Thursday, December 16, 2010

I'm Still a Bad Blogger

But I'm home! And, two nights ago, I finished 2666, which Jeff and Selena gave me to read before I left for New Hampshire in the summer, and which I have been reading for four freaking months.

Now, of course, I have school, I have student papers, I have writing to do, but still. Four months? For one book? Ah, but what a book--it's almost a thousand pages, many of which have no paragraph breaks. Sentences will run on for pages, it's often experimental and surreal, cast of thousands, etc. Plot summary is futile.


I'm not sure if I can recommend 2666. While it was a damn good book, in the time I took to read it I could have read at least four or five other damn good books, without the pressure of a punishing 900-page slog. It's super-dark, confusing, often very disturbing (I had creepy 2666-infected dreams at least twice), and not at all rewarding in a plotty sense. But oh man, the language, the images, the dozens of fantastic dream sequences... If you're really into Latin American lit, or you're looking for a summer project and you've already read Proust and Infinite Jest and you're moving onto the next behemoth, give it a shot. Just don't try to do it during grad school.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Guilt

It's been two months since I've blogged. Ashley is blogging every day. Josh is blogging again (and helping his wife in labor as I write this! Woo hoo!). I have blogger's guilt. I blame Chelsea for not needling me into doing it. For shame, Chelsea.

Actually, I blame school. School is not exciting to write (or, I'm assuming read) about. I've got student papers, I read short stories, I eke in some writing when I can. I've actually been frustrated with how little writing I'm getting done--students take up a lot of time, and I'm trying to force myself to find a balance between the TAship that's paying for me to be here and the thing I'm actually supposed to be doing while I'm here, but it's hard.

I've been writing recently because I have a story coming due in workshop. I was trying to write this historical piece about an American soldier who goes traveling after World War I and ends up in India and has to shoot a tiger, but I think I may have found my "faking it" limit. I can write a story about hunting. I can write a story set in 1918. I think I can write a story set in India. But I can't do all three at once. Too many levels of abstraction, too much research to do. I wrote like fifteen pages, did a ton of research, read half of Man-eaters of Kumaon by Jim Corbett (a British colonel who spent thirty years tracking and shooting man-eating tigers and leopards in central India; super-interesting), then I threw it away and started writing something else. The new story is coming very easily.

In other news, I'm going down to Boston for a northwest brew festival on Monday! Boundary Bay! Deschutes! Issaquah and Lompoc! I'm really stoked. I also have my plane tickets home. December 14th, kids. I'll see you then, and I'll try to be a better blogger.

Monday, September 6, 2010

What I Would Have Written About

I would have written about arriving in Massachusetts and being confronted by awful New England traffic and clueless Masshole drivers. I would have written about getting lost in a warren of unmarked state highways less than two hours from home. I would have written about the long and hellish move from Dunn's Bridge Lane to my new place on Central Avenue, and my neighbors who I thought at first were meth-heads, but now I'm pretty sure were just really wasted when I met them, and I would have written about the cigarette ash in my windowsills and the slanting floors and the fact that I didn't have power for the first four days I lived here.

I would have written about building a shelf and tacking up panelboard so I could write notes to myself in dry-erase pens on my walls while I'm working on my fiction. I would have written about decorating my apartment with pages and covers from vintage science fiction pulps (an arts and crafts project! Me!). I would have written about seeing my New Hampshire friends again, and orientation for English 401, and the horrifying heat wave that swept New England, followed by the very disappointing hurricane, and visiting Scarlet and Carl in Boston, and the insane Scottish guy who yelled at us for "keeping the black man down."

I would have written about these things but I no longer have as much time as I did this summer, and, as you can see from the list, I've been busy. I'll try to do better, and you can just imagine those seven or eight awesome blog entries that I would have written. Back to writing now!

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Road Trip 2010 Day 3: God made dirt and dirt will bust your ass

I rolled up to a toll booth in Illinois blasting Old Dirty Bastard's "Baby I Got Your Money" and as soon as the toll booth lady asked me for the $1.25, the chorus, where Kelis sings "Hey, say hey, baby I got your money, dontcha worry" kicked in. She didn't seem to notice.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Road Trip 2010 Day 3: The Angry Truck Driver

You see a lot of sketchy people in bathrooms along the interstate. 99% of the time, you ignore these people and they ignore you and everybody does their business and goes happily on their way. About 0.8% of the time you wind up talking to these sketchy people for some reason, and they turn out to be really pleasant, nice people (albeit with awkward weight/fashion/hygiene/what-have-you problems). The other 0.2% of the time, you wind up talking to these people for some reason and they turn out to be just as crazy as they look. Such was the case with The Angry Truck Driver.

TATD was pretty standard--beer belly, tee-shirt tucked into jeans, giant belt buckle, beard, baseball cap--except for the fact that he was washing his hands furiously in the Conoco convenient mart's bathroom. I was washing my hands as well and couldn't help but look over and notice his anxiety. He must have noticed me looking, because he said, very loudly, "This water is cold!"

I wasn't getting any hot water either, so I nodded, said, "Yeah, man," and gave a "what are you gonna do?" kind of shrug, but TATD wasn't done.

"This water is COLD!"

"Maybe we should talk to the manager?" I offered.

TATD huffed and shut off the sink, dried his hands just as ferociously as he had scrubbed his hands, said "Cold water doesn't kill fucking germs!" and walked out the door.

And that was The Angry Truck Driver.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Road Trip 2010 Day 2: Ambivalent about South Dakota

The first two times I drove through South Dakota I hated it. Kitschy tourist billboards and dinosaur-themed water parks obstructing the views of the beautiful Black Hills, crowds of gross tourists at Mount Rushmore, swarms of Harley-Davidsons and no hotel rooms--not my favorite place.But, driving through western South Dakota in the afternoon and evening of my second day, I began to reconsider. I-90 through Eastern Montana and Wyoming is empty. Like, really empty. Closes in the winter because there are no humans to plow it and it's under too much snow, no gas for 90 miles, never see another car kind of empty. This time it felt pretty good to see other people, suburban sprawl, and fast food restaurants--and Starbucks! I hadn't seen a Starbucks since Missoula, and while it's not my favorite coffee, it's a lot better than the swill McDonald's sells, which I became intimately acquainted with later on in the trip.

Anyway, I was starting to reconsider South Dakota. Maybe, in the right context, it was actually pretty cool. Any state that has Wall Drug in it can't be all that bad. I got a little less stoked when I stopped for a nap outside a visitor's center, lay in the grass, and felt something tickling my arm. I looked down to see a grasshopper the size of my fucking finger chilling on my arm.


Grasshoppers, the myth: cute, cuddly, look like Jiminy Cricket.

Grasshoppers, the reality: ugly, terrifying, look like the aliens from District 9.

It was so big I could see that it was looking at me with its beady little grasshopper eye, probably sizing me up, figuring out if it could take me. I brushed him off my arm and went to sleep.

My faith was further shaken when I reached eastern South Dakota, which is almost as empty as Wyoming. The entire region also reeks of cow poop. Eastern South Dakota is also home to approximately one thousand gajillion bugs, half of which committed suicide on my car's windshield. About one hour after the sun went down, I drove through a bug storm. It was actually pretty amazing. I've never seen anything like it. I was used to quite a few bugs splattering on my windshield after sunset--it happens--but I drove for several minutes through massive clouds of bugs that hit my car so fast and so hard it sounded like it was raining (and hard, New Englandy rain, not soft Seattle rain). I was afraid to turn my windshield wipers on and smear my windshield into a completely opaque mess of guts, wings and shattered carapaces, so I squinted through the splatter until I reached a gas station and spent a good five minutes scrubbing it down. I wish I had a working camera. Verdict is still out on South Dakota.

I would have felt pretty bad if I accidentally killed this guy. Such a gentleman.

Road Trip 2010 Day 1: Camaraderie

I planned on sleeping in my car as much as possible on the trip from Seattle to New Hampshire, because I am broke. By 11:30 on the first day I was tired of driving, so I pulled into a rest stop outside of Bozeman, Montana. I had my blanket, a rolled towel for a pillow (yep, forgot a pillow), and a big heavy wrench to defend myself in case I was set upon by a crowd of wild vagrants.

