Monday, April 30, 2012

April 30 (before it was Starbucks)

I enjoyed Mike Hampton's coffee and Kentucky over at Atticus Review.

April 30 (last blog unless i write one or two later today)

I was feeling completion anxiety over the whole final-blog-of-April thing, so I thought I'd punch this out quick and get it over with.

That feels better. A little better. Maybe.

Fight for Your Long May!

Sunday, April 29, 2012

April 29 (John Warner On Failure)

I was doing some a.m. search and rescue for something I could share as the next-to-last blog of the month, unless I get inspired and overcome this morning's fatigue, and I found John Warner writing "On the Possibilities of Failure" at Inside Higher Ed. In a world where finishing second is often counted as such, you'd think this would be a 20,000-part essay, but in fact, he manages to make some good points in one piece of reasonable length. I've always found failure to be a positively inexhaustible topic, indeed the only topic of great literature or at least a primary topic of my literature, so it took me only a second to decide to share it with you.

Now, if I could only get this hyperlink function to work.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

April 28 (Meg Pokrass's impending fame)

The Less United States of Kudera is not doing nearly enough to advocate for Meg Pokrass, and all the Meg Pokrasses of the world, who could be delivering to us juicy, tell-all memoirs of their moderately famous authority figures, bosses in particular, with just a pinch of fiction to make it even more enticing and fun. Of course, instead, Meg chooses the high road and posts only about all things evangelical and Romnified as well as word lists we are to use to impress our own minions. Our peeps, as it were, or perhaps the Gud Christian youts we have opportunity to speechify in front of.

Here she is on full display:

And then here she is moving up in the world:

But for the most part, she tends to her own flock and generously gives back to the literary community by interviewing and being interviewed by various folks writing in the current moment. Writing now, as it were. What I should be doing as I'm almost certain that blogging doesn't count. Or maybe it does? I don't know. I never receive lashes.

And now it's time to buy  Meg's microfiction!

But the amazon link is just so you can see the glowing reviews; if this is one you might like, then please do buy local from your favorite indy store. (Fight for Your Long Day, of course, should only be purchased as the lowest "like new" copy available everywhere Jeff Bezos is selling us vacuum cleaners.)

Leave me alone. Please?

Okay, but not before I provide this sneak preview of what we've all been reading about.

Damn Sure Right!

Friday, April 27, 2012

April 27 (Dow Mossman and Fred Exley)

This spring, for contemporary literature (after 1945), I'm finishing the semester with the documentary film The Stone Reader which connects so well to so many of the challenges faced by novelists in the current marketplace. It also provides an enthusiastic "talkie" look into some of the great literature from the 20th century that proves impossible to assign in bulk for general-education courses. It's also a look at the very real life of Dow Mossman, and how a big fat book from his young adult years almost killed him in order to get written, and then how he survived and endured the rest. To the best of my knowledge, he is still enduring.

The contrast between the happy elderly thesis advisor from Iowa and the nearly broken writer-student is not one to be taken lightly, and certainly connects to all the online chatter about the value of MFA degrees (a degree I don't have, but one the protagonist of Fight for Your Long Day does possess as his highest and doesn't think much of although it should be stated that Cyrus doesn't think much of most anything he has, so at least in that way he's consistent). I only wish we lived in a world where the tenured professors in such programs would do more to show they understand the extent to which they are complicit in "something of a Ponzi Scheme" that is the AWP hierarchy that leaves some writers reaping huge rewards and lifetime security while the Dow Mossmans of the world are lucky to find a night gig delivering newspapers.

But on the other hand, over half of all college degrees aren't leading to much of anything, at least not by age 25 for recent grads, so perhaps we shouldn't isolate the MFA profs as so much more complicit in this economic problem faced by an entire generation (a sort of "damned if you go to college, damned if you don't," but it seems like the solution has to be to make college more affordable, not to discourage students from attending).

