Friday, August 31, 2007

Craig's Lust,

The pecking has begun.

The scent of blood hangs on the humid summer atmosphere like the ghost of an election promise.

They want him to go.

More and more of them, check in every day with a newer sense of outrage than the them of the blog post or Fox News (follow copy on that news) or CNN, or the tabloids. In their fustian and fury, they reveal more of themselves than what he might or might not have done, and contributed the unvarnished truth that they are speaking beyond the parameters of their business.

Whoever sets pen to paper, the splendid observer E. B. White once noted, writes of himself, whether knowingly or not.

They have revealed more of their closet bigotry than he, for all his posturing, ever dreamed of revealing.

Silly as he and his barbershop quartet, The Flaying Burrito Brothers, may have been, then, or should I say THEY step forth reminiscent of an observation made by another great observer of the human condition, a generation or two before E.B. White. I speak of Ralph Waldo Emerson,who may or may not have had E.B.White's gift of humor.

Writing of The Chardon Street Convention, which took place in Boston in November of 1840, Emerson wryly observed:

"Madmen, madwomen, men with beards, Dunkers, Muggletonians, Come-outers, Groaners, Agrarians, Seventh-day-Baptists, Quakers, Abolitionists, Calvinists, Unitarians and Philosophers, -all came successively to the top, and seized their moment, if not their hour, wherein to chide, or pray, or preach, or protest."

What a comfort it has become to see that little has changed in over a hundred sixty years. THEY are out caterwauling like horny Tom's on the back fence, having sniffed a fellow human being vulnerable, perhaps to his own weakness of spirit, perhaps to his own panic, perhaps to things not entirely visible to us , eager to offer advice, ah, the worlds and words of wisdom.

 The madmen, madwomen, and men with beards are out among us, reminding me of my past as purveyor of scorecard/programs at Gilmore Field, the old Triple-A Baseball park, now paved over as a strip mall adjacent The Farmer's Market in L.A. "Score cards. Can't tell the players without a score card."

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Al Dente

Some years ago- never mind how long precisely-(as Ishmael would put it,) I found myself at the USC dental school, hopeful of synchronizing a teaching schedule with some repair work. There was a kind of camaraderie among us, teacher to teacher as it were, and such was the nature of this connective tissue that each time I opened my mouth, one or more of those in attendance would stop his or her task and call out, "Hey, you gotta see this!" whereupon a clutch of other student dentists and their supervisors would drop their Gracey curettes and swarm in for a look.

"We really hate to see you go," one of the supervisors said toward the time when my smile was achieving some serious presence. "You have so much wrong that you've become a walking textbook for all of us."

It was about this time when the late lamented poet and good friend, Claire Rabe, told me, "You mustn't misunderstand what women want from you. They want--"

"Yes?" I said.

"--they want technique that will help them become better writers."

"Oh," I said.

And at the USC Dental School, there were at least two women who were after me for my occlusal surfaces.

But I came away with a technique that had been ingrained into their working psyche and to the degree that I can stick to it, occlusal surfaces and all, it works.

Dentists, I learned, are encouraged to divide their working day into fifteen-minute blocks called units. Somewhere in every dental school, and possibly the broom closet in some dental offices, is the dental equivalent of the Flat-Rate Book auto mechanics use to guide their billing and work ethic practices. X hours for a lube job, Y hours for a rebuilt transmission, Z hours for installing a timing chain. The hour total is multiplied by the hourly rate, to which are added such refinements as materials and hazardous material removal. The result is the grand total.

Same thing with the dentist. X hours for a crown times the hourly rate plus materials. The results for mechanics and dentists are the same. Ouch!

Okay, so I began breaking my day down into units: fifteen minutes to read email, fifteen minutes to work on a short story, fifteen minutes to read pages from a book the review of which is already several units late, a unit to pay bills, a unit of time off (see, I even factored that part of the process), a unit to read a new student paper, a unit to formulate comments...

Sounds lovely, and there are actually times when it works. I got, for instance, a unit in this morning on a short story I'm working on; I got two units in on reading the California Vehicle Code Handbook prior to my need to renew my driver's license. Feeling thus expansive, I went back to the short story, which was a big mistake because I burned about three units going over things and fine-tuning the text as far as I'd come (which is the way I like to work anyway), and now I have to deal with the consequences of the profligacy of my actions. If there were ever a more basic demonstration of karma than that, I'd like to hear about it.

What it comes down to is the sound of a man who has been spoiled rotten doing things he enjoys, and his perpetual rush to keep up with the so-so stuff that has become a cultural albatross.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Campus Archaeology

On our first dig of the new semester we are in the northeast parcel of campus, between a large parallel mound which could be a burial mound, and an intricate building, possibly some sort of temple for religious or social gatherings, now used to store automobiles.

Primary excavation revealed what some in the party considered a shrine, while yet others posited it as an altar. Based on evidence from residue, meats, corn, and suspicious-looking round, bread-like objects with tomato, onion, and peppers were offered.

We have named this excavation Sally 1 because it was she, attempting to bury a portion of the crust of a meatball sub, who called it to our attention.

This campus appears ripe with dump sites for other artifacts. At an adjacent site, less than ten meters west, we uncovered a partial plaque, Gift of Class of, appearing from its component parts to be Stone Age or more recent.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

More Dots to Connect

There was some alchemy for me in yesterday's essay in which, almost as quickly as my fingers could move over the keyboard, I saw a connection between Groucho Marx's primary persona, Captain Geoffrey T. Spaulding, the noted African explorer (The T. stands for Edgar, by the way.) and Joseph Campbell. Groucho became and remained Captain Spaulding, starting with the vaudeville play, Animal Crackers, then nailing the imagery down in the film (which still holds up!). The song that went with the vaudville version, "Hooray for Captain Spaulding/The African explorer/Did someone call me a schnorrer?/ Hooray Hooray Hooray/"

Groucho was also Rufus Firefly in Duck Soup, but the similarity between Spaulding and Firefly were readily apparent, each was a humbug, each was always on, each was a relentless commentator on whatever topic came up. If the gangster was one facet of the American icon, Captain Spaulding was another. Thirty years after his death as Groucho, the slouching, irreverent humbug remains firmly in place as an archetype.

And so, too, does another individual transcend time and place to enter the truer, greater Mount Rushmore of American icons. Who among us can claim to have been unmoved, untransformed and untransported by the tantrums of Donald Duck?

Groucho is so surreal, thanks in some measure to the exaggerated mustache and eyebrows, that he becomes real. Donald Duck sets forth in fine fettle and we wait patiently to see him reduced to the fine fury of his explosion. Aristotle understood some of this in his Poetics, and every great humorist understands the dramatic.

