to be merely a place for degrading and banal labor out of which no one could spin anything of value other than (at best) a satirical or nihilistic commentary. This is connected to the fact that much modern work has become white-collar work, almost totally without obvious heroism or romanticism.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Monday, June 1, 2009

Fiction Lessons From Lost or WWJJD?

Not everything applies. Video has the distinct advantage of when people are super hot they can say whatever they want. I could never have a character pontificate to huddled castaways — “If we can't live together, we're gonna die alone.” (insert organ chord here.) This same line, given a glimpse of burly chest and a square jaw, works great.

Despite the fiction writer's different medium, there is much to learn from Lost. During my MFA, when I read for fiction workshops, often having to prod myself along to the end, I wished my colleagues had spent more time watching Lost.


  • Two sides to every story.
  • When characters interact, the reader should know backstory that impacts the interaction that the characters don’t.
  • The Run Into the Jungle Screaming Rule OR when in doubt have someone freak out to get the plot moving.
  • Forge strange alliances.
  • Break them.
  • Keep all characters on the verge of mental breakdown.
  • Have story elements that make no sense. This makes people tense and they will complain vehemently but they love it.
  • Once in a while toss in a random goodie, like a candy bar or a baby. Or a jumpsuit!
  • The Hurley “Dudes, this is stupid. Can’t we just…” Rule OR Have a character who speaks for the common man. This gives voice to the impotent reader. But...
  • ...under no circumstance shall characters listen to reasonable suggestions.
  • Have a super awesome unique setting that is crucial to the plot.
  • Enclose people in tight enclosed spaces and force them to interact.
  • Fight! Fight! Fight!

The scary part is I could keep going and going. But I’m out of coffee and I’m going to stop here. Please feel free to add your lesson from Lost below.