Saturday, March 31, 2007

Long overdue

I just wrote the FBI requesting a copy of my file (Freedom of Information Act). Been meaning to do this for a long time but it keeps slipping my mind. Popped in my mind today while I was online, so I quickly found out how to make a request.

How do I know I have a file? I don't actually. But I assume I do from the 1960s. Two episodes in particular lead me to believe this.
  • One afternoon "Sally" and I were sitting on the front porch of an old house we rented near Eugene's railroad tracks. Suddenly a fancy car cruised by and slowed down. Two suits were inside. One suddenly leaned out with a camera and started snapping photos as the car sped off.
  • I was walking between classes on campus. Coming the other way, a student (I assumed) with a beard on a bike. Just as he passed me, his hand holding a camera snapped out in front of my face, click! and he was off and racing. I chased him but he got away.

I assume both these incidents are related to FBI surveillance of the campus political scene, in particular of "left-leaning" faculty and grad students. Nothing else makes sense to me. So I've always been curious what the hell the FBI thought I was up to. Maybe I can find out.

Nicholl deadline is May 1

Every serious screenwriting student should enter the Nicholl Fellowship competition each year. The deadline is always May 1. This is the most important screenwriting competition in the country, and it also has the lowest entry fee. No scam here. If you make the first cut into the quarterfinals, producers and agents will know about it because the Academy, which sponsors this, publicizes the results at each cut. I've had students reach the quarterfinals, go home and have messages from agents on their voice mail. Of course, this also is the most competitive contest there is. But at $30, the entry fee is well worth the roll of the dice.
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The Nicholl Fellowships in Screenwriting program is an international competition open to screenwriters who have not earned more than $5,000 writing for film or television. Entry scripts must be the original work of a sole author or of exactly two collaborative authors. Entries must have been written originally in English. Adaptations and translated scripts are not eligible. Up to five $30,000 fellowships are awarded each year.

Below you can sign in to the Nicholl Online Application Form where you can fill in and submit a 2007 Nicholl Fellowships application electronically via the internet. You will still need to submit a hardcopy of your script via regular mail but there are many advantages to submitting your application form online. If you'd rather complete your application form by hand we offer links to Adobe PDF and Microsoft Word versions of the application form. The postmark deadline for the 2007 competition is May 1, 2007.
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CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) -- West Virginia may have won the National Invitation Tournament, but the Mountaineers' commemorative T-shirts are less than championship material.

They contain a misspelling.

The "West Virginia" printed on the shirts players wore after winning the NIT title with a 78-73 victory over Clemson on Thursday night is missing the last "i" in "Virginia."

WVU sports information director Shelly Poe said the NIT printed the shirts.

Calls to tournament officials were not immediately returned Friday.

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Now here's a proofreader's nightmare. I've had embarrassing typos, as most writers have, but nothing as major as this, thank the gods.

Haiku a day

I hate poetry
the contrived emotion
elaborate words
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You can find a haiku every day at Haiku Nurse.

Friday, March 30, 2007

Testing Clipmarks

Trying this new Firefox add-on, that lets me copy directly from website to blog.
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Clip-to-Blog currently supports Blogger, WordPress, TypePad, LiveJournal, Movable Type and Vox. We also provide an embed code so you can copy and paste clips into other blogs such as MySpace.
For more information about Clip-to-Blog, visit the Clip-to-Blog FAQ.
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Trees Lounge

This 1996 indie, written and directed by Steve Buscemi, is as good a film about barflies as I've seen. Without the "over the top" sequences in Bukowski's Barfly, Trees Lounge quietly yet perfectly captures the reality of life among regular barflies, its comic moments, its tragic moments, its deadend rhetoric and self-delusions, its tiny joys. The film begins and ends with absolutely perfect imagery for its subject matter. Like Fat City, another film with great bar scenes, Buscemi's personal project finds its strength in truthful understatement. The haunting image that ends the movie says it all. Highly recommended.

More info.

More writerly chores

Picked up my syllabus at the copy center and reserved my DVD players and VCRs for the term. Ready to go!

Been brooding about the cold war novel and the new story twist appeals to me more and more, though I'm not yet decided on which of several ways to introduce it and then develop it.

Send out complimentary copies of my book SAD LAUGHTER: THE STAGE PLAY AND THE SCREENPLAY to five development producers associated with historical drama projects. A small investment for a very long shot but it makes me think I'm doing something more than nothing in the marketing arena.

Otherwise a low-key day. Feeling a tad under the weather, a sniffling kind of cold this time, so don't want to invite a major relapse.

Sunday night is a memorial to Paul deLay. We'll be there.

Feeling v. understanding

"The proper response to poetry is not criticism but poetry." Norman O. Brown, Love's Body

"A poem should not mean / but be." Archibald MacLeish, "Ars Poetica"

"...the Cartesian paradigm is actually a fraud: there is no such thing as purely discursive knowing, and the sickness of our time is not the absence of participation but the stubborn denial that it exists -- the denial of the body and its role in our cognition of reality." Morris Berman, The Reenchantment of the World

Our culture has lost an appreciation for mystery. This has been true for a long time. To know something is to explain it -- not to feel it: this narrow bias of human experience expresses itself most restrictively in the arts, where explanation (formal criticism) becomes a substitute for the art object itself. When we see a play or read a novel or poem and watch an opera, we want to know, What does it mean? The question assumes that the proper response to art is understanding.

All this comes to mind after the opera last night. Wagner's music in "The Flying Dutchman" swells and recedes with an expression of longing that is matched in the storyline, which focuses on the quest for ideal eternal love. Oh to find it in this life! The heart breaks before the impossibility of it. Only in death, only in death. Wagnerian lovers, like Romeo and Juliet, express their fidelity by dying together.

This is not a theme to be explained but felt. We may not buy the entire package but most (all?) of us have longed for more profound connection and communication than we grasp. "Your suffering moves me," says Wagner's heroine -- because she, too, has felt it. We do not enrich the experience of the opera by saying so here, however. This, explanation, discussion, happens after the fact. It gives us something to talk about over drinks afterwards. But it's the experience itself, the present tense of the opera, that matters and that gives art its reason for being. We respond to art in the present tense.

I've had very few teachers who understand this -- or who bring what understanding they have into the classroom. One was the late J. Robert Trevor, an early teacher who remained my favorite. Trevor began each class by reading a poem. We did not discuss it. He simply said, "Listen" ... and read a poem. A silence, while it sank in. And then class started.

I learned more about poetry from that experience than in any classroom literary discussion in undergraduate or graduate school later.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

First thoughts

Just back from the Portland Opera, an evening of Wagner's "The Flying Dutchman". Some first thoughts, perhaps to be amended later ...
  • This played without interruption, something over two hours. This is a better way to see this opera, and no doubt many others, than with intermissions. More a feel of whole cloth.
  • Great music, great stagecraft, setting, lights. But...
  • Costumes were another matter. The director tried to bring "modern relevance" to this opera by connecting it to -- can you believe this? -- the Holocaust, to which end he used what might be called Holocaust pajamas and 40s cocktail attire in various scenes. What a dumb idea.
  • Lots of empty seats from the start. Wagner? No intermission?
  • While far from perfect, this may be my favorite opera I've seen here.

