Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Of Bill Murray, the New TV, & the End of W@W

First things first: Last night Middlebrow and I watched "The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou." Despite the fact that it included, in addition to Bill Murray, my other favorites Owen Wilson and Willem DaFoe, the movie was not good. It wasn't bad, but it wasn't good either. It was incoherent. I didn't care about any of the characters, despite being predisposed to love Bill Murray in just about anything. It was visually stunning at times, but about halfway through it underwent a bizarre genre shift to action/adventure. The highlight, I have to say, was the Portugese versions of David Bowie songs.
Second things: Middlebrow gave in to my hysterical whining and purchased a new TV this morning so that I could watch Wimbeldon coverage. Our old TV (which we bought just months after moving to SLC, once we got bored of drinking margaritas and playing Spite and Malice, because we were the only people we knew in SLC. I can't remember the first movie we watched on it, but that was seven years ago) mysteriously "broke" this morning after we let Son do some unsupervised TV viewing, because he woke up at 5 a.m. Why, you ask, did he wake up at 5 a.m.? It seems that, unbeknownst to MB and DW, who were watching the movie, last night Son got out of bed and changed out of his pull-up and back into his underwear. Around 5 a.m. his bladder gave out, prompting him to undress in the middle of the kitchen and then run into our bedroom proclaiming, "I pooped in my pants!" I didn't know about the furtive wardrobe change, but found the pull-up wedged between his closet and his small dresser. Ah, children! The joys, etc!
Let me just say that the new TV is so worth it. I got to watch a fantastic match between Roddick and Grosjean (whose first name is Sebastian, btw). And now I can watch the matches between Venus and Sharapova (go Venus! I have to root for Venus. It's her comeback!), and between Davenport and Mauresmo (I will most likely root for Lindsay, because she's American, but I really don't care who wins. It will be a fantastic match, I predict.)
And in Writers at Work wrap-up: The final reading was quite good, with Michael Downing my absolute favorite. His reading from Breakfast with Scot was funny and touching. Pam Houston's reading was fine, but a little fast. I'd already read the book, so I knew what was coming. I had to leave the reading early so I could help arrange the fabulous food: bruschetta from Martine, salmon from Wild Oats, salads from Noodles & Co, wine from a box. What could be better? Oh, and desserts from The Paris (I especially love the pecan/chocolate pie thing). See how the readings get one line and the food gets three? I have my priorities straight. Kevin McIlvoy is overall my favorite person. Ever. Without reading any of my novel, he gave me many ideas to get me restarted. So I'm indebted to him. And my favorite reading was the Young Writers. Some amazing, amazing stuff. Very impressive. Richard Frost was a close second, mostly because he was so surprising. He seemed like a very mild mannered sweetheart (which he is) but his poems were funny and shocking and great. See his "For My Brother" if you need some proof.
Next year (so far) we have lined up Suzanne Paola (for nonfiction) and Bruce Beasley (for poetry). We also hope to bring FC2 (publisher/editor) and someone from a poetry press, like Graywolf. We are also bringing Susan Strayed for the Young Writers.
I'm enjoying the perfect weather and the fact that I have no obligations for the next week or so. My mother and her husband arrive Friday and we will be spending some time with them in Park City over the next week. Then we head up to Island Park next week to see my dad, and my sister and her kids who are flying in from Michigan. Family mania!

