Monday, October 1, 2007

Stephen King Should Get Some Respect

Well, let's try this again, shall we?
For my first post in quite some time, here's something directly related to writing. Disclaimer: I don't think Stephen King is a hack, not now anyway. Maybe in the 80s when he was doing mountains of coke (I have to imagine him face-down in the pile like in "Scarface," but with some stuck to his glasses in a really, well, endearing kind of way) and having interns more or less write his books, but now since shortly before the being-hit-by-a-van incident and especially after, he's turned into an interesting middle-aged writer with a lot of insight. I think he's an interesting pick for editor of this year's "Best American Short Stories," and it'll probably cause some trash-talking from people who think of him only as a genre writer, but regardless, read his article.

Thanks to Tayari Jones for this link.

Wednesday, June 6, 2007

Low-Key like Low-Key

I think there's something to be said for living the way I'm living right now, which is, specifically: rent-free, in a borrowed room filled with a painter's detritus and my own sprawling mess of belongings (which I am trying, actively, to pare down at this point before I leave the city, but sometimes I see books or movies and I just can't help myself and so they get added to my backpack or added to the box), stealing wireless Internet where and when I can, waking up early for work, getting home before noon from that same job (coffee shop where I got winked at just today) napping a bit, and then spending the afternoon reading on the little balcony at the top of the church stairs, getting a bit of a farmer's tan. It's not exactly inactive, because I'm working and therefore have income, but it's certainly not active, and at this point it's perfect for me. I'm reading The Fortress of Solitude right now, and I'm not exactly sure how I feel about it: it has its moments for sure, but I don't know that it's exactly coherent as a whole. The first chapter of the third part was pretty bad, but we'll see. There are still a lot of pages left. Has anyone read it? Does anyone have opinions on it?

I went last night to Finn and Annie's and sat in their backyard, trying to light the barbecue, dousing the briquettes in lighter fluid to very little avail, and it was pretty much the most stressed I've felt in the past few weeks, which I think says something about my relative stress-vs-comfort level of late. Our struggle was rewarded with veggie kabobs. Annie found a potential apartment in Boston, and she and Finn are making a trip this weekend to look at prospective places to live. I think I'll try to keep up this current low-stress, peaceful existence.

P.S. I keep saying I'm going to post stories and I will, next time I can steal some Internet. For now, I guess I'm signing off like I'm on pirate radio. "Tune in next week for the continued adventures of the Post-College Slacker."

Saturday, May 5, 2007

What "Jungleland" and "Magnolia" Have in Common

I was on my way back from seeing Modest Mouse in Philadelphia and the song "Jungleland" by Bruce Springsteen came on shuffle. Now, it took me a long time to come around to Springsteen, because I thought he was just a New Jersey moron with a band who had a couple of pop hits, but then I listened to Nebraska and realized he's a damn good musician, and then he started getting his almost-inexplicable indie cred when The Hold Steady's third album was released and had a piano part ripped from Born to Run on its first track and the Arcade Fire included several musical nods to "the Boss" on their second album, so he's now offically an artist I listen to. And so, "Jungleland" came on, and the lyrics are great ("and the kids out there live just like shadows/always quiet, holding hands/from the churches to the jails") but then, there's that saxophone. Now, saxophone is fine sometimes, but I just don't like it in rock music. It seems out of place, like someone is trying to force Jazz on the music that stole from Blues. But I was sitting there, hating the saxophone, but still liking the song for everything in it that exists next to the very annoying solo ("Born to Run" has one of these, too, by the way) and I think that it's just a fact that as much as you may like something, there can always be a part of it that annoys the shit out of you, and it could be that this is a part of actively liking something: taking that part that just completely doesn't belong there, breaks up the experience for you, and ignoring it completely.

