Friday, April 28, 2006

Wind's Blowing Writerly with a Hint of Java

This image doesn't relate at all (or even with one of my usual lame tangents) to the post below, but I've been saving it because it amused me. Some days, that's the best kung fu I've got. Hiya!

I'm not feeling concise and pithy today, but blurry and sprawling around the edges. Pardon the mess.

1) I went to part of the MWA Symposium and the boffo Agents & Editors party on Wednesday, because I like hangin' with the other geeks, and I have a manuscript to sell. Last year, I also attended the Edgar awards. However, since I was flying out today, I opted against going last night, though I love the opportunity to preen and carouse and I know some of the nominees and happy winners. Well, we're acquainted at least and they're too polite to deny me in public. If you want the bullet points on the event and the winners' roster, as always, Sara Weinman has the scoop.

2) I was also reading this slightly overlong (for me), but strongly felt essay by Alex Keegan on the sameness of graduates and practitioners of the current high-lit scene. He actually experimented by pasting together paragraphs from different lit writers to see whether his writing group could tell, upon listening, where one author's work ended and another began. They couldn't. Homogeneity in style and approach run rampant, and Keegan's not going to take it anymore.

3) Grumpy Old Bookman had this post on members of the Columbia University MFA program complaining about the quality of its staff and the mediocrity of graduate work in creative writing. I'll admit I'm shamefacedly pleased to hear such things since they rejected my own MFA application. I decided not to reapply, because by the time a year had flown, I could tell I was making progress on my own and in my groups. Being a CV mongrel, I confess I'd love to have a single decent pedigreed aspect, and I admit the shallowness of being willing, at one time, to pay so much for a stamp of approval. But, as their lofty validation was withheld, I've moved on to other measuring sticks. Further, I now realize the sample and essay in my rejected application should've been much better (fair play to them) and would be today. However, as I still don't write high-toned, navel-gazing, ennui-laden prose about being abused or addicted, I wonder when I reach a higher plateau of satisfaction with my own craft and storytelling whether Columbia would find me deficient on general principle. I think so.

4) Also, on my jam-packed Wednesday, I was invited to be part of a professional coffee cupping with some heavy-hitters in the world of coffee, a reporter, and the dynamic, uberpassionate Fortune Elkins who writes the bccy blog. I have long been flirting with writing a thriller in the modern, international coffee trade, and through our local MeetUp, I've met terrific people who are walking research libraries on the subject. For this cupping, my role was the enthusiastic amateur to the landscape of specialty coffees, an easy and realistic task. The article is supposed to go out for the New York Times wire services next week. I'll post a link here, of course, and equivocations for the undoubtedly stupid things I said.

I have already received my first and surprising entry for the Carnival of the Couture. Please feel warmly invited to add yours. Topic Here. And have a wonderful weekend wherever you are.

Thursday, April 27, 2006

Hesperus for the Rest of Us

This ancient image reflects Odysseus' lashing to the mast to avoid the treacherous Sirens. Not famous as a good time either.

Perhaps because I'll be flying out tomorrow for the weekend, I was horrified by the latest inklings I've read about "improvements" in Airbus cabin design wherein we'll all fly standing up.

Via Roger L. Simon, here's Fausta's post, complete with illustrations, pertinent questions about where the headroom's supposed to come from, and Airbus' current response to the allegations. Fausta compares the new seating to the misericord, a heiny rest for choristers performing hours-long services. However, when I think of being bound by canvas webbing to a bolted post for my own comfort and safety, I think of Longfellow's The Wreck of the Hesperus (excerpted):

..."O father! I see a gleaming light
O say, what may it be?"
But the father answered never a word,
A frozen corpse was he.

Lashed to the helm, all stiff and stark,
With his face turned to the skies,
The lantern gleamed through the gleaming snow
On his fixed and glassy eyes...

At daybreak, on the bleak sea-beach,
A fisherman stood aghast,
To see the form of a maiden fair,
Lashed close to a drifting mast.

The salt sea was frozen on her breast,
The salt tears in her eyes;
And he saw her hair, like the brown sea-weed,
On the billows fall and rise.

Such was the wreck of the Hesperus,
In the midnight and the snow!
Christ save us all from a death like this,
On the reef of Norman's Woe!

Oh save us indeed.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Busier Than a Bear in a Beehive

Black Bear image from Maryland's Dept. of Natural Resources cohabitation guide.

I'll make this quick.

Sometimes, segregation is cool, as in most women I know not wishing omnisex public bathrooms. Now, Rio de Janeiro has pink-striped transit trains where men are not allowed. Applauded by the women not wishing to fufill gropers' fantasies on every daily commute.

I don't know how normally, but this guy lived a year before seeing a doctor about the 12 nails he'd driven into his head with a pneumatic gun. Sometimes, you're such a nimrod, the devil throws you back himself and prays for your conversion.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Topic for May Day Carnivale of the Couture #15

Left image from blogcadre, Right image is Crown copyrighted from Defra report Foot and Mouth Disease Ageing of Lesions.

Naturally, I was panicked. What topic could I choose? Some I'd contemplated had been stolen from my mind while I slept by other hosts- who shall remain nameless, but shame on you. I was spent, exhausted, and bereft of hope.

It was then that a dear friend in my need reminded me of our trip to the incredible Bata Shoe Museum in Toronto which currently shows a selection of their permanent collection and current exhibitions online. My pal recalled to me the many instances of cruel shoes we'd seen, from pointy knights' riveted sabatons to the useless decorated caps for bound feet like the frills for a lamb chop. There were artistic creations of such beauty to make the angels sing while their heavenly blisters weep.

