Sunday, December 28, 2008

Happy Belated Christmas!

Hello everyone, and happy holidays! I hope everyone had a great holiday and got to spend time with the people they care about! I had a quiet Christmas. I got a fancy new watch, and my Aunt, Uncle, and cousins got a Wii, so there was much bowling. I love the Wii for the fact that anyone can play it. I bowled a few rounds against my cousin, who is eight, and I lost one game. You can't have an even match with someone sixteen years younger than you with many other systems, I don't think.
On the 26th, I went to visit my grandma and then we continued on to Atlantic City. I lost a little, so I quit playing. I think I'm going to spend the money I would have lost on a nice DVD for myself.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

My Senior Prom

My former professor, Tayari Jones, is raising money Girls Write Now, a creative-writing program in New York. For everyone who sends her a picture of their teenage self, she'll donate $5, and for everyone who also posts a picture and some information on their blog, she'll double it! I think it's a great charity to support, and who doesn't like showing off embarrassing pictures of their younger selves?

So here is a picture taken right before my senior prom, with the beautiful and talented Allison Mosher!

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

When I Like Christmas Music

So I'm not much into those radio stations that play a non-stop Blitz of Christmas music from Thanksgiving until the Epiphany, and I'm very glad at this time of year to have Sirius satellite radio. Why? Well, because of Little Steven's Underground Garage, of course. Instead of the nonstop Christmas music that murders the holiday spirit, they play their own weird, unknown Christmas songs, scattered throughout their normal fare. While some of it is less-than-great (take, for example, this Joe Pesci Christmas tune), a lot of it is really fun and unexpected. Or it's the Beatles, which is always appreciated.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Out of my Hands and Into the Postal System

Well, they're done. On Friday, I took an enormous stack of 9x12 envelopes to the East Stroudsburg Post Office, and mailed out my Graduate School applications. I walked in and the Post Office was empty, and since I am the type of person who gets superstitious and sometimes believes in omens and portents, I thought, "Well, this is lucky. It bodes well." The postal employee at the counter, Lew, looked at the stack and said, "Applying for jobs?" I said, "Close. Grad School." He got everything ready, and they were officially out of my hands. When they went in the sorting bin, I felt a little bit of exhilaration and nerves. I was no longer able to grab my work samples and shout, "Wait! Not ready! Just one quick edit!"
I celebrated being finished by downloading World of Goo for my Wii and playing it. Oh, it's fun. It reminds me of building a house of cards with little black blobs. It's completely addictive. In fact, I think I'm going to go play it now.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

First Breath After Coma

I'm working on a (very special) "White Winter Mixtape". I wanted to post the songs I have so far and put out a call for suggestions. Maybe I can send you a copy. Maybe you can send me your own mix. And then we could be mixtape mailing buddies.

1. "First Breath after Coma" by Explosions in the Sky
2. "Roscoe" by Midlake
3. "White Winter Hymn" by Fleet Foxes
4. "For Emma" by Bon Iver
5. "Fox in the Snow" by Belle and Sebastian
6. "Quartermaster's Wintertime" by Bill Fox
7. "Furr" by Blitzen Trapper
8. "The Crane Wife 3" by the Decemberists
9. "Mushaboom" by Feist
10. "Sodom, South Georgia" by Iron and Wine
11. "My Favorite Things" as performed by John Coltrane
12. "Cemetery Row" by the Minus 5
13. "Color in your Cheeks" by the Mountain Goats

What else?

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Jackson Pollock

Ah, StumbleUpon. Whereas before, the internet was solely a timewaster, now it is a streamlined, personalized timewaster. Tell it what you like, and it will direct you toward random things until you realize it's the middle of the night and you have work in a few hours. A big thank you to my brother Nick for introducing me to this tool. Maybe "tool" is the wrong word, seeing as a tool is an object that helps get work done, and this is just the opposite. I'll call it a toy.
So the other night, I was stumbling and I found this. It's a website that lets you play Jackson Pollock. Everytime you click, it changes color, and the longer you hold the cursor in one place, the larger the splatter becomes. It's...really fun. But wait, there's more: today I got a weekly update from Threadless, the online t-shirt store, and who should be on a shirt but Jackson Pollock? Do I love this shirt and want it? Yes. But the real point I'm trying to illustrate here is this: at three random sightings in one week, it becomes clear that Jackson Pollock is trying to tell me something. I'm one short. One more, and I have to drive to the Met and wait for Autumn Rhythm to speak to me. Try explaining that to your boss.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Work Break

