Thursday, November 30, 2006

Lost another one

When we learned two years ago that the orchards to the immediate west and south of our property were going to be ripped out for a housing development, we joined neighbors in fighting it -- and lost, of course. However, we thought we'd won a few small battles along the way. One was saving a huge Douglas Fir (photo, right -- yes, those are possums in the foreground tree!) from being cut down to make room for "a driveway." Jeez, we thought, why not just move the driveway? We felt good about winning this at least. We saved a fine old tree!

Yeah, right. The contractor apparently got "an arborist" to testify that the tree is "sick" and needs to be cut down. So we learned tonight that indeed it's coming down. Timber! No discussion or opposing experts this time. In the end, the contractor gets to do what he wants to do, the hell with the neighbors. TIMMMMBBBBBEEERRRRRRR!!

Postpartum obsessions

A half-dozen times a year or so, at the end of a writing project or a teaching term, I follow great exuberance at finishing with a crash of worry (not depression really) about the quality of what just got released. Today, the last day of class, I started worrying while walking to the bus mall: did they learn anything, was I too boring in class, will they take away anything they can use later? This doubt is short-lived. A moment or hour or day or several days later I've forgotten all about it, and my mind is somewhere else. But it's an interesting phenomenon to experience, observe, and think about.

Van update

The police say if they don't find a stolen vehicle in the first 48 hrs., they may not find it. Sure enough, they found ours today. Don't know details yet -- except it was in north Portland, it's not driveable, and so it got towed to a yard. We have to go there, see it, and authorize the insurance company to look it over. Frankly, I'd put it to sleep but it's H's van and she's had it for 20 yrs., therefore is sentimental about it, so it's her call. They took the license plates with them, however. Fortunately, they expire in Feb 07.

Productive last day of class

Only one student came by during my last office hours. As a result, I got a lot of writing done on a new screenplay I'm writing primarily to test the structure-software I'm writing it with. So far, so good -- into the second act in a breeze. We'll see how the more difficult second act goes.

A writer I'm menitoring lost her job today, only weeks ahead of when she's scheduled to start MFA studies, and she needs a job to pay for it. Where are the wealthy benefactors when we need them? This talented young woman needs a patron! Contact me if you have money for her. Meanwhile, of course, she's out looking for a new job, hoping she gets one before her studies are scheduled to begin. Or maybe she can slide on unemployment for a while.

As I've said oh so many times here, Work is the curse of the writing class.

Memorable drinks with Dick

In our 40 years of close friendship, Dick and I threw down enough drinks to sink a submarine but what's memorable about those times are the conversations. This is the point of the ritual, after all. I especially remember certain special settings in which these good talks took place:
  • When Dick was rolling in bucks, and I was a starving writer, he'd sometimes come to Portland and we'd go out drinking on him. He liked to show off, as many who came to wealth from childhood poverty do, so often we'd go to the bar at a French restaurant in NW where the Trailblazers (this was before they became the Jailblazers through chronic mismanagement) hung out, sit in a corner and watch the stars and catch up on our lives. Our drink was a 12-year-old Jamison's Irish at $8 a shot, $16 a round, and Dick's rule was we couldn't leave until the $100 bill he set on the table was gone.
  • In the Army, when we had the same day off, which wasn't often, we'd grab some good German white wine and head for the hills, finding a scenic view to park at.
  • After Dick went bankrupt, he lived for a time in a room in a boarding house in NW Portland, and it was my time to buy the drinks. I quickly brought him into my circle of writer/artist friends at Nobby's, where we had many a marathon time solving the aesthetic problems of the world.
  • I loved visiting Dick in Orofino, his home town, and making the rounds at the local bars along and off Main Street. One winter visit in particular stands in memory. In Idaho, bartenders can drink -- at least they could then -- and ours was passed out, so a crowded bar was drinking on the honor system. It was something to behold. In this same bar, on another occasion, I saw a wonderful winter act of kindness. One poor gent slipped off the barstool and fell flat on the floor, out like a light. The bartender came around and threw a jacket over him. Over an hour later, when the guy came back to life, the bartender said, "You're cut off," and helped him out the door. He even loaned the guy the jacket.
  • Dick's home was the scene of many, many parties. His two sons grew up in a party, which may account for certain attitudes they have today.
  • Very early morning breakfasts, drinking coffee. It was never too early to go out for breakfast for Dick. We shared this preference. We had as many good talks over coffee at six in the morning as over drinks in the day or night.

We talked about everything, which is what close friends do. Sometimes we didn't talk much at all. We people-watched and cracked up together. Dick thought folks who act like they're special were the funniest amusement on the planet. Those blue-collar logging camp roots again. Dick, needless to say, has informed a good deal of my writing. It was difficult to write Kerouac's Scroll because I recreated a lot of our conversations together but in a contrived (fictional) context. I'm really glad his mother and sons got to read the book.

Clam diggers at the Pine Tavern

In the late 1970s, my late soul brother Dick was doing pretty well for himself. He was making money in the mortgage business, lived on a ranch he owned in Bend, Oregon, and seemed to be pretty happy. When I visited, a tradition on days when we could play was to have clam diggers at the Pine Tavern, an institution in Bend, a restaurant/bar with a large pine tree in the middle of the dining room. A clam digger is a Bloody Mary using clamato juice, and I thought of this because I had a glass of clamato this morning, finishing up a bottle I'd purchased for my Thanksgiving aspic. Dick and I had a ton of "drinking traditions," of course, as any drinking buddies do, and the good times far outnumbered the bad times, despite what counselors at treatment centers want you to believe. I have very fond memories of our long mornings talking and sipping clam diggers at the Pine Tavern.

87 days until ...

Must listen several times to this opera over the holiday break in preparation for the trip to L.A. Must make the most of this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

A few scripts to read today. Then I show the doc film in class, "The Monster That Ate Hollywood," a rather grim look at changes in the film industry since multinational corporations bought the studios. It's the same thing that happened in the book industry, the removal of artsy fringe projects and the bigger emphasis on the "bottom line." What would happen in this culture if the bottom line were about quality instead of quantity? Fat chance. The digital revolution is really changing the deck so far, however, and it is absolutely amazing how many quality videos you find on the net today. I was talking recently to a filmmaker of my generation about this, how far ahead younger generations are in film craft, thanks to digital video, at early ages of study, and how much better their work is than his work was as a teenager and young man. Of course, most of this is "art for art's sake", which is fine, but eventually artists want to get paid for their efforts (or they leave to do something else to pay the rent) and the economics of the digital revolution are up in the air, though already the corporations are doing things to try and bring it under harness (and profit). Currently sites like YouTube offer an incredible, uneven, fascinating mix of filmmaking talents.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Slow down

Time to slow down today ... been going non-stop all morning. Got the big printing and mailing done, so that's off my back. I'm behind on all my own projects but that's fine, in a week plus a few days I'll have my grades in and a month to focus on them again.

Late scripts to read but I feel like pushing them back to tomorrow morning. The last day of school for me tomorrow!

Perhaps the best student in the class is moving to Boston and enrolling in an MFA program there. I applaud this and will write him a good recommendation. He has a lot of talent and is serious about writing.

Several students are taking it again, so I'll continue to mentor their projects.

It's been a great term.

Printing marathon

An agent in Chicago phoned and wants to see five specific screenplays of mine, which is not your everyday request. Has a good track record so naturally I'm sending them. Apparently we had contact a year ago but my aging memory can't remember. She knew exactly what she wanted to see. So I'm listening to "Carmina Burana," loud enough to hear over the printer, and see if I can do these damn things in one sitting. It would be sooooooooooooo much easier to email them. Jeez.