Outside of a dog, Groucho says, man is man's best friend. Inside a dog, it is too dark to read.

What Donald Duck says is pure, inchoate rage, beyond reason. And yet Donald has not a whit of meanspiritedness.

Joseph Campbell was a professor of mythology at Sarah Lawrence College. Honors and degrees were conferred on him. He in turn conferred status and meaning on our collective dream life, the terrain of our inner symbols, intentions, and meanings. He kicked the Hero out of the house, then tracked him on his journey.

He did not get around to such icons as Groucho and Donald, he did not try to define the racial and ethnic terrain of the Marx Brothers, of Groucho and Signor Ravelli, or Chico.

Maybe that has come to me. I am thinking these dots being connected lead to a MFA, and what am I going to do with an MFA? Teach? (Which reminds me that the new semester began today.)

It will be interesting to follow the energy on these dots glowing much like the stars in the western sky, glimpsed atop Deer Creek, just over the L.A. County line and ito Ventura County on my way home from the university. Big, luminous full moon, so bright it seemed to be wanting to shake out of itself. Stars, seeming to call out, Look at me! Look!

The Hero's Journey.

Hey, Ravelli! You gotta something for me? I gotta something for you.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Go figure. Feel perfectly free to figure.

1. Amy Bloom's new novel, Away, is a harrowing, wrenching story in which the protagonist, Lillian, flees the pogroms in Russia, headed for an unknown relative who has an apartment in Brooklyn. At twenty-two, Lillian has already seen enough grief and misery to last a lifetime: her parents, husband, and infant child have been killed and she has barely escaped. In the New York of 1924, Lillian may have launched a new survival; we cannot yet call it a new life. She has thrust her way into a job at one of the major Yiddish theaters in the Lower East Side where, among other things, she has watched a moving rendition of Hamlet in Yiddish.

There is something mischievous about this, and as I read, I am aware of a smile creeping into my lant
ern jaw. It is not until the beginning of Hamlet's famed soliloquy being rendered in Yiddish that the smile explodes into full laughter. Tsu zayn, nisht tsu zayn... As with all true ethnic humor, it is the explosive connection of the dots within the template of tragedy and sorrow.
2. Somewhere on UTube is a long, remarkable scene from The Fiddler on the Roof, done by an all-Japanese cast. It does not make fun of the original nor does the Yiddish rendition of To be or not to be make fun. Each is the sudden splendid recognition of something discovered, a preconceived notion shattered abruptly.

3. Was it the same person who sent me The Fiddler? Or was it someone else who sent me, in of all things Icelandic, two men from the Middle Ages (although they were, indeed, middle-aged men), the one trying to explain to the other how a book works, using computer-based terms.
4. SLC was no slouch in picking up the various dialects he heard as a boy in slave-holding Missouri, and later as a steam-boat pilot on the great river. His ear was also acute to the music of pretension and sham. It is reasonable to see him becoming angrier by the minute at thoughts of his hated rival, Walter Scott, Sir Walter, if you please, and thus the combustion took place in Huckleberry Finn with the famed Duke and Dauphin segment, a set piece in which Huck runs into two bogus noblemen, taking on the code of chivalry and the high-flown regalia of courtly

5. Be on the look out for the unexpected, the untho
ught of juxtaposition, the uncorking of lightning in a bottle, the hidden icon or element that exposes hypocrisy and binds the rest of us together in a moment of cosmic rapture at the absolute daftness in our midst. There is nothing like an occasional dose of it to keep the blues away.

6. The Marx Brothers. A Night at the Opera. Animal Crackers. Duck Soup. They largely got their start in Yiddish theater, moved over to vaudeville, and in these short, iconic masterpieces, presaged Joseph Campbell. Go ahead, say it, Captain Spaulding as the archetype of The Hero on his journey. The Hero with shoe polish eye brows.

7. Go figure.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

April 12, 1861

In the onset of one of the upheavals that otherwise happy families experience, I was whisked out of Hancock Park Elementary School in beautiful midtown Los Angeles at the end of fourth grade and plunked variously into grammar schools in New Jersey, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and Florida before returning to native land. In each of these places, we studied or had presented to us materials and concepts related to the above captioned date.

In California, teachers with no discernible accent called it The American Civil War.
In New Jersey,teachers who had difficulties pronouncing "th," particularly after an "r" called it The War between the States.
In Massachusetts and Rhode Island, teachers who made the word khaki sound like an instruent to start a car, called it The War of Southern Resistance.
In Florida, it was presented to us as The War of Northern Aggression. If a word happened to end with an "r," the "r" was not pronounced.

No matter where it was presented, the conflict began in earnest when eleven states claimed a right to succession from the Union, proceeded to do so, then set about attacking the enemy--which is to say Federal--holdings at Fort Sumter in South Carolina.

The following year, 1862, almost a year to the day after Fort Sumter, a tremendous battle, The Battle of Pittsburgh Landing, also called Shiloh, was fought when Confederate Generals Beauregard and Johnston set off a surprise attack against the Union forces led by General Grant, almost defeating the Union Army. Months later, in an engagement that was to become the scene of nearly twenty-three thousand deaths, General Lee launched an attack on Northern soil. Known in the South as the battle of Sharpsburg, and by the Union forces as Antietam, this confrontation established the war as an unparalleled disaster in terms of lives lost, property ruined, families and organizations utterly disrupted.

This is all the back story to the point I'm building, which is that the war was more than a single issue of slavery, had to do as well with the so-called Industrial Revolution, workers rights, and impinged on interpretations of the federal constitution, The Constitution that was ratified by all the states in the Union at the time.

Whatever your political views, it is not uncommon for a discussion on, say, States Rights or perhaps Civil Rights, or even voters rights to include a reference to that war, that Civil War fought with suc
h cruelty and viciousness nearly a hundred fifty years ago.

At the time the conflict was still in progress, suppose England, arguably one of the more powerful countries in the world, a monarchy, sent in a military force to bring the Union and Confederacy to their political senses and restore democracy.

We had in many ways weapons of mass destruction, demonstrable in the presence of guns that were no longer smooth bore but rather had rifling and grooves which assured greater accuracy and distance.

Suppose they came.

Or the French.

And hey, what about Belgium? Okay, King Leopold was only a kid at the time, but the momentum to colonize the Congo was certainly simmering.

What outrages would we have expressed to the offer of noblesse oblige?

And yet someone orchestrates an heinous coup against a major American population center and a vital military command post, and we have that individual pretty well located, but we ignore him and intervene in the civil war of another country, pouring untold finances and lives (because we really don't keep score on how many of them have been killed) into the abyss.

