Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Dr. Seuss's Sandy

This came to me via a Shelf Awareness facebook share of a Bookish tumblr:


And then, after the storm swept through, journalist Bill Hangley and poet Pattie McCarthy shared these photographs from The Atlantic. Musician and bookseller Bill "Bile" Greene has also led me to some alarming images from lower Manhattan:

 
 
Stay as safe and warm as you can.
 


Friday, October 26, 2012

new issues, new horizons

The September/October print issue is out and about, sporting "A Scottish Dizzen," and much, much more! Thank you, Dr. Daniel Peaceman for everything you are doing in this transcontinental literary world.

In my own literary way, I've been living vicariously through The Paris Review's interview with the Italian writer and publisher Roberto Calasso. If only all of our writing lives could be as charmed as his. Here's an excerpt from Calasso on a Kafka in his library:

And this is the first book that Kafka ever published, Betrachtung. There were eight hundred copies. In one of his letters, he mentions having gone to a bookshop to see if anyone had bought the book and realizing that, of the eleven copies sold, only one had been bought by someone other than him.

I hope everyone has a relaxing and healthy weekend.

Monday, October 22, 2012

toss up?

John Cassidy at The New Yorker, a magazine endorsing Barack Obama, seems to indicate that the race is as close as some recent polls indicate. His map still tilts toward an Obama victory and yet his writing acknowledges that some of the states leaning blue could very well wind up in the hands of Romney.

On the radio on the ride to Ohio, aside from NPR, whose experts both predict an Obama victory as at least 70 percent likely, almost all of the talk radio is unabashedly right wing to ostensibly neutral, that comes across as right wing when a Democrat (or this Democrat) is in charge.

Larry Kudlow, a bow-tie throwback money guy who will communicate in a friendly way with cohosts across the political aisle, seemed to be the only conservative acknowledging that the Obama victory is still the likely occurrence.

And then there is the conspiracy theory or legitimate questions surrounding Tagg Romney's purchase of voting machines that will be used in Ohio.

So it feels like everything is up in the air, which could be why the Utah paper endorses Obama and one in Florida that endorsed Obama in 2008 now swings to Romney.

PS--On topic, this sappy tribute to freedom, tattoos, and American nationalism caught my eye although it's a bit disturbing as to what it seems to imply about the intended audience (college students? all of us?).

Saturday, October 20, 2012

drive to ohio

I saw some amazing fall foliage on the drive to Ohio. The North Carolina section, up 25 North and then I-26 West, and then I-40 West over into Tennessee was particularly beautiful, but I-75 North through Tennessee and Kentucky certainly did not disappoint.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

God's hair?

"I'm not a Bible-thumper, I am a Christian, but I really feel like God's hand shaved my head. I really do … If Dolly had not lost her hair - or chosen to shave her head - I never would have found this … ," he said.

And so another one of us answers the call of cancer.

Best wishes and health to Bud and Dolly Stringer.

another home for the homeless adjunct

Debra Leigh Scott's "How The American University was Killed, in Five Easy Steps" was picked up and retitled at alternet.org. So Debra is fighting her way through the capitalist thicket of her "edupreneurship," and it appears as if she is making progress. My understanding is that she very much needs to get a profitable movie deal, big league book contract, or some other such financial reward from all of her hard work "saving" other people's faculty or students, and I'm sure millions of people she is fighting for could use some extra bucks, health coverage, and more. It would be a wonderful thing if all of her work ultimately does help level the economic playing field for students and teachers at American universities, but it's all important to recognize, and help publicize, that there are some programs in place to help both of these groups.

I guess it takes a lot longer to read a novel on the subject, and that could be one reason Fight for Your Long Day only has so many readers. But overall, in these times of social media and short-attention spans, folks seem to love a good opinionated essay on a topic, and then their free-and-easy chance to opine anonymously in the comments section, much more than any reading that might be harder work at times and offer its share of moral ambiguity and doubt about all kinds of agendas.

