Monday, January 31, 2011

Everbody Loves Rhyme, Man

Image: The March Hare and Dodo, one of the Alice in Wonderland stained-glass windows in the All Saints' Church, Daresbury, England, via Vitreosity (cool blog about stained glass)

i. My First Lines

Rx for stiff writing brain: rhythm and rhyme.

I want to write some rap based on my geography books. I loved working on them, but the end results had to be dry. I want to juice them up, for fun.

bink can rhyme a million times faster than me (makes me mad). Trouble is, I don't hear words as sound, I hear them as ideas.
So when I sat down to rhyme "gross domestic product"--admittedly not an easy first rhyme--I kept thinking about millet or steel.

I had to chant the phrase out loud to myself over and over to HEAR it.
It took me hours to come up with three rhymes.
Here they are.

gross domestic product
pope's fantastic Prada

gross domestic product
nose don't lick a poor fuck

gross domestic product
dodo's nest tick prodder [this is my favorite]

Not sure where I'd go from there, but rhyme can be an end in itself, like this fun nonsense rap "Alphabet Aerobics" by Blackalicious.

ii. R.A.P. "Rhythm And Poetry"

Everybody loves rhyme (maybe), but not everybody loves rap.

I ran into my pal Terry at the library, where I was checking out How to Rap: The Art and Science of the Hip Hop MC, by Paul Edwards (2009) (links to the book's site, which has about 100 links to tracks on youTube--what a find for a beginner like me).

I told him I want to learn how to rap.

He looked at me, shocked, and this generous, generally open-minded guy said,
"When do you have to get back to the home, for your meds?"

I told him rap wasn't all nasty; lots of it is crazy inventive word play expressing a joyous life force or honestly calling out the hard stuff.

Well, he said, he'd heard two little boys rapping on the sidewalk,
"I'm gonna have some fun,
shoot you in the face with a B.B. gun."

Yeah, it can be like that, but that's not its necessary nature. Tish Jones says its fundamentals are Rhythm And Poetry.
"I mean, let's rewrite that," I said, "I'm gonna have some fun..."

He finished, "Go to Jamaica, sit in the sun..."

"Drink some rum," I added. "Well, that doesn't really rhyme..."

"It doesn't have to!" he said, instantly getting into it. And he admitted he didn't really know rap.
Neither do I, but rhythm and rhyme... it's like the brain's breathing deep, pushing out against its limits.
I love that.

iii. art in the dark
Terry's response is pretty typical, in my experience.
The last time I got such horrified reactions to a pursuit of mine is when I joined the Catholic Church.

In both cases, those reactions aren't altogether wrong--the Church and rap have misogynistic and violent histories. But they're also thrumming with life force and creative energy out the whazoo.
You aren't going to find any worthwhile human endeavor that doesn't have its dark side because that's who we humans are.

I like art from the dark, anyway, because I've been there. Haven't we all, to some extent?
Like gun violence...
My mother shot herself in the head with a gun, so I get that, I welcome raw poetry about that kind of thing.
Life can be that bad, it can be that ugly. That's not unusual.

There're all kinds of ghettos we make for ourselves and each other, and all kinds of ways to break out of them.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Avocados & Grapefruit Make Me Feel That Way

My father sent me a box of fat Texan avocados and ruby grapefruit around C'mas. I ate the avocado with tostadas and the grapefruit with a serrated spoon.

It never occurred to me to eat them together.

Then I came across a recipe combining them, in Bryant Terry's
Vegan Soul Kitchen: Fresh, Healthy, and Creative African-American Cuisine (De Capo Press, 2009)
(recommended by a Facebook friend; I got it at the library).

The "vegan" label does the book a disservice--sounds like preachy cardboard, but Terry's no moralist; he just remixed some standards to freshen them up.

You'll find sample recipes at Bryant Terry's site, but not this one, so here it is. (I abridged the instructions tho, cause they're long).

