Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Making the world a better place

Hello from Kansas, loyal and neglected readers.

Look for a large update soon. The move from Felton (and Albany) to the Smoky Hills has been quite disruptive and this blog, among many things, has suffered. In the meantime, here is a letter to Craigslist on a very important issue.

Dear Craigslist,

I am a huge fan of your services, having lived in SF during your start and watched you go world-wide. Hurrah for you.

I have since moved home to central Kansas to start a restaurant, and one of the filters for your posts has become a seemingly unnecessary impediment to my usage.

As you move into less populated regions, like the Great Plains, the prohibition on posting to multiple cities, or to cities other than where the job is located, becomes seriously detrimental. (Most services in this part of the world operate at least state-wide for this reason.)

In my particular case, I am looking for a trained chef. There are not many, if any, candidates to be found locally. In Wichita and Kansas City my chances would be better-- but it is doubtful any applicants would even look at the Salina postings.

Rural areas rely on importing talented people from other places and often offer opportunities those more crowded markets cannot.

If you simply added a section to your job listings marked 'out of town' or 'relocation opportunities' or something similar, it would greatly enhance the utility of your site for rural America-- and trust me, we need all the help we can get.

Thank you,
William E. Justice

Monday, May 17, 2010

The night in reverse

I'm not cutting and pasting to make this right. But now I know when you upload photos to go in the other direction. I love how serious everyone is at the dinner table-- that's the exact right response to that meal.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Pensee & Vignette

The Irish Goodbye

Because the gesture goes so deeply into the infinite. Each goodbye is every goodbye and names the distance between us.

Because the meeting is so fleeting.

For some the word is a placeholder, a bookmark, the other half of hello. But I think it the echo of an ever-shouting oblivion.

When I leave the world it will be through a window if all the other exits are blocked.


the things are against us

I have been friends with Su since my freshman year in college. We were going to be writers!

And goddammit if we're not.

She's the only writer friend I ever had until recently. Lawrence Kansas is a stray dog in need of a tick shave, flea bath, some serious worming to rid it of the pestilence of writers, but I always felt the word signified a posture rather than an avocation.

And thus avoided the self-proclaimed as though they were lepers.

I have since learned that those personalities in Lawrence I thought were frauds are the same people who became fairly successful writers in the Bay Area and New York. Real estate and publishing is all

location location location.

But I'm not here to gripe. All writers are fraudulent in essence, otherwise we'd utter the holy words that would immolate the universe or glow silent against the fire the flood until it consumed our silence instead.

It's the clay and not the breath of God that makes us human.

But Su and I have grown into this life together. And though we have read each other's work for years...

In fact just a month ago she sent me an old poem of mine. Something arcane about a moon-lusting monk... here's a bit.

An old man of the earth
Not of the cloth
His mouth is wafer thin and ill suited for this passion
Which has conferred with the ice covering his white brier beard
And the tides of his brain:
A fever for seven days to allow her another quarter
And his escape
A fever for tonight’s dance he moves
Gracefully at a boil


...and last weekend was the first time I have seen one of her plays.

I like red-eye flights. We arrived in New York at the same time everyone else was arriving and we began the day together. We took the train into New Haven with a great number of young people dressed in now wrinkled evening attire and night-randy hair through the green green of early North Eastern Summer. Another playwright friend of Su's was there for the opening, Sharif, and he has a delightful story about Mexico's premier Shakespearian scholar, Yale, a young woman, and his inability to make out the word 'betrothal' on his phone, and her downstairs neighbors visited, bring the gift of homebrewed stout, their lovely near-newborn, and fantastic conversation that ranged from Tom Waits to The Watchman to Roland Barthes to Axe Cop and then our chocolate maker friend Alexandra arrived from Cornell and invited us to her aunt's beautiful home in the woods, where rhubarb pie awaited and her grandmother from Charlotte who said I could be from the south because I was so good-looking and then we saw the show, although I had to park and run a desperate few blocks alone to be ushered quietly into the back by an usher who was waiting just for me.

Of the show I may speak later. Old houses are scary. So are Germans. Also now we know why Lorca died young. And redheads are still totally hot. Afterwards we rang in the new day with a bonfire despite a driving North wind.

The next day we day-tripped up the Atlantic to visit a Book-Barn, which is a barn that is filled with books, and nommed some seafood in Mystic, which is actually a place.

Other quotidian adventures followed but the main point is that I strode the wide earth, met fellow workers in song, ate and drank art in the great comfort of a green deciduous old mountain earth. It felt like a window into a happy future. I will fight for it. Thank you, Susan Soon He Stanton.

Sometimes it really does feel like we travel through time together and that space is an illusion.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Forty-Dollar Fine

Maybe because I just had my first beer, maybe because I've paid my share of fines and lament the dearth of songs about it, but this song by this guy really struck me tonight.

The Webb Wilder character was created for a short film about a backwoods private detective who fell out of the '50s and happened to also be a musician. With his group, Wilder combines the surf guitar of the Ventures with the rock roots of Duane Eddy, drawing on the feel of both country music and film noir. Though sometimes bordering on the gimmicky, the band is quite humorous yet plays serious music. It Came from Nashville featured a cover of Steve Earle's "Devil's Right Hand," appropriate because, like Earle, Wilder rocked too hard to be country but kept a twang that might put off mainstream rock fans. Wilder's next two albums didn't necessarily forge new ground but refined the band's sound somewhat, making its R&B influence more apparent. In concert, Wilder often gives stream-of-consciousness recitations that touch on motor homes, voodoo, television, and other somewhat kitschy subjects; usually they're funny enough to work.

Click here for a video of them honky-rocking out in someone backyard.


Wednesday, May 5, 2010

329 Hihn Street

At least I think that's our address. I never got 'round to learning it.

Here are some pictures Olga took of our place for our craigslist ad. I thought I'd post for those who didn't get a chance to visit. It's a great place and we've been happy here.

Francesco Marciuliano, Author of "Sally Forth" as Pat Robertson

The Onion's Summer Movie Round Up led me to the reader's comments where the upcoming Marmaduke movie inspired commenters to bitch about other comics they hate, like Family Circus and Sally Forth, which I have chuckled at, and was later defended by a link to his blog

Which is really good! The conversations with his brother, who works as the Lycos Mascot, are worth the time alone.

Here's the Pat Robertson.

"Halloween is an abomination, a dark temptation. It encourages young Irish boys and girls to cut school, consume alcohol, get into fights and fornicate right on the parade route. Now, you might be thinking I've confused Halloween with St. Patrick's Day but let me tell you, those Micks will use any holiday as an excuse to get drunk."

Monday, May 3, 2010

Weed Scientists

As an agent of chaos, weeds are my friends. While weeds are a problem in any farmer's field, should that field be small and mostly tended by human, rather than chemical, attention, they will always been a problem with a solution.

Weeds can be pulled up by hand. At most, you may have to wear gloves. It may even take years to tame a particularly weedy patch of ground. I once saw Mike Madison spread clear plastic sheeting on a new field. The idea was that, in the sun, the plastic sheeting would collect moisture and heat up, thereby steaming the soil underneath and killing the seeds.

It didn't work. Round-up used to work, but now in an unprecedented and unforeseeable turn of events...

No, I'm sorry. That's wrong. Wrong words, William! Let me start again.

...in a completely predictable and almost unavoidable turn of events, weeds have become resistant to poison! It's the Rise of the Super Weeds! Monsanto is twitchy about it. (Each link is different! It was quite rewarding to type 'Monsanto' and 'Evil' into an image search.)

Monsanto, which once argued that resistance would not become a major problem, now cautions against exaggerating its impact. “It’s a serious issue, but it’s manageable,” said Rick Cole, who manages weed resistance issues in the United States for the company.

Kansas has, of course, all six Super Weeds.

This will could either eat away at the nasty authority of monoculture farming, or force Monsanto to fulfill its Destiny of Poisoning Us All.

So, oddly, the farmer's great enemy, the weed, is actually a farmer's great friend.

Here's to you, noble Pigweed.

Excerpts from a how-to manual for building a walk-in cooler

I'm trying to figure our cooler solutions for the Green Horse and ran across a primer on the subject that was unexpectedly entertaining. Here are the best bits.