The Topic is Torturous Fashion, and not the kind you tried, hated, and discarded. Oh no, we're going deeper into the dark corners than that, my dumplings. There is something you have owned, a style you have loved with a masochism unparalleled. We'd adore a picture of the wicked object of your agonized affection, but you must at least confess what fashion item hurt you, and why you continued wearing it in your twisted triumph and shame.

Note: Under Bata's Walk of Fame collection, Pablo Picasso's pony-skin ankle boots both look comfortable and make my heart beat faster. Therefore, they would not be an acceptable entry, unless they were filled with boiling tar and razor blades and beloved regardless, which we know isn't the case. If you wish to feel cleansed, be truthful. Oh, all right, at least lie entertainingly.

Please send your posts to henway00 (henwayzerozero)- @- yahoo dot com; I will be aggregating next Monday, in between taking my turns around the May pole.

Friday, April 21, 2006

Carnival of The Couture: Post-Laundern

At last, this week I have an answer to the question posed by Final Fashion for the latest Carnival of the Couture.

Via, Lee Ann- Naturally, what I find sweetest and most alluring after being freshly laundered- really almost a redundancy because of its self-grooming- is my adorable Roach Brooch.

With my hair freshly pomaded and his carapace agleam, we're the cuddliest cuties on the town, feetie PJs and french terry sweats be damned!

Full Speed Ahead For Fun!

I am delighted to report an agreement between 32BJ and RAB has been reached, thus avoiding for another four years- as long as the rank-and-file approve- a strike by building employees. NY1 has the scoop if you care.

So, we got jerked around. What else is new? But speaking of being jerked around, did you know that tomorrow New York's libraries will celebrate the Eighth National Day of Puppetry?

I'm always pleased to see puppetry get more attention as I myself am a practitioner of the noble form. What I like especially is making small, jointed replicas of everyone who's opposed or criticized me or ever made me have to get jealous. It's so important to be exacting in the details, which has caused some misguided souls to compare my creations to voodoo dolls, but that's silliness underserving of further comment.

Then, what's really fun is to join my pals in performing our morality plays. Author: Me. Director: Me. Set and Costume Design: Me. Dialect Coach: Me. Our four standard productions are Vindication, Revenge, Worship, and Adulation. To be honest, Worship and Adulation are very similar, though the one I've nicknamed Much Adu About Me includes the always-stirring Public Chorus of Accolades by my enemies. Anyway, puppets- how nice.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

(Another) Strike Looms Over Trump Island

Thinking about straws and camels' backs, I found this image from an amusing F. Scott Fitzgerald story written one afternoon for the Saturday Evening Post expressly to fund his purchase of a platinum and diamond watch.

I'm depressed just writing this, but we're on the brink of yet another ankle-grabbing extravaganza. Yes, I know about people with real and desperate problems, got it, but it'll stink if and when it happens. And some of the people suffering most will be those urbanites with graver issues who need the extensive assistance that a service-heavy city like this seems to promise.

Midnight tonight- update- moved to Friday, if no agreement can be reached with the Real Estate Advisory Board (RAB) who negotiates for the property owners, local 32BJ of the Service Employees International Union will go on strike. This affects over 25,000 employees like doormen, handymen, and porters in 3,500 buildings (like mine). Be sure and catch the tone of some of the coverage which implies that employing someone for a service they're willing to provide is inherently demeaning- a premise to which I don't agree, not feeling myself particularly posh or superior- and that most of us are incapable of taking out our own garbage without a guidebook.

NY1 coverage
The Guardian- In its typically nuanced coverage, opines we're all rich and rude who have doormen and that we principally value them as a sign of our status above the little people. Feh. A lot of people living here have roomates and keep strange hours or demanding schedules that make the security and access of such a building desirable. This strike is expected to affect at least a million New Yorkers who live and work in such buildings. The thousands of buildings affected are throughout every borough in NYC, except for the Bronx under a contract through 2008. Obviously, they're not all on Park Avenue no matter how juicy that theme appears to journalists.
The New York Times covers this as a triennial rite of spring. Lovely. Can't we just feed a virgin to a sea monster and be done already?
Columbia Spectator
Christian Science Monitor
New York Daily News

32BJ's workers are not lavishly compensated, Christmas bonuses aside, and their average salaries are at least twenty grand less per year than the transit workers who struck over the holidays. The incremental raises to deal with the cost of living are important for people trying to live on working-class paychecks in a pricey region of the country. I also understand not wanting to pay a penny for healthcare, however, everyone else does at least a little, and people who don't pay for any portion of their healthcare tend to be unselective consumers. The RAB's proposed solution is to let the insurance stay free and to freeze wage increases to balance their own rises in heating costs and property taxes. Since those higher taxes are a result of the much higher valuations in this booming market which also has a low number of vacant units and rising rents, I'm not exactly gnashing my teeth for the owners on this one.

Oh, you may say, no doorman for the day- go cry into your caviar. But the fact is many people in Manhattan who live in large buildings with doormen are pretty normal, non-Helmsley folk. And to live here in the interdependent, high-density hive, you often become less self-sufficient in some ways because maintaining independence is more expensive than using the other systems in place to compensate.

As per the sheaf of instructions and prohibitions slid beneath our door, during a strike, my building will cover its liabilities for security by installing a guard at the front desk. Easy job, because the only people admitted will be those with tenant cards matching their picture ID and those personally escorted from the lobby by a verified resident. What's the problem?

