Saturday, August 30, 2008

Judy Tenuta for Vice President: It could Happen...or, I Like to Hunt Because I Like Safety Orange

While looking at the news, as well as at the various appearances on YouTube of the new Republican VP pick, I found myself racking my brains on who this woman reminded me of. She's brassy, she's got verve, she talks as she sees things, she knows how to handle a crowd...

And then it hit me. This woman, the running mate for McCain (McCain a man who criticizes the Democrat candidate as being light on experience), this woman who has less leadership experience than Obama, sounds uncannily like a moderately famous TV personality. As is, Palin sounds certainly like someone one would want to have coffee with after breakfast, or perhaps a beer with, after a productive day of hunting (but I'm thinking, I'm hoping, that we've moved past the age of people voting for candidates that one would want to have drinks with). I'll cut this short, however, and start with Ms. Palin:

And, with the addition of an accordion, I've finally found the person she reminds me of. Note the strange overlap in subject matter, what with hunting, dating, er, running, with older men, etc.:

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Henry James and the Art of Constraint

Of course I decide I'm going to post on this topic after leaving the book in question on the shelf in my office up in Lafayette, but, after a year or so of discussion on experimentalism in developing poetic texts in a non-inspirational way (many kudos to Mary Leader for that), I have finally heard of a method that would work for prose.

One of the biggest hurdles for my students to vault in my Intro to Creative Writing classes has been that the written work (poem or essay or story or novel, etc) is NOT primarily therapy. There are, of course, subsequent issues regarding this main tenet, among them the fact that one's innermost being really does not try to communicate in Longfellow-inspired rhyming couplets, one's soul really doesn't tend to use words like doth and t'was and gloaming. Mentioning anything that verges on the above statements shakes beginning writers to their very core. It shows in their class evals at the end of the semester, which makes it a bitter pill for both instructor and student to swallow.

The difficulty is in getting the budding writers to look at the manuscript produced as "it" rather than "my innermost soul in paper format." Thanks to the various things I learned in conversation (and class) with Mary Leader, I have ways to do that with poetry, but had difficulty in finding analogues in the world of fiction.

While trolling the various used bookstores of Indianapolis, I found a recent volume of The Uncollected Henry James, which, editor Floyd Horowitz claims, is a compiled selection of the earliest works by the great American novelist. Henry James burned his early papers, making research tough, and the journals submitted to had a tendency to publish anonymously, thus making the research work even more difficult. Horowitz followed his various leads, then ran the stories in question through a computer program to determine probable authorship. Based on his research (and the computer program) these are a selection of the stories determined to be among Henry James's earliest published prose works, dating all the way back to his tenth year.

In addition, Horowitz has found that, based on the James household library, Henry James used an unusual method to add an element of constraint to writing his early stories. His Latin lessons involved memorization of vocabulary, and Horowitz posits that this became the basis for writing many of these stories. For a number of the works in the volume he has issued, the central vocabulary for the works is found within a few pages of key words in the Latin/English dictionary James used for his lessons.

Whether this is actually the case will be determined by literary authorities far greater than I, but the method Horowitz mentions is intriguing regarding its possible use in creative writing classes. In looking at any foreign language dictionary, one can unlearn a rule of reading (that of not reading such a dictionary like a novel) and look at a random page for words that suggest a narrative. A random page of any foreign language dictionary gives a range of words that can be the basis for a draft. Opening my Cassel's German/English dictionary to page 320 gives me Misanthrop, Minze, mir, Minus, minuzios, mischen, miserabel. In English we have a miasanthrope, mint plants, a Me, a negative, something very small, an alloy, and miserable. Travel dictionaries give more translations per page and therefore a larger range of words, but with such a collection of base vocabulary, a narrative can be thought out and expanded upon based on entirely chance-based methods. Do beginning students have to write about Me-me-me dealing with uncaring parents and getting drunk at frat parties, and wrangling with daft roommates? No, they have a new framework to flesh out.