I was expecting to be a bit sketched out by the whole sleeping-at-a-rest-stop thing, but it turned out great! After some experimenting about how to get comfortable in my tiny car (pro tip: move all the luggage to the front and sleep on the back seat with your legs curled up however will work), I was good to go. And I was not the only person sleeping there, which helped.

There were at least half a dozen other cars camping out at the rest stop, including a van with a young couple and their kid (they had a mattress, though, wussies), and a few other traveling college/grad-school aged guys. I fell asleep to the roar of I-90 and the glow of the young mom's booklight.

We all woke up at about the same time the next morning, when the sunlight became too bright to sleep through. Everybody got out of their cars to stretch and look around, then we all went into the bathroom to wash up, brush teeth, etc. Everybody was smiling at each other like we were some weird, temporary I-90 family. It was great.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

This is the Road Trip Again

In about twelve hours I leave the northwest for the northeast. I hope my car survives, and I hope the weather cools off a bit (Washington is in the middle of a heatwave, but the national forecast looks promising). I've been so busy these last few days, what with getting trip stuff together, Sam and Jon's wedding, and Ashley and Kili in town--the fact that I'm leaving here is just now sinking in, and it's kind of got me in a funk.

I'm going to miss the northwest, and the people in it, a lot. This has been a most excellent summer, and I'm sorry to see it go.

As for the road trip itself, I would take pictures, but I accidentally broke my camera last night at the wedding. Dad and I tried to fix it today, and Dad eventually got it to a place where it will turn off and on, take pictures, and do everything but focus, so it's basically useless. Oh well. At the very least there will be some written blog entries. I might have to supplement them with pictures I find on the internet.

So Washington people, goodbye; New Hampshire people, get ready. I'll be switching coasts soon.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Accountability

Reading through my old blog entries, I found this paragraph in a post from April 21st.

So my goal for the summer is to try to spend less time in front of a screen. I'm not sure how well this is going to work out, since I'm going to try to bust out as much of my thesis as I can (goal for the summer is three-hundred pages of crappy first draft), and I have to work at least twelve hours a week for Smarthinking, but hey, it will be the summer. I'm going to go on runs, go on hikes, get outside, lounge in the sun and read a book--I also have an extensive reading list for the summer, which I plan to supplement with trips to used bookstores. We'll see how it goes.

So, how well did I do?

  • Less time in front of the screen. Hmm. While I definitely spent less time in front of the screen than I do during the school year, I still spent quite a bit, and I wasn't working on my thesis (see below). Mostly I was g-chatting, or watching movies, or listening to music (I found a lot of new music this summer), with a little bit of writing thrown in here and there. Still, it was nice to have a break from the nine months glued to a computer screen that is my school year.
  • Thesis. I totally failed in this category. Three hundred pages, Ian? Really? Wow. Well, at least I have a semi-legitimate excuse: I abandoned the project I was working on (for which I had written a good thirty pages of new material on top of the sixty I'd written in school) halfway through the summer in favor of a more manageable project. On this new project I've got twenty-five pages and a few homeless paragraphs floating around. So, in total, I wrote about fifty-five pages of thesis this summer, thirty of which don't count. I don't feel too bad about it, though. It's the summer, I've got another year and a half at least. It'll get done.
  • Getting outside. A bunch! I think I only ran once, and I'm not a big fan of lounging outside and reading a book when I could be lounging inside on a very comfortable bed or couch and reading a book, but I went on a ton of hikes and found out I really like hiking. So success!
  • Reading. I've read a bunch this summer, although surprisingly little from the reading list I set up. Still, I don't feel too bad. I've already written a lot about the books I read this summer in the "Books I've Read" posts (May, June, July), so I won't say much more here.

Also, happy first anniversary to this is no longer the road trip. I started this blog on August 7th, 2009, with a post about my dehydrated cat. A lot has changed since then. I've moved across the country, started a new program, become a hell of a better writer, gone to conferences and got fiction published, joined the world of singledom, moved back across the country, and gotten to know my niece and nephew. I hope this next year is just as interesting.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Books I've Read: July

The Story Thief by Joshua Young. Yeeeeeaaah! It's Josh's book, and I'll say little about it to prevent from spoiling it for all of you, dear readers, or from embarrassing its author. I will say that I loved it, and that it's not only Josh's prolificity (prolificness? prolificiness? I don't know, he freaking writes a lot) that drives me mad with envy, it's also his willingness to cut what he's revising to shreds and rebuild it, expand it, tweak it, and generally turn it from a solid first draft into an actual novel. Nice!

High Fidelity by Nick Hornby. I picked this up because Jeff and Selena and I were talking about it and I haven't read it since high school and I wanted to see how I would react to it now. Strongly, it turned out. Bear with my huge, sweeping generalizations here: reactions to High Fidelity are pretty strongly divided along gender lines. Women often are bothered by it--Rob, the narrator is neurotic and whiny, the book is a find-the-right-woman-who-will-fix-you fantasy, who gives a shit about all those old soul records, etc. One WWU student I talked to actually had to get rid of the book because she said that having it on her night stand felt like "having a sketchy stranger in her room." Most men (and bear in mind that most men who have reactions to the novel High Fidelity are the kind of guys who seek the book out to read it) think that it is an incredibly accurate representation of the male mind at work. Jeff, in response to Selena's comment that Rob is whiny and neurotic, replied that yes, Rob is whiny and neurotic, but he gives voice to neuroticisms that most guys think about but would never in a million years actually talk about, which I think is a good way to describe it.

I was really torn by High Fidelity, and it's narrator especially. It is a find-the-right-woman-who-will-fix-you fantasy, and the last quarter of the book is mostly about Rob bumbling around and being a douchebag while Laura (the love interest) patiently tries to put his life together for him. Rob definitely doesn't earn points for likability. He's a self-consciously hip narcissistic hypocrite who sees the problems in his behavior and lets it eat at him, then does nothing whatsoever to change it. Unfortunately, Rob is also so similar to me that it's shocking. He's an A.V. nerd, like me and most of my male friends, and if he developed an obsession with twenty-year-old video games, we would probably be besties. This was upsetting for me to realize--I wanted to hate Rob, but I didn't. I couldn't! This needs more thinking about...

Scott Pilgrim's Finest Hour by Bryan Lee O'Malley. Several people have asked me why I like these books and I have had a hard time explaining why--the plot sounds gimmicky and infantile, the art style is highly stylized (it appeals to me, but I can see how it would drive some people insane), and the narrator's comments often start to feel a bit dictatorial. But then I noticed the blurb on the back of the last book, from Joss Whedon: "Scott Pilgrim is the best book ever. It is the chronicle of our time. With Kung Fu, so, yeah: perfect." Word Joss Whedon! Basically the fact that Joss Whedon is blurbing this book should tell you why I like it--he could have written it. It has that same mix of angst and pop-culture references and ass-kicking that made Buffy the Vampire Slayer so awesome. In fact, now that I'm thinking about it, it's a lot like Buffy. Huh. Anyway, I was actually a bit disappointed with the ending of the Scott Pilgrim series. I'm not sure what I expected--it ended exactly how anybody could have predicted it would end all along--but it just felt a little too... easy? Not earth-shatteringly awesome? I'm not sure.

The Rachel Papers by Martin Amis. Ah! A male-coming-of-age novel with a narrator I can really love to hate. The Rachel Papers takes place in the five hours before Charles Highway turns twenty years old. He spends those five hours recounting the previous year or so of his life, with special emphasis on his relationship with Rachel, a girl he sets out to bed but with whom he winds up falling in love. Charles Highway is arrogant, manipulative, hypocritical, elitist, callous, disgusting on pretty much every level (including and especially the level of personal hygiene, his lack of which he spends a great deal of time describing), and is just an all around asshole. There's really nothing good to be said about him, at any point in the novel. That said, I didn't have to like the narrator to enjoy the novel. It was very funny, and much of the pleasure I got from it came from seeing what the hell Charles was going to do next--his willingness to tailor his musical tastes, conversational modes, and even his accent to suit the various women he tries to pick up is rather funny, and the used condom switcheroo is a great moment.