For one thing, most people who have dog walkers and part-time cleaning services do so because they're not home during the day. Who will let those people in? Maybe neighbors, maybe the two out-of-work actors in my building offering to walk all the local dogs. Every rainfall provides someone a windfall. Wrapped dry cleaning orders typically get returned to a rack downstairs, free delivery being part of the service you pay exorbitant prices to get. That will also have to be accepted by a person at home who likely won't be. (Ooooh, don't want to pick up you own dry cleaning, you say, how chi-chi). Actually, many people don't get home until after the dry cleaners close, so this arrangement allows them to get their laundry at all. Sure, it can be addressed by an extra trip to the dry cleaners and back home in the morning rather than on the way to work as usual. All of it can be addressed, but it would never have been set up this way in the first place if you were planning on doing your own thing your own way.

Another resident was complaining because his son who visits him frequently isn't a full-time resident and couldn't get a card, and so will not be allowed to let himself in to his father's apartment. The man was irate, floored that he was not ultimately in charge of who was allowed into his home. Welcome to life under seige and the protectionism of management companies who routinely treat tenants like we're problematic serfs.

Here's another one. I can't afford a car here, because the parking and insurance are odious. So, I get more stuff sent, since I can't get to the stores where I'd shop if I could travel freely with a car to lug bargains home. Have I ever told you how difficult it was at first to find Purina, not some organic, holistic, feng shui, boutique dog food? However, UPS says its Teamsters won't cross the picket lines, so no deliveries. Maybe Fedex, too. Whether medical supplies or a new piano bench, you can't have it. Lots of people order baby supplies by mail, because the mark up in NYC retail is hideous. Lots of yucky fannies to come. The local drug emporiums must be psyched!

And speaking of garbage, the Dept. of Sanitation doesn't want to cross the lines either, so we may or may not be able to get garbage picked up. We're informed that without regular porter service, we ought to reserve bagged garbage and recyclables in our tiny apartments. We're advised to minimize entertaining under the circumstances (really?!) and reduce garbage production, but I'm simply thinking of giving over my bedroom closet to it.

No one will clean the common areas, so sanitizing the exercise equipment falls to users- how comforting. We'll have to swab the laundry room and hallways. Tenants are also encouraged to volunteer for turns at the front desk. But it's my home, you say. But it doesn't feel like it. In living here, I don't control much or get to make decisions. They inform me how things will run and I have to go along or get out. In return, there is constant disruption, disrepair, ongoing construction, and service failures of power and water and whatever else can fail complicated by similar crises citywide about once a season. AND THAT'S LIVING IN A NICE PLACE! What help I provide will be for the benefit of my neighbors, not the convenience of the management company.

When I had a mortgage on a bigger place than this for less than half of what's paid in rent here, I didn't have to labor at the co-op. But in NYC, you pay through the nose for the seeming ineptitude of any organization in this city so famous for wheeling-and-dealing to get any agreement signed before a crash-and-burn.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Not All Anglers Are Parasites

This image of a cuddly wittle angler fish, with the tiny blood-sucking, parasitic male attched to her underside, came from Wayne's Word, an online site for natural history hosted by Palomar College. The anglers are examined as part of Sexual Suicide- in which the male of a species is self-destructive for procreative purposes (insert your own joke here).

Wayne's cheery disclaimer: The subject of this article is complex and controversial. Although it includes anthropomorphic metaphors and double-entendre sexual innuendos, it is based on scientific "peer-reviewed" studies. It is not meant to discourage any male from pursuing a meaningful relationship with a female of his species.

As I am a fool with a self-destructive, bundled relationship to my cable company, when there was a fiber cut yesterday morning somewhere on Trump Island, I was left without cable TV (not too stinging), phone (more inconvenient), and without internet (intolerable). Finally returned to functional, I'm reeling with administrative backlog, so here's the puny catch.

The Fashionable Kiffen was in charge of this week's Carnival of Couture, and did a fin- fine job elucidating trends that should be restored. I was delighted not to have to be the one shouting for the return of better hats again, as constantly I'm wont to do.

Also, I just learned that a flash fiction piece I wrote has been accepted to an online literary journal. I'm not sure the bulk of my writing would be considered "literary", but I had a 250-word idea fitting with the open issue's theme of Hallucination. Once it's proofed and posted, I'll put up the link. Donovan Hall edits The Angler carefully with very nice content and presentation, so I'm doubly glad to get in. I especially appreciate his stated goal for reviews of hooking readers up with what's great, rather than gutting subpar online offerings, a case of shooting fish in a barrel if ever there was one. I haven't seen a lot of criticism/review of online literary sites, but if his contributors are chiefly sorting and highlighting for quality, it could become a great resource.

Last and definitely least, how uberblech and anglerlike is it that TC wants to consume KH's afterbirth?!

Saturday, April 15, 2006

All for My Peeps

Proving even very small peeple can be a huge, reflux-inducing regurgitant for Sauron. See last item.

If you haven't seen yesterday's equally awesomely thematic picture, do go look.

Until now, I've been rubbing my palms together in anticipation of a simple but fantastic holiday post, but now that the hour is nigh, I find there's hardly enough time to share all the peep-related hilarity abounding.

Via apostropher, if you've heard of the animal-in-animal festive phenomenon of terducken, you'll love this solution to the frustration of hollow chocolate bunnies. Make the bunnies bear peeps bearing Cadbury eggs. Instructions and illustrations from Wordman here.

Via Dr. Alice- Peep Cocktails.

Feel free to go to the PEEPS official message board to read recipes, hear about the newest colors and configurations, and to share stories For the Love of Peeps.

My favorite new discovery of peepness this year, however, must be The Lord of the Peeps, a fully elaborated site with links to news, interviews, trailers, and extras, including that yummy Orlando Peep.
Happy Easter or whatever else or nothing at all!

