Thursday, December 31, 2009

Half empty.


The theme of the new issue of Poets & Writers, which arrived with a pretty slick looking Chip Kidd designed cover, is "inspiration."

It's a great issue and includes a list of "Fifty of the Most Inspiring Authors in the World."

I have to give them points for exercising some restraint. You'll notice that it's fifty OF the most inspiring authors and not the hyperbolic fifty MOST inspiring authors in the world.

Here's my problem with the list.

Obama.

"Let's not forget," the folks at P&W remind us, "that our first African American president is also a best selling author."

Technically, yes. President Obama wrote two best selling books. But does that really qualify him to be put on a list of most inspiring authors? A list that (rightly) includes Billy Collins, Joan Didion, Dave Eggers and J.D. Salinger? A list of living authors that the editors made a point of mentioning would have included John Updike, Frank McCourt and David Foster Wallace had fate gone another way in this past year?

After all, another politician put out a bestseller this year. In fact, she had a book that hit the bestseller list before ink hit old school paper (1).

I am the first to admit that I've never bought on to the cult of personality that surrounds Obama. He's an amazing politician who was able to spark something during the last campaign. But I've never seen him as anything more than a politician...which I'll quickly note I do not mean in a pejorative fashion. Seriously. I'll even note it up here in the body of the text, not in a footnote.

But was there really no one else, someone who spends some part of every day staring at the proverbial blank page trying to create something from nothing, that could have occupied that spot on the list? Someone who has committed their time and passion to the art and craft of writing? Is Obama an inspiring author or is he an individual with an inspiring story?

Maybe I'm being too cynical. Maybe after the great deficit of the Bush administration I should be pleased for the simple fact that our president is literate and capable of writing expressive, grammatically correct sentences that do not involve folksy contractions.

Or maybe I'm craving the return of the writer.

If I could just figure out what the heck that actually means.

1. Yes. I'm being argumentative.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Because we need a little business, right this very minute...



So all those e-books that the Kindle-rati have been bragging about?

The ones that "outsold" their doddering old hardcover relatives this bright holiday season?

Turns out a big portion of them were free.

According to a count done by GalleyCat on December 27, 64 of the top 100 books on Kindle's bestseller list were as free as a gay country schoolteacher on a Saturday night (1).

As interesting but somewhat depressing is the Washington Post article that inspired the survey.

From the Post: "...Amazon's customers have made it clear that $9.99 is still too high for their taste. Most titles in the company's list of top 100 Kindle bestsellers are priced below $9.99, and the most popular price point is $0.00."

$9.99 is too much for a book.

Sigh.

1. What?

Monday, December 28, 2009

Learning something new.


The phrase I'm thinking is "a normal person."

As in, a normal person would take a deep breath and be grateful that they have a job (1) and get on with it.

I'm not a normal person.

The New Year is coming and I'm thinking I'm ready for something new in the New Year. Something that gets me out of bed as excited to hit the ground running as teaching does.

One bit is in the works already (2).

I'm also pretty excited to have found a great new thing already.

Do you know about the The Institute for the Future of the Book?

I didn't. Till now.

How cool are these people?

Answer: Very.

1. Okay...a few jobs.
2. Later.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Synchronized gifting.

VanPelt sent a package for Christmas.

Actually, better than a package. VanPelt sent a big packing envelope with books in it.

This is something that happens every now and again and it's always fantastic.

Why is that?

Because books from VanPelt are usually the kind of amazing thing you find after pawing through the giant boxes of items donated to a church yard sale. They're little treasures that haven't been on the shelf of Borders in a while or, if they still are, they're a bit buried behind the giant display for the latest publisher-engineered blockbuster.

A favorite sits on the desk where I write. ThomPain (based on nothing), a slim little book of monologues that I adore.

Here's a passage:

"So a horse walks into a bar. The bartender says, "Why the long face?" And the horse says, "I'm dying of AIDS and I guess I feel a little sorry for myself. " So the bartender says, "My God, that's awful. I'm so sorry."

[Brief pause.]

"I'm forgetting some part of it. But you get the point, you see the hilarity. It's funny because it's true."

No, huh? Well, trust me. Later you'll think it's really, really funny. Maybe not ha, ha funny...but NEA grant money funny.

But back to the new books. Here's the cool thing.

VanPelt sent me a copy of Florida on the Boil: Recommended Novels and Short Story Collections Set in the Sunshine State.

Leopold's gift to me?

Little town of Bethlehem...it's a trip to Florida to visit my Auntie Compassion (1).

Great minds, eh?

1. Not her real name but a nickname that has far wider traffic than this blog.

Monday, December 21, 2009

snooow, sn-OOOOW, SNOW!

Growing up there were a few marketable skills passed along as part of the cultural package.

You learned how to pick lobster meat.

You learned how to mix a great Bloody Mary (1).

And you learned how to shovel.

"Shovel?" I hear you thinking. "How hard is it to shovel?"

If we're just talking the physical act of shoveling, not hard at all.

If, however, we're discussing the etiquette and art of shoveling...well that's another thing altogether.

First, if you are shoveling a pathway your finished path should be wider than the shovel itself. The one swipe and then you're done method...that was the kind of shoddy work that used to get us all sent back outside for another pass.

If your neighbor has shoveled first it's pretty much good manners to take the extra time to connect your shoveled piece of the sidewalk to their shoveled piece of the sidewalk. Leaving two or three feet undone because of some vague sense of property line is, well, kind of sad.

And, finally, if your neighbor has taken the time to shovel their car out and you just haven't had the chance it's fine to grab the empty space...as long as you shovel it forward. If your car is in a space that you haven't shoveled, clean another one out for the guy whose space you took. If everyone does it the street gets cleaned out and, saints be praised, parking for everyone.

