Thursday, January 31, 2008

Doesn't take much ...

... to make me feel good. Somebody bought the piano score to the Nugent/Deemer opera Dark Mission today. And someone else last week. Why, unless you're interested in doing it? Maybe it's finally going to find a home. Nugent deserves it. I hope I live long enough to hear it done. (Unless John himself is buying copies!)

Winter term

I'm jacked. This is shaping up to be a great winter term. Usually winter is the worst term of the year. Maybe it's the weather. Everyone has low energy and such. But this winter screenwriting class, judging from early script pages, may be one of the really good ones.

Moreover, both piano and music theory classes have become really fun, at last learning songs that sound like songs and not exercises, the theory challenging and fun, taking me back to my math major youth.

And, of course, I'm writing strong again in my own work. So the professional life is going very well. I'm so busy, I don't have time to notice if I have a personal life or not ha ha, but it's just as well, if I looked at it I might not like what I saw.

Salinger again

One of the more frequently accessed posts in this blog is my reading of Salinger's "Teddy" ( Students are still trying to make sense of this story. My reading apparently is still a minority view. However, the central question and foundation of any interpretation remains: is there water in the pool? What is the evidence for? what against? And I say common sense and the text of the story both lead to the pool having water in it. And if the pool is full, what really happens?
Salinger's Holden Stories

On this day in 1948, J. D. Salinger's "A Perfect Day for Bananafish" was published in the New Yorker; in the same magazine, on the same day in 1953, Salinger's "Teddy" also appeared. These are the first and last selections in Nine Stories (1953), Salinger's only collection apart from various bootlegged editions of the other, forty-odd stories.
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Wednesday, January 30, 2008


Nice words about Oregon Literary Review from one of the more reputable poets in the state:

In any case, the whole magazine is really something. It is so vital, so many surprises. You should be proud.

"You" meaning our entire staff.

The cost of art

Actors aren't the only ones who pay a price for their art. Most artists, in all forms and genres, do -- or do if they are serious and draw upon their most personal experiences in their work. More than once I've felt close to a nervous breakdown after finishing a work -- most recently, in fact, with "Oregon Dream". In the past I'd medicate the feelings with booze. Now I distract myself in other ways. But it can be exhausting and more to delve into the deep corners of memory and experience and fiddle with the ghosts there. The series of posthumous plays I've decided to do go there, which is why I don't want to have them done in my lifetime. Not because I don't want to see them -- I'm experienced enough to see them well on the stage of my mind -- but because I don't want to be asked to talk about them, interpret them, analyze them. I know the dance -- I've had over 40 plays produced, I know the dance damn well. This time around, I'm not dancing.

Here's some of David Edelstein's excellent commentary on this topic on Sunday Morning.

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Film actors are fragile, and if that sounds patronizing, well, it's meant to be: I am their patron, and so are you.

In return for celebrity and riches and seemingly unlimited access to sex, our movie stars need only stay beautiful - which is hard - and wide open - which is harder. They have to switch off the defense mechanisms that keep the rest of us from imploding. It's no wonder they sometimes medicate themselves to death.
In life, Ledger had license to act out too much, and it didn't help that he'd just finished playing the Joker in the upcoming Batman movie, "The Dark Knight" - a role in which he courted insanity, a wild, limitless freedom.

What happened next we don't fully know. But Heath Ledger's death reminds us what a dangerous art this can be.
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Second class citizens

You don't have to be a playwright for long to realize that in literary affairs, playwrights are second-class citizens. Consider the Oregon Book Awards. Playwrights, unlike all other writers, are only eligible every other year. Moreover, with 2008 being an eligible year, the new application form forgets this periodic gesture of appreciation and neglects to list the Drama category, an obvious error but one that speaks volumes about how playwrights are regarded by literary organizations. Yep, I zapped them an email to point out the error.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Office hours

Managed to rewrite the first 50-odd pages of the new screenplay I've been working on, the romantic thriller. Getting back into its world and rhythm. A busy school week but nothing out of the ordinary. Next Tuesday I do all day conferences, always an exhausting day.

This week's music theory is easy for a change. A new piano piece to learn but it doesn't look too difficult.

Got some picks for the banjo ... I think this may work out. Be a relief if it does, what with the fingernail tearing all the time.

Realpolitik shows its fangs

The nastiest lesson I learned from the 60s is that a quick, efficient way to change the political landscape is to assassinate the right people. Et tu? It's the oldest tactic in the world. Look at Palestine recently. It makes me fear for the life of any progressive politician who comes on the scene, in any country on the planet, including my own.
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Opposition Politician Is Killed in Kenya

NAIROBI, Kenya — Mugabe Were, a freshman in Parliament, could have been one of the keys to unlocking Kenya’s crisis, but he was shot dead in his driveway on Tuesday.

Mr. Were, 39, was an opposition politician who had resisted his party’s often belligerent talk. He had married a woman of another ethnic group, built a footbridge in a slum with his own money and sponsored teenage mothers to go to college. As Kenya slid into chaos this past month after a disputed election, he shuttled between leaders of different ethnic groups and was organizing a peace march the night before he died.

“Whoever did this has killed the dreams of many,” said Elizabeth Mwangi, a friend.

