Wednesday, August 30, 2006
Okay, just horsies. Times were hard. They were too busy wiping out the Neandertals.
That's an interesting bit of history. But then it grinds to a halt. That's it. NG has no specific opinion on what my genes say about what happened after about 10,000 years ago, no insights into what hanky and what panky my forebears got up to in the vulgar modern world.
Well, that's not exactly true. Read between the lines and it would seem that I am probably the world's whitest white man. I am supplied with the happy information that I am a member in good standing of haplogroup R1b as determined by the markers on my Y-chromosome.
The technical definition of membership in this particular group is Common as Dirt. I share the this particular genetic heritage with 70 percent of the male residents of southern England and with more than 90 percent of the male population of parts of Spain and Ireland.
Welcome to Honky Chateau, people. This is disappointing. The preconceptions of certain people will be confirmed.
Still, I like the Spanish part of this, and I can live with the Irish part.
Sunday, August 27, 2006
But what kind of prissy old aesthete would you be if you didn't enjoy a train wreck?
I'm the 15-minute man, so I will just mention one aspect of the performance. Apparently, it features many multimedia elements, but they don't work at matinees because matinees take place during the day. It's too bright for the visual portion of the multimedia. We went to a matinee, and all of the visual multimedia elements were dispensed with. But not the main conceit of the last act, which depends on the visual portion of the multimedia. Unless I completely misunderstood what was going on, the nighttime last act consists of the final scene -- which is on videotape -- being projected on a number of large screens even as the cast mills around the stage -- except for Shylock who sits in the background in what looks like quite a comfy chair -- putting for sale signs on all the props. See, Shylock has been ordered to give up half of what he owes to the state, and the state is selling off his possessions.
1) Since it was a matinee, the last act was not projected but neither was it acted. The audio component was played. This was not a good thing, since it amplified the simple fact that only two or three members of the cast had any business doing Shakespeare. Being loud and clear doesn't make you a good actor, but in the case of acting Shakespeare competently it is necessary even if it is not sufficient. I had to close my eyes to follow what was going, and I'm thinking: "People! Spit out the mush! Talk into the mike. Please!"
2) The notion of selling off Shylock's stuff while he sits on stage does keep him at the center of the play, but that's not where he belongs. Or to put it another way, he insinuates himself at the play's center with our complicity. Don't rub our noses in it as if we were a naughty dog -- or, worse, a stupid one. Arguably, Shylock seizes the play against the playwright's will (though never underestimate Shakespeare, man of the theater), but he seizes the play because of the alchemy of performance and the nature of the play as it is written, not because we imagine him sitting morosely at his palazzo being forced to go through a yard sale.
It's ludicrous, really. I mean, the props are sketchy and shabby, just as they should be.
But when we are asked to take all this literally and to witness the putative heartbreak of his being forced to sell off his plastic chairs, his folding table, what looked like two souvenir lamps from Pisa and, sadly, his bubble machine....
Yes, Delmarva, Shylock apparently owns a machine that blows soap bubbles.
Just didn't work. Don't think it would have worked if the last act had been successfully projected. Oh. And at the very end the three couples that the play has managed to unite got on a big blue blowup mattress and simulated sex. And then Shylock took the plug out of the mattress and it deflated. The French had a word for this. Or was it the Greeks? Anyway, the word is:
Harry High School.
Or is it Hairy High School?
And will somebody please turn off the bubble machine?
Saturday, August 26, 2006
As for my obssession with female basketball players wearing baggy uniforms, I retract not a syllable! Women of the world unite! You have nothing to show but your knees!
This is from September 2, 2004. Was Bush giving a speech?
Miller and Chaney Gone Completely Unhinged. These Are a Few of My Favorite ThingsBut you already knew that.
Into the teeth of what tonight will almost certainly be a torrent of elisions and imprecisions from He Whose Name Must Not Be Spoken Except in Tones of Scorn, I will counterprogram. I will divert myself from things that matter profoundly but about which I can do little other than send a few donations to progressive politicians, make a few phone calls to faithful anti-Bush voters and speak my piece to undecided friends, trying not to scream.
Instead, I will complain about something about which I am even more powerless, but which REALLY DOESN'T MATTER. I will complain about the basketball uniforms worn by female players in the United States and in much -- but not all -- of the rest of the world.
Impersonating the men -- who seem disinclined to appear to emphasize their genitals in what I assume is an act of reverse psychology -- women wear shapeless sacks. Really, they look as if they were caught hiding behind the curtains and then tried to wrestle their way out. I'm surprised they don't play in veils and headscarves.
I have pointed this out to my sister, who lives in Knoxville, Tennessee, and who has season tickets for Lady Vols basketball. Lady Vols basketball is not just a game, it's a dynasty. She sits under one of the baskets and baits the referees and heckles the weakest ballhandler on the opposing team. She understands basketball and she concedes that the women's limp uniforms probably impede their athleticism and certainly disguise it.
This is an issue, since the women's professional league, the WNBA, is also limp, at least in terms of drawing beyond hardcore fans. It would seem to be a dying enterprise, possibly reinvigorated by the victory of the American women in the Olympics this year, but that has happened after previous Olympic victories, and interest has subsided. Men's basketball is so athletic that the play triumphs over uniforms that hide the bodies of the players as effectively as the sheets did in an old Doris Day-Rock Hudson sex farce. The women don't soar and drive the way the men do, so they have much less margin for perceptual error, as it were.
"Women's game is an athletic game," my sister says.