On being robbed

H and I had very different responses to having our van stolen. She had a quick visceral response, even getting the shakes. She felt personally violated. In contrast, the first thing that came to mind in the park-n-ride when I understood the van wasn't there was, The van's been stolen. How typical. When I learned that ten cars a day get stolen in Portland, I wasn't surprised; indeed, I thought, Is that all? In other words, I have a less flattering view of the world we live in than H does. She believes everyone is basically good and some get perverted by environment. I believe everyone is basically an animal and some get civilized by environment.

Having one car makes life less convenient, particularly for me who drove the van almost exclusively since we bought a new car in 1998. The only real hassle will be getting to my piano lessons on Friday. A fifteen-minute drive is going to become an hour-and-a-half bus adventure. But I can live with that. I don't expect to get the van back. If we do, I doubt it will be in usable condition. It was almost time to put it to pasture anyway. I just hope it doesn't cause violence to someone in the hands of its new drivers.

I look at this as a premature transition in the adventure of aging. When we sold the house in a few years, we were going to become a one-car family. Fate has given us a jump-start.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Just another victim in the city

Stepped off the bus at park-n-ride tonight -- and no van! Somebody stole the vehicle, 21 years old, over 200,000 miles. Of more use to us than to anybody else. Teenies out for a joy ride, most likely. A very personable police officer just left with our report. About ten cars a day get stolen in Portland, and a couple eventually recovered. I guess we've become a one-car family. We were supposed to haul H's paintings from the gallery tomorrow but we no longer have wheels to do so, some of her art work too large to fit into the Chevy Cavalier. Ah, me. Life in the modern city.

Spam patterns

Ever notice how spams often come in bundles with the same pattern in their subject lines? Checking my bulk folder just now, where the spam software dumps all this stuff, I have a bunch of "From Fred:" "From Lida:" and so on as the subjects. Other days it might be "Fred says hi!" "Lida says hi!" or teasing things to draw you in, like "About our phone conversation" or "Reply to your note." Ah, these spammers get clever. Sometimes, the really clever ones, have a subject line about my interests, such as "Screenwriting" or "Hyperdrama." I suppose they get this from a word count at my websites or some damn way. It's a constant creative battle, the spammers against the spam police.

p.s. 2pm. A string of them ... "Hi, it's Grayson...Rubin...Enrique...Groves...Bullock...Mcneir...Reeves..." a cast of thousands. Jeez.


Played the early morning commuter game, packed onto the most crowded bus I've ever been on. Guess folks were avoiding icy roads. Glad I don't do this as a matter of routine. I frequently marvel at how few 9-5 "normal work days" I've been at an office in my life. None, in fact, for about twenty years now.

When I walked into my office, the old computer was gone but no replacement in its place. It only took one angry phone call to tech to get a computer here in about fifteen minutes. Good service!

Just got my spring class info and I'm in a small building on the edge of campus that I never heard of. Must check it out to make sure it has a projector and the tech stuff I require to show films easily. Man, I never even heard of this building, nor did the techie here setting up the computer. They stick us screenwriters in the strangest places. Hey, no complaints.

Well, my first student is late to his conference. I expect I'll see a lot of that today. Weather is a great excuse, even if it's not a problem.

So far, so good

We're at higher elevation than the university and have only a smattering of snow on the ground this morning. I can't imagine school being closed, which is good, this being my conference day. The hardest part will be getting to park and ride if the local roads are icy.

I think tech removed the computer from my office, which had a virus. They said I'd get a replacement. If they're wrong, I have a long day without a computer, so I'm taking other things to do just in case.

Monday, November 27, 2006

This afternoon

Finished up the scripts. Now to their query letters: I have them pretend I'm a producer and pitch their script to me.

I discovered I'm almost out of paper. The box I thought was at least partially full was empty, so I ran out to get a full box. I have a big printing job to do soon, probably Wednesday. This is the time of year, buried in scripts, when I get behind in everything else. But in about 10 days, my grades will be in!

We got our smattering of snow but nothing that stuck long. Another storm due tonight. The last thing I need is for tomorrow to be cancelled at the university since I won't be able to make the day up. If we get an inch sticking, they may well cancel! That's how weird everyone gets with snow around here.

Been playing with some story structure software and I rather like it. I'll give a report later if I still like it. One of those programs where you move cards around on your screen, structuring your story.

Got an unexpected phone call from an agent in Chicago who asked to see a few things. Never fails: about the time I decide it's finally time to leave the marketplace, somebody tries to lure me back in. I usually take the bait.

Pity the planet, all joy gone
from this sweet volcanic cone;
peace to our children when they fall
in small war on the heels of small
war--until the end of time
to police the earth, a ghost
orbiting forever lost
in our monotonous sublime.

Robert Lowell

This is the closing stanza of a long poem. It struck my fancy.

James Agee

From Today In Literature:

On this day in 1909 James Agee was born in Knoxville, Tennessee. Agee was a poet (Permit Me Voyage), an influential film critic (collected as Agee on Film), a social documentarist (Let Us Now Praise Famous Men, based on his six weeks with Alabama sharecroppers), and a screenwriter (The African Queen), but he is best remembered for his autobiographical novel, A Death in the Family.

I was introduced to Agree in the Army when Dick loaned me his copy of Let Us Now Praise Famous Men. I was blown away. In fact, the book is nearby, in a stack of favorite books due for a periodic rereading. As a prose stylist, Agee had an extraordinary gift. There are passages in Famous Men as moving as anything I've read.

I made a special trip once when I was visiting my parents in Milford, New Jersey, to go to nearby Frenchtown so I could see the hotel where Agee stayed for a time while he was working on the Famous Men manuscript. I stood outside and gawked a while, which is as great a tribute as you can give a writer, taking a pilgrimage to where s/he once was, then gawking, not sure what you should do.

Letters to Father Flye is an exchange of letters between Agee and a priest-friend that documents the struggles Agee experienced in life. He was a tortured soul. A prodigious drinker. And he died young. What an old story in American letters.

This Wonderful Life

Conceived by Mark Setlock, written by Steve Murray, and here performed by Matthew Floyd Miller, This Wonderful Life is an adaptation of the classic film to a one-man performance. I was skeptical about the success of such a venture but wanted to see the new Gerding Theater at the Armory, the new home of Portland Center Stage, so when H suggested we catch the preview, I went along.

What a fine night of theater! This one-man show is as entertaining as any I've seen. What makes this work, I think, is the careful balance in the script between telling a sentimental story already known to most in the audience and knowing this is what you're doing. So the actor-as-narrator, introducing and telling the story before slipping into one of the 35 characters portrayed, has just enough fun with the material and the attitude of its time to be "modern" on the one hand but not satiric on the other. Yes, this is smaltzy, but sometimes smaltzy works, is the narrator's attitude.

The actor is very good and helped by absolutely brilliant stagecraft. This is the level of stagecraft that was missing in the opera Faust recently, where technology got in the way. Here everything is magical, not obtrusive, as many of the visual elements of the original film are adapted for stage (the blinking lights/stars of angels in conversation, for example). This play has the best, most magical stagecraft I've seen in a very long time.

All in all, this was a great night of theater. And the facility itself is the best theater space in Portland, far better than the company's previous home at the over-rated Performing Arts Center. This addition in an area of Portland, "the Pearl," once a combination of skidrow and industrial, moves the city farther into its new personality. Yes, I miss the old bohemian city a lot but if you're going to go yuppy, this isn't a bad way to do it.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Edwin Arlington Robinson

Does anyone read Robinson any more? He was very popular early in the century, publishing his Collected Poems on this day in 1921 (see Today In Literature). He won three Pulitzers.