Whether or not Henry James actually did this in these stories that he may or may not have written, it's still an interesting--and quite forward-thinking--method to use for prose writing. I'm planning on introducing it to my students this semester. Sometimes trolling the Clearance section of used bookstores comes in handy.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

The Grass has Grown under Your Feet--Alison Moyet

I've been rather behind the times in spite of all the free time--I just found out that Alison Moyet, famed vocalist of 80s group Yaz (partnership with founding Depeche Mode member Vince Clarke, who later became half of Erasure), has had a new solo album out (called The Turn) since October of '07, fer godsakes. In spite of financial straits, I went right out and bought it and am finding more vocal tricks to learn yet. It sounds elemental, and I'm sure it is, but, in light of the first single from her album, I'm prepared to ask Lydia--specifically with the chorus--how to adequately deal with vibrato on open "Ah's" in high registers without going wonky on pitch or fuzzing out one's voice. Other vowels allow for certain tricks, but the low throaty vowels in high registers are really tough. So if Lydia is reading.....

In searching for various interviews in support of the new album, I found a snippet of a performance of one of the songs she made famous right after she left Yaz and right before Vince formed Erasure. The song was a single off her first solo album, and here is its incarnation in 1984, which some may remember:

The song's got a pretty decent range. Hearing the new arrangement is something that the American Idol clones need to pay attention to, and something that experienced singers already know--one can rein it in and yet do more.

The new arrangement is far more desolate and something I want to track down in its entirety:

I love the chord progression and will do all in my power to replicate it on my piano. This arrangement shall be mine.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Dream: Rabbits

July 2007:

In town (looks like Indianapolis, but the feeling is more East, rather like Dayton Ohio) and I need to make my way to a school to observe or teach or something for a class. I'm on a bus. I realize I'm not quite on the right route. I'll have to get off someplace and do a bit of walking. I'm talking with the busdriver. She tells me not to worry and then drives up to a rural church, driving across a sloping median (almost flipping the lumbering bus in the process) to end up in the parking lot. I get out and find myself in the middle of the church's fundraiser, where wax figurines are $2.00. Old 1950s candles in the shapes of brides and choir members, etc.

Behind the church I see a large white house, where, evidently, some relatives of mine live. I'd been there at some point months before. I go upstairs as the relatives talk downstairs in the living room.

In the stuff I found upstairs--I realize I'd left quite a bit more behind than I thought--was a slender white Forecast suitcase and vacuum-sealed aged steak. At some point, the kids of these relatives (so I'm assuming) had slit the plastic and extracted a steak, leaving the remaining aged steak to spoil.

I still had to get to the school. I put various things in the white suitcase. Outside, I hear my father talking with the owner of the house, walking across the bif front yard, when I wake up.

The striking thing I remember from this dream is, as I was walking to the house, with the early evening sun setting behind it, was that I could see the rabbits hidden in the unmown lawn by the sun shining through their upright ears. They showed pink in the expanses of sunlit green.

Photo: Davo. Rabbit: Suzanne Blomenberg

Friday, August 15, 2008

More pix from the Fair

So, while I sit here at my desk, trying not to eat the food set aside for the party, I thought I'd post a few more pix of the Fair. As with the last post, my eye kept getting caught by the signage. For example, we have the following enticements:

On the other side of the same booth is the same sentiment, spelled better, and, as an added bonus, everyone's favorite: quotation marks as "emphasis"--

These pigs, however, need no "buckels."

Now, regarding the "fried x" trend, we've come, in the past six years or so, from the fried Twinkie, to the Fried Ho-Ho, to the Ding-Dong, the fried Oreo, the fried Snickers Bar, and then, last year, we hit what I sincerely hoped would be the end of the "deep-fried x." That nadir was Deep Fried Pepsi. You heard it. And, in case you're asking (and I know you are), deep-fried Pepsi is essentially funnel-cake batter with Pepsi instead of water. After it comes out of the fryer, the powdered sugar is substituted by a drizzlin' of pure Pepsi syrup. I could only picture the chunderfest after eating one of those and hitting the teacup ride. So, after that, you'd think it'd be over. But no. Frankly, after seeing these signs, I'm thinking that they're trying too darned hard. (and the cookie dough sign has ruined the Pillsbury dough-boy for me for all time. I'll now only be able to see him as a sort of acid-freakout hellspawn , pushing death-dealing fritters.)