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Monday, January 28, 2008

The Belmonts Acappella

I remember going ape when I first heard this in the 70s as a grad student. Jivin' Johnny Etheredge played it on his Saturday Gold radio show, and I rushed out the next day and bought the LP. I love this record! But along the way I lost it, and the tape I made of it, but recently saw it was out in CD, ordered it, got it today, and have been blasting it since then. I still love it. This is The Belmonts minus Dion, who in his own right has a fine new blues CD out (he was a blues musician before turning to doowop and rock). But if you like oldies acappella, can't do much better than this.

Jivin' Johnny

"Very interesting"

Snooping around my archive's stats, I discovered a recent search for "Dark Mission Whitman" led to the Nugent opera to which I wrote the libretto, which was subsequently purchased -- and the buyer was from Whitman College. This would be a perfect work for their music department.


Finally got some white stuff, not much, only an inch or so, but enough to close down schools here on the westside where it's "worse."

I'm caught up with my advanced students and now have the day to myself. Practice music, write (the screenplay).

With posthumous play number one done, an idea for number two popped into my head and I scribbled notes for it. Have a good theatrical structure for it. A good play idea must be a play, that is, there is something inherent in the telling of it that demands the stage and the special intimacy of live theater.

After those weeks of "silence," my creative juices have erupted like Old Faithful.

Sunday, January 27, 2008


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`No Country' wins key SAG prizes

LOS ANGELES - "No Country for Old Men" solified its Academy Awards prospects as Javier Bardem won as supporting-actor and the film was honored for overall cast at Sunday's Screen Actors Guild Awards, which may stand as the highlight of Hollywood's film-honors season if the writers strike undermines the Oscars.

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And now the Oscars ...

This must be considered the favorite now.
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Coens win for 'No Country for Old Men'

LOS ANGELES - Joel and Ethan Coen won the top prize from the Directors Guild of America on Saturday for "No Country for Old Men," giving them the inside track for the same honor at the Academy Awards — assuming the Oscars go on amid the writers strike.

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Saturday, January 26, 2008

Clawhammer fingernail

Every book on clawhammer banjo has a section on fingernail care -- and I can see why. I'm tearing the hell out of mine. Not sure what to do about it. I'm going to begin by trying a variety of picks and see if any work out. Once upon a time, long ago, I heard a banjo with nylon strings and it sounded really cool and old-timey. That's another possibility. I haven't tried frailing on the uke yet but that's something to do soon. See how different strings feel.

I had planned to catch up on scripts from a few advanced students today but I got sidetracked on my own work instead. I'll do it tomorrow for sure. Only an hour or two of time needed to catch up. Forecast says snow tomorrow and Monday but I'll believe it when I see it.

Very high creative energy these days. I like it.

Posthumously Yours,

An old man. An ex-wife. Ghosts.

Friday, January 25, 2008


Up early, did some rewriting, need a few more winks before I get ready for piano class.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

The Pit

The Pit is the University of Oregon's basketball arena, MacArthur or "Mac" Court, ancient, intimate, very loud, sometimes obscene, as intimidating to visitors as any court in the NCAA. UCLA visited tonight and won, one alma mater of mine defeating another. When I was a grad student, the Bill Walton-led Bruins, undefeated and #1, came to The Pit and got beat in a huge upset. They may have gone on to Corvallis to get beat the next night by Oregon State. Not sure, my memory isn't what it used to be.

I saw a memorable B.B. King concert at The Pit in the early 70s. I got my ticket late and sat up very high in the rafters. The rising marijuana smoke was so thick up there you couldn't stay straight if you wanted to. I remember B.B. doing an incredible medley that lasted about 45 minutes.

New opera season

Portland Opera announced its 2008/9 season.

Join us for a season of


I like it.

Jazz improv

A few months back I asked my piano teacher, who is a jazz pianist, if he taught jazz improv for seniors. He said no, never tried it because he didn't think anyone would be interested. He needed four students to qualify for a class through the city's subsidized senior program. So I started a petition to see if there was interest ... and now, weeks later, we have FIVE signed up, so he's going to give it a shot in the spring. We need to find a time suitable to at least four to make the class (it was my idea: my luck the other four will choose a time I teach or something!) but it would be very cool if this goes, I'd have three music classes in spring, plus my banjo studies, which I'm doing from a DVD, I decided. Ken Perlman's DVD, quite excellent.

Good music theory class today. Onward.

Another technical wonder

I bought one of those electronic string tuners for my banjo, which you clip on the end of the neck, pluck a string and it tells you what it is, or is close to, and you tune until a dial has it set perfectly. Quite a marvel and also inexpensive.

I can see fingernail damage is going to be an issue (on the right, down-plucking hand). I'm going to try frailing picks, see how they work out. I've already ripped my fingernail a couple times.

Since I played banjo before, it's really only the right "clawhammer" hand that I need to get down, and it's coming more quickly than I expected. I bet by summer I'm actually doing all right on this thing. If so, I'm going to make a CD to give to friends for Christmas.