"Yeah," I say, "and if the fog weren't there we could see the Golden Gate Bridge."
Sometimes you need to see what you know.
But my sister says American women -- she says she has talked to the players -- won't accept more revealing uniforms because some of them would feel embarrassed, apparently not the girls who are lean and muscular but the ones with thicker, blockier bodies.
Hmmmm. I see some of USF's female basketball players walking around campus when the weather is warm and if they were to start dressing off court in the style I want them to dress on-court, they would be putting more clothes on, not taking clothes off.
Well, these are just wordswordswords. Let's go to the pictures! Oh, yes there are pictures. I didn't watch any of the Olympics this year -- it would have cut into my Bush hating, which has many different aspects, all of which need to be isolated and worked on everyday, as if they were muscle groups. But I did follow the U.S. women's basketball team in print and wanted them to win. I noted that they beat Australia in the gold medal game. When we were in Australia several years ago, I observed the uniforms the women wore in their professional league. I went on line for documentary evidence of the Significant Difference.
Here is Picture A: Women in flour sacks challenging woman in modest but form-fitting uniform.
You may reply, "Oh, sure. Lean women look good -- but what of our more substantial woman?"
Several remarks suggest themselves. First, look at Serena Williams, who is conspicuously strong and who looks both powerful and physically attractive. There is harmony between the nature of her activity and the functionality of her costume. She is not flaunting herself. She is acknowledging that her costume should mesh, both practically and aesthetically, with the physical requirements of the game she plays. Even if female basketball players do not want to appear powerful, athletic and physically attractive, they should accept the burden for the good of the sport. They can wear chadors off court to hide their shame.
And here is picture B in which a powerful, athletic woman is wearing a modest but form-fitting basketball uniform.
I am exhausted by the intellectual rigor required to make this argument. I will now turn away from this issue and devote myself to the defeat of George Bush, always careful to dress appropriately for the nature and difficulty of that task.
Friday, August 25, 2006
Inspired by My Young Colleague David Silver Who Believes Information Wants to be Free, I Post my Syllabus
Dr. Michael Robertson
Office: 502 University Center
Phone: 666-6250 (office); 510-836-4870 (home); email@example.com
Office hours: Monday and Wednesday, 3p-430p. . If you need to see me, don't hesitate to ask for a time convenient for you.
Required texts: “The Art and Craft of Feature Writing” by William Blundell; “The Journalist and the Murderer” by Janet Malcolm
Additional reading: Pick a source of what you consider to be first-rate feature/magazine pieces, and read it on a regular basis. Bring outstanding examples to class to share.
Statement of purpose: The emphasis in this course is writing entertaining non-fiction stories that might appear in a newspaper, magazine or on the Web. Some of you are already familiar with the standard newspaper story in which the key facts are crammed into the first 50 words, the style is drab and the justification for the story’s existence is the notion that in some way the information it contains is vital to the community. Feature/magazine stories move toward the other end of the spectrum. The information they contain can be anecdotal, even trivial. The style in which they are written is sometimes so lively that it becomes as important as their content in drawing readers. Such stories often have a strong point of view in that the writer does not strive for “objectivity” – or its appearance – but makes clear directly or indirectly that he or she is giving his or her very personal opinion of the facts or events described.
Of course, as I said earlier, I am describing a spectrum or continuum. On the front page of newspapers, you will often find “news features” in which story-telling elements are used to dramatize or get behind the hard facts. Indeed, some magazine/feature stories bring to life issues of the utmost importance, and in that way they may seem more serious than the dry stories that surround them. Thus, grappling with the shades of difference between the kind of stories we are going to write in this course is challenging, and we could spend a good deal of time engaging with that problem. We are not going to spend a great deal of time doing so – though we will talk about it just as much as you like. The point of this course is writing, not theorizing. Suffice it to say that I am going to push you to write stories that are as well-structured as possible – I’m looking for a beginning, a middle and an end – and are as well written as possible, by which I mean the shape of each sentence and the choice of each word will manifest considerable re-writing and re-thinking.
Let me point out an irony here. My emphasis on entertainment does not mean reporting becomes less important. This is not a fiction class. I expect to be able to send each of these stories to the people quoted or described therein and have those subjects confirm that all the quotes and events described are accurate and also that you have not ignored key information needed to provide context. You can’t write an entertaining profile of someone unless you spend time with him or her finding the raw material out of which the “art” can be created.
We will concentrate on one particular type of story during this semester. That is the profile, a fact‑based article about people -- their surroundings and how they live in them, how they behave and what they say – that reads like a good short story. Certainly many kinds of feature stories exist, from the news story with a dash of human interest grafted onto it to the trend story to the review of the performance to the fashion or travel story that often reads as if it were an unpaid advertisement for a business whose paid advertisement appears elsewhere in the newspaper or magazine. We are going to do some of those stories, but we will concentrate on the tools of narrative and characterization and how they are used in the construction of the full‑length profile of one person. Narrative and characterization will enhance many types of story, but they are the backbone of the full‑length profile, in which (I argue) journalism comes closest to art. Producing such an "artful" profile is the ultimate goal of this course. By art, however, I do not mean irrelevance. One of the most effective methods of getting at the great issues of our time is by focusing on a single individual. Sometimes such people have chosen to be at the heart of such an issue. Perhaps ironically, whenever any person's life is examined in considerable detail, that life tends to assume universal significance. The challenge to the writer is honoring the facts even as you shape them, for you will discover they can assume more than one shape.