Now someone should write a manual for directors that includes a chapter on what to do to rid yourself of any notion whatever about trying to make a story set in the past "modern" and "relevant to a modern audience." Anybody ever hear of the human condition? This story begins with a woman who falls in love with a picture. How in hell, in this age of Homo Consumerus, with images of studs and vamps on every magazine, TV screen and billboard in America, can anyone not understand the "modern relevance" of somebody falling in love with a picture?

Never in a zillion years did I imagine someone could do something related to the Holocaust that would make me laugh but this director did it, the moment I first saw, under the ship, all these sad looking dudes in their Holocaust pajamas. Give me a fucking break. What can you do but laugh at such gratuitous attempts at profundity?

Fortunately, these moments were few and easily ignored by closing your eyes and listening to the music. Except for the intrusion of "relevance," a fine production indeed!

Writerly chores

Put together my spring syllabus this afternoon. I expanded it from 10 to 23 pages by adding various handouts I use every term ... save me some grunt work later. Then to the copy center, which happens to be next to a coffee shop.

Heading out for the opera via an art gallery where a friend has an opening.

Another day of getting work done on everything -- except just a tad of piano, not as much as I should be doing. Maybe I should do piano first thing in the morning to make sure it gets done.

Best, best!, I came up with a plot twist that I think will fix the second act of my cold war novel, the middle of which has been bugging me no end. A logical surprise that moves everything in a new direction and opens up new possibilities. I'm going to go with it and see what happens.

Sunset Overture

I really like Robin Henderson's "Sunset Overture," the overture to our musical.

Take a listen.


In many, perhaps most, productions of Thornton Wilder's Our Town, there's a moment when the Stage Manager points out that so-and-so is mowing his lawn -- and then we hear the sound of an old-fashioned reel mower, a nostalgic sound indeed. Well, my neighborhood just got its nostalgic fill because I've been pushing the vintage Scotts around and, by the gods, the lawn is looking pretty damn good.

I thought I was going to enter molecular recycling earlier today in the kitchen. I was eating lunch and something stuck in my throat. I couldn't breathe. Nobody around to pull that maneuver to get me to cough it up, so I turned deep shades of red, I'm sure, scaring the dog, scaring myself, gagging and coughing, before I slowly recovered and got to breathing again. Close call, I think.

Finished a section on the novel today. Also a tad more work on the splay, up to page 40.

I'm seeing if there's interest in an online screenwriting class, starting May 7. If I get at least five students, I'll do it.

And now introducing, in his first public appearance...

Charley Bob Uke on his fabulous ukulele, picking tunes you wish everybody had forgotten about.

For example... or for that matter.

What's in a link?

About a week ago, this appeared at a website called Friday Drink Links:

A classic FDL, by request. "I quickly met my second wife, a brilliant graduate student who liked to brag that she had never met a man who could drink her under the table. Then she met me." Liquor and Lit, by Charles Deemer.

This must be why, over the next several days, my essay was accessed over 600 times! The essay, which originally appeared in Oregon Magazine, begins:

B-52, my last drink, June 13, 1993. Yum. Over and out.

Like many writers of my generation, I studied in the
school of liquor and lit. Previous generations of
American writers pointed the way. My literary heroes
when I was learning the craft in the 1960s were (or
had been) hard drinkers if not outright drunks:
O'Neill and Saroyan and Williams, Faulkner and
Steinbeck and Hemingway, Mailer and Baldwin and
Cheever, James Agee. The hard-drinking American writer
was a figure of mythic proportions, and by the time I
graduated from UCLA I was eager to join his ranks.

Read the essay.

Except for the link above, I don't know why else this essay suddenly had so many readers. The same thing happened a while back with my essay about the birth of rock and roll, Birthing Little Richard. Word of mouth happens big time on the Internet.

Rumors of war

WASHINGTON DC, -- The long awaited US military attack on Iran is now on track for the first week of April, specifically for 4 am on April 6, the Good Friday opening of Easter weekend, writes the well-known Russian journalist Andrei Uglanov in the Moscow weekly Argumenty Nedeli. Uglanov cites Russian military experts close to the Russian General Staff for his account.

The attack is slated to last for 12 hours, according to Uglanov, from 4 am until 4 pm local time. Friday is the sabbath in Iran. In the course of the attack, code named Operation Bite, about 20 targets are marked for bombing; the list includes uranium enrichment facilities, research centers, and laboratories.

Read the story.

The Internet being what it is, someone is always predicting we'll bomb somebody somewhere. Fortunately they are seldom right. On this one, we'll find out next week.

Corbett Fish House

Ended our wonderfully low-key anniversary with a late dinner at the Corbett Fish House, one of those neighborhood treasures. In this case, it advertises the best fish & chips in Portland and to my taste has it. We both had a combo with walleye, halibut, oysters and chile-fried catfish: yummy! Even at the late hour, it was packed. I pass by on the bus after my evening classes, and it's always packed. Testimony to how good it is. They opened a second spot on the eastside, Hawthorne Fish House.

Good weather in forecast. If it proves true, I'll spend some time outside this afternoon with the vintage Scotts reel mower. Before then, hope to do: work on novel and screenplay; piano practice; syllabus update.

School starts next week. What a short break. But spring term is always exciting, no doubt because it's followed by summer.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Rise of an old project

Robin Henderson, the musical half of a musical, Sunset, to which I wrote the book, just sent the overture (piano), and it's first rate. We may be getting close to finishing this project up. We've been at it for several years, longer than I usually spend on a project. Robin, a shrink by profession, is a busy man, and progress on his end has been slow. This is s decent musical (a love story set in a retirement center), and I hope he enters it in some competitions and gets an audience for his lyrical music.

Meanwhile up to page 35 on the screenplay.

Two nights, two operas. Time to get ready.

Miracle of mind

Woke up "seeing" the movie of my screenplay in progress, literary watching and hearing the next sequence that I have to write. Later I got out of bed and came to my basement office and wrote it. I'm already into act two, on page 27. I'm shooting for a 90-page script.

A nice note from the professor teaching my play Sad Laughter this term. Wants me to appear online to discuss the play with her students. Sounds good to me.

It's our anniversary! We're going to spend the day together, which in our busy schedules we don't do as a matter of course. Last night we talked about driving down to Salem to see an art gallery. Lunch somewhere, run the dog somewhere, a leisurely day. I've already put in a full day writing on the splay.

Tomorrow I need to think about the new syllabus. Basically just changing dates on it this time, not much to it.

Received a nice note from my brother. Hadn't heard from him in a while. He raved so much about the Beckett centennial edition that I'd better check it out.

He closed with ...: "Did you hear that recent studies on the Dead Sea Scrolls have revealed that the Golden Rule is incomplete? It should be: Do unto others as you would have others do unto you, but don't hold your breath."

Tuesday, March 27, 2007


Contest fees are really getting out of hand. A decent idea is the "Hollywood Book Festival," a conference and competition to highlight books that deserve attention from Hollywood as possible movies. The fee to enter a title, however, is $75. I consider this outrageous. Only the best contest of them all, the Nicholl Screenwriting Competition, has kept its fees low ($30) but then it's run by the real power dudes down there, the Academy. Most contests while not an outright scam nonetheless charge far too much and exist to take advantage of the dreams and unrealistic expectations of newks. Except for validation and ego-stroking, damn few contests actually help a writing career. Something else they don't tell you. Now the former two things are important, and sometimes damn important -- but you have to understand what's real and what's hype. Hollywood, of course, has more hype than any other community of creators.

