Thursday, December 23, 2010

"Music God."

How can I entice you to watch this? Trust me. It's the kindest thing you could do for yourself now, as you sit at your computer. If you have time to surf the Web, give yourself the gift of twelve minutes with this woman and her story, then share it.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

It's Happening Again

I'm blogging. It's December. Same pattern as last year.


This semester kicked my ass. I developed a new course (Transcending Gender), submitted a series of proposals ranging from more new classes to a writing workshop/retreat in Italy, taught a flash fiction workshop, banged out the greater part of the final draft of my book (still banging out the remainder), and did the usual: crammed four weeks from top to bottom with student conferences, worked a second job, helped raise two kids, took out the trash on Tuesday nights, that sort of thing. With all this to take care of, I had to let go of something. Blogging and marathon training fell by the wayside. For the running, there's always next year. For the blogging, there's now.


This has never happened before: three of my students mentioned this blog in their end-of-semester evaluations. How odd. Why? If you're reading this, O former student, what brought you here? Drop a line, whoever you are.


I can't get over how much I enjoyed the Transcending Gender course. I'm not a gender scholar--not really. But I teach in a writing program that allows its faculty to expand the range of their course offerings by pursuing their interests. And, as both a fiction writer and actor, I've long been interested the world between genders. Gender crossings. Cross dressing. Rocky Horror Picture Show. I'm intrigued still, and I look forward to revisiting the subject (and the course) in the coming months.

For now, though, I should write. Back to work!


One more thing. If you're about to die, Joanna Newsom will save your life:

Don't die.


Thanks for stopping by, dear reader, whoever and wherever you may be.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Consider Green Lakes and the Idiocy of Clocks

Tonight, for the first time since 1638, we get a total eclipse of the moon on the longest night of the year.

(originally published in In Posse Review, a long, long time ago)

Zack is alone and naked in the outhouse. He peers through the door's crescent moon window at a sun-drenched patch of weeds scattered with beach toys and badminton racquets. His family's dilapidated A-frame stands about fifty feet away. A duck quacks overhead. Girls' voices shout "Marco!" and answer "Polo!" at the lake's edge, just out of sight. Zack cries, "Mom?"
Twenty minutes ago Zack's cousin Billy stole the T-shirt, cut-off jeans and fruit-of-the-Loom briefs Zack had left on a hook in the outhouse. Without noticing, Zack had pulled the outhouse door almost shut behind him and hung his swim trunks on a hook. Billy sneaked up, snatched the trunks, and ran off, cackling, into the woods.

Now Zack rises to his tiptoes, puts his mouth to the crescent moon, and whispers, "Help!" His head begins to whirl from sweat and the stink of the toilet hole. He could bolt for the woods, but the trees hide a jungle of poison ivy. He could sprint for the cabin, but someone would spot him. Tearing off two sheets of toilet paper, he wipes his dripping forehead.

All of a sudden the crescent moon goes dark. The door rattles against the flimsy latch. Uncle Bruce, who talks as if every word is crammed up inside his nose, says, "Hello?"

Zack shuts his eyes. "Just a minute!"

"That you, Zacky boy?"

"Yes!" Zack wraps a few layers of toilet paper around his sweaty groin and buttocks, but the paper instantly clumps and dissolves. He wads it up and tosses it into the toilet hole.

"Hustle your butt! I gotta take a dump." Uncle Bruce whistles "Born to Run" as he leans a shoulder against the door. The boards creak. "Come on, Zacky! You get your little pecker stuck in the hole?"

"I'm fine!"

Uncle Bruce crams his face against the moon hole. "You alone?"

Zack squeezes his naked backside into the corner. His forehead brushes an ancient strip of fly paper suspended from a nail. "Of course!"

The latch shakes free and the door flies open. Bruce's chubby head thrusts into the outhouse. Zack slips through the crevice of open air between the door frame and his uncle's enormous belly. Bruce's fat fingers clutch at his shoulders, slipping off in Zack's rush of sweat and panic. The boy hurdles a beach ball and sprints toward the cabin.

Uncle Bruce shouts, "Zacky! You're naked!"

Zack stubs his toe against a rock in the weeds, but loses only a step. His mother comes onto the porch with a gin and tonic in one hand and a bag of potato chips in the other. Her big brown eyes meet Zack's. She tosses back her head and squawks with laughter. Potato chips scatter.

Zack veers left toward the woods. Billy steps out of the bushes. He has Zack's swim trunks draped over his hair like an Indian headdress. He cocks a handful of mud at his ear, ready to fire. Zack pivots and dashes for the lake, but old Mrs. Alstead from next door stands directly between him and the water. A wicker basket filled with driftwood tumbles from her trembling hands. She screeches, "Zachary Norris, put on your clothes before I call the cops!"

Zack's cousin Ellie and three other girls rise from the water in pastel bathing suits; one by one, they point at Zack and scream. He wheels toward the cabin, leapfrogs the croquet mallets, and darts for the far corner of the house as Uncle Bruce's voice rises above the cacophony:

"Get him, Billy!"

Something cold and wet slaps hard against Zack's bottom. As if in slow motion -- with his mother's laughter and the little girls' shrieks echoing in his ears -- Zack's knees buckle. He trips and falls toward the weeds, toward years of shame and humiliation, toward wretched interviews for pathetic jobs, toward belittling breakups with women he truly loves and who never really love him back, toward a lifetime of scratching his way to some semblance of respectability -- down, down, down he falls through a thousand holidays and gatherings when the story of this long ago summer day gets told and retold, when the family hoots and laughs because there he landed, face-down in the weeds with his pale buttocks exposed to the world through a thick, dark splatter of mud.

That one won't be in the book.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

I Can't Think of a Title for This Post

Nine songs come up when I search the word "untitled" on my iTunes library. Tonight I went looking for the R.E.M. song "Untitled," knew I'd get the Cure, but didn't expect this many. Here they are:

(Sadly, the only version I could find of the next song--R.E.M.'s "Untitled"--is an instrumental cover, but it's not a bad one.)