A gift from the gods

Out of the nowhere's forehead, born full-armed (to quote a poet), an idea for a new screenplay dropped into my head a moment ago. I quickly scribbled it down so I don't forget it. It strikes me as a commercial idea, which I almost never have, a comedy, which I almost never write unless it's dark. This would be a fish-out-of-water comedy, an established and popular genre, with a twist I haven't seen before. I have the one in progress to finish and get to my agent, so we'll see how it sets.

Interesting thing about screenwriters strikes. At the last one, it really opened up the market for spec scripts. Most scripts are sold as ideas first, by established writers. When producers need material, they get more desperate, and even though it's bad form to market during a strike, you can still write and have material ready. Also, established writers, who almost never write on spec, often do during a strike, just to keep busy, and write things they've always wanted to write but didn't because of time or commercial issues. So in the past, strikes actually improved the quality of scripts to come in the future. We'll see if this happens again.

I'm eager, very eager, to finish the romantic thriller I'm working on so I can tackle this comedy. Not even dark! Something of a natural, given the situation. I'm perfectly capable of blowing it, but I think it will be fun to see if I can do it right, even though it's far from my usual style of storytelling.

Still exchanging emails with my Army friend, telling war stories. Great fun. He told me about the weekend he had with a female spy trying to get info from him (unsuccessfully). Babes were always trying to seduce info from us. The trick was to get what you wanted (sex) before they gave up getting what they wanted (secrets). The Cold War Seduction Game. It's a central theme in my novel in progress.

Copper Canyon Press

Copper Canyon Press gets big -- and anonymous -- donation

A cry of "Holy cow!" went up when an envelope was opened recently at Copper Canyon Press in Port Townsend. Staffers were going through the post-holiday mail at the nonprofit poetry press when one discovered an anonymous donation of $50,000, the largest one-time gift the press has received from an individual. The check, written by a brokerage in Santa Fe, N.M., on behalf of an unnamed donor, was an utter shock.


We (Oregon Literary Review) featured Broadsides from the press several issues ago.

Ten Broadsides from Copper Canyon Press.

Not with a bang but a whimper

Language dies with chief

ANCHORAGE, Alaska — Chief Marie Smith Jones, the last full-blooded Eyak and the last person fluent in her Native language, died at her home in Anchorage. She was 89.

Ms. Jones died in her sleep Monday. She was found by a friend, said Bernice Galloway, a daughter who lives in Albuquerque, N.M.

"To the best of our knowledge, she was the last full-blooded Eyak alive," Galloway said.

She also was the last person alive who was fluent in Eyak, said Michael Krauss, a linguist and professor emeritus at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, who collaborated with Ms. Jones for years in an effort to preserve the Eyak language.

"With her death, the Eyak language becomes extinct," Krauss said.

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Thursday is my busiest day of the week. Not only must I prepare as a teacher but as a student since Music Theory usually has a lot of homework. So I take my music class then rush to make it to PSU in time for my office hours, then teach. Today, in screenwriting, I read some of the students first script pages. Hope also to brainstorm a story or two. This early on, it looks like a decent class.

This weekend, more scripts to read, including my own. A busy weekend ahead, in fact. This is how I like it.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008


Still cold outside ... which keeps me inside, today with student work to read, work to go over in class tomorrow. Have Music Theory homework to do before tomorrow as well. I won't get to my own script rewrite till Saturday, looks like. That's fine. I'm a teacher Tues, Wed, Thur and a writer the rest of the time.


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Syracuse women ranked for the first time in school history

In just his second year as Syracuse women's basketball coach, Hillsman has
guided the Orange into uncharted territory -- they're ranked for the first time
in school history, and they catapulted into the AP Top 25 this week at No. 24
after losing two games in a six-day span.

After being just outside the Top 25, Syracuse apparently moved up in the
voters' estimation off the strength of an 85-75 loss at No. 19 Pittsburgh and a
65-59 setback at home a week ago to top-ranked Connecticut (18-0). UConn led by
just two points with less than 2 minutes to play in what proved to be the
Huskies' most difficult game of the season so far. Connecticut won its previous
15 games by an average of 41 points.

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Tuesday, January 22, 2008

The printed draft

There's nothing quite as exciting as printing the first "presentable" draft of a new project. I did this in the morning and tomorrow, I hope, I can begin the real joy of the writing process, which is rewriting, taking my time with it and playing out all the roles in my head, a private premier production to polish. Really looking forward to it. This the first stage play I've written in over a decade, it seems to me. There are some stories, some treatments of them, that must be theatrical, and this is one of them. This material, cast as it is, would never work as a film (it would as a filmed play, however) and would lose much as a novel. I'll never actually see this play, of course, but I'm experienced enough to do a pretty damn good "visual" production in my head. I think I'll enjoy it. It's not for most folks, admittedly, but I think I can make it what I want it to be. It's in the tradition of O'Neill's JOURNEY, Pinter's BETRAYAL, Albee's VIRGINIA WOOLF ... one of those complex, ugly relationship stories. I don't want to be around when anyone who knows the source material, the "inspiration" (this is not autobiography but more like a jazz riff on it), sees it. I don't want to talk about it with anyone who recognizes the source material. I want it to stand on its own merits, or not, as if the author were anonymous -- which, dead, is pretty damn close to what I'll be.