Moderate or nuanced positions are merely for suckers and cowards; defined outrage is in. Yeah, it's election season, so let's let it all hang out and "F" those who oppose us every chance we get. If you don't believe me, just ask everyone from Bill O'Reilly to Rachel Maddow to Rush Limbaugh to Michael Moore. Novels with nuances and ambiguity and perhaps even a strange, half-hidden nonpartisan streak despite a healthy dollop of the left in its focus on the leftover do not go over as well in these polarized times.

On the other hand, it could just be that folks haven't heard of the book. In Philadelphia on Tuesday evening, at a poetry reading, two different folks, one a poet and the event organizer, the other an English adjunct at Drexel, didn't recognize the title when my poet-accomplice was kind enough to bring it up in introducing me to these guys. I've noticed according to amazon's author central, my teaching region has sold many more copies than have moved in Philadelphia despite the book being in a window at the Faber in 30th Street Station as well as in the Sunday section of the Philly Inquirer's business news.

So, as they say, it is what it is.

In sales we talk about how out of ten people, the one person who dislikes you or your product will tell ten people whereas the folks who like you or it will tell one person. Over two years of marketing a novel, I've come to learn that at least in the case of this book, if the person does like the book, the one person they are most likely to tell is the author.

But, aside from another spate of insomnia, I've been in good spirits recently and have experienced life's "blessings and light" in other ways. Some of the examples of the bitter, aging, drunken writers, among the amazingly successful ones, are rather disturbing, and we can all do our best to try to remain outside of that category of writer whether we're famous, infamous, unknown, or entirely forgotten.

I'm working full-time, everyone in my family seems to have health benefits that work (knock on plastic keyboard), I do have readers, and some of these readers seem to hold my only published novel in high regard. What more, not only do I have occasional time to read (Foucault's lectures of all things!) and write fiction, but I also have the opportunity to communicate with motivated college students and live vicariously through all the various lives and diverse majors that a general-education curriculum brings together in one room.

Although it can be alternately, or even all at once, fascinating, stressful, unbelievable, and terrifying that some of my best students here are seeing the world in terms exactly antithetical to Debra Leigh Scott and everyone else fighting for some greater good or social justice, I learn a lot more from being in a room with my current students than I would if I were back in Philly, teaching in another version of America, one I have more experience with.

Okay. Better try the bed again.









Monday, October 15, 2012

now i know

i feel like it's all coming together for me. you?

having said all that, i feel fine.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Philadelphia wandering

I flew in on remarkably small planes from GSP to Dulles to Philly and a few hours later, I was visiting my older sister and her family in always sunny University City. After we all ate at an Indian restaurant, I walked back through Penn and Drexel's campuses and saw new buildings and construction all over. The University of Pennsylvania had a whole bunch of new restaurants where I used to frequent the other movie theater as a kid. It was either the Eric III on Campus across from the library on 40th or the G-- on Walnut. But that was so many years ago and now even the Marathon Grill that replaced the Burger King is long gone. It seemed like a happy, healthy, economically stimulated area on an early Saturday evening, far removed from any evidence that American median incomes have slipped by four grand over the past four years or that our median family is worth 77K. It's probably bad form to bring all that up, yeah, I know.

So I walked down Walnut in the colder-than-I-thought-it-would-be weather and popped in to the University of Pennsylvania Bookstore to make sure my same signed paperbacks of Fight for Your Long Day were still on the shelf. Yep, they were. Untouched and unread, so I took them out to check for my signature and then replaced them all save for one which I left open to display, leaning on the paperbacks on a higher state of shelf. Will someone find it and read or at least give it a quick glance? Will a reshelver take this as a clue that it's time for the books to be returned? There appear to be sales in new and used online, but it's a little unclear if the everchanging quantities of new and used available on amazon are genuinely indicative of such.

Who cares, right?

Yeah, so I sauntered over to the magazines and found the latest editions of Boulevard and The Paris Review. Boulevard had an Anis Shivani follow-up, a retort and reply, to the AWP/MFA gangs who've been dissing his disses on the question of whether creative writing can or cannot be taught, or is not or is a form of therapy. And, well, I must confess it is making me feel a little better right now, the writing is therapeutic I should say, but the whole thing seems like some ridiculous binarism than even kids who didn't write their first messages on IBM punchcards can easily debunk, deconstruct, or de-whatever-they-want-to-call-it.

