Penny Shorts–an online journal with an interesting spin.

Cynthia  A portrait by Moses Soyer (1954)

Cynthia
A portrait by Moses Soyer (1954)

On Wednesday morning I received a tweet advertising that my short-story “Don’t Crows Eat Corn?” was now available on the on-line journal Penny Shorts. And the tweet was accompanied by this stunning portrait by the Russian/American artist, Moses Soyer.

(Later, the editor Catherine Horlick said that “This portrait by Moses Soyer reminds me of Sandy [the protagonist in my story], although in fact the story is like a painting by Edward Hopper, who so brilliantly depicted subjects trapped by life.”)

The turn-around had been extraordinary. On Tuesday evening, I had received one e-mail accepting the story, another that attached a PDF of the proofed galleys, and a third asking for a photo and a short bio.

Even taking into account that the UK-based Penny Shorts was five hours ahead of me so that while I slept they were working preparing copy, it was a very quick and pleasant surprise.

The fledgling journal has an interesting “business model.” Readers can purchase individual stories for 50p (about 78 cents in U.S. dollars) or they can buy a variety of subscriptions that give them access to multiple stories during the course of the subscription. Agents and editors are given free access.

This was the text of the tweet that was set out:

J.P. Bohannon’s story ‘Don’t Crows Eat Corn?’ is new on pennyshorts. The day after her mother’s funeral, Sandy has to hide a bruise on the side of her head. http://bit.ly/1TCpHBr

And so, the link to the Penny Shorts web site in general and to my story in particular was tweeted out to the world. It was efficient–and quick–marketing.

As an editor, Ms. Horlick has been a pleasure to work with, attentive, professional and warm. Moreso than anyone else I have met in the business.  For those interested in reading or writing or both, you should visit her Facebook page or the Penny Shorts website itself.

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Emerson, the Transparent Eye, and photos on my iPhone

 

image

Illustration of Emerson’s “Transparent Eyeball” that accompanied the essay “Nature”

In his essay “Nature,” Ralph Waldo Emerson famously said:

“I become a transparent eyeball; I am nothing; I see all; the currents of the Universal Being circulate through me; I am part of God.”

I know of Ralph Waldo Emerson’s “transparent eyeball” and his essay “Nature,” but it is not my area of expertise.  (Although I confess, it is the illustration that accompanied the “transparent eyeball” passage in Emerson’s  essay “Nature”  that I recall most readily. It is a wonderful illustration.)

If I remember correctly, in “Nature,” Emerson is propounding a way of looking at the Universe in general and Nature in particular. It is Emerson’s “transcendental” way of finding communion with a divine being through observing the “scripture” that is Nature.

But lately I have been thinking of the “transparent eyeball” in a different way.

On a Monday in mid-April, I was reading a piece by a woman named Yoon Soo Lim.  In it, she mentioned that she had taken up a challenge of keeping a photo journal , in which one photograph was uploaded each  day of the year. The site was called blipfoto.

I didn’t think much of it, until my walk home through the city.  I started seeing possible “photo ops” everywhere: a funky display in an art gallery, a shadowy alley with a latticework of fire-escapes, a graphic advertisement for a boxing studio.  I had become an “eye” and had begun seeing things that I passed every single day and had never seen, or at least never paid much attention to.

Fog Rolling In 2014 jpbohannon

Fog Rolling In
2014 jpbohannon

 

I took up the photo challenge myself.  And it has changed the way I look at things.

Doors on N. 4th Street 2014 jpbohannon

Doors on N. 4th Street
2014 jpbohannon

No longer do I walk aimlessly from the bus to my door, from the street to the train station, from my desk to the cafeteria.  I walk now with a purpose…the purpose of seeing.

 

Sculpture at Market East Train Station 2014 jpbohannon

Sculpture at Market East Train Station
2014 jpbohannon

I am not sure why, but this leaves me feeling very alive.  I feel that I am “seeing deliberately”—a term that echoes Emerson’s disciple Thoreau who advised us all to “live deliberately.”  I am excited to see things, to find things, to re-discover things that had been invisible for so long, behind the cloak of daily routine.