Oscar nominations

Here they are.

Main one I'm rooting for is Juno for Best Original Screenplay. I'm teaching it next term.

But will there be a ceremony? Do I care? I am really out of the mainstream. Commentator after commentator laments what a disaster the Golden Globes were this year -- and I think the press conference format was an improvement! No wonder I'm not rich and famous, with tastes so out of sync ha ha.

New Black Panther Party

Mention on the radio this morning of the new Black Panther Party, about which I know little. So I snooped around. Ends up it's a controversial organization. You can find out what they say about themselves at their official website.

But veterans of the original Black Panther Party don't seem to like them much.

There Is No New Black Panther Party: An Open Letter From the Dr. Huey P. Newton Foundation
In response from numerous requests from individuals seeking information on the "New Black Panthers," the Dr. Huey P. Newton Foundation issues this public statement to correct the distorted record being made in the media by a small band of African Americans calling themselves the New Black Panthers. As guardian of the true history of the Black Panther Party, the Foundation, which includes former leading members of the Party, denounces this group's exploitation of the Party's name and history. Failing to find its own legitimacy in the black community, this band would graft the Party's name upon itself, which we condemn.

Firstly, the people in the New Black Panthers were never members of the Black Panther Party and have no legitimate claim on the Party's name. On the contrary, they would steal the names and pretend to walk in the footsteps of the Party's true heroes, such as Black Panther founder Huey P. Newton, George Jackson and Jonathan Jackson, Bunchy Carter, John Huggins, Fred Hampton, Mark Cark, and so many others who gave their very lives to the black liberation struggle under the Party's banner.

Secondly, they denigrate the Party's name by promoting concepts absolutely counter to the revolutionary principles on which the Party was founded. Their alleged media assault on the Ku Klux Klan serves to incite hatred rather than resolve it. The Party's fundamental principle, as best articulated by the great revolutionary Ernesto "Che" Guevara, was: "A true revolutionary is guided by great feelings of love." The Black Panthers were never a group of angry young militants full of fury toward the "white establishment." The Party operated on love for black people, not hatred of white people.


I had an unusual encounter with the original Black Panthers. In the late 60s, when I was teaching Composition as a grad student, I discovered my 8 a.m. class one term was filled with students who were members of the Black Panthers. About a dozen of them. They marched to class in military formation in their black leather jackets and berets. They didn't like my syllabus and refused to follow it. They swore a lot a class, "mutherfucking" being their favorite adjective. I quickly realized I might have a teaching challenge on my hands. If nothing else, they disrupted what the rest of the class was there to learn. The rest of the class included a good number of sweet looking sorority girl types who didn't look comfortable with their unusual colleagues.

I finally cut a deal with the Panthers in class. I gave them a special writing project: to write, and try to publish, an article for their Black Panther newspaper, which a lot of them peddled around campus. In other words, I'd teach them to write better propaganda. This improved their English skills greatly and even moved a few of them in the direction of clearer thinking. But I never could get them to stop swearing in class.

This latter fact had interesting repercussions.

On day, a couple terms later, I found myself in the elevator with my department head. Just as I was getting out, he said, "Oh, Mr. Deemer, I need you in my office first thing in the morning. There are charges of moral turpitude pending against you." And with that, the elevator door closed.

Goddamn, what was this about? The first thing that came to mind was that a former student was pregnant and claiming I was the father. Some damn thing. I was not sleeping with students, and I didn't have a clue what this might be about. Just to be safe, I contacted an attorney.

The meeting, in retrospect, was hilarious. Myself, the chair, and my immediate boss, the head of Comp. The chair wrote something on a sheet of paper and handed it to me. I read the word, "Motherfucker." "Did you say this in class?" the chair asked. I couldn't remember until they got more specific about the term in question: my term with the Black Panthers!

I recalled dealing, finally, with their swearing by having a class discussion on obscene language, and the magical properties of language, and later having the class vote on whether or not cussing should be permitted in our classroom. Swearing won handily -- and the victory was like some kind of weird liberation because now white students were getting in the act, even sorority girls were getting in the act. Class discussion improved greatly because now everybody seemed to want to say Fuck or some such in a public classroom.

And, yes, I joined in now and again. I made my defense. I pointed out that the MF-word must be magical indeed if the chair can't even say it but has to write it on a slip of paper to communicate the pending charge!

Well, this was the situation. One of those sweet sorority girls was the daughter of a big eastern Oregon farmer who was a big donor to the university. She had used the world "mutherfucker" in front of her mother and when asked where on earth she'd picked up such gutter language, she said people talked like this all the time in Mr. Deemer's Composition class at the university. The farmer wanted to know what he was giving money to the university for, anyway -- this?

Well, swell.

My strategy for dealing with the Panthers was backed by my Comp boss, and no charges were filed against me -- but I had to promise not to swear in class any more. For some reason, when the chair learned I was a Navy brat, my conduct made more sense to him than it did with my argument for free speech, magical language, and unique educational strategies for unique situations. There's profiling for you.

And this was my experience with the Black Panthers.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Creative explosion

The gods are kind today. I got on a writing jag this afternoon and finished a draft of the play! A short two act. I should be able to rewrite it this week and meet that deadline I had in mind. Been a long time since I've drafted an entire act (act two, in this case) in the same day. Polishing is the most fun part.