And now the leader of our democratizing forces has let it slip that he expects us to be in the midst of this civil war for eight or nine years.

The logic that got us in Iraq in the first place has made a pinata out of the U.S. Constitution.

Happy Fiesta!

Publish PostPublish Post

Saturday, August 25, 2007

What Is the Sound of One Peacock Knocking?

Lori came forth with a splendid photo featuring wooden spools large enough to have at one time had thousands of feet of cable wound about them. Completely took over from the tempting title of her previous day's post, and sent me out of the house to a place I hadn't realized I'd noticed. Sort of like being hyperlinked. Click and then bingo (not the dog in the song), you're there. Accordingly then, there was here, and here is in a tiny mall in what we denizens call the Von's of the Stars (because Von's is a market frequented by a particular segment of our carpetbagger residents. If you will take the time to click on the image, it will show the various threads in even more dramatic display.

My noticing the display reinforces my theory that too much thought in the act of creating will preclude such associative circuitry, a term I like so much I will take credit for having invented it.
A tiny detail we believe is representative (emblematic, if you like) is often all it takes to convince the witness (reader, viewer) of the authenticity of a person, place, or thing (I might just as well have said noun, mightn't I?). So long as a thing seems authentic to us, our vision remains clear; it records things we didn't think we say, notes details that affirm the whole transaction.

Thanks to a feature called bracketing on cameras, we can get multiple images, selecting the one we like best, the one that seems most authentic to the impulse that got us to store the image on the sensor in the first place. Thanks to most world processing system, we can revise without having to go through the mechanical hell of retyping a text and then stying to construe a single document. This freedom advances us toward the lovely pair of opposites of anarchy and structure, on the cusp of which many of us have opted to live our life.

John Eaton had a quote from a Zen guitarist that brought the matter into a lovely symmetry for me.

In Zen Guitar, Phil Sudo writes, "The best way to make decisions about playing in the moment is to have already made them. That is, do your thinking ahead of time. Think before the time comes to act, think before the time comes to speak, think before the time comes to play a note. Then when the moment arrives, do not think. Just play."

He goes on to say that "what you play should come out as natural as the call of a bird in the wild. There is no thought, not even so much as a word in your head--only the song of the heart."

(This is also John's comment:)I think a lot, myself, about a lot of things, but when I'm playing and singing, I don't think that much. Once the music calls, I just play.

(Back to me again) Another way to look at that: with thought out of the way, the right details appear, framing the work, whether a photo, a tune, a story, a watercolor, a dance, in its own vibrant reality, which we are invited to enter.

Don't think.

Friday, August 24, 2007


It is sitting before you on a slat table, innocently awaiting your next move,
or perhaps your lack of move.

The day is warm and dry. You eye it speculatively. Plums are not your favorite fruit; pomegranates are. But still. Plums are inviting and, you think, quite attractive with promise. It has been a long time since you have had a successful relationship with a plum, the last several being either dry or stringy or bland, not at all fulfilling the promise of their first impression. At length, the plum reveals itself to you; it speaks of a hidden tart sweetness, of experience. It tells you that it is not by any means inexperienced; there is more to it than surface impressions suggest. This is not some plum snatched off the tree strictly on account of its pleasing appearance. I am giving you experience, the plum says. And then the plum tells you that you can trust it. You do. You accordingly take steps to completely rearrange the atomic structure of that plum.

Now, as you look at the image of that plum that once was and no longer exists as a plum, you feel no sense that you have betrayed it, rather you have preserved something of what the plum told you about itself. There was honor and good faith in its behavior to you and yours to it. You have commemorated the relationship with this image. You hope all your friends and students realize that you do not go around taking photos of all your meals. You hope that they see in you, among other things, a man who has kept good faith with a plum.

Thus energized and motivated, you are driving along East Valley road toward Toro Canyon, hopeful of being able to get a good shot or two of a--well, truth to tell, you don't know what it is. It appears right out of the ground and after certain complexities, goes right back into the ground. It is a fascinating piece of business--construction that has been trying to get your attention for some time. True, its mystery intrigues you and you wonder what idiosyncrasies or secrets relate to it. Even the fact that someone who knows what it is and what it does might give you a completely bland explanation does not undercut your interest. Whatever it is, it pleases and interests you. It is of no consequence to you that there are those who might think the less of your, knowing you actually drove to Toro Canyon Park to take a photo of such a-a thing.

But this is a remarkable universe, and while you are on your way to this blue and red and kind of rusty thing, something else calls out to you, like a team of pickpockets where one performs an act that arrests your attention while the cohort gets your wallet. This simple hydrant has caused you to slam on the brakes and look for a spot where you can leave the Toyota while scouting for a place whereupon you will begin listening to it, trying to figure if you have any language in common, so that you can begin to look for a way to show appreciation. Trust me, the hydrant says. Trust you to do what? I don't actually know, the hydrant tells you. For as long as I can remember, my ambition has been predicated on being trustworthy. What else do you need to know about me? If I think of something, will you tell me? I don't know, he hydrant says, and I am suddenly taken up in this hydrant's vulnerability. You have to figure I've been around for a while and I've never had such a sense of empathy for a goddamned hydrant.

There are no such issues involved with a group of Cro-Magnon who are talking to you and whom you wish to put in a story, but there are issues with information from a less remote individual, who has in all innocence, or I could say in all plumn-ness or thing-ness, or hydrant-ess told you things that have caused you great uproar of enthusiasm for an approach to story that has haunted you ever since years ago when you read a short piece by Dashiell Hammett about how he once had the responsibility as a Pinkerton detective of finding a man who had stolen a Ferris wheel. This links to a psychiatrist now dead who told you the story of how, waiting for the delivery of a baby grand piano for her apartment in Santa Monica, she discovered that the piano had in fact been delivered, and then stolen.

At this stage, I have resolved to tell the story, and at this stage I am drawn more deeply into the morality of what to do with the secrets of such things and people as I discern, even though there is a danger that now, I've blown the hydrant's gossamer web of anonymity and betrayed it in a way that makes me apprehensive.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

The Right Brothers

What do Captain Ahab and Iago have in common? (Besides not telling us their first name.)

Although each has been an instrument of great havoc and destruction, each thought he was right, which is to say justified in his behavior and attendant attitudes. ( Sort of reminds you of G.W. Bush and Paul Wolfowitz, doesn't it? But that is another matter.)

Pick any narrative which falls within the parameters of story and you will find an ensemble cast of which the same observation may be made--each thinks he is right. As a consequence, each thinks the others are by degree misguided, naive, ignorant, wrong, wrong-headed, intransigent, hopeless, wonderful, shrewd.