[The next is an alternate take of "Sugar High" but it's listed as untitled on the CD. Couldn't find it, so here's a live version with an interview for Japanese TV. Duffy was big there, I gather.]

I have a great memory of hearing this last song in concert. I was there the night Peter Himmelman first publicly performed this ballad. It was nothing short of spiritual. Devastating. Awe inspiring. Also life affirming. I can't speak for this video, but the song itself will blow you away if you give it a shot.

Monday, November 29, 2010

November Spawned a Monster

I've withdrawn from online life--first from the online writers' workshop I belong to, then from this blog, a couple months ago, and my other, and now from Facebook. It feels right, right now, to keep to myself. All that online strutting and fretting grew tiresome and bleak. No doubt I'll come back to the blog and Facebook, in phases, as I have for some time.

But for now, I'll stay quiet. Sort of.

Here's this, from Morrissey, with interesting additions by...someone else:

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

I Have No Purple Shirts

...nor pants, nor socks, nor shoes, nor sweaters, nor underwear, nor glasses. So today I wear my daughter's purple Mardi Gras beads and stand ready to bust the heads of bigoted bullies.

By the way, when I went for lunch on campus, I saw precious little purple. It's a shame, really, that I was surprised by this. I should know by now.

Monday, October 11, 2010

It Gets Worse (Take #2)

Here's the higher-quality, tightly edited version of my "It Gets Worse" video:

Though I had the idea last Saturday, I was slow to put togehter the video. On Wednesday evening, someone else beat me to it and scored the 20,000 60,000 85,000+ views and attention from everybody's hero, Dan Savage. But I got over it quickly. That other guy and I had the same idea, more or less at the same time. And the point has been made.

Here's the competition:

Uploaded by FirstLastName. - Explore international webcam videos.

I think it's funnier than mine but perhaps less cutting.

Thursday, October 7, 2010


Having established my credentials as a part-time, whenever-inspiration-strikes, fly-by-night satirist, I thought I'd direct my special gifts toward Dan Savage's It Gets Better Project. There's a higher quality, tightly edited version in the works, so consider this Take #1:

Monday, August 23, 2010

Kurt Vonnegut's Final Interview

"The cause of hair loss in males is adultery."

And other gems...

I can't count the levels of Sad.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Antony & the Johnsons, "Thank You for Your Love"

Earnest music, just out, for which my love knows no bounds:

(Updated 1/31/12 with a different video player. The original was apparently deleted. Also, I needed this song today. Thank you, Antony!)

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Open for Business

My new blog for writers, The 39th Draft, is now officially open for business. Click over, check it out, add it to your favorites, and if you've got your own blog then please add a link. Comments are invited!

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Can short and long stories coexist?

"Flash fiction and long short stories don't work together in a collection. It's nice to have a shorter story after a longer one."
- [a writer whose opinion I respect, posted in a private discussion forum]
At the moment, my story collection includes nine longer stories (1,200 to 7,000 words--most in the middle of that range) and sixteen short-shorts (100-1,000--again, most in the middle). I like the rhythm this creates. But it may be jarring for the reader who dives in on page one without noticing the differing page-lengths on the contents page. I suppose that reader would adjust soon enough. Anyway, I've done away with the sections that once divided the stories by length, and this way feels right. In some cases, now, I split the longer stories with one flash, sometimes two, once even three. And the final "long" story is the shortest. As it stands, never does the book go from one long story to another.

I like this. And I worry about this.

Dear reader of story collections: What are your thoughts on books that include both flash fiction and longer stories? The best one I can think of is Stuart Dybek's The Coast of Chicago. Should the short and long be segregated?

Thanks for your time.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Here, have a Tom Waits concert.

And don't say I never brought you back anything from one of my trips to Youtubia. This was recorded at the Shoreline Amphitheatre in Mountain View, California, on 30 October 1999.

Part 1

Part 2

Friday, August 6, 2010


I'm not a big tennis fan, but this one goes out to Martina Navratilova, who has this to say about her life (in this piece on her fight for survival against breast cancer):

I think anybody that survives the communist system, they're pretty tough! And then being gay on top of that, that wasn't helpful. As they say, that which does not kill you makes you stronger, so I am pretty strong.
And here's my phavorite iconic, gender-bending, Jewish, Lesbian folksinger, Phranc singing Navratilova's praises:

I met Phranc, by the way, at a tiny little concert she did at the Colorado College in Colorado Springs. Talked to her for several minutes after the show, and we exchanged a couple of notes and postcards after that.

I miss mail.

Godspeed, Martina!

UPDATE: Now I'm on a Phranc kick today, and I just rediscovered this awesome adaptation of an awesome song:

Thanks, Phranc and whoever put this together. Brilliant! And you gotta love the Ernest Hemingway moment there.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Rostropovich and Rumi

The Steambath
(a poem by Jelaluddin Rumi)

Steam fills the bath, and frozen figures on the wall
open their eyes, wet and round, Narcissus eyes
that see enormous distances, and new ears
that love the details of any story. The figures dance
like friends diving and coming up again.

Steam spills into the courtyard. It’s the noise
of resurrection! They move from one corner
laughing across to the opposite corner. No one notices
how steam opens the rose of each mind,
fills every beggar’s cup solid with coins.
Hold out a basket. It fills up so well
that emptiness becomes what you want.

The judge and the accused forget the sentencing.
Someone stands up to speak, and the wood of the table
becomes holy. The tavern in that moment is actually made
of wine. The dead drink it in.
Then the steam evaporates.
Figures sink back into the wall, eyes blank,
ears just lines.
Now it’s happening again, outside.
The garden fills with bird and leaf sounds.

We stand in the wake of this chattering and grow airy.
How can anyone say what happens, even if each of us
dips a pen a hundred million times into ink?