I, of course, would love to be a tenured professor of creative writing, but I also enjoy knowing that my general education courses are being taught to at least some students who will get a decent job (engineering, nursing, etc.). There's a Sam Lipsyte interview somewhere in cyberspace, where he pretty much concedes that the MFA isn't necessarily going to make any grads any money, and possibly it will lead to another chunk of student debt, but it is a degree that can help improve one's writing.

For this reason, and just for the general pressure a thesis deadline would provide as well as a chance to teach fewer courses for two or three years, I still consider applying to writing programs. A low residency (maintaining a full time job while working toward the MFA) might be my best option, and the ads for MFAs in AWP's The Writer's Chronicle are almost pornographic in their depictions of laptops by the water and award-winning everybody on the faculty. Last night, I positively salivated over the possibility of a low-residency program solving my problems, and I even saw one with a rocky coast, star faculty (I'd never heard of), and "scholarships" (a rarity for low res as best I can ascertain).

Of course like many others who loathe application fees and paperwork, I'd prefer to just publish a second award-winning novel (no doubt, a winner of a bigger, badder award, one that comes with a huge gold necklace, a hip hop album contract, an entourage, and 50,000 blocks of friends and followers for all the newest new media), and become a Ron Rash or Pam Duncan, a tenured professor with nationally published novels whose highest degree is the MA. To my mind, the MA is a fine degree, and for creative writing, can often expose students to more literary analysis than some MFAs do.

But also, filmmaker Mark Moskowitz includes Frederick Exley's A Fan's Notes as one of his top ten novels of the American 20th century, and it reminded me of my three interviews, all with debut novelists, on Frederick Exley and his best novel. Eleanor Henderson, John Warner, and Joseph Zeppetello were the authors who were kind enough to respond to my questions, and if I can ever find the time or ability to concentrate I hope to interview more writers about Exley.

And by the way, the first writer with whom I remember having that conversation about Exley would be Michael Leone, and he has placed some nice work recently, including this essay called "The Day I Realized My Mentor Was Crazy."

Okay, I hope you survived all this Exley, uncertainty, and meandering on Mossman.

I can't wait to quit this month of blogging, finish the semester, and get into some sustained novel writing and revising.

Wish me luck. I'll need it.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

April 26 (Kelly Writers House)

It was a sad, slow, end-of-semester kind of evening, and then I stumbled upon this clip and felt that there was hope. Thank you, Alex Marcus, reading from Fight for Your Long Day for Mind of Winter 2011 at Kelly Writers House.

And now I'm tired again, and I can't blog anymore.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

April 25 (To Have Not)

Last night, I finished Frances Lefkowitz's To Have Not, and although I'm still digesting it, I do recommend the book. I think it will resonate with anyone who can see their life in terms of being both a "Have" and a "Have Not"; for me, some points of comparison include:

1) being a "Have" at least compared to some citizens of the multicultural urban area we were both raised in (for me, Philly; for "Frankie" San Francisco) and then

2) feeling decidedly like a "Have Not" once financial aid sent us to an elite private university where we met the genuinely affluent and the filthy rich

3) divorced parents, and

4) one is Christian and one Jewish


5) some holidays where money was extremely tight although overall it sounds like my folks did a better job of remaining gainfully employed

I never knew that Hemingway's title To Have and Have Not must come from the Cervantes quotation at the beginning of Lefkowitz's book:

"There are only two families in the world, the haves and the have nots."

And it of course also reminds me of Tolstoy's "All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way." But until I just searched for it to get exact wording, I'd always attributed that quotation to Flaubert, not Tolstoy. (I should say I haven't read the major novels of either of these two.)

So now I know.

A little more.


Or less, if we're talking absolute value and accounting for the things I once knew but have since forgotten.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

April 24 (jazz guitar)

We take a break now from all literary contingencies as well as our yesterday's pandering to the publishing masses in order to bring you some jazz sounds from Chicago, Illinois. Sit back, relax, and enjoy Tuesday a.m. tunes brought to you with occasional accomplices by guitarist Andy Brown.

