Friday, February 28, 2014


I woke up too early, neither exhausted nor rejuvenated, and went downstairs to heat water and prepare corn flakes with milk.

Now it's back to thin herbal tea and Dave Newman's Two Small Birds. The book is trucker fiction, heavy on the fried chicken and poetry.

A facebook comment suggested that Cartilage and Skin author Michael James Rizza picked up some match boxes at the Atticus table at the Book Fair.

On his way to the conference, Dan Cafaro of Atticus walked by a musician busking on the street in Seattle. The guitarist may or may not be Charlie Parr of Austin, Minnesota, but Rizza will understand when I say that it looks like Parr has gotten beyond Duluth.

I'm not at the conference, but the Seattle Public Library system has five print copies of Fight for Your Long Day.

I may soon add swimming or stationary bicycle to my regular walking routines, but for now, I'll count as additional exercise an unease I've experienced, during turbulence, on the smaller planes of my recent flights.

Of course, everything will be fine.

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Frank Conroy

On social media, the writer Michael Leone posted this quotation from Frank Conroy's Stop-Time:

It was as if all the saints, martyrs, and mystics of human history were gathered into a single building, each one crying out at the moment of revelation, each one truly there at the extreme of joy or pain, crying out with the purity of total selflessness. There was no arguing with these sudden voices above the general clamor, they rang true. All around me were men in a paroxysm of discovery, seeing lands I had never known existed, calling me with a strength I had never known existed. But they called from every direction with equal power, so I couldn’t answer. I stood balanced on the pinpoint of my own sanity, a small, cracked tile on the floor.   

Friday, February 21, 2014

turning his buck

In the screenplay, I'm depicting myself as a marginal man turning his buck by analyzing the marketing strategies of short films from Passenger and the owner of La Colombe.

A key is to say you're doing something you love and that it's not about the money.

But hey, what's not to like about good music and coffee?

If while sipping your La Colombe coffee in Rittenhouse Square, you hear the strumming of the world's happiest busker, be sure to think of L.U.S.K.

And have a good weekend.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

How Iowa Flattened Literature

I'm so tired I can't even remember if I've read the entire article, but I did reflect a bit on the following two quotations from it:

"If your central motive as a writer is to put across ideas," the writer Steve Almond says, "write an essay."

I found this interesting because one reason I enjoyed Almond's excellent lead-off story from the Richard Russo 2010 Best of American Short Stories is that it does have ideas we can play with. They relate to the analyst v. analyzed, caution v. risk, card games and gambling, and fathers and sons among other things. I also appreciated the ideas in Almond's intro to the story, about the link between autobiography and fiction. Of course, "Donkey Greedy, Donkey Gets Punched" has many other things going for it, such as strong flow, timing, and characterization. Anyway, I do like novels with ideas, if not precisely of ideas, and for me that's partly what I get out of Voltaire, Nabokov, Pynchon, Dostoyevsky, and others.

And then "How Iowa Flattened Literature," in a quotation taken out of context, makes Frank Conroy sound like the kind of teacher I hope I never become. Similar to John Gardner, Conroy is a man intent on validating realism at the expense of the experimental, postmodern, or other unusually good stuff, and it sounds like he would steer his students away from emulating some of the greatest American fiction.

When I was at Iowa, Frank Conroy, Engle’s longest-running successor, did not name the acceptable categories. Instead, he shot down projects by shooting down their influences. He loathed Barth, Pynchon, Gaddis, Barthelme. He had a thing against J.D. Salinger that was hard to explain. To go anywhere near Melville or Nabokov was to ingest the fatal microbes of the obnoxious. Of David Foster Wallace he growled, with a wave of his hand, "He has his thing that he does."

I've never felt a lasting need to uphold one kind of literature at the expense of another, but I hope if I'm ever accused of having "a thing" that I do, it means I've sold some books and not that I've done the unconscionable "thing" of 2014, namely criticizing another writer on my blog. Ugh!

Literature, that almost dead cult from which there's never any escape, while we're all stuck in sentence fragments, desperately waiting for James Patterson to send cash to keep us afloat.

(By the way, DFW is the only writer mentioned in the second quotation that I've never read although I've never finished anything by Gaddis. I love at least one novel or story by all the others.)