And I am having fun with it.

 

Book Review: Reborn: Journals and Notebooks 1947-1966 Susan Sontag

illustration by jpbohannon 2013

Susan Sontag (1933-2004)
illustration by jpbohannon 2013 (based on painting by Juan Bastos)

There is a danger in reading memoirs, diaries, journals. Certainly, there are times when our angels are shown to have feet of clay. Or other instances, when we weigh the turmoils and angst of a particular life with the end product that impelled you to read the memoir in the first place.

But with Sontag it is quite, quite different.

Next to even her young self, I feel so inadequate, so shallow, so wasteful of time.

Here is a young woman–14 years of age when the journals begin–embarking on a intellectual career that would put most of us to shame. Her reading lists, her “to-do” lists, her debates with herself, her analysis of events, readings, concerts and people she meets, her experiences, all are more fervent, more intelligent, more thoughtful in the years between her 14th birthday and her 30th, than mine have been for most of my life.

Susan Sontag bookcover

I teach a group of extremely bright 18-year old boys. They have great intelligence, and some are quite creative. But every so often they need to be reminded that their superior intelligence is frequently measured within the very small pond of our school.  Here’s what I read them from Sontag’s journal:

…Yet we do exist, + affirm that. We affirm the life of lust. Yet there is more. One flees not from one’s real nature which is animal, id, to a self-torturing externally imposed conscience, super-ego, as Freud would have it–but the reverse, as Kierkegaard says. Our ethical sensitivity is what is natural to man + we flee from it to the beast…

I ask them to describe the person who would write this in his or her personal journal.  And they are always far off…in both gender and age.  Sontag wrote this (a snippet of a much larger journal entry) two weeks after she had turned 17!  Already her depth of reading and understanding and active thoughtfulness is evident.

Immediately in this first volume of the journals, one meets a brilliant, thoughtful intelligence. She attended Berkeley at the age of 16, transfered to University of Chicago, married Phillip Reiff–a sociology professor–at 17, taught at the University of Connecticut when she was 19, and attended graduate school at Harvard, where she got her degree in philosophy and theology. And throughout these years, she recorded her thoughts and criticisms and interpretations, as well as her fears, her doubts and her insecurities.  As her marriage began to falter, she received a fellowship to Oxford and then moved to Paris. When she moved back to New York in 1959 (26 years old), her marriage was dissolved and she had gained custody of her son. Established in New York, she began teaching at various colleges, completed her first novel, The Benefactor, and witnessed her reputation as part of New York’s  intelligentsia begin to grow.

These are the years covered in the volume. Aside from the inquisitiveness, interpretation, and analysis of what she reads, sees and watches (she was a rabid film-goer), there is the struggle of understanding who she was. The marriage was unsatisfying, the lovers often hurtful, and in reading the journals we see a young woman trying to discover herself and come to terms with her own individuality, her own bi-sexuality, her own identity. There are times when one feels she is too hard on herself…when one wants to warn her, NO, this is going to end bad, but then again, one can’t.

Beginning when she was 14 and ending when she was 30, the journals are remarkable for their honesty and the peek into her rigorous mind.  But at the end, one is moved by the ever-going struggle between her sexuality and her intelligence, by the vulnerabilities and insecurities she reveals in her two major love affairs with Harriet Sohmers Zwerling  and Irene Fornés.  For her extraordinary mind struggled continually to understand the extraordinary pull of the flesh.

Her last two entries for 1963 read:

The intellectual ecstasy I have had access to since early
childhood. But ecstasy is ecstasy.

Intellectual “wanting” like sexual wanting.

♦     ♦     ♦     ♦     ♦     ♦

Reborn is the first of a proposed three volumes of journals. The next volume–As Consciousness Is Harnessed to Flesh– covers the years 1963 to 1964, when Sontag develops her reputation, her political activism, and her writing. It is now on my “to-read” list.