I have two Robinson stories, the first embarrassing. As a freshman at Cal Tech, before I took much interest in literature, I had to write an essay for an English class in which I explicated the Robinson poem "Mr. Flood's Party." I had a hard time making sense of this old guy on a hill, drinking, looking at two moons (i.e. seeing double). And then the light went on: Mars has two moons! There's a science nerd for you. So I wrote my essay about how the action was taking place on Mars and so on, and the Eng. prof., under his C grade, scribbled that this was the most inventive interpretation of the poem he had ever read.

Well, I learned to be a better reader of poetry than this. In the Senior Honors Program at UCLA, I wrote for my thesis a very long paper explicating Robinson's three booklength poems built around the Arthurian cycle. You've come a long way, baby.

Buried alive

Spent much of yesterday and today reading student scripts, and I'm still not done. Must finish up tomorrow because Tuesday I have final conferences all day. I also want time tomorrow to write each student a letter regarding the strengths and weaknesses of their work thus far, so they can focus on what to correct before final submission for a grade.

Tonight we're going out to see a one-man show despite a forecast of snow. Hope we don't regret it -- it can get crazy here when it actually does snow. But our forecasters are all alarmists. "Be sure to stay tuned for the latest..." etc. It's mostly hype, part of the cultural disease.

Otherwise been breaking up scripts by reading some poetry. Bought a couple of fat anthologies I'll be going through, one for American, one for World poetry. Re-educate myself about the major achievements now that I seem to be dabbling in the form myself with some regularity.

Dark Mission

This morning, checking out archive stats, I happened to notice that there have been five downloads this month of the complete score of Dark Mission, the John Nugent opera to which I wrote the libretto, a story based on the historical Whitman Massacre. Further checking noted that there have been 20 downloads since the first of the year. This strikes me as a lot for the complete orchestral score of an opera. I may be wrong.

I'm disappointed no one has picked up on this yet. However, I'm not sure John is marketing it as aggressively as he should. The marketing on my end, where the regional interest should be higher, has come to naught. Very disappointing. I don't think neglect reflects on the quality of the work but on the tunnel vision and busy schedules of opera companies. The composer more than the librettist needs to make something happen, but most artists don't market themselves very well. I should know ha ha.

Living Old

Last night I watched an episode of Frontline I'd taped earlier called Living Old. A thought-provoking, disturbing program.

"We're on the threshold of the first-ever mass geriatric society," says Dr. Leon Kass, chairman of the President's Council on Bioethics from 2002 to 2005. "The bad news is that the price that many people are going to be paying for [an] extra decade of healthy longevity is up to another decade of anything but healthy longevity... We've not yet begun to face up to what this means in human terms."

I've never understood the humanity, compassion or purpose of warehousing the old in what one geriatric resident called "the waiting room," institutions where they sit out their final weeks, months, or years, cared for, waiting to die. Now if an individual wants this, fine. Some old folks actually blossom in these environments. But there also needs to be an institutionalized alternative for those who do not want to be there.

I belong to a small minority that supports doctor-assisted-suicide for any retired person who wants it, whether or not they have a terminal illness. This will not happen, however. I am a realist enough to see this. Consequently I believe seniors who do not want to be warehoused have the responsibility to educate themselves about alternatives. One place to begin is with the book
Final Exit
by Derek Humphry. I have a copy close by on my bookshelf.

More information and other resources can be found at

This is a complex and sometimes controversial issue. Here is a resource for pro & con resources.

The Frontline show is worth checking out.

Saturday, November 25, 2006

An Old Man

An old man
Is a young man
Whose skin doesn't fit

An old man
Is a young man
Who mumbles to himself

An old man
Is a young man
Who prefers yesterday

An old man
Is a young man
Who takes another leak

An old man
Is a young man
Who can't remember

An old man
Is a young man
Whose old man

Was right

Charles Deemer

Tom Stoppard's The Coast of Utopia

America has no viable tradition in a theater of ideas. Our stages prefer settings in the bedroom rather than in the coffee house, dramas about sex rather than dramas about the viability of socialism. There is an exception to this rule, however: the imported plays of Tom Stoppard.

Only Tony Kushner has been able to write produced epic theater projects with a consistency matching Stoppard's work. But Kushner chooses topical themes; Stoppard tells his story on the larger canvases of history and philosophy. His latest project, a nine-hour trilogy called The Coast of Utopia, is perhaps his most ambitious drama yet.

Stoppard's latest plays look at the development of ideas and philosophy in the nineteenth century, at Romanticism and Idealism, the Utopia of his title. It was felt by many that Russia was a special case, that the problems of her society still based on medieval serfdom, would not be solved by reference to Western Europe. The starting point for The Coast of Utopia's first play, Voyage is the Decembrist revolt of 1825. The hard line reaction by the Tsar set up a society of censorship, banishment and imprisonment of any who opposed him.

Read full review by Lizzie Loveridge.

Lincoln Center Theater hosts the American premiere of the trilogy (official website), running the plays both individually and in marathon succession. It's probably the biggest theatrical event in this country since Angels in America (which I found profoundly disappointing until rescued by a brilliant film recreation on HBO). The marathons in February and March, 2007, in fact, are already sold out, bringing to mind the Eugene O'Neill marathons of the 1930s. There may be a larger audience for theater with this stature of ambition than producers realize.

What is unfortunate, of course, is that Stoppard and Kushner do not head theatrical movements so much as establish the exception that proves the rule. In our star-oriented culture, a very small number of artists always slip through the cracks whose work goes against the mainstream style. The fact remains: there is no viable tradition of a theater of ideas in this country.

In the 1980s, when I had perfected the art of living on grants, I had a very good track record, receiving over half the grants I applied for. One grant I did not get, however, was to found a theater of ideas called I.T. or Idea Theater. An actor in town, Peter LeSeur, was renting an abandoned mansion, which he hoped to turn into an art center. He offered me space in which to develop a theater company -- rent free, later paying rent as a fraction of the theater's income. Peter was another artist with no business sense ha ha! At any rate, I put together the proposal and applied for grant support, which I didn't get. I wonder if and how my life would have changed if I had and thus had gone on to found this company. I suspect it would have lasted a few years and then folded.

I doubt if the Stoppard trilogy will take the country by storm the way Kushner's epic did. AIDS is a more commercial subject matter than idealistic 19th century philosophy. Yet it's good that even these exceptions to the rule show up now and again to remind us that more serious work is getting done than popular culture suggests. Ethan Hawke, cast in the trilogy, was quoted on NPR this morning as saying that it's a rare treat to be in such elevated material. Typically, he said, the nominees for best film in Hollywood can be understood by any 12-year-old.

NPR story.

Interview with Tom Stoppard.

Interview with Ethan Hawke.

Friday, November 24, 2006

Capturing an era

I bring too much to this film to be able to evaluate it. I like it a lot but I have so much context, personal and historical, to bring to the material that I simply don't know if someone without this background would appreciate the film. I hope so because I think Bobby does a good job of capturing many essential social and political attributes of the RFK phenomenon.

This film begins with a good premise: to tell the story of the RFK assassination from the point of view of characters who were there as workers and supporters and visitors to witness the event -- and be affected by it. This gives the movie a sprawling Altmanesque feel as we follow a lot of characters through the evening. A major theme is the same theme in the Auden poem I posted here a few days ago: how major historical events happen on ordinary days, affecting ordinary people.

I'm curious to know how those too young to remember this event respond to the movie.

New libretto

I sent John the libretto based on Maupassant's "Toine," which I've renamed "The Man Who Hatched Chickens." Excerpt:

Of course he can get up!
(approaching the bed)
Toine! Remember the drinks
We consumed together?
How many do you think?

