Sunday, January 31, 2010

Our Town

A nice story on the Wilder masterpiece on Sunday Morning today. It's the most produced play in America, 4000 productions in last decade. I'd like to see it again ... been about 15 years. What is fascinating is that Wilder's dramatic style influenced European theater much more than at home, where the naturalistic style prevailed and still does. Durrenmatt, my favorite playwright, comes straight out of Wilder.

Yes, I definitely hope someone around here does Our Town soon -- or the Skin of Our Teeth, which is not done often at all.

Life is a nice place to visit

Really good work on the score this morning! Moving right along.

Need a breather. Maybe a movie, maybe read, maybe an adventure with Sketch.

Dominant team

Has sports ever seen domination like this year's Univ of Connecticut's women's basketball team? Look at recent victories. They beat #3 Notre Dame by 24 pts, then followed by beating #7 Duke by 33 pts. Their closest game has been a 12 pt victory, over a #2. They completely dominate everyone. It's incredible.

More about them here.

Free market

If it's true that folks advertise what other folks want or need or are perceived to need, then there's quite a demand for male PhD's with big dicks. At any rate, PhD's for the asking and magic pills to enlarge the penis are quite the rage in my spam mailbox. Who woulda thunk it?

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Amazing films

Two old favs on cable tonight, Cradle Will Rock and Eyes Wide Shut, major work though not huge successes commercially, each a passionate project by its creator, Tim Robbins, Stanley Kubrick, which is the only way it got done.

Full circle

In the mid-50s, in high school, I listened a lot to Gerry Mulligan and played the banjo. Today I listen a lot to Gerry Mulligan and play the banjo, learning a new style, clawhammer. I was interested in music before I was interested in writing. And now I'm doing music after I call myself "retired" from writing.

Home town frenzy is fun to watch. Caught the end of USF upsetting Gonzaga, ending its 22 conf game win streak -- the game in San Francisco.

Expresso printers

There are five bookstores in the country with print-on-demand printers in them, and one is in Seattle. Order a book and it prints quickly while you have a cup of coffee.

Read the story.

(Thanks to B.H. for links.)

Great excitement about small things

Stumbled upon the fact that I sold 2 copies of the reader at Amazon yesterday. Amazing how something so insignificant can make me feel so good! The life of the marginal writer, sigh. At any rate, I assume the sales are to libraries to which I sent postcards last week. Hopefully a lot more will be forthcoming.

Here comes another Age of China

TIANJIN, China — China vaulted past competitors in Denmark, Germany, Spain and the United States last year to become the world’s largest maker of wind turbines, and is poised to expand even further this year.

China has also leapfrogged the West in the last two years to emerge as the world’s largest manufacturer of solar panels. And the country is pushing equally hard to build nuclear reactors and the most efficient types of coal power plants.

Read more

We could put so many to work if we became competitive in this area! But this requires the kind of government leadership that gets labeled "socialism" in our fear-mongering, historically ignorant political culture. But I'd call this the handwriting on the wall, the era of U.S. dominance is coming to an end. Maybe this is not a bad thing. We can learn other ways to be in the world.

Movel? Splay? Suggesting a new literary form

What would a new literary form, based on the screenplay, be called? A novie? movel? I rather like splay, the shorthand for screenplay, because I like the image of opening up, covering a lot with a little, which is exactly what this storytelling form does. It is our most efficient narrative form.

I think the format would have to be changed a bit. Less jargon without sacrificing the form's concise nature.

For example, instead of EXT. FIELD - DAY one might write, IN A FIELD. DAY.


With such minor changes, the screenplay becomes easily intelligible to a general audience, most of whom have never seen a screenplay before.

I'd also change the format of dialogue, to match fiction. He says, or he said etc. But I definitely would keep the verticality of the form, the white space that keeps it from looking text dense and sets it off from prose.

The more I think about it, the more I think the time is right for this new, or almost new, literary form, "the splay," a screenplay adapted for a general reading public. I'd really run with this idea if I were in my 20s or 30s. I hope someone does. This is the perfect storytelling form for our impatient times and for electronic readers.

Somebody can get rich on this idea. Just send me a 10% consulting fee.

Is writing changing?

Our eager embrace of a brand new verb — to text — speaks volumes. We’re rapidly moving away from our old linear form of writing and reading, in which ideas and narratives wended their way across many pages, to a much more compressed, nonlinear form. What we’ve learned about digital media is that, even as they promote the transmission of writing, they shatter writing into little, utilitarian fragments. They turn stories into snippets. They transform prose and poetry into quick, scattered bursts of text.

Read more

If this is true, if writing is becoming more compressed, then a written storytelling form already exists to meet this change: the screenplay! One of the first lessons I teach my students is that the screenplay is not a literary form, it's a blueprint for a movie. Which in the marketplace today is absolutely true. But what if the screenplay became a literary form?

Look at David Hare's screenplay The Hours, adapting the novel. It is, IMHO, not only a literary document, it is literature. Of course, in the spec screenplay market in which beginning screenwriters are forced, a script like this would never get read. Pro's get to write with more freedom because they are an investment, they get paid BEFORE they write! There is no competition except against, perhaps, some ideal script in the producer's mind. But Hare's script deserves to be read, not as a blueprint for a movie, but as a work for its own sake.

Screenplays could, in a rushed world preferring concise text to verbosity, become a primary READING form, a major storytelling form. No one reads screenplays now except screenwriters and wannabe screenwriters. But this could change.

SCENARIO, "the magazine of screenwriting art," tried to address this but made the mistake of over-producing the product, creating an expensive coffee table book, not a handy reading journal. I think the times are right for a new attempt, less glossy and more aimed at portability, a readers' experience. Maybe even an electronic journal to be read on Kindle and iphones.

Screenplays are a reading form as yet undiscovered by the masses. But the potential is huge because they are concise, they deliver big stories in little time, little reading investment.

If I were younger, much younger, this definitely is a project I'd look into, moving screenplays to the masses as a READING form. Maybe the format would have to be tweaked a bit, into something less rigorous than the formal screenplay format. But the concise language, the ability to tell big stories in few words, these appear to be part of the same thing happening in the culture.

Screenplays read by the masses. Somebody should run with this.

Wheeling and dealing

If you're interested in keeping up with the business of Hollywood, including what's bought and who gets fired, check out Deadline Hollywood, which gets updated several times a day. Presently there's a lot on what is selling at Sundance.

An outrageous trend

Just this week, a school district in California barred dictionaries from the classroom after a parent complained about a child reading the definition of "oral sex".

Read more

Political correctness and censorship run rampant across the land. We are becoming an embarrassment in the civilized world -- or what's left of it.

Super Bowl ads

So they accept an anti-abortion ad but reject a gay dating service ad. Might not be the last word on this.

An unusual Friday

In the rhythm of my week, Friday typically is my day of rest, a transition from my teaching life to my writing life. I veg out on Friday, watch movies, read, spend time with Sketch. But yesterday I practiced banjo a lot and made real progress. I may be close to recording "my first clawhammer song."

More of the same today, I hope, with work on the score added.

Friday, January 29, 2010

The last series

"Musical and dramatic notes for a chamber opera." More and more, this describes where my creative energy is now. I have three projects that could fit under this banner, one of which I'm working on now. All would be incomplete because I don't have the skill set to finish them. At the same time, none are worth dismissing because they "possess" me in that special way projects lodge in the mind and demand release. I have no idea how many I'll do in the time left to me. This work goes far more slowly than writing for me, primarily because of my lack of skills. What I compose to score in an hour would take a "real composer" a fraction of the time. Thems the breaks. I do what I can do, and I'm thrilled that I've taught myself, with the help of some piano lessons in reason years, to do as much as I can.

I hope I have time to finish at least one and get it out there where a composer might find it and run with it. We'll see! Onward.