Work in Progress

Selections from THE NOTEBOOK ON EVERYTHING
(Arranged in Alphabetical Order for Convenience)
By
J. P. Bohannon

Andromache: cf. Racine, Jean.

Antigone:  “Antigone inspired Hegel to his magisterial meditation on tragedy: two antagonists face to face, each of them inseparably bound to a truth that is partial, relative, but, considered in itself, entirely justifiable.” (The Curtain, Milos Kundera, page 110). Kundera then says that History cannot therefore be tragic. What in his definition allows him to say this:   “Inseparably bound”?   or “a truth that is partial, relative, but …entirely justifiable”?

Beauvoir, Simone de:  “There were other humiliations for Simone as well: she was the last chosen for any game or athletic contest, and her efforts to join any of the playground groups were usually greeted with hooting laughter.  With the innocent cruelty of children she was scorned by her schoolmates as much for her ill-fitting clothes and general untidiness as for her self-important pronouncements.  She was a gawky chatterbox, entirely friendless.  There really was no model, no influence, no one and nothing at all in her life to help her develop any social or societal graces.”  (Simone de Beauvoir: A Biography, Deidre Bair, p. 63.)  QUESTION: Does unpopularity on the playground and in the classroom affect children so that they have one of two choices when they reach adulthood: greatness or psychosis?

Brain Mass:  “One of his patients was a postgraduate student with an IQ of 126, a first-class honours degree in mathematics, a regular social life and virtually no brain. ‘Instead of the normal 4.5-centimetre thickness of brain tissue between the ventricles and the cortical surface, there was just a thin layer of mantle measuring a millimeter or so. His cranium is filled mainly with cerebrospinal fluid.’ ”
James Hamilton-Patterson, “Do Fish Feel Pain?” Granta: This
 Overheating World,  No 83, Fall 2003, pp161-173.

Cockney Slang:   I go into a pub in London and see some people I know.  I order a pint and ask the others if I can get them one.  “Nah, I’m Van Gogh,” says bald-headed Nick.  “Wha?”  I answer back. “I’m Van Gogh,” he says. “I’ve got one ‘ere.”

The Colombo Club: I worked for a while for a group of bricklayers, the Calabrese Brothers. On Fridays, in the summer we would quit early and go to the Colombo Italian Club on the Lansdowne Road.  There were darts, shuffleboard, and cards. They always paid us in cash. Much of it stayed there on a Friday night.

Drew, Ronnie (of The Dubliners):  As a teenager, my friend Justin once dated Ronnie Drew’s daughter.  He went for tea one afternoon at their house, and while the women were busy in the kitchen, Ronnie spoke his first words to him: “If you get her up the pole, I’ll feking kill you.”  Despite this Justin and the girl remained friends, and at her 21st birthday bash, he met Van the Man.  Wikipedia cites Ronnie Drew in its article on Finnegans Wake for his recitation of the Humpty Dumpty poem.

Eliot, T.S.:  Pound X’d out the entire first 54 lines of The Wasteland and Eliot accepted his changes.  (And that was just the first 54 lines. Pound’s heavy pen is crossing things out throughout the original typescript.) The poem originally began: “First we had a couple of feelers down at Tom’s place,/There was old Tom, boiled to the eyes, blind.”  For some reason, I never imagine Eliot getting sloshed or womanizing but there it is: “Get me a woman, I said; you’re too drunk, she said,/ But she gave me a bed, and a bath, and ham and eggs.”  Even if it is another character and not the poet (isn’t that some sort of fallacy we learned once in school) that particular world seems alien to that pursey-lipped banker.

The Ginger Man: A woman accosted me on the 110 Bus from 69th Street to West Chester while I was reading The Ginger Man by J. P. Dunleavy. She called it sexist, misogynist and misanthropic.  I told her I always loved the guy drinking at the pub in a kangaroo costume and that’s why I wanted to read it again.  She had bright red lipstick with much of it stuck on her beautiful teeth.