Monday, April 23, 2012

April 23 (free book!)

Free of charge (!), no shipping costs (!!), in honor of world book day and all the good, if literate, capitalists who make trade paperbacks available across the globe, I'll send a free copy of Fight for Your Long Day to the first publisher who agrees to publish my second novel. We can open at AWP 2013 (Boston!!!) if you like it like that.




Hey, stop that!

Sunday, April 22, 2012

April 22 (Teju Cole on KONY 2012)

Teju Cole's essay on KONY 2012, published online at (in?) The Atlantic, is one that caught my eye this week.

I certainly remember my own, perhaps similar, cynical thoughts surrounding my experience at Wesleyan University and all of the seemingly affluent students intent on changing the world (or resisting locally or whatever Teach for America, the Peace Corps, or grad school in social work was supposed to be called). It felt like they all had automobiles and car insurance paid by their parents, and I vividly remember the brand-new SUVs a few of them drove off in at the end of their glorious four-years of somewhat radical undergrad.

But I never met one who ever called himself a "saviour" or wouldn't have acknowledged and appreciated at least some of the nuances and complexities to all the different kinds of hegemonies circulating throughout and within. There was one friend who would describe it all in matter-of-fact terms: "X's parents have dough, so he can change the world, but Y's parents are poor, so he'll go to law school and aim for corporate work." It's never that simple, of course, but even among the financial-aid students there were not many genuinely poor "Y"s.

Anyway, Cole's tweets and essay made me more interested in reading his novel Open City, and it made for a nice complement to this week's teaching of Roberto Bolano's Liberian section from The Savage Detectives along with "Mauricio ('The Eye') Silva." Cole is working on a nonfiction book about Lagos, Nigeria, and that reminded me of this Uwem Akpan story and this George Packer essay that I unfortunately dropped from the syllabus to make room for the more local concerns of Ron Rash's Saints at the River.

And for leisure reading, finally, I'm getting immersed in Frances Lefkowitz's To Have Not about her poor, white childhood in San Francisco and her subsequent attendance at Brown University on heaping helpings of financial aid. It was my own Wesleyan experience that brought me to this memoir, and there is a decent chance I'll ask Lefkowitz for an interview when I'm done.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

April 21 (poorest county)

Philadelphia is the poorest county in Pennsylvania and the only major metro area aside from Baltimore (if we count Baltimore as such) to appear in this slide show of poorest counties in each state. Congratulations! In fact, our leadership in poverty does help maintain the reasonable pricing of rents and restaurants, at least compared to other cities.

Maybe along the lines of "the city that loves you back," we could have something like, "the poverty that sleeps on your park bench," or "poverty with a smile," or "Philadelphia: bringing poverty to the twenty-first century."

I'm hoping I have a few more liveable years before I slide back into our leading indicator. I'm hoping for a few more years of teeth, too, because there's nothing quite like poverty with a blue solution in a glass for the dentures while one's food is being mangled and made mushy by one's gums.

And then, reminded of my own slim margins, I chance upon this poor lost soul debating the merits of a BMW purchase and kitchen remodeling and felt all was right with the world.

All was right for all of us who aren't even close to Rex Pickett as far as fame and experience and luck and talent and connections and Hollywood credentials go. Okay. "Right" may be a strong word, but we were persisting. We were still alive. We were. Weren't we? Rex was wronged, though, and that seems to be one point of this article that indicates he's come to see big publishing as no more of an ally to literary fiction than Jeff Bezos. I hear your "duh," but still enjoyed reading his screed. And for Sideways, I certainly enjoyed both the film and the book.