Dinty Moore Beef Stew

Wanting something quick, easy, tasty, heated up a can of this for my dinner tonight. I grew up on it. We camped as a family when I was a kid, in the late 40s before it was fashionable, usually just pulling off into a field and sleeping under the stars, and our usual dinner was this beef stew. We all loved it. I still love it.

Sometimes, having pulled into a farmer's field to spread out our tarps and unroll our sleeping bags, the farm family would notice us and bring out a treat, like pie or homemade bread. No one ever kicked us off. Those were kinder times.

Fond memories of camping as a kid and having canned stew for dinner -- and a surprise of incredible pie for dessert, brought out by a farmer and/or his wife.

Secret J.D. Salinger Documentary & Book, Now Revealed

Extraordinary news. Check it out in Deadline Hollywood.

Now we're cooking

An extraordinary 90 minutes today, the president answering questions from his opposition and winning most of the points. Republicans will never do this again, I bet. This is the Obama I like to see, taking the fight to the opposition instead of being passive.

Quotation of the day

From the Daily Dish.

If we see only the worst, it destroys our capacity to do something. If we remember those times and places--and there are so many--where people have behaved magnificently, this gives us the energy to act, and at least the possibility of sending this spinning top of a world in a different direction. And if we do act, in however small a way, we don't have to wait for some grand utopian future. The future is an infinite succession of presents, and to live now as we think human beings should live, in defiance of all that is bad around us, is itself a marvelous victory," - Howard Zinn, "The Optimism of Uncertainty," The Nation, 2004.

My favorite teacher

I was reminded of my favorite teacher this morning. He was J. Robert "Bob" Trevor.

After the Army, after a year of working in corporate America, I decided to return to college, to UCLA. But there was a problem. All my college credits were from Cal Tech, which was on the quarter system. UCLA was on the semester system. So in transfer I had 2 and a fraction units for several 3 unit classes, which meant UCLA required that I take them again. I decided to do this for less money at a community college and so enrolled in Pasadena City College in 1963. This is where I met Trevor.

At Cal Tech I had been a math major. At UCLA I anticipated being a Philosophy major. But I was curious about all the humanities for the first time. On a recommendation, I enrolled in Trevor's Modern Poetry class -- and in retrospect, it and he changed my life.

What made Trevor special was his manner. He was tall and lean, urbane, witty. He was Jeremy Irons in the classroom. His sensitivity to literature was in his body language. He began every class by reading a poem -- twice. We did not discuss it. He told us to listen carefully and to absorb it. A discussion, he said, an explanation, is always less than the work itself. Learn to appreciate the work more than the explanation.

I ended up taking every Trevor course I could before transferring to UCLA. Because I was an older student, we had hit it off and stayed in touch. Trevor moved on to become VP at a community college in St. Louis, which is where he was when I won a playwriting contest in grad school sponsored by the Univ of Missouri. So I stayed with him when I was flown out to receive the award (one of three). I was a big guy with a big beard then, who took my guitar everywhere and sang folk songs. Trevor said I reminded him of Walt Whitman.

Trevor retired to Honolulu. Every Xmas he sent me a case of macadamia nuts. I visited him in Honolulu, he showed me all the non-tourist spots, and I fell in love with the place, which wasn't even more expensive than Portland. And it was here that brought the memory this morning. Trevor had breakfast at the same restaurant every morning, sitting in the same booth, served by the same waitress. An old man's routine I understand myself very well today.

And so this morning, I stopped by for my usual iced coffee, joined a long rush hour line, and by the time I got to the register my order was already ready, "Saw you coming, Charles," said the barista, and this reminded me of Trevor getting breakfast. Routine seems like a small thing but it can be a big thing, a nice stability, a connection however minor, an example of the rhythm of one's life. This is a good thing. As a young person, I looked at it with less charity but I see now, I feel now, that this is a good thing. Trevor getting his breakfast, me getting my coffee, the rhythm of the day beginning. A good thing.

Trevor died quite a while ago. A woman I didn't know let me know, contacting everyone in his address book. His ashes were dropped at sea. She said a school of dolphins swam around the boat as if in honor and celebration.

I can still hear Trevor reading a poem. Jeremy Irons in the classroom. All class.

I'm honored that several of my own past grad students feel toward me the way I felt toward Trevor. Carry it on.


H has been fighting a cold, and I don't want to get it! She's still in bed, so I can't practice the banjo, which is what I want to do. So I'll head out for coffee and maybe she'll be up when I return.

I need to work on the score today as well. Looks like a productive day from this end. We'll find out.

Old age is not as I imagined it, in truth, but also it's something that isn't half bad. I just had a more romantic view of it from several perspectives. I find occasional traces of the fantasy now and again but for the most part old age is full of aches, invisibility, and self-reliance.


I've never been a joiner. I can trace "the loner" psychology to childhood, being raised by a mom with dad at sea, who devised any number of projects to keep me busy (alone) while she did what she had to do, getting me used to being self-sufficient.

This comes to mind because I was wondering if I'd have become a writer if born, say, twenty or thirty years ago, with the same temperament? Writing communities are much larger and more visible than during my day, when it was a bit off-center, eccentric, to want to "be a writer." In Portland, today, writers are everywhere. It's like screenwriters in L.A. Who is NOT a writer around here? If young, would I therefore rebel from this and do something else? Or not live here, go somewhere where writers are harder to find?

Theoretical, meaningless question. I have no idea. But I can't imagine being a young writer in Portland with my natural loner temperament. I'd move to Fossil or somewhere. I hung with a few writers in grad school but only because we were such a minority, surrounded by PhD types. I had as many blue collar friends.

This also may be related to my natural suspicion of art institutions. I have a hard time getting past the fact -- and it is a fact -- that the culture prefers its artists dead. The exception is the celebrity artist, but there are few of these by definition. The culture has never really supported LIVING artists as much as the archived work of dead artists. And it isn't all that sure what to do with this. To paraphrase the last line of my favorite short story, Art doesn't save anyone from anything. And this is precisely the rub. Because, in a saner culture, art WOULD save us from literal experience. Art would educate and inform the spirit in a way that changed social behavior. But it doesn't. Hitler was an artist.

Philip Glass has noted that everyone is an artist and all art should be anonymous. This is the vision of an idealist. How different the world would be if all art were anonymous! That is, if artists were not celebrities. This would only work in a culture in which art actually DID SOMETHING, it had a social function that improved the culture. If the social reality of art matched the way certain works of art can affect individuals. Many of us have encountered art that changed our lives. But art never stopped a war. Art hasn't made the culture less greedy.

I'm just damn glad I'm not 20 or 30 today. I'm damn glad I am exactly who I am.


Music, music, music today! Practice the banjo, lots of energy to do so. Work on the score -- I'm a bit stuck where I am, so this will be harder. Presumably we'll get over the hump.

And some reading. I have a film to outline, too. Lots to do. Amazing how much there still is to do after you "retire" as a writer.

If we get a tad of sun today, I'll get Sketch out for a run. Forecast isn't encouraging, however. But forecasts are as often wrong as right.

Crashed very early, hence up again with a bit of energy. A radio show I want to hear, so back to bed with earplugs.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Rick Moody on Salinger

And the last part of Salinger's legacy is the author's silence. After 1965, we all know now, Salinger turned his back on publishing and on the fame that had come with it, and though it is widely thought that he worked regularly thereafter, the work no longer belonged to us, his eager audience. For some, this silence was an irritant, but for my money, the silence was part and parcel of the spirituality of his later work; it was reverent, it was aesthetically consistent and it was confident.

Were I to say that I, like every other contemporary American writer, came out from under Salinger's skirts, I feel I would be saying that I admire his silence, too, just as I admire the tremendous accomplishment of his published work. It's an even more perfect silence now that he is gone, one that is unvarying, but one that is consistent nonetheless with the complete output of this singular American genius.