(By Ron Kholsa)

A "down" economy might be waking the rest of the country up to the importance of savings and DIY, but for farmers working on low margins and high risk it's business as usual. Although we still live off the income from our 200 family CSA, I developed and now sell the “CoolBot,” a device that makes a standard window air-conditioner run down to 33 degrees, turning it into a walk-in cooler compressor.


Which leads to... “Water Falls”! Cold air, like a cold heart, leaves no space for love. When you open the door of your cooler and the warmer, more water-vapor-laden air comes whooshing in, within moments it sadly suffers the pangs of rejection and condenses in tears on the cold heartless walls of your cooler.


Don't use Fiberglass insulation! I know there are people out there who've done it and seem happy but inside, they are not happy at all and you might want to tell them that. What's happened with them is that (even with a very good vapor barrier) moisture laden warm air from outside somehow found it's way into their walls where it condensed back into drops of liquid on the cool inner wall of their cooler. It saturated the fiberglass batts, reducing the insulation value and ultimately growing a goth-style black mold which dragged down both the spirit and loft of the fiberglass even further until they have whole areas of their walls with gaps in the insulation.


Here in NY, grungy male farmers who happen to be suffering from tree-allergies and sneezing into their shirts will find that this stuff is cost-prohibitive at over twice the price of the rigid foam products. But if you happen to be a more attractive neighboring female farmer, the same company might spray-insulate your 12x20 cooler for around $100. Go figure. Folks living in the midwest seem to be finding prices are neither gender specific nor prohibitive, so check with your local spray-foam installer.


Don't cut your insulation up and fit it between the studs! Not only will you invariably leave a few gaps and holes, no matter how careful you are polyisocyanurate shrinks a bit over time, making your kids think you were a sloppy builder when they re-build the cooler 15 years down the road because the cooler costs too much to keep cool!


Many people just leave the exposed insulation on the inside of their coolers. If you don't have employees and you're careful, that's fine. We have aggressively destructive employees and our cooler is open to a public I seriously suspect to be drunk most of the time by the way they ransack the place so our inner walls are sheathed with $7/sheets of "OSB board."


We live in a registered historic district and we are often in trouble with the village elders for not taking their “hysterical” district as seriously as we should, but our cheap plywood siding solution (properly stained a dull green) apparently looks nice enough from the road that it's one thing no one has ever bugged us about!

les choses sont contre nous

This is a link to an article about the 2010 Carlotta Play Festival in Yale. My friend Su, on the far right in a very, very, very awkward video interview, completes her playwriting program with a full length production of The Things Are Against US (les choses sont contre nous) about a murderous house, Lorca, two sisters, and the dangers of pear cider.

The Play is brilliant, (not just because my friend wrote it-- that is an objective judgment and not one I make lightly) and we'll be watching it with the playwright some this Saturday.

Friday, April 30, 2010


I joined facebook in order to track down a slippery cousin who isn't returning my calls.

First, that is some weird ass shit.

I feel like the Boar God in Princess Mononoke, when his madness finally overtakes him and he mistakes soldiers dressed in boar skins for his own people, and they huddle and nose and stab him on to his evil destiny.

But that's mostly my own hang-up and will be rectified by the fact that I will never be on that damn site.

What's worse is this: so that's where all you fuckers are. When I'm not being emailed back, when no one calls, when I'm left wondering who the hell my friends are, you are all on the facebook 'liking' random bullshit from people you haven't seen face to face in years. Which makes sense-- you too can get all the attention you ever wanted for virtually free, without the price of actual friendship, and all its hardships, and faces hang like trophies on your page for all the world to see.

And if facebook is your agora, your marketplace, your church, those on the outside are unintentionally but effectively shunned, not only because of their absence, but because facebook, like any community, creates its own mode of discourse by which its community members are known to each other.

I'm making the case more forcefully than I need to, and I'm not blaming my recent sense of loneliness on a stupid website-- I moved to a new town, I'm about to move to another state and I apparently find myself drawn almost exclusively to highly intelligent and highly ethical but emotionally withholding people, but dammit if there isn't some truth to it.

So there. I've become a citizen. 'Like' me.

Monday, April 26, 2010

green horses

I need a website. Double D is on that. I also need a logo. Anyone artsy wanna make me a green horse?

Sunday, April 25, 2010


We're taking a trip in May to see Su's play. We might stay in a hotel. We might stay in this hotel.

But in researching prices and location, I found this image of a room.

What you don't know is that the picture hanging above the bed in the hotel is of the hotel.

Which contravenes the entire purpose of portraiture.

Fuck Uganda

A few months ago I decided I was done being broke all the time. One of the first decisions I made? I quit my job.

I work in mysterious ways. That was not the reason for quitting, but it was one stitch in the net of reasons. Tending bar part time gave me just enough time and money to live well, but provided almost no incentive to move on.

First I thought I'd make money off my writing. Many people do, and I am in as good a position as any to start. I conceived grand adventures in travel, food, and wine.

But my commitments to my family are more important to me than (modest or immodest) fame, wealth, and travel, and when those roads diverged, I chose family. I tried to get excited about freelance writing-- but querying magazines, making contacts, hustling all the time is humbug. I'd honestly rather not have an article in Spirit than get a couple grand for one. Nothing against all the word-workers making all those magazines happen, it's just not the life for me. Plus, to spend all day every day writing or working for my writing sounds like very thin soup .

So my path towards the middle class, which is 'wealth' to me, began with quitting my job and abandoning monetary literary ambition.

Starting a restaurant and bar is the first opportunity that really feels right. Things have certainly been coming together well so far... (no evil eye, please. seriously. please.)

And this allows me to work on my prose poems, novels, plays... perfectly at peace, because I don't need them to do anything for me other than exist. This is the privilege of either the very rich or the very poor and I think the best kind of life for writers-- okay, not writers, but for Writing, the mistress we all serve.

What does all of this have to do with my apparently hostile relationship to Uganda?

Even though we have already been able to cut alot of costs, there is much more we could do with more money, and we will need to find it in other ways.

My favorite way is to steal from the Third World. Not by taking away and educating its best and brightest, nor by exploiting its resources, or even pillaging its cultural heritage, though those are all great ways to steal from the Third World, but by borrowing the idea of micro-finance.

Kiva, a website I hope most of you have heard of, allows people to make mostly small loans to people in need of them all over the world. You can help someone start a bakery, a private school, a tattoo parlor, whatever. Those seeking loans describe their projects and you can decide whether or not to lend them some cash. I do have critical things to say about the idea and its execution, but I don't even care that much about them. It's a pretty solid force for good.

So I've decided to set up an investment scheme that allows those with limited finances but genuine interest in The Green Horse to put in some money. A few hundred dollars could buy a couple sets of tables and chairs. I would not underestimate any contribution.

Naturally I'd like this to be worth the while. I'm thinking of perhaps three repayment schemes. Let's say Alot wants to invest $500 dollars. Here are the options.

In six months, The Green Horse would repay the loan entirely plus 20%. Alot walks away with his initial investment plus $100.

In a year, The Green Horse would repay the loan plus 50%. Alot trots away an extra $250.

Or, Alot might decide to make his investment more permanent and sign up for profit-sharing. If we use $1,000 as a 1% baseline, then at the end of one year, Alot is entitled to .5% of our total profit. If we only make $100,000 Alot get his initial investment back, but if, in year two, we make $400,000-- Alot reaps $2,000, and if our profit doubles the following year, so does his.

All investments come, of course, with VIP treatment at the Green Horse. Although most of them would be, I presume, friends who can expect that anyway.

Any and all comments on said scheme are very welcome. Long Live the Green Horse.

Saturday, April 24, 2010


Mom went to an auction today looking for restaurant equipment.

(something very like) this:

and this:

Are now in our possession, as well as a couple prep tables and some assorted other kitchen items-- for less than a quarter of the normal price.

I received the news at the Albany Bulb, watching the dogs play, taking in the sun, while our Jetta got four new tires after Olga had a blowout on 80 on her way home. Over all, a fine day.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Alot of the Times

This an Alot. Read the hilarious origin and various incarnations of the Alot here.


Olga has another story in today's San Jose Mercury News. Apparently Kaiser has spent some serious money to make an interactive robot for doctors and nurses to practice on.

I think Milton Bradley should talk to their lawyers.