Regard this class as a workshop. You can't learn to write well by talking about it. Talking about writing is fun. Writing itself is hard. That is why good talkers are not always good writers. (There is a school of thought that good talkers are seldom good writers. We shall see.) It may be helpful for you to think of this class as a magazine or newspaper feature section – I am the editor, and you are my stable of talented but high-strung writers. I will make some allowance for real-life problems with deadlines. I will gladly meet with you during office hours to discuss such writing/reporting problems. It is preferable to thrash out such matters in advance rather than turning in an article that doesn’t work. In the real world of a-dollar-per-word (if you’re lucky), editors hate being surprised.
The further we go into the semester, the more your grades will count. Final grades will be determined by progress and by class participation. The final project will count about half your grade. All assignments must be typed double-spaced with generous margins, so I can write in those margins. Serious errors in grammar or spelling will result in a lower grade. Always keep a copy of your story just as you would when submitting a story to a real magazine or newspaper. Student writing will sometimes be read aloud and discussed in class, but no grades will be revealed.
A final word about what this course is not. It is not about writing poetry, children's stories, fiction, recipes, diaries or speculative fiction. All these things appear in some magazines and alternative newspapers, all are important to some readers, and all, from time to time, may be produced by magazine writers and newspaper writers for their own pleasure or profit. But this course centers on basic magazine and newspaper feature journalism, with an emphasis on writing about people and their impact on other people. This course is about the kind of craftsmanship that takes truth and makes it better than truth -‑ but never less.
Your Blog: It seems clear that the rise of the high-speed Internet connection, in combination with the growing power of the personal computer and the greater affordability of all sorts of software for manipulating sound and image, is making it possible for individuals to tell stories in ways that were unimaginable when I began to teach at USF 16 years ago. I certainly didn’t imagine them, anyway. It’s the dawn of a new age of what some call digital storytelling, a genre in which text, audio and video can be amalgamated so easily and inexpensively – and accessed so readily – that audiences may come to expect it and talented storytellers will be drawn to it.
In this course, we will take a couple very small steps toward that sort of “value-added” journalism. If you do not have a blog, create one. I use blogger.com. During the semester, I will require you to post some behind-the-scenes insights about the stories you are doing. That may be the most elementary way in which the Internet benefits the non-fiction writer. It enhances credibility by allowing readers easy access to the process of producing the story, allowing readers to understand, for example, exactly why the writer is so confident in writing about something that he or she did not see. (How many sources – witnesses, documents, etc. – were consulted? How many tough questions were asked?)
Also, I will require that you record at least one interview and post it as an audio file. I will require you to take photographs of one or more of the sources for your stories and post them. If any of you are taking or have taken video production, we will … talk. The focus in this course will remain words on the page. That won’t change. But neither will we ignore what the future may require of word-lovers open to the possibility of enriching the ways in which they create non-fiction narrative.
GRADING GUIDELINES FOR THIS COURSE
A Exceptionally well‑written, arresting, probing. Well organized. Effective use of quotes, observation, anecdotes, based upon thorough research. Publishable. (Stories are never late.)
B Only a few problems of style and organization. Clear, cohesive, well‑researched. Interesting, but in need of an edit and/or additional material to merit publication. (Perhaps one story is late during the semester.)
C Superficial. Rewrite required to better organize and emphasize significant elements. Details important to the story are missing. Annoying spelling and/or grammatical problems. (Several stories are late during the semester.)
D Factual but ineffectual. Further reporting, interviewing and research necessary before a successful rewrite can be undertaken. Serious problems in style, spelling, grammar, coherence and quality of research. (Stories are usually late.)
F So incomplete, confusing and/or erroneous that it could not be published under any circumstances (except for a brand‑new start, presumably by another writer). Willful and contrary disregard for the assignment. (Some stories are never turned in!)
August 29/Week One: Introduction to the course/Interviewing/Focusing your idea.
Assignment: The Stranger (1). A 500‑word story based on an interview with an immigrant or alien (preferably a refugee) who has been in the country no more than two years. Most of the story will reflect your interview with your subject, but I want two additional sources: a secondary written source and a brief interview with a USF professor or staff member who has expertise that is relevant to the experience of your immigrant. Read Blundell, Chapter 1.
September 5/Week Two: Physical description/Generating ideas
Assignment due: None
New assignment: The Performance (2). Catch a live performance (a waiter, a chef, a teacher, a departmental secretary, a traffic cop, a demonstrator, a street preacher, a panhandler, an attractive girl or boy primping or exercising or eating their soup). Write a 250‑word scene in which you describe in precise and evocative language that individual performance. (By performance, I mean only an individual's visible behavior in a situation in which an audience of some kind is present.) Consider this piece as an element that might appear in a larger story, though it should stand on its own. This is not a review. Blundell, Chapter 2.
September 12/Week Three: Arts writing/The review
Assignment due on Monday: The Stranger (1).
New assignment: We review a restaurant. Read Blundell, Chapter 3.
September 19/Week Four: Marketing your story
Assignment due on Monday: The Performance (2).
New Assignment: A list of possible subjects for your final story, which will be an “issues” profile. Read Blundell, Chapter 4.
September 26/Week Five: Jon Franklin and his theory of writing for story.
Assignment due on Monday: The Restaurant Review (3).
New assignment: Pick a newspaper or magazine as the intended market for your final profile. (You can change your mind later. This is only an exercise.) Write a 350‑word essay on how you will need to position your profile so that it will serve what appears to be this publication's particular approach to life. Write your analysis in a style and tone suitable for that market. Read Blundell, Chapter 5.