It does not follow in a neat procession of logic--the ergo-phrase in a syllogism--that accord or agreement are the bane of a story, but it ought to. If you consider every character who appears on your pages as a separate, thinking-of-him/herself-as-right entity, you have no further need of plot. Indeed, you will already have enough plot to get you through this entanglement of agendas. (Hint, hint: story is a clash of agenda.) Seen dramatically, characters are embodiments of a particular agenda. Even the delivery person bringing a pizza to the door wants something, if not to be the best pizza delivery person then perhaps to become an actor or a writer or an architect; perhaps even to have the work shift over, the better to get home, where X awaits, the X being a person, activity, or need.

Even at the height of civility, as in a Jane Austen crowd scene, there is the steady buzz of agenda under the mask of agreement and civility.

Nora Helmer and Torvald Helmer each had a sense of being right. Fat lot of good being right meant to Torvald at the end of A Doll's House, but without this self-justification, Henrik Ibsen would not have had a play.

The Bottom Line: Even though we love our families dearly, why, oh why do we regard family gatherings with such suspicion?

Go ask Tolstoy.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

The Wrath of Grapes

In the hands of experts, language is an instrument. Marguerite Duras, for example, sounds like a cello, playing an eternally plangent tune. Annie Proulx seems more like a bassoon, often on the verge of a hee haw. Norman Mailer, more profound and in control with nonfiction (The Whisper of the Axe, and Why Are We in Viet Nam?) Garrison Keeler--another bassoon, while Louise Erdrich is the ensemble effect of the string quartet.

On the subject of music, you have only to read any review in The New York Times by Ben Ratliff to get a musical education simply through his use of language.

All of which brings me to the unexpected pleasure dwelling within the Dining In S
ection of today's New York Times like a second maraschino cherry hiding out in a bowl of tapioca.

The language that so
impressed me is still American English, and unlike some of the scholarly jargon I've had to deal with in a life of editing books, not only accessible but in its way lovely, somewhat like a tipsy socialite at the afternoon tea at the St. Francis Hotel in San Francisco or, in its better days, the lounge at the Cafe Carlyle in New York. I almost got on to The Four Seasons Biltmore here in Santa Barbara, but this being Central Coast, the socialites don't drink things that make them tipsy, they drink celery juice.

I am talking about the vocabulary used to describe wine. There is a 2004 Meursault (Burgundy from France) that is intense with creamy structure , length and harmony with a butterscotch taste.

A 2004 California Chardonnay from Hanzell is described as having a finish that sails o, revealing a tight band of fruit, and my favorite is the Pouilly-Fume from the Loire Valley in France, of which it is said that it is subtle but very complex. The long stony finish is creamy in texture but also racy and fresh. Really lingers.

Curious, I tried the wine column in our local paper, the Montecito Journal, which is written by a serious enologist with a Ph.D. Sure enough, she had put some time looking at words to describe the amazing wonders of vitis vinifera.

No stranger to the grap
e nor the inner price one must sometimes pay for too intense a relationship, I turn in wonderment to an area yet closer to my heart and there I attempt to apply the language of the grape to the printed word.

Norman Mailer: a robust, sometimes clangorous finish, an occasionally off-putting nose, and a stony, lingering aftertaste.

Jane Austen: A racy, fresh bouquet with subtle lemony overtones and an unexpected finish.

John Updike: A fruity opening band with flinty overtones.

Gore Vidal: A tart, robust texture with subtle lemony aftertaste.

Edgar Allen Poe: A brash, flinty bouquet with insistent overtones and focused finis

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

The Four Hoarse Men of the Apocalypse

Sitting at Peet's Coffee & Tea this morning, Jerry Freedman and I begin going over the notes we'd each made for the book on writing fiction it appears likely we will undertake. We have already begun looking for an edge, an approach that is at once positive and practical. Each of us, without consulting the other, came up with one of the more iconic--I seem to be in love with that word--writing books that while practical and positive enough in its way, seemed to give us the edge, the starting momentum. The book is Anne Lamott's Bird by Bird .

When Bird by Bird first appeared, Barnaby Conrad used some family connections to bring her from her Bay Area home to be a guest speaker at the Santa Barbara Writers' Conference, where her performance was electric and inspiring. To a degree, so was her text, particularly the chapter entitled "The Shitty First Draft." 

 I am one of the few book reviewers in America to have given her in the L.A. Times a less-than-flattering review on an earlier novel, Joe Jones. She remembered. And roared. But afterwards, sent me the most lovely note and we ended up quite respecting one another. That's all back story to the fact that neither Jerry or I believe in shitty first drafts, and so the approach to our book began. A major focus will be on revision, but it is the manner of doing so that will make our project different and, I dare say, useful.

As it so happened, Conrad dropped among other things the Atlantic Monthly fiction issue on me at lunch yesterday. I am always suspicious of such issues, not only from the Atlantic, or the New Yorker, but many literary journals and the so-called Best-of-the-Year collections and the O.Henry Prize Collection, thinking it fortunate for me to find one story I really like per issue. 

The Atlantic had a Tobias Wolfe, "Bible." Ever since I stumbled some years back on "In the Garden of American Martyrs," I've liked his work and the way he makes it possible for him to present a good relevant chunk of a character thanks to back story and subtext, or to put it another way for The Individual Voice, what the characters bring on stage with the and how they often speak at crossed purposes with their true feelings.

"The Bible" is a lovely example; it is about a woman who is kidnapped by a man who is obviously but not overtly identified as a Muslim. The man makes it pointedly clear that his motive has nothing to do with money or sex. Within the arc of the story, the woman realizes she may have momentarily lost power to her captor but is rapidly gaining it back to effect a lovely and stunning ending. Talking about this story gave us another approach to dealing with the definition of what story is today and what it is not.

There is one more element related to finding one's individual voice that came from Jerry remembering back to the time when he was in my novel beginnings class and I gave him a novel by Mario Vargas Llosa that turned him on. Not to forget the alchemy that is to be found in the old Rogers and Hammerstein song, "If I Loved You,"as it relates to a vital psychological concept and a technique from the esteemed actor, Uta Hagen.

Pictures at eleven.

Screw it; pictures now.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Twenty-two Words I Will Not Use in My Next Story or Blog Post

1. Subtext
2. Very
3. Shudder and -ed
4. Velcro
5. Hyperbole
6. Torrent and -ial
7. Vomit
8. Miasma
9. Regurgitate
10. Effervescent
11. Strangely
12. Swept

13. Barked
14. Chide

15. Expostulated
16. Retorted
17. Rejoined
18. Remonstrate and -ed
19. Baleful
20. Doleful
21. Admonish
22. Reprehensible

Tantivy is okay.
Amuse bouche works.
Preternatural squeaks by.