The robot patients may soon replace real patients. They can do all this:

# Bleed (profusely)
# Breathe
# Cough, burp, complain of ailments, scream
# Go into labor contractions
# Turn blue
# Have a pulse
# Have high blood pressure
# Possess racially accurate skin colors
# Change gender
# Urinate
# Swell (with an allergic reaction)

Can you?

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

scary, no scary

I like this, for instance, much better as a short story than as a poem.


Please tell me your best
facts about animals. I’m asking
everyone. I’ll begin.

The Tasmanian devils are being wiped
out by a frightful epidemic—like the
bees but worse. The epidemic
is actually called Devil Facial
Tumour Disease. It is communicable
within the species via bites
or especially vehement sex.

To sex a sea urchin, you tap it until
it emits a thin puddle of egg or sperm.
What if this worked on other things!
Imagine wondering what a thing is.
For the price of a few pats on the back,
the thing releases onto your
palm a frank sample, a tiny
pool of its own essence, meaning,
and being.

Maybe in another lifetime. Most
things are coy in our world.
They are couth.

Amy McDaniel


Oh, hell. Something else then. The smart little kid voice she's channeling is something of a thing these days. They say it goes back to James Tate and most recently I found Zachary Schomburg who does it par exsalonce. I haven't bought his book yet, but here is a good review of his most recent collection and here below is a sample of his work:

I know a dead wolf
we can climb inside
and beat

like little hearts.
It would maybe
come back

to life,
the wolf.


The old man
hunched over
at the front door
will be prepared
to give you a tour,
but first he’ll ask
scary, or no scary?

You should say
no scary.


I small-ly resent this mode because it enlists my sympathies so naturally, but is, ultimately, too easy to mimic, too reliant on those sympathies, and too islanded from other modes of discourse to stand perpendicular to the Ages. I don't know, yet, what that says about our times.

But the poems are frequently good.

Literature is a nettle field for some.

The O. Henry Isopod

Jeremy has an interesting post up on short stories v novels in the no-holes-barred cage match that is the 21st Century, which is cute, because we all know that LOLCATS are the literature of the future and that our grandchildren will be unintelligible cyborg-drones who work for the Apple hive-mind and view us as we view chimps.

OMG! Gmpa ws txtng! Luvs bnanas!*

My favorite part of the post is that he links his usage of 'whatevs' to its urban dictionary definition, wherein we learn that this shortening of 'whatever' is used by cool people-- in case we doubted his coolness, or just to rub it in our faces.

But back to the meat of the post. He ruminates on how difficult it is to write short stories and gives a couple solid strategies for applying 'pressure' to the a story. The underlying notion being that the possibilities of 'success' for a short story are much fewer than for novels... Thus making the genre super-hard, but therefore also specially rewarding, like a 'punch in the face.' The reason short stories lose out to novels in this pre-borgian era is due to this excess of pressure, when want we want is mindless escapism that reinforces our most destructive and least examined cultural assumptions.

But why so serious, Short Story? Jeremy suggests that novels can do more, be more, have larger digressions, like Vic Hugo stopping the narrative of Les Mis to tell us about Parisian criminal argot or retell the Battle of Waterloo, therefore making it a broader and freer medium.

But I like to think of literature in more physical terms, of the generating force of chaos crystallizing into forms according to outside pressures. Think, for instance, of the dizzying variety of life in the insect world vs mammals. Mammals are more complex systems, and therefore, in order to function, must share very basic and unavoidable solutions to the problems of complexity. All the variations average out closer to the mean.

Clearly mammals are novels. We've got one mammal that can fly, a few that can swim, a couple on two legs, and the rest are basically fuzzy with four legs. And hooray! I am certainly on Team Mammal.

But insects, being less complex (but sufficiently complex-- there are only a few solutions to very basic uni-cellular problems), are able to do and be so much more. Therefore, it would seem to me that the short story, having the freedom of prose and the brevity of poetry, could and should and has combined those forces into dazzling variety. But why don't we understand and reinforce this natural creative force? Why do most thinkers of the short story instead make it out to be the most strictly ordered of all media?

I have many theories for this, for instance, that an ordered society fears autonomous forms and therefore applies the most artificial pressure to that which contains the most potential for variety-- like love, for instance. One man and one woman for life, eh?

The literary extension of State Control is Realism and this is the particular fetter of the (literary) short story in the past hundred-so years. If a short story is only comment on a narrow idea of the real, then it's grand, efficacious potential is severely limited and must be very hard indeed to pull off. And thus we are trained to see the narrowness of our vision as an appreciation for the teleology of 'what works.'

Defenestrate Realism like the Old Tyrant it is, and suddenly there is an explosion of Forms. You'll realize that most of our native story-telling is within the realm of the short story-- the rant, the love letter, a joke, the rituals and habits that anchor your days, flights of fancy, your relationship to your father. These all live within us according to the native diversity that the short story is perfect to contain while reinforcing the singularity its material. Death's Head Moth to Fire Ant to the Giant Isopod .

And as this form betrays most naturally the illusion of the Grand Narrative that we all live by, it must be the most misunderstood, ignored, and restrained of all literary gestures.

Which is why no one reads Saroyan anymore.

*Sent Via My Blackberry Neural-Cortex Implant

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

all I want is to get you down to pray

And then out of nowhere there's a Creedence song you've never heard that is perfect.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

here's why it could help you today

I've been following the various incarnations of Olga's story on the web for a few hours now and have a couple interesting observations.

When an entity picks up a wire story they may edit it and headline it (yes, 'headline' is a verb, wanna fight?) as they wish.

A scan of the variations of Olga's story shows that these decisions are completely arbitrary with a tendency towards the willfully incorrect.

In O's original lead, it was 'snot' that was sneezed. 'Mucus' would have been my choice, but 'saliva' is just wrong. And yet it was changed thus by the Merc. I already bitched about globules vs. droplets. Internally, sometimes the story is twice or more as long as other times, and I think Olga's original ending was much better than any of the edited versions.

But the worst of it so far is:

"Did you get the flu this year? So did some spacemen. Here's why it could help you today."

from the Greeley Tribune.

--- wait! I'm wrong.

The spoon-feeding of the headline is still annoying and inaccurate, but I was mainly bothered by use of the word 'spaceman' which, I thought, was a term for people *from* space. Linguistic precedent (Norwegian, Caveman, etc) and my sci-fi literacy fooled me into thinking such-- but most dictionaries say that a spaceman is just another word for astronaut.

Example number 47 to the 54th power of 'What the fuck do I know?'

But what I do know is that nothing in Olga's article about stem cell research on Discovery could, will, or should help you today.

Not that journalistic hucksterism is even worth railing against...

otters, now with more awesome

Holy shit. Also on the cute otters website is footage of Indian River Otters. The first part is fairly predictable-- adults teaching babies to fish, but then a crocodile appears...

And the otters fight it off.

backwards propulsion

Olga's gone nationwide. A news service picked up a story she wrote about stem cell research IN SPACE for the San Jose Mercury News. The first place I found it was here.

I helped a touch on the lead (which I guess is spelled lede? Like the Zeus-raped maiden-swan? It makes my ass twitch.)-- only I suggested the much more accurate and aesthetically correct 'globules' instead of 'droplets.'

Olga's shitting her pants a little. It's very cute. Her last Merc story listed her cell number and she was roused from needed sleep early that morning by a very concerned man telling her his pet theory that now that the sea lions were leaving SF Bay, that the otters would rebound, because, you know, sea lions eat otters (they don't-- too fuzzy). She started taking notes, thinking it was her editor, until she woke up a little and realized it was just a nice old guy. She's since changed her contact information to her work number.*

By the way, the wife checks the blog now! So watch yer mouths.

*I highly recommend the source website for the otter photo. Ridiculous lots of cute, and news, including the saga of Kitchi, who busted out of a zoo in Colorado and remains at large... what's the word for terrorizing but for being adorable... the community.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

"ancay I-yay avehay eethay uffalobay?"

Last night Olia and I celebrated at a not so great Hoffbrau just up the road. It was still fun. We discussed the Green Horse over dinner and Olkin expressed hesitation over serving borscht to Kansans.

O: "Maybe we can disguise it. What's borscht backwards? Thcsrob?"
W: "Thcsorb?"
O: "No, Thcsrob. And it's not made with beets, it's made with steeb."

