Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Sunday, September 28, 2008


What is it about repetition? My need to repeat things over and over? At least three times I repeat a thing! I like to blame genetics -- we did always run a joke into the ground when we were kids. There's a series of jokes one group of friends knows so well that we just give the punchlines ("Terrible!" "Dung!" "Tang!" "A stick!" although the order can vary).

I brought up the Crane quote three different times in the last twenty-four hours. I used an offhand comment from yesterday at least three times (or maybe four), the last time in a piece I sent off to an editor a little while ago (the Crane quote got in there, too -- amazing what you can cram into 500 words!). Slightly different nuances in each iteration -- maybe all the repetition is about trying to get it right. That's it -- it's just revision!

We're off to Miss Wendy's for Rosh Hashanah dinner tomorrow afternoon. We'll be stopping by Rein's to pick up the challah and looking forward to seeing some friends around the table.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Writing and Not Writing

Yes, I have a thousand tongues,
And nine and ninety-nine lie.
Though I strive to use the one,
It will make no melody at my will,
But is dead in my mouth.

From Stephen Crane's collection The Black Riders and Other Lines, better known for the lines, "because it is bitter, and because it is my heart," which also came to mind today for a silly reason on Facebook.

In other words, sometimes the magic works, sometimes it doesn't. But you keep typing...and hope it returns.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Podcast: Dear Friend

Slouch on over to Radio Wombat for a new podcast, "Dear Friend." Is this podcasting going to be a regular thing? It just might.

Writing & Identity

It's an interesting time for writers, in all senses of that word. On the one hand, print repeatedly gets declared to be dead, only to have innovations re-spark interest in the written word (if not dead tree versions). Even the dead tree market corpse gets fresh blood repeatedly, as Harper Collins announces:
The writer and director of the film Pan's Labyrinth, Guillermo del Toro, is set to tap what has become a rich vein of new vampire fiction, signing up with HarperCollins to write a trilogy of books about a vampiric virus that invades New York.

So what to do? My gut instinct is to continue doing the same thing I've always done in both my fiction writing career and in my academic one: diversify. In academia, it's essential if you want a job. In fiction, it's just my natural restlessness for trying new things. Hence my fondness for Kierkegaard's dictum: "Once you label me, you negate me."

Unfortunately, our capitalist system is all about that labeling, so I'm swimming against the tide (perpetually, right? That's me in a nutshell). It's not so much my refusal to conform, as it is a simple constitutional inability. I may sit down with the idea of writing a simple slice of life story, but somehow prophetic dreams or a ghost show up to complicate things. I might be happy with the results, but publishers like you to stick to the rules.

This approach gets you a lot of rejections. I tend to post only the acceptances here; think of them as that iceberg tip poking above the surface and hiding a whole lot of ballast. Do they play the same role as ballast (it suddenly occurs to me)? Keeping the rest afloat? Nah. They merely perforate your confidence.

I have reconciled myself to the fact that I will always have a small audience (but a much appreciated one, I assure you all); nonetheless, I'll always yearn for more people to read my words. There are few greater pleasures.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008


My scheduled panels at Albacon (Oct 10-12) include the following (as of publication time):

In A Flash
"The challenges and rewards of telling a story in under 1,000 words."
Panelists: Mead, Schwabach, Laity, Strock(M)

Folktales/Myths in Fantasy and SF
"What folktales are ready made for SF&F? Which would you like to see? Which are overused?"
Panelists: Grotta, Doyle, McAfee, Laity, Rogow, Edghill(M)

Why write?
"It pays badly, you have to deal with constant rejection, and you spend your life typing. Why do you do it?"
Panelists: Laity(M), Grotta, Spoor, Frederick, Flint

Saving science fiction from academia(?!)
"Nowadays science fiction is being taught as literature and prediction, surely destroying joy and misinforming readers. What can we do to save SF from being studied to boredom?"
Panelists: finder, Halasz, Kannenberg, Miller, Laity(M)

Careful readers will be able to guess my opinion about the latter panel in advance.