I'm currently editing one of my work samples for my MFA applications, and the first page is giving me some trouble. I'm really happy with the story from the second page (the paragraph that starts, "Mike hated emergency rooms") on, but the page that gets us to that point in the story isn't pulling its weight. I don't think I can cut it and try to introduce the information through the rest of the story, because it sets up the events to follow and tells us a bit about the characters' lives and structure. It would be like cutting "A man walks into a bar," wouldn't it?

"Things that Grow Back and Things that Don't"

Every time Mike climbed to a great height to paint, he forgot to leave his phone on the ground, and the vibration in his pocket never failed to give him the sensation that he would soon fall. So when the call came, Mike’s entire body tensed, rocking the scaffolding under his feet so much that he could hear its locked wheels shift an inch on the floor. His voice shook when he answered, and he was surprised to hear that his mother Ida’s voice was wavering just as much.
“Mike, you need to leave work.”
“Right now? What’s going on?”
“You have your insurance card?” She asked. “Meet us at the hospital. Come to the emergency room.”
Mike was already climbing down the side of the scaffold, his concern about falling evaporating, transforming into concern about his sons. He held the phone to his ear with his shoulder so that he could use both hands, a maneuver that on another day would have terrified him, but today seemed the only logical way to descend.
“What’s going on?” He asked.
“It’s Will,” his mother said. “He’s hurt. Just come quick.”
Mike felt a special kind of panic starting in his head and stretching down to his limbs that he hadn’t felt in many years. He supposed it was reserved just for this kind of call, the kind that led to frantic, distressed drives toward crisis. He closed his phone and stashed it in his back pocket, started his truck, and sped along back roads toward the hospital.
Mike hated emergency rooms, couldn’t stand the smell or the daytime television on the small screens. He hated the long stretches of silence between the wailing of the injured. He hovered outside of the sliding glass doors for a moment before entering, looking through until he found his mother and two sons sitting near the reception desk and identified his fastest path toward them. When he walked in, he crossed without looking at any other patients, afraid that they would assault him with their suffering; they would judge him for being whole.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

National Council on the Arts

Dear President-Elect Obama,

I don't know if you've heard, but President Bush just appointed Lee Greenwood to the National Council on the Arts. Yes, that Lee Greenwood. Of "God Bless the USA" fame. You know, that song that's so overwrought and vapid that it makes patriotism into an empty, lame sentiment? He's now a member of the board that oversees federal funding for the arts. So I'm asking you, on behalf of every artist, writer, filmmaker, ceramist, and basket-weaver in the nation: please appoint someone with some artistic integrity to head the council in January. Please.
It doesn't have to be someone I personally like. But it should be someone who we can respect. Someone who didn't spend the past few months singing to Sarah Palin. Someone whose contribution to American arts is not that song. How about Bruce Springsteen? He was an early and vocal supporter. What about...I don't know. There's a very long list of people I would rather see funding American art than this guy.



Saturday, November 8, 2008

Post-Election Thoughts

I stayed up late on Tuesday, watching the election returns. I have never experienced watching the results of an election and feeling happy at the same time, so it was a confusing and entirely welcome thing for me. It was--it is--so exciting. Is anyone else feeling like it hasn't quite sunk in yet? I woke up on Wednesday and realized, I think more than I did on Tuesday night, that history had been made the night before. Obama's speech was just beautiful and seemed like a call for every person watching to aspire to greatness. I think after eight years of Bush using words like blunt objects, it is so refreshing to see a leader who is a brilliant orator and is able to use language to inspire and reach people.
I drove around Wednesday trying to find a copy of the New York Times, and ended up just having to order a copy off of the NYT website. No one carries it around here. I kept thinking of that line in "Oh Brother, Where Art Thou?" when Clooney can't get any Dapper Dan: "Well, it didn't look like a one-horse town, but try finding a decent hair jelly."
In other news: I got a freelance writing assignment from a local publication!

