“I’m Baaaaack”: lists, reading, blogging, and Halloween

I'm Back

Jack Nicholson as Jack Torrance in Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining

It’s been 10 months tomorrow since I last posted on this blog, though it seems much longer than that. These are trying times, indeed.

I came back to this web site partly because of a column I read in the New York Times’ Book Review last Sunday.  In it,  the writer “reviewed” the web pages of the authors whose books currently sit on the fiction best seller list.

The first, Mitch Albom’s, dealt with lists… the 15 best movies, the 10 best songs, etc. This was a bit coincidental as I was to begin teaching Nick Hornby’s High Fidelity the very next day, which is a novel founded on the idea of “best of…” lists.  Hornby’s lists are amusing and fun, from the 5 best Dustin Hoffman movies to the 5 best songs to play on a rainy Monday (depending on whether you want to lift your spirits or wallow in the gloom.)

And speaking of coincidences, one the last pieces I had posted last year was a piece on Jess Kidd’s wonderful novel Himself,  which I have just finished teaching a week earlier. (Perhaps the pile of 60-plus essays that I am carrying around to grade is really what’s driving me back to the blog. Procrastination is a great inspiration for doing things other than the tasks at hand. As one writer once said, “My house is never cleaner than when I am working on a novel.”)

Himself book cover

Himself by Jess Kidd

Anyway, let me reach out to any and all readers to find a copy of Himself. (It came out in paperback this summer.) It is a wonderful, magical, and darkly comic read.

But back to the NYT Book Review, the number two best seller’s blog tracked the number of profanities in his novels (compiled by his son) and number three’s blog focuses on houses–both real and fictional–and their architecture. The deal is that most publishers want their authors to have some on-line presence and this is what is presented.

And so I re-examined my own blog. At one time I was posting four times a week: a post on books, one on movies, one on music and one of commentary. But I can’t promise that anymore. Either, I am too disorganized or there are less hours in a day these days.  But, I am, once again, going to take working on my postings as a serious venture.

And so it is that after 10 months I decide to post again and on Halloween no less which is why I featured the frightening picture of Jack Nicholson as Jack Torrance in The Shining.

Halloween is undoubtedly the greatest holiday in my neighborhood for both young and old. For example, last year between 5:30 p.m. and 7:15 p.m., we gave out over 800 pieces of candy. Four and five of our neighbors sit together on the sidewalk, sharing wine and

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My treat for this night of tricks and treats.

beer and catering to a constant stream of children that parade by. (I have two bottles of Witching Hour red blend and my wife has a six-pack of pumpkin beer for the occasion.)

Some of the costumes are wonderful and clever and imaginative, and some are pretty lame, but everyone is happy.

After we run out of candy—although there are still many people walking by and many people handing out treats—we head up the street to another neighbor’s who is hosting his annual Halloween party. His own costume is often the talk of the neighborhood for the next few days. (i.e. Walter White in his briefs with a pistol in the waist band, Jack Torrance himself with a full door framed around his head, a priest dressed as Elvis.)

The party—and the entire night—is festive, but more importantly it is communal.

And god knows we certainly need that these days.

Blogging, Beckett and a Seven-Year Old Boy

It was one year ago last week that I started blogging.  But I  quit before that anniversary came around.

Yes, I quit blogging in late November, because I could no longer do it.  I loved doing it. I had met some extraordinary people–Romanians in London, Americans in Ecuador, an art colony in Italy.  I enjoyed thinking about the books I read, the music I heard, the films I watched.  And I enjoyed trying to get those thoughts “down on paper.”

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Henry dressed as the “Holy Roman Emperor Saint Henry” for Halloween last October.

But then my life changed drastically and blogging found itself way down on my list of priorities.

I became responsible for a seven-year old boy.

Henry is a delightful young boy. He is creative, bright, and personable.  And it is my job, to a degree, to nurture and protect him. I shower him with love and I make sure that he knows he is loved. I try to pay attention to what he does and what he says and what he feels.