Carmelized Grapefruit, Avocado, and Watercress Salad, with Grapefruit Vinaigrette

Blend in blender:

juice of 2 grapefruits, cooked down to 3 T (simmmer 8-10 min.)
2 t red wine vinegar
1/2 t Dijon mustard
1 sm. clove garlic, minced
1 T minced fresh mint
coarse sea salt
7 T extra-virgin olive oil
fresh ground white pepper

2 large ripe but firm Hass avocados, pitted, peeled, and cut into 1/2-inch cubes.
2 bunches watercress, trimmed of tough stems
2 large grapefruits
1/2 c. organic raw cane sugar

Slice the 2 grapefruits horizontally (across the sections). Dredge with sugar, and pan fry. [I think it's easier to broil.]

Gently toss all in vinaigrette & serve immediately.

Actually, I think recipe has too much going on--avocado is easily overwhelmed.
I simply broiled the sugared grapefruit slices in my toaster oven, then ate them with room-temp avocado.
Sweet and creamy and zingy.

Bryant provides soundtrack recommendations for each recipe, and this one's is "Sweet Thing," by Rufus with Chaka Khan.

But I choose "Make You Feel That Way," by Blackalicious.
If The Sound of Music had been Hip Hop, Julie Andrews would've sung something like this instead of "My Favorite Things."

"Times I feel I wanna shout, man it's real that way,
Wanna think of things that make you feel that way."

Saturday, January 29, 2011

P.T. for the Brain

i. The Stiff

I thought I wouldn't care if my physical therapist was a man or a woman, but the other day when the p.t. turned me over on the table, climbed on top of me, and thrust full-weight onto my spine, I was glad she was a she.
I don't want any resistance, any impulse toward self-protection on my part to get in the way of the work.

P.T. is the best therapy I've ever had.
Everything my therapist says applies to my emotional and writing life as well as my body.

Like, "You need to practice breathing." My rib cage is so stiff, she says, it's as if I underwent some trauma, like a car accident.

"How 'bout grief?" I ask.
"Yeah, that'd do it too," she said.

And, she says, "Stiffness is compensation for weakness."
You sustain an injury and instead of strengthening and stretching it, a tendency is to not move or to favor it, use other parts. They're not as well designed for the work and can tighten up in a knot.

My writing is as stiff as my muscles. It feels like an engine block to me.

Yesterday I got my author's copies of the Frindian War book from the publisher.
[This picture isn't in it, but close...]

I knew the marketing department had turned into a book about George W., but actually seeing him on the cover was like tearing a muscle. My original title was "Who Fired First?" and GW was one of several characters. Now the title focuses on GW and he's front and center, the hero.
In truth, the war was important to him, but he was not important to the war.

By changing the emphasis--mostly through title and picture choices––it's like history got castrated.

ii. The Cypher

By incredible luck, I couldn't stay home and stew. I had arranged to interview the amazing Tish Jones at the Spoken Word open mic she hosts, for the communications book.

Turned out we didn't get much time to talk, but in the few minutes we had, she gave me what I didn't even know I needed:
she told me about Hip Hop cyphers: performance circles of rappers and dancers and beatboxers.

I stayed for the open mic--second time I have. There's always an accomplished featured artist, which is wonderful, but I almost get more out of the high schoolers who get up and read their stuff. Their body (of work) is so new, the wounds are fresh, and there's so much bravery and honesty in how the kids get up and show them and just outright say, "This hurts!"
Or they come on strong with defiant celebration.

They're still limber, and if they keep writing, they might stay that way.

I went home and watched The Freshest Kids: The History of the B-Boy a doc about the history of break dancing and Hip Hop culture. (Streaming on Netflix, or it's also on youtube.)

I stayed up until 2 a.m. reading about writing rap.
How to Freestyle Rap [free-flowing it off the top of your head] says:
First step. start easy.
Write silly stupid easy stuff. Like, the bunny is funny.

This morning I called bink and got talking about how we used to do this, though we didn't think of it as rap. We just used to make up silly rhymes, and she is especially good at fresh rhymes.
Let's do it now, I said.

Here's what we came up with.

with Baby Flakes
ease my aches.
Then, melon cakes.