The following video is graphic and, if you follow its instructions with the speed and vigor with which I attempted it, quite violent:

Someone should make a proper, real-world how-to-sew a button video, one that begins with several calm reassurances that you can do this, it's really hard, and you'll feel shame and embarrassment that you've lived this long in the world without making yourself even minimally useful, and moves on to slow-motion, multi-angle shots of each step. Such a video would run approximately twenty minutes long, but at least it would not require dozens of stops and starts and herky-jerky jumps back a few seconds to pick up where you left off.

Until that video becomes available for instant and frequent viewings, the Internet will never be my home.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Talk Talk, "Ascension Day"

Here is one of the best songs. Period.

That's a fanmade video shot in Beijing. Found it on Youtube, of course. Adore it, of course.

I am loving the music of Shearwater lately (Thanks, Axton!), but this song by Talk Talk effortlessly does everything Shearwater's working hard to do, and more.

Related post: "It's Getting Late in the Evening"

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

These Thoughts are the Thoughts I Think I Think

This sentence is the sentence I thought for hours and hours would be the first sentence of all the sentences in one of my novels:

These thoughts are the thoughts I think I think.
When I roll those words around in my skull, they sound good. They feel right. Their internal reptitions resonate with layers of meaning. They have texture and depth. But when I see them on the page, they slouch there, flat and lifeless. They die before they are born.

And so it goes.


I received notes from my publisher/editor last night. Though I was braced for the possibility of something jarring, almost everything she suggested makes the book feel better.

And we move closer, closer...


Apparently the bathroom down the hall from my office here at the university is adjacent to a bathroom on the other side of the wall. I'm in a somewhat obscure, out-of-the-way building--an old, converted dorm now serving as office space--and it's very quiet here. Usually.

But today I heard voices through the vent. Not professors' voices, but the voices of men who labor with their hands. They joked about taking their boss for a drive, tying him up, stuffing his pockets with rocks, and tossing him into a lake.

This was a joke. They laughed then spoke fondly of the boss then expressed sympathy for what he is going through at home with his disabled daughter or wife--I couldn't tell which.

Then they talked about plumbing.

The episode jarred me a bit, not least because it shook me out of the cerebral mental space I drift into when I'm here. This is where I write. This is where I read essays and critique essays and write essays and devise new strategies to more effectively teach the art of the essay. And it's where I concoct stories. This is not, for me, a place where real voices speak of murder and plumbing and other men's wives.


This violent clip from Barton Fink came to mind.


If I had seen either man, I might have felt obligated to report this incident. But, based on the compassionate discussion that followed the murder plot, I'm confident what I heard was idle jest, nothing more than the venting of tension.


Six years ago, I abandoned the novel I mention above. I got about 25,000 words in. It's the best thing I've written, but I couldn't continue in the narrator's first-person omniscient point of view. Somehow he could read the thoughts of others, feel their feelings, and see them in places when he was not there. His compassion was stunning, but I know that sooner or later I'd have to account for his apparent superpower. Or so I thought.

But maybe not.


These thoughts were the thoughts I thought I thought.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Monday Miscellany

- It's bloody hot here.

- I miss the ocean.

- I woke up this morning ("and I got myself a beer!") and thought, 'It's August. The book is scheduled for publication in October. Ack.' Or something like that. For my own sanity, I promised (myself) to go through the thing once more, word by word, sentence by sentence, and set it all free. That seemed to ease my mind a little.

- All too often, when I revise, I delete. I get out the scissors and cut. I slash away at the language, at the scenes, at the story, in an effort to stretch every sentence to its tautest point. I trim for tension. I cut for consequence. And sometimes I overdo it. This last run through the book has to be about releasing tension and letting every word fly.

- I think about other things--say, my family, my job, my dog, my hygiene--but mostly now, when I'm alone, I think about the book.

- I'm meeting this afternoon with a group of student writers who seem to want to work with me to enrich the creative writing community at O.U. I say 'seem to' because they've got their projects, and I've got mine. Fortunately, we also have enthusiasm for the other's ideas. So off we go....

- Despite having hosted a monthly flash fiction workshop for a decade, it's surprisingly challenging to consolidate my thoughts about the genre and approach it as a teacher.

- That's a symptom of a larger social malady of mine. Whenever anyone wants to talk to me about fiction, I resist the impulse toward expressing expertise. And it's not just that I want to avoid coming across as arrogant. It's that deep down I know what a monumental, daunting task it is to shape experience and impulse into readable fiction. It's by far the hardest thing I have ever tried to do. So if it's so difficult for me, the feeling goes, then why on earth would I presume the role of expert? Yet I'm a writer. And I'm a teacher. What the hell else am I supposed to do? It's a conflict. I'm working on it.

- I'm also working on making more productive use of my time. Which tells me I ought to move on to something else. I hope to come back throughout the day to add to this post. In the meantime, what's your favorite Colin Moulding song? (See the post below.)

King for a Day: The Songs of Colin Moulding

I'm such a devoted Andy Partridge fan that I often fail to appreciate the simpler, smoother work of his XTC songwriting partner Colin Moulding. Truth be told, I must admit that Moulding suffers in comparison. On any given XTC album, you'll find, say, eleven songs by Partridge and three by Moulding. For my money, Partridge stands as the best pop songwriter this side of Lennon/McCartney; so, naturally, the less ambitious and far more accessible Moulding ends up looking and sounding somewhat pedestrian. But recently I made a list of Moulding songs for my iPod, and his work holds up beautifully.

I was surprised to learn that he was responsible for several of the band's early hits ("Making Plans for Nigel," "Life Begins at the Hop," and "Generals and Majors"), and he wrote some of my favorite XTC and Dukes of Stratosphear songs, including "Ball and Chain," "Vanishing Girl," "Grass," "Sacrificial Bonfire," "The Smartest Monkeys," and "Boarded Up." And I imagine that working and getting along with Andy Partridge wasn't the easiest thing a person could do for 25 years or so. I bet Colin's a swell guy, too.