We play silly word games. We read together: I to him on the sofa; he to me on the steps, (where the game is that I must go up or down a step every time he turns a page.)  He is seven years old, but will still hold my hand when we walk places, at least for now.  We often take “adventures” together, and these are usually simple jaunts across the city on public transportation. We take a trolley and then a subway and then a train and then we reverse ourselves, adding in a bus on the return trip. He points out train yards and sidings, trolley tracks and subway couplers. We stay and wave to the drivers after we get off and they drive away. (He does LOVE his transportation!)

Sure, there are time when I must get him to do things that he doesn’t want to: to try foods he does not like (that comprises everything that isn’t pizza) or to stop talking and listen when others are speaking or to slow down with his homework, with his handwriting. I try to teach him, and I try to do so with patience, with gentleness and with love.

For the most part, when I am not at work, I am with him, or I am asleep. And when I am at work, I am thinking about him and worrying about him.

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Henry and I on the R5

Having a seven-year old in your 30s is one thing; having a seven-year old in your late 50s is something else altogether.  I haven’t read a book in I can’t say how long. My film-going is greatly constricted.  And my television viewing is completely limited to Phineas and Ferb (don’t ask!) and America’s Funniest Home Videos.  And yet his enjoyment of both of these shows is genuine and sweet. He laughs with purity and with delight. And that, I wouldn’t trade  for anything.

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I went out last Thursday night with my wife and some friends to see a play: Endgame by Samuel Beckett.  I had read it many times, but had never seen it performed, and so we made definite plans to get there.

Endgame is the second of the four major plays that Beckett wrote following World War II. (Waiting For Godot, Endgame, Krapps Last Tape and HappyDay.) Situated firmly in the Theater of the Absurd, Endgame presents Hamm, a blind, crippled man who sits in a make-shift wheel-chair in a single, disheveled room. He is tended to by Clov, who, conversely, is unable to sit.  In the room are also two trash bins.  In the one is Hamm’s legless father, Nagg, and in the other, his legless mother, Nell. Hamm pontificates on the bleakness of  life, on the attraction of story-telling, on the uncertainty of a future.  It is one of my favorite plays.

In one piece of dialogue that I particularly love, Hamm asks Clov to open the trash bin to see what his father is doing:

          HAMM (letting go his toque)
                What’s he doing?
               (Clov raises lid of Nagg’s bin, stoops, look into it. Pause.)

            CLOV
               
He’s crying.
                  (He closes lid, striaghtens up.)

          HAMM
                Then he’s living.

I love this. How simple, how poignant, how piercing. It perfectly captures Beckett’s–and to a large degree, my own–world view.  For better or worse, my personal philosophy has long been greatly informed by Beckett’s.  Or else, I had already formed it and because of that I found Beckett. But, for one reason or another, I am drawn to his bleakness and  emptiness–and to the black humor that attends it.

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Nancy Boykin and Dan Kern as Nell and Nagg in Arden Theater’s production of Endgame. Philadelphia, February 28, 2013.
© Photos by Mark Garvin

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Scott Greer and James iJames as Hamm and Clov in the Arden Theater’s production of Endgame. Philadelphia, February 28, 2013.
© Photos by Mark Garvin

As I said, I have long enjoyed and embraced Beckett’s dire existentialism.  But now, I can no longer afford it, can no longer afford to wallow in such bleakness, to delight in such barren absurdity.  I have to try to tamp it down. For I have Henry now to take care of, and that is very much the purpose of my life.

Aventuras de Avril, Reader Appreciation Award, and some blogs to check out

For a long while, the country that was third or fourth in readership of my blog was Ecuador.  That was mainly because of a woman named April who writes a wonderful blog herself and whose comments on my own postings were always amusing, thoughtful  and enjoyable.

April is a remarkable woman.  About a year ago, she decided to change her life. Not something superficial like a new hair-style, a new tattoo (I don’t know if she has even one!) or a change in diet. April picked up and moved to Ecuador.  As she said “I filled up a backpack, bought a ticket to Ecuador and left, without speaking any Spanish, with no job lined up, and just a starting point and a general goal.”