Which inspired me: Pig Latin Night.

Yes, because I am drunk with power (and La Rossa... and Mahler too while I am at it), on one (or more than one?) random night the menus at the Green Horse will be in Pig Latin and you, the good-humored customer, will have to order in that language.

Which is of course silly commentary on menu language itself, but mainly just fun for my staff. Okay, just fun for me.

"Ocholatechay ousemay?"

"Onay, eeway areyay outyay ofyay ochaolate ousemay. Ancay Iyay uggestyay eethay emcray uleebray ithway assionfruitpay andyay intmay?"

"Eckchay easeplay!"

Kansas Free Press

Sarah first sent me the link to the Kansas Free Press which is part of a nation-wide citizen journalism movement that seems to function, without any sense of irony, as a spontaneous platform for the democratic party.

However, there is some diversity to the group, a couple cranky old farmers, a gaggle of enthusiastic women's rights college students, and even the blowhards are genial enough.

I read this article today, a mini-essay on dreaming about Africa while reading Conrad and others as a child and then finally visiting the Dark Continent decades later:

I joined a group that flew into Nairobi, the capital of Kenya, and then traveled out into the wilderness to Amboseli National Park. Arriving at our designated lodge, weary from many hours traveling, I dumped my luggage in the cottage that was provided for me and then stepped out to take in my first real look at Africa. I found myself grappling with a vague sense of incongruity between the idea that I was in Africa, the most exotic, remote place I had ever visited, and a feeling that it was familiar. I puzzled on this and then it came to me.

It was the smells that created the sense of nostalgia, arousing deeply buried memories as only the sense of smell can. As I stood taking in my first view of the high plains of Kenya I realized that the memories evoked by the smells in the air were memories of Kansas. Gradually I sorted out its elements one by one. The grass beneath my feet was a tough, gnarly species, and was identical to the grass in my yard where I grew up in Topeka. We called it Bermuda grass. I had long since forgotten about it and it was the last thing I expected to encounter in Kenya. As I looked out over the plains and saw zebra and buffalo, I realized that I also smelled them, and that their smells were remarkably close to the smells of the horses and cattle on my grandfather's farm in Silver Lake. It was a strange little epiphany, a cosmic joke that I shared with no one as I stood on the plains of Kenya, thinking I was so far from home, and yet feeling so close to the land of my origins, where I spent the first 25 years of my life: Kansas.

The Greek God Hermes, the messenger of the gods was also known as the trickster. I felt as if he had given me a playful smack on the head as I realized what a great affinity the high plains of Kenya had with the plains of Kansas where I grew up. I had traveled to what I felt was the most remote place in my life and found that it felt a lot like home. At that moment I revisited my childhood self, the little boy gazing with wonder at maps of remote places. And I realized that when I played as a boy at Shunganunga Creek and imagined myself to be in Africa, I had been closer than I ever knew.

Unexamined here is the key difference. How much Africa has of itself that Kansas has lost.

An interesting though unintentional commentary can be found in another article on the site, written by an amateur historian specializing in Indians. Many, many native Kansan animals, so much of our grassland Africa-ness, bears, big cats, otters, buffalo, wolves, beaver were killed off entirely or nearly in the first couple decades of statehood.

"I had designed to spend the winter hunting, but now found myself an Indian trader," Mead wrote. Although the Kanzas brought him their wolf-skins for trade, Mead and his partners also gathered their own wolves.

"We found it also a very profitable business killing the big gray wolves which lived with the buffalo and travelled with them, and also the coyotes."

"Our method of killing wolves was to shoot down two or three old bull buffaloes in different places....We would let the buffalo lie one night in order to attract the wolves. The next night, just before dusk, we would go and scatter poisoned bait about the carcasses, each bait containing about one thirtieth part of a dram of strychnine."

Mead and his men gathered the wolf pelts by the score the next day. One morning they found and skinned 82 dead wolves. The wolf carcasses were left where they had fallen, attracting thousands of ravens which "in eating their stomachs and intestines would also eat the partially digested baits. This would kill them, and the prairie about the carcasses would soon be dotted with the glossy, shining bodies of defunct ravens, with an occasional bald eagle among them."

"The buffalo were killed by the bullets of the hunters, the wolves were killed with strychnine for their furs, and the ravens died from eating the poisoned carcasses of both, so that they all became practically extinct at about the same time," reflected Mead.

As the market for wolf pelts remained strong, strychnine sales boomed. Westport Indian trader William Bernard recalled that from the late 1850s on "an unusual article of trade was in great demand, namely, strychnine, and it was imported and sold in wholesale quantities to hunters who pursued wolves for their pelts.

Council Grove merchant William Shamleffer reminisced that a trader "should have on hand in his store a supply of everything from Bibles to whisky and strychnine."

The effect of ingesting strychnine on the wolves was recorded by a "Western Territories Correspondent" of the New York World:

"...the released strychnine takes hold on the wolf's vitals, and then there is music... He will next stand up on his hind legs and walk about and dance, but it all does no good. His shrieks and cries of pain are terrible to hear, and about the last thing he does is to turn two or three somersaults in the air and fall dead. The strychnine kills them every time."

James R. Mead never wrote about the cries of the death-thrashing wolves he had poisoned, but the veteran wolf-killer remembered their calls as beguiling:

"...the most soul-stirring music I ever heard was the clear deep bass voice of a big gray wolf on a clear cold winter night rolling out over the ice-covered prairie. It would commence on a high note and then run down the scale to the bottom, soon to be answered by his companions from every hill and canon for miles around." Addressing a meeting of the Kansas State Historical Society in December 1904, Mead rhapsodized about "the hills and plains of Kansas, God's great park, surpassing anything art or wealth of man has made. To me their primeval condition was the most beautiful and interesting of all the earth."

A few months later a wolf sighting was reported in Kansas. It was the last one.

I intended to end this post with a clip from the movie Dead Man of Gary Farmer as Nobody saying "Stupid fucking white man." But can't find it on the interwebs, so I'm including a Neil Young video from the movie instead.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010


I was in Heyday yesterday to talk about an anthology they've asked me to put together. I had been hoping to pick up something from Heyday before I left, and enormous thanks to my girl over there in Acquisitions who made it all happen, and to whom I owe many, many debts professional and personal. ENORMOUS THANKS! (If I knew html that would be even bigger.)

Said girl outed me to Malcolm about my restaurant plans. He asked a couple basic questions about kind of food, the size of the city, etc., and then said:

"So what you're doing is disguising a cultural center as a restaurant. You're going to have art and music and start conversations about Kansas history... you're going to have poetry readings..."

I was stunned. He saw right fucking through me. That is absolutely what I am doing. I'm disguising a cultural center as a restaurant and bar. Goddamn Malcolm.

The anthology, by the way, collects the very best writing about California from July 2009-July 2010. All genres welcome. So if anyone out there has read something wonderful, please send it to me before June 15th.

In GH news, I am shopping for a commercial range...

Monday, April 12, 2010

have and to hold

This is a section from our lease agreement. I'm not quite sure exactly what this means in a legal sense, but I was caught by the matrimonial language of the provision and thought I would share.

Quiet Enjoyment. Landlord hereby covenants that Tenant, upon paying Rent as herein provided, and performing all covenants and agreements herein contained to be performed on the part of Tenant, shall and may peacefully and quietly have, hold, and enjoy the Leased Premises
during the term of this Lease or any extension thereof, but no rights to air or light are granted.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

can I get an amen

I heard this on the ole npr today.

Part one:


Part two:


Elder Charles Beck was a hootin' hollerin' preacher who preached with a wailin' electric guitar backing him up and some brilliant person recorded his sermons.

This rocking sermon is about the evils of rock and roll. Enjoy, and someone buy me this album. My damn birthday is coming up.

carrie nation

Unbeleiveably, there isn't a cocktail, or at least a well known cocktail, named after Carrie Nation, whose 'hatchetations' on Kansas bars helped spread the temperance movement.


Obviously I am going to fix that and I am soliciting recipe suggestions. It should have a lot of booze. She called herself "a bulldog running along at the feet of Jesus, barking at what He doesn't like" so maybe a take on the Bulldog (gin, orange juice, ginger ale) would be appropriate... but I am wide open.

