Saturday, March 13, 2010

Sherman Alexie, how I do go on.

Back when I was earning an incredibly valuable graduate degree in creative writing (1) we were given the assignment of writing a response to a short story.

I selected a story by the Native American writer Sherman Alexie (3).

I thought of that story - and actually dug it out of the files since it was not included in the collection I wrote for my thesis - the other day after listening to a recent podcast of Selected Shorts where actor B.D. Wong read Alexie's story "Breaking and Entering."

The reading is fantastic, aided in no small part by the fact that Wong delivers this incredibly jarring story with all the emotion and power of the most practiced stage performance.

What I like about Alexie is the fearlessness with which he approaches the creation of character. The people who inhabit Alexie's stories are complicated and conflicted. Troubled and searching. Angry and hopeful and full of questions.

You know, just like in real life.

The response I wrote to Alexie's story was very much influenced by my own growing up near a reservation. Or, probably more appropriately to what it truly was, a dedicated Native American community. Much like cities have areas that become Chinatown or Little Italy, the concept of this place in our town was not a legal or federal one. It simply was what it was.

There was a school and library and an unwritten rule that you did not cross over into that section of town unless you were riding with someone that lived there or attending a sporting event. If you were non-Native - particularly if you were a teenager - you were not heading home without a ticket for some sort of traffic violation. No seatbelt before seatbelt laws existed. Fractions of miles-an-hour above the speed limit. Parking in a seemingly unmarked "No Parking" zone even when surrounded by a dozen unticketed neighborhood vehicles.

But even these incidents seemed to us less a form of racism and more a consequence of commerce. It was just what was done and how things worked.

I still don't know if I actually achieved that kind of character development with the story that I wrote, but that won't stop me from sharing a few of the opening paragraphs. Just for kicks.

The story was titled "I Love America and America Loves Me" taken from the 1974 performance action by the artist Joseph Beuys. For the work, Beuys spent 3 days in a room with a coyote.

"Walking from my car into the bookstore I decide that there are several things I will not tell people when they ask about the day Cloud Lawrence died.

I will not tell them about the urine.  How Cloud’s body emptied itself as he sat in the wooden chair across from my desk.  I won’t tell them how I sat and watched the wet patch spread its way down his leg till it formed a puddle on the floor around his shoes.

I won’t tell them that I was only half paying attention to the last words that came from Cloud’s mouth.  That I was sitting behind my desk not even looking at him. Instead, I was making random hatch marks on the rental calendar on my desk, filling in the ‘o’ and the upper half of the ‘e’ in ‘November.’  I didn’t want to hear any more of his stories.  I’d heard them all before.  I just wanted to know when he and the other Indians wanted to use the Bellmer House lawn and then I wanted to get on with my day.

And I won’t tell them how, at the very moment when Cloud Lawrence died, I had been trying to figure out if I was a racist."

1. I LOVED being in school. I would actually love to go back to school to earn a doctoral degree, but I do not have any grand illusions that being able to list those three letters after my name - "MFA" - in any way make me a better writer. The people who pushed me to work harder and think harder about writing are what helped me develop the practices to become a better writer (2).
2. No. I have no idea why I felt the need to make that particular disclaimer for my sarcastic opening line...particularly because the footnote actually proves the opposite of what I said in that sarcastic opening line. Except, you know, Sherman Alexie does seem to make me go on.
3. I know, I know...but I'm going to skip the whole "Native American writer" vs. "writer who is Native America" for now.

Whispered repetition.

I rarely use this blog to pass along YouTube videos.

I leave that to the good folks over at Arts Journal.

But this one...this is something special.

Ladies and gentlemen, Academy Award Winning Movie Trailer. (1)

1. Give the screen a click so that you can watch without the edge being clipped off. Is there a way to fix this? Yeah. I'm sure there is.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

In your face game apps!

It seems that book apps have surpassed game apps.

There are currently 27,000 book apps available for all those iPhones out there and fewer than 25,000 games floating around the ether.

So that person beside you on the subway?

Might be that they're not fighting alien hordes or blowing away undead bad guys.

Might be that they're reading about alien hordes or blowing away undead bad guys.

And more than likely those aliens and undead bad guys have been spliced into one of Jane Austen's novels.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

I'll show you! I'll show them all!!

So, the other day I blogged about the art gallery I once wanted to start that has transformed into the bookstore I'd like to run.

Not in a "mortgage-the-house-put-it-all-on-the-line" kind of way.

More in the 3:30pm at a desk job kind of way.

These are not the first, nor are they the only of my own my own business schemes.

This might be a consequence of having grown up in a family where people did such things.

Or, it might simply be my apparent reluctance to put my quite reasonable job skills to work in such a way that I might actually earn a normal living wage with a retirement plan and...well...retirement.

For a while my business schemes were a kind of parlor game. I'd come up with new ideas for places I could own and my inner circle at the time would put down their cocktails and applaud the concept.

The Redhead would often say that, if she ever came into money or married well, she was going to sign up as my first investor.

The idea that I still love, particularly now that I'm juggling a couple of day jobs and freelancing, was for a place I planned to call "Shop". The idea was to set up a hip, painfully cool space that would be a coffee lounge/office-for-hire/freelancer flop house.

It would run as a membership club with a bit of corporate sponsorship to ease things along. There would be a coffee bar (wine served in the evenings) and a few small conference rooms for meetings. Private phone booths with enough desk space to take notes and large screens displaying elements from members' portfolios.

The point of the place would be to create the storied third space where freelancers could work outside of their apartments, meet with clients and conduct business without taking on the overhead of an office. Shop would be better looking than most low-level rentals and better equipped for a client meeting than a Starbucks.

It would also allow people looking for talent a more comfortable "one stop shop" to check out portfolios (which could be viewed onsite) and even host hiring events.

Would it actually work?

No idea.

But planning the furniture purchases is enough fun for now.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

And I'm wearing a raincoat and fuzzy slippers and I've not studied for the final...

As The English Teacher warned me, teaching a literature class is being in the constant state of studying for a midterm exam that never comes.

Don't get me wrong. I love the class that I'm teaching...but, ironically, I'm not getting a lot of reading done these days.

Part of this is because I now run from job to job and have been using my commuting time to make sure I'm ready to go. Part of this is because I've been so darned tired lately and don't get as much reading done before bed (1).

And part of this is because my students keep recommending books to me (2).

There was a time when I would have been far more sensible and realized that there's no point in adding to the great pile I currently have of books and magazines that are waiting patiently to be read.

But that's hard to do when one of the recommendations from the Peanut Gallery is Whatever Happened to the World of Tomorrow? by Brian Fies.

Maybe new shoes can wait a bit longer.

I hear duct tape is very in this year.

1.  Happy. But tired.
2. Which is unspeakably cool. They actually want me to add to the reading list so they can get their parents to buy them more books. And they're buying these new books in hardcover editions. Take that Kindle.