Too many to count!
It’s a miracle we drank
As much as we did
And lived to tell the tale.

He calls this living!

Men are like that.

When drinking buddies lift a glass
It’s more than friendship
More than partying
More than good cognac
When drinking buddies lift a glass
It’s a bond of steel
Joining them as brothers
Brothers to the end

A drinking buddy’s there to laugh
At all my jokes

A drinking buddy’s there to toast
My recent divorce

A drinking buddy understands
The torment of a wife

A drinking buddy understands
Injustice in a life

Drinking buddies stand as one
Brothers till the end
Sharing what they’ve lost
Sharing what they win
Drinking buddies stand as one
Closer than a wife
No woman understands
The truth of a man’s life

Drinking buddies like to drink
Booze brings them together
Drinking buddies party long
In any kind of weather
Drink and drink and drink some more
A marriage suffers strife
Then a woman understands
The truth of a man’s life

No woman understands
The truth of a man’s life

We women understand
The truth of a man’s life

Food for thought

From The Other Side of Eden by John Steinbeck IV (quoted in Today In Literature:

Artists by nature are not particularly gifted as parents. They can be very self-centered, very abusive, and dysfunctional when it comes to raising children. So the kid has to raise himself. Dad never had to be a parent except on his time and on his terms, and then he was very good at that, very good. Very Huck Finny. Had he had to do it day in, day out, he would have failed miserably.

"Quiet and peaceful"

This was H's assessment of Thanksgiving here after it was over and she settled in to watch her favorite TV series, Grey's Anatomy. I would concur. A long, quiet, excellent time with her oldest daughter. Just the three of us here -- well, with two dogs, and Sketch got a special treat by having a little dog to play with. We have tons of leftovers, needless to say.

We passed on the movie last night, we were so mellow, and plan to catch it early today instead.

"Let's have turkey more often!"

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Better late than never?

On the wire:

Replay official knew Sooners recovered kick vs. Ducks
Associated Press

OKLAHOMA CITY -- The replay official for the Oklahoma-Oregon football game says he knew that Oklahoma recovered a pivotal onside kickoff late in the game.

But Gordon Riese told The Oklahoman that replay rules prevented him from correcting on-field officials who made the wrong call and awarded possession to Oregon, even though it was clear to Riese that Oklahoma's Allen Patrick had recovered the ball.

Riese also said that if he had seen the correct angle of the replay, it would have been easy to reverse the result of the call and give possession to Oklahoma, which could have run out the clock. But that didn't happen, he said, and Oregon took advantage of the officiating blunder, scoring a last-minute touchdown to win 34-33.

Read the story.

It was embarrassing as a Duck fan to be on the "winning" side of this boneheaded error. If you can't win fairly, forget it.

High school rivalry: Easton v. P-burg

One of the longest high school football rivalries is between Easton PA and Phillipsburg NJ. For a century they've played every Thanksgiving morning, today being their 100th meeting. They are two small towns across the Delaware River from one another. Moreover, this is the home turf of my parents and one of the few areas of the country where "Deemer" is a common name.

Once, in fact, years ago, I was sitting in a tavern in P-burg (as it's called) with my dad, waiting for some auto repairs. It was a weekday afternoon and only half-a-dozen folks were there. It ends up that everyone in the tavern was named Deemer! Dad tried to figure out if he was related to any of them.

Dad joined the Navy as a teenager in order to escape the fate of P-burg men, which was to work in the mill. He succeeded. Well, actually, he started working at the mill in his mid-teens, hated it, and enlisted to escape. Once, walking on Main Street in nearby Milford NJ (where Mom's Cafe has scrapple for breakfast: you even get to pick from several brands!), we passed an old gent whom Dad had not seen in years. After we walked on, Dad told me that he had worked at the adjacent machine in the mill when both were kids -- and the old guy had retired at the same task, going through several generations of machines. "That's why I joined the Navy," Dad said.

Mom was from the PA side, Bucks County. Right after high school, a benefactor set her up in business with her own Beauty Shop in Belvedere. After mom had died, I was in Belvedere doing something or other at the courthouse. I stopped by the building of Mom's old beauty shop. I got in a conversation with an elderly lady who had been one of her regular customers! "No one did my hair better than Flo," she said.

It's nice to have these memories, even from three thousand miles away. And the football game was on ESPN this morning, which I recorded, and which brings back this rush of memories from the Delaware Valley, where my parents met and fell in love.

Literary essays

Ah, the amazing Internet! I found online the two literary essays that most influenced my thinking as a graduate student studying literature and becoming a writer myself.

The first is "Tradition and the Individual Talent" by T.S. Eliot:

Poetry is not a turning loose of emotion, but an escape from emotion; it is not the expression of personality, but an escape from personality. But, of course, only those who have personality and emotions know what it means to want to escape from these things.

Read the essay.

"...only those who have personality and emotions know what it means to want to escape from these things." This blew me away the first time I read it!

The second essay is "The Unemployed Magician" by Karl Shapiro:

ONCE IN HIS LIFE, at a time of his own choosing, each
poet is allowed to have an interview with the god of
letters. He is a real god, I think, and maybe much
more than that. He can answer all questions about po-
etry, especially the ones poets and philosophers have
never been able to settle; I suspect that he can answer
every other question as well. The poet, unfortunately,
cannot return with the answers; as he shakes hands
and says good-bye to the god, the visitor is automati-
cally brainwashed. All recollection of the god's wisdom
is obliterated and the poet returns home to write--

(There is a charge to read this entire essay online: information.)

I responded to the notion that, first, the poet/artist was like a magician, with a bag of tricks (craft), and the key was not to let the audience see how the trick was done; and, second, that the poet/artist was unemployed, that in fact the culture didn't know quite what to do with him or how to put him to work.

Both essays came to mind as I was cruising this morning.

Bob & Ray

On my traditional holiday morning cruise this morning, coffee in hand, the jazz radio station on, I heard a surprise: the DJ changed the pace by playing an old "Bob & Ray" episode, "Two Faces West," about two cowboys on the same horse struggling to dismount. I am a tough audience but I laughed aloud at this skit. I hadn't heard Bob & Ray in years and am reminded of how special they were. Time to reacquaint myself with them.

Official Bob & Ray Website.

Wikipedia bio.

A Bob and Ray Retrospective by Neil Schmitz.

Listen to Bob & Ray online.

The DJ also played the old "minor classic" song "My Buddy", which was the theme song of Buddy Rogers and the California Cavaliers, this version being my father's favorite song. One of the highlights of his tour as the U.S. Naval Recruiting Officer in Dallas (where I started school) was meeting Buddy Rogers shortly after the end of WWII. Dad often showed off the photograph of them together. The photo to the right is a band publicity shot.

E.E. Cummings

I often think of E.E. Cummings on Thanksgiving, a poet who wrote much about natural miracles and our need to appreciate them. Here's one of the better known poems:

i thank You God for most this amazing
day:for the leaping greenly spirits of trees
and a blue true dream of sky;and for everything
which is natural which is infinite which is yes

(i who have died am alive again today,
and this is the sun's birthday;this is the birth
day of life and love and wings:and of the gay
great happening illimitably earth)

how should tasting touching hearing seeing
breathing any-lifted from the no
of all nothing-human merely being
doubt unimaginable You?

(now the ears of my ears awake and
now the eyes of my eyes are opened)

~ e.e. cummings ~

Cummings is the first poet I became excited about after returning to school after the Army. A teacher at Pasadena Community College, J. Robert Trevor, who also would be the first to encourage me to explore writing as a profession, started each of his English classes by reading a poem; since he was a big Cummings fan, we heard a lot of his work. My attraction to Cummings has continued through life.

