Thursday, December 31, 2009

R.I.P.: Esther Price

Esther passed away this afternoon. She was 90.

From my memoir:

I was very close to Dick’s mother, Esther. She was a short woman, under five feet, with red hair that turned silver as she aged. Feisty and funny, she’d grown up in logging camps and bars and took no shit from anyone. She was very active in Democratic politics in Clearwater County and for a time served as Orofino’s mayor.

The first time I met Esther, during a trip when Dee and I drove up to visit Dick in Moscow, where he was attending the University of Idaho after getting out of the Army, we’d gone to Esther’s house in Orofino for dinner. I found the address and knocked on the door. When it opened, I looked down to find this short woman grinning up at me. “So you’re fucking Deemer,” she said. This was Esther.

Access the memoir.

And fictionalized, in my novel Kerouac's Scroll:

Hooker was staying with his mother while looking for a house in nearby Moscow, where the University of Idaho was, so he could bring up his wife and young sons, who were waiting in California where Hooker had been discharged. I was looking forward to partying with Hooker to forget my marital troubles at home, though separation from Helen was still several months away. I’d made the trip to Idaho alone. I was worried, however, that his mother might dampen our style. But I couldn’t turn down a visit when I was only a long day’s drive away, having moved to Oregon to start graduate school.

I found the address Hooker had provided on a wooded street in the hills above the river. I parked behind two cars in the driveway and went to the door.

When it opened, a woman barely five foot tall was staring up at me, grinning. She had red hair and a mischievous glint in her eye. Hooker’s mother.

The first thing out of her mouth was, “So you’re the fucking bear.”

Her name was Flo. A feisty woman who used the vernacular of a hard-drinking logger, she didn’t dampen our party style. She inspired it. She kept up with us drink for drink and kept me in stitches with stories about cooking in a logging camp as a young woman and later dealing cards in one of Orofino’s whore houses. Flo rattled off ribald one-liners all night long. Some of them I remember to this day. “She's so fat if she had a broom stick up her ass, she could sweep both sides of the street.”

Esther complaining about her nurse, spoken when Esther was in her late 80s!

News from Idaho

Mixed news from friends and god-family in Idaho. Joy at Idaho's victory in the bowl game yesterday. But sadness that Esther, my surrogate mom since my own mom's death, the mother of my late best friend, is in the hospital with pneumonia, and the doctor isn't optimistic. She has lived forever and her quality of life lately hasn't been good, except for her sharp mind, so it's not a surprise really. But I sometimes wondered if she might outlive us all. Probably have news one way or the other in a few days.

A rave review

My friend and colleague Lynn Jeffress has been getting rave reviews for her collection of stories, The Dali Code and Other Paris Stories. (Lynn has lived in Paris). A recent one is in Bonjour Paris:

This book is a gem. It is fun. It is curious. It is sometimes disturbing. It is never, ever boring. The Dali Code requires not just one but several readings, because each time there is something new to find.

Read the review.

I'm embarrassed to admit I haven't read the book yet, though I have moved it up in the pile of things to get to. Jeffress, of course, is at work on something new.

R.I.P.: David Levine

Tribute by John Updike:

"Besides offering us the delight of recognition, his drawings comfort us, in an exacerbated and potentially desperate age, with the sense of a watching presence, an eye informed by an intelligence that has not panicked, a comic art ready to encapsulate the latest apparitions of publicity as well as those historical devils who haunt our unease. Levine is one of America's assets. In a confusing time, he bears witness. In a shoddy time, he does good work."

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Gutsy Idaho!

With four seconds left, Idaho goes for 2 pt conversion to win rather than a kick to tie ... and wins 43-42. a huge win for the Idaho program in Moscow!

Supporting Leach

Not that it matters, but coach Leach has much support on his staff and among former and current players. Telling to me was this from the receivers coach, who coached the player in question.

To Who it May Concern:

During the last two years of being the inside receivers coach, I have
had the chance to learn alot about Adam James. He came to Tech
because of one person: Coach Leach. Although we adamently doubted
his talent, we as coaches came to see that Adam actually had enough
talent to help us out. The problem, though, is that Adam is
unusually lazy and entitled. Many other players on this team,
specifically receivers, have a much larger role on this team with less
talent. I have always been worried about Adam's effect on my other
players because of his weak and conceited attitude. I recently found
out that Adam deliberately undermined my authority on many occasions.
This is particularly disturbing because Coach Leach hired me to make
our receivers the best group in the country, and Adam has damaged this
group far more than I even realized. He should be grateful forthe
opportunity that was given to him here that was not offered at any
other Division 1 football program. He has an unvelievable sense of
entitlement because of who his father is; one that hurts himself and
people around him. Adam is the kind of person thatakes excuses or
blames people for things that go wrong in his life.
Furthermore, I don't have children yet, but when I do I hope they are
coached by someone like Coach Leach. I have learned so many great
things from him and am incredibly lucky to have him in my life.

Lincoln Riley

Source, more letters

This is what made the most sense to me from the beginning, just in terms of human nature, the most common scenario I've seen in such cases.

But so what? He's fired, it's done, a likely spoiled brat gets his way, people who hate the inevitable violence in football are happy, fans of the team are hugely angry but who cares? and it's done. Political correctness wins again.

In the court fight for money, which is what is left here, an issue will be the injury, or not, of the kid. Clearly Leach thought he was faking. It's the only way his action makes sense. Also, it's hard yet to get a handle on where the team stands. Two outspoken critics of Leach, players, have gotten all the focus but that's two of a hundred players. Ex players so far have lined up behind the coach. Whatever it is, it's a big sad mess.

Bowl games

There are three games in which I'm rooting for someone: UCLA won yesterday; Idaho just took a lead today; Oregon plays Friday. Can I go three for three?

The snow is almost melted away.

Iranian Protesters 1, Baseej 0

Let me be politically incorrect...

...and back Coach Leach in the inquiry regarding his suspension for mistreating a player. While the facts aren't really known yet, what we do know suggests to me a more likely scenario of a special kid seeking revenge than a coach with a clean record suddenly becoming a sadist. A few things we know.

  • The kid is the son of a former NFL player and ESPN analyst. Aha, the kid with the famous dad syndrome, having to live up to his father's past glory.
  • Several days before the incident the kid was reprimanded for poor effort. Not performance, effort, during practice, I played football for a year in college. Poor effort to me suggests you really don't want to be there. Football is a brutal game, and you get off on it or you don't. I think the kid is likely there not for love of football but because of a need to please dad. More likely than the coach suddenly changing the way he does things.
  • The team doctor said the so-called punishment, standing in a small dark room during practice, actually improved the kid's mild concussion. This of course may be self-serving.

I can hear the laughter coming from all the rugby players around the world about now. American football is a game for wimps in comparison, and maybe the kid is a wimp among wimps.

I have no idea what really happened but my reading of human nature puts me on the side of the coach. My gut feeling tells me this is about the kid and his dad more than about the kid and the coach. We'll see.