He's not sure exactly why (2) but somewhere out there my dad is very, very proud.

1. Okay. Maybe that was just at my house.
2. As he is not one of my three readers... Oh! And one follower! I have a follower! Hi follower!!!

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Tramp, tramp, tramp, tramp...

The Independent has joined the rush to the second decade of the 21st century (1) and published a list of heroes and villians...people who made their mark in the first 10 years of the noughts.

These are people we'll remember.

Maybe for being very, very good. Maybe for being very, very bad.

Among the motley crew is Belle de Jour, the call girl blogger who was later revealed to be a researcher.

Here's what they had to say:

"Unlike most self-obsessed bloggers, this 30-something 300£
-a-night hooker at least found something interesting to put on her site. Her anonymous musings became the most dreaded of things, a 'publishing sensation'; and then she outed herself as research scientist Dr. Brooke Magnanti. Now she's just another author with a book to plug."

What's interesting is that I didn't go to the site with the intention of reading this particular article but, instead, one about the declining sales of some bigger name authors whose books usually jump off the shelves.

In my head these two stories have become connected.

Books have joined movies in needing to be blockbusters. Unfortunately, unlike movies, publishers have all but abandoned the indies. A big name is better than a really heartfelt novel. A memoir penned in the general vicinity of a Hollywood star far more attractive than a well-crafted collection of short stories. A good story is only as good as its marketing buzz.

And all of this because, we are told, that's what people want to read...which is when we get into a chicken-egg swirl of asking if these books are what's published because it's what readers want or if this is what readers read because that's what's being published.


Just be sure to leave 300£ on the nightstand when you're done.

1. Did I say that right?

Christmas time is here...Happiness and cheer...

Turns out that all those weather forecasts were correct and we got a whole lot of snow dumped on us here in our nation's capital.

Big picture, it's fantastically beautiful and has really done a good deal to kick off the holidays. Not that I haven't known they were coming, but now it feels like Christmastime.

The other remarkable thing is that people around here really haven't started complaining about the snow.

This is very, very rare.

Usually, when a bare dusting makes its way through town, people start pining for the return of summer.

But now it seems that many of our neighbors are new to the idea of snow. They're a collection of Southern transplants who were genuinely excited to get out and watch our streets and sidewalks slowly disappear under a thick white blanket.

I love the snow. I've even made a practice of digging out the sidewalk for a good portion of our block...clearing out for a few houses in both directions.

What I will never get used to is how snow immobilizes the city. Sidewalks will be impassable on some blocks until the spring thaw. Subways and busses will take a while to get back on track which kind of has me dreading tomorrow morning's commute. Shoveled parking spaces are going to become the equivalent of wartime nylons.

But even with all that, there's no more denying it...Christmastime is here...happiness and cheer...fun for all...the children call...their favorite time of year.

Yeah. Pretty corny ending. I know.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Bathroom Humor.

So...last night I went to review a show.

I can't tell you what I thought of the show but I can share a handy tip.

If you're ever cast in a show have someone else do a quick read of your bio before you start passing it around.

And why is that?

Because sometimes shows have funny names and sometimes the winds of chance blow you hither and yon, sometimes in paths that surprise and astound.

And it may be that, while all of the parts were fantastic and notable, you might want to make certain some shows don't get listed back to back.

You know, so your credit listing doesn't include a string like this: Urinetown, Sweet Smell of Success...

But maybe that's just me.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

The Friendly Beasts

Running between three jobs (1) is starting to wear me out a bit (2).

As a result mornings in our house have been a bit more haphazard than usual and Finklestein's walks have not quite been the clockwork operation they were once. This means that we've been meeting new dogs and walkers on a pretty regular basis.

Here's the thing - yesterday we met a woman walking her ridgeback and there were smiles and hellos and oh-so-cutes passed around.

Today I ran into the same woman and her dog on my way to the bus (3).

I said hello and received an annoyed "why are you talking to me" glare before Miss Ridgeback brushed right past me without so much as a how do you do.

Maybe there are no bad dogs...but there are certainly bad manners.

1. Okay, two jobs and some Wednesday, Thursday evenings and Sunday matinees.
2. But break is on the way...break is a crucial in a city where snow days are not really spoken.
3. I was, of course, dogless. I've not gotten that seeing eye dog outfit together for Finklestein.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Cry me a river.

While debating whether or not to try and get a blog post in tonight before packing up the computer Leopold's iPod shuffled up one of my favorite Christmas songs.

Run, Run Rudolph...which I think might actually be inexplicably titled Run, Rudolph, Run.

The version on his iPod is Bruce Springsteen's but I actually fell in love with the song back in the days when Ally McBeal was not-so-gently telling us all that a little mental illness is not a bad thing.

Jane Krakowski, who played Ally's secretary Elaine Vassal, sang it on one of the Christmas party episodes and it's been a favorite ever since.

Other songs that hit the spot this time of the year?

Santa Baby.

And, because there's nothing like a good cry at the holidays, Joni Mitchell's River...and pretty much Shawn Colvin's entire Holiday Songs & Lullabies album.

Oh, especially Colvin's In the Bleak Midwinter.

Mental illness. Uncontrollable sobbing.

I love the holidays.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Kamikaze poets.

Just when you think you've heard just about everything.

Well.

You realize you haven't.


Never turn your back on a poet.

Them and their freewheeling approach to line breaks and punctuation and capitalization...you just can't trust 'em.

And if you clicked on the link above, here's what happened next.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

More empty shelves.

Lambda Rising will be closing its doors early next year.

