Sunday, November 27, 2005
Items we cannot have at William's Kindergarten "Winter Party" due to the fact that somebody might find them offensive:
-Any likeness of Santa Claus. Santa cookies. Santa hats. Reindeer. Some parents have complained.
-Candy canes. Apparently there is some religious symbology there. I don't even want to look this up to be honest.
-Christmas tree ornaments. Ornaments are fine, just don't indicate that you're going to hang them on a Christmas tree.
-Any mention of Christmas, Kwanzaa or Hanukah.
To which I have added my own list:
-Snow. I fucking hate snow.
-Snowmen. Clearly there is an implicit sexism inherent in calling them snowMEN, not to mention the fact that they represent a paganistic worship of DEMON POSSESSION. You think that magic swirly stuff that brought Frosty to life was just the first wind of winter? Wrongo, my friend. That was Satan.
-Gingerbread houses. Seriously, gingerbread houses are known to cause all sorts of diseases. I saw one gingerbread house cause an outbreak of syphillis. Seriously. And who lives in gingerbread houses anyway? (see next line)
-Elves. Elves scare the crap out of me. And without Santa, what good are they?
-Egg nog. I love egg nog, but I tend to mix it with hard alcohol and then things get blurry. Plus, I don't think they allow hard alcohol up at the school.
Saturday, November 26, 2005
It was high time I updated the biograph.
Happy day-after Buy Nothing Day. Unless you're in Europe or Japan. Then continue your abstinence.
[I think we inadvertantly complied.]
Wednesday, November 23, 2005
My word of the day was: didactic.
Except it was a word I used yesterday. Excessively.
Monday, November 21, 2005
There's a saying old, says that love is blind
People ask, what kind of writing? The kind, I guess, where I spend two hours a night trying to turn a sympathetic guy into a sublimated serial killer. Or vice versa. Wine from water. That sort of thing. I put another card over the desk in my head. Imagine better!
Aimee Bender gave a reading and a QA recently. She was good, I guess. I can't knock her. But not great. Not memorable. Sorry, Aimee. It's not personal. I wanted to be lifted.
I need to grill more. I actually enjoy grilling. Maybe I'll get a big grill the size of my car and lay whole calves on it. Also fire pits. I could go in big for fire pits.
We all rolled over to the East Austin Studio Tour on Sunday. William played outside one of the galleries with some other kids. He was talking to a little girl when we came out to leave. She had a big iron bolt in her hands and William was drawing some chalk art on the ground. "A little privacy, Dad," he told me. I could seriously eat that kid. Whole.
Thomas noticed a t-shirt that read "Fuckin' Party" at the Bearded Lady. It had a picture of a gorilla drinking a beer. He pointed it out to me. One of the employees looked at us, a little embarressed I could tell. "That shirt has a cuss word, Dad," Thomas whispered, ever vigilant against offense. "Some people don't know any better," I said, not sure what to tell him other than to not approve of it and, yet, to leave it be a little, as well. "Should we tell them?" he said.
My pet peeves of late are (in no particular order): I don't remember.
Thomas won the Invent Austin contest at school for his class. His invention was a Shoe Swiffer; a swiffer that attaches to your shoes which alternately cleans the bottom of your shoe and the floor at the same time. I'm not joking.
I'm sure I'll remember all my pet peeves, but until then, come to Salado for Thanksgiving. Seriously. You. We'll build a big fire pit and grill whole calves and talk about the shit November leaves out for your soul. The way we've got each other and that's more than most. The way our faces look when we aren't sad.
Monday, November 14, 2005
Listening to lately (and no, not that it matters):
Animal Collective (Sung Tongs and Feels)
Alexi Murdoch (Four Songs - EP)
Wolf Parade (Apologies to the Queen Mary)
Danger Doom (The Mouse and the Mask)
My Morning Jacket (Z)
Silver Jews (Tanglewood Numbers)
Uncle Tupelo (Anodyne)
Yo La Tengo (I Can Hear the Heart Beating as One)
That Wolf Parade, they are not bad. Possibly live up to the hype accorded them. Did anybody notice that Public Enemy has a new record out? Strange to say, but I saw them open up for U2 in Dallas on the Zoo TV tour. The other opening band was the Sugarcubes. I think that was in 1992. I was a senior in college at the time. Weird.
Sunday, November 13, 2005
We need longer blog posts (and shorter novels)!
In addition to the workshop with Tim "MF" O'Brien, I'm in a class with Dagoberto Gilb. It's a Problems in Language & Literature class (that's the title) where we read and discuss various books. The class is basically a glorified book club for writers. We more or less discuss technique, angle, what the writer was shooting for, our own writing, etc. It's a free-for-all with no real structure. Initially I was resistant, but I've come to enjoy the class if only for the "forced" reading and the fact that the instructor seems to genuinely want to get at something different in each class...very non-academic. Or anti-academic. Most of my classes so far have been exceptionally good at staying far away from the academics or pedagogy of writing and more about "how/why we write." This is all I could ask for.