Changing the subject. Just sent off a grant application for the review. No fee! For operating expenses basically, which are astonishingly low. I can't imagine not getting a grant but I've been wrong many times before. It just seems to me that we (the staff) are doing something ahead of the curve and doing it well -- and since we're all volunteers, it takes damn little money to do it! So it doesn't break the bank to throw a little change our way. We'll see.

I did some minor rewriting in the first act of the screenplay. Everything I changed was to lower the budget or make production easier. For example, on a ranch, my location, changing horses to open ranch cars. What I have it mind is finding a location with property, the filmmakers can set up camp, shoot everything there, and be done and gone with great efficiency.

Evergreen Review

The extraordinary Evergreen Review is now available from, published by Evergreen itself. Here, folks, is one of the great values of print-on-demand publishing!

Between 1957 and 1984, it brought together new voices, ideas, and images from around the world. Newsweek magazine said, “Evergreen Review was one of the most important literary periodicals in the United States . . . where some of the best authors sought to deliver themselves alive and burning onto the printed page.”

Evergreen Review defined the coming-of-age for two generations of writers presenting a cultural treasure for anyone seeking a greater appreciation for the forces at work in America's cultural and political landscape from the late 1950s till the early 1980s.

Individual issues are available for download (very inexpensive), plus Evergreen Review, Issues 1-10 is available on CD.

Morning high

Finished going through the Baumholder manuscript. Damn, this is good stuff! But I'm far from out of the woods on this. Middles, the infamous act two of storytelling, have a way of screwing up great starts. So the real challenge of this is yet to come. But I'm hooked big time on the narrative and characters here. This is great material.

So quiet ...

The halls of the university are abandoned and quiet. Term break. I'm in my office to do a few chores, including reading/rewriting the next 30 pages of the novel draft. Then it's time to move forward.

Very exciting about finishing act one of the new screenplay so quickly. This might be a very marketable script because 1. it's so easy to do (with good actors) and 2. the story (Rebecca West's story, of course) is first rate. I'm taking care to remain faithful to it in my modernization (which I'm doing for budget concerns. I figured we didn't need another historical drama, since such an adaptation already exists, but that this remains a very modern story. I have my soldier returning from Afghanistan.)

Made some good progress on the uke yesterday, too. Still, still, behind on piano studies. This is the area that I seem to push aside. Have to fix that.

Tomorrow or Thursday, it's time to revise my syllabus. I am making a few tweaks this term, though I'm using the same books again. But different books next fall.

Well, to work.

Early morning workout

Up to work a little on the screenplay. Moving right along. A few pages from finishing act one. Onward.

Monday, March 26, 2007


Up to page 12 on the screenplay.

Busy, busy

Getting much done today. Rewrote the first 30 pages of the novel in progress, 30 more to go. Did editing chores for an hour. Practiced the ukulele, fingerpicking chores. Need a break.

Deemer Does Dallas

Here I am some sixty years ago, around 1947, being a typical kid in Dallas, Texas, where my dad was the Naval Recruiting Officer at the time. I'm posed in front of the revamped WWII billets that were married officers' housing. Our home movies include scenes from parties in the common lawn area between the rows of buildings, with adults passing bottles back and forth and looking like they are having a grand old time. I remember that a few kids (not I) rode horses to George Peabody Elementary School, and when the weather was warm enough, some came barefoot. Those days are long gone. I sounded like a southern kid in those days. A few years later, after we'd moved to Pasadena, the Southern California Accent Police would convince my parents that I needed extensive speech therapy in order to speak like a human being. They tried but I still say BYOO-tee-full. Screw the accent police.

Love thy neighbor

HOUSTON, Texas (AP) -- For at least two days, neighbors at a city apartment complex noticed an acrid aroma, black smoke and leaping flames coming from two barbecue grills on the balcony of a second-floor apartment.

What, neighbors at the Red Oak Place apartments wondered, was going on in the unit where 27-year-old Timothy Wayne Shepherd lived? What was he burning at all hours, for days at a time?

The answer turned their stomachs.

According to law enforcement officials, Shepherd dismembered, and then burned the body of his former girlfriend, Tynesha Stewart, a 19-year-old Texas A&M University student. Nothing remains of Stewart's body, Harris County Sheriff Tommy Thomas said at a press conference Saturday.

Read the story.

No form of human debauchery surprises me any more. And this is nothing new, as reading in classical literature reveals. Torture, incest, rape, pedophilia, cannibalism, it's all there. Debauchery is as human as mom and apple pie.

Which brings me to one of my favorite theories of history. As we become more civilized, we become more sensitive to such things. We learn to abhor debauchery. We learn to prefer peace to war. Some of us even become pacifists.

But here's the rub. Not every society on the planet is progressing at the same rate. Thus, as today, you have 21st century values and the values of the Dark Ages in a dangerous face off.

Before technology tipped the scales, these face offs were decided in favor of the brutes. In the playground, the bully beats the sissy any day. But give the sissy a nuke and, well, the odds change.

An enemy who prefers death to life, who prefers martyrdom, is a dangerous enemy indeed, and this is the challenge facing those who prefer life to death: how to win a war against an enemy eager to die. Killing him clearly isn't the answer.

I don't know what the answer is. I like to think that education is part of the solution but we can't even educate our own kids, let alone the kids of the world. I do know this: there are areas of human endeavor, such as mathematics, that are cross-cultural, and it makes sense to me that this be used to advantage somehow. The Arabs, after all, developed algebra. Can't this be used to advantage in developing a dialogue with this culture?

So the jilted dude barbecued his ex, right there on his deck. (If we didn't have sex, would we have debauchery?) Reminds me of a Tom Lehrer song.

About a maid I'll sing a song,
Sing rickety-tickety-tin,
About a maid I'll sing a song,
Who didn't have her fam'ly long.
Not only did she do them wrong,
She did ev'ryone of them in, them in,
She did ev'ryone of them in.

One morning in a fit of pique,
Sing rickety-tickety-tin,
One morning in a fit of pique,
She drowned her father in the creek.
The water tasted bad for a week,
And we had to make do with gin, with gin,
We had to make do with gin.

Her mother she could never stand,
Sing rickety-tickety-tin,
Her mother she could never stand,
And so a cyanide soup she planned.
The mother died with a spoon in her hand,
And her face in a hideous grin, a grin,
Her face in a hideous grin.

She set her sister's hair on fire,
She set her sister's hair on fire,
And as the smoke and flame rose high'r,
Danced around the funeral pyre,
Playin' a violin, -olin,
Playin' a violin.

She weighted her brother down with stones,
She weighted her brother down with stones,
And sent him off to Davy Jones.
All they ever found were some bones,
And occasional pieces of skin, of skin,
Occasional pieces of skin.

One day when she had nothing to do,
Sing rickety-tickety-tin,
One day when she had nothing to do,
She cut her baby brother in two,
And served him up as an Irish stew,
And invited the neighbors in, -bors in,
Invited the neighbors in.