Ibsen:  Someone compared Billy Wilder’s The Apartment with Ibsen’s plays. The comparison made sense.  In fact, it was said that Torvald’s bank seemed enlightened compared to the work place in Wilder.

Irish Phrases:  
Aris, mo bhuachailin Ní thagann ciall roimh aois  = Sense doesn’t come before age

Joyce, Lucia.  She had strabisimus and was an accomplished dancer.  She was also highly intelligent, although wasn’t given much credit for it. She was diagnosed schizophrenic. A very tall shadow blocked her sun.

Kafka:  Kafka means crow in Czech.

Kundera, Milos: In The Incredible Lightness of Being, the character Sammy says that she thinks of New York as “Beauty by Mistake.”  What a great phrase!  I copy it down in my journal.  It will be the title of my next novel, CD, film, whatever.  I begin a short story with the title, but do not get very far.  Last month, the NYTIMES featured an article tracing Kundera’s appearances in its Book Reviews.  The article is titled “Beauty by Mistake.”    AAAARRRGH!

Madonna:   A good pun for the iron Madonna sculpture in my cemetery story: “A ferrous-wheeled Madonna.”  I love it.

Madonna (the singer): Toni, who flew out to LA to waitress at the Vanity Fair Oscar party, told me that Madonna seemed to want to talk only to other faux-Brits.

New Words:
Parp  1. (verb) To break wind, to fart.
2. (noun) Nonsense, rubbish.
…a green double-decker bus that parped its horn at him.

Paine, Thomas:   (Letter to the Editor, London Review of Books, 4 January 2007).  “In John Barrell, the London Review tasked a truffle hunter to examine Christopher Hitchen’s book Thomas Paine’s ‘Rights of Man‘ (30th November 2006).  But instead of sniffing out tasty morsels for salivating LRB readers, Professor Barrell chose to stick his snout in a cow pie.”  Marvelous!!!!

The Puck Building:  Originally built in 1886.  A second building was added on in 1893 when Lafayette Street pushed through.  The statue of Puck is a duplicate of the original.  The original stood over the doorway.  It’s the building where Grace worked in the television show, Will and Grace.

Quiche Lorainne:
1 9-in. unbaked pie shell
8 slices of bacon
6 ounces Swiss Cheese, shredded
1 tbsp flour
½ tsp salt
Dash ground nutmeg
3 eggs
1 ½ cups of light cream

Cook & crumble bacon. Reserving 2 tbsp crumbled backon, place remaining bacon in partially baked pastry shell (450° for five minutes).  Add shredded cheese.  Combie (beat) flour, salt, nutmeg, eggs, & cream.  Pour over bacon & cheese in pasty shell.. Trim with reserved bacon.
Bake at 325° till knife comes out clean, about 25-40 minutes.

Racine, Jean.   Andromache: Orestes →Hermione; Hermione→King Pyrruss; King Pyrruss →Andromache; Andromache→Hector.  (Hector is dead.)  Check out Hector in the made for TV mini-series, The Odyssey.  His death had to be divinely manipulated.

Romanticism:  “The battle of the outs against the ins must be older than history, but the idiosyncratic psychological coloring of the Romantic struggle came from the Romantics’ passionate pride in being out—while, of course, they were struggling to get in.”   (Romanticism and Realism, Charles Rosen and Henri Zerner).

Russian Woman on train:  6/12/06—Russian woman on train. Beautiful. Very dark but with eyes that in one light might be called green but today are sparkling grey—beautiful and literally attractive: they pull you in.  She has two children. One about five in a stroller, another a large baby, slung in some sort of sling.  The R8 out of Philadelphia travels westward towards Chestnut Hill.  It is typically urban. Cement pillars, graffiti, discarded tires, old RR ties, glass.  At one point the tracks cross the Schuylkill River. It is the same scene.  The five year old—who up until this time has been speaking Russian—speaks out in English to his mother: “Look Momma.  It is beautiful.” The Mother also speaks in English only once. A young boy—16 or 17—gets on the train. “Oh, it’s Alex,” she says.  “Alex, Raisa, Hi Alex.”  She was brilliant.  He gave her an adolescent grunt. I wanted to strangle him.