Here is Wonderful One Times One, my dramatic appreciation of Cummings.

Wikipedia bio of E.E. Cummings.

On being tough-minded

On the wire this morning is a good example of the importance of mental toughness in sports and, in fact, all competitive endeavors (including the competitive aspect of the arts):

KOCHI, Japan - Michelle Wie had another terrible round in a men's event, shooting a 9-over 81 on Thursday in the first round of the Casio World Open.

The 17-year-old's troubles started early on the Kuroshio Country Club course. After teeing off in light rain on No. 10, she bogeyed the par-4 12th hole and had four straight bogeys starting with the par-3 14th.

"I don't think I was playing that bad," she said.

Wie is a champion of self-forgiveness and excuses. Here, after four straight bogeys, she still says she wasn't "playing that bad." Tiger Woods, in a similar situation, would be tearing his hair out. He misses a put he should make and you can see how upset he is. Even as a teenager Woods got upset with himself when he was playing badly. Until she changes her attitude, Wie will never live up to her potential and keep sounding like a silly teeny-bopper. Her gift demands more respect that she gives it. She needs to become more tough-minded.

Writers, like jocks, must learn to be their own best "worst" critics. High standards and accurate self-criticism. Don't let yourself get by with less than your best. If you screw up, back to the drawing boards. No excuses. No rationalizations.

In a phrase that William James used, be tough-minded and tender-hearted in everything you do.

In his most famous work, the series of lectures published as Pragmatism, James begins by distinguishing between two human temperaments: the tough-minded and the tender-minded. The tough-minded are those who are empirically oriented--those who "go by facts." By contrast, the tender-minded are rationalists who "go by principles." According to James, the history of philosophy is largely the story of the clash between these two attitudes: "The tough think of the tender as sentimentalists and softheads. The tender feel the tough to be unrefined, callous, or brutal." The tough-minded approach to philosophy has the virtue of being connected to "facts," but it tends to exclude religion. The tender-minded approach allows for religion but is unconnected to the realities of everyday life. The result is that for the ordinary person, "Empiricist writers give him materialism, rationalists give him something religious, but to that religion 'actual things are blank.'"

James believes that pragmatism is a method that reconciles these opposing temperaments.

Complete article

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Thanksgiving dinner as hyperdrama

About fifteen years ago, when I was at the height of my fanaticism about hyperdrama, I used to explain the new dramaturgy to the uninitiated by bringing up the activity at a typical family Thanksgiving gathering. The spiel went this way:

Imagine Thanksgiving day at grandma's house. It's before the meal is served. In the kitchen, women are making last minute fixings. In the den, guys are watching a football game on TV. Others are here and there throughout the house, relatives catching up, or maybe a marital disagreement in process here and there. A big house with lots of people throughout it all talking at once.

Now imagine all these people are actors. Imagine the words they are speaking -- at least most of them -- were written by a playwright. This is hyperdrama.

Now add the audience as invisible voyeurs who mix among the action and the actors without being noticed by them. This is hyperdrama.

Hyperdrama definitely is not for everyone. After all, with a dozen or more storylines going on simultaneously throughout grandma's house, how in hell do you "see the play"? Well, you don't. Or more correctly, you define the play you see yourself by your choices in what you choose to observe, what actors you choose to follow, where you choose to be in the house. Obviously hyperdrama benefits from more than one viewing! Indeed, in the practical commercial setting, the form works best when groups come together, choose different actors to follow, and then compare notes later.

I'm still a fanatic but I no longer have the energy, physical or mental, to create hyperdrama myself. I've had seven of them produced and, in fact, I know of no one in the world who has had more hyperdramas produced.

My most ambitious hyperdrama project was The Seagull Hyperdrama, my original translation and expansion of the Chekhov play. It's also available on
disk and as a
if you want to have it offline for some reason.

Several European graduate students have written theses on hyperdrama, using my work and the work of others in the new form. A German woman wrote and produced an amazing hyperdrama: in a castle she simultaneously ran Romeo and Juliet, Stoppard's Rosencrantz and Gildenstern Are Dead and her own original play about Orphelia. That's probably the most impressive hyperdrama production I know of. My own Chateau de Mort in the Pittock Mansion may be second. Seagull would require a country home on a lake for its setting, fat chance. At any rate, Europeans take hyperdrama more seriously than we do here.

For those wanting to learn about this recent form of theater, I would recommend reading the following in order:
  • Watch Out, Mama, Hyperdrama's Gonna Mess With Your Pittock Mansion! to realize the incredible energy and fun associated with hyperdrama.
  • What is Hypertext?, my essay introducing the rhetorical basis of hyperdrama, which has been translated into more languages than anything else I've written.
  • The New Hyperdrama, applying the hypertext rhetoric to theater.
  • The Last Song of Violeta Parra, my one-act hyperdrama about the "Bob Dylan" of Chile. This was commissioned by a theater company in Santiago and developed during "an electronic residency" over a summer in a chat room where I met with the Chilean director and actors every week. An amazing experience! It's been produced in Spanish (the director's translation) several times but never in English. Anybody want an English language premiere of an internationally known hyperdrama?

I was introduced to the form when Steve Smith at Theatre Workshop commissioned me to write what became "Chateau de Mort." His original idea was to have me lead a team of writers -- he couldn't imagine one person writing such a thing. But I convinced him that our deadline wouldn't benefit by the arguments and haggling every writing team gets stuck with and that, yes, I actually could write this myself. And so I did.

Writing it was a wonderful experience, about which I've written extensively. The highlight was finishing up the script during a month I spent in a lakeside cabin at Wallowa Lake. Local folks brought food to my door, loaned me a kayak, were good neighbors far beyond the call of duty. At nights I hung out at Swede's Tavern in Joseph, and this is where I got the idea for my short story, The First Stoplight in Wallowa County, which was later published in Northwest Magazine. Ah, hyperdrama brings fond memories!

Giving thanks

Like most folks, I have a lot to be thankful for.
  • Good health. When you reach a certain age, this is always first on the list. I've been phenomenally lucky with good health, especially given the great abuse I gave my body as a young and middle-aged man. If I die today, I've lived longer than my recklessness warranted.
  • My parents. It all begins here. I had great parents but they died too young, mom at 62 and dad at 74. Curiously neither suffered but dropped dead on the spot. I mean, one moment everything is normal, the next they fall over dead. Each of them. Uncanny. Dad's been dead almost 20 years now, so I've been without them a long time. Miss them much. The best thing about my parents was their unconditional love and support, especially when I did things they didn't understand. Like leaving Cal Tech with a B average. Mom was very active with the Tech moms, and I ruined the highlight of her social life. Like getting a vasectomy early on and removing the chance they'd become grandparents, which they dearly wanted to be.
  • Great friends. Although I outlived them, Dick and Ger were closer to me than my brother is. They were my soul brothers. It hasn't been the same since they've been gone. I also have good women friends, all of them ex's in one way or another, who are still alive and close.
  • Harriet. We never would have been close if we'd met younger, we're that different, but we met late in life and have complimented the other in good ways. I don't want to outlive her and don't expect to.
  • My writing. Though few in the world at large agree, I'm quite proud of my literary archive and I worked hard to get as good in my craft as I am. I'm thankful for the circumstances to be able to do this. I also paid a price for it in a number of ways but that comes with the territory, I think. I've never wished not to be a writer. However, I have told students not to become writers, knowing that if they really have what it takes, they'll ignore my advice. I'm giving them their first test.