Any other Kansas themed cocktail ideas are also encouraged.

the green horse lives

I've had this fantasy for years, in thousands of variations, maybe some of you have too. You walk through an empty place, a shell, and dream it into existence, a house, a park, a farm, a restaurant.

This morning I met the building owner at the Kress Building.

View Larger Map

Here is the building before the recent renovation.

Now there is a beautiful facade of limestone and brick behind where the windows are in the photo, and a stairwell that leads below street level. Open to the air is a little courtyard, and then the entrance to the basement space. Courtyard and dining space and kitchen are roughly 2200 square feet.

I'm burying the lead. We got the space. Brian, the building owner, as he'll now be known as, is going to start renovating the space to our specifications as soon as possible. We could be open as soon as July. I spent the morning visualizing the space, talking materials, planning everything, from lighting to work stations to flow of traffic. A fantasy come true. I lived the space. My own goddamned restaurant and bar.

There is still lots to work out, but it has started. It's real.

I'll be taking part in a few of the city's incentive programs, if all goes as it seems it will, and I met with one of the Chamber of Commerce people yesterday to get an overview of the opportunities for grants, forgiveable loans, etc. After going over the programs, we talked casually about what Salina was doing, expanding the community theater, 'refloating' the Smoky Hill River downtown (it has been dammed dry stupidly for decades) etc. Eventually Larry says:

"You know there's a brewery in town."

"I'm sorry, Larry, I'm very certain there is not."

"No, I mean the guts of one. One of the big property owners bought some years ago and never did anything for it. Somewhere in town is a warehouse with everything a brewery needs just sitting there."

I just gaped, then shook it off and let the spooky roll over me. Don't know if anything will come from it, if I could jump into a brewery after the wine bar and small plates are up and running, but what if my brewery has just been waiting for me?

Okay-- I have to get some vines in the ground. There's a chance for weather tomorrow.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

house of Kress

I have four days to plant five hundred vines, set two hundred posts, and find a space for my wine bar.

I am moving back to the farm and opening a wine bar in Salina-- not sure I've said that here yet. All that money I spent on food and drink? Investment.

I have been operating on Bay Area rules. I'm not wealthy (broke as a broke-dick dog) so I figured I'd start in a walk-in-closet-sized space and grow? But when I rolled into town, my dream space downtown, across from the fox theater, down the street from the art cinema, in a recessed basement of the newly renovated Kress building, was still free.

So this morning I called. The man answered, I explained myself, he said can you meet me today?*

He gave us a tour of the whole building-- street level shops, second story lofts, and then the open, waiting, basement with courtyard.

Before I know it, this has happened:

He'll build walls, kitchen, etc, to our specifications for a slight increase in (very reasonable) rent.

He suggests grant money from the city for downtown development.

He can set us up with a potential investor, apparently just waiting for this kind of thing.

He can do it all by August.

I'm working on a business plan now to present to him tomorrow, and he's working on a concrete cost estimate.

I also emailed the chamber of commerce about their business incentive programs and got an email back immediately and have a meeting tomorrow about what the city can do for me.

So that's what the menus are for. Just a sample of what I can do. Not to mention the focus on Kansas products, art, music, etc. I'd like to anchor the business in Place, so that it has elegance and meaning inherent to itself, rather than borrowed, like so many restaurants, like so much everything.

Oh-- best part?

GM and Barman? Me.
Host and Front of the House? Cousin Murphy.
Kitchen? Chef Cousin Chris.

My family has been secretly training for this.

All of this is extremely provisional, but goddamn if it doesn't feel right.

'bout time something did.

Hey Stace-- what's your angle?

Speaking of Family, I'm a sorta uncle thrice! Congratulations to Cousin Clarissa on her third weasel, one Levi somethingorother Mackenzie, the first boy of the new Murphy generation, god help us.

*One of the things I love about Kansas especially when compared to the Bay Area: when you find competent people in Kansas, they get shit done. Immediately. No fuss, just done, usually saying it was no trouble anyway, or even if it was, hell, it's just how things are. Bay Area? It's all Yeah, that sounds great, lemme talk to x and y. I'll give you a call. Next week? No, I don't know. I have a meeting. I'll talk to you in April after I get back from Japan...

please, drink

specialty cocktails

the meadowlark
grey goose, elderberry wine, bitters, egg white

b & b
buffalo trace bourbon, benedictine

old fashioned
rye whiskey, bitters, soda, simple syrup

sour cherry martini
sour cherry infused vodka, simple syrup, lime

the green horse
absinthe, champagne, grand marnier, simple syrup

kansas wines


smoky hill vineyards norton
somerset ridge buffalo red
campbell winery cynthiana


somerset ridge chardonnay
blue jacket crossing seyval
smoky hill vineyards luce d’bianco

dessert wines

holy-field saint francis port
windswept winery whispering wind white
pome on the range homewood hooch apple raisin wine
somerset ridge ambrosia

welcome to the green horse

with bread

gravlax – house cured salmon & pickles
charcuterie —our choice of meats with mustard & horseradish
cheese —generous portions of aged & fresh cheese
jam –a selection of homemade jams


winter greens & egg flower
borscht: russian beet soup
extreme chicken noodle: garlic, ginger, chilies, citrus


mashed potatoes
egg noodles


butternut squash ravioli & cream
basque lamb
portuguese sopas: beef, wine, cabbage
stuffed tomatoes


house made ice cream
bread pudding in whiskey caramel


Carlsberg brewery workers have gone on strike.

The warehouse and production workers in Denmark are rebelling against the company's new alcohol policy, which allows them to drink beer only during lunch hours in the canteen. Previously, they could help themselves to beer throughout the day, from coolers placed around the work sites.

Delivery truck drivers are exempt from the rule, however, because they don't always have time for a full lunch hour.

We are with you, brewery brothers. This is certainly what unions are for. Solidarity & Struggle... and suds.

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

In neither taste nor precision

Publishing friends, have you heard of this coinage? Muphry's Law states

(a) if you write anything criticizing editing or proofreading, there will be a fault of some kind in what you have written;
(b) if an author thanks you in a book for your editing or proofreading, there will be mistakes in the book;
(c) the stronger the sentiment expressed in (a) and (b), the greater the fault;
(d) any book devoted to editing or style will be internally inconsistent.

It goes on to say:

Muphry's Law also dictates that, if a mistake is as plain as the nose on your face, everyone can see it but you. Your readers will always notice errors in a title, in headings, in the first paragraph of anything, and in the top lines of a new page. These are the very places where authors, editors and proofreaders are most likely to make mistakes.

I make enough honest mistakes (my recent favorite-- claiming that I want a brewpup some day, and I do! but that's not what I meant at the time) to avoid making one ironically to end this post.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Tom do this. Tom do that. Tom, don't do that.

Are linguists the hipsters of language? (What do you think, the answer is no?)

This question arose from the following logic fun:

I'm going to write about descriptive vs prescriptive theories of language as a follow-up to a previous post.

This is a pet debate among linguists.

I hate linguists.

Linguists like things I like, such as thinking about language and culture.

Hipsters like things I like, such as records and thrift stores.

I hate hipsters.

Therefore... (I skipped a number of steps in this syllogism but I assure you they exist and cohere.)

The relationship of each to their art is... positional... as is their choice of art-- superiority to subject is essential, as is the ubiquity of the subject. Language and pop culture are natural choices with nearly everyone participant in each, allowing the lording of said superiority over the largest number of people possible. This superiority is demonstrated in the usual ways, the invention and proliferation of extremely complex and preferably ever-changing jargon, fierce and intractable Balkanization (poor Balkans! Don't worry, I love you!), and, it must be said, a wealth of accurate & detailed information.

Viola! You've just been shown that your love of language or music is unexamined and founded on sand, and moreover, your love of it leads you into political error, as it cannot be as easily discarded as interest and presumes advocacy of an actual thing! (radiohead, western shirts, subject-verb agreement) rather than your position to it.

For instance, I found that orthography rant on a blog run by linguists who proceeded to point out its obvious and intended inconsistencies and accuse it of loathsome Prescriptivism-- Oh, but first I should define the debate shouldn't I?