LATER. Didn't take long. The university fired the coach, the politically correct but the wrong thing to do as far as I'm concerned. It won't take Leach long to find another job since he's a good coach. Now the rugby players are howling!

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Dear Mr, President

Please get angry, get pissed, and let this show in the urgency of your tone. Sometimes energy speaks louder than cool does. You have tons of reasons to be pissed. Show it. Make some heads roll. Be the boss.

Weather change

Been snowing this afternoon -- and sticking. Not much, an inch or two, but it wasn't expected.

LATER. We ended up with 4 inches. Warm rain expected later.

A gift

I haven't rec'd a manuscript in galley proof since I used to review for the Washington Post a very long time ago. But the publisher of a posthumous novel by Gilbert Sorrentino, reading that I'm such a fan of his story "The Moon In Its Flight," offered to send me a galley copy. I took her up on it.

An extraordinary story

The Autobiography of an American Communist: A Personal View of a Political Life, 1925-1975
by Peggy Dennis

We like to demonize our enemies, making them less than human. So with communists, especially during the McCarthy witchhunts after WWII.

This book puts a very human face on being an American communist. It's an amazing, moving, complicated story of a very strong woman who fights for her independence in an environment that doesn't nurture it, neither politically nor socially nor personally. She fights mindless ideology, sexism, long separations from her husband because of party needs, leaving a son in Moscow for the same reason, reversals of fortune as the party line changes with circumstances -- an extraordinary journey, revealed with candor and intelligence. In the end, she leaves the communist party -- but not her belief in socialism or her revolutionary energy and vision. In her view, the party abandons the goal, not her.

This is a story that would make a fine film but probably not here, where communists are still domonized. A fine European film. Someone should adapt it.

I highly recommend this book. It puts a human face on an important era of history.

Food for thought

(by Will Wright)

Of all the things I want most in the new year, getting my country back tops everything. No, not the way those who want to turn the clock back to when the president wasn't a black man with foreign lineage and an agenda they see as "not American."

What I yearn for is when my country was, in fact, a beacon for democracy, for high principles and ideals. When the elected president was seen to be, and widely accepted to be, president of all Americans. When the party not in power not only did not want the president to fail, did not work for him to fail, but wanted him to succeed for the benefit of the country. When fomenting hatred of the president was not only un-American, but uncool.


A basement day

My netbook has kept me out of my basement office because I can do so much of my cyber routine up here where it's warmer and more social (i.e. the dog is here). But some things need to be done on the other computers, and today is a good day to take care of some before the UCLA afternoon bowl game. So I'll try to spend most of the morning downstairs.

New Year's eve we are going to dinner at a friend's house. But will three old farts last until midnight? Unlikely.

One thing to do today, this morning, is start my syllabus revision. Also I want to start taping clips for the new video.

Monday, December 28, 2009

An ad

Colts' coach: what's wrong with football

When the coach of the Indianapolis Colts took out important starters like QB Manning in the 3rd quarter of their game with the Jets, in order to "save them" for the playoffs, the decision demonstrated what's gone wrong with professional football. A sound business decision was made instead of a sound sports decision. The Colts had the lead by 5 pts and an undefeated season on the horizon, making history. Fans wanted this. Honor to the sport demanded this. But as a practical matter, a business matter, it made sense to save your starters for later when the chips were down. I hated the decision and so did thousands of fans. So what?

Rest for what? The playoffs?

The Colts already have a first-round bye. That is the time to rest.

There aren't many times in your life when you have a chance to do something that has never been done before. When you are faced with a challenge like that, my feeling is that you embrace it and see if you've got what it takes to conquer it.
Here's the reality: Some teams don't just play for championships, they play to be the best there has ever been. Others are just satisfied with doing what's required. The Colts decided that resting is more important than making a run at history. They are telling us that what they have done up to this point in the season is good enough. They are satisfied with home-field advantage throughout the playoffs. 19-0? No big deal. History? Didn't want it.


Sunday, December 27, 2009

Live blogging from Iran

The revolution will not be televised. It will be blogged and twittered.

Why isn't CNN reporting on Iran?

A hot bed over there but you'd never know it from CNN or the cable/TV networks. It's the online news, twitters and video that tell the engaging, important story this weekend.


What a contrast in "heroic styles" between the airline captain who safely dropped his plane in the Hudson River -- humble, giving credit to others -- and the passenger in the Detroit scare the other day, relating in self-congratulatory terms how he saved the day. Heroes bragging is bad form.

Cries of, and cries for, freedom in Iran

What I'm reading

People's Songs, American Communism, and the Politics of Culture, 1930-50
By Robbie Lieberman

A fascinating look at a facet of history that influenced the 60s folksong movement. What is striking to me is the idealistic naivety of these energetic songsters out to change the world. All were used by the American Communists, few joined, and many realized they were used in the end. But their humanist optimism remained to the end. A few who are still alive, like Pete Seeger, retain an unfailing belief in "the people" and their "natural" tendency toward just behavior. I don't share this view of humanity but I admire it because I wish I were wrong. I just don't think I am.

Even more fascinating is the book I'm reading now, THE AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF AN AMERICAN COMMUNIST (1979) by Peggy Dennis, an incredible personal story. More later, I suspect.

I seem to be in a period of fascination with naive idealists. But if the problem is more systemic than political, if politics itself is "the problem" as Norman O. Brown and others would have it, then any "movement" is doomed to fail, usually be becoming corrupt. Brown concludes that the journey must be inward toward oneself, not outward toward society. "Doing nothing, if properly understood, is the supreme action."

I suppose this recent reading is research, what with my vague notions to write a labor novel, a political novel, in the tradition of Steinbeck's IN DUBIOUS BATTLE, perhaps. We'll see. It's fascinating, informative reading even if it doesn't prove to be "research,"

Iran protests again, still

The significance of this day, Ashura, the day Khomeini regarded as the turning point against the Shah, cannot be under-estimated. Its symbolic power in Shia Islam, its themes of resistance to tyranny to the last drop of blood, its fusion of religious mourning and political revolt: this makes it lethal to the fascist thugs who dropped any pretense of ruling by even tacit consent last June.
We cannot know yet, but this might be it: the pivot on which our collective future hangs.


Longing for normal

I'm ready for the holidays to be over, so I can return to a semblance of my usual routine. Our teen house guest leaves this evening, just in time before I turn into a werewolf. A week of bowl games ahead, during which I have prep work for school to do and perhaps even a renewal of creative work. At any rate, I'm psychologically ready for the new term if not quite prepared for it yet.

The mantra for the new year is, sublimate sublimate sublimate! Put another way, bury myself in my work where I seem to have the most fun. Fun is good.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Saturday night music

Scott Simon's "Away In A Factory" -- a Christmas story

Hear Scott Simon read the story.