Deacon Maccubbin's shop, which opened in 1974, will no longer be a landmark anchoring Dupont Circle's now very chain-heavy shopping area. It goes without saying that this is sad.

Sad that D.C. will be losing another independent bookstore. Sad that the store in Baltimore will join the Rehoboth Beach shop in the great bookstore beyond.

But this is an announcement that feels different to me.

Maybe it's just wishful thinking...maybe it's memories of fantastic little bookshops in Canada and on side streets in English towns...but I don't think that the day of the independent gay bookstore is over here in our fair city.

It just feels like something is going to happen (1).

1. I know. It IS a song cue.

Friday, December 4, 2009

I love the smell of mimeograph in the morning.

What would it be like to start a 'zine today?

I'm on the verge of finishing a newsletter project and it's gotten me thinking about 'zines and underground comics...and screenprinted concert posters and small house t-shirts and book artists and taggers and skateboard punks and sticker artists and wheat paste guys all those folks who still believe in creating things with their own two hands.

People like Flying Guillotine Press with great slogans like: "We publish things."

Back in the far off distance past I had things published by a 'zine or two.

Back in the far off distant past I made comic books that weren't graphic novels because I didn't think such a thing existed.

So what if, with all signs pointing down the electric yellow brick road, someone were to do a 'zine in the here and now.

Because really - and you just need to click on that Flying Guillotine link above - as fantastic as a polished Chip Kidd designed book can be, there's something truly heartfelt about burlap.

Kindle-ing

The Literature Professor got a Kindle and was very excited to show it off.

She was far less enthused by my reaction to her new toy.

"I'm a literature professor! Do you know how much easier it's going to be to..."

"I know, I know," I said, before going silent.

Today she wanted me to take another look at it, noting as she did the irony of the fact that she was demonstrating the Kindle's real ink display and easy navigation with Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness.

With all due respect to the Literature Professor and her hardcover-broken back I'm still not convinced. In fact, I was actually kind of disturbed by the e-reader's very unreal appearance. By the book-like text floating on the thin little screen.

By the literal lack of weight to it.

Call me old-fashioned and destined for a brace, but I'm still not ready to say goodbye to paper.

Why no one will ever sing "To Sir With Love" to me.

[Scene: School library where students are (mostly) working to complete an in-class assignment.]

Student #1
: C'mon Mr. Artboy. Don't make me do it. There's not enough time for me to do all that writing. Can't I just take a break? C'mon. Look into your heart.

Mr. Artboy: I did look into my heart. It's a vast, cold, dark place. Barren and empty and without feeling.

Student #2 (who is sitting at the computer furiously trying to make deadline): Huh. You might want to have someone take a look at that.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Winging It.



















Tonight I had one of those conversations with a customer service representative that begs the question, "Are you just making this up?"

Irony being that what got me into the situation of having to talk to customer service was following the instructions repeated to me over and over while I stood there on hold. "Visit us online. Visit us online. Visit us online."

Yeah. I did that. That's kind of how this all got started.

And that's what I kept explaining to the customer service representative who proceeded to tell that my situation could not be resolved because...wait for it...they were having issues with their computer system.

Um...could the computer issue your having have contributed to my to the computer-caused issue I'm having.

Oh. No. It just started.

You knew that was coming, right?

Monday, November 30, 2009

Maybe if they had gone with Bordours?

Borders in the UK has gone into receivership.

At least, I think that's what they mean when they say it's gone into "administration."

That sounds right, right?

The news has no impact on the American chain since they're no longer connected.

Here's the funny thing though.

Usually when I hear news like this I launch into a tirade about the slow demise of bricks and mortar bookstores.

But here's the thing.

When we were in England this past summer? I don't think I remember seeing a Borders.

Which might have been part of their problem.


Evil dread.

Books are evil.

But not that way.

Not "books have ideas and ideas raise questions and questions lead to revolution so let's burn the ones that raise questions" kind of evil.

And all books aren't evil.

Just the wolf-in-sheep's-clothing books are evil. Books that are really just glorified, hard covered press releases are evil. Ghost written books that pull resources and attention away from books written by real, live authors who believe that writing is both an art and a craft are evil (1).

Wondering what I'm yammering on and on about?

I'm yammering on and on about Michael Wolff's column "Books Are Bad for You" over at Newser.

Actually, it was published a week ago...making it old Newser...but I still think it's worth a read.

1. That's right. I'm looking at you Palin. I'm also looking at all you people that made transformed a woman who could barely string a coherent sentence together into a bestselling author. Way to go.


Sunday, November 29, 2009

Try to remember those days of Mo-vember

One of the things that gets furiously written about at Furiously Writing is gratitude.

Which is something that I find both thoughtful and impressive. It's very easy to say that you are grateful for the things in your life, another to devote time and attention to listing out those things for which you are thankful on a regular old Wednesday.

Lately I've found that I've returned to a project that I had been engaged in which was looking at people who were putting creativity to work in the real world. That's kind of a ham-handed way of saying it but as near as I'm going to get this fine Sunday evening.

In other words, I'm grateful for creative people.

Yesterday Leopold and I hit Eastern Market with Finkelstein and came across these guys.

Better than the really amazing t-shirts that the guys at Fuzzy Ink are creating? The mustache shaped business card that I figured out how to balance on my upper lip.

Less impressed by this trick is Leopold.

But trust me. It's hysterical.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

In The Dog House (in a good way)

So if you happen to be in the Bay Area and you have the hankerin' (1) for a little music, a little lit and a little retro-barber vibe could I suggest kicking the holiday season off with a trip to Joe's Barbershop for the latest installment of the Barbershop Reading Series?

Here's the disclaimer.

