Friday, December 31, 2010

…I have a new story, "Written In Fire" up at 52/250 A Year of Flash and also here under "Words In Print."

…Happy New Year everyone. On the news they reported that "a new study shows the proper way to produce the best possible glass of champagne is to tilt your glass to the side while pouring." Really. It took a study for us to know that? We could have just asked any college students, since it's the same with beer, lest you get too much foam. I remember coming home from college that first, wet year and my mom asking why I was tilting my glass while pouring milk in it. (Habits get established easily.)

…Speaking of habits, I am having a hard time coming up with resolutions for 2011. Essentially I could repeat the ones from 2010 because they were challenging and lofty--write a novel, get an agent, publish 100 stories, run a marathon, etc., but it seems they should be different, although I don't know why. What do you think?

…At year end, every magazine and newspaper does a "Best of" list, so I will try to do mine.

--Best Film: "The Fighter"
--Best Comedic Film: "Due Date"
--Best Actor: Christian Bale, "The Fighter"
--Best Actress: Natalie Portman, "Black Swan"
--Best TV Drama: "Parenthood"
--Best TV Comedy: "Raising Hope"
--Best Album: "Recovery," by Eminem
--Best Single: "Runaway," by Kanye West
--Best Book: "No Country For Old Men," Cormac McCarthy
--Best Chapbook: "He Is Talking To The Fat Lady," by xTx
--Best New Writer I Discovered: tie--Stuart Dybek and Jayne Anne Phillips (Where the hell have I been?)
--Best New Web Writer I Discovered: Parker Tettleton
--Top Ten Online Literary Magazines, not in any order:
Necessary Fiction
Prick of the Spindle
Camroc Press Review
Cricket Online Review
The Smoking Poet
--Best Burger Joint: Five Guys

…Be safe, and watch out for those champagne corks. I once got one in my eye.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

…Things I've learned from reading magazines the last few days…
--70% of men are overweight or obese
--The average waist for a male is size 40
--The average woman is five foot four
--People who brush their teeth three times a day are likely to live three years longer because bacteria easily gets into the blood stream via our gums
--These restaurants are healthier than those:
Subway not Quiznos
Wendy's not Dairy Queen
Macaroni Grill not Olive Garden
Domino's not Papa Johns ("Mens Health")

…(From "Rolling Stone")
--Madonna is opening up a world wide chain of fitness stores
--Eminem and Taylor Swift are vying for top sales album of 2010. Each have 2.5 million of their alumbs sold
--Justin Beiber tweeted: "No lie. A fan just asked me for an autograph, confusing me with the actress who plays a lesbian on 'The L Word.'"

…From "Vanity Fair":
--16 percent of all people say they were bullied in school
--3 percent say there were a bully
--42% of all Americans own a gun
--26% of all Americans think their life is interesting enough to be given their own reality show
--"If something happened to you and your children were left without parents, which couple among the following would you most like to see adopt them?
I'd prefer some nice couple from Iowa 44% 41% 46%
Will Smith and Jada Pinkett Smith 25% 26% 24%
Ellen DeGeneres and Portia de Rossi 7% 2% 11%
Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie 6% 6% 5%
Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes 3% 4% 3%

Which of the following annoys you most?
Driving slow in the fast lane 33% 38% 28%
Cell-phone conversations in restaurants 25% 25% 25%
Spitting in public 24% 18% 30%
People getting in elevator before others are off 9% 9% 8%
Use of the abbreviation LOL 5% 5% 4%

…From "Esquire Magazine's" What I've Learned Issue
"You know you're in love when you're more yourself than you ever imagine possible." James L. Brooks
"In the end, winning is sleeping better."
"It's a waste of time to think that if you colored a painting red what might have happened if you painted it black." Yoko Ono
"Be brave, but not reckless." Robert DeNiro
"A friend is someone who many years ago offered you his last 300 when you broke your pelvis. A friend is Gene Hackman." Robert Duvall
"You can do more good by being good than any other way." John Wooden
"If I am through learning, I am through." John Wooden

