Wednesday, April 29, 2009

phantom limbs

I went to WV Free's Gala tonight, went to see Joycelyn Elders (a personal favorite of mine) and listen to them celebrate a women's right to choose. I've always been conflicted on the subject. On the one hand, it's murder and I can not be convinced it is otherwise. On the other hand, a person ought to have the right to decide what grows or does not grow inside their body. You have to belong to you first. I don't like it, but abortion should be legal and hopefully, rare.

I didn't want to mingle. Everyone was having a good time, shaking hands, having drinks and making friends. I didn't want to talk. I didn't want to talk about the organization, the good they do or even hear about the weather. I was just there for the show. In the meantime, I had my hands full and there wasn't a soul in the place who could help.

I remembered five years back when someone I knew was pregnant and she came to stay with my wife and me while she got an abortion. I remember we offered to take the child. We offered to let her stay with us if she wanted, cover the medical costs and raise the kid. We could do this permanently or temporarily. We could adopt officially or unofficially, but there was no discussion. She turned us down cold. All she wanted was a place to crash until she could get it taken care of.

I still think about it with resentment. She takes in cats and dogs. She won't eat meat or wear leather. She's environmentally conscious, cares about social justice and while we've never discussed it, I'd bet she's a staunch opponent of the death penalty --but abortion as casual birth control is okay? I don't get it.

Go back a little further to Amanda and me in college. We fucked like rabbits. We never used protection and not to get gross, but I've got really good aim. History has born this out. Given the basic math, the odds of her not having been pregnant by the time she left school are thin. We talked about having kids several times. We talked about having kids young, discussed names and imagined what they might be like when they were our age. We were just stupid, but completely out of our heads in love at the time. I'll never know because I'll never find her --I don't even know where to look any more-- but I think she had an abortion, maybe within a month after she left school, when we were still talking on the phone just about every other night.

A little farther still... there's me waiting the hour between my intro to bonehead physics and my intro to bonehead biology, sitting out in the hallway, looking at a glass case full of babies in jars. Every one of them was labeled: six weeks, eight weeks, ten weeks, eighteen weeks. If you stood at the correct angle, you could look on the back of the labeling cards at the brief notes explaining how a particular specimen had come to be there. No abortions. They were all miscarriages. Many of them seemed to have been caused by auto accidents.

I remember the horror of it. The bodies were intact. You could count their fingers and toes. It was all so casual, so clinical. I still dream about the glass case sometimes, just dream about looking on the shelves at the jars.

So, this is what I thought about while I took down notes, while I tried to do a good job reporting the event without coloring it with my particular baggage. Dr. Elders was funny and honest. The people at WV Free believe they're doing a good thing and the food was pretty decent.

Everyone was pleasant, but it was the loneliest assignment I ever took.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Best day

My best day was almost five years ago. The specifics aren't really that important, but it was just a quiet day when nothing was rushed. I saw just about everybody I could have wanted to see and was given the one thing I'd wished the longest for. I remember I had pancakes for dinner. There was no laundry to take care of, no dishes to wash and no job requiring my attention. My ears didn't hurt and I didn't want to be anywhere else. I got some nice shoes and the weather was beautiful -sunny, but not too hot.

I could really use another best day. It's been a while.

63, 62, 61

Three this week.

Dean & Me: A Love Story: Jerry Lewis -I've always had a passing interest in the Rat pack and that generation of entertainers. These were very talented men, but also very flawed. To almost a man, they cheated on their wives, associated with murderers, rapists and thieves and they had egos bigger than the moon. Nonetheless, they were fascinating.

Jerry and Dean were what came before. They had all the flaws, but still entertained a generation of people in post-war America. Dean was the smooth, older guy with the charm and the nice voice. Jerry was the monkey. Jerry got all the press. Dean played golf.

The book spans the length of the duo's career, their personal lives at the time, and what led to their break-up. It seems like a frank portrayal of who they were. Jerry Lewis is foul-mouthed, crusty, but still funny. I don't know that I buy the humility all the time. He shoulders a lot of responsibility for how things worked out, but I get the impression the end of their partnership and the loss of that friendship for 30 years or so was a heavy burden for Lewis.

It's an interesting read and a nice overview of the celebrity culture of the late 1940s and early 1950s without a decency filter.