Monday, October 13, 2008

He Turned Me Into a Newt

I'm not digging all of this insanity coming from the McCain rallies. It worries me, because Obama is ahead, that the days following the election will be a mess of these lunatics trying in the most violent, unbalanced ways to show their dissatisfaction. Why aren't these outbursts being treated more like the (sorry to use a word Sarah Palin likes to throw around) terrorist threats they are?

Fear of Editing

I've figured out my biggest problem as a writer: fear of editing. It's not that I'm afraid to actually edit my stories, and the fact is that once I really get working, I enjoy it. I know I'm improving my stories and making them clearer and more interesting and more readable (or at least I hope all of that is going on when I take the red pen to the page), but there's something about the actual act of picking it up that causes me to worry. Could I call it editing anxiety, the way they used to describe an aversion to math?

Sunday, September 21, 2008

YA for Obama

I just heard, through Boing Boing, about YA for Obama, a very interesting social networking site featuring several notable YA authors, such as Judy Blume and Holly Black. It's still in an early stage, but check it out!

Monday, September 15, 2008

RIP David Foster Wallace

By way of Tayari Jones' blog, I learned yesterday that David Foster Wallace, author of "Infinite Jest" and "Brief Interviews with Hideous Men" died on Friday. It's a terrible thing, and he was an excellent writer. I remember reading "Infinite Jest" and just being amazed by the audacity of it. I think people forget, due to all of the stylistic tricks and footnotes, that it's just a great story and a really interesting read. I read somewhere that he had bipolar disorder, which is just a terrible ordeal for a person and for their family, and I hope that they are able to get through this tragedy.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Against the Frost

It's been a very busy end of summer. Between the dog and the new place and the full-time job, I feel like I haven't had a chance to sit down since early August. There's something to be said for being insanely busy, though. Today I took the afternoon to work on short stories, and this one I've been working on makes me feel really exposed. I think it's a good thing. I've heard so much about taking chances with stories, and this one--tentatively titled "Against the Frost" is certainly taking a chance. Here's the opening:

One Sunday afternoon in mid-October, Beulah McCarroll decided that the deer were getting complacent and fetched her late husband’s rifle from the basement gun-safe. Her hand hovered over the shotgun and its ample supply of buckshot—including rock-salt stuffed shells Pete had carefully filled at their kitchen table, explaining that these were “strictly for pests and neighbor kids”—but she decided she wanted the impact to be clean, without the scattered pellets dotting the oak leaves in the woods behind the house.
It was the manner in which the young doe had crossed the street behind her car that revealed to Beulah the true measure of their comfort: she waited. Who had ever heard of a doe looking both ways, waiting for a car to pass before running onto the road? This was not how deer were intended to act; Beulah remembered from her youth the brakes locking on her father’s truck as the animals would trample out of the brush, headlong and singular, drawn forward by the promise of nearby water or by plain stupidity. Now, they knew better.
Beulah had been developing concern over the animals’ complacency all summer: each night, the deer ate the heads from her tulips and morning-glories, never appearing in daylight. It was as though they knew when she would be asleep and wouldn’t shoo them away.
“The damned things,” she mumbled to herself as she loaded the rifle. She had only learned how to do this a year ago, and hadn’t truly paid attention then: how was she to know she would need to shoot for herself so soon? She finished loading the gun and placed it next to her back door. She lit a small fire in the wood-stove and waited.
It was Tuesday night when a doe stopped by—it couldn’t have been the same one, but to Beulah they all looked the same without antlers—and Beulah shot her in the throat.
For decades, Beulah had assumed that when something was shot with a gun, it died, right there, like in the movies. Pete came home with stories of the kill and a buck in the bed of his truck, but he never mentioned this flailing around on the ground, the slow bleeding onto the grass. Beulah put the gun down and wished it would rust over, hoped the earth would reclaim it, anything so that she would not have to pick it up again. Night fell early, and the doe had not moved on.