Monday, December 27, 2010

…I have had a streak of seeing excellent films:
"Due Date"
"127 Hours"
"The Fighter"
"True Grit"
"The Black Swan"
"The King's Speech"
"The Black Swan" is by the director of "The Wrestler" and "Requiem For A Dream," the latter being one of the most harrowing films I've ever seen, and unquestionably the hardest last five minutes of a movie I've ever watched. "The Black Swan" stars Natalie Portman and is excellent. She should grab an Oscar for this. The direction, the choreography, the plot, acting, script, dancing (ballet) and score are all spectacular. Go see it, but be warned that it's very emotionally wretching and you will live with this film for a least a few days afterward.
Today was "The King's Speech." Certainly the buzz around Colin Furth is well-earned. He shines in all the right ways, making himself simultaneously steely and vulnerable, all withut coming across as bragadocious, pitiful, cloying, staged or melodramatic. His co-star, Geoffrey Rush, is sensational, reminding me of Sir John Gielgud in "Arthur," but for an updated audience. Rush should win Oscar gold for Best Supporting Actor.

…I read a lot of magazines. I read a lot in general, but magazines--if you subscribe--are the best entertainment (and information) value out there. I like all kinds of mags--writers ones, naturally; music mags; pop culture; hard news; fashion--both male and female; shelter magazines; photograph magazines. You can learn useful knowledge, or even fun, trivial-yet-interesting-bits, such as, did you know there's a Facebook group that has so far pledged $10,000 if the band Weezer will break up? Odd but hysterical. And a pretty big slam to Weezer.

In "Esquire" (I talk about them a lot) this month's issue is themed "What I've Learned" which is always my fave. In it, they do an extended version of the column they have monthly. Basically, they pick interesting people--usually celebrities, but not always--and have them prattle on about what life has taught them from the mundane to the profound.
Here's some of what I liked:
"If you don't have heroes in the beginning, you don't grow." Robert Duvall
"Art is competitive." Robert Duvall
"When I was a kid, nobody told me I was good-looking. I wish they had. I would've had a better time." Robert Redford
"I don't look ahead. I'm right here with you. It's a good way to be." Danny Devito
"To do creativity at the level we do it…five days a week, eight hours a day, it doesn't work. I dedicate more than double the time most people do. Thus, at the same level of talent, I have an advantage." Ferran Adria, world reknown chef
"Nothing's going back to the way it was." James L. Brooks
"There's always something falling to the floor. I'm a juggler in constant 'oops' mode." James L. Brooks

Thursday, December 23, 2010

…I have five new stories up: "Orchid" at Apollo's Lyre, "A Competitive Nature" at Troubadour 21, "Turbulence" at 52/250 A Year of Flash, "Straight" at Cricket Online Review and "The Sky, The Sky, The Wide Open Sky" also at Cricket Online Review. All five are included here under "Words In Print."

…Today I wrote poetry, buckets and pails of words and syllables, consonant, vowels, alliteration and loose intentions. It was fun. I was on a roll and ended with 21 poems. I tried to write half of them from a woman's perspective, in a female's voice, because I found a slew of cool literary sites that cotton only to women's issues. I'm going to send some out as soon as I finish posting.

…I like this: " In writing, every word must earn it's place. The title is the kidnapping element." Vanessa Debbie

…My Dad once said, "If it was easy, everyone would do it." I know he didn't create that expression, but I find myself thinking about that phrase whenever I struggle, like during a marathon or getting a story rejected, trying to find an agent. I like to do things that not many people can do. It probably has to do with conceit and low self-esteem, but it's the challenging stuff I find most fulfilling.

..Two more days until Christmas. I'm ready for it. I wish it would snow. There's something serene and magical about the beauty of a good snowfall.

…Writing gets lonely. I don't mind being alone, but it's more the sense of detachment and distance that is disconcerting. I'd better watch out….
...A writer friend posted this a week ago:

"Writers 'at greater risk of depression', survey finds
US health website lists professions in which people are most likely to be depressed and puts authors in top 10