People who say you should use words rather than letters that happen to sound like words and use words that mean what you intend instead of words that mean something else are Prescriptivist. As are people belonging to subcultures that more or less knowingly defy these mainstream rulez, totally, like teen gurlz and ppl who are po' an stuff. :) Many of us playfully engage both.

People who say you cannot advocate any usage of language because it makes you racist and classist and ageist and besides you don't even know your ablative from your absolute social deixis from a hole in the ground are linguists.

Generally the insurgent category of Prescriptivists is used as a poniard against the first category but this is not, as they suggest, because Linguists are Friends to the Downtrodden, but actually because the powerless are not a threat to their authority, whereas the dictionary and style-guide people, old hand at authority, are. For instance, there are whole languages dying at this very moment and Linguistics doesn't really care. (Some linguists do, of course and hooray! for them) One language isn't really better than another language, and more languages aren't really better than fewer, so how can one get involved without being intellectually compromised?

Linguists seek to create a new, ultimate authority, one that undermines the fortresses of its enemies while offering no citadel of its own for attack. Linguistics does not build, does not create, does not rule. It merely sees and knows all.

Luckily this delegitimatizes the language of oppression!

But also the language of struggle.

So, um, who do you think wins this now silent battle?

I could rant for a very long time I am now realizing, so I will wrap this up with some good old fashioned name calling.

Dear (certain) Linguists,

You're not fooling anyone. You're not good enough at math to make it in Science (no, Linguistics is not a Science) and not word-gifted or human-loving enough to create anything useful or beautiful with language. You are bean counters but not so honest. Your basic inferiority, from laziness, inability, or cowardice, in genuine mental pursuits led you to participate in this mongrel study. You are opportunistic, disingenuous, and bullying. You are not dignified by your willingness to look down on everyone. Expression is craft. I, for one, wish I had been taught it better. But I also wish I wasn't taught this colonist tongue, but spoke instead a language rooted in my geography, genetic or accidental, Gaelic or Kaw, but you offer me nothing; you offer us nothing. You parse and squabble a pile of fingernail clippings as if it were the man.


All this comes down to something very simple. Well, two things. 1) I have been out of writing for a week or more and this is like priming the pump. Dirty water out! Clean water to come. 2) Fundamentalism is always annoying. Just as annoying the antagonist in the joke that ends "Can you tell me where the library is at, asshole?" as the mocking hipster who disdains all that is not fashion.

Take us home, Tom. Take us home.

Well I don't mind working
cause I used to be jerkin off
most of my time in the bars
I been a cabbie and a stock clerk
and a soda fountain jock jerk
and a manic mechanic on cars
It's nice work if you can get it
now who the hell said it
I got money to spend on my gal
but the work never stops
and I'll be busting my chops
working for Joe and Sal.

And I can't wait to get off work
and see my baby
she said she'd leave the porch lite
on for me
I'm disheveled I'm disdainful
and I'm distracted and it's painful
but this job sweeping up here is
is gainfully employing me tonight

Tom do this Tom do that
Tom, don't do that
count the cash, clean the oven
dump the trash oh your lovin
is a rare and a copasetic gift
and I'm a moonlight watchmanic
it's hard to be romantic
(sweeping up over by the
cigarette machine
sweeping up over by the cigarette machine...)

I can't wait to get off work
and see my baby
she'll be waiting up with a magazine for me
clean the bathrooms, clean um good
oh your lovin I wish you would
come down here and sweepameoffmyfeet
this broom'll have to be my baby
if I hurry, I just might
get off before the dawns early light.

The great and terrible infant

Happy Birthday, Large Hadron Collider!

Today the world's largest atom smasher came fully online and conducted its first high speed proton collision.

Some people say these experiments might cause black holes that could destroy earth. Most people say 'Sure, there might be black holes, but they'll be really wee and collapse before any damage is done.'

Me? I don't care. Either new discoveries are made in particle physics or Earth is the punchline of some cosmic joke. I think it's the best way to destroy the planet I have heard of so far.

Mazel tov!

front lines of the language war

It is sad that things have come this far. It's a humorous curse-laden multi-font letterpress-y rant against common (sigh) uncaring abuses of English.

Some people would say that this is not safe for work, but those people are cowards. Or they have jobs.

Friday, March 26, 2010

velvet knickerbockers

My mood has shifted somewhat, and some interesting things have happened.

Firstly, Olga has been offered (and has accepted) a wonderful summer internship in Trieste at the International Center for Theoretical Physics which I think is sexy as hell.

She'll be there for two months in the summer, and I plan to visit and travel with her to Venice, through Slovenia, etc when her tour of duty is up.

Just this afternoon, she also had an interview with The Stowers Institute, which is in Kansas City and would almost perfectly suit out plans to move back on excellent terms. They like her, but would like to see some freelance work from her before proceeding with a job offer. Naturally she's going to turn out a couple great articles for them and I think it is very likely that something great could come from it.

I also figured out some problematic formal questions concerning my most recent attempts at a prose poem and am excited by the direction it is heading. Much work needs done, however, and more discipline (took me three times to spell that right-- not a good sign) to live daily.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010


It's always a bad sign when a writer quotes a Persian mystic on the uselessness of language. A long silence is usually brooding to bear down.

I haven't been completely useless, but I have lost a certain spark. I've been researching Paul Morphy (Murphy, via Spain and her colonies) a strange New Orleans chess player born two centuries ago.

Research doesn't sit well with me, though I am happy about this project. In truth, I don't know what the great bother is.

I am largely happy with the progress of these prose poems. I am working on my novel again but that is not going well. Belief seems to have deserted me. So much of my life is (has been) geared towards an apprehension of what was wanted. And novels and poems are by definition unwanted. So that's part of it.

It is the first time I have been unemployed and in such money trouble. I can't gauge how much this bothers me endemically, as sometimes I feel like hanging myself and sometimes I feel as though this time is a great gift. But if it is a great gift, I must make the most of it and so frequently I know that I am not. Also the flatness of the tone of my life, resonance coming only from engagement with other people or familiar places, bothers me and I rarely have the energy to keep up with my dear friends as I should, even though every message or visit is like a star in my sky.

And then there is the persistent unreality of this life. My mind has always been prone to such speedy abstraction that it thereby distorts sensation-- and suddenly I am crushed by the weight and noise of the world around me, a room full of people suddenly overcrowded with each person's fears and desires and secrets, every conversation lambent in what should be pitch black noise, grain through the mill, every action impossible, and then when taken, farcical.

We're the punchline but not the joke.

False sounds, false smells, the touch of no one, memories not mine, litanies of despair that live like idols within me, and Time a tangle, events without agency or context, little by little an acquaintance with Evil-- tangible, agile, discreet.

Everything running to the finish. It is the final sprint. I guess I ran cross country so that I might recognize it better.

Which I hated. Torment is not its own reward. To endure is the curse of this life, not its highest aim. Our efforts must be twained with their infinite betters. We must barter our lives for that which will outlive us.

So that's how I'm doing-- stuck at an intersection waiting for the goddamned light to change, more than a little suspicious that I'm in the wrong lane and a few hours late.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

3 from Herbert


Mr Cogito
decided to return
to the stony lap
of his fatherland

the decision was dramatic
he will regret it greatly

he can however no longer
stand the colloquial turns
--comment allez-vous
--wei geht's
--how are you

questions apparently simple
require convoluted answers

Mr Cogito will rip off
bandages of kind indifference
he has lost all faith in progress
he cares about his own wound

displays of abundance
fill him with boredom

he grew fond only
of a Doric column
a church in San Clemente
a portrait of a certain lady
a book he never finished
and a few other little items

so he returns
he now sees
the border
a plowed field
murderous watchtowers
a thicket of barbed wire

without a whisper
a bulletproof door
closes slowly behind him

he is
in the treasure house
of all misfortune


so why does he return
he is asked by friends
from the better world

he might stay here
somehow settle in

entrust his wound
to the dry cleaner

leave it out in the lounge
of an enormous airport

so why does he return

--to childhood waters
--to his tangled roots
--to memory's embrace
--to the hand the face
burned on time's grate

questions apparently simple
require convoluted answers

perhaps Mr Cogito returns
to give an answer

to promptings of terror
to impossible happiness
to a blow out of the blue
to a treacherous question



Because you are a king and I'm only a prince
without a country
with a people who trust in me
I wander sleepless at night

And you are a king and look on me as a friend
worryingly--how long can you drag yourself
through the world

--A long time Yehuda To the very end

Even our gestures differ-- gestures of mercy
of scorn of understanding
--I want from you nothing but understanding

I fall asleep at a fire with my head on my hand
when night burns out dogs howl and guards go
to and fro in the mountains



The cold blue sky like a stone on which angels
sublime and quite unearthly sharpen their wings
moving on rungs of radiance on crags of shadow
they gradually sink into the imaginary heavens
but in a moment they emerge even paler
on the other side of the sky the other side of the eye
Don't say that it's not true that there are no angels
you immersed in the pool of your indolent body
you who see everything in the color of your eyes
and stand sated with the world-- at your lashes edge

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

after an evil night

This world hurts my head with its answers,
wine filling my hand, not my glass.
If I could wake completely, I would say without speaking
why I'm ashamed of using words.