Yes, "the used condom switcheroo." This book is freaking filthy. I honestly have never read anything so crass. I'm trying to think of a good analog to help explain it, since--as my family reads this blog--there's no way in hell I'm going to quote some of it's more filthy passages (many of which run on literally for pages), but I'm having trouble finding one that's adequate. I guess it reminded me a bit of a British novel version of American Pie, only much, much, much raunchier and willing to describe the gritty details of... well, of just about everything that American Pie can only hint at if it wants to keep its 'R' rating. Its several pages dedicated to the symptoms of Charles bad case of gonorrhea were particularly memorable, and terrifying, and I also wondered how many different ways Martin Amis--who is, by the way, a very well-respected, very British novelist--could think of to describe bronchitic phlegm. Yeah, ick, ick, ick. I enjoyed the book, but if you're easily offended or disgusted or embarrassed, this is not the book for you.

Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout. This is a book my professors and classmates were raving about all last year and one that I wasn't that interested in. Old people? Stories about grief? Small town life on the coast of Maine? It just didn't seem like there was a lot there that appealed to me. But man am I glad I read this book. It's solidly written and very compelling, and I love how Strout handles Olive. The book is composed of thirteen short stories that all share a setting and a character--cantankerous middle school math teacher Olive Kitteridge. Sometimes Olive is the focus of the story, sometimes she only passes through a scene or gets a mention, but she's always there. Olive is a fascinating character, and I was never sure whether to hate her for her domineering pushiness and cold passive aggression, or love her for her ability to push through all the horrible things that life piles in front of her (or sometimes, like in one of my favorite stories, "Security," love and hate her in great measures, at the same time). The book is definitely a downer, but it's worth it.

Everything Ravaged, Everything Burned by Wells Tower. Maybe it's that I came to this short story collection after Olive Kitteridge, which puts its emotions right up front, but Everything Ravaged, Everything Burned bothered me. Wells Tower's name and some of his more successful short stories (like "Retreat," which I read here and in the Pushcart Prize anthology a few years ago) get tossed around a lot in writing programs, because he's young (mid-30s), hip, and regularly places work in places like The New Yorker and The Paris Review. Wells Tower also writes like a young, hip dude. I'm curious to see if other MFAers (particularly fiction people) have noticed this, but there seems to be a certain mode that white male writers younger than forty-five tend to fall into. Emotion is hinted at but rarely mentioned outright. Everyone is very, very angry and/or callous. Outright statements of intent or emotion are passed over in favor of oblique images or dialogue. It's all about elision, deferment, and deflection. Think Raymond Carver but more ironic.

This is fine for a while, but after three or four stories in the same style, it gets really tiring. I found myself looking for the huge emotional crescendos in Olive Kitteridge, or the heart-on-your-sleeve angst of Scott Pilgrim. Still, this wasn't a complete waste of time. The title story is excellent, "Retreat," which I mentioned earlier, is flawed but interesting, and "On the Show" gives up Tower's typical narrative structure completely and gives us a collage of workers and guests at a small town carnival that's really, really awesome. Also, this is a good example of what I want not to do in my own writing: reticent white guy lit.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Positive Thinking! Positive Thinking!

I leave for New Hampshire in eighteen days, which is very strange. I feel like I just got here. As many of you know, New Hampshire isn't exactly my favorite place in the world, but I am trying to keep the blog-whining to a minimum. To that end, I've decided to talk a bit about things I'm actually looking forward to (!!) about returning to the Live Free or Die State.
  • Living free or dying. I intend to live free.
The other option is dying hard. This kind of shit happens in New Hampshire all the time.

  • Teaching. Oh man did I miss teaching this last year. I can't wait to have students, to be in front of a classroom again, even to grade papers--Smarthinking has made me realize how awesome it is to grade and evaluate on your own terms.
  • Writing and reading. Sure, I'm writing and reading this summer, but it's going to be fun to have myself exposed to stuff I wouldn't pick up on my own, and to have a dedicated writing schedule. Writing over breaks always feels kind of like a dalliance or a hobby, even when I'm really cranking it out; in school it's basically all there is, so it feels much much more important.
  • Shipyard Summer. I know this is weird, since I'm in the land of microbreweries, but I have been totally craving Shipyard Summer Ale. I've been enjoying a lot of Northwest summer ales and IPAs (apparently there's a very distinct "west coast" style of IPA, pioneered by WA and OR microbreweries, that has a lot more kick to it than its east coast cousin, which explains why all the IPA in New England sucks except for Smuttynose) but the Shipyard Summer is kind of like liquid crack-beer. It accompanies hot, muggy weather quite nicely. I promise I'm not cheating on you, delicious Northwest brews! It's just a fling.
  • Having a car. New Hampshire is going to suck a lot less when I can get around it, or leave any time I want to go Boston or Portland or the mountains. Thanks for the car, Kate and Adam! You have noooooo idea how awesome this is. (Fingers crossed the Civic makes it across the country incident-free.)
  • My new apartment. I can't wait to have my own space and fill it up with books and video games and brand new kitchen stuff and the things I like. Plus, it's in downtown Dover, right next to an awesome used books store and a bunch of nice bars, coffeehouses, and restaurants. Sweet.
My building. I'm in one of the studios on the corner.
  • Fall in New England. We haven't had a ton of summer weather in Washington, which I'm just fine with. I'm already done with 85-degree-plus weather, sweating myself to sleep, sitting in front of fans, etc. (And has anybody else noticed how the red lights in Seattle are one or two minutes longer once the temperature gets to about ninety? I swear I'm not making this up.) I know that once I arrive in New Hampshire I'll have even more miserable weather to deal with for awhile, but then fall will be here, and it will be nice and cool and pretty-colored, and I can eat apples and candy corn and wear coats again. Huzzah!
Yeah, it's pretty there.

  • Hiking. I hear the hiking in New Hampshire is great, and they do have lots of woods and mountains (sorry, "mountains"). I'm going to buy a best hikes book and use my newfound transportation to travel the state and walk all over it.
  • Seeing my cat. I miss her.
Clementine circa early 2007.

See, positive thinking! Maybe I could follow this up with a list of things I won't miss about the Pacific Northwest. It might be short, but worth it.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

On my Mind

It turns out I really enjoy hiking. I've hiked Tiger Mountain and Mount Si and a good chunk of the trails in Saint Ed's, and I'm wondering why I didn't start doing this sooner. I lived in Bellingham for six years, for god's sake, and I never went hiking once. What was I doing with that time? Why wasn't I climbing Oyster Dome or exploring Chuckanut? Stupid Ian. I'm considering buying a better hiking backpack when I get some money (read: when student loans drop), and I'll definitely pick up a New Hampshire trail guide when I get back for the summer.

***

I'm dreading going back to New Hampshire; I'm going to miss the Northwest a lot. The landscape, my friends, my family, the ethnic food, the mild weather, all the cool little places in Fremont that I've found in the last two months. There are definitely things I'm looking forward to on the east coast--primarily my new apartment, a corner studio in the heart of downtown Dover that overlooks the old textile mill--but I'm enjoying this weird limbo summer away from school and my work.

***

Speaking of my work, I'm writing again. New thesis project is underway. I don't really want to talk about it, so you'll get to read it when it's done. Heh.

***

I just realized that I've been back for two months and still haven't eaten any sushi. This needs to be remedied.

***

Other tidbits: Smarthinking is over and done with and I'll soon spend a weekend wandering around Bellingham, looking at the water, hiking, drinking Boundary Bay, visiting the farmer's market, etc. I can't wait. Everyone should listen to Veckatimest by Grizzly Bear. The Young Ward is close to walking, and she's loving it. When Josh's novel The Story Thief hits the shelves and is a triumphant New York Times' Bestseller, listen to old Ennio Morricone tracks while you read it--they fit together like puzzle pieces, and it's weird. That's all.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

A Brief Summary of the Weekend

Friday

I drove up to Sam's cabin near Cle Elum with Jarret for a night of delicious food and Chris's homebrewed beer (which is delicious). I ate salmon and lots of good food, tried to solve a ridiculous puzzle, and sat next to a campfire and talked until very late. It was lovely.

Saturday

Got up early and drove out of the mountains so I could do the Fremont zombie walk. Tore up clothes with Lindsey and Sydney and had a lovely day wandering around Fremont, lunching on lamb burger, and checking out all the costumes. Lindsey, Sydney and I went as corporate zombies (office clothes, a tie for me, coffee cups) and got many compliments on our zombie-gear. We are in approximately 3000 complete strangers' photographs.