Meanwhile, President Obama does what so many big media entities do as well. That's cater to the next generation of consumers, voters, etc. with a nifty election-year student-loan pitch (while to the best of my knowledge remaining mute on the question of what these colleges that students should go into debt for are paying the teachers that the students will meet on the inside). Hey, maybe Trident could have gotten Rex that nice book deal if he'd agreed to name it Sideways Youngbloods, and instead of beautiful scenes with middle-aged gripers and philanderers swishing and spitting merlot and cabernet he added a bunch of nine year olds dropping their weekly allowances on fruit-punch pouches at the local conveniencery?

And even as I'm writing this stuff, I'm thinking to myself that I should be writing.

Fight for Your Long Subsistence in a Lower Middle Quintile!

And have a good weekend.

Friday, April 20, 2012

April 20 (420)

If you like to keep the flame lit with commencement angst or eternal recurrence, this could be the story for you. In other news, it sounds like the police at Colorado--Boulder are intent on bogarting the festivities with sprinkler systems and the college-ID requirements. I'm guessing the local convenience stores and sandwich shops may have mixed feelings about this intent to douse the fires of commerce.

It is somewhat amusing that a stoner holiday would depend upon such an exacting time constraint, the official 4:20 spark up, etc. Maybe someone can get through to Spicoli and find out if he'd like fries with that.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

April 19 (let the old content make way for the new content)

More or less, I got nothin', but I'll be teaching Roberto Bolano tomorrow (haven't decided yet as to what lessons he'll learn) and thought I'd share a favorite passage from late in The Savage Detectives:

In Paris, it's different. People drift away, people dwindle, and you have time to say goodbye, even if you'd rather not. Not in Africa. People talk there, people tell you their problems, and then they vanish in a cloud of smoke, the way Belano vanished that night, without warning. And you never even consider the possibility of running into X or Y again at the airport. The possibility exists, I'm not saying it doesn't, but you don't consider it. So that night, when Belano disappeared, I stopped thinking about him, stopped thinking about loaning him money, and drank and danced and then fell asleep in a chair and when I woke up with a start (more out of fear than because I was hungover, since I was afraid I'd been robbed, not being in the habit of going to places like Joao Alves's) it was already morning and I went outside to stretch my legs and there he was, in the yard, smoking a cigarette and waiting for me.

Yes, it was quite the gesture.  (497)

As to the first part, it's worth noting that false dichotomies may be binaries we can deconstruct and yet their extremes tantalize us and often make for great writing, or at least writing that can lead to some conversation.

Bolano has also been on my mind because by coincidence the same week he shows up on my syllabus, I stumbled upon (or I should say it was twossed in my direction via the e-chirper) this bit of Bolano blog. According to the attribution, it's Daniele Pantano's sharing of a Roberto Bolano section that appeared on the NYRBlog. From the text, I know for sure it's a curious bit of writing about observing V.S. Naipaul in Buenos Aires in 1972. Is this real or imagined? I couldn't tell you.

Anyway, Pantano also sent a shout for more quality submissions for his literary journal, and it looks like a promising one with an international flavor and a fancy curve over its first "e." (I suppose I should pretend I know what it's called and not admit to having googled "umlaut" even while remembering that would be two dots).

So that was something.

As you were.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

April 18 (drizzling Kunderas)

It's drizzling outside, a fitting complement to this evening's early a.m. insomnia. Earlier in the evening (in the yesterday part of tonight), I scribbled a few pages of the rough stuff and called it "My Life as Kundera" although I may ultimately use "Think and Grow Kundera" as the title, taken from my earlier tweet in support of the idle twoughts of Alexander Chee. Anyway, the topic was my meandering musing on the Kudera-Kundera likeness, my father's interest in Milan's writing, me not being him, etc. It could become a section of The Book of Jay (see bottom links for rough-draft excerpts), but of course, I'll have to improve it a lot before it becomes anything at all.

It passed the time, though.