Read it all

"In today's culture of pornographic celebrity, in which fame is the supreme currency, Salinger's pursuit of total anonymity remains an inspiration, a reminder of what matters, and a reminder of what disappears." --Andrew Sullivan


I think Apple's new iPad is going to be a bust in this first incarnation. You can't multi-task on it. And it has no USB ports. Who wants a computer device that doesn't allow multi-tasking? I've read a lot about it, saw much of the hype show yesterday, and I'm not impressed. But I think their commitment to "touch technology" may be on the right track for the younger generations.

R.I.P.: J. D. Salinger

Surely one of our more eccentric and important writers. I remember a Time mag photo decades ago of Salinger's foot disappearing around the corner of a house, the best a photographer could do with this reclusive writer. They had to use art on the cover (1961). He had reason to run: Hollywood turned his story "Uncle Wiggly in Connecticut" into "My Foolish Heart" with Susan Hayward. Any sane man would run and still be running!

NEW YORK — J.D. Salinger, the legendary author, youth hero and fugitive from fame whose "The Catcher in the Rye" shocked and inspired a world he increasingly shunned, has died. He was 91.

Salinger died of natural causes at his home on Wednesday, the author's son said in a statement from Salinger's literary representative. He had lived for decades in self-imposed isolation in the small, remote house in Cornish, N.H.


"An artist's only concern is to shoot for some kind of perfection, and on his own terms, not anyone else's."
J.D. Salinger

Restless morning

Up early, restless, out for a pre-dawn breakfast, a bit of brooding & cruising, home and back to bed for a couple hours, up to read student work, just one to go, and I'm finally settling in for the day.

A very nice thank you from a former grad student of mine, who's become both a friend and fan, regarding the reader I mailed. All the necessary copies are out now, to the archive, the library, a handful of friends/fans. So if I get run over by a truck this morning, the essential distribution is taken care of ha ha. Things like that are important when you have no one covering your back. You have to do everything yourself.

But maybe somebody is covering my back and I don't know it. You never can tell.

Banjo is sure getting fun! The class is nicely organized in a way that makes us sounding damn good early on, even though what we're doing is easy. Good for the morale. But here's a surprise: only 4 of 10 in class last night! Has over half the class quit already? I mean, for a weekly class, and only eight of them, why miss one? Why pay the fee and then drop out? Online students used to do that on me all the time. Strange phenomenon.

So I have great stuff to practice this week! This is just what I need right now.

Started reading a history of screenwriting, which is misnamed I think ... starts off more like a book of stories and gossip, war stories, about screenwriters in Hollywood, a slightly different focus. But it's a fun read so far.

I finished the short history of the Cold War from an international perspective, which means more of our CIA atrocities are covered than in an American history, I suspect. Some pretty ugly stuff. We really have little right to take the moral high ground as we always do. Not since McKinley's dream. I blame it all on him ha ha. Hallucinating a visit from Christ. Just perfect for setting foreign policy. (If I now say Jesus, is that a pun?)

So Howard Zinn has passed. A fine man though he sometimes got too ideological for my tastes. His book is sure important.

Well, time to move on.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010


What a great class tonight! It's a real high, this class.

R.I.P.: Howard Zinn

Howard Zinn, the Boston University historian and political activist who was an early opponent of US involvement in Vietnam and whose books, such as "A People's History of the United States," inspired young and old to rethink the way textbooks present the American experience, died today in Santa Monica, Calif, where he was traveling. He was 87.


A People's History of the United States, his best known book, is an important and necessary read for anyone interested in our history.


I've just been asked to be a judge for the NW Best Short Film Awards, re best screenplay and best film. Why not? That's what happens to old farts, you get to be judges. Actually it will be a fun, something I haven't done for a couple years. (Interestingly enough, judges choose best splay not by reading a script but by seeing a movie, which says a lot about how the craft is viewed).

Auto mechanic

Took a break from student papers to work on the old van I drive, topping its various fluids, checking the old lady out. I used to work on my VW Bug all the time when I was a young man, which I did with pride because I am more cerebral than mechanical by nature. My dad was impressed, which felt good, too. But cars have gotten so complicated, you can't do much with just a few hand tools any more, and you don't see guys and gals working on their cars the way you did decades ago.

And the sun has come out, the chill taken out of the day, and it feels almost like spring, a dangerous tease. Nothing like leisurely working on a car with the sun out. All that was missing was a game on the radio. A lost piece of Americana, I think.

Then Sketch and I took a test drive, and I got a coffee to go. Large iced coffee, my ritual. Maybe I'll save the remaining papers till tomorrow. Maybe not. Already put in some banjo practice, so my day is in good shape. I have grunt work and score work I could do. We'll see.

I almost wish I was given x months to live so I could chuck everything and go have an actual end of my time vacation. Otherwise I think I'll keep working till the end. Die with my boots on. But if I knew I had three months to live, say, I think I'd go to Costa Rica or Mexico and just lie in the sun, among other things ha ha.

I need to buy some mailing envelopes. Should've done that while I was out. Well, good excuse to go out again. Sketch settled in, though, doubt if he wants to come.

I also need to get to the library. 2 chores, that does it. I'll be off again.

Saw a glimpse of Apple's new iPad, it looks pretty cool. But I don't know why I'd need one. This netbook does everything I need done. Smartest thing I saw re iPad was its deal with McGraw-Hill to deliver college text ebooks. Students really need a break on their book costs. The price of education today, compared to my day, is shameful.

I love the sunshine! I am still a SoCal boy at heart, trapped in gray Oregon for decades.

Today's agenda

Focus today is reading student pages and after this, practicing the banjo. Lesson this evening. So much for Wednesday.

Not sure how long student work will take. About to see what I have to do and guestimate it. Might have time to work on the score later, maybe not.

Next Tuesday my very long day of student conferences.

Quotation of the day

"Nobody ever lost money on a movie they didn't buy." Anonymous producer at Sundance, reported by Deadline Hollywood.

An opportunity

Obama is a masterful speaker, no doubt about it. And this gives him an opportunity with his State of the Union address tonight to inspire and lead the nation in an exciting and bold direction toward economic recovery. But his speech will need content as well as style, and that's the rub. The rumors of what is in it are not encouraging. So we'll see. Above all else, he must make it clear that he is the people's president, not just the president of Wall Street.

I'll be at my banjo lesson and miss it. Just as well. My notion is that he will depress the hell out of me. I can't remember being more disappointed in a politician.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

It's not all bad news

From Monty Python's Flying Circus.

From point A to point B

I seem to hobble a little more every week. At what point do I need a cane? Or for that matter, jeez, a wheel chair? Well. not yet and I hope not soon. I know, I know, the best thing for me to do would be to lighten the load, i.e. lose a lot of weight. But since I get negligible exercise, that would mean a great reduction in calories. I can't give up breakfast. A life without scrapple is a life without joy. I think I could cut back on lunch and dinner, though. But thinking and doing are two different things (just look at our president ha ha).

So for the time being, I hobble along.

An endless discussion

It's amazing, really, that all these years later, readers still argue about the ending of Salinger's short story "Teddy." And I still hold a minority view.

But I'm right, of course. I'm right because the central issue is this: is the swimming pool full or empty? My assumption is that Salinger is a gifted writer. He knows what he is doing.

So why on earth is there reason to believe that the pool is empty? Because Teddy prefaces a story by saying, let's assume today is the day they clean the pool, i.e. it's not actually the day. Now if Salinger WANTED the pool to be empty, he'd just have Teddy say, Today's the day they clean the pool, and then he'd tell his story. But he doesn't say that. He says it isn't the day, but let's pretend it is.

And this means either the pool is full -- or some gods have intervened, like a deus ex machina, and suddenly changed the cleaning day. Salinger would never do something like this. He's too good to let this happen.

So whatever interpretation one has, it must include a FULL swimming pool. And, of course, the majority reading has the pool empty, which is impossible unless Salinger sucks as a craftsman.

The pool is full. Live with it and interpret the story accordingly.

My 1976 short story Teddy At the Pool gives my interpretation.

Caught up

Up to speed with my students, a temporary state since I pick up work today, which I'll read tomorrow and return Thursday.