Here's an example--"King for a Day" from Oranges and Lemons, complete with an eccentric and horrifying introduction by Andy Partridge, himself:

(Gotta love the shorts.)

And here's earlier Moulding masterpiece--"The Meeting Place" from Skylarking:

In fact, Moulding may have peaked on XTC's best record, Skylarking. He contributed "The Meeting Place" (above), "Sacrificial Bonfire" (at the end of this post), "Big Day," "Dying," and this glorious song, "Grass":

This one isn't a proper video at all, but I love the song--"Boarded Up" from the final XTC album, Wasp Star:

And here's an unofficial, fan-made video for my favorite Moulding song, "Sacrificial Bonfire" (also from Skylarking):

For he's a jolly good fellow!

Saturday, July 31, 2010

Monday, July 26, 2010

Rootsy Music

Stephen Duesner gets in the best zinger I've read in a music review in a long time--at the expense (and to the benefit) of Blue Giant:

Their understanding of indie pop music remains as strong as ever, but their take on roots doesn't get much further than the Cracker Barrel off the interstate.

Makes me want to buy the album anyway, because sometimes that's as far off the interstate as I want to go.


Here's an older, sweet one from Blue Giant:

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Recommended Read: "The Husband Across the Hall"

If you've got three minutes for an encounter with flash fiction, read Andrew Roe's "The Husband Across the Hall." Here's the opening paragraph:

There is a husband across the hall who looks at me. Two doors down, to the left, opposite side, near the emergency exit, with a wife I never see, yet I know she exists because there have been periodic sightings over the years, like the sightings of a rare, delicate, beautifully named bird.

And here is Roe's blog: Title TK. Roe reads from his work next weekend in San Diego in what may well be this country's premiere reading series for up-and-coming writers: Jim Ruland's Vermin on the Mount. Wish I could be there. If you're within striking distance, I envy you.

Thanks for stopping by.

Monday, July 19, 2010


WE DID IT!!!!! Congrats to everyone for pulling together to break the WORLD RECORD! Yay for us! WOOHOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!! Great work, team. Great work! Now let's see if we can top ourselves in July. Come on! Less than two weeks left!

UPDATE: The original version of this post included an embedded video of the song "Hot! Hot! Hot!" by The Cure, which would play automatically for anyone and everyone who arrived at the main page of this blog. That was obnoxious. It was also inadvertent. Our sincerest apologies go out to anyone adversely affected by hearing this song.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Blogalicious Word of the Day

Pax Ravenna

My book's publisher, Ravenna Press, has a new blog called PAX RAVENNA: News emanating from the veins and arteries of Ravenna Press. If you enjoy my work--or if you don't, I suppose--I encourage you to wander over to show your support as a follower of the Ravenna blog, too. The followers' widget is near the top of the right-hand column. Ravenna is a fine press with many excellent books under its belt; and the blood flowing through those veins and arteries is some hardy, vital stuff, let me tell you. I'm proud to become a part of Kathryn Rantala's empire.

Come to think of it, I've been part of it for some time. Rantala published "Onion Ring," a short-short story of mine, in her journal Snow Monkey, back in 2002 or so.


While you're in a clicky mood, check out the latest "chapter" of Kathryn's current project, Anemone Sidecar.


And while I'm in a linky mood, Ravenna Press published one of my favorite books of fiction from the past couple years: Kim Chinquee's Oh Baby. If you read flash fiction and prose poetry, you must have this book. Chinquee is a master of both forms and the gray areas betwixt and between.


By the way, my book, Magnificent Mistakes, is scheduled for release in October. After four years of tinkering, I have finally put a full manuscript in the publisher's hands. In it, the stories are selected and sequenced, as opposed to one big pile of stories for potential inclusion. Yet I continue to tinker as I await a final-ish set of notes from Kathryn; and in the meantime I'm working with the cover designer. I'm also collaborating with an animator on a hand-drawn cartoon adaptation of one of the stories. Watch for it, you, on a tube near you this fall.

It's all coming together. I want to say I'm thrilled. And I am. But honestly I'm equal parts thrilled and terrified. I suspect I'll feel this way until an actual copy of the book rests in my hands. Then I imagine I will find peace, hear a choir of angels, burst into fireworks, and ascend to Author Heaven.

Simple Minds, "Hunter and the Hunted"

This song is almost thirty years old. That means I am really old. Pass my walker, Edith, I'm gonna dance to artsy, angsty, ambitious new-wave pop.

Whatever Roxy Music did, Simple Minds did it better. There, I said it. Now make me regret it, Edith. Make me regret it.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

With Half-Closed Eyes

It's bloody hot here. I can't wait for night. In five minutes I must leave the chilly confines of my office, step into the sauna and the sun, and bike home. That five minutes will be my least favorite part of this day. I hope.


It's been a long time since I was last moved by a Depeche Mode song, but I found this version of "Waiting for the Night to Come" this afternoon and suddenly felt just a wee bit better about my world. Because night will come, and I'll be here to meet it.

Come on, thunder!

This just in: James (my favorite band of the nineties, bar none) has announced a tour of the U.S., Canada, and Mexico to go with the North American release of this still-thriving band's new double album, The Morning After the Night Before. Sadly (for me, certainly, but perhaps not for Tim Booth and company), the closest James will come to Oklahoma is Atlanta. Or Denver. Not sure. Either way, I'll miss the show. Ah well. I am used to it, and missing out on the tour does nothing to diminish my enthusiasm for the new songs--which are FANTASTIC! I'll post dates, a promo video with interview and live clips, and a new song below.

But first, here's an oldie--a live (or semi-live--it's hard to tell) performance of "Sometimes" from Top of the Pops in 1993:

One chord. Five guitars. And the truth. Oh, and plenty of spinning.