Sunday, August 19, 2007

Peanut Butter in World Literature

It is a truth universally recognized that a young man in possession of a fortune must be in want of a peanut butter sandwich.

Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy because of the disagreement about what goes in and on a peanut butter sandwich.
Call me Ishmael. Some years ago - never mind how long precisely - having little or no money in my purse, and nothing particular to interest me on shore, I thought I would entertain a peanut butter sandwich. It is a way I have of driving off the spleen, and regulating the circulation. Whenever I find myself growing grim about the mouth; whenever it is a damp, drizzly November in my soul; whenever I find myself involuntarily pausing before coffin warehouses, and bringing up the rear of every funeral I meet; and especially whenever my hypos get such an upper hand of me, that it requires a strong moral principle to prevent me from deliberately stepping into the street, and methodically knocking people's hats off - then, I account it high time to get at peanut butter as soon as I can.

You don't know about me without you have eaten peanut butter sandwiches before, but that ain't no matter.

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of peanut butter, it was the age of no peanut butter, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of no chunky style.

Okay, so the point is that peanut butter rocks, but it isn't funny. People are too serious about it. Not even Karl Rove can make a wedge issue out of it. Doesn't matter if it sticks to the roof of your mouth. Doesn't matter if the oil rises to the top of the jar. Doesn't even matter if it isn't a complete protein--just mix in some sesame seeds and bingo, you have all the essential mean old acids.

It is splendid with banana, honey, cottage cheese, butter milk. I often use cranberry sauce instead of jam, particularly if I have on a clean shirt and am feeling like taking on more risk. Valencia peanuts grown in Deaf Smith County, Texas are nothing less than sublime. But it is not funny.

Paprika is funny. But not peanut butter.

I wish it were.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Stuff about Writers and Tuna Salad Sandwiches

1. The goal in longform fiction is change. Something happens and someone (ones) change.

2. The goal in shortform fiction is some kind of awareness. Something happens and the narrator realizes a choice must be made, and may, indeed, make the choice. But be careful: since 2000, more or less, take care not to make the choice acted upon seem too mechanical.

3. Writers have multiple personalities. There are probably as many archetypes living inside the writer as there are verb tenses in the English language.

4. The difference between a writer and a lunatic is that the writer knows he has these archetypes living within.

5. A writer at work on a story is like the leader of an Italian parliament.

6. A modern novel is a negotiated settlement.

7. Persons who embark on a writing career because friends or family tell them they ought to put their stories down on paper are buying the literary equivalent of the Minneapolis Bridge.

8. A first draft is like throwing dirt clods at the side of a building.

9. Nothing bad ever happens to a writer.

10. It is all right not to like famous writers.

11. Many of today's most successful writers have not read Middlemarch.

Most writers in the early period of their career begin their stories too soon and end them too late.

13. It is not wrong not to have read Jim Harrison, but it is too bad.

14. Ditto Annie Proulx.

15. Readers become quickly bored with mysteries associated with significant things and conversely fascinated with mysteries associated with funny-sounding places. The mysteries of New York does not hold a candle to the Mysteries of Pismo Beach or Pasadena.

16. A peanut butter sandwich is not funny. A tuna salad sandwich is.

17. A writer who has writers' block is not funny. A surgeon who has surgery block is.

Friday, August 17, 2007

Rejection Slips Redux

I was getting back to the subject of these and others like them, and others still to come, indeed from things not even remotely considered. In fact, a story I had lost some years ago with the suicidal crash of a long-forgotten computer is very much back in mind thanks to my having embarked on the editing of Brian Fagan's latest project, The Cro-Magnon: Portrait of an Ice Age People. No great stretch there, my characters are all Cro-Magnon. It is easy to imagine some editor somewhere tearing open the submission envelope, looking at the first page, and calling over his or her editorial shoulder, "Hey, you wanna check this out. Some guy in California, I think it's a guy, he's got a story about a band of cavemen. Says right here on the author info, Califuckingfornia. First they give us Arnie Whatzisname, then they give us Paris Hilton, and now it's a band of Cro-Magnon. And we're supposed to go like Wow! Cutting edge stuff. California!" Given my past experiences, I might do better on the third or fourth submission. In fact, I'm guilty of a slight deception because, if you enlarge that letter on the top of the pile, it says they'd like to publish a particular story, I think it was the one I call "Talk Radio." Moral: not all rejection letters are rejections.

But I became distracted. My distraction took me to one of my two favored locales in this
remarkable and fractured city. I would call the area Middle Milpas because it is just about midway between the beginning on the Cabrillo Boulevard beach front and the ending, where it doglegs left past the Santa Barbara Bowl and becomes a street named after a venerable Chumash elder, Anapamu.

I in fact became distracted by this, which caught my eye, sent me careening around the block, and into an illegal park, whereupon I got fortunate.

It is a truth universally acknowledged that a photographer would have made more of this, just as it is true that good stories are not accepted because of factors that have nothing whatsoever to do with what you sent in. It is lovely to have your work published but it is lovelier to have done the work and then sent it forth. If you need validation from someone, let that person be you.

One is wired to receive images from outside, and from other people. If these images translate into an idea that generates energy, you're on your way, reaching for the means to transform that vision. At that stage, you are as happy as you will ever be, pursuing a vision that came from within you. Even if you execute the idea beyond your wildest expectations, that is transitory. The real pleasure is acknowledging the insistent presence of the idea, then committing yourself to trying to get it. Only people who don't understand the process want perfection, and even they cannot tell you what perfection means. The real goal is to effect beautiful errors and accidents.

Three collateral observations:
1. No one you know admits to being a bad driver.
2. No one you know admits to being a poor lover.
3. No Ph.D. you know believes his or her thesis is unremarkable or does not deserve to be published.

Go figure.

Thursday, August 16, 2007


I couldn't stand to watch any longer Sally's valiant attempts to cope with the Summer itch without taking steps, which meant Dr. Macdonald and the Sumer Itch Special, consisting of a serious bath, then a brushing, then a more temperate-smelling bath, then a shot. The trouble with that is that I was dogless from eight until about three-thirty. It was good to get her back.

The mysteriously departed Lumix FX-30 was replaced yesterday; it was a relief to get the new one, because the one day without seemed memorable in terms of missed opportunities. I could have had a neat shot of the milk thief in action at Peet's Coffee; there was a man who, no doubt because of the shower of ashes from the fire, wore a bandanna over his nose and mouth. Before the advent
of the ski mask, he'd have been assumed to be a bank robber. There was a man who became quite tangled in his attempts to untangle his dog's leash. Simply put, everything looked funny and/or interesting.