Weather wimp

Man, it's cold outside! Too cold for me. OK, OK, it's only mid-30s, maybe 10 less with the wind chill factored in. Not nearly as cold as the sub-zero freeze in which they played football in Green Bay yesterday. There are parts of the midwest that would consider this tropical weather. However, all these matters are relative. I'm a SoCal guy, still calling myself that though I haven't lived there in over 40 years: I like warm weather. My comfort zone is between 70 and 105. As a kid, I grew up when a big deal on the weekend was to head off with the family to spend a weekend camping under the stars in the Mojave desert. I prefer deserts to mountains. I don't mind frying my eggs on the sidewalk.

So it's plenty cold outside, as far as I'm concerned, with no relief in the forecast. Hell, it'll be April or May before we see 70 again.

Loving this wallowing in nostalgia I've been doing, revisiting Army buddies and experiences. This has given me a battery charge to return to the Cold War novel, too. I loved the pages I read. The story was stuck -- and I think my new plot point might unstick it. We'll see. It's on my list after I finish the two scripts I'm working on. Scripts are a hell of a lot easier to write than novels, believe me.

The "posthumous" play I'm writing has the working title Oregon Dream. It comes out of personal material I've used before, most successfully in my favorite play to date, which enjoyed critical and commercial success in the 1980s, The Half-Life Conspiracy. However, there I took a distant angle at the autobiographical source material. I looked at it obliquely. I didn't get down and dirty between the sheets. The new play does this. I took the same point of attack in a mediocre poem some time ago, a poem I showed only to one person (JMM), and the Sally novel I interrupted a year or more ago was close to this point of view as well. (I have no idea if I'll return to it: both the Cold War and old age novels excite me more now.)

I'm writing this play knowing I will not market it. I don't want a production done while I'm living. Why? Because I don't want to play all the stupid marketing games that go with a production -- I don't want to be asked about the autobiographical roots of the material. I don't want people who will recognize these roots to ask me about anything. Writers have done this before -- O'Neill with Long Day's Journey Into Night is a famous example. There's nothing particularly inventive about this but it is a gesture you don't see all that often. My plan is to write some plays of such personal, intimate nature -- as many as boil up out of me -- that I don't want them done for the reasons above, and then make sure they are available after I'm gone. Someone may or may not be interested in them. These are plays that I need to write. To hell with the rest. It's an interesting way to "come out of retirement" as a playwright.

I like how the first is going. It's got a lot of wicked energy in it. I know of no one who would do it even if I allowed it. But it's shaping up just the way I want it to be, which after all is the job, and the only job, I have as a writer.

So I need to finish this, and the more accessible screenplay for my agent, and then get back into the Cold War material. All the while practicing, practicing, practicing the piano and the banjo.

Interestingly enough, Luke Warm asked if I still played banjo. I mostly played banjo in the Army. Then in grad school I switched to guitar, picked up a 12-string from Barre Toelken, a folklore prof at U of O then, and played that through the 70s into the 90s, when I put my Guthrie tribute to rest and stopped playing entirely until recently.

Orwell at the end

Orwell on Orwell

On this day in 1950 George Orwell died, aged forty-six. Whatever Orwell achieved in his last years seems over-balanced by what he suffered.

As both his friends and critics have remarked, Orwell did not go gentle into life, either. His ideals and social commitment set "a stern example" and made him "an awkward person" (David Pryce-Jones). "He could not blow his nose without moralizing on the state of the handkerchief industry" (Cyril Connolly). And perhaps most famously, he was the "wintry conscience of a generation" (V. S. Pritchett). In one essay on Orwell titled "A Knight of the Woeful Coutenance" (this is borrowed from Don Quixote), Muggeridge recalls that his friend even got his laughter from obeying his ideals: "...he began to chuckle - a throaty, rusty, deep-down chuckle very characteristic of him. His laughter had the same rusty quality as did his voice, due, I understood, to a throat wound he had received in Spain."
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UCLA looking good

With Rick Neuheisel as its new coach, and now Chow, UCLA is putting down the foundation for a hell of a football team in the future. This is going to be fun to watch. Go, alma mater!
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LOS ANGELES (AP) -- Norm Chow, who tutored a pair of Heisman Trophy-winning
quarterbacks at Southern California, is returning as offensive coordinator at
crosstown rival UCLA.

Before coming to USC and working with Carson Palmer and Matt Leinart, the
61-year-old Chow groomed Heisman winner Ty Detmer at BYU. His coaching resume
includes six quarterbacks who were first-round picks in the NFL: Palmer,
Leinart, Philip Rivers, Jim McMahon, Steve Young and Marc Wilson.

UCLA quarterback Ben Olson was considered one of the prospects in the nation
when he came out of high school, but he has yet to live up to his billing with
the Bruins.

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More nostalgia

Heard more from Luke Warm, shown here with his wife. He got into Japanese drumming. He gave me leads on others from our outfit of Russian linguists ... and about one who has passed away (my buddy Dick Crooks is another, of course). Luke and I and another rented a "party pad" on the wharf when we were at the Monterey Language School. Our weekend home away from the billets and Russian studies, partying, living on red wine and stolen C-ration bread.