Speaking of J. Robert's engagement with the K., here's a photograph of some of my father's Kunderas, the paperback copies he discovered in bookstores decades ago:

The photograph is from earlier today, or I should say yesterday, but this copy of The Joke as a Penguin edition (1970) was his purchase decades ago and is the one I read when I finally read a Kundera novel in 2004. It's the third English translation of the book, but not the "definitive" one that includes Kundera's criticism of the previous translations of the book. That would be the Harper Perennial edition originally published in 1992. In the "Author's Note" at the end of the HP ed., Kundera's main expressed criticism of the Penguin edition concerns the editor's efforts at sabotaging the writer's punctuation.

Milan I feel your pain and I must confess that I have had similar feelings that I've never expressed formally in any Author's Note not yet and I've also tried to come to terms with allowing for such differences over commas and periods and even the possibility that the author does not and cannot know what is best in every way for his completed book while also recognizing that it is not only the apostrophe and the semicolon that must all be part of the joke

or no?

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

April 17 (The South Will Rise Again)

At the very least, the price of gas in the South will rise again. I enjoyed this article full of hyperlinking to all kinds of Southerners--scholars, writers, designers, musicians, and more--but don't follow the Bill Maher link if you want to believe in the strength of our union (the whole "one nation" biz). Maybe Maher should get fined for using the guy with no teeth?

My Aunt Nancy's tasty grits were a highlight of my first trip to the true deep South, a visit to the Florida panhandle on the hot, humid Gulf on Mexico. Not too far from Pensacola, I met my Southern cousins and watched MTV for the first time. One of the most memorable lines of my entire childhood was Cousin Billy's, "You mean you ain't never heard of Jimmy Buffet?" To the best of my knowledge, thirty years later, Bill is doing quite well as a resident of the great state of New Jersey, the same place his Mom and my Dad were so ready to escape from.

In addition to everything else I have to try to summon enough concentration to write, my visits and residence in various parts of the southeastern United States could at least make for a solid essay. And, yeah, as we all know, that's easier blogged upon than written. I think you know what I mean.

Monday, April 16, 2012

April 16 (Radical Teacher)

Radical Teacher's Jennifer Gaboury has a review of Fight for Your Long Day behind its $18 pay wall, but it's possible you can get free access through a local university library. They kindly call me  Alex Kundera, so we can sit back and see where that leads. If you followed the last hyperlink, then to answer your question, "I doubt it," but this is not the first case of the added "n" and surname confusion.

So, in any event, thank you Professor Gaboury for the review, and I'll certainly love you ever more madly if you can squeeze Cyrus Duffleman into one of your Political Science or Gender Studies courses for fall semester.

April 16 (no pay)

Two weeks ago, we stopped checks for the "content guys," but the blog endures. . . interview soon on how they'll pay for their rice with meat.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

April 15 (mentors)

Michael Leone's creative nonfiction went live at Connotation Press (An Online Artifact); he tackles the tricky topic of literary mentorship in Worcester, Massachusetts.This one has it all, from Christmas Eve surprises to flights to Prague to one-word dismissals of all the great contemporary writers.

On the topic of mentoring, I learned that Professor Joan Mellen, my faculty advisor within Temple University's creative writing program, will have a book on Haiti arriving this fall, and then two more due for publication within the following year. Her pace and endurance amazes me, and these publications push her past twenty for a remarkable literary career which has included film criticism, biography, and JFK scholarship.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

April 14 (birds are chirping)

In case I forget to blog tonight, I wanted to note that it is 8:17 a.m. on a sunny Saturday, and that the birds are chirping outside. They woke me up just past 6:30 a.m. I could have used an extra couple hours of sleep.

Friday, April 13, 2012

April 13 (Daniel Peaceman and his CHM entourage)

Literature is on the horizon in sunny Romania. Fight for Your Long Bucharest!

April 13 (covers and spines)

The Caustic Cover Critic rummaged around Atticus Books and found a couple he liked. What else can we say but that the man has good taste: "Atticus's first book, Alex Kudera's Fight for Your Long Day, is a very different creation, but definitely my favourite of the Atticus line so far."