Yes, I know; the camera is merely a device to keep you focused on small wonders in the behavior of people and/or inanimate objects, the better to inform your writing with a sense of landscape which you then enhance with subtext-laden dialogue, and doesn't that sound academic.

Having another camera was a great relief because I found this: which I cheerfully admit would not have been at all interesting without that strip of cloth that holds the entire panel in place. I thought for a time of captioning it Root Canal.

Another sense of relief borders on being anticlimactic if it was ever indeed climactic. Along with other parts of the country, we have been troubled with a fire whose intensity ebbs and flows with shifts of w
ind and moisture in the atmosphere. At one of the waxing surges, there was a scant possibility that power sources could be attacked. It was lovely feeling the duality of some danger and of a near decadent pursuit of one's daily routine, causing a wonderment: did those Pompeians or residents near Mt. Etna suffer the same surges? It is one dreadful thing to live through flood, earthquake, fire, avalanche, and the like, seeing people swept away like spilled popcorn at the Cine-Plex. It is something else to live in the imminent potential of a disaster than never comes. The former fills us with the awful closeness and impersonality of death ad destruction; the latter allows us to feel dramatic.

I caught the morning sun at about seven-thirty, near the Eucalyptus Hill section of town, looking red and raw as opposed to its normal buttery hue. The marine layer, for which we have some fame, is responsible for a portion of the red, but the flaky ash from the fire bears most of the blame.

There are many more things to tell about rejection slips, like for instance John Milton, the editor at the venerable South Dakota Review, who after accepting the third story from me, ventured that I was one of his regulars now. But that can wait for another time.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

I'll Show You Mine if You Show Me Yours: Rejection Slips in the Free Market Economy

You began getting these as an undergraduate, when journalism and nonfiction seemed the proverbial piece of cake, and cake began to be boring. Facts had to be looked up and the people you interviewed often didn't say things that interested you.

You'd pretty well set your sights on fiction early on, and were impatient to crack some of the markets, which was about the time you ran into two widely diverse classmates, who set you off on what at times seemed a task fit for Sisyphus, an analogy you particularly like because of the essay about Sisyphus in which Camus among other things argued that Sisyphus was a happy man, a man who enjoyed his work.

Ed Hunter seemed able to crank out pulp adventure stories between classes, sometimes relying o his sales for such necessities as rent, food, and dates. After reading Ed's work on a regular basis, you began to consider the science fiction pulps as splendid targets. Those were good years for a number of magazines such as and Amazing, Galaxy, The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, and Thrilling Wonder Stories, all of which you knew from the intimacy of being a subscriber. Ed was also that most romantic of all majors, theater arts.

On the staff of the literary magazine, Scop, you met and admired Lou Bartfield, a man who had returned to the university after a long stint in the army, during which tenure he had acquired a wife and a persistent admiration for Nelson Algren. You didn't realize it at the time, but Lou wanted to be as legendary as Algren. You were not sure exactly who you wanted to be as legendary as. Possibly Fitzgerald, but Twain played a part in there, too; you did, after all go to Virginia City and you did contribute to The Territorial-Enterprise.

Lou Bartfield wanted to make enough money to be able to afford to be legendary. The plan you both devised was to pick the highest paying pulp markets you could find, which happened to be the so-called confessions or true romances. Twice a week, you met, hashing out enough plots for the rest of the week. You took half the plots, write a draft; Lou took the other half, wrote a draft. The real fiction was that these stories were supposed to seem true, hence true confessions, hence no bylines to worry about. We wrote and submitted.

The first thing I did with my share of the rejection slips was to paper a waste paper basket. After a time, I had enough to do the shade of a desk lap, then I began the north wall of my bedroom. At about this time, Lou decided we were not getting rich enough to be legendary, and you got a letter from an editor that saved me a good deal of time. We'd picked the romances because they paid a nickel a word. That worked out to two hundred fifty dollars per story, split in half. Still not bad for a day's work.

The editor reminded you that she only bought about one in three or four stories from you, which averaged out to considerably less than five cents a word while most of her regulars placed most of their stories. You could go on being a regular if you wanted in effect to risk the low acceptance rate. She even told you why so many of your stories were returned. They were too funny. Romance readers don't think romance is funny.

Lou decided to stop, as he put it, screwing around with romance, which you thought was pretty funny at the time and still do. You can't screw around with romance. He tried to be serious for another six months then got a high-salaried job with an insurance company. The last time you saw him, he was wearing a suit. You got any more rejections slips before you began wearing suits, and there was the magical time when Clarence, the mailman, brought you a special delivery letter every day with a check for a short story, sometimes a western, sometimes science fiction, sometimes suspense or mystery. Thinking back on those times, you realize that most of those stories were funny in one way or another, and now, although there is some seriousness in your stories, you suppose the funny stuff is something you have learned to live with.

Interestingly enough, you began wearing suits when a part of your job was to reject the works of other writers, sending many of them form letters, which is certainly the equivalent of a rejection slip.

But that is a part of another story.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

A Man for All Susans

You reach a certain age--or perhaps it is more of an uncertain age--where hair no longer grows where it once did and persists in growing where it didn't used to. It was always difficult getting up early but now it is increasingly likely that you will have been up and about for some time--at least one cup of coffee worth--before feeling truly awake. Going to bed at a reasonable time seems increasingly like a good idea but one that is proportionately more difficult to arrange.

You are more likely to be called upon to write valedictories for departed friends, colleagues, and others with whom your life has formed some relationship, real to you or potential to others. None of this strikes you as particularly morbid, as LK suggests it does, much less does it cause you to think carpe diem thoughts anymore now than you did when you were first setting forth to amass a useful store of experiences from which to fund a writing life.

The comings and goings of things and people in your life begin to seem as an analogy for the hundreds of millions of sensations that fall on your sensor plates, thereupon to register physical and/or emotional responses. You begin in some inchoate way to understand why particular plants, shrubs, flowers are the color they are so as to better attract particular insects, birds, and reptiles. You also see with some--if not articulate--clarity the two-sides-of-the coin aspect in which the very color of a plant that attracts the appropriate insects who will broadcast its pollen and/or receive the appropriate pollen of another plant will also attract various acts and forms of predation. (And we think our own sex life is complex!)

You still find yourself, for instance, looking in the interstices of the back seat of the Camry for the tortoise-shell Sailor fountain pen which you could very well have mislaid in any of a hundred other venues.

You are still in a sense of disbelief mixed with grief and frustration over the fact of having for the moment placed a five-page table of contents and description of a book on writing fiction you plan to do with J.F. "Jerry" Freedman on the roof of said Camry, anchored them with your Panasonic Lumix FX-30, then poured the two containers of water you'd lugged from the kitchen to the place where your pet avocado tree lives. 