I've never actually been to one of these readings.

I don't know Joe and have never been to his barbershop.

I won't be there on December 5th because I'll be, well, on the other side of the country.

I don't even know Michael McAllister (2) except through his Dogpoet blog which I happen to like quite a bit.

But this is another one of those times where I have to tip my hat to someone who came up with a great idea and made it happen...and happen well enough that the Examiner wrote about it.

How's this for good press: "For only $5 at the door, this event, which included endless amounts of wine, cupcakes, and beer, was a bargain so outrageous that when it ended we milled about and congratulated ourselves for having been witness to it."

And, to get down to the brass tacks of the business, here's the other thing that I love about what Michael has done.

When it gets right down to it, when I think about getting my writing out into the world I'm not the writer that dreams about holding a hardcover book in my hand (3). I always imagine the readings. That's when I think it all really comes together. Getting to actually see that connection being made with other people. People who maybe recognize themselves of their uncle or a world bigger than the world they know.

That's why I love writing.

Unfortunately, the reading circuit for unpublished fiction writers is...well...largely nonexistent.

Poets, yes. Storytellers, sure.

Even the performance artists have a room of their own.

But fiction writers, not so much.

So big ups for this idea and this event.


'Cause how cool would it be to sit in one of the barber chairs (3)?

1. Yep, that's right. I just used the word "hankerin'."
2. To the point that I'm desperately trying to be sure I've not spelled his name wrong here on my blog.
3. Though I do think a lot about the cover design.
4. In case you were wondering, Jim Provenzano is going to be one of the readers...hence this post's book cover selection. He also wrote the novels Cyclizen and Monkey Suits...but I really dig this cover.

Radio Silence

Wow.

It's like I just decided to thumb my nose at Nablueblahbooberry.

For the record, I didn't. I've just been doing my very best to get a handle on everything that I'm juggling right now.

The remarkable thing?

How much more work it's possible to get done when one doesn't have to actually go to work.

And while we're on the subject of work, a big blog shot out to Leopold who - while I was downing several pots of tea and staring at my laptop screen - cleaned our house like nobody's business.

Not to brag on him or anything...but there was actual furniture polish involved. Cleaning products were emptied and needed to be restocked.

There's a tablecloth in the dining room.

There are plants in the living room. Plants that are meant to be there...not the odd bits of leaf and flora that have been being tracked in by Finkelstein during our 40 days of rain and muck.

It's pretty fantastic.

Another thing that is pretty fantastic that is coming up for you folks on the left coast is another edition of the Barbershop Reading Series.

In fact, both of these items are so fantastic that we're going to go a little nuts.

We're going to give them both their own posts and end this most recent period of radio silence.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Like a lot of people, Project Runway was why I got hooked on Bravo.

Despite Jonathan Adler's dismal "See you later, decorator" catchphrase I stuck around and watched Top Design.

Top Chef. Big fan.

I'll even watch the episodes I've already seen. Even when I remember who won. Even when I remember what everyone cooked ingredient for ingredient.

And I watched and continue to watch because I'm fascinated by creativity and watching people with a passion for creating new things, seeing the world in new ways.

More and more though, Bravo seems to be moving away from celebrating people who have devoted their lives to a particular craft.

So where's a person to get their fix?

Back in the day, when I started reading blogs to get through an afternoon at work, I stumbled on Bradford Shellhammer's blog. It was fun. It was fast. It was cosmo-fabulous.

It always made me think of Sex and the City.

Not in a lame, stereotype kind of way.

And, actually, not in a "the t.v. show" way. But like the book. A kind of catalog of urban cool.

It was an online daydream for someone sitting at their desk eating Subway, wondering how it was he went from art school to, well, sitting at a desk eating Subway.

I've been a faithful reader of the blog and, when I decided to set up shop here, I made sure to add it to my blog list.

Mr. Shellhammer just posted a video that he did with the folks from dwell (1) and it is, like the blog, pretty fabulous.

Not only did it restore some of my faith in the creative world, it put a new song on my iPod.

And for those of you still shopping for Christmas...I may actually be able to pull off that hat.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Is that my bellybutton?

I've heard about these devices that can be attached to cars that act like mini-breathalyzer. If you blow in the tube and your reading falls outside certain parameters, your car won't start.

I think that I need to install one of those rigs on my laptop.

That's not to say that I was drunk when I posted yesterday. Just really rundown and cranky and prone to singing, "Like a circle in a spiral like a wheel within a wheel..." as I found myself once more debating what to do when I grow up (1).

Instead of going to bed I unfortunately committed a bit of poorly written and awkwardly structured naval gazing.

Ech.

Today though, I had one of those moments (2) where I realized that the answers really are always right in front of your face. What was it that Dorothy tells Glinda when asked what it is she learned from her trip to OZ? Something about if you're ever looking for your heart's desire you might not need to go any further than your own backyard?

Before the irony is noted I'll say it myself.

This is another post about me.

Or, it is on the surface.

The backstory, or stories, that I can't tell because they aren't truly my stories - those are about other people. Those are the stories that have reminded me that the work each and every one of us does has the potential to change things. Those are the bits that make it clear that I do know what I want to do when I grow up...I just have to figure out the how.

Not really an earth shattering revelation...but pretty good for a Friday afternoon.

Posts about other people to come.

1. It's just a phrase...not the expression of a Peter Pan-type syndrome.
2. Actually I had three of those moments...one on video.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Gates & Goodbyes

Jeanne-Claude passed away yesterday evening.

The 74-year old artist, best known for the large-scale public installation works she created with her husband Christo, died in New York from complications of a brain aneurysm.