•, Monday 13 December 2010 17.00 GMT
• Article history
Writers suffer ... Virginia Woolf. Photograph: Central Press/Getty Images
Writing is one of the top 10 professions in which people are most likely to suffer from depression, with men particularly at risk from the illness, according to US website
The site puts artists and writers among the most vulnerable of professionals, alongside other "at risk" jobs including care workers, teachers, social workers, maintenance staff and salespeople.
Irregular pay and isolation contribute to the propensity for writers to succumb to depression, says the site, with nearly 7% of male artists and writers likely to suffer a major episode of the illness.
Novelist Simon Brett, who has acknowledged his own struggles with depression, agreed with the tenor of the findings, citing writer suicides including Virginia Woolf, Sylvia Plath, Ernest Hemingway, Anne Sexton and Arthur Koestler.
"You spend long hours sitting on your own," he said. "Writing can be wonderful therapy, but you are digging into yourself, and if you are writing fiction and creating characters, a certain amount of self-examination and self-doubt is inevitable." Many writers are also introverted, quiet people, and find it stressful to have their work assessed publicly, Brett added, saying: "Now there are reviews on Amazon, for example, that happens even more."
And like everyone else, writers are subject to the current economic woes. "It has always been an insecure profession, and now advances are spiralling downwards and a lot of midlist authors have been dropped by their publishers," said Brett.
There are two points in the novel-writing cycle when authors are particularly vulnerable, he believes. "Almost every writer I know goes through the same reaction after a novel is finished – there are 24 hours of euphoria and then all the negative thoughts you have shut out while finishing it come out, and either you get drunk or depressed or get the flu.
"The other point is two-thirds or three-quarters of the way through a novel, when almost all writers get what I call the 'three-quarters sag', when the only thing you like less about what you've written so far is the ideas you have for finishing the book. My books are written quite quickly, so it only lasts a week or two, but for people who spend two years writing, it can take months."
Many writers, including Stephanie Merritt, Gwyneth Lewis and Sally Brampton have articulated their experiences of depression in personal memoirs, with novelist Marian Keyes revealing a serious bout of the illness to fans on her website earlier this year. "The medical department call it 'a major depressive episode', but I've been knocked sideways by a multitude of feelings, not just depression, but agitation, anxiety, terror, panic, grief, desperation, despair and an almost irresistible desire to be dead and it's gone on for a very long time," Keyes wrote. "Every day for six solid months I've had to try really hard to stay alive."
But poet Lewis, who explored the subject in her book Sunbathing In The Rain, said that her research while a fellow at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study at Harvard had suggested different findings.
"I'd argue the opposite, that given that writers do spend a lot of time on their own, and that the worldly rewards for poetry are minuscule, and given that most of the time you don't know whether what you are doing is any good, it's amazing that writers don't suffer more," she said, describing poets as "the SAS of the depression gang", willingly taking themselves into difficult terrain for their work.
But, she said, in some ways, the art itself helps you through the minefield. "There is something in the principles of art that is not depressive, that's so joyful," Lewis said. And she added that the idea that you have to suffer to produce art is nonsense: "You have to be well. If you're properly clinically depressed, you can't think about rhyme."

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

...I have two new things: "Back Yard" up at Matchbook Lit and also "Monetary Scar" in audio form as read by Mel Bosworth for Dark Sky Magazine. Both are here under "Words In Print."

...I have just discovered an amazing writer. She is genius. I don't know how she escaped me until now. Jayne Anne Phillips. She shoots volts in every sentence, sometimes lightning and bullets, arrows and saws in a sentence. I'm reading her story collection, "Black Tickets." I'm reading it slowly, much the same way James Franco rationed water in the movie "127 Hours." I don't want it to end. Jayne Anne even has a blurb from my favorite writer ever, Raymond Carver, on the back book jacket. Finding great new writing and great new music are two of my favorite things.

...I have been waking up at 4am the last few days. It's not so bad. Actually, it's kind of nice. At that hour the world is dark and still, everyone ensnared in their REM sleep. It feels like I'm getting a head start on people. This morning at around five-thirty I finished Marcy Dermansky's very fine and quirky novel, "Bad Marie." The entire time I read it I kept hearing the narrator's voice from "Pushing Daisies" in my head for some reason. Next, I'm getting her book, "Twins."

...I have three more books and I'll have again read 100 for the year. Next year I will read a lot but I don't think I'll make it a resolution to hit 100. Too much pressure. I find myself selecting thin books. Besides, I read so much stuff online now, both for pleasure and for my gig at Metazen.

...I need an agent. Can you get me one? I would love you madly and a long time if you could do that for me. Come January, I am going to start actively looking. I have a guide book sitting inches from my right hand. Inside are the names of every book publisher, agent and editor. The thing is a tome, larger than a Stephen King novel. I will get to it soon.

...That last thought leads me to share this (If you're a writer, it'll be interesting, if you're not one, you can probably just click off and I'll find something juicy for you next time.)

...Tina Wexler shares how to get an Agent:
1. Write a really amazing query. Which is to say: take your time, try describing your work multiple ways until you find the best approach, read successful queries online and have as many people as possible read yours so that you’re certain it makes sense and is a shiny apple.