Friday, April 14, 2006

Rocking Your Eggs

I read this one from Samantha Burns awhile ago, but I've been holding it back as my Easter entry.

Check out the gallery of amusing bass guitars .
The topical, little gem here is page 12.
Page 57 wins for best, if only, golf tie-in I've seen.
Page 22 wins for combined aberrant content across dimensions of mutilation.
Page 36 has the crazy spiniest, most Buffetaneous, and most obscene.
If you like heroin chic, page 39 brings the bony hotness.
But as for ones I'd covet, I don't have to be a rabid fan to think page 40 is swweeet.
They're like potato chips, and I can't stop myself.

As you are so moved, rock this holiday weekend or don't.
For me, though, I'll be rockin' it. Catch you on the flip side, mi monstruos!

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Substitution Therapy No Cure For Hangovers

So, today in 1605 also saw the death of the Russian tsar Boris Gudunov. But why be gloomy? Wouldn't you rather think about Boris Badenov instead?

I'm comforted that I'm not the only one going through Daily Kitten withdrawal. As recommended, I've been trying to substitute with Cute Overload, which actually has many species of fuzzy creatures with low ear to head ratios. Today, there's a floppy, dappled bunny nosing around some colored eggs. Now, having temporarily salved my blackened heart- let's move on.

As reported by This Day without elaboration, elephants were first brought to America on this day in 1796 from some exotic clime. Still, despite so many years of cohabitation with our pachydermic pals, we haven't learned that people food isn't always good for the animals. To celebrate their New Year, people fed Raja, Sri Lanka's most famous temple elephant, heaps of deep-fried coconut cookies and fermented pineapple. Makes me queasy considering it myself. Today, the poor humongous thing is retching and hung over. If you've ever been sick on pina coladas, the picture tells the story. Ay caramba!

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Eat? Perhaps...But Must They Shop Here?

For Jupiter's sake, Don't! Oh, my blather all says NO, but the image screams the YES.

Via That Girl Who Writes Stuff, I was led to Bookstore Lore's employee-compiled list of the "Most Stupid Questions Ever". I was reminded of a pal of mine who toiled long years in the grocery wars, the stores which must be acknowledged as the drift net, catch-all for the populace. As she often sighed and lamented, "Everybody's gotta eat."

Among challenging ventures requiring extensive knowledge and skill, I've also been employed in many that didn't require so much. These, often "customer-facing" positions, I call my dumb jobs. There are legit reasons why people being served seem distracted or clueless. The day's excessive frustrations may already have worn down their allotment of civility and patience. But rude, narcissistic dunderheadedness, perceived by staff as a modus operandi rather than an aberration, is why most of us who've had dumb jobs think people suck.

Just generally, of course, and not you specifically. Never ever.

As the entries plink away, it's like a mosaic of a typical day, minus the satisfactions, unless you're detached enough to be amused by this stuff while it's flying at your head. Selected excerpts from the bookstore annals:

  • You don’t have any can openers, do you?
  • HEY! Do you have those cardboard covers for décor that look like books?
  • UH! Do you have books or just paperbacks??
  • Who do I make the check out to? You?
  • Where’s a good place to eat? I really like cheap but good Japanese food you know or Chinese like that but not too far away you know and for maybe six bucks each---oh well could you write it down and draw a little map? I’m not from around here myself.
  • I don’t know the author or the title, but it’s green and about so big.
  • [Sales tax protest from ferriner] Tex? tex? tex iss for those who liff here. Tex for me iss shtupit. Do you have stems? Why sell the carts without stems? And enfelopes? Why not have enfelopes? And pens? A little writing paper would help. But no tex on these things. Not for me. I don’t liff here.
  • Do you have John le Carré on the shelf? Well you’d better take him down. Ha ha ha hahaha….
  • Do I look like a zombie to you? (No. Why?) Ohhhhh, I dunno.
  • The back cover of this book is bent. Can I have a dollar off? It's a gift you see.
  • waving at the computer section, he asks, is this as far as it goes in terms of human advancement?

One does wonder. I think their frequent customer referrals to the liquor store on the corner are appropriate. Still, I was surprised there wasn't more about trying to pass expired coupons, insisting items were located where they never were, and trying to return used products from other stores like at my furniture gig, where someone wanted to return an open box of Band-Aids for cash.

Read them all. It's a vicarious ride through someone else's hell. Jean-Paul Sartre's, I think.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Levon Likes His Melons

He's got a lot they say... This image is from the menagerie at Label Land, the online home of the colorful graphics that famously used to adorn produce crates . You don't want to find yourself on the pointy end of this maw, do you? Buy my super Wardaway Spray! (item 3)

1) I didn't know what it meant to me, but three days without The Daily Kitten, and I feel myself dismantling by the minute. No new kittie, no archives, no solace from the cruelties of the world. People have suggested puppy substitution therapy, but while I am a known pooch fan, there's something so special and right about TDK. The puny phrases on the almost blank screen don't exactly guarantee a return. Please come back- I need you!

2) I'll be going back to visit Chicago soon, and I'm not looking forward to the new horrors of highway construction courtesy of the latest 2-year, Dan Ryan debacle. Read how people are shooting up with sunshiney thoughts to survive the next 100 weeks of commuting hell. Chicago may be unique in its blase infliction of suffering on its populace in the name of transportational progress. Funny how those roads it costs billions in materials and labor to fix never stay fixed for more than five years. Funny, funny, funny. On Chi-town's roadways, it's always something, and it's always bad.