I could list other things but these are the major things to be thankful for on this holiday when giving thanks is part of the national ritual.

Musical generations

As readers of this blog know, I love the music of my generation. I can't think of a better time to be a teenager than at the birth of rock-n-roll in the early 50s. At the same time, I must admit it's not the "best" generational music I've heard over almost seven decades.

This was brought to mind as I listened to the jazz station on the way to the store for last minute holiday shopping. They were featuring big bands from the 30s and 40s. The music of my parents' generation -- and I think, in sum, they had the best music of any of the generational eras. Not only the great big bands like Glenn Miller but the incredible songwriters like Cole Porter. To my tastes, no generation has created better popular music.

And I think the generation after mine, the music of the 60s and 70s, comes in second. All that great early electric rock and, of course, the incredible songwriting and performance talents of the Beattles. I'd put this music, too, ahead of my own generation for its lasting musical value. But here the call is a close one. It's a photo finish for second place. The big band era ran away with the winner's trophy.

At the store I picked up the makings for what used to be a Thanksgiving specialty of mine, which I haven't made in years. Shrimp aspic. 3 parts tomato juice, 1 part clamato, gelatin, cocktail shrimp, sliced black olives. Yum, yum! Goes right next to the cranberry sauce.

On this day 43 years ago...

I'm sitting in my last class of the morning at Pasadena Community College, an older 24 year-old student, a veteran, returning to school. Two absurdities bring me to this classroom on this day at this hour. I should be at UCLA, working on my BA in English, but there's been a problem with transferring units from my previous college work at Cal Tech. Tech is on the quarter system; UCLA is on the semester system. Consequently I have 2.25 units in some classes requiring 3 units of credit -- I have to repeat the courses! This sucks. To save money, I'm repeating these classes at the community college.

The second absurdity is that I'm sitting in an Intermediate Russian class. One year ago, I was a Russian Linguist in the Army Security Agency, translating and analyzing the communications of the Russian Army in East Germany. For this service, UCLA has not given me enough credit to satisfy their language requirement. Oh, yeah? I ask. So what if I take a college Russian course then? Do it, they say. So here I am, trying to pretend I don't already know everything being taught. Perhaps out of guilt, I volunteer to tutor students having trouble. The professor thinks I'm one of the best Russian students he's ever had. Duh.

So here I sit, bored, waiting for class to end so I can have lunch. Sitting in class next to me is one of the students I'm tutoring, a foreign exchange student named Sirhan Sirhan.

Suddenly the back door bursts open. "The President has been shot!" a teacher yells.

Our teacher wanders into the hallway to see what is going on. He comes back and dismisses class. President Kennedy has been shot in Dallas. This is serious stuff.

I roam the hallways, trying to find out details about what happened. Is he still alive or what? I run into my English professor and simultaneously we mention a poem by W.H. Auden we've been studying this week, the one about Icarus falling from the sky while a farmer plows his field, about how tragedy always happens on just another ordinary day. No shit, Dick Tracy.

Musee des Beaux Arts

About suffering they were never wrong,
The Old Masters: how well they understood
Its human position; how it takes place
While someone else is eating or opening a window or just walking dully along;
How, when the aged are reverently, passionately waiting
For the miraculous birth, there always must be
Children who did not specially want it to happen, skating
On a pond at the edge of the wood:
They never forgot
That even the dreadful martyrdom must run its course
Anyhow in a corner, some untidy spot
Where the dogs go on with their doggy life and the torturer's horse
Scratches its innocent behind on a tree.
In Breughel's Icarus, for instance: how everything turns away
Quite leisurely from the disaster; the plowman may
Have heard the splash, the forsaken cry,
But for him it was not an important failure; the sun shone
As it had to on the white legs disappearing into the green
Water; and the expensive delicate ship that must have seen
Something amazing, a boy falling out of the sky,
Had somewhere to get to and sailed calmly on.

-- W. H. Auden

Like most of America, I fall into a daze. I remember only scattered things over the next several days. I remember Sirhan being part of a small group of foreign students who celebrate this tragedy. Why? I ask him later. Because JFK is a slave of the Vatican and America is run by the Pope, he says.

Much of my time I'm sitting in front of our small black and white TV. I see Oswald shot on live television. Everything is so surreal.

I get a new attitude toward history. I knew from books that Lincoln had been assassinated, McKinley had been assassinated. This is not a new thing in our history. But this is the first time I feel like I've been kicked in the gut by history. I can't possibly imagine all the other assassinations yet to come. This is just the beginning of my history lesson, on November 22, 1963.

JFK Assassination Resources.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Screenwriter Blues

In a comment to my post about
my piano studies
, GS mentions "a series of songs you recorded about screenwriting..." I believe he is referring to my Real Audio Screenwriting Tips, perhaps the most popular feature on my original and huge website about screenwriting and playwriting. But actually only one of these "tips" was musical: The Screenwriter Blues. I repost it here for your possible amusement.

The end of innocence

Tomorrow, the anniversary of the JFK assassination, marks the end of innocence for my generation. The unthinkable happened in 1963. I learned that what history had to say about Realpolitik was more than just theory. Even in the good ol' USA, the most perfect of perfect countries, everything could change by killing the right person -- and the right people. I'll be seeing the new film "Bobby" the day after tomorrow, the day after the anniversary. Fitting. The five years of assassinations, 1963-8, changed America (and how I felt about political change) forever.

The recent book
Ultimate Sacrifice: John and Robert Kennedy, the Plan for a Coup in Cuba, and the Murder of JFK
by Lamar Waldron and Thom Hartmann makes a convincing argument, as far as I'm concerned, about what really happened on that day. From Publishers Weekly:

It is Waldron and Hartmann's (The Edison Gene) contention—bolstered by access to many previously unavailable files, and interviews with little-known as well as prominent figures—that the CIA knew a great deal about the assassination. But the agency couldn't admit what it knew because that could uncover the existence of a U.S. plan for a coup in Cuba, run by JFK's brother, Attorney General Robert Kennedy. The assassination, say the authors, was carried out by hired gunmen on the orders of three noted Mafia dons whose lives were being made miserable by RFK's ruthless pursuit—and these Mafia men knew about the planned invasion because they had worked with the CIA on previous efforts to topple Castro. Oswald, long a hidden CIA agent, was set up as the patsy, and it had always been Jack Ruby's job to eliminate him if he wasn't killed at the scene of Kennedy's shooting. How do the authors make their case? With a relentless accumulation of detail, a very thorough knowledge of every political and forensic detail and the broad perspective of historians rather than assassination theorists.

I recommend the book. Read it and make up your own mind. They convinced me.

Only a few weeks after the assassination I wrote "The Ballad of JFK" to the tune of Woody Guthrie's "Dust Storm Disaster." There's more idealism in these verses than I embrace today. I wrote this 43 years ago.

By Charles Deemer

On November 22nd of 1963
There struck in Dallas, Texas, a great calamity

It shocked our mighty nation and all beneath the sun
When U.S. President Kennedy was downed by a sniper’s gun

It happened on the Dallas streets as he rode in a car
And the streets were lined with people and some had traveled far

Yes, some had come from Waco, and some had come from Kent
And some had come from Fort Worth to see the President

Most of the crowd were happy, they cheered as the car drove by
But some were filled with hatred and held their banners high

One banner read as follows, “We hold you in contempt!
Because of your socialist policies, we hold you in contempt!”