The rest of the story is about this old woman trying to get this doe killed and buried before the ground frosts and is undiggable. It ends with a confrontation with a coyote. It's a different direction for me, and I'm really happy with how it's going.

In related news, I'm re-starting the application process for graduate school. After the debacle last year, I've decided I'm having everything sent to me early so that I can make sure everything is sent that needs to be sent. That way, if I don't get in anywhere, I'll know that it's all on me.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Tramps Like Us (And We Like Tramps)

Oh, is it Shark Week already? I hadn't noticed, since I've been, as you might know, living every week like it's Shark Week.

So: I went to see Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band at Giants Stadium on Sunday night. And what a show it was. I've never been to a concert of that magnitude, with a crowd so large. It was pretty wild. As far as the music, I have to say I was just blown away. You hear about a lot of older acts going on tour, playing hour-long sets and charging exorbitant ticket prices for a sub-par experience, but with these guys, it was not the case. In a three-hour set, there was only about ten minutes of dead time, mostly before the encore. It wasn't even really dead time, since Max Weinberg played for that space. Three hours! Without pause! It's incredible to see a group of people who play so well together performing just for the love of performing.

I've heard a lot about how Springsteen live is one of the greatest shows in rock and roll, a trek that every fan must make, lest they get to the end of their life and realize, "I never saw Springsteen in concert." I understand now the pilgrimage-to-Mecca kind of fervor some of the truest fans have: the show was like a religious experience. For a sixty-year-old man, Springsteen on stage is like a tent-revivalist. He walks all around, he lies down on the ground when the music or the emotion leads him to. The crowd plays their part, singing every word and ooh-ing along with him or without him. He even repeats phrases throughout the show, like "Can you feel the spirit in here tonight?" He repeats them over and over, and you hardly notice when he starts singing them, and before long, he's in the middle of the song and you're wondering where you were when it started. It was amazing to behold. When he played "Jungleland" (the necessity of the saxophone I only understand after seeing it performed live) followed immediately by "Born to Run," it was the closest thing I've ever seen to mass religious ecstacy. For the older crowd that grew up with this, and the younger crowd who is just now experiencing the frustration of being young and trapped, it was a moment of cross-generational connection.

When he spun his guitar around his body three (or was it four?) times, the entire feeling of concert-as-religious-gathering was confirmed. Like the sign of the cross at the end of a Catholic Mass, it was a kind of benediction, a sending-forth into the wider world to go with peace.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Works in Progress

Hey, in the interest of keeping this regularly updated, here's what I've been working on lately:

1. Pinball Wizards: a three-act about pinball machines, early film, Edison's rivalry with Tesla, and maybe death rays if I can figure out how to incorporate them. This has been my big project lately, and it's coming along very quickly and interestingly. I've come to realize I can't write just comedy or just drama, and I think this is a good thing. So it's a tragicomedy, or a...comic drama...about these two great men competing to invent machines that will amuse Edison's kids. Excitement!

2. Well-water Girls: This phrase has been in my head for awhile, and I just figured out while I was in the shower today how to incorporate it into a story. Look for a clip on here soon.

3. Charlie: This is my new puppy:

Hope to see you all soon.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Reading Tonight!

Tonight, 7:30pm:

I'm going to be reading some fiction at the Starbucks on Main Street in Stroudsburg, and if you're in the area, you should come by. I mean, reading some of my fiction, out loud, at Starbucks on Main Street. Otherwise, this announcement wouldn't really merit a whole blog post.

I'll put up some pictures later.