The Tell-tale Lilac Bush: Ruth Ann Musick -For years, when I worked at the bookstore, high school kids would come in looking for this one. It was part of a reading list and a book we never seemed to keep in stock when needed.

This is similar to the Foxfire books. It takes the oral tradition of telling ghost stories and puts it to paper. Some of the stories are fun. Others are duller than dirt, but it makes for some thought-provoking reading. According the Musick's editorials in the book, there aren't as many vengeful or evil ghost stories in West Virginia (I'm summarizing). They're more helpful or sad. These stories are largely that. Somebody meets with a gruesome end, but they don't come back to get even or if they do, they only do it in a kind of half-assed way: rattle some chains, glow and moan a bit. Occasionally, there is some punishment, but usually it's just a lot of spiritual bitching and encouragement to move. It sort of parallels the state's justice system.

Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom: Corey Doctorow -Philip K. Dick can do wonders making the unbelievable and outright bizarre seem plausible and lived in. Doctorow can't do that, but he still has glimmerings of brilliance.

In some not entirely distant future, most of the ills of the world have been eliminated. People are spreading out among the stars. Hunger and disease have been effectively wiped out. Cloning has been perfected, as well as the ability to digitally transferring consciousness and human memory, essentially removing the need for anyone to die. When you get sick or injured, you grow a new body and the last back-up of your mind is implanted. This is pretty convenient in the event you're killed hang gliding or murdered by rivals in a theme park. People also kill themselves off to be reloaded to avoid minor inconveniences, like having a cold. They also occasionally "dead head," kill themselves off and take a vacation from being alive.

Real money has been replaced by the wealth provided by esteem. The more people like, respect and fear you, the more important you are in the system. This is calculated by computers, which everyone has embedded in their heads.

People don't so much earn a living as find interesting things to do to amuse themselves and others.

Doctorow never quite sells me on his post-human world, but provides some ideas for what might happen if wealth and want were eliminated.

Monday, April 20, 2009


After last week's fun fest of real-life murder and gore, I thought I'd read a couple of books that didn't involve psychopaths sodomizing young boys or child soldiers cutting the throats of other children. Just a little light reading to cleanse the palette.

Shambling Towards Hiroshima: James Morrow - It's an alternate world take on what might have happened if some of the mad science in the movies of the 1950s wasn't so mad. Syms Thorley is a monster movie actor who gets hired by the U.S. Government to don a rubber monster suit for a presentation to the Japanese delegation toward the end of World War II. The U.S. doesn't want to send troops in, for what would be a costly battle, and that other project they're working on to end the war --the Manhattan project-- is a little stalled. You see, the rubber monster suit is just a presentation. The government has grown three giant sized, fire-breathing lizards out in the desert. They are itching to unleash them on on Japan and unless Thorley is very, very persuasive as his pretend monster, that's exactly what's going to happen.

Shambling Towards Hiroshima is a fun romp. It's funny. It's weird and reads a bit like a slightly self-effacing Philip K. Dick story, where you know, in your heart of heart, this is all nonsense, but for a little while it seems like believable nonsense.

Vulcan's Hammer: Philip K. Dick -I've been a fan of the guy since, seemingly, forever. I never got much into the whole Bladerunner/Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep thing, but instead like books like "The Man In The High Castle," "Dydedtown World," and "Dr. Bloodmoney." He's at his best when he takes the improbable and gives it a feeling of authenticity.

Vulcan's Hammer is about an earth society where people have submitted their will to a computer for governance. The computer is designed to look at problems objectively and without passion. Eventually, Vulcan begins to suspect people mean to destroy him and he begins plotting against humanity, which leads to a battle between people and machines. Each side essentially fulfills their own prophetic belief that the other is out to get them. It also touches on the failings of dogmatism belief, but without making those who find themselves caught up in the rules and regulations as evil or stupid.

Not one of my favorites, but still a fair read.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Snake handlers and Blonds

Looks like I can't post the chapter. For whatever reason, Blogger doesn't like the text and hairballs the whole thing. So... until I figure a way around it, I guess it stays off the web.

Meanwhile, since someone asked, let me tell you about the twins.