The Morning After The Night Before Tour
USA, Canada, Mexico ~ Autumn 2010

20th – Fort Lauderdale, FL – Culture Room
21st – Lake Buena Vista, FL – House Of Blues
22nd – Atlanta, GA – Variety Playhouse
24th – Philadelphia, PA – The Trocadero Theatre
25th – Boston, MA – Paradise Rock Club
27th – Washington DC – 9:30 Club
28th – New York, NY – Webster Hall
30th – Toronto, CA – Queen Elizabeth Theatre

1st – Royal Oak, MI – Royal Oak Music Theatre
2nd – Chicago, IL – The Vic Theatre
4th – Denver, CO – Bluebird Theatre
5th – Salt Lake City, UT – The Complex
7th – Vancouver, BC – Commodore Ballroom
8th – Portland, OR – Wonder Ballroom
9th – Seattle, WA – Showbox at the Market
11th – San Francisco, CA – The Regency Ballroom
12th – Anaheim, CA – House Of Blues
13th – Los Angeles, CA – The Music Box
16th – Mexico City, MX – Corona Capital Music Festival (with the Pixies, Interpol)**
18th – Guadalajara, MX – Teatro Diana**
19th – Second headline show in Mexico, venue TBA

And here's a recent promotional video for the European tour:

Finally, "Ten Below":

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Generic Link

This is a generic post, meant to convey some deep cultural significance to my Facebook friends along with a glimpse into my soul. They may or may not click through, and may or may not 'Like' this link. But it exists as testimony to the fact that I am thinking of them, thinking of you, reaching out to you, offering to entertain, enlighten, move, or motivate you. Though this post offers vaguely political implications, it does not preach. It affirms your worldview and mine. It secures my sense of participation in that world. And it accomplishes precisely nothing.

Up from Shadows

Though unsure how or why, I have fallen into a deep funk since the completion of my manuscript a week and a half ago. These past few days, I've felt unable to claw my way out of this hole, unable to connect with even my family in meaningful ways. And worse--I began to suspect the world was trying to break my will to live. Not that I had become suicidal, mind you--the impulse to care for my children is far stronger than any darkness to be found in this heart. But I have wondered who I am and what I'm doing here and why I do the things I do and do not do so many of the things I want to do. Yesterday, I hit rock bottom. Alone in the house, I shouted at no one and wept for no good reason. Shortly after that, I drove to work (a rare event, as I usually walk) then sat in the car to wait for heavy rain to pass. It passed. I got out of the car and locked my keys in the ignition.

Somehow, that goofy mistake broke the spell. I recognized my depression for what it was. And that recogition is always the point at which the journey back begins.

Today, though I have much work to do, I will set aside time to write in my journal and read poetry. Then I will work on a story that has been lurking in the shadows for days. Then who knows?


Friday, July 9, 2010

Captain Beefheart

My friend Pete has been patiently persistent in pointing me toward and into the music of Captain Beefheart. Today, I found the door...

Now I know that Tom Waits wasn't abducted by aliens in the early eighties. He just discovered Captain Beefheart.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

I know...

...I'm neglecting the blog and pretty much everything else, and have been for a month. Finishing this book has been hard. And I know now it will never be "finished." But the manuscript is now a whole manuscript, and as I move past this milestone I'm starting to feel like a whole human being again.

Which is not to say I'm all sunshine and cheer. Let P.J. Harvey speak for me now:

Wednesday, June 30, 2010


[This story was originally published by Small Spiral Notebook in 2002.]

Midnight. We stare at the moon through rain trails on the windows of Scott’s VW Beetle parked behind the Fort Missoula cemetery. Violent Femmes blast on the stereo and the vinyl seat vibrates my back. Danny’s got three earrings and wears streaks of mascara. Scott’s got a short blond Mohawk. Anthea has hair the color of a ripe mango. She sits in back with me and her jeans rub against mine. Danny leans over his seat and pushes a joint at my face. I wave my hand through cobwebs of smoke.

“Come on, Kurt,” he says. “I care about you.”

“No thanks,” I say.

“If it sucks, you never have to smoke again.”

Scott nods like he too might never smoke again. His Mohawk scratches the dome light. Anthea’s red-orange hair sticks to the window. She’s already high and stroking my leg with her fingers. This would feel good if she weren’t gawking at gravestones. Spittle trails from her mouth and shines in the moonlight.

“Quit drooling, dope fiend,” Danny says. “Quit looking more freaky than you are.”

Anthea giggles and wipes her face with her sleeve. She smiles at me. “You gonna smoke, sweetie?” She puts a hand on my chest and says, “You don’t have to.”

I take the joint in my fingers. It feels like a dead moth. I suck on it. Nothing happens. Scott flicks his lighter and singes my nose hairs.

“Breathe deep,” Anthea says. “Hold it.”

I suck in till my lungs burn and I choke.

Anthea takes the stub of my left arm and puts it in her lap. Danny and Scott face forward again and we all sit there watching rain slither down the windows.

Danny turns to me. “Why’d your dad blow his brains out if he was such a great guy and all?”

Anthea smacks his head and says, “I’m hungry for Pop Tarts.”

“Cherry Pop Tarts,” Scott says.

Five minutes later we climb out of the car at Rosauers.

“I don’t feel high,” I say. “I’ll just crash by the fertilizer bags.”

They go inside. I sit on a pallet of Weed & Feed out front. The Coke machine glows red on the wet part of the sidewalk. The handicapped parking sign’s pole is bent. After a minute or two a bald guy with a white isosceles triangle mustache walks over to me. He has a box of chocolate milk in one hand and a pack of Dolly Madison buns in the other.

“Hey there,” he says. “How do you like this town?”

“It’s all right,” I say.

“How long you been here?”

“Three months.”

“Yeah? Where’d you come from?”


He winks. He’s got a blue Oxford shirt like my dad’s. It’s weird to see Dad’s shirt on some bald guy.

Two jocks in a black Mustang cruise through the lot. The driver has a roll of fat like a hot dog bun around his neck. He tosses a cigarette at the pavement and cranks a Def Leppard tune. His arm hangs out the window and his fingers wiggle in the rain. The Mustang squeals out of the lot and heads south on Reserve toward the golf course.