The best part about dressing as a zombie is the more dilapidated your clothes become, the better of a job you are doing. As I became progressively more covered in dirt, blood, and sweaty smeary make-up, my costume looked better and better. What an excellent day! Everybody was having a goofy good time, there was a great feeling of goodwill, and we pretty much had great times with random strangers all day. I highly recommend going on a zombie walk. Pictures are on Facebook, but I'm too lazy to upload them here. Sorry.

Sunday

Seattle weather defeated us! Some friends and I camped out at Gasworks at noon, hoping to have a good spot by the time fireworks started, and for a while it was great--cloudy but warm, good food and hanging out--but then it started raining and we had to retreat to Lindsey's friend's apartment in Fremont to watch movies (This is It, Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome, and season one of The Guild; excellent lazy holiday watching) and wait for the show. The view from the roof was incredible--Ali's apartment is near the Fremont bridge, so the underside of the bridge is arcing overhead toward Queen Anne, Seattle's skyscrapers are poking out from behind the hill, and Lake Union and Gasworks are right below. The fireworks were lovely. Of course, I forgot my camera.

Monday

Recovery day. I was lazy and sat around, watched more of The Guild, drove over to Woodinville to play Magic with Chris, Chris, and Ballew, ate Thai food with the parents, and generally took it easy after my crazy weekend. Man, I wish all weekends could be like this.

Nothing is happening on the writing front. I am feeling more and more justified in my laziness, as it seems few people from UNH are getting anything done this summer, yet I am still full of jealous rage when others are productive (I'm looking at you, Josh). I am wavering on my dedication to my thesis. The project seems too big, too massive in scope and ambition for an MFA thesis, and frankly, I don't think I've got the chops for it yet. I may try to reconfigure it as a collection of related short stories and novellas, but more likely it's just going to go in a back drawer until I'm ready for it. I've got another project in mind that I'm pretty pumped about and is slightly shorter and more achievable. I'll keep you posted.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Books I've Read: June

Tailchaser's Song by Tad Williams. This is a dorky fantasy novel about talking cats who go on a quest. It was my friend Lindsey's favorite book as a kid, so I read it, and I found myself enjoying it quite a bit. It's like Watership Down with cats, and I do love cats. It also had a fascinatingly down-beat ending. It totally skips the standard fantasy-trope "Everything is all right, here's your reward in the form of a title / a love interest / a big wad of magic or money" ending and goes for something really ambiguous and cool. I won't spoil it in case you ever read it.

Masters of Doom by David Kushner. This is the biography of John Romero and John Carmack that I think I mentioned earlier. It was really interesting, full of cool details of video game development in the early nineties, and a blow-by-blow description of how these two titans of game development fell out (Ion Storm--yikes). I was thinking about this and the Salinger biography, and it's fascinating how often geniuses are douchebags. John Carmack was the worst kind of programmer-nerd--no social skills whatever, he talked like a robot for years just because he thought he could, lived in an empty apartment with a computer and a mattress--and made a habit until his late twenties of just being a dick and generally mistreating people. This guy was also singlehandedly responsible for creating the PC gaming industry in the early 90s. Every single graphical breakthrough came from his brain. Odd how often genius and douchebaggery coincide.

Scott Pilgrim's Precious Little Life, Scott Pilgrim vs. The World, Scott Pilgrim and the Infinite Sadness, Scott Pilgrim Gets it Together, and Scott Pilgrim vs. The Universe by Bryan Lee O'Malley. I had never heard of this series of graphic novels before I saw the trailer for the upcoming movie (which could either be an awesome guilty pleasure or just really, really, really, really bad), and I was intrigued because of how they were supposed to treat video games, anime, and nerd culture--as an integral part of the narrative and visual style. I loved them for their witty banter and jokes about NES and Genesis games that made my childhood nerdiness feel hip. They're quite funny, and total fluff. I read all five books in about seven hours. The sixth comes out in a few weeks, and I intend on parking my ass in a Barnes and Noble and reading the entire thing to find out how it ends. Highly recommended.

The Yiddish Policemen's Union by Michael Chabon. Okay, this one is in progress, but I felt guilty about how little I've read this month, so I'm putting it on here to make myself feel better. This book is crazy! It's set in an alternate history where after World War II, European Jews sheltered in Sitka, Alaska instead of Israel. And it's a Chandler-esque literary crime thriller, full of hard-drinking, fast-shooting, Yarmulke-wearing police detectives and black-hatted, side-curled, corrupt Orthodox Jew crime families. Pretty awesome stuff. I won't say too much about it, since I'm only 2/3 of the way through, but I'm really enjoying it so far, and I know I'm missing out on a ton of awesome stuff because I don't know that much about Judaism. There are whole paragraphs that I just don't get at all, which is kind of too bad.

Josh, you're next.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Hey look

New format! Also, to try to counter some of my nerdosity, I hiked up to the top of Tiger Mountain today, and regretted not bringing my camera. Oh well. It was a lovely hike, nice exercise, and now I am very, very tired. I bet tomorrow I will need to eat ibuprofen like popcorn. Worth it.



Friday, June 25, 2010

Nerdosity


Perhaps this summer I have aged backwards and become, once again, a twelve year-old boy. When I was a twelve year-old boy I was a huge nerd, and I am reaching impressive new levels of nerdiness. Ladies and gentlemen, the facts:

  • My friend from college has got me getting back into Magic: The Gathering. Gabe dug up my old cards for me, and I have been building decks and realizing how hopelessly outclassed my cards from the mid-nineties are compared to the new stuff. My creatures stand no chance! As much as I love the game, what I really want to do is buy a booster pack, rip into the foil and smell that vacuum-sealed fresh-ink scent all new Magic cards used to have. It is the smell of my young nerdhood.
  • I have been babysitting Kaylee at Gabe and Amanda's house, which seems to have a never-ending supply of DiGiornio pizza. DiGiornio pizza is my weakness--once I bake one, it is hard for me not to eat the entire thing. I love it, and I have been eating it almost every day for lunch. Turns out when you eat pizza almost every day, you get really greasy. Greasy hair, greasy skin, lots of zits... and yet I can't help myself. DiGiornio truly is the food of the gods. Soon I will be stuffing it into my head--which will be attached to my ginormous blob of a body by a neck the circumference of a five gallon bucket--while I drink Mountain Dew and play World of Warcraft.
  • I'm not at WoW yet (nor will I ever be), but I am enjoying the hell out of Assassin's Creed 2, which, believe it or not, is better than the first one (Holtmeier take note). I play it on Gabe's PS3 when the young ward is sleeping or willing to entertain herself. There's even more great stabby action, and I'm learning a ton about renaissance Italy. It's pretty cool when I can play a video game and nerd out over architecture, art, medieval politics, etc.
  • That same friend who got me back into Magic is exposing me to a bunch of really solid electronica (cheers, Lindsey). I highly recommend Discovery, Jonsi, Passion Pit, and especially Miike Snow. I know electronica isn't really nerdy--it's rather hip at the moment, as far as I can tell--but I can't shake my old techno and electronica stereotypes: ravers, comp-sci students, weird skinny guys who do modtracking and never leave their rooms. Well, the music is damn good anyway.
  • Up until this morning, I have had no car for a while, which means most of my social interactions have been through texting, gchat, and Facebook. Ugh.
  • I am reading a book about John Romero and John Carmack, the two guys who designed and programmed Wolfenstein 3D, Doom, and Quake. It's a fascinating book full of lots of cool details about how video game development worked in the nineties.
Well, that's about it. There are other, non-nerdy ways I'm spending my time, too: taking Kaylee on walks, playing catch with dogs, listening to the Avett Brothers (awesome, Kate!), other stuff. More updates soon!

Friday, June 18, 2010

Hey look, I'm a guest blogger

I wrote a guest post, ramblings about short story form, for Jory over at Literary Magpie. Check it out here.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Random Facts: Like a Horse and Carriage

Apparently I have entered the stage in life where the next natural step is to get married. Over the past year a frightening number of my friends have become engaged, and since I came back only a few weeks ago, four people I know have made the pledge to tie the knot (okay, so two couples). Almost certainly, before I leave, somebody else will pop the question. It's exciting, and I'm really happy for all of them, but man I'm glad it's not me carrying a ring around in my pocket, waiting for the right time to ask. I'm just not at that point.