Monday, March 1, 2010

sucking up to Nabokov

Hey Jeremy

Just thought I'd toss off a few reactions to the writing advice post from the Guardian. Like you, I don't take it too seriously, but that doesn't mean certain advices don't boggle or annoy or that I won't waste a couple hours thinking about them.

Such as: PD James beginning her exhortation to respect 'words' and the English Language with "Increase your word power." Jesus F-ing Christ. Bad writing IS contageous.

It occurs to me that the only interesting advice comes from people who are playing with the notion and form of advice-giving and are not taking themselves or the format too seriously. Margaret Atwood and Jeanette Winterson being two favorites, and also, not surprisingly, two writers I admire (both of whom, however, I have some advice for: write less!). Atwood is wryly pragmatic:

"1 Take a pencil to write with on aeroplanes. Pens leak. But if the pencil breaks, you can't sharpen it on the plane, because you can't take knives with you. Therefore: take two pencils.

2 If both pencils break, you can do a rough sharpening job with a nail file of the metal or glass type.

3 Take something to write on. Paper is good. In a pinch, pieces of wood or your arm will do."

Winterson is just friendly:

"8 Be ambitious for the work and not for the reward.

9 Trust your creativity.

10 Enjoy this work!"

Everyone who seems really excited, or exaggeratedly unexcited, to tell us (presumably in need of their advice) how things work provides terrible advice in usually appalling language, like this from Hilary Mantel:

"Concentrate your narrative energy on the point of change. This is especially important for historical fiction. When your character is new to a place, or things alter around them, that's the point to step back and fill in the details of their world. People don't notice their everyday surroundings and daily routine, so when writers describe them it can sound as if they're trying too hard to instruct the reader."

As opposed to the spoon-feeding she suggests? Not to mention the devastating assertion that human beings are incapable of paying attention to the world around them, or the fact that she finds-- not duty-- but expediency in leaving this supposed blindness unchallenged.

Of course, she poisons her advice for me with her rule number 1, hateful in tone, content, and underlying socio-politi-aesthetic assumptions: "Are you serious about this? Then get an accountant." That and the fact that I hated Wolf Hall.

Or this from the extremely long-winded Sarah Waters who apparently ironically believes one should:

"Cut like crazy. Less is more. I've ­often read manuscripts – including my own – where I've got to the beginning of, say, chapter two and have thought: "This is where the novel should actually start." A huge amount of information about character and backstory can be conveyed through small detail. The emotional attachment you feel to a scene or a chapter will fade as you move on to other stories. Be business-like about it. In fact . . ."

and also:

"Don't overwrite. Avoid the redundant phrases, the distracting adjectives, the unnecessary adverbs. Beginners, especially, seem to think that writing fiction needs a special kind of flowery prose, completely unlike any sort of language one might encounter in day-to-day life. This is a misapprehension about how the effects of fiction are produced, and can be dispelled by obeying Rule 1. To read some of the work of Colm Tóibín or Cormac McCarthy, for example, is to discover how a deliberately limited vocabulary can produce an astonishing emotional punch."

Or maybe Waters is only talking about fiction and not, of course, the writing of writing advice or writing generally. Has anyone written writing advice for writers of writing advice? Someone should (maybe I am?).

A surprising amount of name-dropping is going on (see Waters) as well, from the wonderful:

"Don't be one of those writers who sentence themselves to a lifetime of sucking up to Nabokov." (Geoff Dyer)

to the disarming: "Find an author you admire (mine was Conrad) and copy their plots and characters in order to tell your own story, just as people learn to draw and paint by copying the masters." (the very unfortunately named Michael Moorcock)

to the obnoxious yet baffling: "If you fear that taking care of your children and household will damage your writing, think of JG Ballard." (Helen Dunmore) who follows up with
"Don't worry about posterity – as Larkin (no sentimentalist) observed "What will survive of us is love"," which, aside from being extremely sentimental, is also plainly false. Luckily for us, we carry our love with us to the grave and leave behind, instead, words on paper and material goods.

Among the many simply unhelpful or too personal or simply silly pieces of advice, or non-advice such as:

"The first 12 years are the worst." (Anne Enright)

"Don't write letters to the editor. (No one cares.)" (Richard Ford)

"Interesting verbs are seldom very interesting." (Jonathan Franzen)

this, though charming, is my vote for LEAST helpful piece of advice as it requires use of a time machine and may result in a universe-destroying paradox: "When still a child, make sure you read a lot of books. Spend more time doing this than anything else." (Zadie Smith) I would further like to point out that her advice, if able to be taken, means that your adult self (reading these sage words) should spend more time making sure your child-self is reading than doing anything else, including writing.

The invited writing rules from anonymous commenters were slightly less stupid than most online comments for a second before devolving into off-topic inanity. Things I liked...

"6. A celebratory cigarette after every really good passage is probably not a good idea."

Or this, which rightly calls attention to the fact that few people want writing advice that is not also publishing advice.

1. Learn to kiss gatekeeper arse; kiss it early and often
2. Pick the creative writing program best positioned in the school best positioned in the part of the country best positioned in the country best positioned in the hemisphere best positioned to maximize access to gatekeepers' arses
3. Identify your Target-Audience by matching your hypothetical jacket photo with the jacket photos of successful authors already catering to said Target Audience
4. Identify the needs of your Target-Audience by watching lots of the same Television programs your Target Audience watches (your "style" will flow naturally from total immersion in this resource)
5. Cater to the Target Audience's needs by A) giving the reader the impression that he/she is The Best and that B) everything, somehow, eventually, is Gonna Be Alright (if not for the characters in your Product, then certainly for The Reader)

Thanks for this-- a lively distraction from writing! I think I'm due for a celebratory cigarette!


Friday, February 26, 2010


I've been revising Kodoku, the play. Out of sheer perversity, I am posting an entire scene on this blog. As my mom says, "If you don't like it, there are seven other ways to look."


(A wooded area, a large stream, a place of soft light and soft shadows where one dreams, be dreams large or small. In the back corner of the stage the workers continue to build the boat.
A spotlight falls on Kenichi, who is holding a model sailboat. )

The world needs sailors. Sailors have been around since the earliest days of civilization. Before sailing, everyone was bored and stayed at home all day eating radishes, or, if people went onto the water, they had to row, row, row-- like the song says, and who wants to row?It's really no fun at all. I think the Pharaohs invented slavery just so they wouldn't have to pick up an oar themselves. And if you weren't rowing you were just-- adrift. Luckily, sailing was invented and everything was okay for a while.

(Kenichi's spotlight goes dark. Another light reveals Susumu slinking with exaggerated disrepute through the forest.)

Susumu, the master thief, moves through the forest as silent as a mouse... no, even more silent, as silent as three mice, seeking his next target. Ah-ha! I knew that I walked out to the forest today for a reason. What a beautiful sailboat! That kid doesn't look rich, but-- look at that boat. If I can just get my hands on it-- Poof! Susumu, Master Thief, a ghost, a breeze, a falling leaf. His parents will buy him another one, right?

(Susumu's spotlight goes out. Kenichi's resumes. This back and forth continues until they are together. )

Sinbad was the perhaps the greatest sailor ever. He sailed the seas seven different times and found seven different fortunes.

Something is strange about this guy. Who is he talking to? You may ask: who am I talking to? But I have an excellent answer. I am talking to myself, my favorite audience, but he's talking to imaginary people, and that's just weird. If I get closer I'll be able to make out what he's saying...