The President ignored them, he let the car drive by
For he knew that they were sick in heart and in the minority

The car continued slowly, “They like you,” the governor’s wife said
When above that crowd of people, three shots rang overhead

The President slumped in his seat, the Governor he fell too
And the wives stared at their husbands in shock of what to do

The car rushed to the hospital and doctors to his side
But one shot had been fatal, and the President he died

They caught Lee Harvey Oswald and charged him with the crime
Of assassinating the President, the calamity of our time

Since Oswald had been to Russia, some said, “We told you so!
We gotta kill off all the Commies cause look what they will do!”

These were the same who held the signs against the President
Though their weapons weren’t as fatal, their hatred was as great

For hatred lurks in hearts that fear the unity of Man
Who fear the ultimate brotherhood of white man, black and tan

The President he knew this, he pledged Universal Law
Was a bullet took our leader, was Hatred was the cause

I sang this a hell of a lot from December, 1963, to the late 70s, when my folksinging activity became very restricted after my divorce, later resurrected by performing my Woody Guthrie show. But I stopped singing my own songs and to this day haven't sung them in many years.


I ran a more complete scan on the office computer ... yep, got the BackdoorHackDefender virus. Tech informed.

The Man Who Hatched Chickens

Came to the office early and did the first rewrite of the new libretto. I can't believe I actually wrote "cluck, cluck!" but I did. I think John can make it work. There's a nice duet of drinking buddies, juxtaposed against a duet of complaining wives. I wrote the comedy very broadly.

Strange phonecall message here from Tech folks that the office computer has a virus. I ran a scan and nothing noted. No one at Tech around so I left a message. Not sure what the problem is. No strange behavior on my end.

Ready to roll

I'm getting the holiday spirit, which is strange since I haven't had it in years. I have no idea why. Maybe because we get to stay home and fill the house with Thanksgiving smells. Maybe because the work is going well after a long period (for me) of relative stagnation. Maybe because I'm doing something else new this year, which is making New Year's resolutions. Maybe because I have a virus. Who the hell knows?

But I have the holiday spirit. And I mean it, I can't remember the last time I felt the holiday spirit during Thanksgiving and/or Christmas.

I have two hard weeks + two days and I should have my grades in -- and then a month out of the classroom. I have high expectations to get a lot of writing done over the break. I'd like to finish the Maupassant chamber opera and make a lot of progress on Sally and catch up on reading/research for various future projects. Mainly, I want to get as close to my old rhythm and energy as possible. I have accepted that I'm too damn old to match it but I can do better than my slow period recently. If John Dos Passos can outline a series of 12 novels in his 90s, I should be able to do my own modest output.

Ah yes -- the first deadline over the break is to get the new review published! Lots of work to do yet.

I'm being interviewed soon by a high school writer for whom I've been an Official Mentor for some kind of senior requirement they have. She wrote a one-act play that was quite good! She knew nothing about correct format and such but it was a strong story with strong characters. She's very talented. So I did the easy part, told her how to format the script, and her new draft looks professional -- she's a quick learner. I look forward to having coffee with her and being interviewed so she can complete her requirement.

Nature's Rule

Nature made a rule
In the DNA of life
That Man would play the fool
And Woman play the fife

What else can explain
Through our long history
The constant odd display
Of male tomfoolery?

Example: Call him Dick
Handsome, a touch of wit
He weds his school sweetheart
And vows never to part

Next thing you know
Sinful adagio!
After work a beer
With the company cashier

His wife is stuck at home
With a kid on the way
Dick is free to roam
And Dick is free to stray

The story’s quite a bore
Repetition always is
Poor wifey gets ignored
So much for wedded bliss

The moral’s clear to find
And Nature makes it stick:
Through all of humankind
You can never trust a Dick

Charles Deemer

Altman dies

On the wire:

Robert Altman, the caustic and irreverent satirist behind "M-A-S-H," "Nashville" and "The Player" who made a career out of bucking Hollywood management and story conventions, died at a Los Angeles Hospital, his Sandcastle 5 Productions Company said Tuesday. He was 81.

The director died Monday night, Joshua Astrachan, a producer at Altman's Sandcastle 5 Productions in New York City, told The Associated Press.

Read the story.

Watching an Altman movie reminds me a little of watching hyperdrama. Altman captured the same density of simultaneous action, the camera becoming a kind of character wandering through the layers of activity. He always brought his own vision to the material: for example, in my essay The Los Angelesation of Raymond Carver I argue that Short Cuts has more to do with California culture than with the Northwest territory of Carver. It's a powerful film: but Carver, I argue, is more powerful because in his stories characters are more hidden, dangerous and surprising. We expect to find crazies in L.A. It's another thing to find them at the small town lumber mill. By moving Carver's characters from small town NW America to L.A., Altman changes the deck, and a different story gets told.

But what a body of work, what a unique artist, what a maverick!

Altman profile in Christian Science Monitor.

The Modernist Art Cinema of Robert Altman by Robert Self.

Jackson Pollock

Now here's an addictive website! Move your mouse over this blank page and it becomes a paint brush, the button changes color, and in no time you're painting like Jackson Pollock. Alas, I haven't figured out how to save or print the results of your random inspiration.

An interesting artist, Pollock. The movie by Ed Harris is powerful. There's also an interesting subplot to this era in art, which has the CIA supporting abstract art because it has no content and therefore can be exported without damaging America's social or political reputation in the Cold War struggle against the Soviet Union. The CIA actually backed financially art journals supporting abstract expressionism! Pollock benefited from all this.

Personalities like Pollock -- artist as wild man -- reinforce the romantic interpretation of art as sacred calling, against which all non-artistic behavior gets excused or at least "understood." By this late juncture, the artist dead and his destructive personality more irrelevant than when he was alive, the work is all that matters. So who cares if you were an asshole in life? The people you hurt die off but the art lives on. That's the rationale of the romantic vision of art.

National Gallery of Art Profile.

Monday, November 20, 2006

Money talks

Hot off the wire, just a few moments ago:

O.J. Simpson book, TV show canceled
POSTED: 3:43 p.m. EST, November 20, 2006

NEW YORK (AP) -- After a firestorm of criticism, News. Corp. said Monday that it has canceled the O.J. Simpson book and television special "If I Did It."

Read story.

Fox news story.

Sometimes public outcry and threat of boycott get the attention of corporations exactly where they are most vulnerable: in the pocketbook. A victory for decency. There aren't many these days.

High octane

Very productive morning, on a variety of projects: finished draft of a new poem, finished chapter in Sally and started the next, and (the biggie) finished draft of the libretto of the short comic piece in the evening of Maupassant stories.

So the rest of the day is for piano and maybe minor prep for tomorrow.

I've been watching Rockford reruns. At the beginning of the second season. Should have time for an episode today as well.

The construction folks are really at it today, making a hell of a lot of noise. I was able to space it out when I was writing. I'm not easily distracted when at work.

Sneak preview

The winter/spring issue of Oregon Literary Review will be online in about a month. One of the featured artists is Jan Baross. I've known Jan as a playwright-filmmaker-photographer for twenty years. Now her first novel is out, and I've also been introduced to her paintings. We're featuring an interview with her, excerpts from the novel. her Mexico paintings, and a cancer journal accompanied by paintings.

The latter are extraordinary, a series of paintings she did in response to her bout with breast cancer five years ago. I've posted a couple of them here as teasers. Jan is one multi-faceted, talented lady.

I am confident this is going to be a very fine issue. We're also featuring work and an interview with OyamO, as mentioned here before, a playwright I admire greatly. And the new music again is first rate, plus we expand musical focus to include the folk guitar and songs of Jim Wylie. Plus nonfiction, art, poetry -- looking good!

Short week

Only teach tomorrow this week. I give my "marketing lecture," which is pretty set. But I also collect next-to-last drafts of their projects so I have a ton of reading over the holiday weekend.