Anyway, this has got me thinking about love, and when I start thinking about something, I usually wind up poking around on Wikipedia and the internet until I find some interesting facts. Well, here they are:
  • Falling in love activates the same areas of the brain that see increased activity in people diagnosed with OCD. Also, estimated serotonin levels drop to those of OCD sufferers. Scientists and psychologists don't really have an explanation for this, but one psychologist notes that obsession has been the go-to metaphor for love for poets and songwriters throughout all of human history.
  • To lessen the effects of lovesickness, Ibn Sena, the tenth century Iranian physician/philosopher recommends that the affected man (and it's an unstated assumption, for some reason, that the afflicted is always a man) go hunting, take part in intellectual arguments, or, because "The image that he [the lover] has within himself is nothing but a delusion," engage in shit-talking about his beloved to help bring him down to earth.
  • Look at this hilarious picture I found on Wikipedia.


  • In 1960, the average groom was 23 years old and the average bride was 20. In 2008, the average groom is 29 and the average bride is 27.
  • Also in 2008, experts estimated that weddings in the US are a fifty billion dollar industry.
  • Sixty-five percent of people surveyed tilt their heads to the right when kissing.
  • And finally, a man's beard grows fastest when he's anticipating sex.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Books I've Read: May

I'm into summer now, which means lots of time to read. And oh man, do I have a stack. I've included some thoughts on each book, written as I finished them. Welcome to my longest blog post ever. MWAHAHA.

Hyperion
by Dan Simmons. It's been years and years since I read a big, beefy, science fiction epic, and this one was awesome. Hyperion steals its frame story from Chaucer's Canterbury Tales and gives it a bad-ass sci-fi twist. It's about seven people on a pilgrimage that may or may not determine the fate of humanity, but will almost certainly kill them. What I love best about sci-fi is its ability to explore ideas (pretty much a genre requirement unless you're going Cormac McCarthy's The Road route), and Hyperion has a lot of awesome ideas: a creepy-ass time-traveling God-monster named the Shrike (the subject of the pilgrimage); a colony on a distant planet built by poets, artists, and their benefactor, an old man named Sad King Billy; John Keats brought back to life as an AI; and so, so many more. The book is full of ideas that made me stop and go "Man, I wish I had thought of that first." That said, man this book is not well-written. My expectations are typically lower when I pick up a genre paperback (although they shouldn't be), and Hyperion is way above most similar novels in terms of writing style, but there were some serious tics that bothered me. Dan Simmons usually describes things very well, but he always has to give you a sense of the size. Or not a sense, really, he just tells you how many meters tall/long/deep something is. The shrike is three meters tall, the seas of Maui-Covenant are "hundreds of meters deep," the blades of the Sea of Grass are "two meters tall." I read one paragraph of description where he used the word "meters" fourteen times. FOURTEEN TIMES! He also just doesn't do subtlety. In a way that's good--I was in the mood for a big, candy-colored sci-fi extravaganza, and that's exactly what I got. All in all, I really enjoyed Hyperion, and will be checking out its sequel, Fall of Hyperion, when I get through my current stack. If you're a sci-fi fan especially, Hyperion is required reading. It won the Hugo and the Locus that year, and was shortlisted for the British Science Fiction Award and the Arthur C. Clarke award. Deservedly so.

Franny and Zooey by J.D. Salinger. As a huge fan of Wes Anderson's The Royal Tenenbaums, it's pretty pathetic that I haven't read this book until now. I've read a few of Salinger's short stories featuring the Glass family--which Anderson took as a model for his Tenenbaums--but in this novel (actually, it was originally published as a short story and a novella) the influence is pretty clear: the family of child prodigies, with a history full of disaster, suicide, and disappointment, who live in an eccentrically-decorated Manhattan abode. Sound familiar, Tenenbaum fans? It's amazing how Salinger can make neurotic bickering somehow beautiful. Listen to this passage, in which Zooey reacts to his mother telling him that he makes people nervous and is a bad conversationalist:

Zooey turned full around to look at his mother. He turned around and looked at her, in this instance, in precisely the same way that, at one time or another, in one year or another, all his brothers and sisters (and especially his brothers) had turned around and looked at her. Not just with objective wonder at the rising of a truth, fragmentary or not, up through what often seemed to be an impenetrable mass of prejudices, cliches, and bromides. But with admiration, affection, and, not least, gratitude. And, oddly or no, Mrs. Glass invariably took this "tribute," when it came, in bountiful stride. She would look back with grace and modesty at the son or daughter who had given her the look. She now presented this gracious and modest countenance to Zooey. "You do," she said, without without accusation in her voice. "Neither you nor Buddy know how to talk to people you don't like." She thought it over. "Don't love, really," she amended. And Zooey continued to stand gazing at her, not shaving.
Damn, Salinger. You're my man. While this book is definitely awesome, do not jump into it without first reading Nine Stories. A brief introduction to the Glass family is useful, especially since the main characters of Franny and Zooey so often hide their deep understanding and affection for one another under abrasive witticisms and repetitive, one-sided arguments.

Reality Hunger: A Manifesto by David Shields. This is my summer reading list's concession to the hip and contemporary lit-crit scene. You need some cojones to subtitle your book "A Manifesto," but Shields pulls it off. Writers and academics, this is a must read book. Shields covers a lot of ground in this book, but the basic premise (or at least, what I took from it) is that because our mass-media saturated, internet-mediated consciousnesses are starved for "reality," we are drawn less to fictional work and more to work that presents (or claims to present) reality: memoir, reality television, documentary. Because of this, the novel, the scripted film or television show, the traditional play, etc. have been pushed out of the cultural spotlight. Shields talks especially about the novel, which, as he sees it, hit its peak relevance in the first half of the nineteenth century. Shields argues that these old forms have become so hopelessly mired in convention and genre expectations that they no longer reflect reality in any way--they give us only what we expect out of them. He calls for writers to enliven the novel by drawing on collage, a separation from traditional narrative and methods of characterization, and a kind of hip-hop inspired "sampling" of other works. To this end, about 98% of Reality Hunger is plagiarized from other sources, ranging from Joyce to James Frey to Eminem. Shields includes a note in the back that says Random House wouldn't allow the book to be published without an appendix that attributes the sources. Shields includes the appendix, but tells his readers that he isn't happy about it, that the point is that he shouldn't have to include the appendix, and he encourages his readers to use scissors to remove the offending pages. Through it's odd form and many of its arguments, Reality Hunger implies that we need to reconsider our notions of plagiarism and what is and is not considered original work. Although I disagreed with much of what Shields/his many sources had to say, I really enjoyed this book. I'm only scratching the surface of what Reality Hunger has to offer (I haven't even mentioned the section on the history of hip-hop and how it relates to his argument), so I really recommend you pick it up.

The Mysteries of Pittsburgh by Michael Chabon. After The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay and the excellent nonfiction collection Maps and Legends, I counted Chabon among my favorite writer. So I was a little embarrassed when I got into a conversation about him with a fellow MFAer and realized that I barely knew the work of the author I claimed to love. So this summer one of my reading projects is to read the entire Chabon back catalog. There are six novels and two short story collections I haven't read. Mysteries of Pittsburgh is his first novel, published back in 1988, and it's definitely first-novelly. There are a lot of ideas and quirky characters and shiny pieces of dialogue, but I felt like it failed to become more than the sum of its parts. I can't say I was really impressed. Skip this one.