This is a true story:
Maura was making pancakes for bink,
"Baby Flakes," a rhyme bink pulled out of the air, must be Joop, whose doggie brain is sadly getting flaky from Alzheimer's or something;
and later today bink & I are going to a Chinese bakery for melon cakes.

I can feel my brain expanding like my ribs.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Knitting Report

Third try.
I gave up on knitting wrist warmers because I'm not up for adding and dropping stitches (on purpose). I unraveled the straight tube I'd made and began making a little scarf. It's a bit bumpy, but I don't need it to be perfect.
I'm liking knitting pretty well. I like spending time with the wool.

I hope to be done with the first round of ms revisions on February 1.
So, back at it.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

"I'd Kiss Shatner."

Captain Kirk and Princess Leia kiss.

From Live for Films.

I'm revising my ms (first round) this week, so it's back to the Dance of Procrastination.
Good thing I don't know photoshop or I would spend my life making this sort of thing.

Monday, January 24, 2011

"I'd Fight Shatner."

Brilliant Fight Club-inspired T-shirt design, by midgerock. The original has the quote "Shatner. I'd fight William Shatner." on it.

Any my own macro---I figure if anyone would/should fight Shatner, it would be Nichelle Nichols. (Yeah, George Takei is the more obvious choice, but I think the presence of some glimmer of affection would make a Uhura-Kirk fight better.)

Photo from the 2010 celebrity roast of Shatner.

See also Fight Club rules set to Star Trek.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Star Trek Fight Club

I always thought I'd like Fight Club (1999), but for some reason never got around to seeing it until last night.
I did like it and found it incredibly funny and smart and bluntly honest about how attractive fascism can be, especially to people who feel adrift, bereft of meaning. (Tricky to show the attractive side without also celebrating it, but I thought the director, David Fincher, did a good job. People who think the movie's a celebration are scary.)

I'd heard about the movie over the years, so there weren't many surprises except one huge one:
How come nobody ever told me it has The Best Shatner Reference ever?

Narrator (Ed Norton): If you could fight any celebrity, who would you fight?
Tyler Durden (Brad Pitt): Alive or dead?
Narrator: Doesn't matter. Who'd be tough?
Tyler: Hemingway. You?
Narrator: Shatner. I'd fight William Shatner.

I howled.

I'm surprised I've found little online linking Star Trek and Fight Club.
Do you think it's because they have different fan bases? Still, it's not such a stretch. Fight Club is a variation on the episodes "The Enemy Within" and "Naked Time," which ask, What's your inner secret self?
And Kirk loves getting beat up.

So, I set Fight Club's rules to Star Trek screencaps (from Trekcore). I put a little Spock in for fun too.
Can you name the episodes?

Curious connection: David Fincher directed both Fight Club and The Social Network (2010).

If they two movies met, would one say to the other, "we're the same person?"

Fincher said of The Social Network in an interview:
"I wanted to make the 'Citizen Kane' of John Hughes movies. That’s not to say we’re making 'Citizen Kane.' But specifically, the 'Citizen Kane' of John Hughes movies. So, yes, it is a coming of age movie. They are kind of dorky teens figuring this shit out between them. And there’s no real intervention on behalf of adult society, you know? It’s kind of like they’re forced to figure it out for themselves."
from Fight Club screencaps

Thursday, January 20, 2011

There is no average reader, but there is curly green in Uruguay.

i. There is no average reader.

I'm amending David Simon's quote I posted yesterday, "fuck the average reader."
I love it because it feels liberating, but it's misleading.
There is no average reader.

It's not the audience that makes writing good or bad, it's the writer. It is the idea of a reader in the writer's head that either expands or constricts her imagination.

Fuck the average editor, I would say instead, meaning (mostly) my own internal strangulation device.

ii. Uruguay Green

Poodletail, who is anything but average, gave me a knitting lesson yesterday. She brought wooden needles for me, and a skein of kettle-dyed "lettuce"-colored wool.
The wool is from the Malabrigo collective in Uruguay.

Malabrigo posted this picture of merino rams on their website. Their curliness reminded me of Uruguayan soccer player Diego Forlan's mop, which I'd admired in this past summer's World Cup. The final curl of green is from Uruguayan blogger and photographer Aleph.

