awp and jeanette winterson

March 14, 2013

Jeanette Winterston (JW) looks like a cross between a hobbit and a bass player in an early 70’s British rock band. It is both odd and hot. I saw her take the stairs to the big stage at AWP and she was wearing black Levis 510’s. If only she would have worn  a white shirt with puffy sleeves or one with a little tuxedo frill down the front, she would have nailed the look completely.

JW is an eloquent and wicked smart speaker. She says brilliant things, like how when men write about themselves it’s called meta-fiction, but when women do the same thing it’s called autobiography. And she says things that make the crowd laugh, like how as a kid when she found a sex manual, she looked at the drawings of positions and “pondered the horrors of heterosexuality.” And she says everything in a perfect British accent, using words only Brits say, like cheeky, and rubbish, and “it’s a good jobs I’m small.” And you might have guessed all this if you’ve already read any of her books. What you would not know without seeing her, though, is how charismatic and confident  JW is. She stood alone on a stage in an auditorium of more than 500 people and held everyone’s attention with her humor and wit and sincerity. See for yourself at this is a similar talk at Sydney Writer’s Festival.

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vital links to things you should read because i don’t want to become a narcissist

October 15, 2012

I have had my stereo on at home playing music, almost non-stop, for at least the last month. It’s been a massive “feeling” infusion. Typing that made me flash on that scene in Pulp Fiction where John Travolta shoots that big ass needle right into Uma Thruman’s chest. Except stretch that out to an injection that takes 6 weeks to administer. Lord, knows I needed something massive. I can get amazingly cut off from myself. That’s not the right way to describe it. I can tamp all my feelings down like packed earth . . . that might be more accurate. Or hibernate, except only the “feeling” part of me is in the cave and the part of me not in the cave really longs to get the part that’s deeply in there out of there.

All this public naval gazing, is it good? Is it helpful? I have some anxiety that I will turn into a narcissist but I won’t know it. God, that would suck.

Also, I am going to start going through stuff I have and giving things away and I hope if I approach you with something that you will consider taking it, because that would give me some joy.

Naval gazing break here via links to things that are well worth reading if you haven’t already:


there’s not really a good reason for why i don’t read some books

September 28, 2012

That was an AMAZING sunset last night! I’m so glad my house faces west. I looked out the window and saw the orange sky and actually said “wow” out loud to myself. It was kind of stunning and for a half hour or so I was in love with fall.

My sleep continues to suck. I cannot get my mind to settle down . . . songs, poems, house stuff, grocery list, people, etc. I can hear RU telling me to meditate. I actually believe she is right and it would probably help me, but in short, I just won’t do it and I am unwilling to explore my resistance to it, too. I can be a very frustrating person to engage with. I don’t know if it’s any consolation to other folks, but also I frustrate my own self. Also, on a slightly related thread, I’ve been wondering if a person can be some hybrid of a hedonist and a Buddhist and a nice midwestern guy. That actually might be how I start explaining myself, although this is only an idea I just now came up with.

The other day I was talking with my writing group members about what each of us are reading and AM reported she’s joined up with a couple other folks who read difficult books together and with them that she’s currently reading Thomas Hardy’s The Return of the Native. Actually, AM might have said she was slogging through some parts. Still. I would love to be the kind of person who did this, because I think it would make me feel like a bad ass reader and I would enjoy that. I even had a conversation with my English prof friend this summer about starting a difficult book club, but it never got past the conversation part. So even though I’m reluctant to admit it, so far I don’t appear to be the kind of person who reads difficult books.

My dirty secret and the one I’m even more reluctant to admit, is how resistant I am to reading books that people I know recommend to me. It makes no sense, since many of my friends are prodigious readers and have tastes that are similar to mine, and if not similar at least, interesting to me. When RU and I were first dating and we were in the “I like soup, you like soup and we can talk and not talk for hours” phase, I read a couple of her recommendations right away, like these Jane Smiley novellas, but after that, RU recommended Lonesome Dove to me for a couple years, much to her chagrin, before I finally picked it up and read it. I ended up loving that book. I love it so much so that I recommend the book to everyone I know, because of course I like to  make recommendations. Maybe or maybe not, that makes me a little bit of blowhard; either way its another annoying and/or frustrating quirk.