Important Artifacts and Personal Property from the Collection of Lenore Doolan and Harold Morris, Including Books, Street Fashion, and Jewelry by Leanne Shapton. After reading Reality Hunger, I got interested in weird structures and fiction that includes chunks of reality. Important Artifacts and... is the chronicle of a relationship, which the reader sees through photographs and descriptions in an auction catalog. I read it in about two hours, and it kind of reminded me of reconnecting with an old friend on Facebook--you try to figure out who they've become by piecing together the evidence in photographs, wall posts, pages they've liked. There's a feeling of voyeurism, and sometimes weird glimpses behind the scenes. Early in the catalog, after Lenore and Harold have met, had a few dates, and exchanged letters and mix CDs, is a description of a handwritten note and envelope:

A note on St. Regis stationary, in Doolan's hand. Reads: "Please join me in room 1045. x L." 8 1/4 x 6 in.
Included in lot is a St. Regis envelope with various inscriptions on the back reading "Come to room 1045" / "Am in room 1045" / "Meet me in room 1045" / "See you in room 1045"
In the accompanying photograph, we can see that the inscriptions on the envelope have all been crossed out. There's a lot of stuff like that in Important Artifacts and..., and in a weird way, these things make the characters feel more real than straightforward prose would, I think. I picked this up because I was considering adopting a similar format (or rather, what I thought was a similar format) for my thesis. Still considering it, but I'm not sure how useful Shapton's book was for me.

Gentlemen of the Road by Michael Chabon. Now this is more like it, Mikey C. His aforementioned nonfiction collection, Maps and Legends, is an appreciation of genre work and literary forms that don't earn the same cred as natural-realist fiction--comic books, sci-fi, mythologies, fantasy, detective stories, etc. Chabon argues that literary fiction would be a lot more entertaining to a lot more people (and would probably sell better) if it learned to play with some of qualities of genre fiction; and genre fiction would be more respectable if their writers used the same kind of no-bullshit cliche detector that literary fiction writers are trained to develop. Gentlemen of the Road is kind of Maps and Legends in practice--a beautifully-written, intelligent, erudite novel about two con men on an adventure in the Caucasus mountains in the tenth century. The sentences are gorgeous, the characters are well developed, and the history is handled exactingly, but the book never forgets that its primarily an adventure novel. There are cliffhangers and narrow escapes, disguises and reversals, and sweet illustrations by the guy who draws the comic "Prince Valiant." It's the most beautiful novel I've read that includes marauding vikings, decapitations, disembowelments, hemp-smoking scallawags, and an elephant that pounds one character into a bloody pulp. It's violent, smart, and really entertaining, and I wish I could build a time machine and give this book to my twelve year-old self. Definitely recommended.

Wonder Boys by Michael Chabon. Back to reality (kind of) with Chabon's follow-up to Mysteries of Pittsburgh. Oh, PS, I'm not reading them in chronological order. Wonder Boys tells the story of the worst weekend of novelist Grady Tripp's life--his wife leaves him, his mistress is pregnant, his twenty-six-hundred page novel-in-progress still isn't finished, his pot addiction is mixing with his anxiety in unhealthy ways, and his editor is about to lose his job. And that's only in the first chapter. Things get much, much bleaker from there. Chabon keeps it light, mostly through Tripp's hilarious, embittered first-person narration--his wit never fails even when everything around him falls apart in ridiculous screwball ways. For me, Grady Tripp is right up there with Holden Caulfield and Humbert Humbert in the ranks of memorable first-person narrators. I don't want to say too much more about this book because I had such a freaking good time finding out how Grady Tripp's horrible three days unfolded and I wouldn't want to ruin it for you, dear reader. Check it out.

Werewolves in their Youth by Michael Chabon. It was weird coming back to short stories after reading so many novels, and I wonder if that didn't color my perception of Werewolves in their Youth. I didn't like this collection, with the exception of a few stories. Not really at all. This was published in 1999, after Chabon was a New York Times Bestseller two times over, and the stories in it were snapped up by the New Yorker, Harper's, and GQ. It was received well, and it comes up fairly often in MFA discussions of good collections. Maybe it's me? Regardless, I just wasn't into it. Chabon gives his readers massive chunks of exposition to contextualize his characters' struggles and seems to make a rule out of telling, not showing. I found myself wondering how some of these stories would be received in a fiction workshop. There were some bright spots, though. The title story is a classic, and "Son of the Wolfman," about a woman who decides to keep her baby conceived by rape, much to her infertile husband's chagrin, was very good. "In the Black Mill," a Lovecraft pastiche, is supposedly written by one of the characters from Wonder Boys, and it's a damn good horror story. The other stories have some good stuff in them, but just didn't do it for me. I'm curious to read his first short story collection, A Model World to see if automatic acceptances into the New Yorker and Playboy made Chabon lazy, or if this is just how he handles short stories.

Racing the Beam by Nick Montfort and Ian Bogost. I picked up Racing the Beam because it relates to my thesis, which spends a little bit of time talking about programming for the Atari 2600. Racing the Beam is kind of a cross between academic critique, industry history, and technical elucidation. It discusses things like the Atari's MOS 6507 processor's relationship to the electron gun in CRTs, and in the same paragraph, it will go all academic and drop some Marshall McLuhan on your ass. What I found most interesting was the information about how early video games were programmed, and how Atari was a "code farm"--programmers responsible for video games that made the company tens of millions of dollars lived on a $20,000 a year salary and received no public or in-house recognition for their work, not even their name in the manual. The technical information will be useful for me, but it was hard to slog through. I can only read so much about assembly language compilers before my brain starts shutting down. Oh, one cool note: the title comes from a slang term that was popular among Atari programmers. Because the Atari only had 128 bytes of RAM (the computer I'm writing this on has about 23.5 million times more memory, ha!), the programmers couldn't store any information for later use. Everything had to be processed on the fly, literally as the electron beam lit up the phosphor on the inside of the television screen, hence their code needed to be fast and tight enough to "race the beam."

In Search of J.D. Salinger by Ian Hamilton. Franny and Zooey got me interested in learning a bit more about Salinger, so I picked up this literary biography. It is excellent, and if you're interested in Salinger, you should read it. I'm going to spoil the end a little bit, which I thought was the most interesting part of the book. Hamilton opens the last chapter by narrating his experience of finishing his Salinger biography (which, he tells his readers, differed greatly from the book we've just read) and sending it off to the publisher, getting galley proofs, doing publicity, etc. Then Salinger sued him for using snippets of his language from his personal letters. Salinger's letters were available in many different libraries and personal collections, unpublished and publicly available, and Hamilton and his publisher thought the court case was a slam dunk. After two years of verdicts, appeals, and counter-appeals, they lost, and Hamilton had to rewrite the book, exorcising material from Salinger's letters from it and emphasizing his conflicted three-part role of Salinger's fan, Salinger's biographer, and Salinger's legal opponent. It's a very interesting read.

So that's it. Those are all the book I read in May. I promise that next time I read a bunch of books in one month I'll keep the notes brief.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Kaylee, Reading, Writing, Bellingham

I've taken to referring to my niece Kaylee, in my own brain at least, as "my young ward." My young ward is very cranky today. Shh! My young ward is sleeping! It's funny how quickly my day has come to revolve around Kaylee--when she sleeps, when she needs to eat, when she can play around in the dining room while I write or check my e-mail--but it feels less like a job and more like I'm just hanging out with my niece. Except for that really bad teething day--THAT felt like work.

***

I'm reading a ton. For the last two weeks I've been keeping a running draft of my comments on books I've read in the month of May (I told you I'd keep doing it). Because I'm on vacation now, and because I've spent most of my free time reading and thinking about what I've read, that blog post is going to be huge. Start getting ready now.

In related news, I failed at my goal to take two weeks off of writing about four days ago. I made it about a week and a half before I revised some short stories (cheers, Josh!) and sent a bunch of material out. Already got a rejection back on my lone sci-fi short story, and I'm looking for more places to send it.

***

I am off to Bellingham this weekend, and lifting my spending freeze long enough to buy some delicious B'ham food. I'm thinking Casa Que Pasa, some Boundary Bay beer, and a cyser at Honeymoon. If I can sneak sushi in there (lunch at the public market?) I will be even happier.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Super Broke Survival Guide

So you're a grad student home for the summer, looking to maximize your time and minimize your expenses? I'm in the same boat. Finding myself without a nine-to-five this summer, I've put together a few practical pointers for those academics stuck in the weird in-between months of summer.