3) If you're keeping score at home, in my latest round of correspondence with agents, 3 of whom I've actually engaged in cordial, personal conversations, the score is zero. No rejections, no responses, no nothing. However, the silver lining is that there may be profit in bottling whatever intrinsic quality I have that creates such consistently impersonal dismissal as if I were, in fact, nonexistent. Perhaps something that could be used in spray form as a deterrent against muggings or lion attacks? Ah, now you see the spindly thematic thread.

4) While I'm so snarly and distrustful, maybe I'd better just swallow some chili peppers and take a nap.

Monday, April 10, 2006

Just Holding It Together

As you might imagine, looking for online safety pin images yields emotionally pocked and physically punctured people. But this is pleasant. It's art by Michael Craig-Martin posted by the UK's Contemporary Art Society.

Although I didn't make a contribution to this week's Carnival of Couture, it has some wonderful entries on fashion confessions. The one on Doc Martens is the one I almost wrote except it wasn't quite true enough for me, because my favorite pair were knockoff combats, and of course, I flit, I float, I vascillate.

Those orbiting the fashion galaxy have introduced some juicy weekly themes lately, but if I haven't had an immediate inspiration, I've been skipping it, because I am a dabbler extraordinaire and also overbooked (pun intended). Nonethless, I will be hosting the CoC my very self on the first of May, so there.

It is my distinct pleasure to share with you that today, the safety pin- surely the acme of fashion necessity- was patented by Walter Hunt.

Hunt is that selfsame inventing juggernaut that conceived "the fountain pen, sewing machine (1834), safety pin (1849), a forerunner of the Winchester repeating rifle, a successful flax spinner, knife sharpener, streetcar bell, hard-coal-burning stove, artificial stone, road sweeping machinery, velocipedes, ice ploughs and mail making machinery."

Being a lazy underachiever, I have originated nothing today but this collection of fluff and a new book review at

Saturday, April 08, 2006

For Bad Art History, The Hug of The Short Knives

Were I still in the Lileks phase I noticed coming over me like a dread fog here, I would be stretching this image from a Detroit restaurant into a banner for the blog. Hey, wait just a minute... Oh yeah, a version of that sentiment is written on top already and I'm almost completely inept with Photoshop, though I fondly remember being decent with Illustrator back in dusty yore. Cripes, my second-rate alter-Lileks just creeps in and takes over. I'm dreaming up absurdist colloquialisms. I'm creating a metaphor between something and scifi, and I must...divert....the Agammemnon....falling into....the sun. AAArrrgh. Envy is the cruelest master. Or is that ennui?

Having discovered the divine Joanne Jacobs, lantern of hope and outrage, I was agog over the kindergartner forced to write a repudiation of hugging. Also, the boy who turned in his Swiss Army knife to the principal for safekeeping before school, was declared a "model student", and recommended for expulsion.

(Because I'm trying to shake off the fever from the state of 10 billion lakes- perhaps now, it's just one big one- I won't expound on the homey ritual of grandkids on Christmas, all gathering with our booty around my grandfather's chair where his pocketknife was the official method to get tape and packing encumbrances removed. I won't talk about my father's omnipresent pocketknife or my own- Victorinox Signatures- that are stashed everywhere useful including the jewelry box, and which have never-ever-been eliminated by airport security from my keyring, though my nail scissors went forfeit. Glad I'm not doing that.)

As I've mentioned, theologically I find The Da Vinci Code to be so much creamed corn, but I was reading it for fun, and I'm as much a sucker for international conspiracy fantasies as any wizardly ones. However, I forgot to mention the additionally succotashy art history. Here 'tis.

Friday, April 07, 2006

Opera Woes

Via Drawn!, illustrator Maurice Vellekoop's illustrated homage A Nut at the Opera. Viewing more samples requires flash.

Derailing this post slightly, I got a call this morning about a charming woman I'd known from Chicago who'd passed away at 64 after years of lung trouble. My grandmother has recently passed away as well, but that feels very different since she was three decades older, and spent the vast majority of her life in robust health.

My Chicago friend was that warm, quirky, enthusiastic kind of person who created adventures and made you feel as if speaking (and laughing- there was always laughing) with you was the most wonderful thing she could be doing. She was an actress, an artist, a collector of Corgis and kitsch, and she'd be amused to hear me include her as a singer. She'd always raise her fist. "Altos Rule!" By the time the emphysema had worked its way with her, she was almost singing bass, but she was still croaking it out when she could, her respiratory therapy, she'd say.

The rest of her vocal group from the Old Town School of Folk Music will be performing at her memorial at the Chicago Shakespeare Theatre, the company she helped found way back when they performed above the haunted Red Lion Pub . They'll not only be singing Hebrew rounds for her Jewishness, but Appalachian rounds and West Virginia Hills for her down-home side. During her lengthy and serious illnesses, she was the definition of a trouper who always showed up if she could and didn't spend a lot of time grousing about herself, instead finding joy in her family and friends and being excited by her latest ambitions. Here's a very nice brief about Sarajane Avidon. Mark my words, her memorial will be SRO.

Since yesterday was less than highbrow, let me amend the low tone by sharing with you my dismay over the attire I've been seeing at the operas I've attended recently. Oh, I still love Motorhead, but I contain multitudes and all that. Anyway, Khaki shorts and Birkies? Lots of distressed jeans and sneakers with threadbare tees and uncombed hair. Sure, the NY City Opera ain't the Met, but it doesn't stink. It integrates several kinds of disciplined talent that are several kinds more than most of the people I see atttending possess. But if they have no respect for the venue or performance, I wish they at least respected themselves enough not to look like a wadded pair of frat-boy boxers jammed into the back of a spunky couch.