Publication: Book (A Short Play)

Mused, the literary magazine of the Bella Online site, has a new issue up today which includes my very short play (one might say sketch) entitled "Book" which is a comedy. I found it helpful to add that label after a couple of rejections. A sense of humor is not always a portable currency. I noticed again during Burn After Reading that many people need to be cued that it's all right to laugh. I can't help it. Even at the worst of times (perhaps especially at the worst of times) I can laugh easily (and often inappropriately -- odd things strike me as funny, I have to admit).

The play deals with that sense of unease, the way many people feel hesitant to claim authority when it comes to judging literary worth. As always, check out the rest of the issue which includes an interview with Berkshire artist and star of Indiana Jones movies, Karen Allen, as well as fiction, art and poetry. It's an honor to be one of the selected pieces for this quarter (and softens the rejection also received yesterday). You may recall that Mused also published my play, "Bell" (can you guess what the third piece will be called?).

Monday, September 22, 2008

Writing Whuffie

In the wake of David Foster Wallace's suicide, there has been an outpouring of reminiscences and grief, as one might expect in the wake of a celebrated writer's precipitous exit. In the mainstream media, most of it has been from men about his age who found in him a kindred spirit, although I have to admit it's kind of depressing that for all the loosening of the cannon, according to these writers it's still mostly white and mostly male writers who are perceived as being "the best of their generation" (as defined by mostly white male writers).

What's a woman got to write to get some whuffie? My whuffie's going to go down simply for mentioning it, but then I just came from a department meeting which tends to make a dent in my whuffie anyway. I have to admit the current climate in gender politics has made me lose any optimism I might have once held. It reminds me of being back at Harvard Med where male candidates were hired over female candidates in a smokescreen of vague terminology, and where the Joint Committee on the Status of Women at Harvard Medical and Dental Schools met in the grim conference room at Countway, surrounded by paintings of the school's patriarchs and wondered why the climate was so hostile to women.

It's true that writing is a slippery thing at the best of times: trends come and go, writers fall out of favor, or get romanticized out of all proportion according to seemingly random coincidences. Once that happens, everyone follows that new model -- which means it's already too late for that model (maybe DFW's death will mean an end to the overly-precious footnote-laden fiction and essays, but I doubt it).

There is that tendency to want to emulate such romantic figures, leading to the problems which Dent writes about in the piece linked above: "It really worries me when mental ill health is equated with artistic and literary genius." The film class I taught last spring, Writers in Motion, highlighted this tendency. I suppose in part it's a distancing effect -- people can eschew pursuing creativity if it has such a cost. Who wants to risk their life, relationships and sanity just for a few words on the page?

The truth is that all writing requires is not a wild sex life, drunken oblivion, or a larger than life personality, but writing, simply writing words down, sending them out to risk rejection, and then writing some more.

But why would you believe me? My whuffie is too low.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Friday, September 19, 2008

On the Air!

What the -- three posts in one day?!

Yeah, well you never know when inspiration might strike. And now, we have sound -- yes, after months of farting around doing nothing, I finally put up a podcast, which is a fancy way of saying a low-tech recording of me reading a flash fiction piece. Wander over to the THIRD blog, Radio Wombat for a taste and let me know what you think. The story is "Rothko Red" and it's not yet published, so consider this a sneak peek.

Which Member of the Who are You?

You are Keith Moon! WHOA! You are the extremely crazy, drugged-up, drummer! You have brandy instead of water during concerts, and at one time, you had the world's largest drumset. You like to smash your set to pieces, and Pete constantly has to cover for you while your drum is being replaced. You've broken more drum skins in a week than most drummers have seen in their lives. Why you got banned from the Holiday Inn is questionable, but most times it ends with you driving into the swimming pool. You died young from an overdose of sleeping pills.

You're psycho. You do many odd things to get attention, but no one realizes that you're the reason you do them is because you're hurting inside. Don't be afraid to let the happy mask fall every once in awhile. You're very loved, but you're unsure as to whether you have real friends or not. If you don't wipe off that clown paint, you might never know.

