Sunday, March 29, 2009

Quick, Google Alert me!

We suggest that rather than read this blog entry you may want to visit with us for a view at the real time ant cam.

A friend, a fantastic writer, relates that she does not understand the stories in The New Yorker. She wonders, as I wonder, how they can be so finely written and yet so boring to read. She ends off to say that her curiosity is piqued by the idea that people pretend to enjoy the stories in The New Yorker and that this thought makes her giggle. I like that.

Another friend, another skilled writer, relates that they regularly critique stores from The New Yorker in their blog, and with that practice they admit that they do not particularly get the stories either, though they try to say good things (that is where craft comes to the surface) -- they suspect that the mentioned authors may be making anonymous comments in return to the often well measured critique.

Then there was a comment, an inquiry as to a comment one writer made in their blog about the poor show of a specific author (not one to do with The New Yorker, whose name I will not mention here for reasons to become shortly apparent) who suddenly found his backwater blog comments being questioned in a semi-stalker manner by the so specifically named author.

Seems as writers we can all Google Alert, particularly if we have a unique name, to see who does not like our product. To which, the incessant reading of obscure reviews and paying attention to answer to every one of them no matter how incurably trivial I wonder if there is not a certain latent obsessive compulsive psychosis on the horizon.

So that got me to think how I do not relate at all very well to the stories or poems in The New Yorker, and my thoughts about how I as a happily obscure writer do relate to the venerable publication more through the people that I have known associated to it than ever to the merit of any of the literate material.

When I first came across The New Yorker it was at the home of a world expert on ants, his son was my best friend in High School.

When you meet a world expert in most anything there is a certain cache to the experience that bleeds over to wonder what culture there is to the renowned. Their ancestry was 1st generation American from Australia, and that lent a sense of the exotic, for me at least, to the renowned ant expert. Within the northern most reach of the Appalachians, Tompkins County, NY they had come from outside the small circle of our hick farming and university burb. They landed on the university side of the Ag situation, as ants and etymology in general have a lot to do with things like growing three-hundred acres of beans.

She is the first woman that I know who was involved with the League of Women Voters. As an aside, she had two daughters who quite tragically died each of rare and quickly terminal diseases in the prime of their young adulthood.

On his hearing that I wanted to be a poet the word I got back from the world expert on ants was that poetry is a good start for a novelist. It has been one of those tenants that has stuck with me as a guiding light and when I am able to sustain an entertaining narrative past a few thousand words it may yet prove true. I do not know if that maxim to me came in full cloth from the ant expert from the bowels of The New Yorker, or not. You can never quite know where an influence originates.

The world expert on ants took up cultivation of orchids when he retired. He had a room built onto his modest home in order to accommodate this agrarian hobby. The very last word I heard from the ant expert was to all us younger ones to not waste our money to drink cheap beer. He advised us to pay a good price for a good beer. Then he died of complications of diabetes.

It was my friend's mother, who read The New Yorker, while us younger savored the cartoons, and so I have always associated the style of the stories as appealing to my friend's mother. In short I suppose I see a reader of The New Yorker as the spouse of a world expert on ants, and folks who drank a whole lot of beer. God knows what they were actually reading.

At one time The New Yorker was one of a few paying markets for short stories and in part I sense that as with many print media, or old established companies, they are feeding off the weight of the baggage of their legacy. What I mean is that they created through their promotion and publishing a type of literature and in doing so they also created their own ideas about what they were doing in creating a type of literature and that their support of the stories, and poems that they feature now has everything to do with what they think that they are doing. And what they think they are doing has to do with what they did before, and very little, as I see it, to do with the risk of doing something entirely different in the future. In short I suspect that they publish what they publish because they feel it is safe... as long as they do not spike down their subscription base that may, or may not, actually be reading the magazine if not laughing at the cartoons and wondering about the class oriented advertisements.