October 3/Week Six: The trend story.
Assignment due on Monday: List of possible subjects.
New assignment: A 500-word trend story. Read Janet Malcolm’s “The Journalist and the Murderer”
October 10/Week Seven: Discuss “The Journalist and the Murderer,” by Janet Malcolm.
Assignment due on Monday: Market Analysis (4).
New assignment: None.
October 17/Week Eight: Begin work on final profile/working with an editor.
Assignment due on Monday: Trend story (5).
New assignment: A 350-word story describing your first contact with a prospective subject for your 2,000-4,000-word “issues” profile. Read Blundell, Chapter 6.
October 24/Week Nine: The travel story.
Assignment due on Monday: First-contact story (6).
New Assignment: A 600-word travel story based on a “destination” in the Bay Area. Read Blundell, Chapter 7.
October 31/Week Ten: Up Close and Personal
Assignment due on Wednesday: Travel story (6).
New assignment: We will interview someone during class. You will write a 350-word sketch of that person based on the in-class interview. Read Blundell, Chapter 8.
November 7/Week Eleven: Showing what you mean.
Assignment due on Wednesday: Up Close and Personal (7).
New assignment: The Death Story. You will interview someone in the death business (a hospice worker, an emergency room nurse or physician, an ambulance medic, a morgue attendant, a pathologist in the coroner's office, a suicide survivor, a suicide counselor, a member of the armed forces who informs survivors of the death of a family member, a friend or acquaintance who has
lost a loved one). Write a 600‑word story, part of which recreates a moment in your subject's life. You must work at drawing out details of something you have no way of directly confirming.
November 14/Week Twelve: Showing what you mean.
Assignment due: None
New assignment: A working outline of your profile; a scene from your profile that can stand by itself (9).
November 21/Week Thirteen: Revising and revisiting.
Assignment due on Monday: The Death Story (8)
Assignment due on Friday: An outline of your profile; a scene from your profile (9).
New Assignment: A draft of your introduction and your conclusion. (10)
November 28/Week Fourteen: Revising and revisiting.
Assignment due on Monday: A draft of your introduction and your conclusion (10).
New Assignment: Finished profile (11) due last day of class.
December 5/Week Fifteen: ‑30‑
Assignment due on Wednesday: The profile (11).
There will be no final exam.
Thursday, August 24, 2006
"If it's a Dell, every day is Guy Fawkes Day."
Fatalist that I am, it was only just now that I shut off the computer, pulled the battery and checked it against the list of devil batteries. My battery is a Y1338. Look how close I was to disaster.
As the wise old copy editor said, "If your Mother says she loves you check it out. And while you're at it, check out your computer battery.
"Kids. For once no one will object if you try this at home.
These part numbers are printed on the back of the battery packs as illustrated belowThe following battery models, only, may be subject to recall:
This week's New Yorker has an essay by John Lahr -- Bert's bouncing baby boy; I guess he was born way too soon to turn his status as the scion of celebrity into a career in rock -- about stagefright. I believe every teacher is familiar with this condition in one form or another. But the actor has one advantage the teacher does not. Having sought out the experience, the audience at a play is eager, susceptible, ready to cooperate in the transcendence or the attempt to achieve it. They may judge harshly because they expect much. Sometimes -- dare we call it often? -- your classroom audience expects very little from you. They anticipate mediocrity and irrelevance. Your success is not the issue. The issue is the willingness of your audience to tolerate your failure. Your irrelevance is acceptable. It is even comfortable. We pretend to teach, and they pretend to learn. The cynicism is mutual. Or so I sometimes fear.
I hope this is all first-night -- really it's first-day -- jitters. I guess if it didn't matter to me I wouldn't have the jitters.
Tuesday, August 22, 2006
- Rank: 531,087 (7 links from 5 blogs)
- URL: http://jmichaelrobertson.blogspot.com
- Updated: 16 hours ago
How can I possibly be rising in the blogosphere? Readership is falling. No new links. It's as if someone were slipping into my driveway every night and tipping a cup of gas into my gas tank, creating the illusion of good mileage. And then one cruel day they start to siphon....
I can't take the pressure. I never claimed I belonged among the elite top half-million. I'm a wandering minstrel, not a pop icon.
According to the 2004 General Social Survey, if you picked 100 unrelated politically liberal adults at random, you would find that they had, between them, 147 children. If you picked 100 conservatives, you would find 208 kids. That's a "fertility gap" of 41%. Given that about 80% of people with an identifiable party preference grow up to vote the same way as their parents, this gap translates into lots more little Republicans than little Democrats to vote in future elections. Enough amusing talk about whacking off at fancy salons. Times are desperate. Tonight's not too soon.
Monday, August 21, 2006
But the semester has begun, and I think we shall lower the Black Flag of Irony for the next three months.
Here's the nice list. It's hopeful and open-hearted. Time enough to get all crabbed and sour later on. Heck, even though I am pretty crabbed and 99 and 44/100ths percent sour, I may just go for a certificate myself.
The Dean’s Syllabus: USF, the City, and Beyond
Jennifer E. Turpin, Dean
As part of its mission, the
The Must-Do List:
1. Attend a concert or play at USF: www.usfca.edu/vpa/pa/performances.html
See the talents of your fellow students in a production sponsored by the Performing Arts Department.