Thursday, June 23, 2005

Another Day, Another Dinner

Last night was Brenda Miller's reading. She read some great stuff, two pieces from her first collection (one of which appears on brevity, it's called "Split"). I felt very inspired to write more after her reading which, for me, is a sign of great work. It's inspirational. She and I also had some great discussion (earlier, when we were shopping instead of hiking) about making the classroom a more contemplative/reflective space. I think all the teaching of argument I've done in the past seven years has worn me down. Brenda is attending a workshop at Smith about meditation and education, so I look forward to hearing more about it from her. After our discussions I decided in the next creative writing class I teach I'm going to bring "objects" and require students to write about them: a loaf of bread, a flower, a photograph, an orange. The best essays, in my mind, are those that range broadly and freely, and usually begin from stopping and looking deeply at something, even for just a moment. So my time with Brenda has really helped me to start thinking about teaching in a different way, and ways teachers can set up or influence the space/feeling of the classroom.
After Brenda's reading, the board and faculty went to an amazing house in Federal Heights for a dinner. It was great. The view was fantastic, the company/conversation was fun, the woman who hosted us was gracious. Her husband is retired and has taken up photography so there were amazing huge photographs of flowers all over the house. Truly wonderful. And the dessert! Let's just say I love chocolate and I love layer cake, so there you have it.
I stayed up too late, but managed to make my consultation this morning. Carol was a generous reader and gave me many good suggestions for improving my story. Actually, after the consultation I felt a little down. Not because of her comments, but because I don't really want to work on the story. I'm not sure if it's because I'm lazy or if I've just moved beyond that story. She did like the characters and encouraged me to revise it. I think I'm just exhausted. Maybe next week I'll feel like working on it.
Tonight is the booksigning at The King's English, followed by readings by John Vernon and Richard Frost. Then my friend and I are going out to dinner with the agent. More tomorrow.

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

Dispatch from the Writing Conference

No great crises to report. All the writers are lovely. I'm especially taken with Michael Downing, Crystal Williams, and Kevin McIlvoy. All are generous, funny, delightful to be around.
Kevin McIlvoy gave a fantastic reading last night, reading two stories, "Ice" and "Smoke," from his collection The Complete History of New Mexico. He's a great reader and the stories have great voices, distinct and individual. I think "Ice" is as close to a perfect story as I've heard. It has everything I like: voice, idea, some plot, and, most important to me recently, heart. Mac is a writer that exemplifies the principle of heart. He is giving as a writer and as person.
Last night we all went to The Pub for a few pints and some chit chat. We talked about writing, of course, but also the state of the world, gay mormons, the documentary "The Smiths," life in Salt Lake City, the lack of affordable day care for working mothers. You know, the basics.
Tonight is Brenda Miller's reading. I'm introducing her, so I'd better get to writing that darn thing. I bought a sexy new shirt/sweater combo that I'm debuting tonight at a fancy soiree that was supposed to be a "out-by-the-pool" party. It may be an indoor party now. Oh well. I'm just hoping for one perfect martini that's so dirty, it's pornographic.
I'll report tomorrow on my consultation with Carol Houck Smith, an editor from Norton. I gave her one of my stories entitled "When I Say Idaho." I already know she doesn't love it (she hinted), but I'm hoping she'll have some good suggestions for how I can improve it.
Oh: David Hamilton from the Iowa Review is also very sweet and nice. So all you poets, send him your work!

Sunday, June 19, 2005

Writers at "Work"

I took this week off from productivity because of the preparations we were making for the up-coming writers' conference Writers at Work (shamless promotion: writersatwork). Last week we (some others and me, sometimes others and not me) were dropping off and proofing and worrying about the program (done now!), making dinner reservations (very important!), compiling and sending off manuscripts for consultations, making bookmarks (better late than never!), and troubleshooting. Also making sure that all the Famous Writers have someone to pick them up at the airport. Very important. And making sure that we have enough wine and snacks for all the much-anticipated hob-nobbing.
So, I feel pretty good about having taken the week off. Middlebrow took the week off too, in sympathy for me, no doubt. But he did run a few times (at least he said he ran, and he came home dripping sweat, so I guess I have to believe him). In an attempt to make him more hip, I bought him a funky shirt for Father's Day. I'm encouraging him to wear it to the up-coming Summer Celebration. Please complement him on the shirt if you see him. It's part of his bold new strategy of "breaking out" of the boring wardrobe. I'm trying to encourage him.
So: I probably won't be posting next week, but if I get a break from the conference, I will. On deck for the week are: a potluck with board and faculty; the usual wine and snacks after each reading; a mid-week hike with faculty; introducing some writers; a swanky cocktail party; a booksigning party at The King's English (at 5 p.m. on Thursday the 23rd, 1511 East 15th South); dinner with an agent (not as exciting as it sounds, it's not like he's paying!); then the big final party (Saturday the 25th after the reading; lots of good food! and dancing!).
Here are the readings. I hope to see the locals there. It will be fun. And I promise some quality hob-nobbing! The readings begin at 7 pm and are in the Courage Theater in Jewett Center at Westminster College (13th East and 17th South).