Sorry, the insomnia and isolation are getting to me. . . feels like the right time for Rice Krispies with honey and milk and maybe another article from the new print issue of Harpers Magazine.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

April 12 (Meg Pokrass asks Frances Lefkowitz)

Over at Jurgen Fauth's fictionaut, a social-media site for fiction readers and writers, I posted a story for the first time, and also found Meg Pokrass's new interview with Frances Lefkowitz.

Below is a photograph of the serious-minded fool, aka me, immersed in egg salad on wheat and Lefkowitz's To Have Not. I'm washing it all down with sweet tea at The Starving Artist Cafe, a pleasant establishment across the wide road from Poor Richard's Booksellers in Easley, South Carolina.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

April 11 (Clemson Literary Festival)

The fifth annual Clemson Literary Festival begins today and continues through Saturday. Richard Ford is the featured writer, but there are many others in the fold. I'll be reading from Fight for Your Long Day as part of the Society of English Graduate Students event on Thursday, April 12 at 1:30 p.m. in Hendrix's McKissick Theater.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

April 10 ("Ode to Antoine" by Alan Heathcock)

It's hard to blog everyday, even to write just a couple crummy paragraphs, but to help take up the slack, I'm pleased to share with you a quickie poem from a guy who spent ten years on an award-winning story collection. Here's Idaho resident and Volt author Alan Heathcock's words of wisdom on the recent retirement of former NBA star and recent D-League Boise baller Antoine Walker:

Ode to Antoine

The man could ball
The mighty do fall
Like the banks don't say please
Age works on the knees
You've paid your debt Antoine
No sense in going on
Pinch your pennies
Love your memories
and get your hand loosed
to sit by the blue ribbon goose
and sign ball cards at the state fair
for folks like me, the few who still care

Carry on, but don't palm the ball.

Monday, April 9, 2012

April 9 (another one)

Here's another one of those long, dreary, unemployed-youth articles that some of us find positively intoxicating. I tell you many of us get drunk off the wines of depression, reading these things, until we are nearly comatose, barely able to lift our bodies, weighted down so by our bleeding hearts and midnight snacks, off the lazy boy and onto the rest of our lives.

When Gertrude Stein told Hemingway he was part of a lost generation, she probably wasn't thinking of a future where we'd have millions of college grads living at home and tweeting from their basement "grad caverns."

I wonder where the 21st-century version of Stein's salon is taking shape. And what they're reading, writing, and thinking there.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

April 8 (the limits of welfare to work)

The New York Times has an article exploring the limits of welfare to work during periods of economic contraction, enemic growth, millions of lost jobs, etc. In it, we read that many states have done what the law stated they had to do--drop folks from welfare when their time limits expired. I remember reading an article from about ten years ago, on how other states were quietly shifting welfare recipients to other kinds of aid to maintain some type semblance of humanity. I once described this to students in a freshman English class, and some had looks of disbelief--aghast that the states would defy their will, offend the "taxpayer," and break the spirit of the law. I suspect others of course didn't see it that way, but for whatever reason, they weren't the ones to speak out in that class.

Although it was partly rationalization because on Tuesdays I was working twelve-hour shifts that could stretch to fifteen if I found an "up" while walking the lot in the p.m., the 1996 general election was the only Presidential one that I've been eligible for but didn't vote in. On the one hand, it seemed almost certain that Clinton would win, and on the other, I was angry at the welfare-to-work law. At the time, to me, it seemed like the worst kind of inhumanity because it clearly was the kind of country where college grads could easily be forced into sales and leasing of automobiles if they hoped to move off their parents dime and pay their student loans on time.

And then the economy began to improve dramatically, and like so many others, I increasingly got lost in my own concerns and surviving. It often seems like America necessitates a careerism that can leave some of our most successful citizens with no idea of what's going on in this world. In that way, it's a scary place.