In February 2005 Leopold and a group of our friends headed to Central Park to see the bright orange flags of The Gates.

What was I doing?

Working.

Work has been an ongoing subject of conversation around our house because I'm still in transition and trying to figure out how to make this admittedly ridiculous schedule work.

The reality?

Something is going to have to give.

Now to decide what that might be.

God bless Jeanne-Claude. Know the great difference your work made in the world.

iRead


















I'm spending more time on the subway these days, rocketing back and forth between jobs and reporting assignments.

It's not really enough time to write...though I do sometimes get a few paragraphs jotted down for things that I'm working on (usually when deadline is looming and I'm desperately trying to get something started or finished).

But it is enough time to listen.

My iPod is quickly filling up with storytellers and actors reading short stories. The Moth podcast has joined Selected Shorts and This American Life as particular obsessions.

There's something incredible calming about hearing someone tell a story. I'm not one for meditation or yoga or contemplative stillness. I'd love it if I was but that's just not me.

So, instead, I spend my time sitting on the subway listening to Parker Posey read a Miranda July short story.

You make your own "Ohm."

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

When Real Life is This American Life.

Have you ever had one of those days where it seems like someone might actually be trying to tell you something?

Like your day is being coaxed into following some kind of bizarre theme? Dished out in, I don't know, three or four acts with a new story by David Sedaris?

Today's theme, if I'm reading things right, is perspective.

While not everything has been a "wow, the world is such a marvelous place!" kind of transformation, even the things that haven't been so great have actually taught me a thing or two.

Like there is nothing better than seeing someone caught up in a fit of laughter they can't control.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

It's the end of the world as you know it.

Pop quiz.

Who said: "Let's face it: the library, as a place, is dead. Kaput. Finito. And we need to move on to a new concept of what the academic library is."

You're never going to get this.

It was Suzanne E. Thorin, dean of libraries, Syracuse University.

To be fair, Ms. Thorin says that she made this very extreme statement as part of a debate at the 2009 Educause Conference.

Okay.

Or, should I say, ooooooo-kay.


Funny thing is that there are only 1.1 million books in residence. The rest of Club Bird, as the kids call it, is filled up with student lounge areas, seminar rooms that faculty members say they don't need, and a coffee bar.

I understand the use of the provocative statement to generate discussion but, if you were the dean of libraries for an institution I was attending or teaching at, I think I'd prefer you to put books ahead of coffee beans.

Even if you think the joint is kaput.

Peep peep peep.

Over at the Bookninja shop you can jump into the middle of a really interesting discussion about the unfortunately named genre of chick lit, spawned by a post about this post by Harriet Evans over at the Guardian.

The really ham-handed Cliff's Notes version of the discussion?

Women writers aren't being taken seriously enough because of the impulse to wrap the work of all and sundry in saccharine sweet pink covers featuring smartly manicured Manolo shod feet, toss the lot on the same center bookstore table and head off for cosmos.

The original Guardian bit is interesting, the 'ninja's post is interesting and the reader comments over at Bookninja are worth double the price of admission.

I'm keen on the subject for a number of reasons, not the least of which being the fact that The Author and I submitted a panel discussion proposal to a conference on the literary "gay ghetto." Much like chick lit, books dealing with LGBT subject matter that are not psychology texts tend to end up shelved one right other...the work of Andrew Holleran smacked up against Palm Beach Boy Toy (1).

I don't think that either of these concerns are literary elitism or book snobbery, but the reality is that you really are judged by the company you keep. When I walk by the section that is supposed to be "Gay Literature" and realize that every other subtitle includes the word "erotica" than I have to believe that it's making some kind of impression on the people who wander past wondering where the new Nigella baking book has been shelved (2).

That's not to say that erotica writing is bad, but it's not the beginning and end of gay literature.

And so it's noted, the panel wasn't accepted by the conference despite the fact that it would have included gay and lesbian authors who, at the time, had new, well-received books on the shelves.

Of course those shelves were in the back of the store.

Behind the chick lit display.

1. Not a real title as far as I know...but I'm not going to be the one to Google it.
2. More on book browsing to come. See that there? I just teased an upcoming post.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Code talker.

So, that thing that everyone wants me to be excited about?

Over and over and over again.

Well, I am excited for them.

I think it's great.

Wonderful.

Fantastic.

Brilliant.

Genius.

Okay. Now maybe we can stop.

Because, honestly, I'm kind of tired of being excited for everyone else because it mostly just reminds me that no one is going to ever be excited for me when it comes to that.

It's not their fault.

Just like how I feel about it isn't mine.

Everybody clear on that?

Good.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Something's burned.

Today I've laid really low, taking advantage of the fact that both my day jobs were closed for the Veteran's Day holiday and no one is opening a show tonight.

The start of the week has been really rough and I was grateful for the chance to sit, do laundry, do some work on my own schedule and crank out quite a bit of food in the kitchen (1).

Today's background music has been pretty limited. With the exception of a pair of Bewitched episodes it was either NPR or Bravo's Top Chef marathon.

A few weeks ago This American Life did a piece about that favorite reality show catchphrase: "I didn't come here to make friends!"

This is not something the Top Chef contestants say a lot.

What they do say, a lot, is, "I'm just sorry I didn't get a chance to show everyone what I can really do."

If you're knocked out the first or second week I can see that.

After that it kind of loses its potency because, well, a few million people have seen what you can do.

1. Our CSA deliveries have gotten ahead of me so there's a mushroom leek soup, an apple squash soup, a broccoli soup and a whole lot of applesauce. A whole lotta applesauce.

Storybook Romance

The New York Times put out their list of the top picture books of 2009.