1960 Party Pad, Monterey Wharf (2006 photo)

It just occurred to me -- I met Luke a year before I met Dick in Germany.


Wrote 16 pages of script early this morning! Now off to do writerly errands and maybe get breakfast.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

The Ice Bowl

Giants win on a long field goal in overtime in this game played in below-zero weather in Green Bay. The kicker had missed two shorter attempts in regulation.

Terrible weather reminds me of a Mud Bowl I played in, in which we (Cal Tech) lost 85-0 to Whittier College, Nixon's old digs. The truth is, if you kept a childlike attitude, it was great fun! Playing in mud and all that. We always got slaughtered but we always had a ball.

Emails from the past

I received a mind-boggling email this evening:

Come quick! I've found the most beautiful green stone.

Luke Warm

Tom "Luke" Warm is one of my earliest Army buddies. We were at the Army Language School at the same time, 1959-60, studying Russian and sometimes served in Germany together. The reference, you may know, is from Zorba the Greek by Kazantzakis, a book that inspired lots of discussion at the time. I saw Luke briefly as a civilian when we were in L.A. at the same time but after I moved to Oregon for graudate school (1966), lost touch. So it's been a hell of a long time. Interesting, what with thinking today of Baumholder 1961, my Cold War novel, an experience he shared.

No sooner do I reply to this than I get an email from Tom Strah, who played Jerry in the Albee production mentioned in an earlier post. I had reconnected with Strah recently but I haven't seen him since leaving the Eastern Shore in the late 70s. He'd seen the blog entry, which inspired a brief note.

I'm watching the Packer-Giants game in my basement office, while doing email, paying bills, and plucking the banjo, trying to get the clawhammer right hand smooth. And an interception was just fumbled! A fun, close game to watch, unlike the frustrating earlier game when San Diego couldn't put it in from the red zone. This game is tied in the fourth quarter.

More writing

Working on the script again this morning, as if I'd never taken a break from writing at all. Curious. Also, a new plot point fell out of my head for the Cold War novel, something that may get me out of the mud I was in. I think I'll turn to it after the script is done. I was originally writing against a Feb. 1 deadline, then abandoned hope of reaching it, but now I am reengaged to give the script deadline a try.

Even with writing again, music is still front burner. So I'm very busy.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

New generation of homeless vets

This is not a new story in America: A young veteran back from war whose struggle to rejoin society has failed, at least for the moment, fighting demons and left homeless.

But it is happening to a new generation. As the war in Afghanistan plods on in its seventh year, and the war in Iraq in its fifth, a new cadre of homeless veterans is taking shape.

And with it come the questions: How is it that a nation that became so familiar with the archetypal homeless, combat-addled Vietnam veteran is now watching as more homeless veterans turn up from new wars?

What lessons have we not learned? Who is failing these people? Or is homelessness an unavoidable byproduct of war, of young men and women who devote themselves to serving their country and then see things no man or woman should?

A national tragedy. A national disgrace.


I love the humor of the gods. No sooner do I make a note here that I haven't been writing -- then I start writing! I put in a productive several hours this morning on a "posthumous" play in progress, the dialog coming quickly. Apparently during the long silence I was pre-writing brooding without knowing it.

I should quit second-guessing what I'm up to and just be up to it.

Albee withdraws The Zoo Story

God bless Edward Albee. He's as independent and surprising as ever. For years, he's been unsatisfied with his iconic one-act, a play credited with changing the direction of American theater, The Zoo Story.
It nagged me just a bit that it seemed to be not quite a two-character play – Jerry being so much longer a role – but more a one-and-a-half-character one. But the play “worked,” so why worry? Six years ago, however, I said to myself “There’s a first act here somewhere which will flesh Peter fully and make the subsequent balance better.” Almost before I knew it, Homelife fell from my mind to the page…intact.

He calls the new work Peter and Jerry. On public radio this morning, I heard Albee say he no longer is permitting professional productions of The Zoo Story as a stand-alone work. (Screenwriters are crying in their growing stacks of bills: they have nothing close to this kind of artistic integrity and power when they sell the ownership of their work.) He owns the play, he pointed out, and he can do with it as he likes. If critics and theater historians don't like it (and many don't), tough. God bless Edward Albee!

I played Peter in a 1970s production by Pemberton Free Theatre in Salisbury, Maryland, with Tom Strah as Jerry, directed by Jeff Rollins. Jeff and I recently exchanged emails about what an extraordinary adventure this was. Strah was terrific. I wasn't bad myself. It was an outdoor, single production in the country on a fine sunny day to a good audience.

Here's an interesting link: How Albee’s 'Zoo Story' Birthed 'Peter and Jerry'.

Friday, January 18, 2008


Except for writing in this blog, I haven't written anything for a month or so -- and this is a first in my professional life. For the past forty years (a bit more), I've written something on one project or other on over 90% of the days before me. I have four writing projects in progress presently -- and each has been ignored the past month. A first. A change of rhythm, surely. Maybe a change of life.