And when at last the police came by,
Sing rickety-tickety-tin,
And when at last the police came by,
Her little pranks she did not deny.
To do so she would have had to lie,
And lying, she knew, was a sin, a sin,
Lying, she knew, was a sin.

My tragic tale I won't prolong,
My tragic tale I won't prolong,
And if you do not enjoy my song,
You've yourselves to blame if it's too long,
You should never have let me begin, begin,
You should never have let me begin.


Wrote the first five pages of the new screenplay tonight, which I'm calling A SOLDIER'S RETURN. Still wondering if I have legs for a feature as presently conceived but I'll find out soon enough. If not, I'll find a supporting story to add.

After giving the hands a day's rest, back to the uke tomorrow, uh today. Actually I crashed very early and got up a bit ago to work, having dreamed the first scenes of the screenplay.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

The Beats

Lew Welch

On this day in 1957, U.S. Customs agents seized 520 copies of Allen Ginsberg's Howl on the grounds of obscenity. Ginsberg and his lawyers were not hopeful when they learned that the trial judge was a Sunday school teacher who had recently sentenced five shoplifters to a screening of The Ten Commandments, but the ruling was unequivocally for the poem.

Read the story in Today In Literature.

In my view, by far the best book about the Beats is Aram Saroyan's Genesis Angels: the Saga of Lew Welch and the Beat Generation. At only 128 pages, the volume reads like a prose poem, capturing the spirit of those literary times. To focus on Lew Welch, a minor figure in the anthologies, was ingenious because Welch's journey from Chicago ad man ("Raid kills bugs dead") to guru poet and wild man mystical suicide ("not the bronze casket but the brazen wing") epitomizes the issues and personal conflicts of the era. It's a lovely, lovely book, long out of print. There are lots of used inexpensive copies on the net. Treat yourself and pick up one.

In spring, 1959, I stuck out my thumb and began my own "Beat" hitchhiking adventure, which I captured in a journal I still possess. By August, I was joining the Army.


Oregon lost but was game till the end.

Just wrote out a beat sheet for a new screenplay. Inspiration. I'm going to adapt the Rebecca West novel to a modern low-budget psychological drama. It easily could be an historical drama, of course, but I'm bring the story to current times, a soldier returning from Afghanistan, and using only a single setting, a ranch in the west. I'll write with the novel at hand and use as much of the dialogue, modernized, as I can. But I want to add more visual storytelling than is in the novel.

Directors watching budgets love few sets. I can tell this story in a single setting, as most of the novel is told. The only question is whether I have legs for a feature instead of an hour drama. I'm writing very, very vertically to take up page space ha ha. We'll see what happens. But if I can make a feature, I think this would be very marketable because it's basically a 4-character psychological drama, very gripping, and 3 of the characters are women. I'm excited about this.

Now to read the Cold War print out. Onward.


Didn't make the uke meeting for two reasons: couldn't tear myself away from the game, only 2 pts. at halftime, and my hands are sore and need a break. 2nd half now and Oregon is getting whipped by managing to stay close enough for a miracle if someone gets hot. Porter is as cold as he's been hot in previous games.

Printing out the novel-in-progress as I listen to the game on the radio. I've been away from it for weeks now, which means I can read it with fresh eyes. Very eager to do this -- maybe later this afternoon.

A former student

Nice email from a former student now in the grad film program at Chapman College in SoCal, majoring in directing. Seems to be doing well and had some nice things to say about my class and the preparation it gave him. I expect to see his name on the screen in a few years. Very talented but very self-critical, which resulted in slow progress in my class. He produced half the quantity I expect but the quality was so high I didn't hold it against him. Hearing from former students doing well is a nice high.

The rhythm of summer

Parts of my summer rhythm are beginning to fall into place. Two and a half days with the ukulele tell me that I should be able to do what I want to do with it. There small fretboard is a problem but, being a guitar player, I know a few ways "to cheat" such as forming triads instead of 4-note chords up and down the fretboard. Works fine for strumming. For picking there's no problem since you don't hit four strings at once. In other words, I should be able to work around the fact of my fat fingers on a skinny fretboard. I have no idea of the quality of my instrument and would like to know.

So my summer rhythm is taking shape. Writing, reading, piano, ukulele, house chores, for starters. I'll print out the Cold War novel today or tomorrow and get back at it. I'd still like to finish a draft before summer. Then I'd begin the draft of Nails In My Coffin this summer. Sally remains in hibernation. In reading, I want to begin Chapman's Homer, a huge reading project. I'll be continuing piano lessons through the summer, and in fall I'll add a music theory class. With uke, I plan to put together a CD of old timey songs to distribute to a few friends, maybe their Christmas present. My house chores begin with getting rid of books, tapes and other things from my office, getting ready to travel light. We own far too damn much for a couple of old farts.

So there's the outline for an ambitious summer.

In the meantime, spring is here, and I have a new class to teach and a new issue of the review to put together. Onward.

Saturday, March 24, 2007

One down, one to go

One alma mater, UCLA, is off to the Final Four. Oregon plays tomorrow.

If Oregon wins, then they play one another in the semifinal. Hmm, which do I root for? First things first. Go Ducks.

I may miss it live and watch the TiVo replay later because the Portland Ukulele Association meeting is at game time, and I'd like to check it out.

There's no accounting for taste

Friedrich Durrenmatt

In case it's missed, I attach a comment I made to David's below about the OSF production of Durrenmatt's The Visit, which he found "stunning."

Interesting. I saw the same OSF production and absolutely hated it. It wasn't Durrenmatt: it was the director. The Durrentmatt play is stark and poetic, a real minimalist theatrical poetry at work, that I regard as essential to its meaning. Much of the script -- the poetry of the human trees, for example -- was cut. I despise this production as the worst I've ever seen of my favorite playwright!

I felt like burning down the playhouse after seeing this piece of shit.

Merle Travis

I have a new first song since "SF Bay Blues" will take some time to arrange. "Shady Grove," in a rather straight-forward "Travis-picking" style. There's poetic justice in this change since the legendary guitarist Merle Travis was, in a manner of speaking, an influential baby-sitter in my childhood.

It happened this way. My mom used to like to shop at Farmer's Market. What to do with me and my brother? There was a TV station near the market and in those early days of television each afternoon featured several hours of live country-western entertainment. A live audience was invited to watch -- and so the mothers of L.A. started dropping off their kids there while they shopped! The TV show became a kind of day-care center, so much so that kiddy activities were planned, sometimes even on camera.

Merle Travis was a regular on the show, and several times he took me under his wing. I even got to strum his guitar. Travis was known for his two-finger picking style, which later I picked up (to my detriment, I learned later, when I had to relearn the more popular three- and four-finger picking styles). It's amazing what Travis can do with two fingers! The great Doc Watson named his son after Merle Travis, and when the album "Doc Watson and Son" came out while I was at UCLA, all the folk world was abuzz with excitement. Merle Watson later died in a freak farming accident.

"Shady Grove," then, is executed in Travis style and just to be really traditional, I'm going to do it with only two fingers. This one ought to come together rather quickly.

My visit to corporate America

Upon discharge from the Army in 1962, I needed a job -- and immediately. I found one at Burroughs Corporation on the basis of my four terms at Cal. Tech. I worked in a section that oversaw the expenditures on various corporate projects. We kept records, did accounting tasks, kept statistics, and wrote reports.