2. Demonstrate knowledge of an agent's list. This doesn’t mean you have to read every book they’ve ever sold—I leave that job to my mom—but by showing them you know a bit about who they represent, you’re telling agents you’ve done your research on who to query.

3. Do your research on who to query. Period.

4. Write a really amazing manuscript. Which is to say: take your time, put your work through multiple revisions, read published works in your genre, and consider joining a critique group or finding a writing partner whom you trust who can help make your manuscript a shiny apple.

5. Be nice. Agents, like most everyone, want to work with people who are personable. This does not, however, mean “Fawn over the agent” or “Send a bushel of apples to the agent.”

6. Don’t ask me, “Why all the talk about apples?” because if you’ve read my client Donna Gephart's How to Survive Middle School, you already know it’s because I'm constantly daydreaming about Bubbe’s Jewish Apple Cake. But do ask other questions you may have. Be a part of the conversation. Agents want critical thinkers who take this getting-published thing seriously.

6 ½. Take this getting-published thing seriously. There’s plenty of fun to be had, but remember, this is a business, not a hobby or a get-rich-quick scheme. Agents want hard workers, writers dedicated to their craft who view getting published as the first step of a long journey, writers whom they will want to be with on that journey.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

…I have a new poem, "AZ" up at Dark Chaos and also here under "Words In Print."

…Sometimes I wonder if I produce too much writing. For me, it's like when someone's water pipes have burst and they're left wading through a maw of floating paper and ink. I have over 550 stories and/or poems written, with only half of that published and at least a hundred pieces just sitting around waiting to be sopped up by a broken water mane. Sure, it's a good problem to have versus writer's block, but it can get a little overwhelming at times.

…The last three days have been good though. I've had nine pieces accepted. It still never gets old. It's like having your kid say, "I love you." They could tell you that a billion times and each one would pluck you right in the heart.

…My daugher and I saw, "The Fighter" yesterday. I give it an A-. Christian Bale is a marvel. He's so thin in this, not quite as emaciated as in "The Machinist," but close. And he's wiry and manic and just brilliant. Mark Walberg is terrific, and cute Amy Adams is just too adorable. The mom and sisters in the film hit a little close to home for me. You should see this film. It will win Oscars. I guarantee it. And at a few different junctures in the movie you'll want to jump out of your seat and cheer. (How often does cinema do that anymore?)

…Here are some random, good bits culled from "Field Guide to Flash Fiction," edited by the fabulous Tara Masih:

…"Hold infinity in the palm of your hand." William Blake
…"Finding a good flash is like sighting a comet, all the more glorious for it being rare." Shappard and Thomas
…"Flash fiction is fiercely condensed, almost like a lyric poem; it explodes itself to a single, overpowering incident; it bears symbolic weight." John Redfern
…"Everybody seems to be writing this sort of yarn, for it appears to be the easiest form of fictional composition….In reality, the short-short is one of the most didfficult forms…because it must embody all the technique and consummate skill required in short-story construction and 'then some'. It requires tremendoujs--and skillful--condensation and repression. It must contain all the inherent drama in short-story forms…But its techinque can be mastered if you understand…its fundamental requirements." Robert Oberfirst
…"Stories condense time." Tara Masih

Thursday, December 16, 2010

…I have a new story, "The Pride" up at 52/250 A Year of Flash. It's also here under "Words In Print." I love 52/250. The idea is you write a story a week, but the piece can be no longer than 250 words. Not one syllable more. Participating in this has really reminded me that when writing, and especially when writing short fiction, every word has to sing, have purpose, and be crucial. Telling an evocative, resonating tale in two-hundred fifty words is very difficult. Try it.

…My daughter and I saw "127 Hours" with James Franco. It was a very well done film by Danny Boyle, who also did "Slumdog Millionaire," (one of my faves) "Millions," (a great little movie) "Sunshine" (a nifty sci-fi story) and "28 Days" (a zombie film I've not seen.) Franco deserves an Oscar nomination. It's amazing how tense this movie is, and stays throughout, given it's basically shot inside a crevice between two rocks. Go see it!