Today in class we watch and study "Sea of Love," which I'm showing as a model of story economy.

Mailed off another small batch of readers. Only a few more to go.

Monday, January 25, 2010


A box of my readers arrived today for an initial mailing to my university archive and friends. Just seeing it made me feel "retired" in a way I haven't earlier, retired from what has been the center of my activity for nearly half a century. I'll get them mailed out this week.

Put in my banjo practice today. It's coming along well enough to be encouraging. Definitely so. I may yet become a clawhammer banjo player.

Luxuries of the retired class

Nothing like a noon movie on a weekday! Saw CRAZY HEART, absolutely loved it, top to bottom (well, maybe the ending a tad less), my kind of story, my kind of people, my kind of landscape. The wide open spaces in the west! What my buddy Dick used to call "the high lonesome." Country music, the old true kind before, like so much else, it became less interested in truth and more interested in sales and packaging and hype.

This is one fine movie and I hope Jeff Bridges, who already won a Golden Globe and SAG award, walks off with an Oscar. He well deserves it.

My version of this story is my early play COUNTRY NORTHWESTERN, my singer Buck Timber. A story with many variations, as long as there are crazy hearts, which must be forever.

Love this movie. Did I say that? Haven't raved about a film this much since, well, LIVES OF OTHERS. Love it.

Obama polarizing

A new Gallup poll has Obama the most polarizing president in the history of the poll. You love him or hate him (Democrat, Republican). So much for bringing everyone together.


Favre, pro and con

I've never been a fan of Brett Favre, This dislike no doubt began when he was at Green Bay. Wisconsin is a Big 10 state and I, growing up in Southern Cal, grew up disliking any Big 10 team that came to play a California team (usually) in the Rose Bowl. Then when Favre retired and unretired and retired again, strutting in and out of the news like a prima donna, I really disliked him. So I wasn't excited about the possibility of Favre going to the Super Bowl.

And therefore it is fitting, in an unfortunate way, that Favre himself blew the Vikings chances to do this. A tie game, 7 seconds left, Favre rolling right with pasture ahead of him, all he had to do is run and slide and the Vikings could win the game on a field goal. But he didn't do the obvious thing. I once played QB, even I could have seen this. No, Favre tried to do something more heroic, he threw across his body, left, the worst kind of throw, and he was intercepted. The Saints went on to win in overtime. But the Vikings had a good shot at winning in regulation if Favre hadn't made a really, really stupid error. And he did the same thing two years ago. For all his glory, he has a propensity to make very dumb decisions when it counts. This is why he is not one of the really great QBs of all time, certainly not in the top five.

Now the melodrama returns, will he or will he not retire again, and un-retire again, and so on?

Despite my dislike of him, Favre, a 40 year old, had one hell of a season. He is one tough customer. And often a jerk.

I ache, therefore I am

I like Descartes. Cogito, ergo sum, I think, therefore I am, always made sense to me. When I wake in the morning, my mind lets me know that the gods have granted me yet another day on the planet. Cool. In recent months, however, a variation of Descartes has entered my waking moments. Before my mind awakes, before I think, I am aware of something else. My left ankle hurts. My right knee hurts. These are my first sensations in the morning now. I ache, therefore I am.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Quotation of the day

From the Daily Dish.

"Do not depend on the hope of results. When you are doing the sort of work you have taken on, essentially an apostolic work, you may have to face the fact that your work will be apparently worthless and even achieve no result at all, if not perhaps results opposite to what you expect. As you get used to this idea, you start more and more to concentrate not on the results but on the value, the rightness, the truth of the work itself," - Thomas Merton, "Letter To A Young Activist"

This applies to artists as well as to activists. But then artists are activists of a sort, activists of the interior life.

Saints win in overtime

In a game played so badly by both teams, you'd think neither wanted to win. A terrible game to watch.

Colts win

When the Colts were trailing by 11 pts in the first half, I was worried for a bit but Manning came back and in the 2nd half just picked the Jets apart. The Colts defense was superb. A convincing win, and the Jets, a young team, are impressive.

I'd like to see the Saints win big. Really big.

What happened to serious fiction?

A literary editor wonders.

By the 1950s, young writers could apply to a dozen creative writing programs; the Beats could publish in Chicago Review, experimental writers in Black Mountain Review, internationalist writers in TriQuarterly, young Southern writers in Georgia Review and Shenandoah. All on the university dime. By the early '70s—and with the development of inexpensive offset printing—every school seemed to have its own quarterly. Before long, the combined forces of identity politics and cheap desktop publishing gave rise to African American journals, Asian American journals, gay and lesbian journals. Graduates of creative writing programs were multiplying like tribbles. Last summer, Louis Menand tabulated that there were 822 creative writing programs. Consider this for a moment: If those programs admit even 5 to 10 new students per year, then they will cumulatively produce some 60,000 new writers in the coming decade. Yet the average literary magazine now prints fewer than 1,500 copies. In short, no one is reading all this newly produced literature—not even the writers themselves. And with that in mind, writers have become less and less interested in reaching out to readers—and less and less encouraged by their teachers to try.

Little wonder then that the last decade has seen ever-dwindling commercial venues for literary writers. Just 17 years ago, you could find fiction in the pages of national magazines like The Atlantic, Elle, Esquire, Glamour, Good Housekeeping, GQ, McCall's, Mother Jones, Ms., Playboy, Redbook, and Seventeen, and in city magazines and Sunday editions like the Boston Globe Magazine, Chicago, and the Voice Literary Supplement. Not one of these venues (those that still exist) still publishes fiction on a regular basis. Oh, sure, The Atlantic still has an annual fiction issue (sold on newsstands but not sent to subscribers), and Esquire runs fiction online if it's less than 4,000 words. But only Harper's and The New Yorker have remained committed to the short story.

One would think that the rapid eviction of literature from the pages of commercial magazines would have come as a tremendous boon to lit mags, especially at the schools that have become safe harbors for (and de facto patrons of) writers whose works don't sell enough to generate an income. You would expect that the loyal readers of established writers would have provided a boost in circulation to these little magazines and that universities would have seen themselves in a new light—not just promoting the enjoyment of literature but promulgating a new era of socially conscious writing in the postcommercial age. But the less commercially viable fiction became, the less it seemed to concern itself with its audience, which in turn made it less commercial, until, like a dying star, it seems on the verge of implosion. Indeed, most American writers seem to have forgotten how to write about big issues—as if giving two shits about the world has gotten crushed under the boot sole of postmodernism.

Read more.

There's never been a large market for literary fiction, But two things have happened simultaneously that changes the literary landscape: publishing houses being bought by huge corporations; and the explosion of MFA programs, producing more writers than the culture knows what to do with and largely writers whose primary adult experience is literature itself. Self-perpetuating elitism. No wonder my most exciting students are usually older students coming back to school after jobs, failed marriages, the military. They have life experiences to write about.

But I am optimistic. I think there is hidden literary wealth on the net. There also is more literary crap than ever seen in the history of the world. What is needed more than writers now are critics, literary entrepreneurs with high standards who find the great stuff and assemble it onto an online resource. The standards are the key. Too much modern literature is masturbatory, elitists jacking off for elitists. There are probabky more talented writers in the country than ever before but they can't find their audiences. At this time and place, we need fewer writers and more champions of literature, the kind that speaks widely to the human condition. We need the champions of literature, critics, to show us where the good stuff is hiding. And I don't mean "reviewers," I mean critics who have a literary theory upon which to base their choices. We need to find the high brow writers who appeal to everyone.

Hype in music

No song gets screwed more when sung than our National Anthem. A pop singer is almost guaranteed to screw it up, using the song as an excuse to show off with vocal histrionics. So today at the first playoff game. Indeed, the only source on which one can depend on a sane interpretation is a military chorus. Otherwise it's probably show off time. Well, the good news is, it only lasts a few minutes.


