"Immersion in the life of the world, a willingness to be inhabited by and to speak for others, including those beyond the realm of the human, these are the practices not just of the bodhisattva but of the writer." --Jane Hirshfield

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Kerouac House

"Why not come to Orlando and dig the crazy Florida scene of spotlessly clean highways and fantastic supermarkets?" Kerouac wrote Lawrence Ferlinghetti, the Beat poet, in 1961. But in Orlando, as everywhere else he roamed, Kerouac never did find escape. Florida became for him, after he stopped writing, a place to drink, and ultimately a place to die. The little house at 1418 Clouser Avenue where Kerouac wrote his novel now serves as a kind of literary time-share, where writers spend three months at a stint, hoping to channel Kerouac's manic genius. Article from National Geographic about Orlando, FL.

Very few people, as they talk about the immense changes reshaping Orlando and their lives, mention another American genius who left his mark here even before Disney arrived. Jack Kerouac—guru, bad boy, the literary superstar who wrote the Beat Generation's manifesto, On The Road—came to Orlando, by bus, in December 1956. The following year, in an 11-day creative frenzy, he wrote The Dharma Bums in an apartment with a tangerine tree out back, shoveling the words through his typewriter in the heart of hot, flat Florida.

I'm a big fan of Kerouac, have driven down Cross Bay Boulevard and thought of him in the apartment over the drug store, and I've also been to Hemingway's house, Tennessee Williams' house, Walt Whitman's house. I'm still not sure why, although Whitman's house in Huntington, Long Island, was historically interesting. The Youtube video, see link above, shows it's just a house, and unlike Hemingway's palatial place, mainly goes to show you can write anywhere. If anything, Kerouac's choices indicate he needed quiet and isolation, at least for those writing marathons. Being off the beaten track (perhaps on the Beat track) is probably also a good way to save money.

Monday, February 26, 2007

To Blog or Not To Blog?

There are so many news items that I could scream volumes about, from forcing little girls to have poorly tested vaccines (thankfully abandoned for now), to theme parks that feature the illegal immigration experience. They're not writing related, so I try to limit myself to the occasional shocked mention with a minimum of ranting.

Otherwise, where would the screaming end?

Missile Shield Threatens Russia.
Fake Fur is real dog.
PBDEs in Breast Milk, Walter Reed hospital neglecting Iraq veterans, the Army denying them disability payments, claiming prior health issues. The list grows longer.

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Secrets of the New York Times Book Review

Heads up from Maud Newton. At Gawker.com.

Editor Barry Gewen says, "We're thought to have agendas, we're thought to be out to get people," he said. "I hope by the end of this talk I'll have persuaded you that none of that is the case."

Egyptian Blogger Jailed for Insults to Islam

This from the BBC news. Read article. The 22-yr-old blogger and former university student -- he was expelled for criticizing the university -- has received a four-year prison term.

Visit the website set up for him: http://www.freekareem.org.

Bush Budget Cuts Medicaid, Aids Wal-Mart

"While America obsessed about Brittany's shaved head, Bush offered a budget that offers $32.7 billion in tax cuts to the Wal-Mart family alone, while cutting $28 billion from Medicaid." Matt Taibbi, in Rolling Stone, via Alternet.

He also says, "It's one thing to complain about paying taxes when those taxes are buying a bag of groceries once a month for some struggling single mom in eastern Kentucky. But when your taxes are buying a yacht for some asshole who hires African eight year-olds to pick cocoa beans for two cents an hour ... I sure don't remember reading an excuse for that anywhere in the Federalist Papers."

Health Insurance Fiasco

Via Alternet: A business that profits by refusing to provide the services it is paid for -- "Private Health Insurance is Not the Answer."

Friday, February 23, 2007

Greatest Living Writer

The Guardian has created some controversy around the issue of Britain's greatest living author. People are weighing in with their nominations. I'm happy to see that Doris Lessing is mentioned. She'd have my vote. One could argue that she is South Africa's greatest living author, although she has been living in England for nearly sixty years. My favorite of hers was The Four-Gated City, although I also recommend The Good Terrorist, The Sweetest Dream, her most famous book, The Golden Notebook, and many of the others. I first came across her writing in my teens somewhere. A story of hers, Not a Very Nice Story, was in Fine Lines, The Best of Ms. Magazine Fiction. Later, I borrowed The Golden Notebook from an unattended lending shelf at school and managed never to return it because I could not part with it. I have tried to rectify this crime by buying used copies of the book and giving them away whenever I have found one at a used book sale. I am a dutiful returner of borrowed books, with that one exception.