The bald man chuckles. “What’s your name?”

I think for a second. “Kurt.”

“Hi, Kurt. I’m Roy.” Roy looks at me like he’s trying to remember where we met before. “Do you know Jesus?”

I take a deep breath and the pot hits me. My fingers go numb and my lips get all fat. “Not personally,” I say. I can hardly spit out the words.

“I don’t mean to pry, Kurt. I’m in town visiting my daughter.” He waves his cinnamon buns at the neighborhood across the street. “Just thought I’d come for a midnight snack. Couldn’t help but notice the questionable crowd you arrived with.”


“They seemed sorta wild, is all.”

“They’re a pack of wild animals all right,” I say. Or that’s what I try to say. I’m not sure Roy can understand me with my lips all fat.

He goes on about the Gospel of John and the afterlife and how good deeds aren’t enough because Heaven isn’t something we earn. Heaven is a gift given by the grace of God. Roy thinks I’m the reason the Lord brought him here tonight. A stick of gum is still in its foil on the sidewalk by Roy’s foot. I reach but Roy steps on it.

“You look like a nice kid. Tell me, Kurt, were you born without a hand?”

“No,” I say and hold up my right hand.

Roy’s white mustache curls up over his smile. “I mean, were you born with only one?”

“Yessiree, sir.”

“Well, maybe the good Lord will bless you with two hands in the afterlife. Would you like that?”

“I would not know.”

“You bet you would! Maybe he’ll give you three hands, Kurt, or four. What church do you go to?”

I tell him the first one that comes to mind. It was a place we went on Easter back in Cleveland. “First Methodist.” It had a brick fireplace in the back. All through the service some guy in a polyester suit tossed logs on the fire and for a while I forgot about the three feet of snow outside.

Roy sips his chocolate milk. “Do they talk about being born again at First Methodist?”

I scratch an itch on my ankle. “Don’t think so.”

“Well, you’re what? Fifteen? I was all of 33 years old before I figured out I was just warming a seat in church and not getting any closer to Heaven. Then, Kurt, I let my Lord and Savior into my heart and never not once did I look back. Every single day has been a gift, I tell you. Every day.” Roy steps closer and takes the last bite of his first cinnamon roll. “Do you have any idea what I am talking about?”

“Not really.”

“It can be the same for you. Revelations says Jesus is coming to separate the good from the bad. The goats will end up on one side of the fence, Kurt, and the sheep will end up on the other. If that happened tonight, Kurt, if Jesus came down to judge you, which side of the fence would you be on?”

“I try to be a good person.”

Roy crumples the empty milk carton in his hand. “That’s not biblical. When Jesus comes, goodness and niceness won’t have anything to do with it. The believers will vanish in a puff of smoke and the unbelievers will be cast down into eternal flame. You hear me?”

“I hear you.”

“You can choose the other side of the fence, Kurt, right here, right now. You know what day it is?” Roy raises his second cinnamon roll above his head. “Today is the day the Lord has made, Kurt. Today is the day you will change your life.”

It’s just me and Roy and a kid in a blue apron pushing a train of grocery carts toward the automatic doors. I’m standing but don’t remember getting up. Roy has his hands on my shoulders. His eyes are dark green and too close to mine. His breath is all coffee and puke and cinnamon and yeast.

“Kurt, buddy, you can drive a stake in the ground right now. From this day forward you can walk with the Lord. It’s simple. No need to close your eyes or anything. Will you take my hand and open your heart to Jesus with me, Kurt?”

Roy has splotches on his forehead. He looks happy and gloomy like he’s trying to change his luck but knows he can’t. And I want to make him happy. So I imagine having another hand. This makes me laugh and not because it’s funny but because all of a sudden I feel a hand on the end of my left arm. I clench the fist. I wriggle the fingers.

Now Roy looks worried.

“You look funny,” he says. “Are you all right, Kurt?”

I try to stop laughing. “Which ones are the goats?” I ask.

“The goats?”

“You said Jesus sorts out the sheep and the goats. Are the goats on the Heaven side of the fence or the Hell side? Because I don’t like sheep. I’d rather be a goat.”

Then Danny and Scott start making goat sounds or maybe sheep sounds. Bahh! Bahh! They waggle their heads and bleat at the sky. Anthea has one foot in a grocery cart. She rolls it in circles through the Handicapped Parking spot. I laugh so hard snot flies out of my nose and lands next to the stick of gum on the sidewalk. The gum still has Roy’s boot print in it.

I look around for Roy. He’s walking away with the bun I had hoped he’d offer me if I let Jesus into my heart. Roy cuts through the parking lot and stops at the streetlight. Scott and Danny tell me to get in the car. Roy jogs across the median. He doesn’t turn to wave goodbye. Then it’s gone—my new hand—as quick as it came.

Deep Thought for a Karaoke World #317

If everyone gets to be a Weird Al, then Weird Al no longer gets to be weird.

A Handful of Obscure Tom Waits Songs and Video Clips

I call them "obscure" only because they're new to me. Here are some live performances and animations culled from youtube's vast library of Tom Waits' music. Enjoy.

"Smuggler's Waltz" or "Bronx Lullaby"

"Take Me Home"

"Angels in Heaven"

"The One that Got Away"

"More than Rain" and an interview with Letterman

"Russian Dance"


"No One Knows I'm Gone"



Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Nina Nastasia, "Cry, Cry Baby"

This song's been out for two or three months, but the new album has arrived. So turn up the volume, watch, listen, watch and listen again, then go buy the record.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Mimi Goese and/or Persephone, "Elegy"

I'm catching up with Mimi Goese of Hugo Largo (or trying to), but I haven't yet figured out whether Persephone is Mimi's new band or she's just guest-performing on this song. Either way, I love it.

Can't help wondering how much bigger Hugo Largo would have been if Mimi's ambitious singing and intense onstage antics had been paired with her more recent ability to stay on pitch.