One of the disadvantages of having a writing career as obsessively focused as mine, which translates into a workaholic's rhythm of multi-tasking, always working on several writing projects at once, is that I've had less time for reading than I would prefer. This is the period of my life to correct this. And rather than read randomly, my obsessive habits of behavior lead me toward a reading program. Thus I am thinking of an assault on the classics. I've always loved the classics -- I even studied classical Greek at UCLA (the one and only reason I got into Phi Beta Kappa: the president at the time was my Greek teacher, who pulled strings to get me in a year after graduation, a fascinating story I've told before here). I'm doing a little research to see what particular focus this might take.

Meanwhile I'm reading two excellent books: a short history of the Cold War and a short bio of Darwin, emphasizing the development of his ideas.

Just for fun

I seldom make picks but here goes.

Colts 28
Jets 6

Saints 38
Vikings 21

Day of rest

All I hope to accomplish today is a little banjo practice, what with two playoff games that interest me, though before they start I might work a bit on the score.

Interesting morning. Woke up with a dream, or visualization, or dress rehearsal, or something, of my death. Vivid and also very peaceful. May I be so lucky. I don't second guess things like this unlike a few folks I know who spend much of their waking hours doing so. Clearly my days are numbered, which is as it should be. I don't think our culture values Death enough.

I have several potential electronic pen pals but they don't write often enough to make the deal work. Too bad. I answer email the day I receive it.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Super Saturday

A very productive day. Edited video and updated the journal. Practiced the banjo a lot. Read. Mailed off more postcards announcing the reader to libraries. I still need to outline a film I have saved on the TiVo, for personal (not classroom) use.

Sunday, two playoff games. I hope for two big wins, unlikely, putting the Colts and Saints in the Super Bowl.

I'm reading a fascinating bio of Darwin, about which more later. Spends a lot of time on his thinking, and anxieties, following evidence to places that were unpopular and even scary at the time. A movie coming out based on this book.

And I found the Obama photo below, showing him mad as hell, and it made my day. Once he starts showing he's pissed, I think he can move forward.

This is the face I like to see!

Food for thought

The best thing that could happen to poetry is to drive it out of the universities with burning pitch forks. Starve the lavish grants. Strangle them all in a barrel of water. Cast them out. The current culture, in which poetry is written for and supported by poets has created a kind of state-sanctioned poetry that resists innovation. When and if poetry is ever made to answer to the broader public, then we may begin to see some great poetry again – the greatness that is the collaboration between audience and artist.

Read more.

And this from a poet. Perhaps the most radical suggestion since my own that athletic scholarships be canceled outright, which would force professional sports to create their own minor leagues and stop using the universities as such.

Going backwards

Journal update

Check out the update of Oregon Literary Review, with new video by Primus St. John.

Friday, January 22, 2010


About half a century ago or more, I was sitting around with some undergrad mates, drinking beer and solving the world's problems, when somebody suggested that the root of all our ills was language. Our very language "had the syph," as he put it; it was so diseased, corrupted by advertising and hype, that nothing meant anything any more. Language was no longer a tool with which to express truth. The language had the syph.

If he was right then, it's only gotten worse. And now, with the shackles removed from corporations with regard to influencing the political landscape, well, it can only get worse still. Hype is the norm and has been for some time. Not only in language but in behavior, commonplace action exaggerated in its meaning, mediocre art praised to the skies, and so forth and so on. As a culture, we've probably never been more stupid -- certainly our kids do worse than ever on international tests in science and math -- and yet we're told that we've never been more smart. We get Palin. And thousands love her ideas and think she is "wise."

The language has the syph. I wish I could remember the name of the guy who said that.


Ah, back to normalcy with H home. Friday is the my closest day to do-nothing, usually a slow relaxing kind of day, a little reading, maybe a movie, now the banjo, but usually little creative work. Then I start Saturday with a bang and put in a good morning.

Want to see Crazy Heart. Monday, I think. Also looking forward to playoff games Sunday and hoping for a Saints-Colts Super Bowl. Hoping may be a jinx, alas.

Thursday, January 21, 2010


Yes, the country once upon a time was pretty darn close to the values depicted in It's A Wonderful Life. Bankers could be good guys. Your neighbors. Not greedy heads of greedy institutions. I once witnessed this myself. I've told the story before here but it's worth telling again.

After the army, in the early 60s, my best buddy Dick wanted to go back to school. He had a family, 2 kids. He needed a loan. His mom went to school with a guy who now was head of a bank in a small Idaho town. So a loan was arranged on the phone.

I drove with Dick to pick up the check. A beautiful drive through the Idaho palouse. We picked up the check. As we walked across the parking lot to leave, a secretary raced out and handed Dick something. "You need to mail us an application for our records," she said.

Those were the old days: get the money first with a phone call, formally apply for it after you get the check.

Frightening Supreme Court decision today. No limits on corporate spending in politics. Say what? It's almost surreal.


An exhausting week. Needed a nap every day. Aging? Flirtation of illness? At any rate, it's my Friday and I'm glad. Off to airport to pick up H tonight, welcome home.

Quotation of the day

The more things change, the more they stay the same department.

"Much indeed to be regretted, party disputes are now carried to such a length, and truth is so enveloped in mist and false representation, that it is extremely difficult to know through what channel to seek it. This difficulty to one, who is of no party, and whose sole wish is to pursue with undeviating steps a path which would lead this country to respectability, wealth, and happiness, is exceedingly to be lamented. But such, for wise purposes, it is presumed, is the turbulence of human passions in party disputes, when victory more than truth is the palm contended for," - George Washington, in a letter to Timothy Pickering, July 27, 1795.


Top MFA programs

Poets & Writers magazine ranked the top MFA programs in the country. The Univ of Oregon, where I rec'd mine decades ago, is #10. The Univ of Washington is #31. Top five are the Univs of Iowa (as always), Michigan, Virginia, Mass., and Texas. I thought last year Pacific Univ was up there. Not on this list. Maybe it was a different list, there are so many of the damn things.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Busy, busy

It has been one hell of a day. Up very early, watched Sea of Love again to double check my scene outline, tweaked it and went to copy center when it opened. Back to read student work, got all their script pages done. Had to take a break, a cruise with Sketch to get the cobwebs out, half stir crazy. Now a little banjo practice before class tonight, which I look forward to.

In control for class tomorrow. That's the main thing.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Only a year later ...

What a difference a year makes. A year ago, Obama takes office on a platform of change and a new politics, a progressive agenda; and one year later, tonight a conservative Republican takes Ted Kennedy's old seat in the most liberal state in the union. Well, the Dems can't blame anyone but themselves. Obama's State of the Union should be very interesting indeed.

Office hours

Two great visits. First from Primus, delivering video he shot. Then from a former student who brought news he just finished shooting his first feature, a script he started in my class. Cool. A trailer is online here.

He's a musician and hocked everything he owned to shoot this on a $15,000 budget. He just got everything back out of hock. Love stories like this.

He made my day.

Mayhem in Mass.

This special election may not show politics at its best but it's unfortunately pretty typical, and all the name-calling and blame game stuff will follow quickly if the Dems lose, as seems likely, and the mess we already had is even more of a mess. But Obama has a big opportunity at his State of the Union to address all this mayhem and to start leading, more walk and less talk.

R.I.P.: Robert Parker

At the age of 77, "just sitting at his desk" at his home in Cambridge, Mass., according to an email sent out by a representative of his U.K. publisher Quercus, Robert B. Parker is dead. The news of Parker's death on Monday was confirmed by Parker's U.S publisher, Putnam; an official statement is expected later today, though on Twitter a representative wrote: "R.I.P beloved author Robert B. Parker. You were indeed a Grand Master, your legacy lives on, and you will be missed by us all." The thriller writer Joseph Finder also confirmed the news directly with Parker's family, said to be "in shock."And the Bookseller quotes Parker's UK editor, Nick Johnston: "He was a great talent who will be mourned by all his many fans."