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Vampire Weekend

If you've been reading Pitchfork, watching Saturday Night Live, or listening to satellite radio, you've probably by now become aware of Vampire Weekend, indie rock's current darling "it" band. The review of their self-titled debut LP on Pitchfork is probably the most fawning piece of journalism I've read in some time, and I will admit that when I first heard "Mansard Roof," the first single, on Sirius, I thought it was fun and pretty enjoyable. And then I got home and found out who these guys were: a bunch of prep-school white boys from Columbia University. For an indie pop band, this is not entirely surprising, but from a musical standpoint, I find their ubiquitousness kind of troubling. Why? Because they're doing Afro-pop. When I first heard them, I thought they were a legitimate pop band from Africa.
Now, there is a long history of American musicians taking influences, instrumentation, and general sound from world music: David Byrne and Paul Simon (in his Graceland days) have both borrowed extensively from music of cultures not their own, each to outstanding effect. But what these two have in common (and Vampire Weekend lack) is a strong sense of self in their music. For all of its imported percussion and whistles, Graceland does not sound like anyone but Paul Simon. Likewise, David Byrne cannot change the fact that he is David Byrne and whether he is performing with the Talking Heads or doing his country songs as a solo act, his voice is unmistakably his. Not so with Vampire Weekend.
I recently read an essay in the New Yorker about Amy Winehouse, in which Sasha Frere-Jones referenced a review that called her music "aural blackface." The essay dismissed this review in part because Winehouse's backing band, the Dap Kings, are a soul band backing a soul singer. There isn't much of a disconnect between the music and the individuals performing it. I would use that term, however, to describe Vampire Weekend. I just think there's something inherently racist about what this band is doing, or something at least condescending toward Afro-pop artists who will probably never explode in America in the same way: they're putting a white face on African music and getting the approval and encouragement of their establishment. If you read interviews with these guys, they come off as the most pretentious, self-satisfied pricks to ever record a record, so I'm forced to believe that they think themselves precious and ironic for presenting the musical equivalent of...well, I don't know. Let's say the musical equivalent of if I got onstage and performed a Richard Pryor routine verbatim.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Narrow Escapes

It's been a long week, but I'm glad to say 2008 is looking better than 2007.
On Tuesday, I was driving to work and a woman had spun out and come to a stop in the middle of the road at the bottom of a hill about a quarter-mile from my house. I was driving a big white van, and I started to brake as I crested the hill, so I wouldn't hit her. As soon as I braked, the van started skidding right, and I had a choice: I could hit a large pile of rocks, or a telephone pole. I chose (correctly, I think) to hit the rocks, because:
1. They would have more stopping power, right? And,
2. They were not attached to several live wires.
So we hit the rocks, but not fast enough to deploy the airbags, and my brother was sitting on a box between the two seats, so he didn't have a seat belt. He grabbed my arm in what I can only describe as a death grip, and he held on, which was smart because right at that moment, the van started to tip down a ravine.
I had never been in an upside-down vehicle before Tuesday morning, and I'd prefer if I didn't have to repeat the experience: it gives you so much time to think. I thought, "This is how I die," and then I had time to get angry that I was going to die on my way to work, a block from my house, on a Tuesday. And then I had even more time to register Nick still holding onto my arm, and the windows breaking, and glass just everywhere, and tools flying through the air. And then there was more time to think about how up wasn't up, and when we came to a stop, back on our wheels, I didn't know if we were right-side up, or if I was alive, or what direction we were pointed. But then everyone in the van, my brother, myself, and my coworker William, all started asking, "Are you okay?" and odd as it was, just the fact that we were all terrified and asking that was comforting, because if you can ask that, you're at least somewhat whole. Nick hit his head and his legs got a little beat up, and when we climbed out of the passenger door (the driver's side was completely destroyed), he laid down in the snow for a few seconds just to have solid ground underneath him. We got to the top of the ravine and began to survey the damage, and for some idiotic reason, I said, "I forgot to turn the headlights off."
So why, because of the totaled van, with its torn-off roof rack (our ladder was impaled by the telephone pole's guide wires and twisted the rack clean off) and shattered windows, does this year look better than last year? We all lived, and really we walked away from that with pretty minor cuts and bruises. If that same accident had occurred in 2007, we would have been maimed or killed, the van would have landed upside-down or worse, on its passenger door. Last year was bad luck, and this year, I guess, is near-misses. I'm okay with that, if that's the kind of progress we're going to make.

Currently Reading: The Mysterious Benedict Society by Trenton Lee Stewart

Currently Working on: "Pinball Wizards," a two-act play about Tesla, Edison, Pinball Machines, and Death Rays.