Though I am not a world expert on anything, not even myself, my wife likes to read The New Yorker and when she finds something that she thinks will interest me she passes it over. Otherwise I tend to keep my distance. We have ants in this approach to Spring season that crawl around our bathroom sink. I like to watch them.

In the work side of my life I have a friend, an architect and not a writer, who is, or was, it has been a while since I was told this story, a friend of the poetry editor at The New Yorker. My friend related how a cadre of younger poets was complaining that the magazine was catering to a clique of specific older writers. The poetry editor got it worked out to include these complaining poets. Then another group of poets came along and complained that they were being excluded. Then I consider that I can't remember ever reading a poem in The New Yorker that I liked and/or had any clue what it was about. I kept my mouth shut on that one when my friend brought it up.

Sometimes a smile is the best answer.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

World's largest model train railway.

Yesterday on the train I finished reading Bulgakov's The Master and Margarita and started re-reading Kafka's Amerika. It has been a very long time since I read Kafka's book. I look forward to learn what the years have done to my understanding. When I first read the book I was not much older than the protagonist.

I am fascinated by the European conceptions of America, and the reverse in American conceptions of Europe. Also I like model trains, transportation and railroad simulations. Likewise fascinated with the connection of these narrative/action dioramas with the construction of story. As well, that this simulacra is a tourist attraction, as is any historic theme village a knock-off of an amazement park.

Outside of Madison Square Garden yesterday, standing on the corner waiting for the light to change so that we could cross the street, I noticed a tourist with a vid camera recording the traffic in the intersection. My first thought... boy, will that be fun to edit when he gets home. Then it occurred to me that it would be an interesting project to do a NY'ers tour of Manhattan. Ride around on top the red double-decker faux English bus thing. Put together a video so that bedridden people could get a 1st hand sense of 'being there' without having to leave Wisconsin, or wherever these lost people show up from.

In another on-the-street incident we were walking down the sidewalk and there was a fellow pointing his camera at his own face, holding it out at arm's length, not a cheap camera, mind you, a pretty classy one with lenses. I am sure he included his face with the tall building in the background. In retrospect I think it was the Empire State. Just as we passed him I said loudly, "It looks good!" Just as the flash went off. We kept on the move. I wonder if he smiled.

Off the train into the parking lot of thousands of cars at Ronkonkoma, and I mean thousands, I was walking along and heard one car running. I looked around, nobody there, nobody in sight. A Civic was sitting there running, locked, keys in the ignition and nobody around to be seen in the parking lot anywhere.

I stood there for like three minutes looking at the car running and thinking WTF should I do about this? My conclusion, please please please remember this long enough to tell someone about it. I walked away. Went home.

It is the only time I have ever felt actually tempted to steal a car w/ the idea that the owner who I imagine was stressed out had to walk out of the parking lot, across the station tracks into the station, so far away they would not be able to see their car, to get to a phone. Why no cell phone who knows, call a locksmith. Either that or it was a very absent minded commuter that had arrived there in the morning, run out of their car, left it running and never thought twice about it. So I had this idea to like move the car to the other end of the parking lot, about 4 acres away. So, if they had returned and found me sleeping in their car, warm and belligerent with an opened copy of Kafka’s Amerika saddled over my nose it certainly would have made for a fun scene.

Yesterday in a business conversation with my son/partner I told him that I had read about a 300 acre organic bean farm in my home village in Upstate NY that the owners come down to NYC every Wednesday to sell dry beans at the Union Square Farmers Market. Several years ago I did the exterior restoration of the Barnes & Noble across the street from the market. I am quite familiar with the street scene there. So my son wanted to know why I talked about dried beans. It is not his home turf so he does not relate to the place in any semblance to how I do -- which for me is a mix of desire, fabulation and repulsion. I told him that I thought it interesting to contemplate if I had taken a different road in my life and been a bean farmer and never left home. He thought it was funny that I would want to go into the bean business, rather than play with stones as I have done. I took it as a really interesting story with zero economic value other than that to play with stories keeps my mind off our meager position in the current economic situation. We also had a longer conversation about Iceland. Some fishermen should keep fishing.