What I've been doing with my time instead is studying music and practicing piano. As I've written here before, I strive to write music drama, or chamber opera, whatever one might call it -- serious drama in which music is integral. I don't have my musical skills quite there yet but I make progress every day.

But what about writing? What about two novels and two scripts left in mid-draft? I still like their concepts but at the same time, I'm not sure I have energy, or passion, to finish them. Well, I take that back, I'll finish the screenplay because my agent waits for it. I think the others will depend on how I respond when I pick them up again. And clearly I'm in no hurry to do that.

All this is fine. A glance at the size of my literary archive suggests I've written quite enough ha ha. But I actually have material from my life, like being a Russian linguist in the Cold War, about which I've written little. One of the novels in progress is about this experience.

I think I sense being on a short leash. I don't have all the time in the world, and the real passion I have now is for music drama, for finding some form to combine composition and dramatic narrative without engaging a lot of instruments and without being "a musical." Something in the tradition of Brecht/Weill with smaller musical ensembles. I want to experiment, to fiddle with all this. But, as I said, my musical skills need to be greater than they are at the moment. But I'm working on it.

I used to think of my mantra as "I write, therefore I am." But I haven't been writing -- again, unless this blog counts -- but I'm still here. I've been practicing. And practicing. And practicing.

Chess genius dies

In 1972, Sports Illustrated published my letter nominating Fischer as Man of the Year for defeating Spassky after losing game one and having a temper tantrum and forfeiting game two. He was behind 2-0! This would be like a miler giving an opponent a 440 yd head start -- and winning! A mind-boggling feat in tournament chess. See the book Bobby Fischer goes to war : how the Soviets lost the most extraordinary chess match of all time by David Edmonds and John Eidinow.

But, yes, the man was eccentric to say the least.
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Chess master Bobby Fischer dies at 64

REYKJAVIK, Iceland - Bobby Fischer, the reclusive chess genius who became a Cold War hero by dethroning the Soviet world champion in 1972 and later renounced his American citizenship, has died. He was 64.

Fisher died in a Reykjavik hospital on Thursday of kidney failure after a long illness, his spokesman, Gardar Sverrisson, said Friday.

"Chess is war on a board," he once said. "The object is to crush the other man's mind."

An American chess champion at 14 and a grand master at 15, Fischer dethroned Spassky in 1972 in a series of games in Iceland's capital, Reykjavik, to become the first officially recognized world champion born in the United States.

The match, at the height of the Cold War, took on mythic dimensions as a clash between the world's two superpowers.

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Sign of the times

Due to heavy customer demand, Kindle is temporarily sold out. We are working hard to manufacture Kindles as quickly as possible and are prioritizing orders on a first come, first served basis. Please ORDER KINDLE NOW to reserve your place in line. We will keep you informed by email as we get more precise delivery dates. Note that Kindles cannot currently be sold or shipped to customers living outside of the U.S.

Amazon can't produce its new wireless e-book readers fast enough. Ebooks surely will take off once a reader arrives that customers like -- and this may be it. This is an exciting, even revolutionary, development in the book industry.

From Nobel Prize to caricature: a writer's fate

How reputations rise and fall in the fickle literary world!
Kipling's "Permanent Contradictions"

On this day in 1936 Rudyard Kipling died at the age of seventy-one. Although one of England's most popular writers at the turn of the century, and a Nobel winner in 1907, by the time of his death Kipling was not merely forgotten but scorned and cartooned. To the intellectuals and political Left he was a dinosaur of Empire, a jingoist of pith-helmet patriotism and white-man's-burden racism; to the modernist writers and the literati he was a mere tale-teller, a balladeer, a journalist.
Unsurprisingly, the literary world that had flocked to Thomas Hardy's interment in Westminster Abbey eight years earlier stayed away in droves when Kipling was placed beside him.
Jorge Luis Borges was a Kipling fan, and thought his work "more complex than the ideas they are supposed to illustrate." Kipling certainly thought that he had given his late stories multiple levels of meaning or "patina."
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4 cards by Harriet Levi

Using recycled material, my wife made 4 "out of the box" cards that are published at the WCA website (Women's Caucus for Art), WCA ArtWaves International: Art For Change Around the World.

The one below is called "Clean Water".

Link to all four cards.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Directors reach deal

Hollywood directors, unlike writers, quickly reached a deal with producers, resolving the same issues the writers are fighting for. This doesn't make the WGA look good to most folks, I suspect.

LOS ANGELES - Hollywood directors reached a tentative contract deal Thursday with studios, a development that could turn up the pressure on striking writers to settle their 2-month-old walkout that has idled production on dozens of TV shows. "Two words describe this agreement — groundbreaking and substantial," said Gil Cates, chairman of the Directors Guild of America's negotiations committee. "There are no rollbacks of any kind."

Among other things, the agreement increases both wages and residuals for each year of the contract.

It also establishes guild jurisdiction over programs produced for distribution on the Internet and sets a new residuals formula for paid Internet downloads that essentially doubles the rate currently paid by employers, the guild said. It also set residual rates for ad-supported streaming and use of clips on the Internet.

Golden Globes

Of the winners, my favorite was Marion Cotillard – La Vie En Rose - Best Performance by an Actress in a Motion Picture - Musical or Comedy.