  • Tuesday the 21st: Carol Frost (poet) & Kevin McIlvoy (fiction writer)
  • Wednesday the 22nd: Brenda Miller (U grad, non-fiction writer)
  • Thursday the 23rd: John Vernon (fiction) & Richard Frost (poet)
  • Friday the 24th: Crystal Williams (poet) & David Hamilton (essayist?)
  • Saturday the 25th: Pam Houston (novelist) & Michael Downing (fiction and non)

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

spy NOVEL vs. SPY novel

Okay, some of you know what I'm talking about. There are novels which involve spies and intrigue, and then there are spy plots that hucksters somehow turn into novels that spend months on the best seller lists, confounding even the most cynical writer among us.
I just finished reading Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, which, in my book, is a spy NOVEL. That is, the writing and character development are not sacrificed to the plot. It has a great plot, and it also has a lot of moody rumination and some scenes where not a lot happens. My favorite thing is that most of the "action" takes place in the past, so it only happens in a monologue, where one spy is relating the story to another. It's a brilliant technique.
Middlebrow suggested T,T,S,S (that sounds kind of dirty!) because in my so-called-novel the protagonist is looking into something that happened in the past and my big "structural" difficulty is how to move smoothly between the narrative present and the past.Structure seems to be my big problem, or at least my excuse for writer's block. I was talking to a friend back east (he recorded some of my stuff for a "radio literary journal" he's doing for a college radio station; more on that later) and he asked me to talk about structure because of the two prose pieces I had written using poetic forms (the crown of sonnets essay and the sestina story). And I said that using poetic forms as the structure freed up my mind to just invent. Which made me think that maybe what I need to do is find some kind of arbitrary (or not so arbitrary) form for the novel and just use it. But it can't be crazy, like terza rima, and it has to be large enough to encapsulate an entire novel. Help! What can my received novel form be? I need one! I think it would help me to at least get my (shitty) first draft done.

Sunday, June 12, 2005

Gluttony vs. Self-Control

First, let me admit that as a faster I am somewhat of a failure.
Day One I had some soup (most of the ingredients in the soup were on the list of approved vegetables, but still. I also had some decidely unhealthy crackers).
Day Two Middlebrow, after doing some back-breaking work in the garden, proclaimed, "Let's go to the Pub!" followed quickly by "Am I a bad person?" So I ate some soup, then we went to the pub where I consumed 1 pint of UPA and a roasted veggie salad (sans cheese).
Day Three my fellow fasting friend called me (from the Pub) and said, "Come on down!" There I was treated to a few glasses of UPA by two retired (or semi-retired?) mathematicians. I ate some chips and salsa and watched The Race. We had a good discussion about whether the TV series "Numbers" realistically portrayed math in a way that did not mis-represent math theory etc. The math dudes said the show was good. Hooray! Math can be sexy!
Day Four (today) I kept up my juice breakfast and veggie lunch (today, chard! delish!) and then indulged in veggies, bread, humus, brownies! and wine! during book club. We even actually discussed the books, which got mostly positive reviews: Eyeshot by Heather McHugh and Loving Che by Ana Menendez.
Last night I chided Middlebrow for what I took to be a gluttonous response to my Puritanical fast. In order to prove to me that he is not, in fact, "Fat" (his word) he took off his shirt. At the time, I believe we were between episodes of "The Sopranos." Now, of course Middlebrow is not fat. But does that give him the right to eat enough for two during my fast? Anyway, I agreed that he is not, in fact, "fat" and in order to prove his fitness, he began to jump up and down, promptly hitting his head on our basement ceiling and falling to the floor in a fit of laughter.
The upshot is, however, that today Middlebrow went out and bought some running shoes and, upon returning home, went out for a quick run. Then he went to Fiddler's Elbow for four hours, so I'm not quite sure that Self-Control won this round. Let's call it a draw.