Here I am casting on, at Bob's Java Hut. (For Rachel, because she asked.)

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Loose and Tight

LEFT: "Spina," serigraph by Jeffery Sax

I've been seeing a physical therapist for back/hip pain.
Turns out my lower spine had stiffened up into block. Mostly from not moving.
I couldn't bend forward past waist-height.

After the therapist more or less beat me up a couple times, my spine bends again.
This morning I could fold all the way forward again.

Parts of my writing feel frozen stiff like my spine was.
I wonder what might loosen it up.

I mean loose as in flexible, not sloppy.
Loose, but also tight, like Tiger Woods's swing.

[Lordy. Who wouldn't want to go to bed with that? Makes me ponder (again) how much mob morality is jealousy in disguise.]

Some of my stiffness comes from the fear David Simon (creator/writer of The Wire) talked about in an interview with Nick Hornsby (which I blogged about):
the fear of being exposed as writing out of "lame half-assed assumptions."

That's a good fear. It keeps a writer on the lookout for flabby thinking and ignore-ance.

The years I spent writing about world geography for kids knocked a lot of assumptions out of me.
Turns out...
•New Zealand wasn't colonized by convicts.
•All folktales don't have morals.
•People in chaotic situations often welcome dictatorships.
•Entire lives are lived without thought for the United States. (This was the most humbling realization. I didn't think I'd assumed otherwise. But at a deep-muscle layer, I had, and it had to be pummeled out of me.)
•Tapirs are related to horses. [Baby tapir image from Zooborns]

So that was great. But the work also stiffened up my personal writing.
I got in the habit of explaining everything. I mention Camus in a post, say, and find myself adding a tag: "French philosopher."
For God's sake!
I'm not writing for kids here.

So, again, I connect with David Simon, who says:
"My standard for verisimilitude is simple and I came to it when I started to write prose narrative: fuck the average reader.
I was always told to write for the average reader in my newspaper life.
The average reader, as they meant it, was some suburban white subscriber with two-point-whatever kids and three-point-whatever cars and a dog and a cat and lawn furniture. He knows nothing and he needs everything explained to him right away, so that exposition becomes this incredible, story-killing burden.
Fuck him. Fuck him to hell."
Yeah. Well, I don't think "fuck him," exactly, but as long as the average reader in my head is a twelve-year-old researching a report in the library, I'm going to keep explaining stuff.

After I finish revising my ms, I need some kind of p.t. to get that kid out of my writer's brain.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Space Tweet

Astronaut TJ Creamer sent the first direct tweet from the International Space Station, in January 2010:
@Astro_TJ, Hello Twitterverse! We r now LIVE tweeting from the International Space Station -- the 1st live tweet from Space! :) More soon, send your ?s.
Should I send my question? "Does your training prepare you for a simultaneous seduction and attack by fun-fur-clad aliens?"
Still from Star Trek episode "A Private Little War" from

Sunday, January 16, 2011

The Wire, Green Card, and Unclogging the Channels of Thought

I. "lame, half-assed assumptions"

I reread my ms front to back yesterday, after a good break from it, and had to laugh:
it reads like my geography books:
facts dry enough to choke you, all wedged tightly together.

I laughed instead of cried because, while it badly needs lube, I do--first and foremost--want to get the facts right, and I trust I did. Doing the rewrite won't be so bad.

One reason I find writing nonfiction so nerve wracking is I'm terrified I'll say something wrong about some other culture's or person's reality.

I felt validated reading an interview with David Simon, creator/writer of The Wire, in which he talked about having this same fear:
"Like many writers, I live every day with the vague nightmare that at some point, someone more knowledgeable than myself is going to sit up and pen a massive screed indicating exactly where my work is shallow and fraudulent and rooted in lame, half-assed assumptions."
[Illustration from a different piece, by Austin Kleon]

And we're right to be afraid.
Assumptions are cholesterol that stiffen and clog the channels of thought.
Like cholesterol, they go down smooth.
We don't even know we've got them if we ingest the same ones our friends friends and media do.
But what are you going to do? The only way to be sure you're not speaking or writing out of those lame-ass assumptions is to stay silent. Of course we also seek out ways to mix it up, get aware, clear the channels.
I guess nothing does that like the annoyance of someone, up close and personal, with a storyline that runs counter to ours.