My senior year in high school, I went through an ugly breakup with the girl I'd been dating. Shortly after the break-up, I got a job over in the next county at a steakhouse. I washed dishes, but it was better than that. I was hanging out with a lot of college kids and people from Blacksburg. I didn't have any history with them. I wasn't the weird kid with the silly role playing game books. Nobody cared who my parents were or how much money I had. I wasn't remembered as "Susan's stupid brother" (the words were uttered on more than one occasion) or the goon with the on again/off again stammer. I got a clean slate and I relaxed (Which also reduced the stammer). I was just a kid who worked real hard, had his funny moments but was generally very likable.

Anyway, my first day, I met Angie. She was this slender, athletic blond (later, I found out she was a cheerleader) who had started the day before. She was friendly, funny and very, very smart. We hit it off incredibly well.

The second day, I met Traci. They were identical twins. Angie came in one day. Traci was there the next. Angie hadn't mentioned she had a twin. So, I'm very friendly and goofy and Traci is sort of staring at me, wondering who the hell I am. Eventually, it all unraveled itself. It was all explained. The joke, for them, was a familiar one.

We became friends and they were great. I was closer to Angie. In truth, I had a massive crush on her and maybe she liked me a little, too. We never moved into that direction. I was a coward, never pressed the issue, never even tried. The only thing that came out of my thinking about getting to know Angie better was I took up smoking. At parties, we'd talk and cut up, but after she had a couple of beers, she'd want a cigarette. Off she would go, in search of one. This broke up our conversation. So, I took up smoking. I bought the brand she liked, went home and asked my then 15 year-old sister how to smoke. She always knew these things.

Anyway, with Angie, I think there might have been a couple of openings for something more substantial than friends, but I was 17 and a goon --as opposed to the suave sophisticate I became. I was just intimidated by her being so smart, so funny and so amazingly pretty. She may have figured this out, too.

I didn't go to prom. There was no one I wanted to ask and that's the truth. At the time, all I wanted was to get the hell out of school and go someplace else --any place. I think if I could have lived in the parking lot of the steak house and not come home those last few months, I would have. By then, the only place I was really happy was at work, where I'd see Angie and Traci some of the time.

Prom night, I didn't make a big deal about it. I didn't tell anyone at work I wasn't going. I didn't ask for any time off and I don't know for sure if Angie and Traci knew, but it was a Saturday night. We finished up late, as usual. I was covered in slime, but they asked me if I was doing anything after. So, after the boss cut me loose, I met them out in the parking lot. We road around back roads, drank wine coolers and listened to a mix tape. Traci and a friend, whose name escapes me, sat in front. Angie was in back with me. I remember she sat very close to me and smelled like flowers, while I reeked of hamburger and bleach.

I don't know how long we were out. We had some laughs, listened to some music, drank sparingly, then eventually it was time to part ways. Before she got out of the car (we dropped the twins off), Angie kissed me on the jaw, just beside my ear, and told me good-night. The driver took me back to my car and I went home. My whole body was humming. It took me hours to get to sleep.

Eventually the twins quit the steakhouse and I left for the formative, but disastrous year in Tennessee. We were going to keep in touch, but we drifted after I took a semester off. I felt a bit ashamed to be out of school while they were still working on becoming accountants or whatever it was they were doing. I felt failed and lost.

It wasn't until six months ago, when I started screwing around with Facebook that I got in touch with Traci. I went looking for both of them. Traci and I exchanged a few e-mails, but they sort of faded out. I didn't ask about her sister. Twenty years is a long time and it would kill me if she didn't remember me quite as well as I remember her. I'd really like to think someone remembers me, not as a goofball, but as a sweet kid, who liked to make people laugh and wasn't the troll he believed himself to be. At least, this is how I hope she remembers me.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Odds, ends, etc...

I'm still a bit slow to the punch. A lot is happening and I'm catching up from last week.
As promised, here is the list of publishers I'm sending my own work to.

The Invisible College Press
Dialogue Publishing
Dragonon Inc.
Hill Street Press

I only found four last weekend that fit the category of what I've written. I also ran out of stamps and had to consider budgetary constraints. Postage, printing and materials ain't cheap.

Meanwhile, to help focus, I've all but abandoned Facebook. It's too much of a distraction and I enjoy screwing off there too much. It's like video games. I love them, but I don't have any room for them. As usual, once I swear something off, I get some bit that makes it tempting to go back. The twins I spent prom night hanging out with were diagnosed with MS a few years ago. I didn't know. Facebook can be very superficial. At best, it's just an introduction.