There's nothing better to me than a really well-done children's book. Something with a story that sets you back on your heels and art with enough edge that you feel like you're passing along something rich and wonderful.

Like you're giving a kid a book that will make them loving reading and literature rather than passing along a clever bit of product placement.

The best of '09 includes Shaun Tan's book tales from outer suburbia.

One look and there's no doubt why.

Looking to brighten up this dreary, rainy Wednesday?

Check out the good stuff at Tan's Web site.

If I was cooler I'd say he's "da bomb."

But I'm not.

So I won't.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

And so has he.

I'll admit it.

I'm feeling a little bit stressed.

Some, like The Freelancer, think this is my natural state.

That is not true.

Or, I think it isn't. I mean, if it was, I probably wouldn't notice it.

Right?

The first rule of Nabliboomooo, there is no Nablubahbam

See what happened back there?

The minute I mentioned trying to do National Blog Posting Month I missed a day.

Yesterday was a disco inferno without the disco. No mirror ball. No white leisure suits.

No Roberta Flack.

Just too many deadlines and responsibilities and new things happening at the same time. A panic attack. A late night/early morning trying to make deadline. A general sense of "blah" when I think about what it is I put together.

And the echo of two words in my head: epic. fail.

So, I'm feeling kind of punk on a number of fronts this morning but this...well this was just a bummer.

A Nabliboombop-bummer.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Naplablahblomahamadoooo.

Artboy: I have to get a blog post in.

Leopold: Why?

Artboy: Because it's Nahblublablowblooblah (1).

Leopold: And what is Nahplahblueblahblahboo (2)?

Artboy: It's National Blog Posting Month where people who have blogs are challenged to do one post every day for the month of November. There's a lot more to it than that but, since I started the blog with the intention of posting once a day every day I'm using this as motivation.

Leopold: What if you just put that energy into working on a novel?

Artboy: Actually November is also National Novel Writing Month (3) where people are challenged to write a full novel in a month.

Leopold: So why aren't you doing that?

Artboy: Um...

And...scene.

1. Which, of course, translates to NaBloPoMo. There are banners and buttons and the like but I figure the moment I put something like that up here I'm pretty much announcing, "Hey world, look...it's another thing I'm not going to do!
2. Still, NaBloPoMo.
3. NaNoWriMo. Which really rolls right off the tongue.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

There is no "e" in patriot.

Congress took a page from The Breakfast Club and is holding a Saturday session today.

Since I had to work today I wasn't losing any sleep over this situation...especially since word on the street is that Nancy Pelosi was going to take Olympia Snowe into the bathroom for a makeover sure to catch the eye of the captain of the Senate flag football team.

But, driving back to the house from dropping things off at the magazine I had to run a security gauntlet on Pennsylvania Avenue because of those rascally self-appointed patriots of freedom, the Teabaggers.

Which led me to think, "If you're really that concerned about the state of the country, isn't there something else you could be doing with your Saturday besides standing on the side of the road holding up signs that not only demonstrate your lack of organization but your inability to spell (1)?"

So here's what I'm thinking.

Maybe, instead of standing along the side of the road screaming that no one is doing anything (2), you could...you know...do something.

Like spend your Saturday volunteering at a local library so that they don't need to close on weekends in response to budget cuts.

Or spend your weekend volunteering at a local hospice so that you can put all that poster-making energy into making a difference in the final days of someone who maybe didn't have the great healthcare you all apparently have.

You...yes, you with the giant poster of an aborted fetus...maybe you could...um...you know what. Never mind. You've obviously found your calling and I like the idea of you staying where someone can keep an eye on you.

There are after school programs, youth athletic leagues, rehabilitation programs, halfway houses, rec leagues, church outreach programs, soup kitchens, homeless shelters, transition re-education programs.

In other words, there's a whole lot of folks out there who actually need help. People who are struggling. People who don't have healthcare. Who don't have jobs. Who have lost their homes.

So maybe, just maybe, instead of standing on the corner swinging your "Don't Tread on Me" banner and acting like you are doing anything other than causing folks to wonder, "Why the heck is that guy swinging a 'Don't Tread on Me' flag?" you could, I don't know. Do something productive.

Like take an English class.

1. General note: "It's" is the contraction of "it is." "Its" is possessive. So, what you meant to write is "It's my country." Yeah. I'd feel good with you in charge.
2. As we're still on the it's vs. its discussion this might be pushing things but I'd like to point out that you, standing along the side of the road, screaming at passing motorists that the government isn't doing anything useful, is what some of us would consider to be ironic.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Stop the presses!

This just in from the folks at the Wall Street Journal.

Writing is hard.

As in, being an author is like working an actual, real live job with challenges and expectations and typing and stuff.

"Behind the scenes, many of these writers say they struggle with the daily work of writing, clocking thousands of solitary hours staring at blank pages and computer screens. Most agree on common hurdles: procrastination, writer's block, the terror of failure that looms over a new project and the attention-sucking power of the Internet."

Next up: math is for nerds.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

The first time I have felt the need to use: ROFL

So, the Teabaggers came back to Washington today...and they brought Jon Voight.

Jon Voight.

Jon Voight, who earlier this week at a fundraiser for Governor Tim Pawlenty's new Freedom First PAC said, "I say that they're taking away God's first gift to man: our free will."

The "take our country back" good times kept rolling today at a rally where Voight said to the cheering crowd, "We do not want our freedom of choice taken away from us."

I'd keep typing but it's all I can do to not pee myself from laughing this hard.

Whoa, man on the verge of a nervous breakdown.

Consider for just a moment the number of fables, fairy tales and folk tales that revolve around the problems that arise when someone gets what they ask for.