(Yeah, I cheated a little to get the results I wanted: sue me! Take the quiz yourself and see how you do.)

Arrrrrr ye ready, scalawags?

Talk like a pirate or be ready to walk the plank! All manner of bilge rats ar' gettin' into the spirit o' the day:

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Review: Burn After Reading

Okay, so it's been nearly a week since I saw the film -- guess it's about time to write a review. Short version: very funny, laughed a lot. It's a bit slighter than the best Coen Bros. films, but a hoot absolutely. It lacks the charm of The Hudsucker Proxy, the heart of Raising Arizona or O, Brother, Where Art Thou?, but the stellar cast is perfect, absolutely perfect. I'm not a Brad Pitt fan, but he's unflinchingly idiotic here and it's brilliant. I guess Twelve Monkeys wasn't just a fluke. Why does Clooney do anything but comedy? He's so funny. Kudos to Frances McDormand for showing herself in the most unflattering lights with her usual complete immersion. Tilda Swinton, always wonderful, is here, too -- of course. For someone who can ooze sensuality, it's hilarious to see her be so cold (I'm resisting giving away some funny lines, I should add). Everybody, Malkovich included, just perfect.

The film is a precise snapshot of Americans at present: paranoid, self-involved, completely unrealistic from having seen and believed too many movies and "reality" shows, and destructively short-sighted. That's the one thing to carp about. As hilarious as the ride is, there's really no one to whom you can attach much feeling. This isn't usually the case in their films: you care about H.I. and Ed, you like Norville Barnes and Amy Archer, you even care about Barton Fink (although you like Charlie better). They're all deeply flawed, but you root for them anyway. I suppose McDormand's Linda Lizke is meant to be our lens into the story, but she's so painfully shallow it hurts to dive into her world. You feel a tug of the heart for Richard Jenkins' Ted, but - well, you have to see the film.

Despite all this quibbling, I laughed really hard. I don't understand the reviewers who called it "Byzantine" -- apparently having to follow more than one plot line is confusing for some folks. The whole production is superb; there's even a great song over the end credits. Carter Burwell's soundtrack shows that No Country for Old Men has had a lasting effect; it was as notable for its silences as for its sound. So, go, laugh -- have fun. Hours later you can feel depressed about how accurate its depiction of our country and its sorry state at present is. Then you'll laugh about it again.

I had my first physical therapy session this morning -- mostly hydrotherapy (deluxe whirlpool!) and some exercises to practice at home to try to restore mobility. The therapist also pointed out the effects of previous injuries, such as the bruises up the side of my leg which apparently have to do with damage to the tendons and ligaments before. Guess I should have had more physical therapy back then. I did get a good chuckle because there was a foam wedge in the examining room -- a similar object is good for some laughs in Burn After Reading. Tee hee.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Living Down to Expectations

I give up: my students in the Gender and Medieval Literature class have let me know that the fight to gain equal rights for women has utterly failed. Life today is apparently much like that of Anglo-Saxon England (although with better plumbing). Men, they tell me, are still expected to be brave and strong like Beowulf and the other warriors. You don't want a guy falling apart in an emergency, one told me, a woman can fall apart. Yeah, another agreed, if you go to a scary movie, you want to be able to hide on his shoulder when you're scared. Yes, as a horror film veteran, I rolled my eyes.

But I have to admit it feels like all the efforts of second and third wave feminists have been for naught. Given the virulent sexism of the political coverage for the last 18 months or so (brilliantly skewered by two of the funniest women working now, Tina Fey and Amy Poehler) even by supposedly "liberal" commentators like Jon Stewart and Keith Olberman, it kind of makes a gal lose all hope.

Teaching the Zemeckis Beowulf film in my upper division course rubs salt in that wound, too. I do still find it shocking that 21st century filmmakers have even less regard for women than the 11th century monks who wrote down the original text. The monks at least thought women had some purpose other than as sexual objects for men, could even seen women as powerful leaders. At least a couple of students in that class were appalled by the film, but it's small comfort when I have creative writing students writing about their future wedding day as "the best day of my life" -- yeah, and it's all downhill after that?