  1. Mooch. Most likely, your friends have real jobs with real paychecks. Your friends will also be excited to have you back from school, at least for a little while. Take advantage of this excitement. They'll have no problem giving you rides, buying you a beer or a coffee, maybe even taking you out to dinner. Be warned though, at some point your friends will catch on, and you may have to demonstrate your non-moochiness by springing for their movie ticket or paying for snacks. It will be worth it--the longer you can mooch, the more money you'll save.
  2. Dinner with the parents. Not only are you parents willing to offer you free dinner, but it's delicious and the company is good. Never ever go out for dinner. If you absolutely have to and it can't be avoided, stick to five dollar footlongs at Subway or jumbo burritos at Taco del Mar--both are cheap and filling.
  3. Tax-free job. You'll make more money if it's tax-free. I recommend babysitting your awesome niece.
  4. Library card. Summer means time to read for pleasure, but books are expensive! Find that library card from home that you have buried somewhere and make use of it. King County has an amazing library system--I've been able to find everything I've looked for, including some pretty obscure stuff--and it's convenient and free.
  5. Free internet (and Netflix log-in if possible). Books are covered, but what about music, movies, and television shows? This is why God gave us Bittorent. Find free internet, either at a cafe or your parents house, and download to your hearts content. Bonus points if you can score a Netflix log-in to watch Instant Watch movies and television.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Home

There's this thing that I kind of forgot about. It's called "free time." Since I got home late last night, I've slept, unpacked, and that's about it. I've been lounging around, catching up on the blogs I read, meeting Dad's two new beehives (new project), working my way through Dan Simmons' sci-fi epic Hyperion--cheers, Kingston; it's awesome!--and biding time before I get to meet my new nephew, Maxwell Holiday Hunter, tonight.

What I am not doing is writing. I am taking a break for a few weeks, I think. Josh, I got the e-mail with your notes, and I'm opting not to look at them until I decompress for a bit. Thank you, and send The Story Thief when you're done with your polishing!

Think I'll work some Smarthinking shifts this weekend to try and get some money, but mostly I plan on reading and relaxing. I'll update again when I actually have something to talk about. For now, it's good to be home.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Books I've Read (so far this year)

My professor mentioned that she keeps a book journal, just a list of every book she's read and when she read it. I think this is a great idea, and I'm going to one-up her by posting it on my blog. See anything you like? Comment on it. Recommend something. Let's have a discussion. The plan is to eventually post one of these every one or two months, but as I'm just starting this, I figured I would do everything I've read so far this year (as best I can remember). Unless I say otherwise, you can assume I read it for class. Here goes...

January


  • Fortress of Solitude, by Jonathan Lethem. Read it for fun. Epic, difficult, and odd. Totally worth it.
  • How I Became a Famous Novelist, by Steve Hely. Read it for fun. Very funny satire of book people. Totally nails the scenes set in an MFA.
  • The Shell Collector, by Anthony Doerr. Read two stories out of it for a class last semester, read the rest over the break for fun. Beautiful short story collection. This story is a must read.
February


  • Best American Short Stories 2009, edited by Alice Sebold. Awful selections! Avoid at all costs.
  • Bringing the Devil to his Knees: The Craft of Fiction and the Writing Life, edited by Charles Baxter and Peter Turchi. Didn't read the whole thing, but read a good chunk of the essays within, which were very good.
  • Burning down the House, by Charles Baxter. Several essays assigned for class, then read the rest for fun. Some really interesting observations about how fiction works.

March


  • OnWriting, by Stephen King. I've read this before, but got to revisit it for class. It's by far the best King book I've read. He should do memoir more often.
  • Reading like a Writer, by Francine Prose. Another reread for my form and technique class. An insanely useful book for fiction writers.

April


  • The Faith of the Writer, by Joyce Carol Oates. Hated it.
  • Day Moon, by Jon Anderson. A poetry collection, recommended to me by the inimitable Andrew "Babypoet" Booth. It was alright, but didn't do much for me (sorry, BP).
  • The Woman in the Woods, by Ann Joslin Williams. Read it for fun. My professor's collection of linked short stories. This book filled me with an insane jealousy--I wish I could write short stories like this.
  • The Pearl of Kuwait, by Tom Paine. Read it for fun. My other professor's novel, written from the first-person POV of a stoned California surfer turned US Marine in Operation Desert Storm. Kind of like Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure in the Middle East, which is to say, awesome.
  • Ron Carlson Writes a Story, by Ron Carlson. Interesting, but I'm not sure if it really helped me all that much.
That's it for full books, although I'm sure I'm forgetting stuff from over the break and from March, which seemed a lot busier than my reading list makes it seem. I've also read several volumes worth of my colleagues' material for my fiction and non-fiction workshops, a folder stuffed to bursting with short stories and essays pulled from books and magazines, and a stack of lit journals I read for fun (mostly I just read the fiction out of them, and the occasional essay, including one by my former professor, Susanne Paola). Notable journals are AGNI, The Northwest Review, Green Mountain Review, Opium, and The Waterstone Review.

This was fun. I have a lot of reading I'd like to tackle over the summer, so hopefully I'll post another list soon. Readers of my blog, you should do this too! Or post it in the comments! It's fun to think about what you've been reading.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Wrapping Up

I'm just finishing off an awesomely productive day. I wrote the last ten pages of a short story draft, revised a piece for my nonfiction final, read and commented on a story for workshop, read a story from a journal, crossed some random around-the-house crap off my to-do list, went running, and sat in the sun. And now I'm blogging. What a day!

It's the end of the semester, and before today I was kind of freaking out. I have less than a week to wrap up all my classes, revise at least twenty-five pages of nonfiction, and write a story for workshop. Oh, and I have to get my stuff in order, find a self-storage place and move all my crap out of the apartment. So I'm a little busy. Today made me feel like I could take it all on. I'm sure it will be back to panic and chaos tomorrow, but maybe not.
I can't wait to fly back to Seattle (I've using the all-purpose, recognizable "Seattle" in favor of "Bothell," or sometimes even "Bellingham," just because people know where it is). I can't wait to see my friends and enjoy the northwest summer and eat smoked salmon and barbecued hamburgers. I can't wait for good microbrews. I can't wait for time to read some books and time to start working on my thesis again.

But first I have to scramble through these next two weeks. Don't expect a lot in the way of updates for a while, although we'll see how busy I am at work. I'm looking forward to seeing all of you northwesterners soon!

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Hell Wednesday

On Wednesday I showed up at work and found out that a network error had wiped out our computers. Apparently McAfee sent an update to its corporate antivirus clients that identified one of Windows XP's key system files as a virus, quarantined it, and shut down the computer. We had no way to fix it. Most of UNH's network shut down.

But I needed the money, so I didn't go home. I sat there without the internet, without any work to do, for five hours. I learned a couple of things from this.

  1. I spend a disturbing number of my waking hours in front of a computer. I work thirty hours a week at two jobs, and both of them require that I sit in front of a computer. At the OCM I'm sometimes at loose ends, and kill time by reading blogs, checking up on Facebook, and reading music/movie/video game reviews and commentary. When I'm logged on to work for Smarthinking, I'll sometimes take a break between student essays to check up on a couple of my sites. When I'm not working, at school, sleeping, or reading, I'm in front of the computer, either writing or responding to my classmates' writing. I'm a little terrified to take a guess at how many hours a week I spend in front of a screen. It's way too many.
  2. DO YOU KNOW HOW LONG FIVE HOURS IS? Five hours without the internet!? My God! The boredom caused by #2 is what made me realize #1. I was itching to check my e-mail, or get on Facebook. Shit, I practically had the shakes. I'm an addict. Instead of writhing around on the ground and sweating it out, I had a nice conversation with my coworkers, who were, of course, in the same situation.
So my goal for the summer is to try to spend less time in front of a screen. I'm not sure how well this is going to work out, since I'm going to try to bust out as much of my thesis as I can (goal for the summer is three-hundred pages of crappy first draft), and I have to work at least twelve hours a week for Smarthinking, but hey, it will be the summer. I'm going to go on runs, go on hikes, get outside, lounge in the sun and read a book--I also have an extensive reading list for the summer, which I plan to supplement with trips to used bookstores. We'll see how it goes.

Friday, April 16, 2010

AWP 2010: Pros and Cons

I attended AWP in Denver last week, and man was it fun. Of course, there were not-as-awesome bits mixed in with all the partying and literariness and schmoozing. Let me run through my list of AWP pros and cons.

Pro
: Hanging out with Josh, Chas, and Kenny—not to mention Joy, Andrea, Leslie, and Nancy. The four of us guys split a hotel room and shared beds. It was great to see my Western friends again—man I've missed you guys—and talk books, drink beer, wander around Denver, watch YouTube videos of people falling down, etc.