I started hanging out with several older employees, perhaps because we all liked to get a drink after work at the bar just across the street. It catered to the corporate crowd. You drew a punch card from a machine at entry, which gave you your happy hour price for a drink.

This was my first exposure to all those characters in the fiction of Updike and Richard Yates and many others, those living "lives of quiet desperation," stuck in a job, stuck in the corporate world because they are so much in debt, working at jobs they don't particularly like. All of them had lost dreams. One, a tech writer, wanted to be a literary man, which I talked of becoming in a year or so, returning to college with this goal. Wayne wanted to be a writer. Now he wrote manuals. He was cynical, lonely, and stuck. I met a lot of guys like him in the corporate world.

My boss, however, was a smiling happy and religious man who seemed to love his work. He also liked my work and entrusted me with greater responsibilities. Nonetheless after a year at Burroughs I decided it was time to leave and go back to school. The section threw me a great going-away party with two presents: a case of selected imported beer to remind me of life with a paycheck; and a case of the cheapest beer they could find, to remind me of life as a poor student.

On my last week, on a day when my boss was home sick, an emergency situation demanded his attention. But he wasn't there. I asked if I could help and was virtually ignored but later I discovered what the problem was. On my own, I looked into the matter, which involved how certain corporate reports were distributed. I made a flow chart from what I learned and presented it to my boss' boss "as a going away present." A few days later, with my boss back, I was called into a meeting with him and the big boss. I was offered an attractive promotion, so impressed was the big boss at my scrawled flow chart that exactly answered his question. A considerable raise was involved. Here was my chance to be a corporation guy. No thanks. I became a poor student instead.

Another Burroughs story. I liked to come to work early. I got more done when nobody was in the section. I was on the time clock and many times I got so involved in work I forgot to clock in at the start of the day, so my boss would have to fill in a form to set it right. This got to be a pain in the ass. Even worse, arriving early, I was able to park in the lot near the entrance. I drove an old rundown Chevy. After a few weeks of this, I was told by the security folks that I had to park at the rear of the empty lot, far from the entrance. My car was a bad reflection on the corporation.

I learned a lot at Burroughs, mostly about how miserable so many people are in the workplace. Take this job and shove it. But most stay stuck.

In this regard, it is absolutely astonishing to me how few 9 to 5 jobs I've had in my life -- none since the mid-80s! I somehow survived -- even with a considerable bar bill in the old days, I survived. Wonder of wonders. The most fun was when I was living on grants, being paid to write without a deadline being attached to the money. Complete freedom. The worst was much of the rest of the time when I was surviving as a writer, mostly freelance work. The most stressful existence I can imagine.

Part-time teaching is a nice compromise, a bit of security with most of my time still my own.

Rebecca West

I'm a reasonably literate man and yet there are times when I feel pretty illiterate. There's so much good work written by so many dead writers, how does one find time -- especially a writer with one's own work to do -- to scratch the surface of it all? I was reminded of this yesterday when I picked up a short novel by Rebecca West, The Return of the Soldier, and started reading. What a fine book! A stellar story concept, executed nicely. Published in 1918. I'll have more to say about it later.

As I was reading, I thought, what a fine movie this would make! I should write the screenplay. I snooped around and, of course, it already came out as a movie in 1982, starring Julie Christie and Glenda Jackson and was nominated for an award. I'll check it out. I may still adapt it, however, perhaps to a modern setting. The story is timeless. Plot summary from Wikipedia:

Set during World War I on an isolated country estate just outside London, Rebecca West's haunting novel The Return of the Soldier follows Chris Baldry, a shell-shocked captain suffering from amnesia, as he makes a bittersweet homecoming to the three women who have helped shape his life. Will the devoted wife he can no longer recollect, the favorite cousin he remembers only as a childhood friend, and the poor innkeeper's daughter he once courted leave Chris to languish in a safe, dreamy past--or will they help him recover his memory so that he can return to the front? The answer is revealed through a heartwrenching, unexpected sacrifice.

This is why I'm so impatient with popular literature, which is almost always plot driven -- what Graham Greene called "entertainments." I don't go to books to be entertained, although I don't want to be bored. I go to books to learn something about the human condition and to be prompted to reflect about my own life, beliefs and values.

The artists I admire most -- fiction writers like Graham Greene, playwrights like Durrenmatt, screenwriters like Harold Pinter -- manage to infuse a character-driven story with a highly suspenseful forward driving plot, a read that is both entertaining and enlightening. These books are hard to write and therefore are rare. Durrenmatt's play The Physicists, for example, which is both a gripping murder mystery and a reflection on the moral responsibility of scientists in our dangerous world. Durrenmatt gets the best of both worlds, and I admire the achievement. Have I ever done the same? I'm not sure. Probably not, though perhaps I've been close a few times. Nothing close to the achievement above, however. But I keep trying.

Dark Mission

Heavy access of the John Nugent opera (to which I wrote the libretto) in my archive yesterday, all the sound files (piano and orchestra) accessed twice, plus 19 downloads of the libretto. Makes one wonder if a music class somewhere is looking at it.

Piano/Vocal score.

Friday, March 23, 2007

Sign of the times

New Orleans residents arming themselves

By MARY FOSTER, Associated Press Writer

NEW ORLEANS - Sixty-four-year-old Vivian Westerman rode out Hurricane Katrina in her 19th-century house. So terrible was the experience that she wanted two things before the 2006 season arrived: a backup power source and a gun. "I got a 6,000-watt generator and the cutest little Smith & Wesson, snub-nose .38 you ever saw," she boasted. "I've never been more confident." People across New Orleans are arming themselves — not only against the possibility of another storm bringing anarchy, but against the violence that has engulfed the metropolitan area in the 19 months since Katrina, making New Orleans the nation's murder capital.

Read the story.

First song

Well, I think my first song to arrange on the ukulele will be a fingerpicking version of the old classic written by the one-man Lone Wolf, Jesse Fuller: "San Francisco Bay Blues." It was an old fav of the group I used to play with in L.A. a zillion years ago and is the traditional song Ramblin' Jack Elliott used to open all his sets with. In fact, what impressed Jack most, regarding my credentials as a true fan, when I hung out with him for a few days here was that I had about four different versions of this song, including his first tries recorded in England.

Here Jesse Fuller is posed with his 12-string, harmonica, kazoo, and the instrument of his own invention and construction, the fotdella.

In the old days I usually sang the Elliott uptempo version of the song but here I'll be arranging the more traditional bluesy version by its author, the wonderful Jesse "Lone Cat" Fuller.


Almost forgot: a high priority this term break is catching up on the review. I have six or eight scripts to evaluate, quite a few accepted essays to format, other chores. Need to start that right away.

The tourny is back in gear. Exciting 1-pt games last night and the #1 seeds lucked out. UCLA was the exception, winning handily. Tonight Oregon plays. Would love to see them meet in the semi-finals.

Feeling a tad better again today ... maybe up to 80%.

I'm revising my syllabus over the summer. This year I'll have used the same one all three terms, a first. I usually change every term. I'm going to have them do more exercises from my book, I think. I may drop the Aristotle book and just copy and pass out the chapter on Action Ideas. I'll use my new paradigm chart, of course. With thanks to David Mamet. I love that guy's work and am delighted to learn he's a fanatical 3-act guy. So many students resist this, sounds too "un-creative" to them. As if a sonnet having 14 lines restricted creativity!