Is it really such a radical notion today that women are people, too? Not defined by biology? Not just not-men? I guess so.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Publication: Me and Margery Kempe

Balancing out a kind of wretched week, I do have a new publication out, an essay called "Me and Margery Kempe" in the wildly eclectic magazine, Wild Violet. It's the kind of journal you can really dig into and enjoy because everything in it is so different. There are even a couple of experimental films this issue, so go check them out and be wowed. Also stop by editor Alyce Wilson's site for her journal Musings and the wild, weird history of the Penn State Monty Python Society.

People are always marveling how many publications I have, but that's because they seldom see the rejections that pile up behind those few and sporadic successes. It's a trying process, writing is, and many writers are tempted to give in to despair, but then you find that line that has to be written -- that only you can write -- and the keys begin to clack once more. It's all about putting the failures (rejections, infelicitous phrases, obviously stupid choices) behind you and hoping you'll find the magic again. But you can't find it if you don't flex those fingers, so back we go again and plunge into the waters.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Happy Birthday, Susan!

Happy birthday to the hostess with the mostess! If I had finally transferred all my files from the old computer, I would have some lovely pictures to choose from, but this is the first picture I could find of you (at Trinoc*coN, of course, recording Con-Eire). Hope your birthday is great! And hope that you are relaxing without any kind of work or family crisis (there's got to be one day a year that doesn't happen, right?)

Best to you!

I'm off on a retreat with friends in the lovely hills out west of town. I won't be able to hike out to the cave to drum, but I'll be able to enjoy the day anyway.

Friday, September 12, 2008

What it Is (Now)

More colorful now -- not as swollen, at least in the morning. The picture doesn't really do justice to the purples and blues, but I think you can get a sense of the omnipresent brownish hue of the whole foot up to the calf. The ankle tends to be more painful in the morning but more swollen in the afternoon; natural enough, I suppose after all that hopping around. I tried to be good yesterday, keeping it elevated as much as I could. Fortunately I had the Punk Rock Jukebox to entertain me while I was immobile. That's really the worst part -- being stuck in one place. I miss my morning walk, sauntering down to campus, or just crossing the room because I need something. Sigh.

I realize I've fallen behind on reviews, too. The second most irritating thing is how much time the injury has taken up. Two things to be sure to mention: Lynda Barry's What it Is. I know I've talked about it before, but I should specify that this is the book to kick start your creativity. If you've read Barry's One Hundred Demons or her decades-worth of comics, you'll know just how magical her work is, but her latest is a how-to volume that weaves a good bit of autobiography into the lessons. Barry starts with recalling the freedom we all have as children, where we draw, sing and write without fear. From her own experiences, she retraces how that fear sets in (am I doing this right? is this really any good?) and how to break ourselves of those habits. If you've always wished you could be creative, this book will help you rediscover that you ARE. Warning! People who read this book and do the exercises tend to become excited and joyful.

I was absolutely bowled over by Aline Kominsky Crumb's Need More Love. Long in the shadow of her more famous husband, Kominsky Crumb explodes across the pages of this gorgeous book in reprints of her autobiographical comics, narrative snippets, letters from friends, photos of herself (showing how beautiful she is) and her gorgeous medieval home in France. Like Barry, Kominsky Crumb's work has often been labeled "ugly" and dismissed as inept, but it's amazingly effective and brilliantly conveys the changing emotional states of her often dramatic life. As crazy as the events are, you often get the feeling that she plays down the drama somewhat -- although the sequence of her throwing herself at poor George Harrison at the height of Beatlemania has been caught on tape. Her story is both completely singular and yet woven into the American 60s and 70s counter-culture, from Greenwich Village to San Francisco. She's always frank about her feelings, mistakes and choices. Unconventional and neurotic, Kominsky Crumb has nonetheless carved out a life that allows her to create her art (I *love* her doll sculptures!), keep amazingly fit and maintain the relationships she needs to be happy. To get a taste of her unique voice, check out this interview at Phawker.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Given the Boot