Which brings me to "Magnolia." It's a movie I've always had a hard time with, because the first time I saw it, I loved it, and the second time I saw it I hated it, and have proceeded to waver back and forth between these extremes on subsequent viewings and probably always will. But I think I essentially like the movie: the opening is perfect and sets the tone for the whole movie, and the interweaving plot lines (before "Crash" and "Babel" ran that concept into the ground) revolve around my two favorite actors (John C. Reilly and Philip Seymour Hoffman) trying to keep the variously disturbed and unbalanced characters around them from falling into complete chaos. If I remember correctly the two never meet although their jobs as a police officer and a nurse link them to the same characters, and the whole movie does a great job of letting you believe that this is all possible, because, according to the opening sequence, "These things do not just happen" and chance and probability work in funny ways. But then, pretty far into the movie (or maybe not too far, it's a long film), everyone starts singing the same song in a montage of shots, and every time I see it I want to throw my hands up and walk away. I never do, because I love to see William H. Macy's total breakdown (and I don't even mind the frogs, I'll even buy that) but it just seems to destroy the illusion for me that the film creates. I hate the scene. So now, when I watch "Magnolia," I use that scene to go to the kitchen and make some popcorn, knowing that I can return when it's over, watch the ending, and still like the movie. It's just like muting the sound for the whole saxophone solo in "Jungleland": if I can just ignore that one thing, it's perfect.

Monday, April 30, 2007

An Exercise in Procrastination

I'm reading Motherless Brooklyn by Jonathan Lethem right now, and it's a clever riff on the detective novel, with the notable twist being that the main character suffers from Tourette's, which makes him bark, touch strangers, and say things like, "Eat me Bailey!" without intending to. As you can probably guess, this makes investigating the death of his mentor/boss relatively difficult. It kind of reminds me of Brick, since it's done with so much love for the genre and its conventions, but there's something completely unique about the way it's approached. My favorite part of the whole thing so far was a scene in which the book's protagonist nervously leads a homicide detective into a corner store, where he begins to tic...only he's trying to pronounce the unpronouncable glyph that stood in while Prince was "The Artist Formerly Known As."

I finally got around to reading Black Hole, by Charles Burns (who illustrates the covers of The Believer) which took a grand total of two days and creeped me out like nothing else. I hope the film adaptation keeps the same atmosphere of weird mutations (there's a girl who sheds her skin, and a boy with a mouth in his chest) mixed with the horror of high school. The graphic novel was done in a 1970's horror movie style, lots of extreme shading, people have sex and things start to go wrong, etc. The director slated to work on the movie is responsible for Haute Tension, which was your standard homicidal-escaped-mental-patient-attacks-resourceful-lesbian-but-there's-a-twist-ending film, and Neil Gaiman is slated to write the screenplay, so I have high hopes.

Finally, everyone should buy the new Wilco album. It's different, and much quieter, and it may take a few times through to grow on you, but then you'll love it. It's called Sky Blue Sky and comes out on May 15.

Sunday, April 29, 2007

You'll Always Be My Hero, Even if I Never See You Again

Saturday night, everything came full circle and I found myself, two weeks before finishing college, watching the band whose farewell show I attended the night before I started freshman year. It's only appropriate that I should start and end my DC school career with The Dismemberment Plan, one of the best bands to ever hail from Washington. The crowd at the show was fantastic, and there was this sense of community; there were a few people there who were at the last show and who I have known all through college, and I loved the feeling of everyone being together for the event. It seems almost more important than graduation. There was a girl there who I used to be friends with, who I actually went to that last show with. We had a falling out and don't really speak anymore, but I saw her outside and felt really glad that she was there: I kind of forgot we don't talk, so I said, "Hey! How are you?" It just seemed trivial to not say hello, because damn it, isn't it great that everyone was there? I got up onstage during The Ice of Boston, just like in 2003, and when I hopped down, I said, "College is done."

I'm not the kind of person who takes down setlists, and this is not a review as much as it's some thoughts, but I will say that it was one of my favorite shows I've ever been to, and they played everything I wanted them to.

This weekend, Pitwinkle Productions put up "Antony and Cleopatra," and it was everything I've come to expect from Michael Finnerty and Annie Gilsdorf: full of wildly anachronistic but completely appropriate music, bloody as hell, and impeccably presented. I'm glad it turned out as great as it did, and also glad that Finn and Annie might finally get some sleep. Also, they decided to keep the snake. Congratulations to the cast and crew, you guys did a hell of a job and you're all wonderful.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Good News!