I'm ready for spring. Definitely. And I'll be ready for summer before it's here, too. Come on sunshine.

Good morning

A pretty sunrise out my office window this morning.

Woke up with ukulele licks in my brain. In my sleep I seem to have developed a hybrid finger picking lick that's a variation of a banjo lick I do, which uses 3-string chords and a 4th string for embellishments. I'll have to try it out!

Mainly piano and Cold War today, though. Let my blister rest.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Ukulele stuff

The uke arrived. Not sure what to say about it since I have nothing to compare it with. It's obviously not a toy. I bought it 75% off at a closeout. I may want to move up but the earliest I would do such is this summer in L.A. There is little selection here in Portland. L.A. has a guitar shop with 100s of ukes, so I could get anything I want. This one is fine for my present purposes.

Early thoughts: very easy to learn open chords and be a strummer. More difficult to move down the fretboard, especially since it's so damn small. I'm used to playing a 12-string guitar! So getting my fat fingers right will be a challenge. The picking is going to be fun. The clawhammer also will be a challenge. But I'm up to challenges. Ain't senile yet.

There's a Portland Ukulele Association, which meets the last Sunday of the month, i.e. this Sunday. I'm going to check them out. There's also an annual summer Ukulele Fest, at Reed College this year, and the thing is almost sold out! Apparently folks come from all over the country and around the world to these things. It's a tad spendy but there also are some workshops I'd love to take. Not this year. I'll know more about where I'm at with this next year.

I already have a blister on my right finger. I'm used to picking with finger picks.

Just about have the grades wrapped up. An Incomplete that may submit before the deadline next week.

Feeling better today than I have in a while, maybe at 75 or 80%. I have two great uke books, eager to get into them. And much to do on the piano.

I also should print out Baumholder 1961 and see what I have and where I'm at and where I'm going.

Damn, I love Mamet's version of the storytelling paradigm: very elegant. Once upon a time, And then one day, And just when everything was going so well, When at the last minute, And they lived happily ever after (or alternative). Hard to find a story in our culture that doesn't do precisely this!

Well, a busy day. Done.

Once an editor...

I improved the Storytelling Paradigm.

Out for delivery

Tracked the shipment progress of my uke and it's "out for delivery" on the local truck. Oo-ee! Since I'm so excited, that means it'll arrive at 5pm. But that's cool.

Cheerful students

Stopped by the Cheerful Tortoise, the university-local sports bar, for breakfast and found quite a few cheerful students laughing over beer or Bloody Marys. A bit early to finish a final ... wonder if they were prepping for one. I used to save my drinking until after the exam.

A great breakfast, which was a relief since the quality control here is iffy. Depends on the cook, maybe, or the condition of the cook. About half the time it's great, the rest merely good. Never a bad breakfast there at least.

At the university to tie up some loose ends.

Eager to get a ukulele in my hands! Today or tomorrow, I expect. Have spent time in the fretboard book -- man, it's like a mystery has been revealed. The explanation of patterns in this book is first rate. I should be able to utilize the full fretboard after learning these principles. It's like when the light went off and I first understood the 3-act storytelling paradigm -- what power comes with understanding! Exciting stuff.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Storytelling paradigm

David Mamet

In his book Bambi vs. Godzilla: On the Nature, Purpose, and Practice of the Movie Business, David Mamet summarizes beginning-middle-end storytelling, which is the storytelling paradigm of our culture, as follows:

Once upon a time, and then one day, and just when everything was going so well, when just at the last minute, and they all lived happily ever after. Period.

This is the most efficient and clear explanation of the paradigm that I’ve seen. Mamet goes on to give an example:

There was a poor but honest woman, who lived with her son, Jack, in the forest.

Their money ran out, and they were forced to sell their cow.

Jack was sent to take the cow to the fair.

On the way he met a man who offered Jack this bargain: I will trade you your cow for these five magic beans. The little boy happily made the change and came back to tell his mother the happy news.

She cursed him out for a fool, threw the beans out of the window, and retired to her bed, weeping.

The little boy went to sleep, and as he slept, the beans took root and grew, until the beanstalk reached clear to the sky.

On awakening, he climbed the beanstalk and discovered, in the clouds, a giant’s castle. He entered the castle and saw inside of it treasures beyond imagining. There was a golden harp and a goose that laid golden eggs.

Thinking to redeem himself, he picked up the goose and made for the beanstalk. The goose began squawking and awoke the giant, who pursued Jack.

The giant grew closer and closer as Jack threw himself onto the beanstalk and started to descend.

The giant came on roaring, and Jack’s end was at hand.

Jack reached the bottom, grabbed an axe, and cut down the beanstalk; and the giant fell to his death.


Mamet offers two modern variations of the ending: “And then they all lived sadder but wiser” (drama) and “And then, finally realizing the essence of the human condition, they put their eyes out and wandered around for a while as a blind beggar” (tragedy).

Anybody remember ... ?

Ralph Kiner

Hugh McElhenny

Sign of the times

Found this image on the RAPSU blog, couldn't resist.

Mail brought a ukulele book, the most coherent and clear explanation of chords on a fretboard that I've ever read. This is going to open new musical doors for me. Or maybe I "get it" because I'm studying piano now.

Graded most the finals but am sinking fast. Maybe to bed.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Hail, Columbia

One of my students this term just got accepted into the MFA grad writing program at Columbia. He starts next fall. Not too shabby.

Grand Canyon glass Skywalk

Rising 4,000ft (1,220m) from the canyon's floor and 70ft (20m) beyond its rim, the Skywalk is being described as an engineering first.

The Hualapai Indians, who own the site, are hoping to attract visitors to a high unemployment area.

But some tribal members say this is a desecration of sacred ground.

Read the story.

This doesn't turn me on at all.

Picking up finals

Killing time in the office before picking up my students' take-home finals. A ritual that ends the term. I should get them read tomorrow and Thursday and turn in my grades. Then we get ready to do it all over again, but this time with the summer break ahead.

During the break, as I said, it's going to be music, music, music, plus getting back in the rhythm of Baumholder 1961. I am very eager to start messing around with the ukulele. Sounds like therapy to me, which may be another word for Zen.

Clawhammer Ukulele. I like the sound of it. Hope I can master the sucker. I expect it will take a while but I have good video resources on the net to guide me along. If you can get the right hand down, it's a piece of cake. My uke crazy friends are doing the standard strum routine, so maybe next time I see them I can surprise the hell out of them.

Music, music, music

My ukulele has been shipped, and I should get it Thursday, about the time I turn in my grades. I'm moving music, piano and uke, front burner during my break to catch up on things and also returning to the cold war story.

Regarding the uke, I plan to learn three playing styles:
  • Strumming, which should have no learning curve. I already play guitar, after all. Learning new chords should be easy.
  • Finger picking. I already finger pick guitar, so this should have a small learning curve as well.
  • Clawhammer. This is the challenge but it's also the sound I like best. I tried clawhammer banjo once and it didn't come easily. A challenge, like I say.

I had a virus relapse yesterday but am feeling better today. I don't recall ever having such a tough time shaking one.