One college-aged woman, in addition to her dun-colored, laundry pile separates, sat with a stuffed turtle perched upon her shoulder, presumably so he could watch the spectacle with her. I know that unique plush and vinyl characters of all dimensions are being produced by various artists, and have surged in popularity. As I've noted before, I'm a fan of the Ugly Dolls and Mr. Toast. There's even a vinyl one actually called Opera Dude. However bringing your plushie pals with you to the opera when you'll be surrounded by other friends- hardly all scary lonely- is not the regressive aesthetic I'd hoped to see cultivated in modern young women.

In related recoil, A Dress A Day salutes the eminent stylogian Lord Whimsy, who says:
What I find personally distasteful is when people add to the banality of daily life by not putting anything of themselves into their appearance. When they do put thought into it, it’s often a regurgitation of someone else’s idea of style, letting brand names do the work for them when they could come up with a much more tasteful outfit at a fraction of the cost...The most tastefully dressed person in a room is now sometimes the one who has spent the least money on his or her clothes, but has expended the most thought.

Lord Breaulove Swells Whimsy's upcoming book is titled The Affected Provincial's Companion, Vol. 1: A Bounteous Selection of Essays, Philosophical Diagrams, Poetry and Other Such Theoretical Tinkerings Concerning ... Charm into this Vale of Mud and Tears Known. But at this very moment, you may already purchase his $.49 short on The Perils of Sportswear, or peruse the pith and pics at his resplendent blog or view his photo from the recent, if intimate, NYC Dandy Summit.

An astute salesman in a tony men's department was suggesting pairings of different shirts and ties. He particularly advocated one fine choice, saying, "it showed effort." The phrase was apt and persuasive. Exactly what one hopes to exude. Taste and Care. The sale was made.

Thursday, April 06, 2006

Not the Flavor of Highbrow I Meant

I wanted to recoup the tone of this post with something Highbrow, which the image search cranked out as name of this cool Transformer Autobot. Classy tomorrow, I promise.

What to write? Actually, that's not the question. I have tons to write, but not necessarily here or today.

1) Last night's MWA meeting on short stories was full of concrete advice and anecdotes. I'd almost settled on entering Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine'sMysterious Photograph context every month until I won the $25 and got my 250 words printed as the only likely way to ever crobar myself into active status at MWA. The panel and other attendees provided me with other options. That's good, because this month's guy in a bunny suit standing next to a coin-op washer isn't nefariously inspiring to me. I'm dry. But I do have old and crusty, pre-rejected stuff that I could put a new glaze of shellac upon and try to sell, and the lovely folks provided us all a list of suckers. At least, I dearly hope they're suckers.

I also was lucky enough to meet Todd Robinson, aka Big Daddy Thug, whose extravaganza of Thuglit items I bid upon and won at the charity auction at Bouchercon 2005. Never met him, didn't know him, already had the T-shirt. That's how up the curve I am.

For a non-paying market, Thuglit's got a pile of award nominations and accolades recently. Todd was nice enough to invite me to submit, although I fear they may already have outclassed me. Still, I can go for quantity if not quality. My awesome story will have (sing along now): three floozy moms, armor piercing rounds, and an overdose- with the dead puppy nailed to a tree.

2) You may laugh, but today's wacky snippets both come from National Review Online:

Guy in London interrogated as terrorist for singing along with The Clash. His cab driver tipped off the police he was too into the music. The cabbie didn't like the Zep none either.

Wikipedia's always dubious, but maudlin and extensive, list of people who died in the bathroom.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Great Marley's Ghost, It's Snowing!

Okay, it's not really sticking here today. This image comes from a church in Ann Arbor, but you get the idea.

Shades of Siberia! Here on Trump Island, the freshly bloomed tulip cups are filling with frostflakes. It makes me a little sentimental. Usually, that's a Chicago Easter for you. Forget the old proverb, daffy-down-dillies, sometimes it doesn't pay to wake up early.

Also, on this day of 1:02:03 on 4/5/06, special birthday shout-outs to you-know-whom.

1) In warmer news, I've been included in The Education Wonks' latest Carnival of Education, and, surprise of surprises, I'm not alone in singing this refrain. And it's an ex-teacher with actual offspring agreeing with me at The Thomas Institute. Whether you think it's possible or not to get by without college in the white-collar world, I'd hope you might agree that the prevailing predjudices against skilled labor beyond the factory floor isn't helping appropriate students find their way to making legitimate, important career contributions that we need and they could build lives upon.

2) If you think the world's a cruel and cynical place, dismiss your disaffected publicist and look at these stories of honesty and rectitude, whether online or to the tune of 1 million dollars. Mwa-ha.

3) Pardon the alliterative spasms today. How can smoking the legendary mellower-of-men marajuana make you anxious, paranoid, and hallucinatory? Do it with about 40,000 hits of ecstasy. Even though the extreme paranoia stopped with the cessation of the spliffs, the patient still couldn't give up the ganja.

4) One of the most interesting things about this woman who remembers every trivial detail of what's happened in her life is that she's otherwise so normal. She's been studied for several years now to help scientists discover what's unlocked in her that isn't in the rest of us, and why her amazing ability doesn't seem to have been coupled with the impairments some others with exceptional memories suffer.

5) You many not care, but if you're one of my writer-readers, Library Journal has a very good article about the latest trends and names in crime fiction entitled Dark is the New Cozy. But don't fret, traditionalists, it appears a new wave of classic whodunit is on its way.

Thanks to Bonnie, I'm playing the Place the State game over and over until I get 100%. The first middle ones are especially tricky.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Tie Me Up A Shorter Magpie

These are professionals. How I hope someday to emulate them.

Can you believe I still have enough items scrivenly to do a mini magpie carnival of the bookish again today? After this, I swear the leftover pail is empty.