December 26, 2009

Joseph and Mary hitchhiked to an abandoned factory near Cleveland. Their unemployment compensation had run out. Joseph was a carpenter, but the only work going on in his neighborhood was boarding up storefronts. He and Mary had no place to live; and Mary was pregnant.

She told Joseph that he would be the child's father, but he wasn't the child's father. The spark that began the life of their child, she said, came from—well, it was too embarrassing and ridiculous for Joseph to repeat.

Friends told him he was being taken for a fool. But Joseph loved Mary; he knew that the last few months had been hard. He decided that whatever fantastic stories Mary told him, he would love the child as his own.

That night, Mary had a baby boy. He seemed healthy, wrinkly, and had a nice, loud cry. Mary swaddled their baby in old copies of bankrupt newspapers and laid him down in the back of an abandoned car.

A stray gray dog, grimy from the road and whimpering with loneliness, kept watch over the baby and warmed him with her panting. Joseph also put his iPhone close, so their baby could be lulled to sleep with a lullaby app.

That night, a star appeared in the east. Three Wise Persons—Warren Buffett, Alexander McCall Smith, and Monica Ali—came to behold Joseph and Mary's child.

They wanted to bring the child gold, frankincense, and myrrh. But they hadn't been available since Lehman Brothers collapsed. So the Wise People brought gift cards to Chipotle. The infant saw them and smiled.

Mary saw the look of delight in her child's face and said to herself, "He's happy with us." But she saw Joseph sitting by himself at the far end of the garage. She knew he was worried about how he was going to make a life for their child. When Joseph came back to the car, his eyes glimmered.

"I think I finally understand," he said. "Why we've been given the gift of this child. It doesn't matter who the father is, does it? Every child cries for our love and deserves our care. Every child who is hungry in Sudan, or cold in Cleveland. Every little girl who is abandoned by a roadside in China. Every little boy in Congo who's dragged into someone's army. Every little boy and girl anywhere who is threatened by an epidemic, an explosion, or indifference—I must love them as a father loves his child."

Mary and Joseph sat with their arms around each other, and their baby boy. The dog—whom they decided to adopt on the spot—hopped up on the seat beside them and put her head gently onto Joseph's lap. The star that had found them seemed to stay above them for a moment while their child breathed softly, safely, peacefully in their arms, looking out at a world that seemed suddenly new.

Mellow brooding

Made some notes on the new video, while watching a bowl game half-heartedly. Next week I have to get serious about revising my syllabus and incorporating David Hare's screenplay THE HOURS, which I'm using for the first time even though it's a terrible model for a spec script. But it IS literature! as screenplays usually are not, and I want to use it at the end of the course to show the unrealized possibilities of the form as a potential LITERARY document. A bit radical in the real world but something I believe in.

Sketch having eye/ear trouble again, damn. H took him to the vet this morning.

I have this inkling to write a short labor novel, or politically radical novel, utilizing folk protest music ... fuzzy concept still but something I want to explore. It's very back burner. I have 3 things to finish first, though none is a prose project. I always multitask, as it were, working on several things at once, but usually all in different forms.

Ah, business!


Played around with the pen camcorder, still learning its limitations and how I can use it creatively and productively in my new project. It's going to work.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Christmas at our house

Experimental clips shot with a $20 pen camcorder. Music from car radio.


About Christmas

I've never been a huge fan of Christmas. It's not that I'm not a Christian, which I'm not; I enjoy the superficial trappings of the holiday, the lights and trees and bustle and carols. But at root it's a holiday for children and there have been very few children in my life. My holiday has always been, or used to be, Thanksgiving, particularly in the 60s and 70s when most of them were spent with very dear friends. Since then holidays haven't meant as much to me as, say, the Army-Navy game. Or the Rose Bowl Game. Or March Madness. Or the Triple Crown. Or the Summer Olympics.

Or rereading a favorite book.

But this Christmas has me in the best holiday mood I've been in in years. Not sure why. Maybe the recent flirtation with the Big C has shown light on the joy still possible in life. Maybe it's the mental battery charge, not yet matched with behavior, that also resulted.

I have renewed energy to do good work and appreciate good work. I want to branch into some new areas after I finish my three projects. For some reason, I have this desire to write a labor novel. I want to look again at some thinkers like Nietzsche. I'll never have time to do all these things but I'll do what I can. I don't plan to be bored when I pass.

Today, though, is just a mellow day, F playing a game on his computer, H read to put the roast beef in the oven (with yorkshire pudding), two guests due in two hours. A very mellow joyful Christmas, in fact. If only kids were riding new bikes outside...

In search of Christmas kids

Cruised around the neighborhood, looking for the old days. Used to be Christmas morning would bring out all the kids with their new bikes and wagons and scooters, footballs and uniforms, party dresses, bows and arrows, cowboy outfits. Not a kid to be found anywhere, though of course we live in one of those recent anti-social suburban neighborhoods filled with trees and large lots but without sidewalks, so no one takes an evening stroll to meet the neighbors. Are there kids here? Who the hell knows? We've only lived here 11 years ha ha and have seen precious few.

Well, no doubt the kids are in their bedrooms playing with their new computer games. Yes, that's where they are.

Random thoughts on a Christmas morning

  • Because the world goes to pot, doesn't mean you have to go to pot.
  • "The love you take is equal to the love you make."
  • Save the children. Love them. Encourage their natural curiosity. Educate them with as little brainwashing as possible. Encourage skepticism over faith, which is to say, faith is more important because harder to earn.
  • No excuses. There comes a time when everything is your fault. So do something about it.
  • Half-full glasses are for celebration. Half-empty glasses are for reflection.

One Christmas on YouTube

Christmas morning

F and I and Sketch are up, H sleeping in, and thus far the happiest dog in the land is Sketch with his new toy, determined to kill the squeaker, which he usually does quickly but this one is giving him a rougher than usual time, to his determined delight. Merry Christmas, old buddy!

Ten minutes later. R.I.P. squeaker.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Sketch and the Phantom Gnat

For the life of me, I can't see what flying distraction Sketch is trying to catch and, I presume, eat. He is very determined, however, and I just hope he isn't hallucinating and losing his mind.

Computers on Christmas eve

What a household we are. Here I am, blogging while watching the Hawaii Bowl, with Sketch stretched out at my feet. Across the room H is on her laptop, trying to find her missing recipe for ginger cookies. And on the sofa, our teen guest is using the other netbook to download tunes to his mp3 player. So much for Dickens.

Christmas tree

Poem and painting by e.e. cummings.

little tree

by: e.e. cummings (1894-1962)

little silent Christmas tree
you are so little
you are more like a flower
who found you in the green forest
and were you very sorry to come away?
see i will comfort you
because you smell so sweetly
i will kiss your cool bark
and hug you safe and tight
just as your mother would,
only don't be afraid
look the spangles
that sleep all the year in a dark box
dreaming of being taken out and allowed to shine,
the balls the chains red and gold the fluffy threads,
put up your little arms
and i'll give them all to you to hold
every finger shall have its ring
and there won't be a single place dark or unhappy
then when you're quite dressed
you'll stand in the window for everyone to see
and how they'll stare!
oh but you'll be very proud
and my little sister and i will take hands
and looking up at our beautiful tree
we'll dance and sing
"Noel Noel"

"little tree" was originally published in The Dial Vol. LXVIII, No. 1 (Jan. 1920). New York: The Dial Publishing Company, Inc.