Stevenson, Adlai.  Janet Flanner (in Paris Journal: 1965-1970) quotes Stevenson’s obituary in Le Monde: “The tragedy of Dallas assured to John F. Kennedy a posthumous radiance that memories of Stevenson will never know.  Yet Stevenson during his lifetime was no less an influence than the assassinated President. … Without doubt, Stevenson’s integrity and intelligence were loftier than those of even the elite of American political personalities.

Unacceptable CD Players:
Students may not use CD Players that:
Require an electrical outlet
Accept more than one CD
Have duplication or recording capabilities
                   (from the SAT® Program Associate Supervisor’s Manual, 2006-2007)

Vietnam:  The French lost control of Vietnam after the battle of Dien Bien Phu.  It was in 1954.

While My Guitar Gently Weeps:  How cool is the string quartet in George Martin’s remastered version for the Cirque du Soleil production, Love?  How sweet is George Harrison’s thin voice on the demo tape.

Women:
“Cette fois, c’est la Femme que j’ai vue dans la Ville, et à qui j’ai parlé et qui me parle.” Rimbaud. (“This time I found and spoke to the woman in the city.”)  I don’t know what this means. It often happens with me and Rimbaud.

Zorro:   In the early 1960s my aunt took me to a department store to see Guy Williams dressed as Zorro.  There was an entire set, Spanish-style adobe building, cactus, rough-hewn fence.  I spoke to him for about three minutes.  On another floor, children were lining up to see Santa.  The last time that the actor who played Sgt. Garcia was seen on television was in October, 1967.  He appeared on an episode of Mannix.

A quibble with electronic publishing

I’m a little worried.

Just a little worried.

The majority of things I’ve had published are in print. They  haven’t earned me a fortune–five dollars here, twenty dollars there–but a least I have a copy of them. Actually, two copies of them, because most of the ” legitimate” small journals pay in copies. They publish your story, poem, essay and pay you with two copies of the issue in which you appear. Two copies placed with the others in a chest at the foot of my bed.

And then along comes the Internet. Instant gratification. Electronic submissions. Electronic responses. Usually much quicker than traditional ways.

The best story I think I’ve ever wrote was published on line. “Nadja and the Dream of Teeth” first appeared through the Dublin Writer’s Workshop in the journal The Electric Acorn.

Then it was published electronically by The Richmond Review (UK). The editor at The Richmond Review was wonderful. She asked questions, made good suggestions, and, overall, made me tighten things up.  All through e-mails. From across the pond. This was the internet at its best.

And then it appeared electronically. It was beautiful. Nice layout. Clean font. Well done. I was proud of the story and proud of its being out there.

Now several years later, the site is down. Just a blank white page. Try it. Google “Richmond review uk” and you’ll find the link.  And then a pure white page. Where is my story? Not there. Not archived. Nowhere. And it was a legitimate journal!

Sort of the same thing with another story– “Pierced.” Except the journal it appeared in didn’t disappear; it sold its domain name to a Japanese company. Try to find my story and you’ll be staring at a beautiful chrysanthemum surrounded by Japanese writing. I am pretty sure that it is not my story translated into Japanese.

So. No big deal. Two short stories that meant something to me but certainly not to anyone else. Vanished. Pouf! But what if this was important material? Is there a fear that important things might simply disappear after a given time?

I know the saying that nothing ever disappears in cyberspace, but will future researchers, historians, students all have the tools necessary to recover those things that have?