Here's our reading list. We're currently on the last book, Gilead (which won the Pulitzer).
Sept 7 / Life and Times of Michael K, JM Coetzee
A little too repetitive in the middle parts, but, overall, difficult to quibble with. I liked Part II even though everyone else in the class seemed to hate it. Too sparse, distant for Dagoberto and most of the class. The rap on Coetzee is he's a little too formal/sterile. All head, no heart. I could see this, but I thought this was a case where the material alone was so compelling that all his straining at a "moral" or "metaphor" are upended by the oddity of the main character and the unusual scenery of a vague, futuristic South Africa. He won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2003.
Sept 14 / Offshore, Penelope Fitzgerald
This books was plain awful. I mean bad. I marked up whole pages. Just at a sentence level it was awkward and poorly written. It won the Booker Prize in 1979.
Sept 21 / Amsterdam, Ian McEwan
Another all-head, no-heart Brit writer (Coetzee is actually South American). I cannot freaking believe this guy is as popular as he is. This book was wince-inducing throughout. The humor seemed force and show-off-ish. The characters seemed like cardboard cut-outs. This book got me thinking which British novelists I actually like. I could maybe name two. Graham Greene and maybe Evelyn Waugh. Who else? This won the Booker Prize in 1998.
Sept 28 / All Souls, Javier Marias
I enjoyed the language and the yearning he evokes. It's a good study in evoking a town (in this case, Oxford), a place, a time. Reminded me of a toned-down, less passionate The End of the Affair. Marias has a regular column in The Believer. He's widely considered the most popular and literary Spanish writer living today. His books are best sellers in Spain. I got the feeling he was simply too patrician for Dagoberto.
Oct 5 / Blood and Guts in High School, Kathy Acker
I skipped this book entirely. When you have kids, it is difficult to read about ten-year old girls who have affairs with their father. This one just seems designed to shock for shock's sake, although Dagoberto makes a convincing argument for this being the equivalent to punk. At least you can sort of dance and get aggro to punk. And you can throw beer cans at the band. I wanted to throw a beer can at Kathy Acker. There are a lot of pictures of penises and vaginas, if you don't like words.
Oct 12 / Pimp, Iceberg Slim
This is supposedly the book that strongly influenced both Ice T and Ice Cube to have Ice in their rap aliases. A lot of strange ghetto slang, even for today. Plus, Iceberg was pimping back in the 1930s, so he predates the blaxploitation movement by nearly three decades. More memoir than fiction, there is still way too much style for this to be pure auto-biography. The arguments centered on whether or not this book could have been made more "literary" or just plain better with the help of a decent editor or if, in some ways, the flaws in language, in writing, etc. are endearing warts. I got the vibe that most felt this guy could've been another Richard Wright with some help. I'm not so sure.
Oct 19 / The Kiss, Kathyrn Harrison
Another incest memoir. I didn't enjoy the style of Harrison's writing (it read extremely flat in places) and I felt the subject matter was too exhibitionist. She seemed to want to display this sick relationship with her father for cathartic reasons, but, in the end, it doesn't illuminate much of anything. I felt the same way reading A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius when Eggers drags out his dying parents to bring heft and weight to an otherwise trivial and stupid story (intelligent slacker makes good with younger brother). You don't get at a spiritual or existential crisis in these stories. You just get exhaustion and a kind of lurid peep-show feeling.
Oct 26 / The Lover, Marguerite Duras
This struck me as high-end chick lit. The paragraphs loop back on each other and it becomes all about the "beautiful writing." I know what the book is about, but it didn't hold my interest at all. I think it was this cyclical quality. There's always this discussion of male/female writing styles and how they mimic the sex act (i.e. male vs. female orgasm) which I used to dismiss as silliness. But reading some of these books, I begin to sense some inherent difference in the way the writing is structured and the loop of the plot. Essentially, there's no climax. There's just vague piled on top of vague. And I do think women "get this" at some level that men usually don't. Of course, maybe I was just tired when I was reading this. One other minor thing. It seems the French are one of the few groups of writers who get away with extremely thin novels. I mean, American writers can't get away with calling it a novel unless it's at least 200 pages. Most French novels weigh in at what seems to be about 120 pages. Think of Camus. The Stranger is 144 pages. I personally like the shorter novel and sometimes feel as if American and British novels seem to be padded and could be cut down by at least 50-100 pages in most cases. Maybe I'm wrong. Maybe people simply want to pay for heft, to lose themselves in the world, to have felt like they truly went through something. You certainly don't want to plunk down $20 on a novella. Unless it's by Steve Martin.