When all else fails, make up a good story.


I thank my friend Carrie Berry in Scotland for directing us to this very kool vid.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

In Search of One-Word Answers

As writers we lay down text then we push it around to readers and we see what happens.

I have been doing this for more than 45 years. Write something down, show it to someone, and say, “Hey, what do you think of this crap that I wrote down?”

To me that complex process is writing, and it is a whole lot more important to my life as a kernel of activity than publishing. Publishing is mostly an accident and for the most part as a writer we have no control over how it goes. But we do have control over our decision to write something down and we do have control over a decision to share it with anyone.

As readers we read what is in front of us and we can either comprehend it, or not. If we do comprehend it then we have a choice if we want to pay attention to our comprehension, or not.

What is comprehension? It is what we as the reader think happened when we read the text -- the reading was an event in our consciousness (and this is one of those interesting places where the idea of the character changing over time or the reader changing in their consciousness over time through the reading is plot -- and why some readers think some writers write stories that don't go anywhere or end in a galaxy far far away). So then we have another choice, we can either write down as best as we can figure to do it what we think happened, or we can keep our mouths shut, or say 'curious'.

So, my response to a recent question in regard to my response of the one-word 'curious' to my reading comprehension of a three sentence story written by a friend, another writer:

Your brain is warped? Curious means it left me curious. I am not really sure what is going on with it. I figure I am not supposed to know. So I am curious. I suppose I could have said intrigued. Guba is a curious name, at least for me it is. At first I think it might be a dog’s name. But then the ten years makes me think it must be a young woman, possibly a teenager. Ten years is a bit old for a dog and they do not remember even five minutes all that well. I wonder what Guba was doing before she looked up. If Guba is a dog I can kind of imagine what they were doing, as a young woman I don’t know, there are so many things that she could be doing. Possibly she was darning a sock. Or maybe she was eating oatmeal with cinnamon and raisins on a cold morning, mist rising up from the forested valley behind the house. I don’t really know but then I am told it is a funny thing. Then again I’m not sure what the narrator was holding in front of Guba. As I don’t know how they looked at whatever it is the way they looked at it before I cannot judge for myself if they looked at it differently, or not, but there is a nice little flash back with feelings. Is it a mirror, is it a photograph? If Guba was a dog then I kind of have an idea it could be poop smeared on a newspaper. I would say not a mirror, but a photograph. Or maybe it is a camera. That is curious. It is surely something if it makes Guba to make faces. Then the narrator scratches their head. I suppose this should be taken in context to signify thinking and not that they have itchy dandruff, and as it does connect with contemplation it seems almost a meditative scratching. It seems to me almost unconsciously scratching the head. The narrator is trying to dig at something, again, curiosity, possibly the brain warp? And then ‘somehow.’ We don’t know how. Some sort of mystery. Makes me curious, again. A sister in law, ok, another character, so now we have the narrator, Guba and Rita. At least I feel comfortable in thinking that Rita is not a dog. I do not know very many people that would name a dog Rita. Then the reference to Carly Simon, which though I presume is a singer, since she has an album cover, means pretty much nothing to me. Is she Canadian? I am not good at keeping catalogs of celebrity faces in my head, my bad. But I presume Carly Simon is shorthand for an entire nexus of facial image, with, I hope the safe presumption that it is her face on the album and not her bum... though these days you never know. Not that I have anything against album covers with celebrity bums on them. I also kind of feel that it is reasonable to assume that the narrator was not showing Guba either a photo of Guba’s bum, or the narrator’s naked bum for real like, though that would be curious too, right in Guba’s face I would not blame her if she made a face. Then there is Leah. Now, I have no clue if Leah is a male or female name, so the gender here is androgynous until proven otherwise. So that makes the narrator’s gender curious. Meaning, I don’t know for sure anything much but I am curious. They gave birth, hmmm, it may be safe to assume they are a heterosexual pair, but that these days is never certain, either. They could have had a surrogate or had it done with artificial insemination from a sperm bank and be a lesbian couple. I’m not clear on that, and do not feel comfortable to read too much into the story. Then the mini Cherokee Indian... seeing as half of my family is Seneca Indian I can go along with the idea that they look a bit unique and I can kind of get the idea that the reference is to the afornamed Guba. So then I am thinking that the narrator and Leah are parents of Guba. That Rita and Leah are siblings. That Rita looks like a lounge singer, so Leah must either be a genetic facial mutant, or the narrator is a facial mutant, or a bum mutant, or maybe Guba has Down Syndrome, but the reference to the Native American heritage seems to preclude this simple answer. The potential stereotype of movie injuns causes me to have a brain synapse, and I ignore it. Is Carly Simon a Native Canadian? Then we end off with a pretty blue dress, which seems odd, seeing as blue is usually associated with boy children. So then I begin to think that there is a human baby, it is a boy, not a girl, and that the narrator can’t see very well – due to a warped brain, or they need glasses real bad -- and insist that his boy child is a girl and that he cannot quite understand why his boy child makes ungirly faces at him. And so there it is a Family Portrait and I am made curious. It seemed, for me, the first time around it was safer to say curious.