Don't be naughty, be nice


Here's what I don't like about "studies" that conclude something like, "If you eat more than 3 pieces of bread a day, you are 25% more likely to get cancer." These tests always suggest cause-and-effect, causality, but in fact you can compare any two things and come up with some kind of probability based on the data, which does not of itself prove anything more than the relationship of the samples. Thus, I could compare those who have read Homer in Greek and those who have not, in relationship to getting cancer, and say something like, "Those who read Homer in Greek are half as likely to get cancer," and this sounds significant. The misleading factor is grammatical. The results are presented in the present or future tense, but the actual facts merely compare two samples in the past tense. Just because you compare two or more things does not mean there is a causal relationship between them. I bet 90% of these kinds of studies are nonsense in terms of causality.


To quote Ibsen, "The sun, the sun ..." It is actually out here in Puddle City.

May your garden grow

Happy holidays and good wishes for the new year. Let's tend our gardens, as Voltaire would say, and make our tiny corners of the universe more sane than the discouragements and insanities that feed the media. It's too easy to lose track of good news in this hysterical, hype-driven culture we live in. Make good news and spread it around your neighborhood. I'll try to do the same.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Songs for Old Farts

Here are some songs you may enjoy.


Chris Connor

Chicken Cordon Blues

Hank Ballard and the Midnighters

Here is the original version, out several years before Chubby Checker made it a hit. I met Ballard and he told me he loved Checker for giving him so much money in songwriting royalties, i.e no grudges at all.

The Clovers

The Penguins

A and B sides of the same record, perhaps the best double-sided hit of the era.

The Flamingos

Coyote & Road Runner


Got my pen camcorder, which will be trickier to use for my project than I anticipated. But I think it can be done, which is to say, used to capture a variety of POV shots for the project.

Remembering Huggy Boy

In The Catcher in the Rye Holden remarks that after reading a really good book he wants to phone the author. Today we send email, and I received a cool one this morning: "As a guy who grew up in Beverly Hills, I understand exactly your reaction to Huggy Boy." The reference is to my personal essay Birthing Little Richard, which has been around a while and gained a lot of fans, no doubt other white teenagers who grew up in L.A. in the 50s and listened to the several black radio stations.

Here's part of what I say about Huggy Boy, the late night DJ:

To "hip" white teenagers, however, 1954 was most
remembered not for "Sh-Boom" or Elvis but for three
extraordinary records released by Hank Ballard and The
Midnighters: "Work With Me Annie," "Sexy Ways," and
"Annie Had A Baby."

In "Work With Me Annie," the lyric "let's get it while
the gettin' is good" was considered so dirty, so
obscene, that for a time the song was banned from the
airways in Los Angeles. This was the situation when I
heard Huggy Boy announce on his early morning radio
show that, the law be damned, next week at 3 a.m. he
was going to play "Work with Me, Annie" on the air!
(You can hear "Work With Me Annie" online at

My Jr. High was abuzz with the news. Would Huggy Boy
really dare to do this? Of course, those of us who
were hip (and I was one hip nerd) knew the song
because we owned a 78 rpm record of it or at least had
heard it on the radio before it was banned. And no
wonder it was banned: "Annie please don't cheat, Give
me all my meat!" My God, who had ever heard anything
so sexually explicit on the radio before?

Hank Ballard and The Midnighters, more than any other
black group in the early 1950s, had a reputation for
being sexual and dangerous. Their songs were full of
references to, well, SEX. "Sexy Ways" had the
mind-boggling lyric: "In the hall, on the wall; Dance
baby dance, now crawl crawl crawl!," followed by so
many repetitions of "Oh baby; Do it, baby" that a
teenager could have a premature coronary just from
imagining the activity being described. Ballard's
quivering voice suggested more sexual abandon than
anyone before Little Richard. Hank Ballard and The
Midnighters would have made "The Star Spangled Banner"
sound sexual.

Despite being banned, "Work With Me, Annie" was so
popular -- at the time it was referred to as the Negro
National Anthem -- that it inspired a sequel, "Annie
Had A Baby." This song was filled with predictions
about male-female relationships that many male
teenagers would encounter in the very near future:
"She sings to the baby instead of me, Clings to the
baby instead of me; Now it's clear and it's understood
-- That's what happens when the gettin' gets good!
Annie had a baby, can't work no more."

And so we spent a long week at Wilson Jr. High in
1954, the tension mounting, as we awaited the early
morning when Huggy Boy was going to defy the law and
put Annie back on the airways. Would he chicken out at
the last minute? One day a rumor spread around school
that Huggy Boy had been fired. In my room, I
nervously waited up late for his show to start -- and
felt incredible relief to hear his usual opening
banter, "This is Dick Hugg -- Huggy Boy!"

On the morning in question, I had no trouble getting
up at 3 a.m. I often set my alarm for 3 in order to
get up and look at the stars with my telescope.
Sometimes I would take a portable radio outside with
me, listening to Huggy Boy at low volume as I
star-gazed. This night, however, I stayed in bed,
turning on the show around 2 and waiting for the
count-down to the magic hour.

As 3 approached, it became clear that he was going to
go through with it; at least, he kept talking about
it. And then the hour came, and it really happened:
the introductory guitar riff played, Hank Ballard sang
"Work with me, Annie" in a voice drooling with sex,
and the Midnighters followed with their suggestive
chorus, "Ah-oom, ah-oom." Jesus Christ, Huggy Boy was
breaking the law just like he said he would!

I wanted to call up one of my nerd friends to make
sure he was listening. I wanted to shout at the top of
my lungs -- without waking my parents. I wanted to
masturbate. Maybe I would have gotten around to the
latter if an unexpected sound hadn't come from the

Someone was pounding on a door! Huggy Boy explained
that the police were outside, trying to break into his
studio! And then there was a crash, a confusion of
noise suggesting breaking furniture ... and then the
radio show was off the air! Huggy Boy had been
arrested, right on the radio!

It doesn't matter that later, as an adult, I realized
this was all staged. And good radio theater it was,
too. But at the time it all made perfect sense because
there was, in fact, something deliciously wicked about
listening to the songs of Hank Ballard and The
Midnighters. The sizzling abandon in these songs was
as different from Patti Page's proper singing about
doggies in the window as the chaotic mess in my room
was from the perfectly made bedspread in my parents'
bedroom. (Of course, no teenager could imagine his
parents making love.)

Read the essay.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Oregon State bombs

The Beavers got creamed by BYU. Embarrassing. The Ducks had better do better for respect here in the NW.