Yes, I have been booted now, which is a definite improvement over the crutches and Ace bandage. I taught today -- up and down to the third floor a couple of times -- so my foot was quite swollen by the time I got to the orthopedist. Crutches are painful! It was easier to limp up the stairs. But he looked at the x-rays and said very bad sprain, torn ligaments (insert Marge Simpson noise, which is what the doctor did as he pointed at all my bruises), calcium deposits from previous injuries to the ankle and, yes, it's true! A heel spur and plantar fasciitis, but only coincidentally.

So, I have the boot for walking around, I'm back to elevating and icing (or will be in a minute or so), and will be starting physical therapy to begin the healing process so I won't be lame for ever. It's a relief to know what is wrong instead of guessing, but it's still painful (and inconvenient). On the plus side, my students and colleagues were very helpful to me today and I have already Sanrio-fied the boot (well, duh!), Hello Kitty on the left and Badtz-Maru on the right.

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

The Latest

Oooh, lookit the purty colors! Yes, the continuing saga of my ankle -- how very dull. Well, according to the receptionist in the doctor's office, I have a heel spur.


Well, yes, that makes sense and certainly explains the extensive bruising (not) as well as the persistent swelling (no, my leg is really not that fat normally). In any case, I have to call at exactly 8am tomorrow to get an appointment with the orthopedic doc. With luck I'll get in tomorrow -- if, that is, I can also get a copy of the x-rays to bring with me. The imaging place, however, says they cannot provide copies sooner than 24 hours after a request (made at about 4.30 this afternoon when my doctor finally called). It will be interesting to see what happens (by "interesting" of course, I mean painful, tedious and vexing).

Adding to the irritation, I found out that my essay on Gilliam's Tideland has been bounced from the anthology it was accepted for last year. So it goes.


I've decided the true story of my injury is very dull. I need suggestions of tales I might tell others, including my students whom I will be seeing tomorrow.

Any ideas?

The bruising is getting more colorful, as it tends to do. Will have to get another picture soon. Still no word on the x-rays, sigh.

Adding insult to injury: my essay on Tideland just got booted from the anthology it was supposed to appear in. Waah.

Monday, September 08, 2008

X-Rays, Crutches and Painkillers

Taking bets now before the x-rays come back: is it only a sprain? torn ligaments? or an actual break? Judge the evidence for yourself, including early Sunday:

and today, bruising now visible as the swelling fades, those along the side of the joint made the doctor tsk at me (he's already written a prescription for a cast just in case):

Time to put my feet up...

Sunday, September 07, 2008

A Moment's Inattention

I received a powerful lesson in mindfulness today. As I was out on my daily walk -- my thoughts a thousand miles away -- I twisted my ankle as I walked down the hill coming out of the forest by Buckingham Lake and fell down hard. The scrapes and bruises on my knees and on the heels of my hands were nothing next to the sprain. I could feel it tearing as I was falling and saying, "Ow, ow, ow!" Oddly enough, although it was a time that might legitimately have called for saltier language, I really did just say "ow" repeatedly.

An elderly gentleman, one of the regulars, helped me get up and dust off. He offered to walk with me or whatever I needed, but I told him I would be okay and was going to go sit down. But as I limped along the path, I figured out that it was going to stiffen up quickly if I sat, so I just walked home. Nothing like pain to focus the mind. Every step was vivid. Yeah, it was pretty swollen by the time I got home. Iced it after a shower, but looking on line I find that you're not supposed to ice for more than 20 minutes at a time, so I guess I'll put the ice away and get out the Ace.