Today and tomorrow, however, very little prep work to do. Writing, piano, thus are high on the agenda. Miss a piano lesson this week, so he gave us some challenging homework. I pre-registered for next term. I'm in this for the duration, I think.

Better get to writing before my mind drifts away.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Change of plans

H's oldest daughter recently broke up with her boyfriend. As a result, she's "homeless" for Thanksgiving, so H called her friend to see if we could bring the daughter along. The answer, which shocked H, was no! Only six can fit around the table, was the reason. Jeez, since her house is 4x the size of ours, I think I could find somewhere to sit down if you actually can't put seven around a table for six. Of course you can. But it's her table, so there you are. After H hung up, we reconsidered the matter. This is bullshit. So we bowed out at her friend's and will make turkey here for the three of us, hitting a movie ("Bobby") afterwards. We weren't getting turkey anyway and now we are. I'm delighted at the change. (But H remains upset at her friend.)

Silent Sunday

They've been putting in the sewer system for the housing development next to us, making a hell of a racket beginning before eight on every day except Sunday. So this is H's best day for sleeping in.

And to think our western and southern neighbors used to be a wild abandoned apple orchard! Gave us a real sense of being in the country. That's going to change soon enough -- or finally, I guess, since once the deal was made and the trees uprooted by those god awful huge machines, we were ready to get it over with. These will be upscale homes, so we hope our property value will rise as a result. We expect to be moving in a couple years into some kind of retirement community where everything is at hand.

After a few days without rain, another string of storms arrives today. It's been a very wet fall.

I have a lot of editing chores to catch up on. The new review is due out in a month.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

Who Am I This Time?

A charming romantic drama from the 1982 American Playhouse season, starring Christopher Walken and Susan Sarandon as two shy community theater actors who discover one another as the leads in "A Streetcar Named Desire" and learn how to transport their romance off stage. A reminder of how good a series this was and how much television has lost by abandoning regular presentations of theatrical drama.

December 2nd: Army-Navy Game

Growing up a "Navy brat," I was brainwashed into believing the annual Army-Navy football game was the highlight of the sports calendar. The propaganda took because I still consider it one of the sporting events I can't miss.

Once upon a time, the military schools had powerful teams. In 1944, Army-Navy played for the national championship.

But this was before college football became the big-time professional recruiting league that it is today. Army-Navy haven't been competitive in football in a long time. But, in one way, this only enhances the value of the game for me. Professional careers are not at stake. What's at stake is pride and bragging rights for a year.

Another thing I like about this competition is that it's never lost that these career military men and women have more in common than sports rivalry. Good sportsmanship is at the highest level. The game ends on friendly terms, no matter who wins. It's a game, not an audition for bigger things. These players show more class than you find in most sporting events these days. After playing football, they go off to pull their military duty.

Two weeks to go, then, for a major sporting event in my fan's year.

The Man Who Hatched Chickens

Progress on the short comic libretto this morning, wrote a nice duet by and about drinking buddies. The librettist's role, it seems to me, is to inspire the composer with great characters and a good story and rhythmic lines for him to work with. But I see myself totally in the service of John, the music coming first. Since our method has been to begin with the libretto, which I believe is often the case, I hope to write what triggers his best musical creativity.

Her Body

When she stretches on the bed,
I can’t look elsewhere instead.

The subtle turning of her lip
Suggests the curve below her hip.

No vocabulary tells
The special way her bosom swells.

All the length of limb and leg
Seem designed to make me beg.

In her navel’s hollow lies
A secret far beyond the skies,

And what her mons veneris spells
Has mystery in decibels.

Oh, I could go on and on—
But there she lies ... and now she yawns ...

Charles Deemer

Friday, November 17, 2006

For Your Consideration

I can't recall the last time I was so bored in a movie. The problem wasn't that this movie was "bad"; it's that it was too familiar. Watching this film was like hearing a good joke for the 100th time. You know it's a good joke but you don't laugh. In fact, you barely listen, it's all so familiar. This movie probably works for those who don't know squat about Hollywood or making a movie or all the miles and miles of satiric footage done on these topics over the years. But for those who do, this is all old hat, endlessly repetitive, the same old stuff. God, was I bored!

Christopher Guest burst upon the scene with Waiting For Guffman with a brilliant new comic voice. Best In Show was a great second film. But then, to my tastes, he started dealing with topics that were too easy because they were too familiar, folk music, Hollywood. Come on. What's next, a satire of the rich? I've liked each Guest film less than the one just before it. With this one, he's hit rock bottom for me, so I assume the next one can only get better.

Amazing concerts

For some reason, other than the general nostalgic condition called aging, I've been thinking about some of the fantastic, even amazing, musical concerts I've seen in my life. Some that come quickly to mind:
  • Ramblin' Jack Elliott, one-on-one. This has to be at the top of the list. I saw Elliott many times at the Ash Grove in LA in the 60s. In the 80s I got to meet him more personally when his girlfriend got sick as they were driving past Portland, and she ended up in the hospital here. Jack parked his Winnebago in the parking lot of the Gypsy bar. I met him, interviewed him for the weekly paper and arranged a quick concert at the Earth Tavern on 21st Ave. (it no longer exists). I helped him set up and do a sound check on a Friday afternoon, after which Jack sat on stage, I sat alone in the performance space, and Jack asked, "What do you want to hear?" What followed was almost an hour personal concert, with Jack doing full renditions of each song I named. How can you beat a concert like this, from one of your all-time favorite musical artists?
  • Tom Lehrer at Stanford. I mentioned this recently. It was in 1958, I think. What made this special were several things: I drove with two friends from LA to Palo Alto in my family's car, the first time I was "trusted" with it alone. At Stanford we met two other friends, all of us high school nerd buddies, who all had applied to the same colleges. Two ended up at Stanford, one at MIT, and myself and another guy at Cal Tech. At any rate, what made the concert musically special was that Lehrer was late, very late. Finally someone came on stage and delivered an hilarious monologue about why Lehrer was late. I had seen Lehrer before and knew he himself was speaking. Most folks didn't know this, which is why it worked when after the intro he went and sat down at the piano himself. Because he was late, Lehrer made up for it with an especially long and delightful concert.
  • Hank Ballard and the Midnighters in a park in Springfield, Oregon. In the 80s. Although Ballard was my fav in high school, I'd never seen him perform before. What made this a special treat was that I went to the concert with a DJ who was interviewing him, so we got back stage, I got to meet him, sit in on a long taped interview, and so on. It was great to meet another hero, however belatedly.
  • Doc Watson in a UCLA classroom. 1965. I was enrolled in a folklore course, and one of the benefits was that folk musicians came to class to perform. So I got to hear the legendary Doc Watson in a small room with 30 folks, an hour concert-and-Q&A session I'll never forget.
  • Peggy Lee at the next bar stool. 1960. I was sitting at a bar in Monterey when the jazz festival was going on. Couldn't afford to go. Who should walk in and sit next to me but Peggy Lee! On the other side of her was the piano player. She sang a couple songs when I was close enough to touch her.
  • Bruce "Utah" Phillips in the living room. My ex was close friends with Utah, having been in a bluegrass group with him. So when he was in town, he came by -- and I got to listen to another legendary folk artist up close and personal.
  • The Kingston Trio at Cal Berkeley. I saw them in 1959, just before going into the Army. I was trying to figure out some Dave Guard banjo runs so made sure I got front row seats. I took notes through the concert on Guard's banjo arrangements, and near the end of the concert, one of them intro'd a song by saying, "For those of you taking notes...", which became a part of their comedy routine. I'm pretty sure I was the guy who inspired it originally.

Well, there are more but these come immediately to mind.