1913 Massacre -- Guthrie, Dylan, Elliott

Here's an historic Xmas song for the ages, in the original and a significant, unreleased cover. Great last line: "See what your greed for money has done." Amen.

And my favorite version by ... who else? He sings Guthrie better than anyone, period.

My own version from my Guthrie show is on an audio clip here.

A small miracle

Music in my head, opening of the new video, so I actually went downstairs to the keyboard and Finale 2010 and composed it, taking forever to do four bars, but it's down and I like it! World's slowest composer. But it may work, which is the bottom line.

Christmas cheer at Nobby's

To Nobby's for breakfast, mainly to get out of the house where everything feels stagnant and medicinal, and it worked, I was cheered up immediately. Only knew two folks there, the owner and the cook, but it didn't matter, the warm atmosphere felt homey, made me feel welcome. I spent most Christmases in the 80s at Nobby's, more or less, and those actually are good memories, not "lonely" ones at all. There are many worse places to spend Christmas than in a bar, believe me. I've seen "homes" that are worse than bars, filled with negative subtext and secret horrors. Don't believe what anyone tells you about anything (including me!). Find out for yourself.

Nurses speak out

National Nurses United, the nation's largest registered nurses union and professional organization, declared on Tuesday that the Senate health care bill gives away too much to insurance companies and "fails to meet the test of true health care reform."

"It is tragic to see the promise from Washington this year for genuine, comprehensive reform ground down to a seriously flawed bill that could actually exacerbate the health care crisis and financial insecurity for American families, and that cedes far too much additional power to the tyranny of a callous insurance industry," said co-president Karen Higgins in a statement.

"Sadly, we have ended up with legislation that fails to meet the test of true health care reform, guaranteeing high quality, cost effective care for all Americans, and instead are further locking into place a system that entrenches the chokehold of the profit-making insurance giants on our health. If this bill passes, the industry will become more powerful and could be beyond the reach of reform for generations," she added.


I don't remember a president elected on a progressive ticket losing his base so soon -- less than a year in office! Well, it's not quite over and maybe disappointment is premature but the Democrats strike me as a pretty shameful lot, with a few noted exceptions, who once again are shooting themselves in the foot,

"I don't belong to any organized political party. I'm a Democrat."

--Will Rogers

Monday, December 21, 2009

United Airlines breaks guitars

Ah, sweet revenge! The story below.

With thanks to TW.

A musician named Dave Carroll recently had difficulty with United Airlines. United apparently damaged his treasured Taylor guitar ($3500) during a flight. Dave spent over 9 months trying to get United to pay for damages caused by baggage handlers to his custom Taylor guitar.

During his final exchange with the United Customer Relations Manager, he stated that he was left with no choice other than to create a music video for youtube exposing their lack of cooperation. The Manager responded : "Good luck with that one, pal".

So he posted a retaliatory video on youtube.

The video has since received over 6 million hits. United Airlines contacted the musician and attempted settlement in exchange for pulling the video. Naturally his response was: "Good luck with that one, pal".

Taylor Guitars sent the musician 2 new custom guitars in appreciation for the product recognition from the video that has lead to a sharp increase in orders.


I was snooping around my archive at the Univ of Oregon (doing this online, I mean) and came upon the recently cataloged DVD of my video Deconstructing Sally. What a thorough, first rate job! The summary is right on and, most impressive, the subject references are many, from college life in Oregon in the sixties to lesbians to male-female relationships. I assume an individual librarian has some leeway in defining these references, so this one gets accolades in my book. It's a complete and thorough catalog, making the work available from many different research directions, which is the point.

Librarians are in the front lines, holding down the fort, in a culture that is either declining in literacy or redefining what literacy means, depending on whether you came at this as a pessimist or optimist. They are unsung heroes at so many levels. Send good vibes to your librarian today.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Qualified cheer

Emil & Hank send Christmas greetings.

Out of sync

My recent sense of urgency and anticipation of a productive break are not matched by energy. I can barely get myself to hobble across the room. I assume this is a temporary setback, and it can end any time as far as I'm concerned. I have three projects that need attending to ... and soon, a syllabus to revise. I need some damn energy.

The loss of reflection

The natural busyness of our lives is being amplified by the networked gadgets that constantly send us messages and alerts, bombard us with other bits of important and trivial information, and generally interrupt the train of our thought. The data barrage never lets up. As a result, we devote ever less time to the calmer, more attentive modes of thinking that have always given richness to our intellectual lives and our culture—the modes of thinking that involve concentration, contemplation, reflection, introspection. The less we practice these habits of mind, the more we risk losing them altogether.


Hear, hear!

Saturday, December 19, 2009

And the bowls begin

There are over 30 bowl games now. Jeez. But the first was today, Wyoming winning in double OT, a fun game to watch when watching takes little energy. I need a battery charge.

Half speed

Lack of energy continues, running on half my cylinders.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Tom Lehrer's Christmas Carol

What A Christmas

Christmas Tears by Freddie King

I hear sleigh bells ringin'
But I haven't heard a word from you in years

My favorite holiday couplet!

Run Rudolph Run by Chuck Berry

White Christmas

Best version ever: Clyde McPhatter and the Drifters.

Near misses

For some reason been remembering a few near misses in my career.
  • A producer who had optioned my screenplay Ruby's Tune, based on my play Waitresses, called to say she had the money. Contracts would be signed over the weekend and my fat check would be in the mail Monday. Hooray! But at the very, very last minute, the deal fell through, I came to find out -- and it fell through by a rookie mistake. The producer, who planned to direct, let it be known before contracts were signed that Jennifer O'Neill was attached. She was sincerely excited by this, as in fact I was. But the money guys looked at O'Neill as someone with a series of failed TV movies, looking for a comeback they did not want to bankroll. So backers backed out and the project never recovered. No movie.
  • I was the librettist for an original jazz opera by Thara Memory. We had a meeting with the Portland Opera for possible backing in pursuit of a national grant. Lots of enthusiasm and optimism -- until the meeting. Thara was in his anti-white, no compromise, angry young musician stage and his lack of cooperation, or even the appearance of it, pretty much chucked our chances. We may not have gotten the grant anyway.
  • These two events happened in the 80s. More recently, a few years ago, a director wanted to make one of my favorite screenplays, The Brazen Wing, but wanted all money on the tail end, which neither I nor my agent liked. The guy fattened the pot by wanting me to direct, which if younger may have worked. But I didn't have energy or confidence I could pull this off at my age, and no one budged as regards the money, so the deal crashed. No movie.
  • I was hired to write a splay based on the career of an historic figure, and all was looking good until the two producers got in a fight. One ended up taking the money and leaving town, leaving us all high and dry. No movie.

There are more but you get the idea. Every writing career is filled with stories like this, I'm sure.

Good question

When will Obama show this kind of passion?

A few important books

Books that made a difference in my life.