…I'm reading "Field Guide to Writing Flash Fiction." I got it a while ago when I first started sending work out but never got around to reading it. Mostly, it's inspirational to me. Here are some great bits that I enjoyed, and you might, too:

…"Every writer has a number of unwritten novels in the form of flash fictions.
--The novel can win by points, the short story has to win by KO.
--Flash fiction can only be resolved by sudden revelation, as wonder. Flash fiction is a fictional truth--an epiphany.
-- We consume time at such velocity that we are probably 20 years ahead of ourselves. Fiction is a time seed, it repudiates the waste of language in a dedundant future.
Flash fiction wanders, I realize now, between waking up and waking down. The fictional, sudden vision occurs when your own soul finally teaches you and brings a fistful of words." -- Julio Ortega

…"Don't wait to be ready. Start before you know what you're saying. Hell, start right now.
No, now.
Put some stuff in the first sentence and carve in a working verb that is slightly out of place and ask it to do something it hasn't done before or been paid to do. It shouldn't exactly fit. By the time you finish, it will fit perfectly, own the place, be the boss…
…Don't us dirty words, such as they are, hoping to jump-start the engine with explosives. It doesn't work. Boom goes the dirty word and then what. Smoke? Not even. Use cozy words that we haven't seen around for a while, some old word with dandruff on its shoulders and ink stain on its shirt pocket." -- Ron Carlson

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

…I feel like ranting a little.

…News today about Ryan Reynolds and Scarlett Johansson getting divorced after two years. Same with Michael C. Hall (from Showtime's Dexter) and Jennifer Carpenter who plays his sister on the show (they made it two.two years.) And evidentially Elizabeth Hurley tweeted that she's now separated from her husband. I think Avril Lavine and Deryk Whembly lasted a year and a half after their lavish wedding and photo spread in People magazine. Kate Walsh, from Private Practice, didn't even make it eleven months.
What the?
Is that how it goes? Does everyone cash in their chips as soon as things get a tad rocky in the relationship? Or is it just Hollywood? "We grew apart" is a pretty commonly stated reason. "We fell out of love," is another. Most couple keep their cars longer than they do their spouses. Sure time is going to test you as a wedded pair, and time is going to provide some really tough challenges. The bloom is going to wear off, but you have to grow through that. I like what Rob Bell said: "Love is really just teamwork." Notice the word "work." And the first half of that word: "team." You've got to put some effort into it, elbow grease, some sweat and tears. Any joker can throw in the towel.
Sure, marriage can be a tough gig at times. I know my own has had it's up's and down's, but I can't imagine not being married to my wife.

…I read in the USA Today two weeks ago that 32% of all Americans think marriage is obsolete. 64% of young males think it will become obsolete in their lifetime. Yikes.

…Everyone wants to be happy, but no one is willing to expend any energy to get happy. So we buy a new outfit, new shoes, a slick car, a bigger house, a nice promotion, and yes, we are indeed happy for a month or so, until that rush wears off. Then we need something else.

…Contrary to popular belief, money does not, in fact, buy happiness. This is from The New York Times Review of Books: "Average happiness in the United States has not increased over the past fifty years even though real per capita income has increased greatly. And though most people think they would be happier if they had more money, they typically react to an increase in wealth or income with a tmeporary spike in their reported happiness, but soon adapt and revert to their former level."

…Why do Americans love their happy endings so much? Probably because, anymore, they can only get them in fiction and film.

…Paul McCartney sang, "You think the people would have had enough of silly love songs" while right around that same time Joy Division sang "Love Will Tear Us Apart." You decide.

…I don't know. I don't have any answers. It just seems like, generally speaking, we Americans are getting lazier with each new year. We expect everything to work perfectly and if it doesn't, we toss it or we find a new drug or we sue somebody or we get a boob job, a tummy tuck.

…I know, I'm crabby. Grumpy people should not post their angry prattle on blogs. Too late.

Monday, December 13, 2010

…I have new things up:
"Bullet Proof" @ Bartleby Snopes
"I'll Never Tell" @ Left Hand Waving
"My Mother, Marilyn Monroe" @ Blue Print Review
"Repo," "Rendezvous," and "Bath Time" @ Orion Headless
"Thrum" @ 52/250 A Year of Flash
"Sea Creatures" @ Indigo Rising
All of these are also up here under "Words In Print"

