Saturday, November 27, 2010

ben tanzer's 99 Problems

Ben Tanzer, writer-editor of This Blog Will Change Your Life (with its ally This Zine Will Change Your Life) is also a published novelist whose most recent published work is a series of essays on running and thinking about writing stories while running and worrying about the rest of it--health, kids, time, etc.--yeah, while running. But in fact, the book will leave you feeling positive about Ben's life and perhaps even your own. At least, that's how it left me. It's called 99 Problems: essays about running and writing. (Be sure to follow that last link to learn more about the "pay what you want" publishing system and find cool links to the author and publisher's thoughts on producing this book.)

As it turns out, I found Ben's blog through another writer we've both connected with very recently, but Ben and I played on the same team in an Ultimate tournament in 1993, and we know many of the same frisbee players from the New York/New England scene of the late eighties and early nineties (particularly from the Stuyvesant/Bronx Science roots of that extended tree). This includes the ultimate of Ultimate legends Ben Usadi who organized the team for that spring club regionals years ago.

Anyway, I read all of 99 Problems the night I received it. It's in e-book format but short enough to be read in one sitting. Ben's writing style is clear and engaging, and his "I" in these essays is likeable and you want to see him successfully complete the stories he is dreaming up while running--or at least break the eight minute mile and move closer to where he was as a younger runner. I'd say that's one cool juxtaposition contained within these essays, that although Ben might be losing something as a runner, you get a strong sense he is gaining as a writer.

For me, I think it helps that we have the frisbee connection in our past, and that we are both reasonably new to being published writers, and we both have young children and full-time jobs to enjoy and also find as obstacles to our writing and exercising time. Although I played Ultimate for twenty years (local, recreational mostly), I was never a habitual runner, or an obsessive one like Ben, but I should say that these essays will encourage any one of us--who is perhaps, shall we say, less athletically inclined than we once were--to get out there and do something. So I did a short stack of push-ups in two of the past three days, something I'm certain I wouldn't have done if I weren't still under the spell of these essays. (If I had to guess, I could pull a twelve-minute mile if you gave me seven days to train for it.)

Memo to self: take long walk tomorrow.

Ben's essays get at some good questions. A chief one is where will any of us find the time to get stuff done? Lives fill up with jobs, kids, and clutter, and we're left desperate for a free hour to ourselves. At the same time, it sounds like Ben is getting his money's worth in this life--full-time job, kids, publications, a relationship of 20+ years if I understood correctly from the essays. Whew.

Another strange connection I share with the author is one I learned of while reading the essays. His father died in 2000, and my Dad died in 2001, and because I'm pretty sure he is a year older than me, we were the same age when our Dads died. What more, they both died of cancer. Maybe that connection was cooler when I was doing the math in my head when I read about his dead dad in the essays. It seems a little morbid right now. . . ;-) If I had to bet on one of us outliving our father, I'd put my big cash on Ben although, again, his essays are good at reminding me of why I want to get back in a more reasonable form of middle-aged out-of-shapedness.

Well, have no fear if it is just a tad nippy in your region. Ben has some good writing on running in the cold. If I'm not mistaken, most of the runs described in the essays take place during the winter of 2009-10.

Run, Alex, run.

Run, reader, run!

Friday, November 19, 2010

good stories

I'm finding great stories everywhere I look, which currently happens to be the fall issue of Philadelphia Stories and the new edition of The Best American Short Stories (2010). From Philadelphia Stories, here is the full text of "The Sea Crest" by Jeff W. Bens. I'm just realizing that gambling is a theme in this one as well as my favorite so far from the Richard Russo edited 2010 Best of: "Donkey Greedy, Donkey Gets Punched" by Steve Almond. I just googled the latter and found a link to this cool short story blog (out of Philly no less). The Almond story is noted (and was presumably read) on October 25, 2010.

Friday, November 12, 2010


I survived mortal combat with a huge bug by the door. It ticked me off when it slithered under my book bag, and so it's fate was to fail to survive the evening. Papa K defends the hearth! And then feels remorse, mixed in with the usual anxiety and fatigue. All good bugs must come to an end, but where's Hemingway when you need him to "Ca va" the situation and move on to the next scene. Yeah, I could never do for insects what old Hem did for fish. Or old men. So be it.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Don Riggs: "What I Do"

Don Riggs is back in action at the transnational and trilingual Contemporary Literary Horizon with a poem called "What I Do." If memory serves, it's his answer to all the folks who can't do anything at all but enjoy the age-old saying, "Those Who Can't Do, Teach." Although I must confess I've enjoyed my own ironic interpretive spins on that adage of late, it is also always bizarre and annoying that teachers do all kinds of things in hopes that their lessons might go well and that their students, might, well, um, for example, learn--and then with five words, get dismissed as people who don't do anything.

I suppose that it's all old hat. Anyway, good poem, good journal.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Robert Anthony Watts

Teacher-writer uberbrother Robert Anthony Watts fought through the novel and then survived an interview with the author and posted some great comments on amazon (with a full disclosure of his being stuck knowing me for 15 years).

He didn't, however, get into the details of our first meeting, so I thought I would. In 1996, we were sitting at a small table in the coffee shop at the old Borders location of 1727 Walnut Street, and we were in the company of the famous elder gent, Isaac Starr, one of that location's daily visitors. Isaac interrupted his reading of the French and German dailies to ask Robert, "Do you have any idea of what this man does for a living?"

Rob looked a little nervous even though I probably looked about as regular as regular gets.

So then Isaac told him I was selling cars, or that I had been up until the very recent past. We then figured out I was just beginning Temple U.'s MA in Creative Writing, a program Robert had just finished. But he would be teaching at Temple as an adjunct in the fall; I think he did that without Drexel for at least one full year. If I'm not mistaken, the adjunct pay circa 1996 for a 15-week writing class at Temple was just about to move from $1400 to the lofty heights of $1500. Adjunct pay at Temple is quite good now (relatively speaking) although the health-coverage problem is unresolved. And I remember being thankful for that 9-month $8700 stipend, anything to get me away from the car lot and back into writing.

Well, leaving the lot ultimately did help me get a novel out although it's been quite a circuitous route to publication.

Thanks, Rob.

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