In search of a chocolate chip cookie

I think I'll drive across town to a bakery and get some chocolate chip cookies. Tried this Monday and they were closed. Maybe some Xmas cookies, too, while I'm there. Feels like a seasonal thing to do. And a reward at the end.

Too much "Nice"

I'm not a Scrooge, I'm really not. But the older I get, the less patience I have with this new breed of newscaster who acts like s/he's your buddy next door. I don't want "nice" newscasters, I want professional newscasters who deliver actual news, not human-interest tidbits about somebody baking a wedding cake. This stuff was okay when it was an occasional sidebar but today the main news thread focuses on non-news items of trivial events. This is especially true at the local level. Everybody acts like I'm their buddy. Guess what? I'm not. So cut the act and deliver some actual news, please. (Fat chance.)

Easy scrapple

Just made a batch of scrapple,, using my doctoring of an "easy scrapple" recipe I found on the net. Purists wouldn't call this scrapple, which is fine. Call it something else. It is quick, easy, delicious and inexpensive.

What I do is this.

Fry a pound of country sausage and crumble it. Pour it into a pan with 2 cups of chicken broth. In a bowl, dissolve one cup of corn meal or polenta in another cup of chicken broth, then add to the sausage mixture. Season to taste -- a little sage, pepper, whatever (the country sausage I use is already spiced). Cook until thick (the spoon stands up in the pan easily) and pour into a loaf pan. Cool and refrigerate. To serve, slice into half-inch slices, flour and fry with breakfast. Outstanding! if not authentic scrapple.

I've made the real stuff but I no longer have a meat grinder, and this is a great substitute, believe me.

Quotation of the day

"I think our ability to take collective action is in doubt."

--Pres. Obama

Said in Copenhagen at the climate summit but would apply here to Congress as well. A sad state of affairs. Maybe it's an argument for Benevolent Monarchy ha ha.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Portland myths

Portland, like other cities, has a healthy image of itself, and many who live here think the city is the best around. Part of the accepted myth of Pdx has been its liberal nature, a city in which public radio is more popular than commercial radio and vast and growing numbers of folks ride bikes.

A couple of reports in the news today destroy the image. Public radio ranked 11th, not first, in the study of most-listened to stations. And bike riding is down, not up, over the past year.

Not that any of this matters. The facts never have much leverage against feel-good myths about how liberal cool we all are.

Source 1

Source 2


A day for good news: a nice unexpected royalties check came in the mail. Feels like Christmas.

Santa in the age of terror

Deemer 1, Big C 0

We win the first round. No tumor, no cancer. A somewhat rare stone in a saliva gland.


Finally see the doc this morning, find out the results of last week's tests. Or not. Never know what to expect. At any rate, I'm mellow about all this. I don't expect anything drastic to happen.

Alas, I have done no writing this week, and it's almost over. Energy, focus, lacking. Partly the health issue, partly the holidays, partly my age. Interestingly enough, the video occupies my brooding thoughts more than the writing projects lately. If Deconstructing Sally is a fictional memoir, this may become a more traditional memoir. My working title is, My Life, My Death, And Certain Points In Between. Driven by narration, lots of POV shots. All this can change in process, of course. That's the challenge of it.

Also slowed down on my reading. From Here To Eternity is overwhelming by the narrative size of it, an epic story. Requires a lot of energy, which I don't have much of lately.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009


I love a cappella singing, no doubt because I grew up on doowop. So I'm enjoying Sing-off, the new reality show this week.

The Belmonts minus Dion came out with an incredible a capella album years ago, that has been re-released as a CD. I highly recommend it.

Bernie Sanders

Listening on CSPAN to the Independent senator from Vermont. What an admirable politician, as rare as this is. Good for Vermont for electing him. He's talking in favor of single-payer health care. Chasing windmills, I suppose, in the context of Real Politik 101, but we need dreamers like Sanders. Hear hear!

Democrats Lash Out At Obama Over Health Care Disappointments

It's about time!

"The president keeps listening to Rahm Emanuel," said Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.). "No public option, no extending Medicare to 55, no nothing, an excise tax, God!" he exclaimed about the Senate health care bill to Roll Call. "The insurance lobby is taking over."

"The White House has been useless," Rep. Dave Obey (D-Wis.), the chairman of the powerful Appropriations Committee, told Politico. Referencing Senate delays, he said, "It's ridiculous, and the Obama administration is sitting on the sidelines. That's nonsense."

While many House Democrats have expressed anger with the Senate for the watered-down bill, Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-N.Y.) argued that it was really Obama who let centrists take control. "Snowe? Stupak? Lieberman? Who left these people in charge?" he said. "It's time for the president to get his hands dirty. Some of us have compromised our compromised compromise. We need the president to stand up for the values our party shares. We must stop letting the tail wag the dog of this debate."

Hear, hear! (link above for scurce).

What a disappointment. There's time for Obama to grab leadership back but he'll have to change his MO and worry less about being nice and become a hell of a lot tougher in defense of his own (apparent) values. I never imagined he'd be so spineless.

One-stop shopping

A glorious morning! Much more energy than yesterday so I decided to take advantage of it and get some holiday chores done. I usually don't do "one-stop shopping," preferring to wander hither and yon, but under the circumstances I decided to go to "Uncle Freddy's", our local superstore, and I manged to finish up my stocking stuffer shopping, get the makings for scrabble, get office supplies, even breakfast, all in one store. And home, where of course Sketch makes me think I was missed.

I rec'd a "good luck on Thursday" email from a former student. Most thoughtful.

Not sure if I'll get any work done today or not. Play the day as it goes. I still have energy, which is good.

Want to shake your head in total disbelief? Take the point of view of an alien being, a Martian, an ET, whatever, and look at current affairs. Who are these creatures? That's what I'd think. Who the hell are these creatures so determined to be their own worst enemy, forever working against their own best interests, forever shooting themselves in the foot? Don't they know anything?

Thornton Wilder observed that we somehow got through the constant self-made muck "by the skin of our teeth," but I suspect that this kind of luck doesn't last forever.

The only thing I've learned in my seven decades is that Nature Wins.