…I am back from having run the Tucson Marathon yesterday. Tucson, as a city, is not my cup of tea. Everything there is mountains and rubble and dirt. It is all beige. The landscape is beige, the homes, the malls. People have dirt lawns. Really. Well, they're beige, pebbled yards. Oh, but there are also cacti to bring some added hue.
I'm not slamming Tucson, just saying it's not my type of place.
If you saw where I live, you'd probably--other than the lake--have a similar distate, but for other reasons. Where I live is very rural and red neck. People post handwritten signs on trees advertising their day care or auto removal businesses. There are delapidated barns. There are cows and sheep and ostriches, lamas, goats and lots of horses. Some yards have rusted vehicles sulking in them. Sometimes it bothers me quite a lot if people are not keeping up their property, but overall, the advantages of living here, to me, outweigh being somewhere else. I've lived in nice, upperscale suburbs. They have some wonderful attributes. But at this point in my life, I prefer the raw, truth of the country.
So, what I'm saying is: we all have different tastes, and thank goodness for that.
I just wrote a very short piece about a man who lives in a tin shanty next to a garbage dump while a rich tourist town flourishes miles below. This man, you think he is jaded until the end when you learn he believes himself--because of the family he has--to be, in fact, rich. (Can you tell that my trip to the garbage dumps in Puerto Vallarta still sort of haunts me?)

…About the marathon--I did horribly. Really. It was my worst performance out of all eight. I'm giving up the marathon. I may do halves, but the marathon has become more than my nemesis. It has become my master. It has owned me and broken me and I am escaping from its bondage.
How do I feel today? Thin. Sore. My bloody toes from yesterday have gone pusy--yoke yellow rimmed with green (don't worry, I'm draining and soaking.) Walking down or up stairs is painful. It feels as if furnace-heated rods have been implanted in each thigh and, with every step, they melt my muscles from the inside out.
But that will all subside in a day or so. I've been there before.

…I finished five books while I was gone. "Bad Marie" by Marcy Dermansky is wonderful--a little naughty and a lot mischevious, but it's an addictive novel. Marcy is some skilled writer.

…I like this: "It's easy, after all, not to be a writer. Most people aren't writers, and very little harm comes to them." -- Julian Barnes, "Flaubert's Parrot"

Thursday, December 9, 2010

…I have a new story, "Talk To Me" up at Ramshackle Review and also here under "Words In Print." There are some of my favorite writers in that particular issue of Ramshackle. Check it out.

…Did I tell you that I'm trying to be a better person? I am. So far it's going okay. If there were one of those fundraising thermometers charting my progress the red mercury (which is really just red felt pen marking) would be at about ten percent. It's hard to be a better person. If you don't believe me, just try it.

…Today was an interesting day--three rejections. I can't remember the last time I had three rejections in one day. I might not ever have. It keeps a person humble, not that I need help on that front.
The upside is I did also have two acceptances, one a story I've always loved, "Sea Creatures" that's had a hard time finding a home.

…I am reading ZXZZYVA. Ever hear of it? It's San Francisco- based and has been around a long time. It is very ecclectic to say the least, with drawings and photos and long fiction and poetry. Some of the longer pieces are so odd that they're boring. Every once in a while, however, there's a good piece. I read one tonight and I'm going to send the author a note.
I'm also reading Tara Masih's "Where the Dog Star Grows." It's excellent.

…Tomorrow I leave for warmer climes. The marathon is Sunday. It's very probable that I won't write anymore on this blog until Monday.

--So I leave you with this gem that I rather like: "Nature is a haunted house--but Art--a house that tries to be haunted." -- Emily Dickinson, letter 459

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

…I have some new things: three poems--"Worry Warts," "The Palm of Your Hand," and "The Photos That No Longer Look Like You" up at Heavy Bear as well as "The Infection" up at 52/250 A Year of Flash. All pieces are also here under "Words In Print."

…Do you ever lose stuff from your computer? It happens to me from time to time. I must delete it accidentally. Or else it occurs when my computer restarts. Windows is constantly upgrading itself (wouldn't it be nice if humans could do that as easily?) and then the file or whatever disappears. In any event, I had a chunk of blog material saved and now it is gone-ah-rhea. It was funny stuff and stats about funny things. If the material ever re-surfaces, I will be sure to share it.

…I continue to be astonished by Facebook, and specifically how (…what? what's the adjective--unwise? foolish?) uncouth people are on it. People have open cat fights. People are beligerant. People sling their political agendas around. And this happens, not once in blue moon, but ALL THE TIME. Truly remarkable.

…I am running a marathon this weekend. I try to be optomistic about most things, but I don't have a lovely sense about this race. You should say a prayer for me. It can be a little one.