No insult intended there, by the way. Mimi freely admits this, herself:

We used to be called precious, and I think it’s because we were full of shit. Our violin player, Hahn Rowe, was the only one of us who really knew how to play. He produced and engineered our stuff, too. The rest of us were posers. I listen to Hugo now and wonder why no one told me I couldn't sing on pitch.
Good interview all around, that one.

Meanwhile, I'm still trying to find the story of how Michael Stipe ended up producing Hugo Largo's first album. I'm sure the band was asked this question in a hundred interviews around the time. And I'm sure I was one of those interviewers when Tim Sommer and Hahn Rowe came to see me at KSJS. But I cannot for the life of me find the tape.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Sopping Up the Mildness

I enjoy the travel articles in the New York Times, but they address an entirely different budgetary scale than mine. Almost invariably, when I reach the end and the author offers up hotel and restaurant suggestions, I come away feeling deflated and left out.

Nonetheless, when I read a passage like this (from a piece on traveling Tuscany and Umbria in the footsteps of Henry James) it's hard not to start pricing tickets for a surprise, late-summer jaunt we can't afford:

By the time he reaches Arezzo, James has surrendered entirely to the charm of Tuscany. He mentions the museum, the “stately” duomo, and the “quaint” colonnades on the facade of Santa Maria della Pieve, but only in passing, in an apologetic aside, as if he knew that in the neighborhood there were monuments and artworks of importance to be studied, but, really, he’d rather just lounge around near the ruined castle that sits at the top of the town, just as he did in Assisi and Cortona, and sop up the “cheerful Tuscan mildness.”

No one who has visited Arezzo on a warm day in late spring can blame him — the settled, unforced, somehow inevitable beauty of the place demands unhurried, disinterested appreciation — though some would prefer to while away the hours in the lovely Piazza Grande, a sloping, comfortably enclosed space not unlike Siena’s famous Piazza del Campo, only more intimate.

Sighing, scrimping, saving...

[UPDATE: The editors at NYT kindly removed the hotel and restaurant recommendaitons from the James article. How very thoughtful.]

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Google Would Know

If a google search for the terms "Rilke" and "Scholar" is any indication, I suppose it's time to humbly upgrade my unofficial title from "America's leading Rilke scholar." Henceforth, whether interviewing me, quoting me, writing about me, or writing to me, please refer to me as:

the world's foremost Rilke Scholar.
And, by the way, I'm also America's best and most gifted undiscovered novelist between the ages of 41 and 42. This post makes it official, or will soon enough.

Bring on the googlebots!

Monday, June 21, 2010

We Interrupt This Silence

...with not-quite-breaking news: Laurie Anderson has a new album called Homeland. It came out a month ago.

Now back to our regularly scheduled public service announcement:

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Found It! (Michael Stipe sings "Harpers")

I went looking for Michael Stipe's a capella, encore performance of Hugo Largo's "Harpers" a month ago, found nothing, and finally stumbled upon it by accident this afternoon (while searching for a live performance of R.E.M.'s "Moral Kiosk"):

UPDATE 2/7/13: Here's how I came to know the song, as a track on Hugo Largo's debut album, Drum, produced by Michael:

If R.E.M. ever reunites to tour, I'll be in the front row with these lyrics on a sheet of paper and a note requesting this song as an encore, for old time's sake. 

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

ASK ERIC: How to Unspoil a Surprise Party

[EDITOR'S NOTE: Today we roll out a new feature here at Everything is Beautiful, and Nothing Hurts. It's "ASK ERIC"--an advice column open to questions about anything and everything. We hope to make this a regular feature, so by all means send in your questions!]

Dear Eric,

I feel bad. I've been planning a huge surprise party for my wife's birthday, but she walked up while I was reading a Facebook email exchange with one of her friends. Well, Facebook locked up (again!), and my wife figured the whole thing out in about three seconds flat. It didn't help that I entitled the email "Shhh! Surprise party!" I'm embarrassed and angry and disappointed in myself and the whole situation. I hate to give up on the surprise, though. Is there any way to pull the wool over her eyes now? Please help!

Desperately Unbelievably Magnificently Banal And Surprisingly Stupid


Yep. That was dumb, and you're an ass for letting her suss out the surprise so easily--but your situation isn't hopeless. If you truly want to surprise your wife now, then steel your heart and commit to a course of action that risks permanently damaging your marriage. But in this case, based on the sad tale you've told me, it's a risk worth taking.

Here's what you do:

1. Tell your wife you want a divorce. I'm serious. Convince her you've met someone else, fallen deeply in love, and you can no longer bear to be apart from this other woman. And because you're an honorable, decent human being, you don't want to betray your wife. So divorce is the only option. Oh! And don't forget to snap pics of her reaction(s). You'll both get some good laughs out of these later and for years to come--maybe.

2. Establish a date to move out, and--this is extremely important--set the move-out date a day before your wife's birthday (but not more, because that would be cruel).

3. Reset your Facebook relationship status to "Single."

4. When it comes to divvying up belongings, play your cards close to the vest. Don't let her keep all the Tom Waits. Definitely don't let her keep the eighties discs. And for god's sake do not for one minute let her get her hands on the Bob Dylan. Sure, she loves Dylan as much and possibly even more than you do. No matter! If you want this plan to work, you've got to be a hardass for a while. But don't worry, that's what might make the surprise/reuinion that much sweeter.

5. Rent a truck and recruit several friends to help you move out on the appointed day--but not your wife's friends, you dolt! If you let them in on this little subversion, then they will be sure to comfort her with the truth when she comes crying to them. That would ruin the surprise.

6. The night before the appointed day, serve your wife a nice meal with a fine bottle of wine. Reminisce about the good times you've had. Tell her you will always treasure your time together, and add that someday you may regret this decision. Sadly, though, there's no turning back now. Kiss her, even make out with her, but do not sleep with her. You have to leave her wanting more.