Health care: one of a kind

Nations without government sanctioned/sponsored "Universal" health care:

The United States of America

Nations with:

Norway, since 1912, Single Payer
New Zealand, since 1938, Two Tier
Japan, since 1938, Single Payer
Germany, since 1941, Insurance Mandate
Belgium, since 1945, Insurance Mandate
United Kingdom, since 1948, Single Payer
Kuwait, since 1950, Single Payer
Sweden, since 1955, Single Payer
Bahrain, since 1957, Single Payer
Brunei, since 1958, Single Payer
Canada, since 1966, Single Payer
Netherlands, since 1966, Two-Tier
Austria, since 1967, Insurance Mandate
United Arab Emirates, since 1971, Single Payer
Finland, since 1972, Single Payer
Slovenia, since 1972, Single Payer
Denmark, since 1973, Two-Tier
Luxembourg, since 1973, Insurance Mandate
France, since 1974, Two-Tier
Australia, since 1975, Two Tier
Ireland, since 1977, Two-Tier
Italy, since 1978, Single Payer
Portugal, since 1979, Single Payer
Cyprus, since 1980, Single Payer
Greece, since 1983, Insurance Mandate
Spain, since 1986, Single Payer
South Korea, since 1988, Insurance Mandate
Iceland, since 1990, Single Payer
Hong Kong, since 1993, Two-Tier
Singapore, since 1993, Two-Tier
Switzerland, since 1994, Insurance Mandate
Israel, since 1995, Two-Tier


Free Wifi At McDonald's: No Fee Or Time Limit In 2010

In mid-January, it will lift the $2.95 fee it has charged for two hours of Internet access at 11,000 of its 14,000 U.S. locations. There will be no time limit after the fee is lifted.


Tuesday, December 15, 2009

7" Cherrypal Africa

The basic $99 laptop is here. Check it out.

You now can get a much more powerful netbook for not much more.

No camera

Where the hell is my camera? We live off the street and too often our packages get delivered to a neighbor. Maybe that's the case. Maybe not.

LATER. Looked at tracking of the camera. Arrived in Pdx 1 a.m. this morning ... got on a plane to Elk Grove Village, IL, got there and now is on a plane tonight back to Portland. Let's hear it for the post office.


A strange day I don't need repeated, listless, moping around like a zombie, no energy for much of anything. At least I caught a nap this afternoon and I actually do feel a tad better now, a bit more energy. Lack of energy sucks.

Tracking a camera

The pen camera I ordered is scheduled to arrive today. Just in time. While my lack of energy makes it difficult if not impossible to write, or at least write anything difficult, it shouldn't interfere with stumbling around my daily activities with a camera capturing my POV. I can start collecting clips to use later in the new video. I'm getting excited about the possibilities of this project while not being at all sure I can pull it off. But its messy process can begin right away.

I feel a bit strange, as if I'm coming down with something, little energy, a little light headed, impatient to work but having a hard time doing so.


My energy level has crashed ... strange but not very helpful for getting work done.

The playwright arrives

I arrive at the Pittock Mansion for the opening of my first hyperdrama, Chateau de Mort. Sold out at $100 a ticket, a very big deal in Portland in the 80s. A Seattle arts mag would call this the 2nd most significant arts event of the year in the northwest, second only to a performance by Baryshnikov. Hard to say but it was very nice to read. Still is ha ha.

Quotation of the day

"We are entitled to our own opinions, we're NOT entitled to our own facts!"

--Senator Al Franken

An early start

Taking a break after an early start this morning, but on grunt work more than creative work, organizing the file I'll edit the new video in, setting up folders, thinking what I'll need, etc. H off on business early this morning, so I'll have the house to myself most of the day. Write!

Monday, December 14, 2009

Harlan County, U.S.A.

Been a while since I've seen this important documentary about a coalminers' strike in Harlan County, which speaks volumes about our country, not all of it flattering, but which also is a celebration of the spirit of working people.

The blue collar worker as progressive was a vanishing breed through the last half of the 20th century. A dramatic illustration of this was a performance of my labor play 1934: Blood and Roses.

I witnessed a fascinating, disturbing conflict between generations of longshoremen, those who remembered and even participated in the 1934 west coast strike, and younger members who doubted much of the history surrounding it. At one point, a younger worker said he thought the play was commie propaganda because it emphasized violence by the police, which drew angry responses from the older generation that the weakness of the play was that it downplayed the violence!

What happened to the blue collar progressive tradition? Where are the Eric Hoffers (the "longshore philosopher") of the country? Man, we need them.

Tiger's dick

Tiger's scandal neither surprises nor shocks me. But I do wish the media would just shut up about it.

FDR v, Obama

Roosevelt was one tough sonofabitch. He didn't back down from certain goals. In contrast, Obama is trying too hard to keep everybody happy, backing down from things like the public option in an attempt to reconcile his way to what, ANY bill? Very disappointing. Progressives are abandoning Obama in droves, and he'd better do something to get them back.

Christmas lights hero

Loose ends

Here's a discouraging thought: winter hasn't started yet.

Wild goose chase of the day: I drove across town to a bakery for a chocolate chip cookie, only to discover they are closed Mondays. I think Sketch enjoyed the ride, though. I enjoyed the jazz on the radio.

Settled one of my two unsettled student "accounts".

Clearly not going to get any writing done today. Need to start it immediately tomorrow, at first rising.

I am REALLY eager to get this pen-video-camera so I can start shooting this avant-garde-ish project I want to do, which requires no one but myself. When the weather turns good, if my health permits, I'll get back to the Small Screen Video projects.

I have a premonition I won't get into but it does have me on my toes, so to speak. Both the short novel and the video are vehicles for expressing the things on my mind now, through fictional characters in similar circumstances. It's what we do.

And I'm cool with whatever happens. Truly.

Getting in the holiday spirit

Today I'll see if I can get into the holiday spirit by doing some shopping for presents. This after a trip to the university to check for last minute things and pick up some recommendation forms. I'll likely shop in NW where I can hit a lot of stores will not much walking (my knee bothers me, as ever). If I can get all this done before lunch, or close, that would leave writing time this afternoon. I have three weeks to get a ton of writing done. The pressure is on ha ha.

Thursday is the appointment to see what the scan shows, if anything. As near as I can ell, the lump is still growing.

So I'd better get out of here in the next hour. Ho ho ho ho.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Grades are in

Pretty cool if I say so myself.

We decided on a movie this afternoon, Invictus.


Woke up to cars encased in ice, and we don't own a decent ice scraper, which tells you how unprepared for severe winter weather we are. Ah, me. I hacked away at it for a while.

Three students to finish up this morning. Try to take care of this before noon and get all my grades in. To the university tomorrow to see if there's any last minute business to take care of.

Not sure whether I'll work or play after wrapping up grades today.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Almost a wrap

Three students to go, whose work I'll look at in the morning. So my grades should be in before noon -- and I'm done! Errands the rest of the day and getting organized for a busy break writing.

Army-Navy, the best ending ritual in the game

Navy regrouped to win 17-3. This is the game ending ritual from a previous year, an event no other football game matches, the teams together singing each alma mater. This is the way the game should be played -- and ended. No egomaniacs or hype or million dollar whiners here.


No sign of a storm here. Yesterday everyone was in a great panic of preparation.

Navy shooting self in foot big time, as Army takes a 3-0 halftime lead. My rooting for Navy every year is the triumph of childhood over adult experience, the Navy brat over the Army vet.

My blackeyed peas are great!

I think I'll run errands after the game since the weather is fine.

Only a few students left to grade. May not finish today but tomorrow surely. That makes Monday a fresh start. I am eager to get back to the novel. The sense of urgency and ending times (days? weeks? months? years?) is very strong.