…Just before I started writing this blog post I got the disease again. It started with a photo that made me write the line "We sleep on trains, uncoiling our freedom and forging our fear…" and then turned into a dozen poems in a matter of fifty minutes. Bam Bam Bam like a Gatling gun.

…I love this: "Write as if you were dying. At the same time, assume you write for an audience consisting solely of temrinal patients. That is, after all, the case. What would you beging writing if you knew you would die soon? What could you say to a dying person that wound not enrage by its triviality?" -- Annie Dillard

Saturday, December 4, 2010

…Last summer my family and I went on a mission trip to Puerto Vallarta. On the outskirts of this tourist destination lay vast areas of rugged terrain and severe poverty. On a plateau overlooking the valley and ocean sits an entire ramshackle community who live feet from a sprawling garabage dump. These makeshift homes are literally shanty huts, twelve-by-twelve, with tin roofs and no front doors. Children play naked in the dusty and garbage-strewn roads. Bone-thin dogs saunter in the smoldering heat.
We spent three days feeding kids at a school and made a visit to the garbage dump one evening. For years, the dump was an open area where whole families lived, toddlers and babies, too, with no access to clean water, literally mired in disease and filth. In the last few years improvements have been made: no one is allowed to actually live in the dump, a shower has been installed, and walls have been erected around the dump.
If one is lucky and works hard, he or she might be able to make up to $3.00 U.S. The workers are intensly serious and when a new garbage truck trundles up the hill, everyone sprints to it, hoping to be the first to rifle through the discarded contents in search of recycable materials.
All big cities have their unsightly areas, yet it seemed a perverse irony that the dump town exists just a few miles from where cruise ships bigger than mountains sit docked while rich tourists troll shops, looking for ways to spend money.
Like many poor people, those we met in the far hills seemed as happy as anybody. They were immensely well-mannered, humble and gracious, and also quite lively.
I wrote this account, "Canto Del Sol" ("Edge of the Sun") about our trip.

Canto Del Sol

The days are made of dust here.
To keep it from blinding us, we learn to squint and shield our eyes. To keep from choking to death, we learn to breathe in shallow swallows.
Overhead, the sun seethes like a yellow scab. All around, ochre rubble simmers in the smoldering heat. Rails of trash line the roads, following us as far as we go, even up these remote hills. Our driver watches my eyes, then shakes his head and says in Spanglish, “This whole place has made of filth.”
We suck down dust. Dust stings our eyes. Dust crystals move in our hair, across our scalps like spiders. Dust drips muddy down our skins and shirts.
“Is that it?” a girl asks as our vehicle approaches the final incline.
I nod.
The dump is a domed volcano, walled in with dirt.
“What are those?” someone asks, pointing.
Vultures rim the mouth of the mountain. A hundred of them stand side by side, black hodlums, bigger than toddlers. They eye us accusatorily, as if contemplating an ambush. Their plumage bleeds oil and they cock their crooked necks the closer we get.
“Look,” someone says. In the sky, hundreds more soar.
The guide tells us how last week a little boy beat one of the birds off with a stick, fighting it for half a sandwich he’d found in the dump. The guide laughs, as if he’s told us a joke.
He tells us it’s too hot to work the garbage. “At night we go,” he says.
The school is minutes away. We unload supplies and watch the kids stride out single-file, in uniform. Their hands are tiny mitts, but clean, taking the bread and rolls, the pale rice water in plastic cups.
“Thank you, mister.” “Thank you, lady,” each one says.
To them, my son is an American Godzilla, a perfect freak of nature: long-limbed, blonde, six three but just having turned fourteen. After they’ve eaten, the children attack him, hoards of gangly boys and giggling girls.
At another station my daughter translates while their group strings beaded bracelets and rings. Next door my wife leads jump rope and swirls a hula hoop around her waist, up over her neck, through both arms, down around one ankle.
We sweat and laugh, and for several hours this is life.
At dusk, we drive downwind of the dump where the reek of ripe rot boils the night air. Our lungs fill and burn.
Inside the gate, patrons move about the waste and ruin in haste. They scavenge for sheets of metal, cardboard, plastic, glass, anything that can be recycled. A triumphant ten hours might, on rare occasion, bring as much as $3.00 U.S.
They wear miner helmets with flashlight beams that cut arcs across the heaps where beaver-sized rats scurry back and forth. They sort through puddings of moist, black muck and shake maggot off their gloves and move onto the next mound.
A few stray dogs lay around, curled into themselves like the arms of a bathrobe. When I whistle at one, it is too weak to raise anything but its eyes, the mongrel just a coat, ribs and skull.
As the van door opens, a line forms and I hate myself for thinking “prisoners.”
We hand out sandwiches and rolls and rice milk. Their faces are coffee bean-brown, the whites of their eyes glowing radioactive. They smile and nod and shuffle away to let the next one in. It goes all night, as long as the food lasts.
“Si, gracias.”
“De nada.”
“Si? Este?”
“No importa.”
But the truth is everything is important—tin or glass, the discarded and ruined.
A sour milk jug has meaning.
We shake hands and lock up. We take flash photos.
On the ride back down the hill my son works it over in his head, how we will leave tomorrow but the vultures will stay, how the children and the workers and the dump will all still be here.
“It doesn’t make any sense,” he says. “It doesn’t seem fair.”
“I know.”
“What good did we do coming here?” he asks. “We didn’t make a difference.”
I remember the way those kids swarmed him, pulling at his waist. I remember the songs and giggling.
“Yes, we did.”
I want to say, It was something. I want to say, Maybe the difference will take root in you.
But I don’t. I don’t say anything. Instead, I put my arm around him and squeeze.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