Finished reading the projects. Pick up finals this afternoon.


In one of his talking blues, Woody Guthrie comments that "everybody's looking for some kind of a little place."

ANCHORAGE — A town in Alaska's interior that offered free land to anyone willing to put down roots had it all spoken for within hours Monday.

People dropped everything to fly or drive north, camping out in weather as cold as 25 below and dreaming of homes they would build amid the spruce and cottonwoods of the town of Anderson, population 300.

Read the story

They offered over two dozen large lots for a $500 deposit. One had to build a house of at least 1000 sq ft within two years. Not a bad deal -- if you like winter.

In The Lessons of History, the Durants conclude from a lifelong study of world history that most wars are fought over land at root -- and those things attached to land (water, oil). In the 1960s Robert Ardrey explored this thesis in
The Territorial Imperative
and other works, creating something of a controversy in anthropological circles. I'm not sure how the debate is weighed today.

Monday, March 19, 2007

Cinderella in Poughkeepsie

The women's tournament has delivered a genuine Cinderella-story, Marist College of Poughkeepsie, NY, who two days ago defeated powerful Ohio State and tonight ended Middle Tennessee's longest win streak in women's bb. Marist is a 13-seed making it to the Sweet 16. They may end up playing Tennessee on Sunday.

Poughkeepsie Journal story

Marist College

Devil's Dictionary

VOTE, n. The instrument and symbol of a freeman's power to make a fool of himself and a wreck of his country.

WAR, n. A by-product of the arts of peace.

WEDDING, n. A ceremony at which two persons undertake to become one, one undertakes to become nothing, and nothing undertakes to become supportable.

WIT, n. The salt with which the American humorist spoils his intellectual cookery by leaving it out.

YEAR, n. A period of three hundred and sixty-five disappointments.

ZEAL, n. A certain nervous disorder afflicting the young and inexperienced. A passion that goeth before a sprawl.

Ambrose Bierce

This concludes highlights from The Devil's Dictionary.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Goodnight, Cinderella

No double-digit seed made it to the Sweet 16 in the tournament. Oregon won handily, proving all of ESPN's pundits wrong.

Of the 16, the ones not expected to be here are 3 five seeds, a six and a seven. So the 7 seed, UNLV, Oregon's next opponent, is the highest seed left.

A break before we start up again, during which I will try to get my reading finished and grades in. Onward.


An interesting footnote to the German film The Lives of Others. My wife, an intelligent woman, was shocked by the life of East Germans depicted in the film. I had no idea it was like that, she said. Well, as a "spy" in this era, I knew about life in a police state well enough, which in areas is even worse than anything depicted in the film. So why this gap in her education? In truth, I find many "liberals" have a gap in their knowledge of life in police states. On the extreme, some will point out the superior health care in such a country, for example, which can be true. But at what price? At the same time, the marketplace is driven by greed and can't be relied upon to provide basic human services. "If all men were angels, there'd be no need for government." It's a balancing act, and both extremes have their arguments for more or less government. I know some folks, for example, who are infatuated with Cuba today -- and others, Cuban refugees, who believe Castro is the devil.

My feeling is that the more government snoops into your lives, the worse the situation gets -- and this clearly is a trend here now. It's always in the name of security, of course. Well, I digress. I just found it fascinating that my wife thought everything was rosy in East Germany during the Cold War.

Coney Islands

Now and again my taste buds become obsessed for something. Lately it's been for a Coney Island. In the old days (i.e. 1980s), I'd hightail it to Nick's Famous Coney Island on SE Hawthorne and satisfy my obsession. Frank, the owner, a man obsessed himself by the Yankees and by Neil Diamond, would be the cook, Kenny "the Commander" would be taking orders, a man with a photographic memory who never wrote down anything, even with a full house. But Nick's, like almost everything in this town, ain't what it used to be. So I went to the store for the stuff to make my own.

A nostalgic cruise, with dixieland being played on the radio by someone other than Dr. Jazz. No calls to breakfast in his warm voice. Home and cooked my brunch. Now getting ready for the Oregon game, which all the TV pundits say they'll lose to Winthrop.

Last night I had a coughing fit, had to come downstairs to give H peace. But I feel good right now.

Projects to grade! I'll catch up tomorrow and Tuesday without basketball to distract me.

I took the leap and ordered a ukulele. Had decided to get a low end model first, then if it sticks have a friend in L.A. help me find a better model when I'm down there for a wedding in June. Decided on the concert size, a tad larger than the standard soprano. Searching the net, I found a close out sale -- if the ad is right, it's a pretty good model at 75% off, so we'll see how it goes. Not much invested if it stinks. Also ordered a couple books and printed out a wealth of info from the net.

Hack, hack, hack. I can get 100% well any time now, oh ye gods.

Eager to get my grades in and then use the break to get back into my rhythm. Back to the Cold War novel. Crank up the music studies.

Saturday, March 17, 2007

The Lives of Others

I don't get really excited about many films lately. I see a lot of competent films and good films but not great ones. I guess the last two that really excited me were Crash and Paradise Now. Now there's The Lives of Others. I love this film.

At root, it's the story of the humanization of a security bureaucrat in the East German communist machinery, who is assigned to spy on a playwright and his mistress. Along the way he learns things that expand his personal universe: he reads poems by Brecht and listens to the playwright play a sonata on piano. He learns about corruption among his superiors. He learns about the freedom of artists compared to his own dreary existence.

The story also works as a suspenseful drama, the noose forever tightening. And it surprises us in its last half hour. Everything about this German film is first rate. Don't miss it.

March madness pressure

You see this a lot in the tournament: a good small school outplaying a big school through most of the game, then falling apart at the end. So today Xavier (9 seed) had an 8 pt. lead on Ohio State (1 seed) with 3 minutes left -- and fell apart. But with 9 seconds left, they still had a 2 pt. lead and 2 free throws. Make them both and it's a two possession game. But they made only one, Ohio State stormed down and hit a long 3 to send it into overtime. And in overtime, they just blew Xavier away. Oh so close! But not close enough.

Musical instruments

We're at the point, after two terms, in my piano lessons when it's getting really interesting, both in terms of theory and playing. At last! I'm loving it.

I've been thinking about my musical background. Here's a short history.