Monday, February 17, 2014

Iowa Writers' Workshop

"How Iowa Flattened Literature" has been around the interwebs recently, about the CIA and the workshop, and in fine blogging fashion, I've only skimmed parts of it so far. Nevertheless here are more than ten things, mainly books and writers, I think of when free-associating about the Iowa Writers' Workshop:

1) The Stone Reader a documentary about a forgotten Iowa writer that the director determines to find

2) The Same River Twice by Chris Offutt

3) After the Workshop by John McNally

4) Fred Exley at Iowa in Pages from a Cold Island

5) drinking stories about Raymond Carver and John Cheever at Iowa

6) stories I've assigned by Bharati Mukherjee, Nam Le, and Sana Krasikov

7) John Gardner and T.C. Boyle, wildly successful, prolific novelists with PhDs from Iowa (if I'm not mistaken, Gardner was one of America's first PhDs in creative writing although this is perplexing as I've always been under the impression Iowa does not offer such a degree)

8) John Irving, one of my father's favorites

9) Kurt Vonnegut, Ralph Ellison, Philip Roth, Richard Yates and other literary greats who passed through Iowa

10) my rejection in '93 or '94; in retrospect, I'm sure it was a weak application (no publications, undergrad workshops, or thorough references, and a hurried seven semesters of college; my creative writing sample was likely somewhat experimental and weird)

11) need to get to work but plan to add hyperlinks and Jesus' Son, Joy Williams, and others

12) shouldn't forget Alexander Chee

13) Henry Israeli, Philly poet and publisher of Saturnalia Press

14) Jayne Anne Phillips, kind enough to answer my questions about her "Home"

15) for posterity's sake, of course, it's worth noting that none of the writers listed above are at my level, so to speak, and particularly not in the categories of sloth, fatigue, generalized failure, and penchant for procrastination (and for all their sakes, I hope they are also weaker than me in neuroses, doubt, angst, and occasional chest pain). ps--and it goes without writing, until I do, that I'm also better at my patented process for blog of editing, publishing, and then editing again. and again. . .

*#12 once included Steve Almond, but in a local library on 6/26/14, while reading from one of his nonfiction titles, I chanced upon his insistence that he attended the MFA at UNC-Greensboro. . . no doubt, another reason Almond has felt awkward and out of place with all the other nuts.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Throwaway Americans, 10th Anniversary Edition

In "Throwaway Americans," Stu Bykofsky has the audacity to wave a white race card and get the reader to sympathize with a guy who went to private schools, once owned an airplane, and even has a part-time job, and, alas, maybe because the guy is 54, just as in my 1994, non-airplane-owning, flat-broke father's experience as fictionalized for "My Father's Great Recession," I do, at least somewhat, even as I wonder where I'll be in ten years. In 2024, just as in 1994 and 2014, it seems likely a majority of the folks making the "hiring decision" will be other white men.

At least that was certainly true in my dad's situation 20 years ago when he finally found his way back into the world of employment. I've noted this before at L.U.S.K., that he wound up getting his 15 seconds of fame as "the poet, Jay Roberts" while working at a gas station convenience store off A1A in Ponte Vedra, Florida after his downstairs neighbor in the beach bungalow they split a low rent on was kind enough to bring back an application and help return him to work. My father did about 20 to 30 hours a week at minimum wage, $5.05 at the time, I think, and enjoyed the job because playing cashier reminded him of working in a liquor store thirty-five years previously. He had time to walk on the beach and write his poetry, and he was quite happy for those reasons.

"My Father's Great Recession" is included in the limited edition paperback published in Romania (and available in English, Romanian, and Spanish soon), and we are looking for an American publisher to produce an e-book version of these texts.

Saturday, February 15, 2014

2014-15: inequality, unemployment, poverty

One reason Fight for Your Long Day is worth reading is that the novel clearly predicts the direction we are heading in--toward contract work (35% of all U.S. Workers), increased inequality, and global "flattening" for most of us even as the elite prospers. In 2014, from Robert Reich's "Why There's No Outcry" to Stu Byfosky's "Throwaway Americans," inequality, unemployment, and poverty articles remain the easiest ones to find between Miley, Bieber, and Sochi headlines. Apologies again for pasting in URLs, but I'll update this list as I see them, and I'm sure it will prove impossible to capture even "the 1%" of the total. So to speak.




Monday, February 10, 2014

beating around the academia

Quickly, a couple blogs on academia caught my eye recently, and inspired by both, I wanted to renew the L.U.S.K consumer and gifting pledge!