AWP dudes. Notice my ripped jeans and bloody knee. This is shortly after my epic fail where I fell off a sidewalk because I wasn't paying attention to where I was walking.

Con
: Sleep farts. That's all I'm saying. I won't say who.

But it definitely wasn't this guy.

Pro: Michael freaking Chabon. He gave the keynote speech and we arrived early so we could sit in the front. Josh pointed out that we were sitting only a few feet from the guy, who was schmoozing with reporters and fans. We considered getting a picture with him, but decided that would be a little too dorky fanboy. Josh and Chas went to the bathroom, and Kenny and Mary (one of Kenny's friends at Portland State's publishing program) went up to talk to Chabon—apparently they go to school with his brother. It was my chance, so I went. He was super-nice, shook our hands, took pictures with us, and, when we tried to go sit back down, dragged us back to tell him about his brother, who he hadn't seen in a year. He then proceeded to give a totally kickass keynote address.

Con: I'm not ever going to be as cool as Michael Chabon. He played himself on the Simpsons! He wrote Kavalier and Clay and won the Pulitzer! He scripted Spiderman 2. As the guy who introduced him said, “He's the coolest guy I've ever shook hands with.” I couldn't agree more.

Look at that shirt! Look at that hair! His smile is so dazzling!

Pro: There were not as many crazy people as there were at Chicago's convention last year. I'm not sure why this was—perhaps because it was a smaller city. It's also possible that my judgment is skewed because this year I wasn't sitting at The Bellingham Review table, which is a magnet for insane people. Last year a children's writer who dressed like a homeless woman gave us a card and smiled at us with a terrifyingly vacant expression. “I drew a can of worms on the back. Would you like to know why?” Kenny and I shook our heads and asked why. “Because writing is like a can of worms. When you open it up—” She smiled even bigger and got so excited her voice became a whisper. “—You never know what you're going to get.” There was less of that this year.

Two of the crazy people we did find.

Con: Crazy people were replaced with hipsters. I felt severely under-dressed and un-hip the entire time. As Leslie from WWU pointed out, at academic conferences, everyone is dowdy and awkward, and at writer's conferences, all the young people are hot and hip and trying to show off.

Pro: The bookfair. AWP's bookfair basically consists of free literary magazines, people I haven't seen in a few years, hot chicks behind tables (how else to draw attention to your magazine?) and weird giveaways—I received a beer cozy from The Minnetonka Review, and last year I got a plastic pizza cutter from The Mid-American Review. I found that several of my old WWU friends edit journals now (which is sweet—I have an in), I got a ton of litmags, I learned that Michael Czyzniejewski—the editor of one of my favorite magazines, The Mid-American Review—has a vague recollection of me from the numerous stories of mine he's rejected, barely missed Sam Ligon about five times, bumped into professors new and old, and generally had a great time.

Con: The last day of the bookfair, however, is a little strange. All the conference-goers are nursing hangovers that have been snowballing from the last three nights, and they let the public in, so there's a few hundred extra people. Also, journals don't want to take their stockpiles of back issues home, so they give them out for free, which is good, but also overwhelming when you realize your bag is falling apart because there's forty pounds of literature in it. It's a weird vibe. The girl at the Yalobusha Review table gave me a tall plastic cup of cheap merlot, which helped.

Pro
: Denver is a cool city. Also, the convention center, where the conference was held, was being assaulted by a giant bear. There was good food and cheap beer, one of the best fast-food pizza restaurants I've ever found, and just a nice vibe throughout.

Look out for the giant bear.

Con: But Denver wasn't without its drawbacks. It's the mile high city, and the elevation got to us. Everybody I was with had fierce headaches and most people were sick by the end of the trip. I dodged those bullets, but, like everyone else, I was dehydrated the entire time, had a nose full of bloody boogers (the little capillaries in their explode at high altitudes), and the skin on my hands got so dry that it cracked open and fell apart. Bummer. I was pretty glad to return to sea level.

It's in Washington D.C. next year, and I am so there. I had a great time! Here's some other, random pictures, courtesy of Josh's Facebook album.


Kenny's friends stayed in the hotel across the street, the Brown Palace, which is one of the most beautiful buildings I've ever been in. These are the elevator doors, which have walnut, gold, and dragons on them. Awesome.


The elevator to our hotel. Not as classy as the Brown Palace.


More Chabon love. That's Kenny and Mary, from PSU.


Before Chabon's speech.


The view from our hotel window. The brown building is the Brown Palace.

Okay,
a quick break from pictures to share an anecdote. We thought the Brown Palace was a hilarious name for a hotel, and it quickly became a euphemism. "Don't go into the bathroom--I just built a brown palace."

Guess who built the most ostentatious brown palaces?

Thursday, April 8, 2010

AWP

Josh wants me to blog, so I'm blogging while he's in the shower. Suck it! Ha ha! Okay, now he's out. Josh, Kenny, Chas, and I are sharing a hotel room in Denver while we attend AWP. Today is the first day of the conference proper, and I've attended a panel, a reading, wandered the bookfair, and schmoozed with people from UNH and WWU (and a few inbetween from Houston and Portland State). I'm already pooped, lying on the hotel bed, and in a few hours I have to be up and about for the keynote address by Michael Chabon. Denver is also awesome, although I wish I could afford to eat all the delicious steak and Mexican food and beer. Oh well. Possibly I'll blog more about this later.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

On Conformity

MGMT is coming to my school, and I’m pretty stoked. Many of my fellow Wildcats do not share my excitement. Two of the undergrads who do workstudy in the same office as me had never heard of MGMT. “SCOPE [the Student Committee on Popular Entertainment] has been bringing some good shows lately,” one of the girls said. “Like Akon!”

I cringed inside. They also mentioned an excellent show by Sean Kingston. “Who’s that?” I asked.


“You know, he does that song ‘Beautiful girls.’ You’ve heard it.”


They played it for me. I had never heard it. I wasn’t missing anything. I played them “Time to Pretend” and “Electric Feel” by MGMT. They had never heard either song.


The SCOPE message board was in the middle of a flame war. “Plymouth gets Drake and we get MGMT?” one user wrote, and pointed out that Drake has had twelve top-100 singles (including songs he’s been a guest on), and MGMT has only had one—therefore, Drake is the better musician. I wanted to point out that by his logic, Drake is a better artist than Nirvana, and twice as talented as Jimi Hendrix, but I refrained. Like my coworkers, many on the boards have never heard of MGMT (I hadn’t heard of Drake before yesterday).


This drives home something that’s been bubbling beneath the surface ever since I got here. There’s not a lot of diversity. I was warned about this before I came, but I didn’t realize how it would manifest itself on a college campus. College campuses are full of different types of people, I thought—jocks, popular kids, mods, nerds, hippies, goths, punks, business majors, stoners, hipsters, frat boys, and all the weird gradations in between. At least WWU was like this (although I suppose they were wannabe frat boys, since we didn’t have any frats).


UNH seems to have two groups: the hipsters—the people defending MGMT on the message boards, the girls who wear mod dresses and the guys who wear skinny jeans and thick-rimmed glasses and scarves, the people I overhear on the bus talking about Arrested Development—and everybody else.


Everybody else listens to Akon, Lupe Fiasco, Young Money, Ke$ha, or whatever else is killing the Top 40 charts at the moment. They drive spotless new cars, wear Hollister, and drink at the socials every Thursday night (Thirsty Thursdays) at Scorps (a local bar).


Everybody Else.


I haven’t seen a hippie since I got here. Several people who ride my bus are math grad students and talk a lot about their research, but they seem to exist uneasily somewhere on the hipster spectrum, and they disappear once we’re off the bus—faceless in a crowd of Abercrombie, North Face, and perfectly coifed hair. The conformity disturbs me a little, especially coming from Western and Bellingham, a town incredibly tolerant of personal eccentricity. One day when I was back in Bellingham over winter break I watched a woman wearing a top hat and a long coat she appeared to have sewn out of other clothes walk down the street and stand in front of the Bagelry. This would never happen in Durham, I thought. Nothing like it ever has and nothing ever will.


Hipsters, conforming to their own silly bullshit.