Biggest disappointment was that No Country For Old Men beat Juno for best screenplay but I expected it, serious material usually winning over comedic scripts.

Audio story (link)

I hate stories like this. Another example of how we're duped.
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Medical Journals More Likely to Print Favorable Info

Morning Edition, January 17, 2008 · Physicians rely on published studies in medical journals to help decide on the best prescriptions for their patients. But a new study shows that drugs that didn't work well were less likely to get published, while positive studies were published.

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Stop unwanted catalogs

If you're like me, you get a lot of unwanted catalogs in the mail. Now you can stop them.

Stop unwanted catalogs.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

A remarkable story

Whatever you think of his verse, his is a remarkable story of dedication and success.
Robert Service's Yukon Gold

On this day in 1874, Robert Service -- the Kipling of Canada" -- was born in Preston, England. When he was twenty-one, Service quit his bank job in Glasgow and hit out for Canada, serious enough about fulfilling his dream of becoming a cowboy that he brought his Buffalo Bill outfit along with him.
On his winter walks Service composed and then tossed in a drawer "The Shooting of Dan McGrew" and "The Cremation of Sam McGee," the two poems which would make him famous and rich. Enough others went into the drawer over the next months that, when cleaning it, he decided that he had enough to publish. The book was at his own expense, and only as many copies as his $100 Christmas bonus might buy

The publisher of Service's private edition was so taken with the stuff that he returned Service's money, told him that he had sold 1700 copies of the book already -- from the galley proofs, and only in his city -- and offered a contract.

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Real Audio Screenwriting Tips

One of the more popular features of my original and huge website, The Screenwriters and Playwrights Home Page, which went online over a decade ago --
here's what it looked like
-- was a series of audio screenwriting tips. They are in my archive now and still regularly accessed. They come to mind because I received a fan letter about them today. Here's the link for them:

Real Audio Screenwriting Tips.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008


Drinking is a young man's sport. Booze catches up with you in the end, and this was the case with someone I used to see often in my drinking days because we had the same regular stops but haven't seen in years since. Rec'd an email regarding a booze-related health crisis he's experiencing -- I think he needs support that, yes, he can quit and survive, even thrive. The hardest part is replacing your social life (or, closer to my case, reducing it in major ways). He notes that he's at about the same age I was when I quit (one's mid-50s).

Contrary to the U.S. recovery industry, there are many ways to quit drinking. Indeed, studies in Europe show that the success rate of those quitting on their own is as good as those in treatment programs. AA doesn't want you to know this, of course. In fact, some abusers of alcohol learn how to drink responsibly, another dark secret. The U.S. treatment industry is filled with myths that are not supported by what you can find in any medical library. I had the good fortune in my own VA treatment to be assigned to work in the medical library, where I found data they don't tell you about in a typical program. The Europeans have a very different take on all the disease and recovery issues. Not that AA is bad: it's just not the only way to do it. There is a strong Christian and a strong anti-intellectual bias in AA that turns many folks off. I was one of them. I'll never forget the AA meeting in which I suggested we not end with the Lord's Prayer but with a Buddhist chant. Boy, was that a riot!

At any rate, if you drink booze significantly and regularly -- and my friend was not a huge drinker, just a regular heavy one, as near as I can tell -- eventually the body will have something to say to you about that. The doctor has gotten his attention, just as it was a doctor who got mine.

I don't miss drinking at all. But I do miss the laughter of a barroom in the right moment with the right people. I have found no other environment in which certain absurdities of life are appreciated with more relish.

I might even drink again. If I get terminal cancer, I well might. But then again, maybe not. If it comes to that, I'll do what I do.

A chilling story

And there are so many of them in human history.
The Mandelstams: Hope Against Hope

On this day in 1891 the Russian poet Osip Mandelstam was born. While by no means the only writer driven to death by Stalin's Reign of Terror, Mandelstam has become, for many, the symbol of all those so destroyed. This is partly due to his poetry -- most rank him among the best Russian poets, some among the best of all 20th century poets -- and partly due to his wife. Nadezhda Mandelstam salvaged many of Mandelstam's banned poems by either memorizing them or collecting them in manuscript form; she also chillingly and movingly documented her husband's death and times in her memoir, Hope Against Hope.
you regarded yourself as a widow or orphan from the moment of his arrest. When a woman was told in the Prosecutor's office that her husband had been given ten years, the official sometimes added: "You can remarry." Nobody ever raised the awkward question as to how this gracious "permission" to remarry could be squared with the official sentence....
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Monday, January 14, 2008

Yet again

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Dozens in Texas town report seeing UFO

STEPHENVILLE, Texas - In this farming community where nightfall usually brings clear, starry skies, residents are abuzz over reported sightings of what many believe is a UFO.

Several dozen people — including a pilot, county constable and business owners — insist they have seen a large silent object with bright lights flying low and fast. Some reported seeing fighter jets chasing it.

"People wonder what in the world it is because this is the Bible Belt, and everyone is afraid it's the end of times," said Steve Allen, a freight company owner and pilot who said the object he saw last week was a mile long and half a mile wide. "It was positively, absolutely nothing from these parts."

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