For the average applicant, as talented as she or he may be, the programs themselves seem increasingly impossible to gain admittance to although evidence suggests that in some cases cheating and plagiarism can work for other elite programs. If I remember correctly, George Saunders reported almost 600 applications for 6 spaces at Syracuse, so there seems to be very little reason not to resort to criticizing them as part of one's own quest for readership. If I'm not mistaken, Roberto Bolano did worse than this kind of thing as a young poet in Mexico, and I'd suspect that this is part of how he established his "name" even if he wrote his long novels years later in Spain. The actual writing of the books would be the minor problem, right?

Hah!

But back to rejection and economic doom, Saunders's underlying economic message is that one is most likely to become just another rejected statistic who has lost hundreds of dollars in application fees so that a handful of select writers might indulge in tuition wavers and "generous stipends," all the while dreaming of healthy salaries, quality health benefits, and secure retirements that may prove to be entirely out-of-reach or nonexistent. The finances are most likely to be middling at best either and any way unless the poet is willing to resort to some other art for the sake of turning a buck. But aside from the fact that he is dying, just like the rest of us, and must endure such terminal pleasure in cold, dreary upstate New York, Saunders is doing quite fine.

Me? I played it warmer, if poorer, and stayed in South Carolina when my wife moved to Ohio for her good opportunity. I wanted to live with my daughter full-time this year, but there was no job for me, and I couldn't bring myself to apply for one of three sales positions advertised at Subaru of Dayton or return to begging for adjunct classes while some other "important" writers write the same books over and over again. (I'd love to see more of these capitalist repeaters show some cojones and say something public, and positive or negative, about Fight for Your Long Day. Books are being written on top of women with no benefits teaching six classes, and the higher-ups mostly ignore this situation.)

For the record, in car sales, the opportunites to write are even more fleeting than they are for the adjunct instructors of English comp, but health benefits are generally still available for full-time workers at the dealerships. When I sold Toyotas over 20 months in Philly, I'd drink beer and scribble in a bar late at night, but I never produced anything more than the roughest sketches. I was tired, naye, exhausted, most of the time, and it's as if nothing has really changed over time.

So I put down Boulevard, hoping Shivani is enjoying the fact that he has so many readers for "frenemies" (a term borrowed from this recent Alexander Chee), and although it's the one I'd prefer to be loyal to, and its editor was briefly kind to one of my rejected stories, alas, I'm just another writer with a kid who shouldn't be indulging in any full-retail-price literary journals, and so I felt like I was doing something wrong when I purchased The Paris Review instead, at a corporate-U. B&N no less, by slapping down a plastic amazon card. Its contents included a "novella" by Sam Savage, an interview with both a poet and fiction writer, and news of their $10,000 prize, which although I'll never win, I might enjoy indulging in dreams of such.

So that's it. Then I left the bookstore and walked home, through the mad, overbearing construction at Drexel University, buildings being built on what used to be the cement sidewalk, where I could likely still be an adjunct instructor if I hadn't made the decisive break in August, 2007. No novel and no little girl I'm almost certain, and now it remains to be seen as to whether this newish trajectory produces any more books or kids.

I'm feeling more optimistic about the second novel. A second child seems highly unlikely.

But one way or another, the second novel, the true first novel and the weirder and more original one, is going to come out.

For some crazy reason, maybe just the 45 minutes of editing I put in at 7 a.m., I know this to be true.

Friday, October 12, 2012

you said that's a Prize for Peace?

I wasn't thinking of all the different points Tariq Ali makes in this interview, but in light of the current austerity in Greece and Spain and European Union's extremely high unemployment rate, I was surprised and confused when I heard the news that the E.U. has won the 2012 Nobel Peace Prize.

Mo Yan, winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature, is getting much stronger praise, at least from this expert in Chinese literature. Smith College's Sabina Knight says, "If you want to know why I love Mo Yan, just read anything by Mo Yan. His works seethe with a life force, and his grappling with human aggression transcends national borders. His works shed light on the dark depths of our psyches, a darkness on which China has no monopoly."