The oldest profession

"I cause pleasure. I provide a service that brings people pleasure. I won't service married men or women, men of the cloth. See even hos got rules of morality," she laughs. "But seriously, I can understand why people who been brought up one way think it's immoral. I don't understand why it's illegal. With our government needing money, I wish I could pay taxes."

Read more

Dodging a storm?

Dry outside. The map on the news shows the storm drifting south and east of us. Maybe we'll miss it.

Starting the long process of making my blackeyed peas, an Army-Navy game day tradition, one of the few cooking traditions left in my life. Grade some projects, watch some football, and stay warm -- not a bad plan for the day.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Army-Navy game tomorrow

And after it, two Oregon high school football championship games. Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow.

Approaching storm

Snow and freezing rain coming our way apparently, hitting tonight and lasting through most of the weekend. I can stay home easily enough. Finish grading, Army-Navy game with my traditional blackeyed peas. Bring it on.

A sense of urgency

Man, there's nothing like a cancer scare to give you a sense of urgency. During this break I need to get a ton of writing done. My two current writing projects need to wrap up sooner rather than later, and this break gives me the chance to devote my energy to them. I intend do.

I don't think I have cancer, but we'll see. If I do, I do. I've already had my share of "gravy years," to use Raymond Carver's term. I'm already ahead of the game.

Welcome home!

Sketch and I have a game we play when I arrive home. He runs into the bedroom and up onto the bed. I come in to trade my shoes for slippers. He sticks his butt up in the air, and I go over and rub it. When he's had enough, he jumps up with his paws on my chest and vigorously licks my nose. When he's had enough of that, he jumps down and races around the house for a few laps. Then we both settle in, home at last.

Bionic Man

I'm always early everywhere I go (if I'm alone), so I got to the hospital 40 mins. before my appointment -- and was able to go right in for the CT scan. By the time of my appointment, I was halfway home.

An interesting thing happened. At the end, when the scanner guy went to remove this marker from my neck, there was a blue flash of electricity and he got a hell of a shock! I had become a bionic man!

Afterwards I treated myself to lunch at O'Connors, my usual cajun burger and hush puppies.

I'm not a Christian but I'm in a Chirstmasy mood. The main thing wrong with Christianity is -- Christians! So damn few of them act as if Jesus were a mentor. As Guthrie put it, "He said to the rich, give your goods to the poor, and they laid Jesus Christ in his grave." Only genuine Christians I've ever seen are certain sects of priests. Otherwise, for the most part, same old greed, selfishness, mindlessness.

Once my grades are in, I'll take a morning to go shopping for stocking stuffers.

As a non-Christian, I am never bothered by Christmas trees, carols, nativity scenes, and the other "religious symbols" that some get upset about. They need to lighten up. They act like intellectual Scrooges.

Up and at 'em!

Up bright and early, reading student projects. Making progress. I should finish up over the weekend, a few days later than usual but it's been an unusual week.

To the hospital in a few hours, get the scan, maybe get the info the doc needs to figure this out.

I'm mellow and fine.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Extended family in the arts

Of the three major players in a vital artistic community -- creator, evaluator, audience -- the evaluator may have the toughest role. The evaluator must do several things at once: evaluate the work of the creator in a personal and fair way, which means owning up to personal standards and taste; communicating to his own audience what the work is, how it fits into the artistic family in which it belongs, and who in the evaluator's audience may likely appreciate the work, or not.

The evaluator also must work within parameters set by the venue in which s/he works, i.e. writing for a daily newspaper is different from writing for an arts weekly is different from writing for a literary journal. The evaluator has the hardest job and faces the most temptations to turn away from responsibility: the temptation to be superior, cute, a secret and better creator.

For creators and audiences, the roles are straightforward: do the best work you can, on the one hand, and respond according to your tastes, on the other. Yet each can learn from an evaluator doing a good job. Creators can learn to better understand how works change in presentation. Audiences can learn to expand their horizon of interests.

Historically changes in cultural tastes in the arts are usually led by one or more evaluators who champion a new form. Susan Sontag helped us understand Happenings in the sixties, for example. Max Perkins, the evaluator as editor (a lost art), gave us several important American authors, most dramatically Thomas Wolfe.

Too often, creators and evaluators are seen as enemy camps but in the most healthy environment, they play different roles in the same extended family. An evaluator with high standards can raise the level of appreciation of the audience but only by being a kind of teacher.

Creator-evaluator-audience, the extended family of the arts.

Insightful commentary

I've been blessed in much of my writing career to live in the same city as an insightful critic, Bob Hicks, who responds to what I'm up to, often praising my efforts, sometimes not, but always clear and fair. His retirement remarks include this advice to critics:

Do your homework. Be fair. Be accurate. Connect the specifics of your story to the larger world: what does it mean; where does it fit? Praise when praise is called for. Be stern when sternness is called for. Be clear. Don't show off in your writing; it'll come back to bite you on the butt. But remember, you're an entertainer -- people read you not just for information but also for the pleasure of reading good writing.

Hicks nails what Christmas at the Juniper Tavern is about in his recent commentary. This is not a knee jerk appreciation: for example, I think he completely missed the boat in his review, many years ago, of my play Varmints. Win a few, lose a few (for both of us!) -- but Hicks is always intelligent, reasonable, fair, even when I disagree with him about my work or the work of others. I can't over-estimate how important intelligent commentary can be to a writer.

Working, emerging writers want to be understood and appreciated. Old writers want to be respected and appreciated for what they've contributed. I definitely felt the former early in my career, thanks largely to Hicks but also to others here and in Seattle who responded to my work. I don't feel particularly "respected" in Portland now (there are exceptions in Hicks, Mark Zusman at WW, other journalists who were here in the 80s). I mostly feel invisible and marginal, but that is okay, too. I think my work will be reevaluated after I'm gone, literally or geographically, and many of my plays will find interest here once again. I firmly believe in one cultural truth: the movers and shakers prefer their artists dead. I'll have this artistic advantage in the (not so distant, at my age) future.

The best thing about my life is that I'm still working and I'm working with confidence, without stress, with my primary audience being an archive. This works just fine at this stage of my life.

Sisyphus is happy, and I'm content.

Obama's Nobel Speech

"To say that force is sometimes necessary is not a call to cynicism, it is a recognition of history; the imperfections of man and the limits of reason."

Let's not forget ...

From The Huffington Post

Ukulele prodigy?

Lump update

As I'm waiting for tests, the lump isn't waiting at all ... it's now about 3x larger than when I discovered it not quite two weeks ago. I go in for tests tomorrow, at last, and maybe we'll get some data about what's going on. Still no pain whatever.

I have been avoiding work. Not a single project read yet today. Ah, me. Sort of glowing in the aftermath of the anniversary and pretending I'm not worried about the lump, I suppose. And also very eager to get back to writing, but I can't do this until all my grades are in. Today, I need a second wind, a surge of energy. Ha.