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!