Like, I don't know, if someone were to wish to be a writer. A writer with lots of interesting projects to do and two or three story ideas on the hook.

Perhaps even a post-it on the edge of his laptop (1) with the word he's been looking for: "Parasomnia." And another post-it underneath that reads: "Parasomnist?...Parasombulist? (2)"

And then that writer sits down and opens up his laptop, pours himself a cup of tea and...stares.

And stares and stares and stares and stares and stares and panicks and stares and panicks some more and eats a peanut butter sandwich and stares and wonders what Ina Garten is cooking on Food Network and then wonders what it would be like to have a show on Food Network because the grass is always greener and having a show on Food Network must be so much easier than all these writing projects and stares and stares and stares.

And puts laundry in the dryer.

And stares and stares and stares and stares and stares.

Do you get where I'm going with this (3)?

1. Yep. That's how I roll. I put post-its on my computer. Today I also used my Crackberry to hold open the pages of my linen covered agenda so I could write down some important dates.
2. Which to the best of my looking are not actually words but I was trying to figure out what the equivalent of somnabulist would be.
3. In case you're wondering, she made grilled clams with basil bread crumbs and hamburgers for a beach barbeque that was set-up by two folks from Ina's army of gay designer friends.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

From away.

I was born and raised in the state of Maine.

When asked I blame all number of personality traits and quirks on this simple fact of geography.

I do not like change.

I hold a grudge (1).

I have a memory like an elephant when it comes to the categorization of slights and arguments.

I will eat or drink anything flavored with blueberries but will defend the low bush berry to my dying day.

I believe that lobsters should be boiled whole. That's it. Boil them whole. Eat them with potato chips.

I am prone to hard core cravings for Pat's Pizza.

I say soda, I say sub and I cringe whenever Tom Bosley's sheriff character appears on a rerun episode of Murder She Wrote.

Like a good many Mainers that I have encountered who now live our lives "away," I have moments when I wonder what it would be like to move back.

And then things happen like yesterday's vote, a vote where the majority of people casting ballots chose to repeal marriage rights for same-sex couples and cheer because they managed to make an entire community of people second class citizens.

Which leads me to think that living "away" is okay for right now.

Until I am reminded of the fact that everywhere that marriage has been put to a vote it has lost.

Think about that.

Every time people have been given the opportunity to allow same sex families to enjoy the same rights, responsibilities and opportunity to live as citizens recognized equally under the law, the majority of people have said no. The majority of individuals living (or, more accurately, voting) in 31 states have said, "Your relationship is not worthy of recognition."

The reason that gets played over and over is that it is a redefinition of marriage.

Well here's the kicker. The state of Maine ranks in the top 15 for divorces.

The top 15.

The United States as a whole ranks #1 in the world for divorces.

Don't look know, but maybe some kind of redefinition might be in order.

Like marriage as an opportunity for two people to commit to spend the rest of their lives together. To love one enough to not just be there to celebrate the victories but to cry and fight and struggle and get up the next morning to do it all again. To do laundry and pay bills and buy groceries and forget birthdays and remember anniversaries and develop car pool charts that would put the planning of any military action to shame.

To laugh at inside jokes and groan at that story that's been told one time too many and know to never try to order for one another at Starbucks. Not without having it carefully written down.

To eat chicken three nights in a row because it was on sale.

To count change so that you can order pizza on the fourth.

To warn the other one when they walk in in the middle of an episode of Murder She Wrote that Tom Bosley is in.

But what do I know.

1. Tightly. With both hands. White knuckle holding.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Consider Yourself...informed.

The good folks at The USC Annenberg School for Communication & Journalism and the National Arts Journalism Program have been handing out cash.

Not to me. But that's okay...I'm currently training a small band of English orphans to pick pockets for me.

I'll be okay.

"The USC Annenberg School for Communication & Journalism and the National Arts Journalism Program are pleased to announce the results of voting for projects entered in the National Summit on Arts Journalism, held October 2 at the Annenberg School Auditorium on the University of Southern California campus in Los Angeles.

First Prize of $7,500 goes to Glasstire of Texas. Second Prize of $5,000 goes to FLYP Media of New York City. Third Prize of $2,500 goes to San Francisco Classical Voice. Additionally, all three projects, along with finalists Departures (a project of KCET in Los Angeles) and Flavorpill, previously were awarded $2,000 each for being chosen finalists for the National Arts Journalism Summit.

Voters are members of the National Arts Journalism Program and alumni of the National Endowment for the Arts’ Arts Journalism Institutes, in a kind of informal professional academy of arts journalists."

You can read all about it and watch the competing videos here.

Monday, November 2, 2009

It's a thin line.

Have you ever thought about the line between being eccentric and being affected?

No?

Oh. Okay.

Well...I have.

For several months now I've had frequent encounters (1) with a woman who is always wearing a pair of white gloves. To this point she's always paired these gloves with skirts and twin sets and it's all come together to be this kind of retro thing.

The first few times I thought it was kind of interesting. Kind of.

But then it started to get a little on my nerves.

This, I know, is completely unreasonable. What this woman wears is absolutely none of my business. It has absolutely no impact on my daily life. It's a pair of gloves, not a t-shirt with a racist slogan or an advance copy of Sarah Palin's book.

But this week the glove lady showed up wearing a small leather jacket and pants. And little white gloves.

It was the kind of outfit one would expect to see on a prime time forensics investigator...which she is not (2).

This is when I started to ask myself, "What is the line between eccentricity and affectation?"

And then I asked myself, "Are there any diseases where one would have to wear a pair of white gloves? Is there a religion that requires women to wear white gloves? Is there a cultural reason for these gloves that I am completely missing?"