Sinbad also fought sea monsters. Nowadays, however, sea monsters have gone extinct. Some may say that this makes the oceans safer for adventurers, but I'm not so sure. What if the sea monsters were keeping something really terrible away? What if not having sea monsters is worse than having sea monsters?

Almost there! Jeesh, this guy sure can talk. I bet he won't even notice his little boat is gone for an hour or more. I was kinda hoping for a challenge...

The absence of sea monsters is but one of the many mysteries that I, Kenichi, the greatest sailor since Sinbad, will investigate on my first voyage. Here, hold this.

(Kenichi picks up the sailboat and hands it to Susumu who has finally crept behind him. The rest of the stage fills with light.)
I need to find a place to put my boat into the water.

Sinbad was a terrible sailor!

What do you mean?

He wrecked every single time he sailed. He only had adventures because he never got to where he was going. He was just a salesman with weird luck. And after he got rich, he just gave up.

I will never give up.

Now Alladin is a better hero. He lives by his wits, like me, Susumu, Master Thief. What's your name?

Kenichi, World's Greatest Sailor. I'm a shipwright too, although not as great as Mr Ouchi. I built that boat myself. This will be her first time in the water. Here, this will be perfect.

(Susumu brings the boat to the water's edge and together they set it free. The boat sails happily and slowly but-- rocks await it.)

Kenichi! You're a genius! Look at her go... oh, oh no. She's stuck on the rocks... she's taking on water, quick, quick.

….No. No... I worked so hard...
(Kenichi faints but Susumu half catches him.)

We can save the boat, come on!
(Susumu tries to rouse Kenichi and save the boat at the same time, but they become tangled up and both fall over.)
Get off me! What's happened to you?
(Susumu tries to pick Kenichi up, pinches him, does whatever he can think of to rouse his new friend. Nothing works.)
At least tell me where you live so I can get your family!

...Ihave no family...

No family? Who is this kid?

He mentioned Mr Ouchi. I'll go get Mr. Ouchi-- although... He won't be happy to see me.

(Susumu runs off stage, and continues to run back and forth until he reaches Mr Ouchi and the workers.)

Mr. Ouchi! Mr. Ouchi!

What? Oh, it's you! I told you never to come back here. What's your scheme this time?

There's this kid-- he won't get up. He mentioned your name... I didn't know who else to--

This isn't a trick?

On my grandmother's grave.

Okay, where is he?

Follow me if you can keep up!
(Susumu, Mr. Ouchi, and the workers all retrace Susumu's path-- some better than others.)
Here he is. We were sailing that boat over there, but it started to sink, and then he just collapsed.

Oh, it's Kenichi Horie.

You know him!

We should get his mother.

His mother? But he said “...I have no family...” Well, you go find her and I'll stay with the kid until you get back.

I don't know where they live. Kenichi just visits the shipyard sometimes. They must live close to the harbor.

That's no help. What are you going to do, run through the streets screaming her name?

No, I'm not. You are. Now, you little thief! Her name is Mrs. Horie. Run!
(Exit Susumu. His voice is heard shouting periodically. Mr. Ouchi sits next to Kenichi)
Well, Kenichi. What has happened to you? You're breathing. Your heart is beating, one two three four. Did something scare you? Was it Susumu?

(The workers, who have finally arrived, attempt to rouse Kenichi, who is a limp noodle. This proceeds until Kenichi is quite compromised and Mr. Ouchi steps in.)
Who told you to come! What am I paying you mongrels for? Let him go! No! Not like that! Gently! Back to work! Back to work!

(The workers scatter and vanish. Susumu enters walking backwards.)

Mrs. Hooooooooorieeeeeeee! Mrs. Hooooooooooooorie! Mrs. Hooooooo-- whoa!
(Susumu, stumbles and falls over the prone figure of Kenichi.)
Oh. It's you. Hey, hold on Mr. Ouchi-- I've been calling all over. I must have gotten a little lost. Are you sure you don't want to go?
(Mr. Ouchi growls threateningly)
Eeeeek! Mrs. Hoooorieeeeeeee!
(Exit Susumu yet again.)

What am I, an old bachelor, ready to retire and think only fine and noble thoughts, doing here? I guess that is the way of the world. A man is finally ready to go, and he is called back. And others... are gone before they've even tasted life, let alone had their fill. A widow, a bachelor, soldiers-- all ground up in the mill of life in their own way. What about you, Kenichi, what is so heavy on your shoulders? Why won't you get up?
(Susumu enters leading Mrs. Horie and Hiroko.)

He's right over here, Mrs. Horie.
(Mrs. Horie rushes to her son.)
Kenichi, Kenichi. What happened? Can you talk?

He hasn't been talking, Mrs. Horie, but his--

Mr. Ouchi! Where you here? Did you see what happened?

No, the boy, Susumu, brought me here, apparently--

You, Susumu, is it? Did you see what-- did you do anything to Kenichi?

Do anything to him? I've run across Nishinomiya three of four time trying to help him. I'm Kenichi's best friend.

Okay Susumu, it is Susumu, right? Please tell me everything.

Well, after I decided not to steal his sailboat, Kenichi and I made friends and I helped him put his boat in the water. It sailed like a dream... until it didn't. It got snagged over there and began to take on water. Then Kenichi just... went all noodle-y. I remembered he mentioned Mr. Ouchi and we've... had dealings... so I fetched him, and then he told me to run through the streets shouting your name, which was actually really fun, and now here we are.

He just collapsed?

Went all noodle-y.

His breathing sounds good, and his heart rate is normal. I don't know what else to do... I'm a shipwright, not a doctor.

I know what's wrong with him!

You do?

Hi! I'm Hiroko. I'm Kenichi's sister.

A pleasure, Miss Hiroko.

He's just lazy!


But Kenichi is always working, Hiroko. Something must be wrong with him.

And he never stops asking me questions.

He told me he built that boat all by himself...

I think I know my big brother pretty well. Watch this.

(Hiroko sits heavily on Kenichi's chest and squeezes his nose.)
Hey! You lazy bum! Get up!

Mmmmrmhmm... off me...

Make me!

Get...off...me... so tired...

No. I like it here. If you're not going to get up, you'll be my chair.


Okay, Kenichi. I didn't want to have to do this.
(Hiroko licks her finger, slowly and thoroughly sticks it in Kenichi's ear. Kenichi lurches to his feet.)

Gah! Oh, ick, gross. That's my ear! Oh... Wait, what happened? Why is everyone here?

You had some trouble, Kenichi, after your boat sank.

My boat!

So I ran and got everyone to help. I didn't think to lick my finger and put it in your ear though. That's genius!

Are you okay Kenichi? Do you remember anything?

No-- it's like I was another person. Someone... lazy. It was terrible. And there's my boat, sinking, lost. What did I do wrong? Ahem-- I am very sorry to have bothered everyone. Please forgive me. I will work even harder from now on.

Don't be too hard on yourself, Kenichi. You have your whole life to fill with regrets. I'm glad you're feeling better. Mrs. Horie--

Mr Ouchi. I can't thank you enough for leaving your shipyard to help my son. He must be a nuisance.

Yes, well. I am a very busy man.

Hey Kenichi, Hiroko, they're flying kites over there. Let's go watch!

I love kites!

Kites are a little like boats. Maybe I could learn something...

(The children depart, excitedly, the stage.)
Well, I can assure you that Kenichi will not bother you any more. I've given him too much freedom. It's hard raising two children without--

Mrs Horie! I'm afraid you misunderstand. Please don't keep Kenichi away. A day isn't complete without his visit. I've never known a boy with such a keen interest in sailing. He is welcome any time. And if you would ever like to come along, to, um, keep him out of trouble, you, um, you can.

You are too kind, Mr. Ouchi. But I think one Horie is more than enough. I should go join the children. I'm still worried about Kenichi's fit. Goodbye, Mr. Ouchi.

May good luck haunt your days, Mrs. Horie.

That would be nice.

There she goes. Quiet down, old heart. The world doesn't need any more adventures from you. Those are rough seas and you're hardly shipshape. Leave it to the young, like Kenichi. There's something about that boy. Something otherworldly. How far do you think he'll go?