7. On the appointed day, move out.

8. Store everything in the truck. Park it at a friend's house, and sleep there. That evening, call your wife to see how she's doing. Tell her you need to come by the next day to pick up a couple things you forgot in the garage. And set a time.

9. That night, prepare large quantities of your wife's favorite foods.

10. The next morning, arrange for your friends and your wife's friends to meet you around the corner from your old house. Give your friends the full scoop, but tell your wife's friends to meet you there because you're worried about your wife's fragile state of mind. Tell them you want them to stage a grand show of love, during which you'll slip out the door so she'll see how much love there is in her life without you.

11. OK, it's crunch time. When everyone meets around the corner from the house, tell the entire group the real plan, then--at the time your wife is expecting you and you alone--march the group en masse over to the house. It's your wife's birthday, after all, so urge everyone to look joyful.

12. Ring the doorbell.

13. When she opens the door, shout, "SURPRISE!"

I'm telling you, your wife will not see this one coming. There's a decent chance she will take you back with open arms and feel forever grateful for the tremendous effort you've put into orchestrating this elaborate surprise.

Best of luck, DUMBASS, and please let us know how it turns out!


Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Give Me the Ring

Neither rain, nor nuclear war, nor the devastation of civilization, nor creepy small children can stop the Sisters of Mercy from donning goth gear and rocking the hell out.

Of course, this is only a test. In the event of an actual apocalypse the band would perform the full ten-minute album version of this song.


Like any adult heterosexual male who, in the misguided exuberance of youth, experimented with soccer, I feel deeply conflicted about soccer's coming-out-of-the-closet party:

As an American committed to social justice, I support soccer's right to be gay. I do. In fact, I would fight and die for soccer's freedom to live and love as it chooses. Far be it from me to interfere. You know? Love the sinner, hate the sin, and all that.

Which is fine and good. But seriously, people, why does soccer have to rub our noses in it? Why must soccer thrust its lifestyle in our faces by flaunting those faggy uniforms and all that prancing and high-kicking and sweaty hugging, when the soccer lifestyle clearly goes against the rules by which God has told us to live our lives?

You doubt me in this matter? Here are God's own words on the subject:

1 Cor. 6:9-10 - Do you not know that the wicked shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor male prostitutes nor homosexual offenders nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers nor attackers nor midfielders nor defenders nor particularly active yet limp-wristed goalkeepers shall inherit the Kingdom of God.

The Lord could not be more clear (and thankfully He refrained from being more explicit) in his prohibition of this gay sport. Look it up yourself if you still don't believe. Soccer is an abomination. Yet its proliferation runs wild like a herd of bareback stallions across a vast, extravagently decorated field of green.

Open your eyes, America. Soccer is everywhere. I mean, just today, while walking to work, I passed an athletic field teeming with dozens and possibly hundreds of young children--boys and girls!--all dressed in flamboyant neon jerseys, homosexual-style shorts, and those feminine black socks, and all participating in that scourge of modern youth sports: soccer camp.

Soccer camp! Can you imagine?

And from what I understand, soccer is even taught in public schools now. This mass indoctrination must be stopped. We must not let our fragile and impressionable little boys and girls fall into the grubby gay hands of this sinister homosexual sport that has taken hold of the rest of the world.

Once again, America is God's last, best hope.

So I say: Soccer, fine, be gay. But don't flaunt it. Get some decent uniforms or get out of our televisions. And get your hands off our kids. Restrict yourself to San Francisco, Seattle, New York, Atlanta, Dallas, Little Rock, Paris, Central and South America, Africa, and other gay meccas. Go kick your little penalty kicks at each other in the privacy of your soccer-loving cities, and let decent Americans get back to wholesome sports like football and cheerleading.

Because if you don't, we will huddle up, we will bend over, we will reach our hands between the massive legs of our center, we will hike our oblong ball, and we will knock you on your ass.

Then again, that's probably what you've wanted all along. Isn't it?


POINT OF CLARIFICATION: I said at the top of this post that I experimented with soccer as a boy. I should add that this happened when I was seven or eight, and I played goalie for a very strong team. In fact, that team was so good that opposing teams did not take a single shot on goal the entire season. I'm serious. I sat idly by and watched my team dominate those poor, submissive boys from across the city and throughout the region. It seems disgraceful in hindsight, but it's my inactivity then that keeps me on the up and up with God today.

Monday, June 14, 2010

O God of Car Repair

I bend and set my ass upon padded armchair at a Honda dealership's service department lobby and implore thee, OGoCR, to have mercy on my car. The CR-V has been good and true and loyal lo these eight years since we bought it in Colorado Springs. Ye have blessed us with repairs both few and far between, both quick and inexpensive. And ye have granted us safe passage from Montana to Kansas to Oklahoma and into Texas and Missouri (not to mention through Wyoming, Nebraska, and New Mexico). And now, as the CHECK ENGINE indicator alights, OGoCR, grant us please a code that calls for the most minor of repairs. We offer unto thee this $95 diagnostic fee as a token of affection and devotion, and we await your annointed representatives to bring us the revelation of of your Word and Will.

UPDATE: I do not take the flooding all around me as an encouraging sign.

UPDATE: Total estimate--$1,800. Fuck thee, OGoCR.

Saturday, June 12, 2010


I spent a few minutes in our back yard hammock this evening, shortly after weedwhacking the edges of the yard, the patio, the swing set, the garden beds, the other patio, the sewer-sticking-up-thingamajig, and the water meter. Oh, and I had the distinct pleasure of disposing of the freshly killed body of a mole. The dog was proud.

A pair of toads live under my wife's elderberry bush. They are elegant toads, serene toads, not prone to over-reaction.

After a few minutes on the hammock, I wasn't alone. First my wife came and sprawled across my body. Then our son climbed on top. Then the mosquitos took flight. Then we did.

The sun has gone down.

Tonight's soundtrack...

"Shipwrecked" by Hammock

"Losing You to You" by Hammock