Incidentally, the popular vote in Britain is for JK Rowling, of Harry Potter fame. Here in the U.S., it would go for Stephen King. My favorite book of his might be The Long Walk. The distinction being made at The Guardian is entertainment vs. enlightenment. We crave entertainment, but we need enlightenment. In the same way that we crave sugar, but need vegetables. Which is ultimately more important? It's worth noting that The Long Walk is not a sugary treat. It's a prophetic Kafkaesque (will future readers say Kingesque?) look at where the lust for "reality" shows could lead us.

While we are on the subject of Stephen King, my favorite work of his is actually the novella Apt Pupil, from Different Seasons (which also contains Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption). Apt Pupil is a penetrating study of evil. A young boy discovers that his elderly neighbor is a former Nazi, but instead of turning him in, tries to toy with him. Unfortunately, toying with one's prey is a game at which the elderly Nazi excels. Also made into a terrifically chilling movie with Brad Renfro and Sir Ian McKellen.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Alarmism Online: But What About the Perverts?

Emily Nussbaum, in New York Magazine writes about the older generation's fears of privacy loss, while younger folks take for granted it's already gone.

Interesting article. She points out that older people invariably ask about the perverts. It is alarmist: On one level, young women blogging, posting videos and photos of themselves, can seem to encourage attention that could get dangerous, but isn't that the same argument that keeps women at home or in burqas or some variation? There is safety in numbers: if everyone is online, then who is a target of online perverts? If everyone is allowed out of doors unaccompanied, then who is a target of offline perverts? Most violence against women is still perpetrated by their so-called loved ones, anyway.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Are Bloggers Next?

Help for email addicts. Apparently, there are people who must check their email every four minutes, in between shots on the golf course, for example.

I admit that I check my email frequently, but only if I'm working at my desk anyway. I hate those electronic voices that say, "You've got mail," or even the ping-ping of the MS Outlook mail delivery. If it's that urgent, there is still the phone. Which used to be the seat of obsession. Now we can divide our obsessions among various technologies. No more sitting home by the phone -- you can carry it with you, and your Blackberry, your laptop, your Palm Pilot. There's email, text messaging, camera phones. I'm glad, though, that I live in a town with spotty cell service. There's something to be said for the ring of old-fashioned silence. And not having to listen to half of a cell phone call, which invariably goes something like, "Are you there? Hello? I think my battery is dying."

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Zen of Miss Snark

When to Give Up: Never. Because "writing is a creative art and brings you joy." quoth Miss Snark.

In the same post, she also says, "You recognize that doing something difficult over and over again, and trying your utmost to improve is a worthy endeavor even if you fall short of your goal." In Zen, we say, Seven times fall down, eight times get up. This applies to martial arts as well, and pretty directly.

And, "The very act of writing is its own reward. It teaches you (if you pay attention) how to see the world through different eyes; how to wield language skilfully; how to organize a persuasive presentation." Just so, the path is the destination.

Monday, February 19, 2007

Presidents' Day - It's Not Just Shopping

Via the Daily Kos.

And this: Joshua Key's Deserter's Tale.

Age of a Reader

There's a bit of a discussion going on at my online writing group about underage readers and content -- specifically, teens reading about unusual sexual behaviors (that they haven't themselves come up with).

Opinions are flying like knives. Although I haven't so far written much (if anything) that one of today's teens would consider sexually unusual, I admit, it's crossed my mind to wonder about this. Can we/should we self-censor, or more likely, try to keep categories of work away from certain readers (as writers, I mean. Parents will have a different answer)? I'm against censorship, and at the very least, if the news is not censored, why should fiction be? I mean, what would be the point of censoring fiction when much weirder stuff is available on the news?

That said, I am sorry it's the kind of world you don't want your kids to read about. It probably always has been, however.
Roz Chast: Nerve interview. She has a new collection of cartoons out, which must be hilarious, in an anxiety-stricken kind of way.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Artificial Tears

Sex and early death. What's the connection?

Anna Nicole Smith is not the first: Many Playboy Playmates Have Died Young. And she's not on the backlist any more. From the NY Times. We know what the connection is with selling books.