Happy holidays.

Friday, April 6, 2012

April 6 (fan mail)

I haven't received any snail-mailed hating stuff, and there's been no rock with a message thrown through the window, and alas, not one pilgrim has shown up at the door of the Duffler looking for soup or a signature, but I did receive this intriguing note by
e-mail earlier in the week.

Dear Alex -

I've been meaning to write you for well over a year, having read F.F.Y.L.D. at that
time.  I had a mixture of praise and a word of constructive criticism or two.  Life
being what it is - I now find that all that time has passed, and I can't remember
what the hell I had to say, save for a pleasant memory of the book, of course. 
But your work has been sitting on my desk for the better part of 9 months, and in an
effort at reorganizing my office - to say nothing of sending along some non sequitor
of praise for your work -I thought the story of how I picked up your novel in the
first place would do.

At the time, I was a whirling dervish of agony, recovering from a horrible breakup
with an English professor at one of the very universities you write about, and was
doing my level best to recover from the same: dates with puerto rican tap
dancers, a bent elbow, therapy - the whole kerfluffle.  Progress was perambulating
at the pace of molasses in December, and I thought one depressive morning in the
215, "What else cures a broken heart?  LITERATURE!"

Later that afternoon after court, I scampered into Joseph Fox on Sansom Street, and
there behind the counter sat perhaps the most beautiful manifestation of saleswoman
imaginable - a Joseph Fox employee, mousey in diminutive stature, but nonetheless a
colossal beauty in black, with pearls and cat-eye glasses that promised sweet
salvation from the pain I was enduring. 

She asked how she could help.  I said, "There's no other way to say this.  I broke
up with an English professor, and I'm devastated.  Therapy, talking with friends,
booze - nothing's working, and this morning I thought literature might do..."  She
jumped.  "My god.  Have you read Madame Bovary?"  And she just about leapt the
counter in a single bound, aurally holding my hand with compassionate suggestions.
"Oh my.  That won't be enough.  Surely you know Haruki Murakami?"  On and on she
went, walking me back and forth in the store.  Kundera.  Some really obscure Russian
literature.  More Murakami.

And then I said to her, "Do you have anything about recovering from neurotic

And that, good sir, is how I came to have the signed copy of F.F.Y.L.D. that I now
have in my hand.

Sincerely Yours,

A Philadelphia Barrister

I'd say that this attorney has a gift for language and anecdote, but alas, he didn't send money.

Have a good friday.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

April 5 (Anis Shivani asks, and Richard Burgin answers)

I drop this now in case I forget to blog later today, or in the part of the day when it is normal to be awake.

Anyway, this great interview with Richard Burgin has it all--Philip Rahv, Isaac Singer, Borges, Brandeis, Drexel, Boulevard, agent angst, and more.

Here's an excerpt from The Huffington Post:

Shivani: I think good writing is not fundamentally about self-expression. Do you agree or disagree? If it's not, then what is it about?
Burgin: I agree that good writing is not fundamentally about self-expression but rather the creation and exploration of the writer's own emotional territory. If the writer concentrates on populating his world mainly with images of him or herself, his writing will be narcissistic and fail. The self is expressed in good writing but subtly or secondarily as a byproduct, as it were, of their created world.
Shivani: What is the single most self-destructive thing a writer can do to harm his or her growth?
Burgin: Don't get addicted to any drugs and don't listen too much to anyone from a "school" of writing who tells you there is only one way to write well. As Isaac Singer said "small fish swim in schools."

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

April 4 (Dogplotz Dice Roll)

Over at facebook, I just survived getting tagged by the Emporer of Dogplotz, aka nine-time Atlantic City dice champion Barry Graham, so I thought I'd follow up by mentioning the book he mistakenly had me down as citing. It's Nothing or Next to Nothing, and I just picked up an eight-dollar copy from Main Street Rag, and if you follow this link, you can, too. Based upon what I read in The National Virginity Pledge, if you can get into Dan Fante, Bukowski, SaFranko et al, you may like Barry's writing.