II. "All your ideas come from one place."

Green Card (dir. Peter Weir, 1990) is not a great movie, but it does tell a nice story of two people who annoy each other into seeing their own assumptions.

The movie's premise is that a Frenchman from the mean streets, played by Gerard Depardieu (right), marries privileged American Andie McDowell, to get a green card.
She holds the traditional liberal line about everything, while his scope is limited by personal bitterness.
She gardens with ghetto kids, he tells her it's a waste of time. Like that.

They don't like each other, naturally, and at one point, she accuses him of being right wing.
He counters,
"I'm not right wing! You are the one with the wing. All your ideas come from one place!"

All your ideas come from one place.
I love that line.

But, yeah, his ideas also come from one place, and he comes to see that too. Predictably (for a movie), they fall in love, and sadly the movie stiffens up into one of those that all come from one place.
And McDowell's stiff acting never looked worse, next to Depardieu's.
Still, it's worth watching, I think, once.

III. The Wire

Oh, yeah, so... The Wire.

The two scariest characters, LEFT, Felicia "Snoop" Pearson and Marlo Stanfield (Jamie Hector ), from an article about the actress/character Snoop in the Guardian, "When Pretend Is Real".

I watched all five seasons in the past few weeks and liked it a lot.
It's one, long, interconnected story, and its makers reward the careful viewer, so watching it was satisfying, like it's satisfying to read a well-crafted mammoth novel, such as Middlemarch, that follows a dozen storylines and resolves them all fittingly at the end.

I don't really have a lot to say about it. It pretty much matched my worldview:

•The race does not go to the swift, but to the lucky (Randy has lots of heart but bad luck, Namond has less heart and more luck)

•Goodness, too, is more a matter of chance than virtue (I'd say we love Omar partly because he's a good soul so we can enjoy without moral compunction the panache with which he does evil)

•Those who survive best are those who adapt best (Michael can adapt, Dukie can't)

•Humans are puny beings in the maw of our own history (as D'Angelo says about Gatsby)

•But the individual does matter, maybe, ultimately, is all that does (which Bubbles's story exemplifies... in the affirmative, for a nice change).

Probably I like it because, as David Simon said, The Wire is a Greek tragedy:
"The Wire is a Greek tragedy in which the postmodern institutions are the Olympian forces. It’s the police department, or the drug economy, or the political structures, or the school administration, or the macroeconomic forces that are throwing the lightning bolts and hitting people in the ass for no decent reason."
[D. S. interview (same as quoted up top)]

The character Bubbles reads a quote from Kafka (on youTube):
"You can hold back from the suffering of the world, you have free permission to do so, and it is in accordance with your nature. But perhaps the holding back is the one suffering you could have avoided."
[found on a nice blog write-up, Kafka and the Wire.]

But I think a better quote to sum up the series comes from Aeschylus's Agamemnon, which does not give permission to hold back from suffering:

"He who learns must suffer
And even in our sleep pain that cannot forget
Falls drop by drop upon the heart,
And in our own despite, against our will,
Comes wisdom to us by the awful grace of God."

["Omar Little," one of Blake Hicks's Wire illustrations]

Sunday, January 9, 2011

One of These Things Is Just Like the Other

Too funny.
"Firefly and Mad Men are the same show."
Does this mean I'd love Mad Men, which I've never seen?

via Gerry Cannavan (tagged with "Look what I found on the Internet")


Saturday, January 8, 2011

My Father Is Eighty

My father was born in 1931: Today is his 80th birthday.

My father is a retired professor of political science.
The most important lesson I learned from him was the importance of checks and balances on power (same as you need to ground electricity).
This might seem simple, but it extends like crazy.