I have some writing-related news to share today!
I was working at DCSnacks on Thursday night (well, Friday morning) and I checked my e-mail. There was a message from my thesis advisor, Pati Griffith, telling me that "Static," a play I wrote a few semesters ago, has been chosen to be presented in a fall festival! I don't know if that means it's just going to get a staged reading or if it's actually going to be performed (oh man I hope it means it's going to be performed), but whichever one it is, I am really excited.
In further news, keep an eye out for a story I will be posting on this blog in the next few days. I'm rapidly approaching the time when I hand in my thesis stories, so I figure I might as well post them on here. This is supposed to be a writing blog, after all.
Finally: does anyone know of any companies that are looking to hire a guy with a beard and an odd sense of humor? If so, I'm their man.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Everything was Beautiful and Nothing Hurt

Kurt Vonnegut died Wednesday at age 84. The bright side is, nothing having to do with his lungs ended up killing him, and I feel like he might have considered this a personal victory. The New York Times ran a really long, very well-written obituary, and the poem it ends with reminds me of something Vonnegut said about how we should carve something into the wall of the Grand Canyon about how we could have really made things better, but we were too cheap. I can't remember the exact quote, but he was going to leave it for the aliens to see after humanity is extinct. I still think it's a solid idea.

Vonnegut was a writer who made me really want to write, and I remember reading Slaughterhouse-Five when I was in high school and thinking, "I'd really love to write books," so I've been in kind of a funk all day.

In an interesting (read: morbid) side-note, Kurt Vonnegut's frequent character/alter-ego, Kilgore Trout (whose death Vonnegut recently published an article about) died, in Timequake, at the age of 84.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

The Charm of 5:30

When it gets warm like it is today in DC, I have some problems with making it to class, reading what I should be reading, and doing anything indoors in general. If I'm able to go outside and eat my lunch, I am going to sit out there. And there is a poem that pretty much sums up what I feel in this weather, so I thought I'd reprint it here:

"The Charm of 5:30" by David Berman

It's too nice a day to read a novel set in England.

We're within inches of the perfect distance from the sun,
the sky is blueberries and cream,
and the wind is as warm as air from a tire.
Even the headstones in the graveyard
Seem to stand up and say "Hello! My name is..."

It's enough to be sitting here on my porch,
thinking about Kermit Roosevelt,
following the course of an ant,
or walking out into the yard with a cordless phone
to find out she is going to be there tonight

On a day like today, what looks like bad news in the distance
turns out to be something on my contact, carports and white
courtesy phones are spontaneously reappreciated
and random "okay"s ring through the backyards.

This morning I discovered the red tints in cola
when I held a glass of it up to the light
and found an expensive flashlight in the pocket of a winter coat
I was packing away for summer.

It all reminds me of that moment when you take off your sunglasses
after a long drive and realize it's earlier
and lighter out than you had accounted for.

You know what I'm talking about,

and that's the kind of fellowship that's taking place in town, out in
the public spaces. You won't overhear anyone using the words
"dramaturgy" or "state inspection today. We're too busy getting along.

It occurs to me that the laws are in the regions and the regions are
in the laws, and it feels good to say this, something that I'm almost
sure is true, outside under the sun.

Then to say it again, around friends, in the resonant voice of a
nineteenth-century senator, just for a lark.

There's a shy looking fellow on the courthouse steps, holding up a
placard that says "But, I kinda liked Reagan." His head turns slowly
as a beautiful girl walks by, holding a refrigerated bottle up against
her flushed cheek.

She smiles at me and I allow myself to imagine her walking into
town to buy lotion at a brick pharmacy.
When she gets home she'll apply it with great lingering care before
moving into her parlor to play 78 records and drink gin-and-tonics
beside her homemade altar to James Madison.

In a town of this size, it's certainly possible that I'll be invited over
one night.

In fact I'll bet you something.

Somewhere in the future I am remembering today. I'll bet you
I'm remembering how I walked into the park at five thirty,
my favorite time of day, and how I found two cold pitchers
of just poured beer, sitting there on the bench.

I am remembering how my friend Chip showed up
with a catcher's mask hanging from his belt and how I said

great to see you, sit down, have a beer, how are you,
and how he turned to me with the sunset reflecting off his contacts
and said, wonderful, how are you.
Also, I'm reading St. Lucy's Home for Girls Raised by Wolves, which is a great book of short stories in the magical realism...genre? style? Anyway, the writer is only in her twenties and extremely talented.

Good news: I finished my rough drafts for my thesis, and I'll put them on here as I edit them. I'm also working on a new story called "Phenology," which I'm very excited about.