What came up in my conversation the other day about reading, was that my dad once gave me Melville’s Billy Budd and said something like “this explains me better than anything else” or “if you wanna know me, read this book.” And . . . I never read it. As I said all of this this out loud to my writing group members, I knew it sounded kind of outrageous, because for all intense purposes, I grew up estranged from my dad’s life, and I had been desperate for so long to know him better. And then he give me this key and in not reading the book, you could characterize my response to his giving me the key  as “I don’t care about your stupid key.” In my own defense, I have to say, I just wanted to hang out with my dad and meet some of his friends or go with him to his bar, where they had his picture on the wall, or go with him to the church he went to the last couple years of his life. But still I’ve never read Billy Budd. My dad is dead and Billy Budd is sitting on the shelf of my bedside table.

Hmm . . . that may have sounded darker than I feel. I don’t feel dark right now. I feel distracted and buzzy and a little tired and happy to see the sunshine and happy that it’s Friday and grateful I had some time to cook last night.


day 8 i think and the banality of my bedside table

August 28, 2012

What does a bedside table say about someone? I think it must say something. If not in its whole at least via what’s on top. Mine has a digital alarm clock on top and a trivet my mom made and a lamp with a base that is a little bit too big for a table on the smallish side. There’s also an empty prescription bottle for some antibiotics I finished taking almost a month ago, a pencil holder that often is empty but currently has 4 pens, my reading glasses, a spray bottle which I use when the cats run in here at 5am and start fighting, my phone, and a box of matches that seem entirely out of place because I don’t have candles or incense, and I don’t smoke. There’s a pad of  large sticky notes that I use to write myself reminders, like “call Rachel,” as well as to jot down sentences or fragments of sentences I might use in a piece I’m working on, like “this is for your own good.”  There’s also a stack of books, made up of the following titles from the top down: About Alice by Calvin Trillin, Stories for Boys by Gregory Martin, Ting Beautiful Things by Cheryl Strayed, a small spiral notebook with lyrics to some songs I wrote in 2001 and 2002, but that I currently used to work out multiple sentences or lines I thinking through for a piece, Go Down, Moses by William Faulkner, Transgender Warriors by Leslie Fienberg and Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace. This stack is clearly more aspirational than practical or realistic. I’ve not not read any of these books, except a few pages from About Alice and couple Dear Sugar letters and responses. Beside the book stack and on top of the trivet there’s the book that I’m actually reading. The Invention of Solitude by Paul Auster.


reading and fall

October 24, 2011

I just finished reading The Corrections. It was a good read and once I got into it I couldn’t put it down, but overall I wanted to like it better than I did. Maybe it’s because I read Freedom, first. I don’t know. I can’t quite but my finger on it. Still, if you’re looking for something and haven’t read it yet, I would recommend The Corrections, without hesitation.

Not sure what I’m going to tackle next.  I was contemplating trying again to read Anna Karenina, but then I heard an interview with Jeffrey Eugenides last week and he gave away the whole plot. Bastard, Jeffrey. Seriously. Maybe, I’ll try Catch 22. It is the 50 year anniversary of its publication and RU thinks that I’ll love it. Hmm . . . we’ll see.

I’ve never been a big fall fan. Can’t embrace the whole crisp air and brilliant skies (which is a joke out here) with everything around me dying. Still, I’m not minding fall as much as I thought might. And yet I can’t believe it is so unequivocally here.  This was the second year in a row that Portland had such an abbreviated summer and this year we didn’t even get a week’s worth of a heat wave. The rest of the country must have hogged up all the unbearable hottnes without even a week to spare! Or the heat couldn’t rise over the mighty Cascades to make us suffer through 100 degree days like every one else. I thought we’d get more of an Indian summer or something like that. Maybe we did and I missed it while I was in NYC. Anyway, I’m getting off track. These short days say fall like nothing else, even more so than the rain. And there’s 100 things to do in my yard and I want to keep riding my bike and I’ve already had my first cold and I don’t want to turn on the heat.

I’m practicing getting back in the habit of blogging. Like everything else, I’m always starting over.




almost a another year

May 31, 2011

Tonight we get a sunset we can see. A nice and welcome break from the end of what seems like an eternal spring.