Short stories: JA Konrath declares a day for submission, and Tim Worstall notes a new prize in the UK. I have some flash fiction I can submit immediately to an online journal, and probably will for grins, but my shorts need a little more boiling before throwing them against the big brick wall of the Ellery Queen or Alfred Hitchcock magazine. Still, it's all on the list.

I currently have five big writing projects that I need to organize if I hope not to lose momentum. I really admire those prolific journeyman scribes, like some noted below, who churn out lots of good work, and can do it across venues and genres. Because they're workmanlike in their production, you don't have to suffer the difference in their output if they've got dropsy or the blues. They're like the venerable Rob Petrie and Buddy and Sally, the kind of people about whom Alastair Cooke famously said (in various versions) :

A professional is a person who can do his best
at a time when he doesn't particularly feel like it.

Forgetting the pure artistes for the moment, I think to be a writer solicited for work and actually paid for it is both worthy and wonderful, so I don't look down on people who are entrusted with beloved, copyrighted characters for the purpose of writing tie-in materials for other media. In fact, I'm currently playing a CSI adventure game for which Max Allan Collins wrote the scripts, having done novels for the series as well.

(Game-related Aside: If I see Mr. Collins at the upcoming MWA stuff, I'm probably too much of a fan to point out the few plot points that went astray inside the CSI game structure. The motivation for a murder can't be created by something that happens after the death. And, technically, there's some of the dreaded pixel hunting, when you know you're supposed to find something somewhere, but the cursor won't light up unless you drag very, very slowly over the entire scene, pixel-by-pixel. Nonetheless, I like using all the different equipment, and to have 5 discrete, episodic cases makes for good intermittent play. Besides, each case is accompanied by the CSI actors' voices from the TV series, and in a merciful move, they've let the characters get you results right away, rather than the "I'll work on it, come back later" frustration found in other, analytic adventure games. All in all- it's fun. I ask no more. Now back to the subject.)

Lee Goldberg has also written tie-in books for the series Diagnosis: Murder and Monk, and has had the recent satisfaction of seeing one of his previously sneering colleagues turn toward the light.

I confess I hadn't thought much about discrimination against tie-in writers, but I'm sure it's there, as their work may be considered unoriginal. But read as many lousy Sherlock Holmes' pastiches as I have, and you'll realize that established characters and milieu do not a fine story experience guarantee. Only a good writer can provide that, and among this list of past and present practitioners cited by the International Association of Media Tie-In Writers, you'll recognize some very talented authors.

And now in my personal grande mal of all tie-ins, I'm going to tie together this whole post by noting that Kevin J. Anderson has not only written Star Wars tie-in novels, but he has a new collection of short stories, which yours truly has just reviewed at (fill-in-the-blank) Revel in the knotted beauty.

BTW, this last won't matter except to jerks like me, but in the wee hours this morning, it will be
1:23 on 4/5/06 and again tomorrow afternoon. Talk about savoring the symmetry. mmmm...

Monday, April 03, 2006

Launching Magpie Carnival Monday

I don't know where Brad Carpenter got his images, but I love the birdie pics.

This isn't the usual blog carnival where people send in related posts for aggregation. No, these are links I've collected myself. I could call today's solitary pursuit the Ma5turbat*ry Carnival, but spell that one right, and you'll get more prevert search traffic than finds me through transparent dresses already. No thanks. So, I'm naming it the honorable Magpie Carnival, because I've collected these links like shiny objects, horded, and interwoven them until sharing the glories with you. Tip your waitress. We'll be here all week.

UPDATE: Must be the indulgent air of springtime. I'm not the only one making comparisons between writing and other things beginning with "w" and ending with "ing".

Magpie Carnival of things Bookish

Last month, I put a poll on MetaxuCafe about what avant-garde methods writers were considering to promote themselves, including online serialization. As you'll see if you check here, almost no one answered. Sure, occasionally, writers get too busy for comment, what with sighing into hankies and shooting up. But trolling online, discussion of same abounds.

Here are guidelines for online serialization from Brokentype, including a link to an online horror, Thirteen Bullets by Dave Wellington. As you'll notice, Wellington is also using the site of his freebie to promote his just released for-pay Manhattan zombie novel, Monster Island. If you let him know you ordered, he'll also send you a free chapbook of short fiction from the same world. This is a guy seriously trying to get read. Well-played, zombie master.

The thoughtful and forward-leaning in his comfy chair Grumpy Old Bookman will be releasing his latest novel free online as a pdf. Authorial rationale and story premise here. How and Why Lisa's Dad Got To Be Famous to appear starting Wednesday.

As a book distributor, Bookworld keeps getting bigger by successfully thinking small, capitalizing on growth in niche markets, showing that, especially now, there are many universes in which to to operate. Niches may not be pigeon holes, they may be career platforms.

Emily Davies, young scribe accused of thieving sections of her book proposal loses a big money contract. But how should she have known? After all, if plagiarism's good enough for Vladimir Putin....

Via Confessions of an Idiosyncratic Mind: Charles Taylor lists the signals that tell him, "Don't Read This Book!" My favorites: Any book with jacket copy that includes the words "searing," "rollicking" or "an indictment." Seven words: Winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature.

Also via Confessions: As if the opportunities for self-satisfaction I noted Friday which the Grauniad's given Jonathan Freedland weren't enough- and obviously someone thought they weren't- he's been given column inches in the Sunday section for another greasy and optional spew about the creative process behind his last stinker. Here, Freedland notably and oddly seems to be using it as an opportunity to look askance at those of religious conviction (no, not those- Christians) who might want to read his book, and to insinuate the popularity of some of these novels as an indicator of something (finger to nose) about "the state of our world."