Late for a meeting with Jerry, after watering the tree, you'd entered the Camry, scattering the outline and Lumix to the winds and although you have found the outline easily enough, the Lumix defies detection.

Well and good for inanimate objects, now comes the message in an email that Unk, your friend of at least twenty-five years, Duane D. Unkefer, to be more specific, has decided he has had a bellyfull of Santa Barbara and is about to venture to Portland where, with all due respect to a city I admire, his nether regions will be chilled as though a chardonnay.

Which gets us down to the need for a philosophy that will get us through the existential night with a lilt to our step, a smile to a stranger, and on-going niceness to dogs and cats. You are increasingly drawn to the writings and influence of Giambattista Vico. (1688-1744) Now here was a purposefully reasoned approach to the notion of events and how events played forth, observable, capable of replication in the laboratory or the bedroom. Note how Vico leads to hermeneutics, the investigation
of speech, social institutions, and ritual behaviours (such as religious ceremonies, political rallies, football matches, rock concerts, etc.). Hermeneutics interprets or inquires into the meaning and relative value of these phenomena. Once you got Vico and hermeneutics down, Finnegan's Wake became less obscure and, as a result, less boring.

By a lovely cycle of chance, Unk came to own a car that so frustrated and demoralized you that gave it to an auto mechanic named Chuck, whose wife supported the two of them by selling elaborately decorated cakes. You were indeed given a white cake with berry jam filling, a relic from a wedding that had been precipitously cancelled. It was a sway-backed Volkswagen that was largely white or perhaps primer-coat gray and where it was neither of these, it was indifferent. You met Unk having reviewed his break-through novel, Gray Eagles.

No particular effort is needed to wish him well and watch him set forth on his way. You have come to the point where enough coffee and philosophy and a fountain pen that works most of the time and a comforting dog can get you places where you have never been before.

There was a time, for instance, when you were in center field, a position you enjoyed too much to concentrate on all the nuances of center field. You dealt with a particularly troublesome line drive by short-hopping it and relaying it with, you thought, considerable dispatch to second base, only to be addressed by the pitcher with "Hey, schmuck! What's wrong with home plate?"

Some years later, playing in the same position, and in a similar fielding situation, the pitcher called, "Home, sir. Throw it home, sir!" Thus had you gone from schmuck to sir.

Experience gives you the opportunity to engage situations with optimal grace and perhaps even a touch of panache.

You'll freeze your nether regions, Unk, but you'll have Powell's Books on Burnside, and Jake's Famous Crawfish.

Monday, August 13, 2007

You Can't Go Home Again--It Either Isn't There or It Looks Like Someplace Else

The intersection of Gutierrez and Chapala Streets in downtown Santa Barbara is interesting in a number of ways. Were you to continue northwest on Chapala, you'd quickly come to a tall, ungainly barrier, preventing you from the northbound 101. Shoehorned in before the barrier is a small, family-run taqueria, Lucy's. A block south is a favored enclave, featuring a tattoo parlor, the Santa Barbara Yoga Center and so down-at-the-heels apartments. Across Gutierrez are two sprawls of condos, intended to be weekend and vacation pieds a terre, sold to those from Los Angeles who may have to work there but by golly, they can own a little piece of Paradise. The sales pitch for these condos is that their locale is the area of Santa Barbara most like Los Angeles.

This is a hoot in many ways because just this past weekend, the venerable Los Angeles Times ran a long feature about attempts underway to make downtown Los Angeles like New York, presumably to lure migrant New Yorkers to one of the least livable areas of the entire Los Angeles Basin. This reminds me laterally of the time I ran the Los Angeles office of a large New York publishing conglomerate and one of my chores involved securing rooms for visiting dignitaries. Rooms to them meant the Beverly Hills Hotel. My set-ups at Chateau Marmont and the Bel-Air Hotel were met with disdain. No one, I was reminded, stayed at LA lodgings, they stayed at the Beverly Hills Hotel because there they could see persons from New York they might not otherwise see in New York. "This Los Angeles stuff has to stop," my immediate superior warned me. "We don't want places where people from LA would go."

If I get the current situation correctly, Santa Barbara, which often exhibits graffiti that reads "L.A. Go Home" wants a part of it to look enough like L.A. to lure more Angelenos here. Confession: I am a carpetbagger Angeleno, having committed several years to going to school there, working there, and being born in Santa Monica, which is not all that far fro L.A.

L.A. wants its downtown to look more like New York and the rest of itself to look like portions of Brooklyn that are currently trying to look like L.A.

They are all managing to look like Omaha or possibly Albuquerque, both of which are caught between the rock and hard place of wanting to look like L.A. and New York without anyone noticing.

Go figure.

And while you're figuring, figure why so any persons and places want to look like other persons and places.

Nobody willingly admits to being a bad driver or a poor lover.

Maybe that's just a New York thing.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Is the Refrigerator a Door to the Human Psyche?

I know it is fun to get an otherwise unobtainable picture of a person from a glimpse at the interior of that person's medicine cabinet, but what of the refrigerator, purring away all day, making ice cubes without complaint?

Are we overlooking the literary equivalent of a new planet?

Would we have been as likely, say, to read a particular author's book if we'd had an early peek?

Here is mine, in all its naked vulnerability. The idea for this was planted some while back when photographer Shawn Gust
posted a shot of the inside of his refrigerator, showing its content: a single bottle of beer. I had already come to admire his images to the point of wishing I could cyber-port a case of something reflecting his taste. It jumps away from the subject to observe that he does moving portraits of people at work. Such artistry deserves beer. It also inspires. I, who could never hope to achieve the poignant quality on the faces of Shawn's subjects, may on the other hand have a feel for the odd jar of olives and the carton of cottage cheese.

Saturday, August 11, 2007


1. Waiters in Chinese restaurants wear white socks.

2. Among the present incumbents in the United States Senate, the number of outright misfits and malingerers is so high that a panel composed of equal numbers of Democrats and Republicans would not be able to agree on a list of the ten worst. My list would begin with Lott, R, MS; followed quickly by Lieberman, I, CON; and Landreaux, D, LA; Kyl, R, AZ; McConnell, R, KY; Bunning, R, KY;Hatch, R UT;Reid, D, NV;Cornyn, R, TX;Sessions, R, ALA. Yes, I know I have betrayed a bias, nor will it account for much when I argue that party-line biases are at a lower plateau for me than my dislike of the guarded equivocations and strategies set forth each time a politician opens a mouth. Happily, UTube will continue to show them all at their most wretched.