2. Attend an art opening at the Thacher Gallery: www.usfca.edu/library/thacher/
A public art crossroads in USF’s main library, the Thacher Gallery is a forum where creativity, scholarship, and community converge. Each year the Thacher Gallery presents exhibitions that probe community and aesthetic issues, multicultural and interfaith dialogue, and the urban
3. Talk to at least one Professor in your major/minor
In addition to knowledge learned in books, your professors can offer advice on life after college as well as ideas on how to reach your goals, if you ask. Make an appointment to see your professor at a time other than for academic advising.
4. Attend a reading or presentation by a visiting writer or scholar
Many of the academic programs sponsor a wide variety of readings and scholarly presentations throughout the academic year. I especially recommend that you attend the annual social justice lecture.
5. Visit one of the College’s centers or institutes
6. Join at least one student organization: http://www.usfca.edu/universitylife/get_involved.html
There are many student organizations on campus, including academic honor societies, cultural organizations, and special interest groups.
In The City:
7. Get a “rush” ticket to the
“Rush” tickets are sold at the symphony on the day of the performance and are more affordable for students than advance purchase tickets.
Founded in 1953, City Lights is one of the few truly great independent bookstores left in the
9. Attend a religious service for a religion/denomination other than your own
10. Visit at least one of the major museums in
There are several museums in
11. Take a ferry to
In addition to offering spectacular views of the entire Bay Area and several recreational activities,
12. Visit the
Each neighborhood has a culture, history, architecture, and personality of its own.
13. Take a Native American focused tour of
The takeover of
14. Visit one of the city’s many cultural centers
Abalone (the Native American Cultural Center), the Irish Cultural Center, the Chinese Cultural Center, the Arab Cultural and Community Center, and the Russian Center are just a few of the many cultural centers San Francisco has to offer. Visit a center that relates to your own heritage, or learn more about a culture different than your own.
15. Visit the
The California Academy of Sciences, the fourth largest natural history museum in the
16. Visit the Exploratorium: www.exploratorium.edu/
The Exploratorium is an experimental, hands-on museum designed to spark curiosity – regardless of your age or familiarity with science.
17. Walk from USF through
18. See the Balmy Alley Murals in the
The colorful Mission District is the capital of
19. Participate in a USF international experience
USF offers a number of international programs, study abroad opportunities, and immersion experiences through University Ministry.
20. Contact a USF alumnus in your major: www.usfca.edu/alumni
Contacting one of the many USF alumni is a great way to find out about potential career opportunities and network with potential employers. Visiting an alumni-sponsored event is another way to meet graduates of USF.
Certificate of Completion:
While you will not receive a grade for this “class”; if, upon graduation, you submit a brief journal chronicling your reflections on each of these assignments to my office (
Welcome to USF and
Sunday, August 20, 2006
For those of you keeping score, the final results of last night’s salon were: goddess 117; godless 23;
Wallace Stevens was declared Best of Show, and God failed to appear.
What can I say? It was a real nice clambake. We began by casting up – or out; or down – good thoughts to all our Higher Powers in support of Jeffrey Pressman out there among the alien corn in
Then, Miss Edith Landrith shared a bit of the Pelasgian creation myth as configured by Mr. Robert Graves, featuring a provocative footnote from Mr. Graves in which he shared the insight that back in those halcyon days “woman was the dominant sex and man her frightened victim.” *Big* points for the goddess.
Then Gayle Feyrer did W.S. Merwin’s “The Judgment of Paris,” which has not one, not two but THREE goddesses offering their services to the Trojan prince, who, lacking the brains to ask for brains, opts for the sex, instead. Well, at least he wasn’t frightened.
Then, Barbara Dietrich and David Reinke did a tag-team goddess thing that started out as a serious goddess homage but then, to the surprise of some and the delight of all, turned the corner toward the comic in a celebration of the goddess Asphalta, garbed in day-glo orange, she who provides parking spaces to the prayerful and oh so much more. The audience thus softened was more than ready for Brother Bob Wieder before whom all shibboleths quail as a baby seal quails before a crazed Norwegian. Seems that not so long ago sitting alone in his underwear Bob heard a C&W song called (I think) “Now I Know Why God Made Oklahoma.” Now you and I would have been moved to tears and gone to stare at a sunset, but Bob’s response was to create a list of Why God Mades running through most of the lower 48 and pretty much suggesting God is a drunken old poop.
Needless to say, this was greeted with tumultuous approval.
Then, Michael Koppy, the Hillbilly Hesiod, shared not as expected one of the cuts from his new CD, available at a Dollar Store near you, but a brand-new composition inspired by the folk lined up for marriage licenses outside San Francisco’s short-lived Window of Love several years ago. Actually, the song spoke neither of hillbillies nor of gays – Koppy supplied the back story – and actually it was sweet and nice. But with Koppy there’s always a certain danger, a certain premonitory dread. For instance, he draped one of those things that looks like an orthodontic device around his neck and then clamped a harmonica in it, with the net effect of supplementing his sangin’ and pickin’ with some blowin’. All quite delightful, of course, but it did add the frisson of hoping against hope he wouldn't suddenly strap cymbals to his knees and start banging them together.
Ah, then I myself shared a bit of the old work-in-progress, reminding the crowd beforehand that my master is the great Henry James, which means my sentences are gravid and difficult, and the psychology of my characters is nuanced and deep, positively sub-atomic. But lest they feel excluded from so opaque and attenuated a universe, when certain folk in my fiction began to chant VICK–tree, VICK-tree,VICK-tree over masturbation, I invited the bunch to join right in.