Discovering Parker's literate, witty detective years ago was a joy. He had a neat girlfriend, too.

He died with his boots on, as they say. So did Moliere. So did B. Joe Medley.


The American people have a big heart. Unfortunately we don't often get leaders who present us in the best light. Tell me why Israel can travel over oceans and efficiently set up a hospital while we arrive as a neighbor and are still stumbling around trying to get organized. When is the last time we did anything quickly and efficiently about anything? It's discouraging. And we call ourselves the best ...? I think there are other countries we can learn a few things from. And I'm not even a commie.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Democrats are unbelievable

Who would have thought that a Republican would take Ted Kennedy's senate seat in super-liberal Massachusetts? Only the Democrats would put up such a weak candidate, assuming it was a done deal. Only the Democrats would ignore the race until it may be too late.

And Brown, the opponent, has this ad linking himself with JACK Kennedy. My oh my.

So now the entire health care reform bill may crash with the loss, TED Kennedy's lifelong quest, irony upon irony.

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

"Politics is pissing in public." Norman O. Brown

Now and again, I get it right

Some years back I reviewed the screenplay "Enemy of the State" for Creative Screenwriting magazine. It was an early draft and I loved everything but the last act, and said so. I was delighted to learn after the film came out that the third act had been changed, and now worked. I had gotten it right.

This comes to mind because I taped the film on TiVo and may watch it today. It's been a while. It's one of the better political thrillers.

Progress happens

With the world in its usual mess, it's easy to forget that progress actually happens. Even five or ten years ago, who would have thought that America would elect a black president? Progress is painfully slow but it happens.

However, we forget that the opposite happens as well. We may have entered a time of irrational fear and paranoia not matched since the McCarthy era.

In search of a maple bar

Drove across town to get my favorite maple bar, 9 a.m., figuring I'd get there before they run out, but forgot it's a holiday, no delivery, they were out anyway. Had to settle for a cookie.

Eager to make progress on the score today and this afternoon look at some student work, Onward.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Walking the talk

During a break in the game this afternoon, there was a local political ad. I knew an actress in it -- and I'm pretty certain she supports the opposite view of the ad she was in. Yet it's a paying job, but it raises an interesting question. When you do things for hire, do you actually have to believe in them? When I was an editor and writer at Oregon Business Magazines, I wrote some fluff pieces I wouldn't brag about today.

A screenwriter who didn't compromise is William Goldman. He was offered the first crack to adapt The Godfather. He turned it down, saying, he would not participate in the glorification of criminals. If everyone thought this way, the entire film market would change!

I've always admired him for walking his talk.

Pavlov in politics

Was watching the news and a story about Palin came on. Seeing her, I felt physically ill. I thought I was going to throw up my breakfast, just from seeing her. I changed the station and took deep breaths.


The Saints rocked yesterday and frankly I think New Orleans deserves good news and I'd like to see them go all the way. The Colts did not impress me. Their defense was strong but the Ravens beat themselves with penalties and turnovers. Yet the Saints-Colts would be a cool final. We'll see. Today I root for the Cowboys (I can't stand Favre) and the Chargers. If the Colts face the Chargers next week, they have to play a lot better than yesterday.

Golden Globes tonight. My favorite awards ceremony but I haven't paid much attention this year. The crop of films this year didn't impress me.

More banjo today -- and I must get down to the keyboard and write a few more measures.

H home Thursday, a shorter trip than usual.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Sullivan says

Andrew Sullivan, who hosts The Daily Dish, summarizes the current political landscape this way:

The Republican party right now is largely bonkers. The Democratic party is a lily-livered hackfest of mediocrity. I remain of the view that Obama is the best thing going for this country. But between the insanity on the right and incoherence on the left, he is marooned in a lonely center. Maybe in the long run, this is a better place to be. Right now it is making governance close to impossible, at a moment when we need all hands on deck.

I mostly agree with him.

Music drama projects

So far, I have two more in mind after the one I'm working on, which is the story of the last day in the life of an old man. I also want to do something with McKinley's dream. And I want to explore the possibilities of doing a "country" chamber opera, orchestrated with a string band.

If I have enough years left to do these three, it will be even more of a miracle than I've already experienced by lasting this long. One step at a time. If the gods grant me time to finish the current one, I will be grateful. Again. As always.

It's in this sense that the reader is something of a relief. I am reminded of a phrase at the end of a Lew Welch poem: what an extravagance! What a relief!

This is a good time of life for me, though I may have been late to realize this.

The clawhammer fingernail

When I was trying to learn this style on my own, I used the middle finger because that's what the teacher on a DVD used. I ended up tearing the hell out of it, which is when I went back to the Seeger strum, which doesn't have as driving or as traditional a sound.

This time, in class, I am using the index finger because that's what the teacher uses. And so far, the fingernail is fine. As a matter of fact, I think my index fingernail is stronger than my middle fingernail. Interesting. My middle fingernail got torn already, just using it to compare how the difference felt. The index fingernail is hanging in there. I didn't know fingernails have different strengths but they appear to.

So far, so good. I think I'm going to love this class: love its discipline and love the access to a live teacher to tell me when I am doing something wrong. She's a busy lady, on tour a lot, so I don't know if her second class will immediately follow but I hope so, I'd sure sugn up again.

Avoiding the basement

Never did get downstairs to my office and keyboard to work on the score this morning. Instead I did grunt work upstairs, getting the first 30 postcards out to libraries regarding the reader, and also getting my blackeyed peas simmering. And now the game is on soon, during which I'll practice the banjo and make more labels to libraries.

No problem. It all gets done in the wash, as mother used to say, when she wasn't saying people are more interesting than anybody. God rest her soul.

I had an incredibly close relationship with my mother. She even talked to me about her sex life with dad, information I'd just as soon have been spared.

Good morning

Off to the market. Feels like a blackeyed pea kind of day, so I'll make up a batch. Work on the vocal score this morning, watch football and practice banjo this afternoon. Banjo and a football game will go together.

Also overdue for making split pea soup. Will need scrapple next week, about halfway through this batch. And a good batch it is.

Sketch cuddled on the pillow in the corner of the divan, so he doesn't look like he wants to go to the market with me.

Waiting for new proof of the reader, hoping this is the one to approve.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Air lift

I wonder why they don't take an air lift and drop approach in Haiti as a stopgap until supplies are distributed. For example, helicopters dropping millions of unbreakable water bottles. Just a thought. There must be a better, quicker way to meet these tragedies.


I'm always reminded of this poem by Auden during times of tragedy and suffering. I was studying it in a lit class the very week JFK was killed, and it stuck.

Musee des Beaux Arts W.H. Auden

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

Alien motivation

This reminds me of an old screenplay of mine: the aliens end up being cosmic real estate agents looking for a place to build a theme park of primitive life, and choose Earth.


I have moments that come unannounced, as one did when I was doing errands this morning, when I am overwhelmed with a sense of my good fortune in this journey called life. I don't deserve good fortune. Indeed, there are reasons to assume I would have had bad fortune, certainly with regard to the way I abused my body for so many years. But here I am, still full of piss and vinegar despite the usual aches and pains of aging, a survivor of my 50s and 60s when any reasonable observer would have expected my departure. I'm still around. Moreover, I'm still around with considerable mental energy.

So I thank the gods for unexpected, maybe even unreasonable, favors. I do that a lot.

I need to remind myself that the media give a very false picture of the country. There are reasons to believe we are in better shape than they report. After all, we did elect Obama, a feat of considerable historic importance, a reason for national optimism. The fear mongers get far, far more voice than their numbers. There is more sanity in the country than the media lead us to believe.

Guilty by Suspicion

Perhaps the best drama made around the HUAC witch hunt in Hollywood. With a stellar cast headed by De Niro, this film tells a personal story about a workaholic filmmaker accused of being a communist, and the personal story is as important as the political one.

This film unfortunately is as timely now as ever because it's about the personal consequences when the culture is overrun by fear. We are close to such an era again. The fear mongers on the right are more powerful every day.