I spent a portion of this long weekend reading (for the first time) Slaughter House Five. I didn’t choose the book because of Memorial day, but I fully appreciate the coincidence, and in that respect, I think it was fitting. Also, now I know why so many folks have told me to read this book. If you’ve never read the book, you should. It will take you less than a day. Afterward you won’t be able to stop thinking about it. I swear that Slaughter House Five should be on a required reading list for being human.

If you like Kurt Vonnegut Jr, you might want to check out this interview.

I got an early start to celebrating my birthday this weekend, with a family dinner, Uris style. It reminded me of all the years I spent celebrating my birthday with my extended family, which meant a lot to me. However the rest of my birthday plays out, last night was pretty perfect.

A bank of clouds, visible form my front window, has turned nearly the color  of fuchsia. We really do get amazing sunsets


life, i guess

February 12, 2011

I finally finished the last couple chapters of Matterhorn. Semper Fi to the Old Breed. Next on my list is either Anna Karenina or Billy Budd or Slaughterhouse Five. Or some other title, like The Magnificent Ambersons.

All the good fiction I’ve been reading  makes me want to give the finger to David Shields (I don’t want to link to him because I don’t want to give him the publicity.) What a stupid fucking idea he had pitting fiction against non-fiction and what a hack he was for not giving credit to anyone who he quoted. I could go on here, but I’ll stop myself. Done ranting.

I keep putting too much sugar in my tea this morning. I am my own enemy.

I’ve been looking for a copy of an old Burl Ives’ record of sea shanties. My mom and my dad used to sing this one called Wrap me up in Tarpaulin Jacket. it’s out of print, though, so it’s gonna be a quest.

I’ve been a slump, or more accurately I am in a slump. It’s all very blah. Nothing big. Just the accumulation of  everyday quandaries and ordinary disappointments. I’m trying to be ok with it. I feel all slumps are a chance to practice working with future slumps, which are bound to come along, as they a part of being human.

After coming back from L.A., RU and I have been on a quest to find good Korean in the Portland metro area. We’ve got a list of about 10 places to try, which I think are pretty close to each other, off Hwy 10 out in the burbs. We’ve only been to 2 places so far. They were decent but forgettable; still the quest is fun and maybe we’ll strike gold.

I can tell spring is starting to happen here. There are birds chirping, trees are are budding, the back yard needs weeding and the days are long enough that I don’t need my bright headlight for my rides to and from work. It’s gotten up into the 50’s on more than quite a few days in the last couple weeks and I’ve walked to the store without a hat on. All this is luxury when thinking about the endless winter that seems to be griping parts of the country.

I’ve been trying to imagine Egypt. Trying to imagine being Egyptian.

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striking gold

January 6, 2011

While I’m not a voracious reader, I do read  a lot. And in the last 10 years there’s probably a handful of books that once I’ve finished the last page and closed the back cover, I’ve felt compelled to evangelize them: The Botany of Desire, Lonesome Dove, The Lost, The Sandman Series, Disgrace, Maus, The Cold Six Thousand & American Tabloid, Blade Runner, and His Dark Materials. Ok, that’s more like two handfuls over the course of 12 years. But anyway, in any given year, I’m much more likely to evangelize an essay or a short story or a poem. I read a lot of this kind of stuff and I think the possibility of greatness is maybe more achievable in these abbreviated forms. It’s the same way for me with music. I can usually come up with 20 really great singles at the end of the year, but I’m hard to pressed to list more than 2 or 3 whole records that are so great they compel me to say “you gotta listen to this.”

So I feel like I got away with something or got a great surprise when right here at the end of the year I read two books that I can’t say enough about, except go read them. They are that great. I already mentioned A Visit from the Goon Squad, but I want to add on to what I said before. Because it’s a very rare book that when it ends, I want it to go on for another 50 or 100 pages, and not because there was anything wrong with the ending, but because I want to keep reading about the characters. That’s what happened with Goon Squad. I got to that last page and I was like “please don’t make this end.” For a couple days,  I kept trying to explain all the characters and their interlocking stories to Rachel, because I wanted to keep them alive. Jennifer Egan pulled off this brilliant mix of heartbreaking humanity and dark satire. Read it; you’ll see.