Tennessee Williams' notebooks: "...in 1983 he choked on the cap of a small plastic bottle in his Manhattan hotel room. The bottle contained that most theatrical of accessories, artificial tears." At Guardian Books.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

You Can Probably Beat Me Up

That's a variation of what every man I meet eventually says to me, since I've been practicing martial arts for so long. (I suppose this could have been a Valentine's Day post.) Sometimes it's in the form of a question, "Could you beat me up?" To which I either reply, "only if I have to," or "only if you want me to," depending on the questioner. Women never ask, from which I deduce that men never really leave the schoolyard, forever mentally classifying the other kids into "I can beat him up/he can beat me up" categories.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Writers Don't Have to Worry About...

Starring in film clips like this.

Skydiver Michael Holmes survived a 12,000 foot fall when his parachute failed to open.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Where's the Any Key?

As an occasional software consultant and tutor, I found this video amusing. Not that I laugh at people who need help negotiating the devil's labyrinth of their computers, not at all.

Via Miss Snark.

Sci Fi is SO True: Brain Scans Read People's Intentions

No sooner did I finish reading The Traveler, by John Twelve Hawks (pub. 2005), which features mind-reading brain scanners, than I read this article in The Guardian.

The Brain Scan That Can Read People's Intentions

A team of world-leading neuroscientists has developed a powerful technique that allows them to look deep inside a person's brain and read their intentions before they act.

The research breaks controversial new ground in scientists' ability to probe people's minds and eavesdrop on their thoughts, and raises serious ethical issues over how brain-reading technology may be used in the future."

The implications are profound for human rights, or for national security, depending upon your political persuasion, but could have an impact in the literary world: Maybe they can access the book I meant to write, and save me a lot of editing and hair-pulling.

So we've come full circle from news that sounds like science fiction.

Monday, February 12, 2007

Grumpy Old Bookman Will Be Missed

Michael Allen, who blogs at http://grumpyoldbookman.blogspot.com announced his semi-retirement from blogging. In an interview at Abebooks, he gave his reason for starting to blog. "For many years I have sat here reading things and thinking thoughts about those things, and feeling that I really ought to tell somebody what I was thinking (apart from my wife, that is). But of course, until blogging became possible, there was really no way to communicate one's thoughts to any significant number of people."

That about sums it up. I know I blog because it is more fun than talking to myself or having imaginary book friends. Sharing ideas is the whole point of language, after all. He does make the very good point that blogging can cut into writing time, although for me, it's only cut into journal-writing time. (Note: I hate the word journal to be used as a verb. It sounds like an activity that should result in the production of butter, or something very like it.) Anything shareable has wound up here, with the journal being reduced to personal thoughts, opinions and character assassinations. Read the rest of the interview.

Allen has also made available a book and an essay on writing, in .pdf format, on his blog. Check the sidebar for links.

Saturday, February 10, 2007

Don't Read This Book

You don't have to. This is the interesting, if asinine, premise of Pierre Bayard's new book, How to Talk About Books You Haven't Read, published in French as Comment Parler des Livres que l'on n'a pas Lus. Bayard is "a distinguished professor of literature at Paris University," according to the London Times article, and what is most interesting is how he came to be such. He sounds like he ought to be buried in corporate flannel, giving seminars on how to up your sales of quite unnecessary items. His tips on being convincingly poorly read include: "Put aside rational thought" and "Write about yourself." Hm. In a turn of karmic justice, the book is reviewed in the same publication by a reviewer who has not read it.

Remember Steal This Book?

Thursday, February 8, 2007

You Can't Make This Up

Because if you did, nobody would believe you. Your plot would be too far-fetched. And I like far-fetched. I just read The Traveler, and while I agree that fear and surveillance threaten our privacy, I don't think information does. I would have liked to know that I was only reading the first book of a projected trilogy. I guess stringing people along isn't considered much of a threat by off-the-grid types. It was good, if you're a sci fi fan.

Missing Thai Woman Reappears 25 Years After Boarding Wrong Bus

I guess if you consider a trained astronaut drove hundreds of miles in a diaper to confront a romantic rival (but perhaps not potty trained?), the missed bus isn't so strange.