Anyway, they're doing an MS walk in DC this weekend and while I'm not going to dig back in, I think I can find twenty dollars to send for the walk. It's the least I owe them for taking the edge off what might have been a lonely and bitter memory. Really, why would I give a fuck about prom when I got to ride around, drinking wine coolers with two gorgeous twins? It was a wonderful night, not because it ended in some kind of awkward porno scenario, but they wanted to spend some time with me. Hell, they didn't even know it was the prom.

Tomorrow, I'll post some pages from the thing I'm working on now --which is more of revision/fine tuney thing than a new project. I'm at 50,000 words again. It will probably go 80 to 90 before it's finished, then we'll go back in. Since I've done this before, maybe it get easier and faster.

The new blog is fun, though so far, 304 hasn't added it to the list. I've sent a couple of requests to be added, but maybe I have to be discovered... (sigh) I'll never be a star.

Monday, April 13, 2009

68, 67, 66

Three this week.

City Dharma: Arthur Jeon - There are a lot of Buddhist-flavored self-help books out there. Some are good, some are bad, some are just confusing. This one is good most of the time, but veers occasionally into "what's the point?" territory. Jeon doesn't identify as part of any particular Buddhist lineage, something I like since I don't identify with any particular lineage as I find it a little pointless outside of countries where these lineages originate. He has some good advice on dealing with attachment and accepting the obvious sacredness of ordinary experience. He is also, evidently, a buddy of Damon Lindelhof, one of the producers of Lost, which makes him a-ok with me.

A Long Way Gone: Ishmael Beah -War is never pretty, but it's downright ugly when viewed through the eyes of children. Ishmael Beah's country, Sierre Leone, descended into chaos and civil war. Beah was only a boy, separated from his parents, who became a refuge after armed conflict between the rebels and the army destroyed his village. By almost accident, at the age of about 13, he found himself turned into a soldier. He was fed drugs, American action movies and taken out on long patrols into very dangerous places. Beah, like all the other boys, became a killer almost overnight.

What is remarkable is Beah doesn't shy away from what he did. He cut the throats of men and boys. He helped torture rebels. He burned, looted and murdered at the order of his company commander and by his own thirst for revenge.

Eventually, he and many of the other boys are rescued from their violent lives, taken to the capitol city and rehabilitated. The process is long, slow and difficult.

Truly, a remarkable story charting the malleability of the human condition and how someone can come back from a life of brutality.

Nothing is Strange with you : James Jeffrey Paul - Real Crime books tend toward the salacious and scummy. This one is one of the scummiest. Gordon Northcott was a monster. In the mid-1920s, he convinced his sister to let him take his nephew from Canada to California with him to start a chicken ranch. Northcott then proceded to horribly abuse the boy, turned him into a slave and regularly sodomized the kid. Northcott then went on to prey upon local boys, coaxing them into his car, bringing them back to his ranch, where he molested them before allowing them to leave. Eventually, this escalated into murder.

He was one of the strangest sexual predators this country has ever seen.

At the very least, Northcott kidnapped, raped and murdered three young boys and one young man. He forced his nephew and encouraged his mother to participate in at least one murder. Disposal of the bodies was grisly. He lopped off heads, dosed them in quick lime and moved the remains when he thought they might be discovered.

He was caught and tried in a bizarre trial where his nephew and niece damned him, his parents tried to defend him and Northcott's behavior just became plain weird. At one point, he took over the defense.

It was an engrossing story, though mostly because of the tale itself and not necessarily the presentation. Paul's narration dragged and he includes an unnecessary chapter about the future warden of San Quentin (Clinton Duffy), who met Northcott in prison and might (though he admits to it being unlikely) have been able to save Northcott from the gallows. Warden Duffy did, however, write a few books of his own, which did talk about Northcott and the futility of the death penalty.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Losing Hope

The thing about Easter I've always liked is the season of Lent. It's better than the candy, which is never that great. It's better than the plastic grass, which gets on everything and ruins vacuum cleaners. It's even better than Easter ham, which is great when it's right out of the oven, but then appears to start sweating semen after it cools in the fridge for a day or so.