3. Moving to the Hous
e of Representatives, I'd head the list with Sensenbrenner, R, WISC; then Harmon, D, CA; Issa, R, CA; Hunter, R, CA;Lewis, R, CA;Wilson, R, NM; Cubin, R, WY;Boehner, R, O;Blunt, R, MO;Gallegly, R, CA. I understand that there are those who do not appreciate Congressmen Conyers, Frank, or Waxman. Nothing is easy, particularly with Congress, which Mark Twain referenced when observing that if America had a criminal class, it would be Congress.

4. Blue jam is acceptable, marmalade on occasion is perfect, but red jam rocks.

5. The variety store next to Scolari's Market has had a run of displaying n
on-anthropomorphic and non-animal pinatas, forcing me a few blocks north for this one at a store with even more variety, using horses, giddy ones, from the look of them.

6. Last week, in a regrettable decision, I allowed myself to be directed for lunch to one of the most iconic of all tourist traps in the area,
Stearns Wharf.

Bad move.

Worse because, unable to eat what passed for lunch, I passed what seemed like protein to Sally, who paid for it later on and was driven to eat much grass.

7. Many of my short stories are set on university campuses or involve persons who have reason to be on university campuses. This is in large measure because of my observation that the university is such a landscape of territorial imperatives. (I seem to recall it being Robert Ardrey who invented that term, and a good one it is given teachers whose subtexts are jealousy of subject and avidity of tenure.) Being recruited to become a part of a team to develop an MFA program complete with mission statement and curriculum, I had brought home again the familiar pigeons of jealousy, assertiveness, divisiveness, and stubbornness. I've been told that such squabbling exists in law firms, hospitals, political parties, and newspapers. I've seen at first hand those pigeons in publishing houses large and small, to the point where I was once challenged to rationalize how I could wear a striped tie with a checkered jacket. But the university epitomizes for me the human condition writ large, with all its striations, its anthropology and its bureaucracy.

8. Since I am on the subject of observations, I will observe that this day, this eleventh day of August, has seemed magically charged in spite of being undershot with the threat of a fire growing out of control, the after effects of a messy driving misadventure, a number of misadventures with tourists from hell, which is to say Beverly Hills.

Although these ladies may appear to have come from Beverly Hills, they were merely attending the variety store where the pinatas were displayed, and I became taken with the.

Friday, August 10, 2007

More Dots to Connect--or to Collide

When you were much younger, there was no dearth of ideas, only the manner of their presentation and your response to them. Ideas, notions, concepts, were presented to you as though by liveried waiters, with dramatic eclat, with trumpeting flourish. Your response to them was of an agreeable single-mindedness. It was not as though you were incapable of doing numerous things at once, rather you knew, you felt there was enough time to allow the singleness of focus. One thing at a time. One thing into which you threw yourself in much the same way Sally throws herself into the consequences of a scent.

The short story of a student, Kelli Noftle, reminds you with great vividness of what it was like to be thirteen, the rampant rage of hormones trumping subtext events such as politics and the reading of political philosophers, the studies supplemental to approaching religion confirmation ceremony, the concentration-camp atmosphere of junior high school, and all around you, the vivid, exciting split away from swing and traditional jazz of a emerging harmonic progression called be-bop (which, had he lived longer, it is fun to speculate that Johann Sebastian Bach would have discovered).

It is comforting in its way to have this single-mindedness of purpose. The individuals you admire seem to carry it with them as they age, producing the work you admire and use as your individual pole star while engaging the subtexts of career, romantic relationships, parenting, friendships, and the necessities of aesthetic, intellectual, and spiritual growth. Often you admire and envy this ability as much or more than you admire a given project.

Along comes the later game, bringing with it no lessening of ideas, perhaps even more and better ones to compete with the subtext. But now, there is a kind of cosmic sound track to go along with this procession, this Trader Joe's of the mind. It is the voice of that manipulative cynic, Andrew Marvell:

"But at my back I always hear
Time's winged chariot drawing near
And yonder all before us lie
Deserts of vast eternity..."

In a real sense, Marvell had in mind exactly what Kelli's thirteen-year-old boy had in mind, because within the same poem, Marvell goes on to suggest:

"The grave's a fine and private place,
But none I think do there embrace..."

When I was about the age of Kelli's horny thirteen-year-old, I became convinced that knowing this poem by memory would help enhance my virginal transition toward the plateau of those who had indeed embraced in the fullest and finest sense of that trope. (It never helped! Yet I still remember the goddamned poem.)

From all this arises an avalanche of questions: Can an artist of any sort be known from an inspection of the clatter and collision of ideas and notions whirling about within? Should we be content to keep our focus on the individual work and its implications? Should we try to find out as much about the artist as possible to expand our potential interpretation of the individual work? Would we better appreciate an individual Meditation from Marcus Aurelius if we knew his life at closer hand? Would we appreciate The Tin Drum more or less from our recent knowledge that Gunter Grass was not only a Nazi sympathizer, he was a ember of the Waffen SS?

One of my treasured cyber-acquaintances is with a photographer who lives a good thirteen hours away. (Twelve if you fly Air New Zealand, Digby Wolfe says). Known to me only as Pod, I am drawn regularly to the photographs he posts on his blog, photos showing--sometimes simultaneously--a splendid sense of humor, an immense curiosity, a well-developed photographer's eye, a sense of composition, a moving ability at narrative prose, a sense of whimsy, great curiosity, and more qualities that fall within this creative terrain. Only last week, in a comment he left on these vagrant pages, he mentioned having read the novel by the Japanese novelist Haruki Murikami that I a even now in the process of reading. Is it possible to get an accurate take on a writer from another culture who writes in another language, Pod pondered. "
i loved it, but i don't think i understood it as well as i would if i was japanese. i love their horror films too, but again, there is always something i feel i don't quite 'get," he wrote.

In a more-than-tangential way, pod illustrates my point about the degree we can be influenced by mere exposure to the work. Having pondered his question, I rather suspect I will see more or look longer at the next picture he posts.

My treasured mentor was a delightfully supportive and imaginative person. Would I have enjoyed her own work as much as I do if I had not known she was refused admission to medical schools because of having experienced one or two petite mal seizures? Possibly not because I was so caught in her work. But my answer now is Of course it mattered because I so wanted to be like her that I took in as much about her life as I could.

Right now, 8:41 p.m., August 10, 2007, Santa Barbara, CA, my answer is the weasel answer: What remains of us is our performance, which is to say the amount of our self we put into our work. It keeps Marcus Aurelius alive for me, although I suspect that if I think it through, I could apply pod's comments about Haruki Murikami to my take on Marcus Aurelius.

For the nonce, go figure.