Well, I had planned to blog today on the toys: Ianto's new Gelaskin with lovely Ralph Steadman art, "Vintage Dr Gonzo" and the new phone that now features George Spiggot saying "Julie Andrews!" I had planned a lot of things for today that will have to be adjusted now. You'd think, given my natural inclination toward laziness, that this would provide a good excuse to do nothing, but my perverse nature rebels at anything I'm forced to do; so, forced to be immobile, I get antsy. There's no pleasing some people. I'll be quite bereft without my daily walk -- no rabbits, herons, ducks, kingfishers, turtles, and dogs. There's also the whole pain thing...

Saturday, September 06, 2008

An Experimental Publication

Go to Feedbooks and download a copy for FREE of my wacky dinosaur story, "Another Metamorphosis" which should be available in all formats for your palm reader, iPod, phone, etc. Of course, you should also comment on the story. I may put some other previously published stories there for the free publicity. I just downloaded a bunch of books for Ianto, so I'm sure other folks are doing the same thing.

Thursday, September 04, 2008

Sophie and her Pig

A doodad composed for my little friend Sophie and her favorite toy pig (who doesn't quite fit into doll dresses, but tries anyway).


There was a princess name of Sophie
And she had a little pig.
It wasn't very clever
And it wasn't very big.
But it was just as loyal
As the day is long,
It could whistle, it could dance
And it could sing a little song.
"Pig," said princess Sophie,
"Let's go to Bangalore!
We'll see Dido, Queen of Cabbage
And we'll take a river tour."
"Splendid," said the little pig,
"Let's go across the sea,
With tortoises and porpoises,
And jellyfish for tea."
They sailed across the ocean's span
On many a cresting wave,
And washed ashore near Bangalore,
Inside an enchanted cave....

[The rest to be in print soon!]

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Upcoming Reading

The lovely Robyn Ringler has asked me to read at her store, East Line Books, on October 18th. I'll be there from about 1-4 pm and reading at 2pm. If all goes well, this will be the launch of Unikirja, the long awaited (by me anyway) collection of short stories based on Finnish folklore and mythology. Hurrah! Yes, too long in the making, but while scribbling away at academic publications in Texas trying to work my way north once more, short stories seemed to be all I could accomplish, and that only s-l-o-w-l-y. I was lucky enough to win the Eureka! Short Story Fellowship and a Finlandia Foundation grant for this collection. The first gave me a whole month at the lovely Dairy Hollow writer's colony (land of infinite turtles) and the latter gave me an amazing trip to Finland where I took all those beautiful pictures of rock paintings (one of which is going to be on the cover of the book).

Robyn has an Open House this Saturday from 1-4 pm to introduce folks to the store. Stop by and say hello, enjoy the food and music -- and buy a few books!

Monday, September 01, 2008


My love she speaks like silence,
Without ideals or violence,
She doesn't have to say she's faithful,
Yet she's true, like ice, like fire.

-- Bob Dylan, "Love Minus Zero/No Limit"

There's a story I posted on Facebook from The Guardian about the Rothko Chapel, an oasis of magnificence in the middle of Houston. Typically (for a British journalist), Jonathan Jones gives in without much of a struggle to the stereotype of Americans as crazy religious fanatics -- was there no one in the chapel who came to see the art? I bet there was, but why spoil a perfectly simple cliché? That's the whole point of visiting on a Sunday, too, I'm sure.

It's a remarkable sight, nonetheless. A colleague's memorial was held there just before we moved back north. I found it impossible to listen to what people were saying because my eyes were mesmerized by the paintings. It's a much more sombre setting than the Rothko room at the Tate Modern, but there's a similar sense of complete immersion in the colors. When in London, I always manage to make a visit or two to the room. I wrote a flash fiction story sitting in front of those rich rubious paintings about someone who has a complete breakdown in the very same spot. While some people seem to equate Rothko's work (and self-selected death) with depression, I actually saw the character's obsession with the paintings as a last ditch attempt at survival, finding some peace in their restorative silence. Rothko may put despair on the canvas, but recognizing and sharing that feeling brings comfort.

There's a big exhibition of Rothko's work coming to the Tate Mod; an excuse to get to London before February 1st.