She has been living there for nine months now and she has been recording her adventures in a delightful blog called AVENTURAS de AVRIL.  You should check it out. Her enthusiasm for her new world, her new language and the many new people that are in her life is uplifting, and her writing and photography are special.  I had read two pieces this week–one in the NYTimes and one in the preface to the Best American Short Stories of 2011–which advised one to pick up his or her things, move to a place where the language is unknown, and discover something special about one’s self.  April has successfully taken that to heart.  So be sure to check out her blog by clicking on the link above.

So why am I writing about April?  To THANK HER. She has recommended me for a Reader Appreciation Award–a recognition that she herself just won.  In the large scale of things, this is a very unassuming award, meaningful and known to only a few. But it is a simple recognition from someone out there who’s reading. And that is very, very much appreciated.  So THANK YOU very much April!  Keep writing and keep wringing everything you can out of life.

♦     ♦     ♦     ♦      ♦

The Rules:


1. Provide a link and thank the blogger who nominated you for this award.
2. Answer 10 questions.
3. Choose 10-12 blogs that you find a joy to read.
4. Provide links to these blogs and kindly let the recipients know that they have been chosen.
5. Include the award logo within your blog post.

The Questions:

Your favorite color?     I like grey in all its many shades. (This is not a literary reference. Hah!)
Your favorite animal?      Otters
Your favorite non-alcoholic drink?     Chocolate Milk
Facebook® or Twitter®?     Neither.
Your favorite pattern?   Very small checks.
Getting or giving presents?   I very much dislike receiving gifts. I love giving gifts when I am truly excited about what I am giving.
Your favorite number? 18
Your favorite day of the week?    Every day.  I see no differences in them.
Your favorite flower? Bird of Paradise.
What is your passion? To learn to write well.

The Blogs I Appreciate:


Two of these are the blogs of a personal friend and a niece. The rest are by people that I have connected with since I began writing my blog at the beginning of March and are part of a very neat community.  Some I read for advice, others I read for inspiration, and still others I read for the shear joy of it.  So, here they are in no particular order:

Sue Healy – An Irish born writer whose short stories and dramas have won numerous awards. Her blog addresses the day-ins and day-outs of the writing craft.

Diane Bones – The very humorous opinions of a very funny writer. Diane opines on everything from SPAM to National Elections, from Award Shows to urban violence.  A great and wonderful read.

me myself and ela –a Romanian woman living in London, her blog is filled with magnificent photographs, music videos, and her own musings.

O Lumi in Imagini –another Romanian blog, this one focusing on art and film. A bit avant garde but fun to look at.

Courtney Gillette— a young Brooklyn writer who is literate, interesting, funny and saavy.

The Coevas–I am not sure what this is or how I got here.  It’s from a middle-European writing/creative collective that is putting together a novel and the film to go with it all at once on the site. Pretty dramatic images and a beautiful site.

francescannotwrite–“so let these writers impress you instead” states the header of this blog. I think she’s being modest. Francess Antoinette is well travelled and posts her amazing photos and amusing thoughts on her blog.  It’s a very nice read.

Pretty Feet, Pop Toe–post after post, this is one of the funnier blogs I read. A snarky complaint about all the things that drive all of us mad, written well and with a unique sense of humor.

apk: an art diary–I have probably forwarded posts from this blog site more than any other. It is like a digital art gallery that posts extraordinary art work from artists (all unknown to me) from around the world. Truly wonderful.

The Saturday Morning Post–as the title says, it is a blog that delivers a post each and every Saturday. It discusses the writing life in all its aspects, from successes to rejection, from inspiration to business.  Well written, serious, and informative.

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So THANKS to all of you for reading my  blog.  I was seriously considering putting my blog to sleep–but I’ve developed a strange relationship with it. So maybe we’ll go on for a bit longer. Go check out some of the blogs listed above. I’m sure you’ll find them interesting.

And thank you to April for sending me this Reader Appreciation Award. Please be sure to check out her blog. She’s a fascinating person.

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.