So here it is:

No matter how low our marketing strategists stoop, under no circumstances will we be sending underwear to any standing U.S. governors (and, yes, we are including both long and flannel as part of this pledge), and, likewise, we will never ever, or ever never, purchase a pre-owned automobile from any curbstoner who happens to be moonlighting as a university president (not even if he has taken to calling himself a sales and leasing consultant or referring to student debt as "the collective vig").

That's our guarantee to you, friend.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014


On Tuesday evening, after devouring chicken and eggplant in garlic sauce, I broke a cookie and read this fortune:

Happiness is a state of mind.

Happiness is activity.

capitalist immigration

Australia sings give me your tired, your hungry, your rich for investment, and in return receive a "millionaire visa." And, of course, even as millionaire investors are welcome with open visas, part-time employment is surging in Australian academia. Indeed, these trends are global, and yeah, what else is new?

Just a week later, on February 12, 2014, I read that Canada is cancelling a similar program with a less expensive "entry fee," citing many immigrant investors were not making a firm enough commitment to Canada. The article includes information on comparable visas to additional countries such as the United States, Greece, and Portugal.

So many Chinese want to leave their closed society and its crowded cities, yet from an outsider's perspective it seems there are plenty of reasons to stick around.

Monday, February 3, 2014

Woody and Philip

So one of my favorite actors killed himself by overdosing on heroin while one of my favorite directors faced renewed accusations that he's a pedophilia.

For Woody Allen, I feel no need to defend him, and, alas, bad behavior does seem prevalent among too many superstar athletes, entertainers, and writers, but who really knows? I guess Woody and Dylan know, and it's even possible they are both remembering inexactly. An awkward aspect to the whole business is that those of us who respect Woody's several masterpieces (and willingly admit he has at least a dozen mediocre ones) do tend to return to them as a kind of "comfort food" for film. That is, we watch Annie Hall or Manhattan when we are feeling blue. Yeah, we turn to Woody to take the edge off our own lives.

Even before Dylan's op-ed in The New York Times, there were already plenty of swirling rumors, so I guess this isn't exactly the unexpected thing. And of course, everyone is innocent until proven guilty in a court of law, and the rich, miraculously, wind up much more innocent than the rest of us. . . well, erring on the side of the victim, and assuming Dylan's version is truthful or more accurate, I hope she has found a bit of peace by expressing herself. I appreciated hearing former NBA star Keyon Dooling express as much once he spoke out about his childhood abuser although his wife did not look pleased to hear him say as much to Katie Couric on television. Of course, many victims never find peace.

As for Philip Seymour Hoffman, it's a sad story, and, for me, not being aware of his history almost an unbelievable one. How is it that someone so productive, operating on such a high level in so many films over so many years, could also be a heroin addict? Unlike Woody, who, as stated, did produce numerous B and C films in between his best ones, almost everything Hoffman touched turned to gold, at least his role in it. I'd say State and Main, 25th Hour, and Charlie Wilson's War are some of my favorites from him. And it's always particularly sad, even scary, to see a contemporary move on.

I suspect that us more regular and less productive types will never know how either one of these guys operates.

Late breaking: A couple days later, my attention was brought to this Slate piece on Philip Seymour Hoffman, and it does sound like he was sober for almost his entire acting career until a relapse beginning with "popping prescription pain pills" in 2012. So that makes a lot more sense and also makes his story that much sadder. And scarier, too.

Later breaking: And now Dylan's brother Moses takes Woody's side, and I really have no idea of what to believe although from the article I learned that Moses is a family therapist. . . if this were a film or novel would he be anything else?

Latest breaking: Woody Allen claims he is innocent and blames Mia Farrow 

Saturday, February 1, 2014


Late last night I watched (and read the subtitles) for this 130-minute film aptly titled Paris, and then in the morning, courtesy of China File on twitter, I saw this 4-minute preview for a new documentary on over 460 landfills for trash in Beijing, China.

2014 Adjunct Articles

Already in 2014, there has been a sharp increase in the number of online articles and blogs leading to news of adjunct instructors, and here are some of the URLs (I'll post more when I have time and as I see them).



JF and RCB at HuffPo:

Adjunct Action in St. Louis:

Maria Maisto at

Becky Tuch starts at minute 3:50:

Con Job documentary:

Aid Campaigns:

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