Which they did in right good spirit.
Then the break. Much wine wine more wine. So the god Baachus had his moment.
Gayle Feyrer led off the second half with a lovely bit of Mary Oliver – who may be the salon’s poetic goddess – and then Wieder returned with a pithy description of some of the courses that might be offered by a “Christian” college in the grip of Intelligent Design mania. I don’t think Bob believes there ever was an age of miracles during which the whale stomach, for instance, was capable of selective digestion.
Then, Lyle York and Mary (not McCarthy but I always think of her as Mary McCarthy) did something from the French on not one but two (2) viol de Gambas. (Viols de Gamba? Les viol de Gamba?) Anyway, there is something mournful and spiritual and, of course, beautiful in the VdG in the right hands – and these hands were very right, indeed – so finally the wandering salon was back on firm ground. (And you should have seen the many notations on Lyle’s sheet music, delicately penciled suggestions and instructions from various teachers. If God is in the detail, there was a lot of God on that sheet music.)
And finally Jon McKinney did that
So that’s pretty much it. An October salon is in prospect in
Saturday, August 19, 2006
So she sat down and looked at me for a minute, at which point she said, "You have hair on the end of your nose."
Heck, I was going to shave anyway.
Friday, August 18, 2006
In the course of cleaning up my computer desktop, I stumbled across this. Never did get it published. There are some *funny lines* in this.
News item: To aid in his apprehension, the US continues to distribute pictures of Osama Bin Laden altered so that he appears without a beard.
Scene: A High School auditorium somewhere in America.
First, I want to thank all of you for coming out on a school night -- and on a night Mel Gibson is making a perp walk! (Pause for laughter.) I also want to thank the Republican National Committee, who – in response to the President’s call for a new voluntarism – has helped to put together tonight’s slide show of pictures of what Osama Bin Laden may now look like. You live in a key, swing and hotly contested Congressional District, where to my enormous surprise I have just learned a special election is taking place next week! This is just the sort of place where a fanatic terrorist might “go to ground” as our allies the British would say. So thank you again Republican National Committee for making this evening possible!
(Pause for applause.)
And, of course, thanks to the Republican candidate in your upcoming election, who has agreed to work the slide projector tonight. Thank you, Mr. Texas! Mr. C. Les Texas, everyone! (Long pause for applause.) Push the big button.
And now the first slide.
Okay, here Bin Laden is without a beard wearing jeans and penny loafers. Those are French centime coins, not pennies, in his shoes. We have very good humintel from France, where the food is excellent.
Bin Laden without a beard in a turtleneck sweater and an anorak from a recent Land’s End catalog. The sweater has been discontinued. The anorak is available on back order.
Here Bin Laden is without a beard on an ocean liner wearing Groucho glasses and a shoe polish mustache, smoking a cigar and making rude comments to Margaret Dumont, who is wearing a burka.
Here Bin Laden is without a beard wearing a burka that’s much too short. Notice his legs.
A close-up of his legs, unshaved.
And the same legs shaved. Very shapely, very evil legs.
And in an evening gown with his very shapely, very evil legs covered but still wearing the penny loafers, this time with two of the new Euro coins, the signature currency of the New World Order.
Here Bin Laden is without a beard in thong underwear delivering pizza to Bill Clinton.
Here he is again without a beard. The guy with the beard – and the thong -- is Al Gore.
Okay, here Bin Laden is without a beard at the beach wearing a Speedo rubbing cocoa butter on Hillary Clinton’s back. You will notice that this time she is the one wearing the thong. And in the background Joe Lieberman sneaking up with a net.
(Pause for sexist laughter.)
Okay, here Bin Laden is without a beard in a chemist’s smock giving anthrax spores to Harry Reid so Harry Reid can plant them in his own office mail.
And here Bin Laden is without a beard at the 2004 Democratic Convention publicly intoxicated while placing the name of John Kerry in nomination for the presidency of the United States.
Oops. That thumb in front of the camera belongs to Jim Jeffords, who used to be a Republican.
Okay, here’s Jeffords in front of the camera -- Bin Laden took the picture without a beard.
And here Bin Laden is without a beard at the beach in a Speedo rubbing cocoa butter on Jim Jeffords’ back while Nancy Pelosi makes the drinks. You will notice that they are all wearing thongs except for Teddy Kennedy who is in the cabana putting on a thong. Yes, that would be worth waiting for.
And here Bin Laden is without a beard on Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills shopping for thong underwear with California gubernatorial candidate Phil Angelides. Hey, what happened to the lights? Could it be a blackout? You say someone flipped the switch? No, I’m sure Mr. Texas is still right there next to the slide projector – with his finger on the button! (Pause for prolonged applause.)