My nightmare is that the next loyalty card is going to be Belief. Belief in God as interpreted by the evangelicals, who just can't seem to wait for the Final Judgment. I don't expect to be around for this, it will take a few years to get this bad, and for this I will be thankful. I've always applauded the accident of my birth date and now I can add a new item to the list: a teen at the birth of rock and roll; too young for Korea, too old for Vietnam, just right for the Cold War; not raised on television; a college freshman for Sputnik, an era when science/math nerds were respected; pre-computer survival skills; dead, we hope, by the right wing evangelical takeover, or attempt at same.

Timing, as they say, is everything.

And this film feels contemporary to me, alas.


I love Friday. I love teaching but I also love Friday, Thursday night being the end of my teaching week. Friday gives me breathing space from responsibility for students and a focus on my own work for a few days before I return to the classroom. It's a good rhythm for me. Consequently I decided to sign up for 2010-11, my annual decision whether or not to retire from teaching. This year won't be my last.

Today is music day. Practice the banjo. Work on the vocal score.

I also have a recommendation I have to get in the mail today.

And if the weather is decent, the dog needs exercise.

Friday. Usually a fine day.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Blog comment of the day

From The Daily Dish.

You see that "Question with boldness" Jefferson quote at the beginning of the Beck/Palin video? Here's Jefferson's full remark:

"Question with boldness even the existence of a God; because, if there be one, he must more approve of the homage of reason, than that of blind-folded fear."

That's right. In a video in which he claims that God founded America, Glenn Beck references a quote in which our most important Founding Father stood tall and proud for agnosticism, and against the politics of fear.


Office hours

Brief chat with a grad student shooting a video for her project, a story with a dragon and as a costume designer she can make the dragon. Potential of a good project here, and I look forward to seeing it develop.

A day of discussion and in class exercises about "basic skills" things. The two hours will go swiftly.

Then home to watch some clawhammer videos I found on YouTube. Already I am understanding a basic error I was making when I tried this on my own, and already getting closer to the authentic clawhammer sound, which is very different indeed from the Seeger strum sound, all the more reason to learn it. I have moments when the sound is just right, so it's just a matter of practicing enough that these moments become consistent and repetitive. I am going to have a ton of fun with this.

Have we forgotten New Orleans?

As we pledge to help and not forget Haiti, how's our track record? Did we forget New Orleans?

Oops. Back to ... bump ditty, bump ditty ...

Beating a dead horse

Seeing Palin and Beck talk about "God" (and the Founding Fathers and--Palin's interjection--"The Founding Mothers") on Fox today was indeed revealing. She is not a Republican: she is a religious nut. Hence, as you discern, dangerous.

Aimee Semple McPherson plus Joe McCarthy plus George Wallace (or maybe substitute Joan of Arc for Aimee) plus the secular celebration of ignorance as a virtue = trouble, especially for a mixed-race, "Muslim," "non-American" President, who can be portrayed as both Lenin and Hitler simultaneously.

Read the story

"...the celebration of ignorance as a virtue." True and mind-boggling. I need to quit being seduced by politics and play the banjo ha ha.

Norman O. Brown

I've overdue for a re-reading of Love's Body. Helps me look at events with a wider perspective.

The Battle in Seattle

This is an impressive fictional account of the WTO protests in Seattle a decade ago, impressive in its dramatic decisions, giving a broad range of views and viewpoint characters, putting a human face on conflict and violence in the streets. Captures the chaos of street violence well. Doesn't take easy sides or make simplistic idealogical choices that would turn it into propaganda. You know where its heart is but you also see the complications and contradictions involved. Its ending message is "the battle continues." Here, in a small portion of its past, the battle is given more human face than often is done in political drama out to make a point.

The "Christian" Party

The Ailes launch of a new political-media party is being framed around Palin as a "reluctant to serve" outsider, a new Washington combined with Esther. Hence her resignation is a reason to support her! It proves that she was too pure, too Godly, to survive the worldly political corruption that infects everything in Satan's capital city, Washington. And that's why the elites will do everything to destroy her - not because they have some idea that a political leader should not be a congenital liar or ignorant of fifth grade history or devoid of any relevant experience - but because they are on the side of Satan....When McCain surrendered to Palin, it was his last - and unintended - blow to a sane or responsible conservatism.

Scary story -- possible?

Comments by a responsible conservative, or former conservative, thinker.

Small change, big difference

I continue to marvel at how different the rhythm of my day feels now, after my decision to come out with a reader and formally "retire" as a text-focused writer. Of course, I'm still at work -- but composing a music drama, a chamber opera, is different from writing words, you begin to think in musical lines rather than language. And this proves to be a significant difference.

But I think the most significant difference is now, unlike before, I'm working with a limited skill set. As a writer, I mostly did what I set out to do. Those who don't respond to my work don't respond to my values and tastes in literature, though they might call it lack of "skill." I set out to do things and mostly did them. Blame my choices and tastes, not my execution. But with music, I simply don't have the skills necessary to do what I want to do, so I'm left with doing "musical and dramatic notes" for an end product, or more specifically, I only can write a vocal score and libretto, and likely not as well as I'd write a play or a screenplay or a short novel. Perhaps this reduces some kind of pressure.

At any rate, the new mode is somehow more relaxing than the former mode. I'm not retired, strictly speaking, but I'm feeling close. Definitely a mellow time.

Today I put on my professor's cap, all day. It will be a good day.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Banjo class

Good class. I think this may be just what I need. Interesting stat: of the 11 students, 9 are women.

A crazy idea

A country chamber opera, orchestration by a string band.


Eager to start my banjo lessons tonight, 8 weeks. Presumably I'll make more progress than when I tried to learn clawhammer on my own some time back and abandoned it for the
Seeger strum in the end. Really want that old-timey clawhammer sound. Still have other materials, books, a DVD, but it's always about practice, it is always about putting in the time. And this time around, music is front burner all the way around, what with my "formal retirement" as a writer. In fact, I just ordered a new proof embedding a few changes I made in the copy received. It should be ready to order after this one. The last page was blank, so I put FADE OUT on it, just on principle.

One decision to make is timing, getting to my lesson. It's across the river at 6, meaning I'd have to take one of the bridges during rush hour, or leave early, before rush hour, and pass some time at a coffee shop or somewhere. I think I'll leave here at 5 today and see how it goes.

Did a bit of work on student things. Looks like I do most of it in the morning.

Palin's future

O'Reilly effectively backs Palin's claim on the basis that her crammed, force-fed burbling of talking points in the Biden debate somehow refutes the idea that she hasn't the slightest clue what goes on in the world or the slightest knowledge of history outside of sports. And he is essentially pledging that News Corporation will advance her lies and spin, as it did by publishing her book, and protect her from any real scrutiny that a political candidate deserves.
I do not believe that this means she is out of politics. Au contraire. FNC and the RNC are effectively the same operation (and Harper Collins, which published her fiction as non-fiction with no fact-checking or editing is also part of NewsCorp). Her new job is running for office via the chief propaganda network for the red states. The strategy is obviously to focus entirely on the base, demonizing the president and anything he does, exploit economic malaise, and then get back to power on a wave of frightened white ressentiment with Palin as the hood ornament one more time.

I fear her.


So do I, as well as fear the lost souls, thousands and thousands of them, who support her. Ignorance and lying are always dangerous, and we haven't seen the likes of her since McCarthy. Only she is even more dangerous because she appears to be "positive," a good innocent Christian just acting out God's Plan. May the gods save us from such egomania and ignorance!

But I also fear this: we get the politicians we deserve.

Deemer's Equation of the Meaning of Life

Natural Disasters + Human Evil + Ignorance + Bad Luck + Natural Beauty + Love + Knowledge + Good Luck + Art = 0

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

An early start

Taking H to the airport at 430 a.m. Wow. I'm an early riser but this sounds a little extreme. I'm sure I'll come home and crash for a bit.