I like to think she wasn't speaking of my recent ice-cream intake when she notes that we all have darker depths than we care to recognize.

ah, the brutality

Marcus Hayes, along with the comments that follow, pretty much sums up the brutality, angst, glory, forgiveness, sin, exploitation, joy, pain, love, and numbness of most of the human condition.

Here's the link if you want to learn more about how Ricky Watters helps the kids.

I guess we'll begin to see assessment of how well these football camps for underprivileged kids are protecting the brains and joints of such, but for now, we can just appreciate the idea of Watters as the hardworking good man.

Makes me feel like I should scurry back to my own tasks.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

more homelessness

This blog depicts a national war against the homeless, focusing mainly on aggressive city ordinances until toward the end it implies there could have been foul play involved in the death of an advocate for the homeless in Tampa Bay, Florida. The obituary I found seems quite legitimate though and doesn't suggest anything of the sort. One thing is clear though, that Bill Sharpe's passing will not in anyway help the homeless of Tampa Bay. Here's an excerpt from the obituary:

But his friends say Sharpe had a genuine concern for the poor, and as the economy got worse — and a panhandling limit in Tampa seemed more like a sure thing — he felt he had to do something.
 
Sharpe told the Times he saw how the often-bedraggled homeless people on street corners sometimes frightened drivers. He thought he knew why.
 
"They could be us," he said. "We're flat scared of that."

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Ridge Avenue

I remember driving by this Ridge Avenue homeless shelter many times on my way to 8:40 a.m. Writing for Business and Industry classes at Temple University. In one of my 10 to 15-year-old economy cars (quality "hoopdees" for all your urban transportation needs), I'd glance to the left, see the men already standing outside, and be grateful I had an apartment, a fine collection of adjunct "opportunities," a working car heater, and more. If I'm not mistaken, Sam Katz once visited and spoke to the men during one of his failed mayoral bids.

And now, poof, the shelter disappears. . .

. . . or, rather, it has been replaced by another Stephen Starr joint, in this case, a catering operation employing 60 people (but the article states none of the previous tenants applied for work at the new venture).

Here's an excerpt from the news:

However, with Gov. Corbett's decision to cut off of general-assistance money to 30,000 Philadelphians in August and with the approaching winter, homeless advocates say the situation could quickly worsen.

"We will not be surprised if we see an increase in the number of people who need shelter," Scullion said. "It might not be today, but when it breaks, it will be tough."

Andrew Latimore, 57, who is homeless, said it's been hard for people who've been cut off from general assistance.

"A lot of people are off their checks now and only have food stamps," Latimore said. "You can't stay nowhere with food stamps."





Saturday, October 6, 2012

nothing with my life

It's one of those nights when the world wide web so easily convinces me I've done nothing with my life, and yet, I can still find myself giggling at parts of this story that I wrote when I was about 24. At other sections, I wince, of course.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

austerity

i've decided to add some austerity to my own life. although i have not yet determined exactly how this will be done, i'm leaning more toward cutting back on capitalization as opposed to reducing the ice-cream intake. the ice-cream intake is nothing to be proud of, but i just don't feel it right or proper to radically alter my diet in these troubling times. someone's got to keep the cows and scoopers employed, and i'm not sure i could handle the stress of significant change. status quo has gotten me this far, and i do often at least try to walk it off in the evenings.

in other news, i've found a little local charity i'm jonesin' to contribute to. contribute 44 meals for $11. yeah, sounds too good to be true, and we can be certain they won't be eating the same ice cream i'm eating, but all the same, i liked the little note and the small envelope, and i think i'll write that $11 check right now. of course, i haven't yet sent Oxfam anything even though i added the donate link to my blog. i'm tired and overworked, so give me a week on the $11, too.

like a lot of folks, i'm feeling a little weirded out by the debate last night, and i guess we'll see where it all leads. a lot more job growth and stock-market gains under dem presidents, and yet you never would have known it if you only tuned in last night.

and since this is a more personal note, i should add that they've graciously added proper cement sidewalks to parts of our neighborhood. it makes a difference.

okay, thanks for listening.



Tuesday, October 2, 2012