Standings from 7/23/2006 thru 8/17/2006
|T. S. Intellectual, OBE ()||8.0||9.5||9.0||10.0||2.5||10.0||8.0||9.5||9.5||10.0||86.0|
|The Eleven Bunny Wunnies ()||9.0||9.5||10.0||5.0||9.0||9.0||5.0||9.5||2.5||3.0||71.5|
|The Money Shot ()||7.0||6.0||7.5||8.0||4.0||8.0||6.0||4.0||5.5||5.0||61.0|
|The Lonesome Strangers ()||3.0||7.0||5.5||6.0||10.0||4.0||10.0||7.5||5.5||2.0||60.5|
|The FunGhouls ()||10.0||3.0||7.5||9.0||1.0||6.0||2.0||1.5||7.0||6.5||53.5|
|Leaves of Grass ()||1.0||1.0||3.5||1.0||7.5||5.0||9.0||1.5||9.5||8.0||47.0|
|Chi Chi ()||2.0||4.0||1.0||3.0||2.5||7.0||3.0||5.5||8.0||9.0||45.0|
|Marfa Dogs ()||5.0||5.0||2.0||2.0||6.0||2.0||7.0||5.5||2.5||6.5||43.5|
|Hell Hounds ()||4.0||2.0||3.5||4.0||5.0||3.0||4.0||7.5||4.0||4.0||41.0|
|Little Chi Chi ()||6.0||8.0||5.5||7.0||7.5||1.0||1.0||3.0||1.0||1.0||41.0|
Thursday, August 17, 2006
I ate the first of the matched set -- for as most of you know they come two to a package -- on the way home, and after the first couple of bites I found the taste nauseating, but sugar-freaked, I finished it.
I considered throwing the second one out the window immediately since they biodegrade, but I thought a cop might spot me, and I was in no mood for a discussion of basic biology. And with that Twinkie inside me, I might have bull-rushed him and been Tasered, or worse, on the spot.
And damn me if in a couple of minutes I didn't grab the second Twinkie and finish it off. It was nauseous -- which as all my copy editing students know means nausea-inducing -- from the first bite.
What is in those damn Twinkies? Worse, what's in me that I can't eat just one?
Wednesday, August 16, 2006
Rest in peace, dear boy, and flights of angels help you score whatever it is you need to score.
My current role in the post-Finley salons is to prod. If I don't prod, the salons don't happen. But my most recent prodding has borne fruit, and a salon is coming up this Saturday. But scheduling a salon is not enough. One must create some buzz, keep the salon on the front burner of the collective awareness. Thus, here's my most recent email to the salon regulars.
Of course, it's self-indulgent to post this, but in writing the following, as one might with one's cellphone minutes, I used up today's allotment of writing time. So it's this or nada, our nada who art in nada.
And that was a Hemingway reference suggested by the topic of the salon, which is god/goddess/godless. Or, if you like, God/Goddess/Godless. (Might "Godless" merit a cap? Yes. We must have that conversation sometime.)
It sounds like fun. All of you are invited. What? Friends from out of town?
Which leads to the Bob Wieder exception. Bob Wieder always does his own material, but much of it has -- no secret this -- been published before and thus is the product of vetting, editing, etc. Also, he's a professional writer and has some sense of the quality of his material. Also, on one level, frankly my dear he doesn't give a damn. (What will he do for Saturday? Something blasphemous, probably. I am excited. I'm just saying that if I were Ben Franklin and Bob were in the vicinity, I'd break out the kite.)
Also, Bob sometimes enjoys prodding the audience, pleasing them at first and then taking them where they may not want to go- JFK/MLK love nests and so on. Oooooh boy. Anyway, when it comes to my opening the door into my own secret garden -- the kitten licks its paw; the dew shimmers on the leaf -- maybe I will and maybe I won't. Come early and watch me drink my way toward a decision, until red-faced and huffing, I lurch into some York family heirloom and blot my copybook down to the bone.
Sunday, August 13, 2006
That hot stretch we had here by the Bay a couple weeks ago opened some memory doors. I believe it’s common for a current physical sensation to connect somehow with a lost moment, some recollection that has lain undisturbed for years.
In my case, the trigger was heat. The memory was high school football. I don’t know if they’ve changed the rules, but 50 years ago on August 15 in the hottest days of the Virginia summer, two-a-day football practice started. Around August first, I would begin to imagine what I would soon experience, not just the bashing into and the running around and the jumping up and down but also the puking and sometimes the fainting, in spite of the salt tablets. I always thought, "You should have started running laps six months ago."
I never ran laps. I started from square one, a square characterized by a certain flabbiness and shortness of breath. Still, one of the small satisfactions of those three weeks of uncomfortable behavior – school always started the day after Labor Day at which point we dialed back to a mere four practices a week, plus a game – was watching the attrition. Lots of kids showed up, but every practice the numbers shrank. There was satisfaction in survival, and I never quit.
Originally, my dad made me go out for football, and it never occurred to me to turn that into a family drama. I didn't like playing, but I guess I liked pleasing my dad. At the time, I thought that intial command -- get in the car; practice starts in an hour -- was wrong. I thought it was bad parenting, and I decided if I ever had a kid, I would never make him go out for football. Yet I now think that he did the right thing -- for his kid. I was a mama's boy and a grandmama's boy and a great aunt's boy, too. We lived next door to my grandmother, and I was always being given little treats, like a prize pig.
I didn't get into confrontations, much less fights. A mama's boy can turn into a ladies man for sure, but he can also turn into a prop character from Flannery O'Connor. ("Everything That Rises Must Converge"; check it out.) So being forced to hit and be hit a hundred times a day was useful, at least for me. In football terms, I had a good first blow, but I lacked a "motor." That is, I would fight the guy opposite me all day, but I only made a tackle if the ball carrier ran into me, and on offense we had some plays where the tackle "pulled," that is, ignored the man opposite and ran briskly left or right to lead the interference. I was too slow. I interferred with my own running back.
Also, I wore "football glasses" with a thick rubber pad across the bridge of my nose so the metal frames wouldn't cut me. After five minutes of sweating I couldn't see a damn thing. It wasn't fun, but it was satisfying. I was never better than second string and then got the mumps -- yes, the mumps -- and dropped to third string. Senior year I didn't play because I wanted to take both physics and creative writing, and that meant I didn't have last period free.