A relatively easy day but then banjo lessons begin in the evening.

Need to finish proofing the reader, send a corrected file, and get another proof.

Looking forward to the playoff games this weekend actually.

Breaking the unbreakable

A reporter at the electronics convention in Las Vegas last week broke an unbreakable cell phone, according to a story I read today. This reminds me of an incredible ad I saw in the early days of TV.

That master of wit Oscar Levant had an afternoon show in LA. Everything was live. He was doing an ad for an unbreakable clock, reading the words from cue cards obviously, and at one point, mentioning it was unbreakable, he stopped, got a crazed look on his face and slammed the clock against the floor. The camera couldn't keep up with his antics as he next started jumping on it. In the end, the clock was destroyed. I was amazed! And I saw it! And there was no instant replay in those days either, so I didn't get to show mom or my brother, I just had my own fortunate memory.


I'm so jacked I wore my Seahawks cap to school!

Pete Carroll

Carroll was a hell of a good coach at USC -- and this from a UCLA alumnus! But it's good to see him leave L.A., all the better for my Bruins, and it's especially good to see him come to the Seattle Seahawks. I think he'll do great things up here. I hope I hang around long enough to see it happen.

Scheduling a life

My wife is the busiest person I know. She is forever paging through her appointment book, trying to find a blank spot to add some meeting or other, some lunch or gallery opening or visit or lecture.

I, on the other hand, have never owned an appointment book. I do have a calendar on my office computer, on which I list medical appointments mainly. That's it. I seldom have an appointment to do anything anywhere. This has been true all of my life.

I'm not sure what this says other than that H is networked everywhere and I'm not networked at all.

I think she gave me an appointment book once for my birthday or Christmas. Someone did, some years ago. I never wrote one thing in it.

The professor

I put on my teaching cap this morning, doing grunt work like getting my grade book ready for the term. Not a stressful day in class: watch 30 min DVD of interviews with screenwriters; after discussion, we'll watch 30 min Frankenweinie and I'll see if the class can break it down into its beginning-middle-end structural elements. Thursday I'll review the Basic Skills chapter in my book. And that's the week.

Take H to the airport at 5 a.m. tomorrow so I'll be out and about early. May get breakfast somewhere, likely Fat City if I do, Nobby's not opening until 8. And tomorrow is my first banjo class! I'm looking forward to this. If I actually master clawhammer finally, finally, finally, I may well make a CD to give to friends for Xmas. My left hand is fine from guitar and the banjo style I already know. I was getting close to clawhammer on my own when I destroyed my fingernail, and so went back to the safer Seeger strum. But clawhammer definitely has the old-timey feel more than any other style. And that's the style I'm attracted to.

I started a compelling odd tune for the aria of the wife ghost last night, just a line to remember and get me started. What I have to guard against is monotony, both rhythmic and tonal. At least I know. I find myself putting down a rather monotonous tune, then jazzing it up later.

I refuse to worry about anything until I have a draft, however. It's the only way I'll ever finish. My skill set is limited enough I could spend the rest of my life on the first four measures ha ha. I wish I could convince my students to take this approach!

Monday, January 11, 2010

Lap dog

Shot with the pen. This gives a consistent yellowish tint. In use, I may convert to black and white.

Proof at hand

The mail brought a proof of my reader (see column at right), and a hefty paperback it is indeed! I don't plan to proof by reading it since nothing previously unpublished is in it but rather go through it page by page, all 677 of them, to make sure the format didn't hang somewhere. Then approve it and make it generally available.

Its physical existence does feel like the end of something. A retirement of a certain focus, a certain image of myself. I'm a variation of the same, working on the opera score, but there's something new at hand. I feel it in my gut.

I'll give a copy to my archive, the library, a few friends, and that's about it. There is no significant market for this, which of course I knew going in.

But I'm also damn proud of it. It's an accurate representation of my career as a writer. I own up to it, totally.


Just made a new batch, or rather my easy kitchen version of same. I love this stuff and most of the time it's in the refrig. When I run out, usually less than a week passes before I make up another batch, which is very quick and easy. I just love the stuff!

Some grunt work to do before class but I should be able to handle it tomorrow morning. Which leaves the rest of today for reading and maybe a movie, or even working more on my score. Man it's imperfect but I stubbornly stumble forward, knowing the best time to revise and fix is later when I have the entire score in front of me. I'm at the section where the old man is confronted by the ghost of his late wife.

A mellow day

Worked on the score for an hour or so this morning. Then reading, new book a history of the Cold War, another good one, about which more later.

Wednesday H takes off for another east coast trip but this one shorter than usual, only a week. And my banjo lessons start Wednesday.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

In search of Mozart

We caught this feature-length documentary at the Art Museum this afternoon, and a good film it is. Interestingly enough, it made me even more appreciative of Peter Shaffer's accomplishment in Amadeus, not because his script is filled with fiction but because he manages to create a compelling, accelerating narrative that is true to the spirit of the man. And this is the task of historical drama: not to be factual but to be true.

See my essay Writing the History Play: why dramatists lie in the pursuit of truth.

Outstanding book

The Vietnam War: A Concise International History
Mark Atwood Lawrence
(Oxford, 2008, 214 pages)

I have the highest praise for this book. Very well written, it tells the Vietnam story from a wide perspective that gives us both American, Vietnamese and European points of view about the war and its various roots, strategies and consequences. That so much can be told in so little space is an achievement in itself. This is historical writing at its best.

Although there are many differences between Vietnam and Afghanistan, there also are frightening similarities, particularly with regard to the American mindset in defining its goals and defining strategies with which to achieve them. The Middle East is more likely than not, in my view, to become Obama's Vietnam, and this will be another U.S. foreign affairs tragedy.

It is discouraging how little we learn from history. Indeed, we seem to learn nothing.

New website

Started a new website, Composer Wanted!, with which I'll hope to attract interest in the future from composers inspired to orchestrate and improve my chamber opera. No need to publicize it until I have a score to show.

Saturday, January 09, 2010

Through the looking glass with Sarah Palin

If there’s anyone else left out there who doesn’t believe that Sarah Palin can look you in the eye and tell you black is white, I have a present for you. Here is the transcript of a five minute conference call with Sarah Palin, Meg Stapleton, the Anchorage Daily News, and local TV stations KTVA, and KTUU. The journalists got one question each with no follow up.

I’ve been struggling to find the right terminology for this. She has jumped the shark. She has landed on Fantasy Island. She has slipped through the looking glass. She’s Queen of Denial. She has become the Head of Orwell’s Ministry of Truth… choose whichever metaphor works for you.

Here is the transcript of Palin’s interview by these journalists, after the Branchflower Report on the Troopergate investigation was released, stating that she had abused her power as governor. As a matter of fact, let’s review Finding Number One as it is written:

“For the reasons explained in section IV of the report, I find that Governor Sarah Palin abused her power by violating Alaska Statute 39.52.11(a) of the Alaska Executive Branch Ethics Act.

“The legislature reaffirms that each public officer holds office as a public trust, and any effort to benefit a personal or financial interest through official action is a violation of that trust.”


In case anyone needs reminding.


I watched this for the first time in a long time. What an incredible achievement, epic in thrust, gripping, and apparently true in the main. Here, for example, is Louise Bryant herself writing about Reed's last days:

But I must go back to tell you how I found jack after my illegal journey across the world. I had to skirt Finland, sail twelve days in the Arctic ocean, hide in a fisherman’s shack four days to avoid the police with a Finnish officer and a German, both under sentence of death in their own countries. When I did reach Soviet territory I was at the opposite end of Russia from Jack. When I reached Moscow he was in Baku at the Oriental Congress. Civil war raged in the Ukraine. A military wire reached him and he came back in an armored train. On the morning of September 15th he ran shouting into my room. A month later he was dead.


And here is how some on the left view the film.

Even at three and a half hours, it didn't feel long to me. An incredible achievement indeed. Films like this only come by a few times in a generation.