Friday, June 10, 2005

The (late) Spring Fast

I know it is a good idea to fast. I usually try to do it once a year. But I always get a splitting headache on the first day. But now, well into Day 2, I feel good. Not great, but good. I realized last night that the reason I get a splitting headache is all the sugar in the fruit juice, without any other food to mitigate its terrible consequences. So today I'm going with the veggie only/lemon juice and water fast. I think I'll be okay.
I also always forget how exhausted I get, how all I want to do is lay in bed, so I slept nine hours (or so) last night. We all did. After Son got up and had a bowl of cereal he came into our bed and slept for another two hours.
So the fast is an attempt for greater health, and I have caught up on my sleep. Also, when I don't have to eat or make dinner, I have more time to go for walks. I'm hoping to go on at least two one-hour walks today.
I've heard (I forget where) that one should: fast for twelve hours a day everyday (from 8 pm until 8 am for example), fast for one day of every week, and fast for one week once a year (I think some people do it twice a year: in the fall you can do a fast that includes rice and miso soup; in the spring a juice and vegetable only fast).
For me, the fast is a good time to reset my thinking about eating (for example, why do I snack so much at night?) and to give my stomach a rest. I get stomach aches more than the average person, so it's a good thing.
It also reminds me of the "news fast" that Dr. Weil recommends, to clear your mind from clutter. I do a "news fast" sometimes. I used to do them once a week: one day without news isn't going to kill me. And it clears your mind from worry about things you can't (immediately) do anything about.
Dr. Weil also recommends bringing cut flowers into your house. Which I have done, roses from the rose bush out front. Very bright and beautiful.
I'm going to drink some Carrot, Orange, Apple Juice now (but just a bit! not too much!). Then I'm going to go for a walk.
Happy Fasting (or eating)!

Monday, June 06, 2005

Little Children

I just finished a fairly light and entertaining read, Little Children by Tom Perrotta. It started out very funny, with highly insightful and biting stereotypes of the women at the playground (we know who we are!). It's mostly about an affair between a stay-at-home mom and a stay-at-home dad, but it hits on other big issues, like the nature of success. I started out wishing I had written it, then realized that it seemed like it could have been written by a friend of mine from graduate school (WWU). It wasn't as funny (overall) as the first chapter promised, but it was good. Pretty light, but a good, quick read. Perfect for those days beside the pool with the kids. Actually, many of the scenes in the book take place at "Town Pool" complete with red bikinis, tanning lotion, and flippers.
I feel like I don't have the right to criticize novels anymore, at least not until I have finished one. It's a miracle anyone ever does, as far as I can tell. But my mind has been cleared. Maybe now I can read some hefty piece of "real" fiction. Maybe I'll alternate (one light, one hefty) for the remainder of the summer.

Thursday, June 02, 2005

Tanning Soundtrack vs. Teenage Angst

Don't get me wrong. I'm 100% in favor of Tears for Fears AND Duran Duran (though "View to a Kill" is not their best). The difference is: you listen to metal while you are lying out, thinking of nothing but your gorgeous tan and/or skin cancer, or while you sit next to the pool, trying to be cool. Tears for Fears, Violent Femmes, Duran Duran, B-52s: these you listen to while you drive around in your car with your same sex friends while you lament the lack of attention from the opposite sex and/or how much your hometown sucks and how your life is going to be amazing and fantastic as soon as you move out of this terrible town. Sometimes you stop and get a Big Gulp or a Frosty. Sometimes you cruise, but you aren't trying to pick anyone up. You are, for once, enjoying your angst, reveling in it, finding in it an expression of the basic human condition. The only music for this: Scritti Politti, Tears for Fears, Violent Femmes. Even Prince, sometimes. My point is: they are not mutually exclusive. I need many soundtracks, including "Summer Metal" and "Summer Angst."

Wednesday, June 01, 2005

Bikini Music

June! Wonderful June! I was driving around yesterday singing along to a Sammy Hagar tune that I don't know why I know the words to (it was "Why Can't This Be Love?"). It reminded me of all the hot hot Idaho summers spent lying out in bikinis in the back yard, on the back porch, at the reservoir (no lakes in Idaho. at least not where I was) or at the Olympic size pool in Lava. I didn't have a bikini body then and I certainly don't now. But there is something about summer that seems to make bikinis okay. It is this same principle that makes me nostalgic for the kind of rock music that Sammy Hagar made. You know what I'm talking about: Van Halen, my favorite Def Leppard, Aerosmith (is it a sin to lump them in with the others?), AC/DC, Guns 'N' Roses, others? I need a compilation CD: Summer Metal or something. Summer of Metal? Metal Summer? Okay, 'fess up. Who is your favorite? (slather on the baby oil and squeeze some lemon in your hair: it's time to tan) (does this remind you of that episode of "Sex in the City"? It was "Hot Child in the City").