Granted there is much that is superfluous, so much that is ephemeral on the Web. Much of it–my own scribblings included– really doesn’t deserve a long shelf life. But, by caching materials away so easily are we also tossing away things of lasting value.  I don’t mean the works of a future Shakespeare or a document of “Declaration of Independence” import.  I mean things like the novelist Rick Moody’s music reviews on Rumpus or Margaret Atwood’s book reviews for The Guardian or the Scottish poet Robin Robertson’s powerful reading of “At Roane Head.”  My fear is that this stuff–which is important stuff, important aspects of our culture, glimpses into who we are–will someday disappear.  Without a trace.  Without record.

Is it the nature of blogging or on-line writing in general to be ephemeral? Is that what is the draw? Do we read it not expecting ever to go back to it.  I don’t know.

But it does worry me at times.

Voice

I am fairly new to this blogging thing, but I am not new to writing.  However, I am finding it very difficult to find my “Voice” here on these pages. Reading other journals and blogs, I find that the writers seem so confidant, so knowledgeable, so sure of what is important. And I am not. My writing–particularly my fiction–is informed by uncertainty. In the simple “boy meets girl” scenario, for instance, my characters are left hanging. That’s about it…”boy meets girl.”  Rarely does he get her, and if he never gets her, then he certainly can’t lose her.  It is perhaps my version of a Beckettian void (and probably more suitable to a shrink than to a blog.) So where does this void fit in with a regular blog?

Are bloggers just pretending that they know? Or do most of them feel that they are expert in some one thing or another? Is the internet a means for validation of their opinions, of the worth of their personal world view?  I don’t know.  It is difficult for me. For example,  I loved the movie The Beginners, but I know as many people who found it too slow and pointless. Why should I then write about its worth? To prove to myself that my judgement is correct? To initiate a conversation? I don’t know.  I need help here.

I guess, ultimately, my question is “What is the purpose of an individual’s blog?”–mine in particular. I have found that it is good for my thinking, for my productivity, for my thoughtfulness (not the same as “my thinking”). But wouldn’t a private journal do the same? The difference, I have found, between the two–the blog and the journal–is that I am more careful with the blog.  Knowing it is going “out there,” I am more careful with what I write, more careful in its correctness, more conscious of the language.  And I guess that is a good thing.  At least for my writing.   But again, why do it?

Can anyone help?  Are there people out there who can tell me?  Would love to hear your response to my questions.

Darwin’s Barnacles

This is a page from Darwin’s journals on which he illustrated some of the barnacles he was working on. Before coming out with his Origin of the Species, Darwin had spent the previous eight years studying barnacles, publishing two monographs on the subject in that period.

In the actual drawings, the colors pop with much more brilliance and clarity, each barnacle delicately and exquisitely drawn.  The petticoat-like, pastel-colored illustrations are so different from the connotations that the word “barnacle” brought to my mind.  I had always associated the word, “barnacle” with roughness, coarseness, ugliness, but apparently I was mistaken, for these drawings are nothing but beautiful.  I saw them at an exhibit on Darwin at the American Philosophical Society Museum in Philadelphia.  The exhibit  was entitled “Dialogs with Darwin” and it included many of Darwin’s journals, scientific specimens, artifacts, personal effects and taxidermy.  Around the ceiling of the room was stenciled the words of a letter he wrote that began “There is a grandeur in this view of life … .”

The museum requested poetry to accompany the show, poetry inspired by one or more items in the show, poems that started a “dialog” with the items displayed and what they evoked.  I was drawn to the barnacles, to his life, to the death of his daughter, and to his discovery of emotion in animals.  The poem appears below:

There is grandeur in this view of life

There is grandeur in this view of life
where Victorian petticoats parachute along an ivory sheet,
barnacles floating on a women’s fashion page,
with precious pleats and twinkling color.

There is grandeur in this view of life
where elephants weep and moan and scream,
for the death of daughters, the loss of certainty,
where joy stretches true across a small chimp’s face.

There is grandeur in this view of life
where a captain’s gentleman unpacks
his crated books, his amateur’s tools
and sails to the bottom of a burgeoning world
beneath those stars from where these tracks begin.