And then I thought, "Why on earth am I putting this much thought into this woman's exceptionally annoying white gloves?"

Maybe it's because I just taught The Tell Tale Heart in my writing class, but I'm thinking it's in everyone's best interest for me to figure out a way to let this one go.

1. Exactly once a week.
2. At least, not in the setting where I see her.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Text and the Single Girl

Publishers Weekly put out their list of top books of 2009 and here's the kicker.

No women.

From the good people at the colorful and graph-ridden USA Today (with all due credit to the lovely and talented Leslie Pietrzyk and her blog Work in Progress for bringing this topic of conversation up):

"Year's best: Publishers Weekly today names its top 10 books of 2009: Richard Holmes' The Age of Wonder: How the Romantic Generation Discovered the Beauty and Terror of Science; Dan Chaon's Await Your Reply; Victor LaValle's Big Machine; Blake Bailey's Cheever: A Life; Neil Sheehan's A Fiery Peace in a Cold War: Bernard Schriever and the Ultimate Weapon; Daniyal Mueenuddin's In Other Rooms, Other Wonders; Geoff Dyer's Jeff in Venice, Death in Varanasi; David Grann's The Lost City of Z: A Tale of Deadly Obsession in the Amazon; Matthew Crawford's Shop Class as Soulcraft; and David Small's Stitches: A Memoir."

These are the kinds of ridiculous lists that can make a girl want to fill her pockets with stones and head for the nearest river.

(Note to the folks at Publishers Weekly: That last line that I wrote? It was a reference to Virginia Woolf. She was a female writer.)

And before it's said, yes, I understand, these lists are usually created using all kinds of data and statistics and rituals involving chicken feet and lizard heads...but here's the thing.

Did no one at Publisher's Weekly read the list and think, "Huh, that's odd."

I'm thinking no.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Life Recess.

In a couple of weeks I will return to the world of office work.

For the rest of the term I will, like far too many teachers have to do, work PT after finishing up at school.

I'd be lying if I said I wasn't a bit nervous about transitioning back into cubicle city. My last work experience ended pretty badly and I still have periods of actual, genuine anger about what went on and how the curtain finally came down.

With the exception of that sentence I just wrote though, I've gotten better at keeping it (1) to myself (2).

I don't know what's going to happen next (3) and I guess none of us ever do.

What I do know is that the time I've been able to spend teaching has been fantastic and I'm grateful that I found this opportunity at a time when I most needed it.

Ironic that the kid who hated high school found so much peace of mind by heading back.

1. Mostly.
2. I know. It's really time for me to let it go. I'm just not very good at that.
3. Since there is still a wild card or two out there for me.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Till death, or book fair deal, do you part.

Well, it seems I blinked and totally missed it but...in case it comes up at a cocktail party...the folks at Scholastic asked author Lauren Myracle to make some changes to her book Luv Ya Bunches before they would include it in their book fairs.

They felt some of the language was inappropriate.

The girls in Myracle's books - four girls with nothing in common except that they're all named after flowers - said things like "God," "crap" and "geez."

And, as it turns out, one of the young protagonists has two moms.

So, the folks at Scholastic who now insist that they were NOT involved in censorship, asked Myracle to change the same-sex couple to a heterosexual couple.

So much for the sanctity of family.

I have to say, I think I would have less of an issue if Scholastic had decided to completely pass on Luv Ya Bunches. The idea of asking an author to entirely remove characters from a book because they are lesbian brings it to a whole new level of disturbing.

Almost as disturbing as the fact that the folks at Scholastic are still pretending that the plastic merchandise white elephant bazaars that they bring around to schools are still about books.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Afraid of the dark.

In honor of Halloween (1) I've been digging up scary stories.

In the course of my research I came across an NPR story on Noir: A Collection of Crime Comics.

I was completely blown away by the excerpt included in the piece, a little slice of terror by Jeff Lemire called "The Old Silo."

Gore is easy.

Terror is much, much harder.


Bring your nightlight.

1. A holiday I have never, ever liked.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Miss Gorightry I plotest!*

Today is one of those days where I just don't feel quite right. Not sick. Not sad. Just kind of...not.

This mood always reminds me of the scene in the movie Breakfast at Tiffany's where Holly explains the "mean reds" to Paul.

"The blues are because you're getting fat and maybe it's been raining too long. You're just sad, that's all. The mean reds are horrible. Suddenly you're afraid and you don't know what you're afraid of."

When Holly got the "mean reds" she hopped in a cab and headed to Tiffany's.

When I'm feeling blah I get the urge to go to the bookstore.

I also get the urge to order an extra-large pepperoni pizza.

I managed to fight the first one...but am starting to lose the fight against the second.

*Yes. I know. Very wrong.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Race to the bottom

The American Booksellers Association has asked the Department of Justice to investigate the race to the bottom pricing of some of the big box retailers.

For whatever reason...maybe attempting to prevent a full-scale apocalypse of those last independent booksellers out there...the ABA is taking issue with folks like Wal*(Not So S)Mart, Amazombie.com and Target (1) incurring intentional losses by selling books by authors like Stephen King, Barbara Kingsolver and John Grisham for less than $9.00 a pop.

New books.

New hardcover books.

New hardcover books that wholesale for about $17.00 each.

So...not so much playing fair here.

Less worrisome to me is the fact that the big boxers have also put Sarah Palin's new book on the markdown table.

I think $8.98 to read what passes for the wisdom of Palin is just about right.

Assuming there are some crayons and 3-D glasses thrown in.

1. I don't think I'm ready to go after Target yet...sorry. Though, I have to say, the Michael Graves stuff looks nice but it's built with all the integrity of wet tissues.