One of my favorites from Virginity was Graham's gambling story. It was one of the longest in the collection of sometimes flash-length fiction, and the tale also reminded me a bit of other recent reads: The Rag's "D-Gen" and Steve Almond's lead story in the 2010 Best of American Short Stories, "Donkey Greedy, Donkey Gets Punched." Within twenty years, it could be legal to strip search and pepper spray anyone seen gambling at less than a grand a throw, so there will continue to be a lot of gambling tales to pen on cocktail napkins. The ones I just mentioned could be the trailblazing stories in twenty-first century casino fiction.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

April 3 (Diminishing Returns)

The Philadelphia Inquirer posted a long one on college's high costs and "diminishing returns." Here's an excerpt on what some recent grads are doing:

Benjamin Landau-Beispiel, 23, and Eric Augenbraun, 24, both graduated from Masterman High School in 2006, where they became friends and fostered a love of history.

Landau-Beispiel, from East Falls, went on to Harvard University, where he graduated with a 3.5 grade-point average; Augenbraun, from Roxborough, went to Penn and graduated with a 3.7.

Between them, their educations cost nearly $400,000. But now, Landau-Beispiel is a janitor in a synagogue in Roxborough, while Augenbraun is a chess tutor for elementary-school kids and does research for a national political journalist.

The compelling article, which, of course in fine blogger fashion I did not read in its entirety, goes on to note, "On a quiet Sunday, Landau-Beispiel scrubs toilets, then turns on a giant Titan vacuum cleaner in the Mishkan Shalom community room. Thin and bearded, the young man affixes headphones to his ears and listens to a lecture on Karl Marx by historian Moishe Postone."

I feel like I was in a similar place after college. I wasn't scrubbing toilets, but I was bussing dishes and working other mediocre jobs. Landau-Beispiel is from an affluent background, so I'm not sure he'll get as desperate as I did and wind up selling Toyotas for almost two years although, frankly, I don't blame him if he does.

For now, though, his Good Will Hunting routine will have to suffice and listening to lectures on Marx while working doesn't seem like the most alienating labor to me.

And we can't measure a life until it's over, and even then multiple perspectives offer various conclusions at what the heck was lived, what it meant, why, etc.

Good luck, Benjamin Landau-Beispiel and Eric Augenbraun. Your future awaits, and I bet there will be many more twists and turns in your journey.

PS--It occurs to me that I'm interested in these two chess-playing Masterman grads because I was on the first Masterman chess team. If we were to play today, I'm certain both would destroy me.

PPS--I'm almost positive these two could get some lucrative math tutoring or something similar.

Monday, April 2, 2012

April 2

So April 2 is a National Day for Higher Education. I did see that thirty-six students were arrested in DC for protesting student-loan debt, but I could not find any news about the protests on the front page of The Washington Post, which, seemingly by coincidence, did have this article on how student-loan debt adversely affects seniors. At the protest, the arrested students had been chanting, "Sallie Mae, you can't hide. We can see your greedy side."

In more local news, the students look tired. Worn down. Four weeks away, but they are ready for a tidy conclusion to this spring's educational experience. A student in my 9:05 a.m. class burst out in dismay, and I could hear she was distraught, when the topic of capitalism itself rose from the waters of a novel with environmental themes. "Do you mean that capitalism might not be the best system!?" A few others smiled quietly, as if we were sharing tacit knowledge. . . sneakily questioning the national mythology. Or just trying to discuss and contextualize the book.

Ah, humanity; ah, class participation.

PS--And then later in the day, we'd learn of another school shooting, this one at a Christian campus in East Oakland.

April 1

This isn't a joke, and I know this is a lame post, but I intend to blog everyday in April. Sorry this one is late. I promise it won't happen again.

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