My dad liked my taking physics and creative writing because by that time I was a bit of an academic star -- science medal, Most Intellectual and so on. When it came to academics, I had a better motor, though I sure have put-putted all over the place over the last four decades.
But that's not my point. I'm talking about the right way to raise a kid. When it comes to child-raising, my wife and I don't have any, so I never had the opportunity to develop my theories. My impression -- formed from a distance -- is that kids should be raised like chickens, either locked up in small cages or put out in the yard and allowed to range free.
And, once they are safely past the egg stage, how about a little football? Probably wrong for most but it was right for me. If I had it to do over again, I would ... do it over again. I didn't realize I had a good memory about those miserable days in the hot sun, wallowing in the dirt and the blood -- not much blood, but what there was was my own. I thought it was going to be a bad memory. But it isn't. My dad did a lot of things wrong, but not that.
Surprise. Surprise. Really big surprise.
Thursday, August 10, 2006
August 25, 2004
She Doth Teach the Torches to Burn Bright -- with Headlights Like That
I think they call it "found art," when you drag a piece of junk out of the dumpster, glue it to the wall and call it "Florence Nightingale's Prolegomena to a Better Metaphysics"
An equivalent is English as gibberish, as in the instructions for operating a cheap VCR that have been written by someone with only a glancing knowledge of the language.
Another gift from the ashes is English that is an insult to the basic sense and beauty of the language, of the kind you find in certain press releases and advertisements where the problem is not that the writer is taking risks in the strange lands of languages not his own but has apparently failed to keep his head above water in the vast sea of his own tongue.
Ridiculing this kind of stuff strikes me as a lazy kind of column writing, both lazy and condescending. And not just because the difference between what these writers do to English and what George Bush does to meaning -- a far more worthy topic -- is the difference between a butcher and Jack the Ripper.
But sometimes it is just irresistible.
I present for your inspection a catalog description recommending the purchase of a romantic sculpture of Romeo and Juliet. The sculpture looks like something by a senile Rodin -- the artistry gone, the artist yearning for his lost hormones.
The work is a naked torso of a naked woman with a naked young man standing behind her -- Romeo and Juliet getting serious about getting busy! First observation: Juliet has these enormous breasts, and Juliet, as we recall, was not quite 14 years old.
If Juliet had looked like this, when her parents complain about death having plucked the sweetest flower from the field of life, one of the servants would have added, "And Hooters, methinks, hath lost a waitress."
Also, our new Juliet looks in her early 30s, minimum, while Romeo has this "boy band" mop. Recall all those references to "old Capulet" and to how young Lady Capulet was when she got married? What we have here is not "Romeo and Juliet" but "Romeo and Mrs. Robinson"!
None of this is really my point. It is the text accompanying this ... thing ... that filled me with envy. First the headline:
Place it on the shelf of your living room and let the world know you're a connoisseur of the finest art.
"Shelf of your living room" is about half a bubble off. Dull American or struggling immigrant? Let us continue.
There is much history behind this superbly crafted piece of art. Romeo and Juliet was one of the most influential tragedies ever written by world-renowned playwright William Shakespeare.
Not "admired." Not "soul-stirring." Not even "performed." The play is "influential." It makes people love? It makes people die? I see bumper stickers: What Would Romeo and Juliet Do?!?
And, now, for the first time, you can own this rendering of the two lovers engaged in a passionate embrace.
Not to be indelicate but what we have here is Romeo playing "supermarket" by squeezing one of the melons. I guess this is an embrace, though you could also call it copping a feel.
Our bronze-plated statue is a must for devotees of Shakespeare's most famous story, enthusiasts of his work, or everyday people who have an interest in finely sculpted art.
Okay. Let us move through this passage methodically. Every devotee would want this on the shelf of his loving room, no doubt about that. But the writer reassures the "Hamlet" crowd and the "Othello" bunch and even those who prefer the comedies that if you squint just the littlest bit, it's Ophelia and Hamlet, or Desdemona and Othello (squint a lot), or Beatrice and Benedict -- or Rosalind and Celia if that diagrams your sentence. Yet here's something for "everyday people" who just happen to like "finely sculpted art" because...
It can also make a sophisticated gift for any wild-eyed couple, whether long-time married or newly consummated. The powerful imagery of this bronze will surely evoke sensuous feelings in even the most inhibited individuals.
Wild-eyed? I want it now. Inhibited? See wild-eyed; you'll want it soon enough. Newly consummated????? Ah, this is where I fall in love with this description, and not only because the idea of "newly consummated couple" is either great poetry or great nonsense. No, what I love is the fact that "newly consummated" is NOT hyphenated, which is exactly right since the AP StyleBook says you do not hyphenate adverbs modifying adjectives. And I guess that makes it nonsense. No one cares if poetry follows the AP StyleBook.
Meanwhile, back in the catalog:
... adorn your living room with this noble statuette and let it move you to new heights of affection for your mate.
Measures: 16" x 13" x 21". Weight: 9.6 lbs.
$99.95 Additional shipping charge $9.95
No mention of handling charges, and for once this is a item where you can actually see the handling!
Now, for those who have waited so patiently:What man art thou that thus bescreen'd in night So stumblest on my counsel?
Full disclosure: The original link was dead, but I found the noble sculpture offered elsewhere at an even better price.