Davo goes to the Fair, Part Deux

Deb came down with passes to the fair --including parking, so she didn't have to ride in on my handlebars for free parking --and I followed her along on her traditional route, which started with an elephant ear that both put us under gastrically for some time.I, in true allegiance to my family name, chose to show my stomach who was boss and got a corndog. Then another. The second corndog was an error. I knew this as soon as I gave my order. The folks in the booth were a mess. A real mess, and the words of my corndog order were coming out like some sort of unstoppable liquid and once I let her know I wanted a corndog I watched her extend her thumb to her mouth, lick it, use the moistened thumb to loosen the sheet of paper from the stack, and use the spitty paper to wrap my corndog. Word to the wise--as soon as you see some 60-year-old with a snakebite and an eyebrow ring taking your order, run mid-sentence.

From there we witnessed the pre-demise of the poultry barn, with the non-prize-winners stuffed into crates (chickens with ducks, ducks with geese, chickens and ducks with geese) and taken away by the truckload, then the Reubenesque curves of the draft horses pulling laquered carts with running lights.This late in the week the Fair seemed a sort of society that knows its end is near--the loopiness of the attendees, the wave of agitation that overtook the Poultry pavilion once the men came to empty the cages, the shuttering of various booths. The Gideons were handing out pamphlets--other religious groups had stands with knobbed doors with various questions on them saying things like Are you going to go to heaven? What will God do to me if I don't believe? Do pets have an afterlife? Regarding the last question, there are about 100 crates of poultry right now that are hoping the answer is Yes.

Monday, August 11, 2008

The Fair

Hey folk--
Here's a preliminary look at the fair. I rode my bike too much, got too much sun, and ate far, far too much fair food. Ergo, I'm feeling waaay gross at the moment and need to lie still for a good long while. More on this in the next post.

Saturday, August 09, 2008


Dream, Pez's Birthday, 2008:

I am called on at last minute to introduce Hillary Clinton, who is campaigning. I had initial plans for the intro, but scrap these for reading a paragraph from a biography of Hillary--something that ended with "Politician, inventor, innovator" or something like that. I go up to address the audience and talk off the cuff while I thumb through the volume--I'd lost the page. I say that I'd had an intro prepared, but in place of that I'd read from this book that came out during her last campaign. I can't find the page. Hillary keeps walking in and saying in undertones that the intro can end. She wants me to finish so she can start her stump speech. Since I can't find the page--there are so many pictures!--I introduce her, using what I remembered of the paragraph, but wake up before I finish and before she can go to the podium.

As I woke, I found myself thinking two things:
First, I felt bad that my waking left Hillary in limbo, between intro and speech, in an eternally unresolved situation. My second thought was on all of those photographs--they were all pics of war--GIs in floppy hats sitting in the hatches of helicopters. Shattered jungle. So much strife. As I woke I felt perhaps it best that the speech was cut off by my waking up--her book was full of war and conflict. another candidate would be better. But then I remembered that in the dream the biography was written during her first campaign, that this dream may actually have been set in the future, that all the images of war were the result of a future administration that was ending in the dream, four years in the future. Her position as candidate seemed much stronger in that light.

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

A Change of Venue


A man who allows that the only things to touch his food are pickles and yellow mustard. Everything should taste of vinegar.

People who work in Sales sit in the next booth. Nothing is more boring than hearing such conversation, which runs the gamut of passing mentions of their convincing people to buy something, the sales deals they're putting together, and what their target customers said or did that might indicate that a sale is forthcoming. All of this is, in essence, a further selling, of self, to the other salesman. I'm busy, you see. I'm a good salesman. I can move product.

The line of sight over their commerce shows the passing billboard of a bus and a sign. The sign says Post Office. Its greenness surrounds an arrow-shaped white void that people refer to. They then turn left. turn South. turn into the greasespotted parking lot past the bank, past the Hardee's where the employees accusingly yell "Guest IN" upon entry, past the thrift store to the blondbricked post office. Over the entry is a shadowed graffito. The graffito says ASS in bloated letters. Flies run their halting course up the window.