It takes less energy to say nothing, less energy to read nothing, a little bit to say one word, but to say what you think went on in your consciousness usually gets someone upset and a whole bunch of crap goes on and so the QUESTION to speak, or not to speak, is always gauged by an assessment of the transactional cost... as in, "If I speak up what sort of crap will I have to deal with after that?"

As writers we can take this scribbling habit and step away a bit from our personal autobiographical relationship to the text and like flip a switch in our heads so that we are not ourselves, but some other reader that is like not quite us, and we read what we wrote as if we were a reader and if we have comprehension, and pay attention to our consciousness, then we slowly adjust... until suddenly one day a real other than us reader says, "Oh, I get that."

Then it is over because immediately you turn around a few times and suddenly nobody has a clue, including yourself, what you were trying to get at. So, if you are actually a writer then you start over because you don't quite know what else to do with yourself. If you are a wood carver then you give up writing and go carve wood. In my particular case I find it more convenient and profitable to put holes in walls and then not to look into them. More on that later...

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Riverside Park, probes day before Xmas 2008

This commemorative terrace and balustrade, part of the staircase inserted at 97th Street into the 19th-century, rustic perimeter wall enclosing Riverside Park, honors the distinguished architect John Mervin Carrère (1858–1911).

Find more photos like this on PTN Live

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Keeping Up with Keeping Up

I am working on a review of My Life at First Try by Mark Budman... but as usual I am cogitating on it long to get my impressions in order. But in the mean time for some real decent online reading:

Vestal Review Web Issue 35
Vestal Review has been published continuously since March 2000. Mark Budman is the Publisher/Editor/Webmaster.

Sean Thomas
Robin N. Koman
Mary McCluskey
Kate Blakinger
Douglas Bruton
Folding Shackleton
Alison Christy
Elizabeth Kuelbs
Craig Daniels
Bruce Holland Rogers

Smoke Long Quarterly
Issue 24

Sarah Black
Edmond Caldwell
Bill Cook
Thomas Cooper
Scott Garson
Shane Goth
Tiff Holland
Tim Jones-Yelvington
Darby Larson
Tara Laskowski
Samuel Lee
Charles Lennox
Ravi Mangla
Heather McDonald
Jen Michalski
Gregory Napp
Susannah Pabot
John Riley
Ania Vesenny

The term "smoke-long" comes from the Chinese, who noted that reading a piece of flash takes about the same length of time as smoking a cigarette. All the work we publish is precisely that—about a smoke long.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009