  • My Gene Autry Guitar. We begin when I get a Gene Autry guitar for Xmas when I'm 8 or 10. The cowboy and Champion on it, a lasso going up the neck. Alas, guitar lessons came with it and I almost quit because these were "classical" guitar lessons, learning scales and such, and all I wanted to do was play cowboy songs. I quit. Later I got a book called How to Play the Guitar in Five Minutes and taught myself over the next several years. My brother can remember crying when I sang cowboy songs. Later I got interested in folk music ala Pete Seeger and the Weavers.
  • Five-string Banjo. I don't recall when I got my first one. Before I went into the Army because I had one in Berkeley as a street person and took it with me into the military. I learned on Pete Seeger's book, which actually gave me some bad habits for expanding my style later. Through the Army, then, I mostly played 5-string, Seeger-style.
  • Blues guitar. I traded the banjo for a guitar later in the Army and picked up a finger-picking blues style ala Brownie McGhee. I continued this style as a civilian and in L.A., meeting L.A. friends and playing music with them. In those days I took my guitar everywhere.
  • 12-string guitar. As a graduate student, I stepped into an elevator and joined a professor I knew, a folk musician. He needed immediate cash for a tax problem and offered me the 12-string I used to play at his parties for a great price. I took it (I was wealthy as a grad student, as explained here before). Thereafter, for years and years, for decades, the 12-string became my primary instrument.
  • Harmonica. I added harmonica on a rack sometime in grad school, can't recall exactly when. My model for this style was early Ramblin' Jack Elliott (not Dylan!), and of course Woody Guthrie. This was the combination I used for my Guthrie show, which I assembled in the late 1970s. I wrote a lot of humorous talkin' blues with this combination as well. But after I returned west after a divorce, settling in in Portland, I stopped taking my guitar everywhere. Prior to this, in L.A., in Eugene, in Salisbury, Maryland, I took my guitar everywhere. We were inseparable. In Portland, I focused on my playwriting career and dropped the musical appendage.
  • Piano. I had a brief flirtation with piano in Salisbury because at a gas station I met a guy taking a piano to the dump. I had him deliver it to me instead. I got someone to tune it and then tried to learn it, making a bit of progress but not much. Mainly it was used by a boogie-woogie piano playing friend at our constant parties.
  • Return to 5-string. A few years ago I bought myself a Derring Goodtime 5-string banjo, though I've mainly just fiddled with it.
  • Piano lessons. And I recently began piano lessons, primarily to gain literacy for writing music drama / chamber opera scripts with musical lines.
  • Clawhammer ukulele. This is my recent obsession. I have friends in L.A. and Idaho who have gone ukulele crazy. So I've been looking into it and discovered this odd, rare style of playing it like a 5-string, clawhammer ukulele, and I absolutely love this sound! Like a very early banjo. Very very old-timey. It goes without saying that I'll be picking up a uke soon and teaching myself clawhammer ukulele. You can count on it.

Can't you see a clawhammer ukulele chamber opera in the works!?

Friday, March 16, 2007

The sun, the sun!

Nothing like a little sunshine to raise the spirits. Don't feel better "biologically" today but my attitude is much improved, thanks to seeing my own shadow.

Piano class, last of the term, was great -- did some theory stuff today, which I loved learning.

Oregon survived a near collapse at the end to advance. Not the same team that ended the season, alas, and next up is Winthrop, which upset Notre Dame.

Babying myself today but tomorrow I hope to do some lawn work.


A curious item on the local radio news this morning: an alternative publishing company founded and located here is moving to Indiana because it can't afford Portland any more. The report said, The company is a victim of the gentrification that it spurred by making Portland such an interesting place to live.

There you have it. I used to review restaurants. I'd find a great little unknown out-of-the-way place, writing it up in glowing terms, and go back in a month or two and have to stand in line to get in. Sometimes it's best to keep your favorites to yourself, lest they outgrow their attraction to you.

I've said this many times before but I'll forever remember the words of my NY agent visiting me in NW Portland in the early 1980s: "This is the way Greenwich Village used to be," she said. "Don't let anybody change it." Ten years later, everything had changed.

Progress, right. But, in fact, there is only one, only one, aspect of life in Portland that I find better now than in the 1980s: public transportation is more widely available throughout the area. I don't find any other aspect of living here better or more enjoyable, and certainly absolutely nothing is more affordable. Gentrification.

Class act

How refreshing is this? Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said this about losing in the first round (I paraphrase): Sometimes you have to get your butt kicked to appreciate winning. We got our butt kicked, and hopefully it will make us a better team next season.

At a time when whining and victimization and making excuses are at epidemic proportions, here is someone saying "No excuses!" (the mantra of existentialism). First rate class act, Coach K.

Coach K Website.

Spring sprunging?

Tomorrow and today sound like spring, sun and near 70s. Maybe, if I'm feeling better, I can do a tad of lawn work tomorrow.

Today I have to put in enough time on piano so as not to embarrass myself at lessons today. But I'd rather watch basketball, which starts at 9 a.m. again. Oregon plays at 2, right after piano.

Collected term projects. If I read five a day for the next four days, I'll be fine.

Term break I plan to catch up on everything, which mainly means on writing and editing chores.

MM2: Virginia Commonwealth beats Duke

(11) VCU 38 41 79

(6) Duke 40 37 77 Final

This was the only major upset of the first day of the tournament but it's what I wait for, what the tourny is all about, the little guy beating the big basketball program. Love it.

Gonzaga and BYU lost but UCLA won impressively. Today Oregon, Nevada, USC and Long Beach State play.

Read the story.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Anybody remember ...?


Willie Shoemaker


No upsets in the first 8 games, alas, although Davidson and Old Dominion were competitive, offering the flirtation of upset, until running out of steam at the end. Stanford was an embarrassment to the Pac-10 and didn't belong in the tourny. Washington State had a terrible first half before getting it together and looking damn good. UCLA and Gonzaga play tonight; either could win or lose. It's boring when the top seeds win, so I still hope for an upset, though preferably not removing a west coast team.

Bottom-top editing

Anyone with experience in journalism knows that often stories are edited at the last minute because of space restrictions. You can't put a square peg in a round hole. When I was managing editor of Oregon Business Magazine, and before that editor of a trade newspaper, I participated in pasting up the publication, which happened on a light table in those days. What usually happened is that a last minute ad meant that room had to be made for it, which meant removing short stories or editing longer ones. If the latter, we usually edited from the bottom -- indeed, stories were written this way, so they could be cropped at the bottom if necessary. This is practical writing, not dramatic writing.

The profile on me in the student paper was written dramatically. As such, it is well constructed because it leaves the most important thing I say until the end, that writing is an existential act. I think this makes for a powerful and revealing ending. However, when moving the online story to the paper version, a fraction of an inch had to be cut and what got cut was the ending. So the most important thing I say is not in the published profile, only in the online version. This, I suppose, suggests the inexperience of the writer, working without noting the practical constraints of the craft.

What I tried to do if I had time was to edit in the middle of a story but frankly there seldom was time to do much thinking. You just made space for the ad as quickly and as best as you could -- bottom-top editing was the rule. It's something that makes journalism so tricky in the real world. You write realizing that the bottom of your piece may well be chopped. This makes dramatic writing if not impossible at least insecure. You never know your published ending until you see it.

Let the madness begin

9 a.m. the NCAA tournament begins in earnest -- and I'll be watching. One of my favorite sporting events. And this year I have a team to root for that may stand a chance, Oregon. If they play at their best, as they did in the PAC-10 tourny, they could reach the Final 4. But they've been notoriously inconsistent. They could lose in the first round, too. I also have Washington State and Gonzaga to root for, plus small schools and high seeds everywhere.

Yesterday afternoon I had a sinking spell. Not a relapse so much as loss of energy, this prolonged virus sapping the life out of me. I picked it up Feb. 27th, after returning from L.A., so it's been hanging on for a while. I feel on the downhill side again this morning and continue to take care of myself and hope for the best. Poor H is in worse shape, not with the flu but an allergy or something, coughing fits, spitting up green slime. This is our most sickly winter together.

Two papers to read this morning. Otherwise caught up ... but I get the final projects today, so lots of reading in the next four days.

Also very behind in piano practice and have to make an effort to catch up before class tomorrow.

When I get well, I need a new plan to stay well.