In parking-lot islands across the nation, there are men like those out there, levering up skull-sized clods of dirt, topped with grass. They pivot, extend their arms, knock the blade free. The clod rolls heavily to the curb, which bears the mark of a brush on its surface. The man digging duplicating precisely the motions of a mime miming a shoveler.

photo by Davo. Sea Lions, Indianapolis Zoo

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

There He Is


Jimmy has cut off all his hair. He now has a C-shaped area of white shiny skin surrounding his very darkly- tanned skull.

The ice-cream ladies are late. The Cougher shoulders open the door with some difficulty. "There he is," she says to the other. They are looking at me. Behind them, cutting across the parking lot, is a man who, if he weren't wearing a bright peach polo shirt and pink shorts with white support socks, would look just like Victor Hugo. A gouty walk that implies a cane.

Behind the counter, one of the employees is asking the others, "Hey, do you smell ginger?" "In this place?" one says.

In one of the booths, on her mother's shoulder, a child replicates her spankings as she eats her Happy Meal, her fingers splayed out stiffly. She counts out the blows, stops at ten, starts over.

Sunday, August 03, 2008

Alexandr Solzhenitsyn 1918-2008

Solzhenitsyn, who died today, was an author I had only vaguely heard of before I got the news I was going to Russia in 1993. I didn't know him by name, actually, but by the title of his largest work--The Gulag Archipelago. When I found out that I was going to be going to Moscow, I thought it would be a good idea to have at least an idea of the culture I was going to be living in for the then-foreseeable future. I picked up a paperback edition of volume 1...

...and it scared the pants off me. Invasive governments, extensive interrogations, trumped-up charges, the necessity of towing the Party line, and the cynical use of hope as a carrot to keep even the prisoners going, as with the horse in Orwell's Animal Farm.

Upon my arrival in Moscow, the place seemed a city filled with ghosts. The Stalin Gothic wedding-cake high-rises, built with Gulag prisoner labor, the stagnant, lilypad-clogged pool--the world's largest heated pool at the time, though it was evidently defunct--in place of the once-largest Russian Orthodox cathedral at the center of town, the monasteries throughout the city and elsewhere, vacated after the Revolution and thereafter used as either stables or as prison camps for those not in the Lubyanka prison (an old hotel situated, with typical irony, across the street from Children's World). But more haunting to me than all of these was the pervasiveness of Party symbology even almost two years after the fall of Communism. Red stars abounded, in the artwork of the subway, or spinning in the wind at the top of the Kremlin towers. Sheaves of wheat, freshly harvested by the Serp or Sickle. Such things were everywhere, in chandeliers, plaster moldings, and even the building footprint of various edifices, such as the Red Army Theater. My students at the time almost universally repudiated Solzhenitsyn. "He leaves during the worst of our troubles, and comes back once everything is A-OK. He's a coward." His time spent in prison, his ceaseless interrogation by Soviet officials, his efforts--at risk of his own skin and those who confided in him--at documenting in the legitimate press what had only to that point been in Samizdat all fell by the wayside for these students. I had various disagreements regarding other things he was saying, but to dismiss him for cowardice? It seemed the college students knew little of what had come before.

On my return, after recovering enough from the Russian Appendectomy to carry my luggage, I read the three volumes of Gulag Archipelago, all 1840 pages, and, through its repetition, its documentary setting-forth of the horrendous doings of the Stalinist regime, I kept returning to a comment one of the other University professors I talked to weekly said to me in her apartment not far from the Dinamo station one bitterly-cold night shortly before I left back for the States. Cheap sausages, she said. It was all because people wanted to be sure they could buy cheap sausages.

It was certainly more complicated than that, but the spirit of it holds true. Groceries stayed cheap until Gorbachev called it a night. There were many that wished for the "good old days." So what if the rabble were getting roughed up? Order must be kept. The populace must be secure. Those sausages came at a pretty high cost, looking back. The Russians had a rather dismissive pejorative nickname for Hitler, considering that the German Fuehrer killed only a fraction of what Stalin was able to. Great thinkers, poets, novelists, the greatest playwright in the country. We Americans consider ourselves smarter, not so easily taken in as uneducated peasants looking for a decent price for their carts of beets. But what have we been willing to give up for a "sense of security;" what more will we be willing to give up for a "decent price for gas?"