Tuesday, February 6, 2007

Not Exactly Reader's Digest II

Not only are tangents in novels the product of a slower, more easygoing culture we seem to have lost, but that lazy meandering that nowadays is edited out is so good a representation of creative thought that losing it we probably risk losing certain productive habits of creative thought. We risk putting our faith in an exclusively left-brain process. We risk younger readers not understanding that the meander can be just as effective an approach to the truth. We risk neglecting to show them how to mine the resulting daydreaming (that is the brain's default setting after all), for the insights and creative inspirations it offers.

An argument for slowing down reading.

Monday, February 5, 2007

Not Exactly Reader's Digest Condensed Books

Wiedenfeld and Nicolson is launching Compact Editions. They "have been 'sympathetically edited' down to fewer than 400 pages each. Weidenfeld insists that the novels retain the core plot, characters and historical background." Some agree it's a good idea.

No doubt most of the classics would be a lot shorter if handled by editors of today. I don't think that justifies cutting them down. They're products of an unhurried culture, which we have lost. Although I confess I skipped the long descriptions of how the whaling ship was fitted out in Moby Dick. I do like knowing it's there, just as I like reading the background of the Victorian English legal system in Bleak House.

Saturday, February 3, 2007

Google This

The folks at Google are planning to scan -- and make searchable -- every book in existence: "No one really knows how many books there are. The most volumes listed in any catalogue is thirty-two million, the number in WorldCat, a database of titles from more than twenty-five thousand libraries around the world. Google aims to scan at least that many." Jeffrey Toobin in the New Yorker, writing about the plan, the copyright issues--and pending lawsuits, and the concept of transformation.

Friday, February 2, 2007

Women on Crime, and Ruth Rendell

"As a female author, says French, it makes complete sense to write crime novels, as they are a way of understanding the danger that lurks around us 'every time you walk home alone at night, every time a stranger asks you for directions on a deserted street, every time you're home on your own and there's a strange breeze moving through the curtains.'" Article at Guardian Books..

Between living in a rural environment, and having a black belt, I'm largely insulated from feelings like that -- but I started as a city girl, and there's no denying the reality of most women's lives. When I first moved here, a deer snorting in its bed of weeds next to my house could get my heart racing.

The article doesn't mention Ruth Rendell/Barbara Vine (she writes with both names), but she is one of my very favorites, especially The Rottweiler, which features a serial killer who doesn't like his press, and a hilarious group of characters trying to get on with their lives with a killer in the neighborhood.

Orhan Pamuk cancels German tour because of threat. The author of "Snow" and "The Black Book" is not taking any chances after the man arrested for the murder of Hrant Dink appeared to threaten him. Freedom of speech should transcend politics, shouldn't it? Everything we say is likely to offend someone, but how can we communicate without taking that risk?

Molly Ivins, Nan Shin

RIP Molly Ivins, age 62. "It mattered, a lot, that Molly was writing for papers around the country during the Bush interregnum. She explained to disbelieving Minnesotans and Mainers that, yes, these men really were as mean, as self-serving and as delusional as they seemed. The book that Molly and her pal Lou Dubose wrote about their homeboy-in-chief, Shrub: The Short But Happy Political Life of George W. Bush (Random House, 2000), was the essential exposé of the man the Supreme Court elected President. And Ivins's columns tore away any pretense of civility or citizenship erected by the likes of Karl Rove." Via Alternet.

Another of my heroes, laid to rest.

And here is a correction to an earlier post's paraphrase, Nan Shin (Nancy Amphoux): "...By not quite accepting, because they do not please us, things that are so, we spend our entire lives making meaningless gestures somewhere next door to reality." She's talking about the Reagan presidency. Her teacher was Taisen Deshimaru, author of Questions to a Zen Master and The Zen Way to the Martial Arts.

Thursday, February 1, 2007

Which Sci Fi Author Are You?

I am apparently John Brunner. Take the test.

Okay, We Won't

Drink hand gel: Doctors report people drinking hand-sanitizing gels for their alcohol content. Problem is, isopropyl alcohol is much more poisonous than the alcohol found in beverages.

Stone women: "Immigrants wishing to live in the small Canadian town of Herouxville, Quebec, must not stone women to death in public, burn them alive or throw acid on them, according to an extraordinary set of rules released by the local council." Let's get this perfectly clear.

Keep swans in a studio apartment. "An elderly Swedish woman has taken animal protection too far by sheltering 11 full grown swans in her small, city center apartment, police said on Thursday." How would we get any writing done, anyway?

On the other hand, you may:
Eat cookies at work without fear.
Then take a nap.