The other book is Jonathan Franzen’s Freedom. I raced to the end of that book. I had to find out hat was going to happen to the characters and to see how the story unfolded. I tore through over 500 pages in about 3 days. I was hooked like a junkie. I’d heard that it was an ambitious book and I was worried that it was going to be this heady, idea laden tome, where the characters and the story got sacrificed for exploring ideas about freedom, but Franzen struck the right balance between the aesthetic and the ideological approaches, a feat that has escaped many, if not most, of his contemporaries. It’s kind of an epic story and part of me wants to proclaim that Freedom will surely be one of the great American novels, but that sounds corny, so I’ll just say I wanted to to say it and leave it at that.

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somewhere out there

April 10, 2010

Our poet laureate is an intellectual butch dyke. How did I not know that?  It’s a selfish thing on my part to feel left out of the loop. I could have paid more attention to the news or to poetry. I could have been a better dyke, I suppose, and kept up. It’s just I can’t believe that there’s somebody like me out there in the world (not in the poet laureate sense – she’s a genius and I’m a fan), but in the butch and intellectual sense.

Imagine not seeing yourself reflected back to you in most of the things you want to do and most of the things that give you pleasure. That’s how I experience the world. It’s kinda like being a ghost. Hard to take up space. I don’t think most folks realize what it means to see themselves represented in the larger culture. It’s powerful on a subliminal level, but still powerful. So much so, it seems to just be taken for granted, at least until you go missing in the larger picture. But don’t get me started about what happens when you butt up against the ever present male gaze or the straight point of view or white hegemony. No one is up for that kind of rant, no matter how real the rub is.

I just don’t hardly ever see intellectual and creative butch dykes in the public eye or holding prestigious positions. I mean, wow! And even more amazing is that Kay Ryan is an open dyke – married her partner of 30 years in SF when Gavin opened the floodgates for that brief, wondrous time – but no one seems to call her a queer writer, thank god. Because there is nothing like those qualifying labels to marginalize your work and hem you in in a hurry.

I really am just a little blown away by the whole thing.

Here’s one of her poems, but definitely check other stuff too.

What’s the use
of something
as unstable
and diffuse as hope –
the almost-twin
of making-do,
the isotope
of going on:
what isn’t in
the envelope
just before
it isn’t:
the always tabled
righting of the present.

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public intellectual number one

March 31, 2010

One of my favorite public intellectuals, Tony Judt, is writing his memoirs via a series of essays in the New York Review of Books. At least a handful of them are available to the public and I can’t recommend them enough.

Although Tony hasn’t said it, I think there’s some real urgency on his part to get his story written down, because his health has deteriorated so severely in the last year and a half, since he was diagnosed with ALS. More than several weeks ago I linked to the first essay I read, Night; it’s an eloquent, brave and very powerful account of his experience with the disease – much of which got referenced in this recent interview with Terri Gross. He said this thing while talking with Terri, that I’ve been thinking about for the last day.  Terri asked Tony if people were expecting him to write about the life lessons he’s learned from ALS and he responded:

Gosh, I have no idea. I mean, I think my answer to that question is this: It’s a bit like, if you’ll allow me the analogy, which is a bit of a stretch, it’s a bit like what Primo Levi wrote about his experience of Auschwitz, which is to say that however terrible it was, that whatever he did to survive it, he doesn’t believe there’s any larger lesson or moral story to be learned from it. Because when you are hit by something as bad as a concentration camp, you survive, and there’s no lesson to be taught about surviving except how to do it.

In my case, I survive quite comfortably at one level because this is one of the worst diseases you can imagine, but it has no pain. So you have a lot of time in your untroubled head to think out of body, so to speak, about the reasons why the body doesn’t work, the implications of being immobile for hours on end.

I think the only life experience that I have to offer out of this is something we all know in the abstract but don’t experience in practice very much. That is that you can survive an awful lot of bad stuff, so long as your mind is intact. I’m afraid that’s the only life experience I have to offer.

I’m not sure what to add  except I’m grateful for how honest and direct a response he gave. Tony wasn’t dangling out some silver lining. He didn’t recount a list of the “20 things I learned from ALS before it killed me.” I keep thinking how much we struggle to deal what he said, the thing we know in the abstract, but don’t get a lot of practice with, which is surviving some really bad stuff.

Seriously, check out the interview of read the Night essay or both.