Yuri Dombrovsky was another author, among so many artists, that were imprisoned and sent off to [preferably] die in the network of secret prisons scattered about the great expanse of the Soviet empire. His novel The Faculty of Useless Knowledge is a pretty tough-to-handle read regarding the interrogations. Orwell says in 1984 that Room 101, the interrogation room, contains "the worst thing in the world." He wasn't far off. Who is in charge of the room now?

Pic: Chasnik: Fabric Design (1920s), swiped from unknown source, 2004

Your Weekend Musil

"I am even prepared to admit something else, something quite different. The experts never get to the end of anything. Its not only that they haven't got to the end of anything today. But they can't even picture the idea of their activities ever being complete. Perhaps they can't even wish it. Can one imagine, for instance, that man will still have a soul once he has learnt to understand it completely and manage it biologically and psychologically? And yet that is the state of things we are trying to achieve. There it is. Knowledge is an attitude, a passion. Actually an illicit attitude. For the compulsion to know is just like dipsomania, erotomania, and homicidal mania, in producing a character that is out of balance. It is not at all true that the scientist goes out after truth. It is out after him. It is something he suffers from. The truth is true and the fact is real without taking any noice of him. All he has is the passion for it. He is a dipsomaniac whose tipple is facts, and that leaves its mark on his character. And he doesn't care a damn whether what comes of his discoveries is something whole, human, perfect--or indeed what becomes of them! It's all full of contradictions and passive suffering and at the same time enormously active and energetic."

--from Man without Qualities

Davo lifts a thermo-mug full of cold water: Here's to being imbalanced...

--Photo: Davo, Seattle, December 2007

Friday, August 01, 2008

#8 Meal with Diet Coke


A stocky black man sits down at the booth across from the Ice Cream Ladies, the larger of the ladies hasn't had her coughing fit yet. The ladies sit, licking their cones in silence with their customary look of exhaustion. This is retirement. This is what things sink into. The houses empty first of children, then of spouse, and now the hours have settled into an early-morning wake-up, the spoiling of a dog of manageable size, and, once lunchtime comes around, regular meetings here at the grease-stained corner on 10th street. "Gosh, it's hot out," one of the ladies manages to say.

"I'm from 125 miles out of Dallas," the man says, "x miles from Texarkana." I'm busy with my crossword and miss out on the expression of the Ice Cream Ladies, who continue licking. I think, somehow, that this statement, which has been left out there on its own, is in relation to the temperature outside, the humidity, and how it compares with the no-doubt more intense Texarkana sultriness, but perhaps not.

"Raised on a farm," he continues, after quite a long period of silence, filled only with the shooing of flies, which still plague the place, and the licking of vanilla soft-serve. "Near East Dangerfield."

To my eyes, this commentary has gotten no response from the Ladies whatsoever. ""Christmas. Thanksgiving. The Fourth of July. Those were the biggest days of the year. I still appreciate em. And movies. 9 cents to get in and 5 for a Coke."

"What happened to those days?" One of the ladies says, without any change in her resigned expression. Several more people walk in, refer to the menu board. The ice machine rattles.

"Had a good mother and a good daddy. No disrespect. No cussing. None of that." The talking man has not stopped with his fries. "And I tell you. You may not believe it. There was no such thing as 'I don't want that' or 'can I have...' You got what it was without questioning."

"If they said jump," the lady who didn't cough halfway through her cone spoke up, "you said 'how high.'"

"Those days have disappeared." the man says. Silence. "Nice talking to you." With no further words, he picks up his tray, tips it over the trash cans, and walks out. The ladies lick their cones.

"My dad," one of the ladies says finally, "had an apartment building, and when they passed a law saying you had to rent to em, if one of em would come to see the place, Dad'd say it was already rented and wouldn't even show it to em." The comment sank slowly beneath the accumulating layers of fast-food orders at the counter and the 80s pop music on the PA. The sun slants through the glass.

"Everyday he's here," one says, glancing at me. The other doesn't bother turning.