Here are a few photos from his life, so far.
ABOVE: at far left, with sister Vi and brother Tony, in Milwaukee (1939?)
ABOVE: 1961, with my mother, who is pregnant with me
ABOVE: 1970s, with a sketch of himself, in his office
ABOVE: 2007, at Mount Vernon

On his 78th birthday, I wrote a Mosaic of Memories of him from my childhood.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Signoret: To Show Yourself as You Really Are

"Does one act better after one has aged?

"Well, one doesn't act better: one doesn't act anymore. One is.
The compliments you get from people who speak about 'the courage to show oneself in an unflattering aspect' are just pious remarks.
It isn't courage; it's a form of pride, possibly vanity,
to show yourself as you really are in order
to better serve the character that has been offered you as a gift."

--Simone Signoret, Nostalgia Isn't What It Used to Be, (NY: Harper & Row, 1978), 324.

This reminds me of the work of any creative act, including blogging.

Top image: Signoret, with Laurence Harvey, in Room At the Top (1959), 38 years old
Review, at the film's 50th birthday in 2009, in the Guardian.

Bottom image: If found it undated, but I imagine Signoret's signing her memoirs, released in France in 1976, when she was fifty-five

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Two Months 'Til Fifty

Yesterday I celebrated;
today I'm suffering post-completion tristesse,
the way I always do after finishing a big project.
(You too?)

Nonetheless, I'm still glad I have some time to start thinking and writing about my upcoming fiftieth birthday, in exactly 2 months (March 5). I'm amazed and curious to find myself at this juncture.
What is it? Who and where am I at fifty?

I got wondering what some of my favorite people were doing at fifty.

You know I'm crazy for Simone Signoret?
She was both sexy and serious. And she was a woman.
I like that.
I wouldn't mind aging like she did. (I mean, with dignity, not smoking oneself to death.) They say she got fat and let her looks go.
So what?
To my eye, she just got more interesting and ... well, to borrow from Neruda, she had the weight of a golden vegetable.

From cinetom

When she was fifty, in 1971, she played The Widow Couderc, with Alain Delon. (I just ordered it on Netflix.)

I don't know much about her, as a person. (According to her Wipipedia entry, she never cared about glamor.)
It's not always good to learn too much about an actor (Manfred made many people unhappy by reporting that Colin Firth is not a sweet potato); but for my birthday, I would like to have dinner with Simone. (Here, with her husband Yves Montand.)
Of course, she's dead (at only 64) but there you have it.

Hey! The sun just peeped through the clouds.
I think I'll go to the library and get Signoret's memoirs, Nostalgia Isn't What It Used to Be (La nostalgie n'est plus ce qu'elle était). Yes. Then I'll go back to bed with hot milk, and read.
Good for sadness.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Good morning, pigeons!

Hello, darlings!

I am so happy (SO happy) to be back!
Yup, I turned the rough draft in yesterday.
I've got a bunch of work yet to smoothe it out, but everything is in place.

Even the backmatter (bibliography etc.) is in shape,
because I used what I learned––the hard way––in college:

It's in shape, but I'm not.
I'm going to the gym this morning for the first time in ages ...and I'm going to step on their scale.
I have a gruesome curiosity to see what the damage is--cd almost be a badge of honor.

There's another lesson:

The thing is, 4 months from now, me and my body are going to hit the Camino in Spain, and it sure will be easier to walk 500 miles if I've moved a bit beforehand.
Just to remind myself how it's done.

I used Facebook while I was writing The Book.
I liked it. For a while.
It was nice to take a break and chat, now and again.
But it began to feel like empty calories. I really missed you, my fellow bloggers, who dish up something more substantive.

Anyway, all these calories and all this inactivity lead me to ask,
"Will My Star Trek Uniform Still Fit?"from The Hostess

Now to bundle up and go outside. My jeans are so tight, I can barely squeeze them on over my long underwear.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Brain Ain't Gonna Think Anymore

But I need to think, not just transcribe, to do the last bit, and my brain has declared it is done for the day, so I'm heading home.

Before I go, I'd wanted to get a shot of the Starbucks baristas in their distinctive green aprons, but everytime the iCamera went off, they had moved out of sight. (Hence the final duck face.)
Its 14°F outside, and chilly in here.