Nov 2 / The White Castle, Orham Pamuk
Another critic's darling that I did not get. Pamuk is a Turkish writer who is undergoing a bit of Rushdie-like controversy at the moment. This book is considered extremely experimental, but I couldn't quite grasp it. I felt as if it was a case of the metaphor overwhelming the story. He's compared to Kafka and Calvino, but I didn't see it in this book. He doesn't get under the fingernails of any of his characters. It seems like a well-structured fairy tale that goes on waaaaay too long.
Nov 9 / Hunger, Knut Hamsun
Hamsun also won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1920. He's considered the unofficial grandfather of modernism. Hemingway and Fitzgerald were big fans. Hamsun himself was strongly influenced by Dostoevsky and, in many ways, this book reminds me of Notes from Underground. He was writing about protagonists with bottomless souls and empty centers well before anybody else (with the exception of Dostoevsky). At a sentence level, he also strongly influenced Hemingway. A good reminder that a book can have an ideological core which not only betrays itself, but also illuminates the frustrations and limitations of all philosophy. We're not merely journalists. If you haven't heard of Hamsun, it isn't surprising. First off, most of his work isn't translated into English (he's Norwegian). Second, and more importantly, he was a huge Nazi sympathizer. He actually gave his Nobel Prize medal to Goebbels.
Nov 16 / Gilead, Marilynne Robinson
Still reading. Robinson won the Pulitzer for this and she still teaches at the Iowa Writer's Workshop.
Thursday, November 10, 2005
“Regardless of what the New Testament says, most Christians are materialists with no experience of the Spirit. Regardless of what the New Testament says, most Christians are individualists with no real experience of community.” He paused for a moment and then continued: “Let’s pretend that you were all Christians. If you were Christians, you would no longer accumulate. You would share everything you had. You would actually love one another. And you would treat each other as if you were family.” His eyes were piercing as he asked, “Why don’t you do that? Why don’t you live that way?”
I don't really understand the social sin line in the article (or maybe I do and I think even this is a copout of sorts), but again, I sense the trouble with Christianity is Christians. Myself included. I'm not a witness to much more than what's in front of me at any given moment. I'm hurried along by teachers and co-workers and left speechless at the simplest of questions. "Keep moving," the teachers mouth at me, almost angrily, when I drop the boys off. They're in a hurry, too. Everybody's in a goddamn hurry. I argue and feint and make shit up. I sit in meetings where people ask me the same questions over and over. "When's that going to be done?" I lie. I cheat. I rant. I'm rarely loving. I'm hardly kind. I humble myself when it suits me. I'm prideful and think I need more. I seriously have conversations about which SUV we should buy next because, you know, our car is old and they've got those fancy TVs now. I don't think most of us are even to the point of having much of a spiritual life, let alone formulating honest opinions about which desert god to worship. Then again, we're all broken, aren't we? I mean nobody said being a Christian meant you turned into St. Francis. Nobody promised much more than a Get-Out-Jail-Free card, right? Or did they? Is it that if you live this way, you'll be changed or if you believe, you'll live this way? Jesus said he'd be a stumbling block to the wise. Am I too wise, too clever, too quick or am I as slow and stupid as I feel on Saturday morning after a week of the vacuous suck? People like what Jesus said, but they don't buy the God bit. Or they don't like the language. Why does it have to be this guy with these words? Why can't he just have been a man? Yeah, why not? He's Plato. He's Buddha. He's words on a page and dust in ground. Does that answer everything for you? One less thing to worry about, I guess. Put it all in a box and keep trucking.
Still, I suspect there's a great burden on Christianity to live up to something, to answer for its transgressions and burst out of its contradictions and matter. People still argue about it. It's always been a good underdog if you look real close, even though, these days, it's hard to see it as much more than an overlord or oppressor or to separate it from America. I don't think many people rest easy. I think we're troubled and I don't mean politically or economically or racially (although these things seem to always be trotted out along with a whole other litany of horseshit that satisfies party conversations). Much as Walker Percy said, we've accounted for everything, but ourselves. Friends often ask me, why are you a Christian? It's not a troubling question for them. They view it as an oddity; a funny, curious thing, like the wallpaper I chose for my house or a closet addiction to Barbra Streisand albums. I think what they really want to ask is "What does it matter?"
I don't have any answers. Not in any packaged form, at least. I've got a wife who tries hard to love me. I've got two kids who don't have to try. I've got friends. Better than most. Every once in awhile the sky opens up and I see something clearly. I've got a hope in something greater than me. It's not the Dow Jones, either, although if that motherfucker pays off I'll do a little money dance and praise Adam Smith like all the others. It's easy to point the finger; easy to say what you think is silly and stupid and wrong-headed and superstitious. It's hard to wake up and realize you do it, as well. I don't have any answers. I guess I just have a life.
Tuesday, November 08, 2005
Damn it feels good to be a gangsta...
Happy sixth birthday, William Alexander man
Sunday, November 06, 2005
happy belated halloween