Monday, March 19, 2007

The Spring Break of Much Nerdiness

I got back yesterday from spring break, spent mostly in East Stroudsburg, Pennsylvania. It snowed about eighteen inches and I spent most of Friday shoveling.

Early in the week, I read Fun Home, which I recommend to everyone (I'd lend out my copy, but it's already being borrowed). There was one segment of it that really stood out to me where the artist's father writes her a letter about Faulkner and the area of Pennsylvania where they live (which happens to be just down Route 80 from beautiful, sunny East Stroudsburg). He says that Faulkner's constant setting, Yoknapatawpha County, isn't all that different from that area of Pennsylvania, and he's right. On Wednesday morning, I sat and ate breakfast in Snydersville Diner and realized that the Pleasant Valley girls sitting two tables away could have been Caddy Compson (or maybe the trailer-trash girl at the Volkswagon dealership who could have been really pretty if she wasn't wearing so much makeup is more of a Caddy) and that the fry cook was Benjy. It was a "Sound and the Fury" kind of breakfast and I started to wonder if that makes me closest to Quentin. I give you the mausoleum of all hope and desire.

I spent a lot of time last week reading Watchmen, and wondering why I hadn't gotten to it sooner. If you have any interest in the ability of graphic novels to be valid literary works, I would highly recommend it. It's pretty dense, and there's a lot of interesting existential questioning done by a character who is practically a god, and it seemed like most of the characters had daddy issues, at least to some extent. But then, that's kind of a staple of comic books, isn't it? Batman had to avenge his father's death, Superman's father sent him away from Krypton, Peter Parker betrayed his father figure, Uncle Ben. I bet the Wonder Twins' dad left their mom.

Also, I said I didn't want to get into another serialized drama on television. "I get too involved," I said. "Remember 'Lost,' John? Remember when you used up two whole weekends catching up on the episodes of the first two seasons? Remember when they're toying with your heart and mind?" But I didn't listen, and now I'm totally hooked on "Heroes." There's a character who can bend space and time! And an indestructible cheerleader! I've watched all but the last three episodes. Considering the show's creators have a five-year plan, it looks like I'll keep watching.

So yes, I spent spring break reading comic books and watching a television show about superheroes. And...I also got a tattoo of an ampersand on my left bicep. I'll post some pictures of it when I get a chance. Yeah, I'm a geek. I don't mind it.

Wednesday, March 7, 2007

Post Two, In Which We Have Drinks with William T. Vollmann

Last night, as we walked to Politics and Prose, we talked about what would happen if we were to go out drinking with William T. Vollmann: "I'd wake up in Peru, underneath a prostitute, missing my kidney," I joked. We later found out that drinking with Vollmann was not quite as dangerous as we'd led ourselves to believe, when he invited Finn, Annie, Sean and me (among other attendees at his reading) out to drinks at Comet, a bar just down the street. Finn asked Vollmann about a story David Foster Wallace had told once, about how how he (Vollmann) had pulled out a gun in the middle of a reading and fired several blanks. "Yeah, I did that," Vollmann said. "It's a good way to punctuate things. The first time, it was a surprise. The second time it wasn't, and the third time, there was kind of an anticlimax, I just took out the gun and cocked it." He mimed the motion of cocking a gun.
Vollmann also mentioned Bob Guccione, who he said published his work even if he completely disagreed with his opinion. "Bob Guccione has become kind of a family myth for me," I told him. "He was my grandmother's cousin, and he would show up for funerals and just give the widow an undisclosed amount of money, kiss her on each cheek, and then leave." Vollmann listened to all of our stories, and when Sean told a story about a man on PCP, he asked, "Have you guys ever tried PCP?" "No," we said. "Me neither," he replied, "I don't like the loss of control. It's why I don't do hallucinogens anymore."
We left after a little while, but Vollmann signed the title page of Finn's thesis, and gave him his P.O. Box so Finn could send it to him when he was done. I'm happy (but maybe also a little bit disappointed) to say, we all still have our internal organs.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Inaugural Post

Welcome to THE SHORT LIST, John Shortino's new blog. In the coming months, I'll be posting words and images relating to my writing, among other things. Stay tuned.

But for today, an eccentric I have taken a liking to lately:

JOSHUA NORTON, First (and only) Emperor of America.