I think the factual basis of The DaVinci Code is hokum, but I read it straight through and lent it out, because it was fun at the time. I haven't read Freedland's novel, and so shouldn't technically label it a stinker, however, I haven't read any real positive takes on it yet. If you accept Freedland's article premise, you might think the people driving hardcover sales are all sybaritic, pre-law student Wiccans with dead pets and otherworldly occupations. But I believe people buy books about boy wizards and old professors , collectors of souls, Labrador retrievers, Justice gone bad, and Hollywood's trash when they think they'll be good reads. So, what does that tell us about the state of out world exactly? Oh wait, I know. People still like to be vicariously engaged and entertained, no matter what the trends or storylines. Sorry, JF, if your book's not obliging them.

Saturday, April 01, 2006

Study Something Real or Eat With Your Hands

The artisans at Kirtz' Shutter Mill don't look like greenhorns. Maybe they'd like some young blood to help with the backlog?

Warm Welcomes to: Readers from the Education Wonk CoE and Joanne Jacobs and I Speak of Dreams.

I'm not sure this stuff is related, but I see two forces at work on young people and their futures. After almost two decades on the planet, many current teens are infantilized, almost hopeless in life skills, and constantly calling mommy and daddy. Many are deciding (or being pushed into) their futures with a strange bias toward higher education as long as it doesn't mean learning anything, and a bias against lucrative careers with a physical component. There are lots of kids who aren't considering college for any practical or intellectual purpose, but merely because it's what decent people do and it's what their parents will pay for. Deal with college conceptually as optional or as other than a status bullet for the CV and you'll get static.

I've been thinking about it since Cathy Seipp's been posting about the outrage from the parents of future collegians for her support of her own daughter's early graduation and acceptance to college. Maia's been learning Russian and reads a lot, but she's not sporty or booked-up with extracurricular falderol- gasp- how underutilized! From reading Maia's blog, she seems to me like the kind of bright, together young woman that belongs in college and/or the world at large anytime she wants. She seems to be pragmatically concerned with what she can learn, and I don't doubt she'll find a way to apply it and keep progressing. So why the histrionic puffing from other parents?

Well, methinks it could partly be the horrific gear-and-advice crowd who've made modern parenting look to me like the least natural, most stressful, joyless ride I could imagine. No wonder birth rates among the "civilized" are down. There's very little relaxing and enjoying, lots of protecting and "optimizing" of children who outsiders can see frankly as occupying the big, broad part of the bell curve. Nevertheless, parents are expected to have lives heaped with costly, specialized equipment and the nimbleness to leap aboard the latest bandwagon of Miracle-Gro developmental theorizing. And if someone busts out of the current groupthink, choosing something quite specifically different, the latent insecurities and defensiveness rise up to get the offender back in line.

I say let college study actually create exceptional knowledge in some area, not rubber-stamped pop culture analyses while B.A. students remain clueless about the developments of civilization and science that got us here. Latin, Greek, de Toqueville, Hadrian or Socrates, the dynasties of China, geography, anthropology, the history of art or poetry or drama, politics, Cromwell or The Reformation, literature before 1960, classic economics, enough science to dunce-check a CSI episode- you name it, they don't know it. And neither they nor their parents feel the least ashamed about their lack of curiosity about anything great enough to be intimidating at first. These people don't need universities except for social networking and the adoption of a color scheme and logo.

Unfortunately, the prevailing wisdom is "college, no matter what," and the result has been a dumbing-down of college as it's filled up with people who probably don't belong there and whose professors are overtly discouraged from providing challenging material that could temporaily create unhappy-face grades. So, we get 50,000 surplus Communications majors and way more pre-lawyers than a healthy society ought. However, if we had a functioning educational system through high school, which some places manage and we used to do, high school grads would have enough literacy and computational functionality as well as general and operational knowledge of the world they inhabit to evaluate whether more academia suits them. Then, the less bookish or less quanty types could respectably head into programs of apprenticeship or vocational education that would actually fill needs that we currently have in spades. Like nurses, carpenters, auto repair techs, electricians, plumbers, tailors, and many other types of advanced craftsmanship requiring physical skills.

There will be heavy construction in the Southeast U.S. for decades, creating all kinds of opportunity from chaos for those who can turn the mess back into something usable. Other physical labor-based industries like dog grooming are growing, too, and there's plenty of room for people to build good lives for themselves with their own hands. So what's with the modern disdain for such necessary, wonderful work which currently commands nice earnings? Beautiful, artisanal skills are being lost because there's no one to learn them. Have you tried to find a stone carver recently? It's still in demand, but there's no supply. Within the context of the striking French students, Theodore Dalrymple notes the same phenomenon in Europe:

There are of course deeper but intangible problems that are even more difficult to solve than the inflexibility of the labour market. If you speak to small businessmen in France, they will tell you that the young in any case do not want to do the kind of work of which there is no shortage. At a time of such high unemployment, artisans have no one willing to be trained by them, even if they are willing to take the risk by taking them on. This is even though such artisans are so overwhelmed by work that a carpenter, for example, is booked up for more than a year in advance and can charge almost anything he likes.

Part of the reason I've been wanting to do the graphic novel is the joy of physical craftsmanship, in this case, draftsmanship. The weisenheimers should go to university and work hard, and if they can't impress or outthink a yutz like me, they ought to be chained to a library table or workstation until they can. And each one of them should know that a life built around physical engagement is nothing to look down one's florescent-tanned nose at. We should rejuvenate tangible standards in higher ed, resuscitate our trade schools and journeyman credentials, and renew our respect for each's unique contributions.