…I've been in a bit of a tailspin lately. Or maybe I've been floating. Whatever it is, I haven't been making much progress. I did, however, write three pretty good poems in the bathtub yesterday. It's where I get most of my best work done. Something about the rumble of the jets and the suds (good suds are really hard to come by, you wouldn't think so but it's true) and reading while sipping cabernet gets my mind working. I wrote a poem with this opening line-- "I dream of the snow storm again, that we die when we run out of footprints." I borrowed the second half of the line from Billy Collins. I had no idea where this poem would go, but as can be expected with me, it took a very sharp, tragic turn at the end.
…Speaking of Billy Collins. Some of his poems are good, but many are just sort of blah. Yet he's a poet laureate. Go figure. I'm almost done with the second of two collections by him, so I think I can have an opinion.

…My son asked me what a nomad is today. Yesterday at McDonald's we debated what is worse for a person--cigarettes or marijuanna. Not that either are good. I said ganja is worse, because a person can smoke a cig and drive the same but on pot you can become unnerved and dangerous and do stupid things. Last night he and I watched "Arrested Development" and it was a pleasure to hear him talk about how brilliant the show is/was.
…It's fun to watch my son growing and learning. It's the definition of joy.

…I no longer have good hair days. I had one in, like, somewhere around the second week of November. But that was it. Something has happened to my hair. It looks like the top of a bamboo tree hut after a windstorm. And product doesn't seem to help either.

…I want to see the film, "Little Furniture." You should go see it if you can. Go tonight or tomorrow. Take a date and friends and talk it up, put your fab reviews on Facebook and tweet about it.
…What would we do without Indie films? It seems the 3-D big budget Avatar types are pushing out the little guys the way Barnes and Noble and now the Kindle are crushing mom-and-pop book stores.

…The new Kanye West disc is really good, but not 5 Stars good, as Rolling Stone would have you believe. The new Kid Cudi is growing on me. It's pretty different for a rapper. Today I listened to all of a Keane album while on the treadmill. Florence and the Machine takes lots of repeated listens. She's a cross between Annie Lenox, Chrissie Hind and the girl that sings Black Horse and the Cherry Tree, or whatever that song I'm thinking of was called.

…I sent a submission to Litsnack recently. They have published me before. I like them a lot. I like this a lot as well (It's printed in their submission guidelines):

4 Comment(s)

• Great poems explode like fireworks
• Great stories explore change--specifically in people, places, or ideas. There must be transformation!
• In great language, syntax is lean, word choice economical
• Use specific nouns and strong verbs
• Kill adjectives and adverbs
• Great stories use all of the traditional plot points (exposition, inciting moment, rising action, climax, falling action, conclusion)
• Or, if not, they at least answer all of their own questions (that's Chekhov, baby!)
• In poems, create emotion through imagery, figurative language, and specific, evocative details
• Same for stories, except add strong characters and vivid setting
• Do the above, and theme takes care of itself
• In short, good literature doesn't have to be long
• Our motto at LITSNACK: "Easy in. Easy out. Nobody gets hurt."
See ya at the watering hole.