I like the idea of giving up something as a way to show devotion, as part of your path toward purification or centering or whatever you want to call it. This is different than giving up something because of a legal action. That hardly counts as anything spiritual.

Back when I was a Christian, and I was, there are pictures to prove it, I tried to embrace the season of Lent. I did this even when I was only a nominal Christian, back in college when I called myself a "seeker," which was short-hand for agnostic mystic who thinks crystal pendants are cool.

Over the years, there were many failures. The last big one was the year I gave up caffeine. This was on par with a fish giving up water, but I was serious about it. I stuck with it, and unfortunately, placed a bet on it. That year, I entered a cooking contest. As part of the thing, after the judging everyone went around with little paper plates and sampled a little of what the other contestants had brought. Without thinking, for dessert, I took a spoonful of chocolate mousse. It didn't dawn on me what I'd done until I'd taken two bites. I'd blown it with three days to go. I was heartbroken and felt like Judas for a couple of days. I also lost a lava lamp.

I'm not a Christian anymore. At the moment, I'd categorize myself as a backsliding Buddhist. I still completely get the message, but I've been behaving rather poorly for some time. I've had a few drinks here and there (very, very few). I've harbored deep resentment toward a variety of people and been on an uncontrolled, downward emotional spiral for a while. It has been ugly. The blog don't lie.

Part of this is a meditation problem. Meditation is good for clearing out the garbage in your head --I mean minus the ability to bend spoons and levitate that comes with diligent practice. I haven't been doing it. I've been avoiding it like going to the dentist.

Christians need to pray. Buddhists need to meditate. It's a pretty simple formula and hard to screw up. I have been.

Part of this is getting wrapped up in all the craziness of wanting things to go right. It's curdled hope. Hope, itself, is not a bad thing. There's nothing wrong with wanting tomorrow to be better or for me to hope I'll get a lucrative book deal just like my sister-in-law or to hope my wife will somehow manage to secure a couple of grand to put down on a house. What's wrong is turning hope into a kind of narcotic by saying life is only bearable if I get book deal or live in a home that doesn't look like it was decorated by the characters of Trainspotting.

In Buddhist terminology, this is referred to as "attachment."

So, we'll do this again. I'll call it my own personal Lent. I'm swearing off the self-pity and the self-loathing. I'll get back to meditating, too. Maybe it will work and maybe it won't, but I've got to try something. Even I'm getting sick of listening to me.

Bunny day

Happy Easter. Today, I'm celebrating this most sacred of the Christian holidays by watching a film called "Old Boy," cleaning up after my family, and eating girl scout cookies. They're the lemon creme ones --not too shabby. It's only me and the cats today. As far as holidays go, today's itinerary puts this particular day up above an average Christmas or my usual birthday.

Anyway, this week, I'm going to throw some test pages of the new book I'm working on up. It's more on the snake handlers.

Friday, April 10, 2009


Just got a note from my wife. My sister-in-law has two publishers offering her $25,000 for the children's book she wrote last fall.

It's a great break for her. She's a special education teacher who works with autistic kids. She rescues animals and has had rotten luck with cars, places to live and her weird girlfriend. She's put in the time, too. As long as I've known her, she's always maintained an impressive discipline toward her writing schedule. She gets her ass in the chair to write.

$25,000 will come in handy and maybe it will give her the financial power to take care of a few things and treat herself a little. It's validation because the awful truth is "it ain't art until it's paid for." The deal, whichever one she takes, is also great encouragement because if you can do it once, you can do it twice, and if you can do it twice, you can do it as much as you want.

This is a great day for her. She deserves this. She's earned it. I'm proud of her. Her entire family is proud of her.

I'm just so God damned happy. Clearly, my karma has cancer.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009


One of these days, things are just going to suck a lot less. This is what I've lowered the bar to now. It's not about being happy. It's not about being content. It's not even about being comfortable. These are ridiculously unattainable. It's about things not sucking someday as much as they suck today.

I ought to write fucking greeting cards...

Monday, April 6, 2009

70, 69

It was a slow moving week last week. I got two more in, but just barely.

Disquiet : Julia Leigh -Finally, something really disturbing. This short, almost novella of a book deals with an absurdly wealthy and weird Australian family dealing with a stillborn death at their family estate in France. High points? Putting the dead baby in the fridge to keep it from spoiling. The father of the dead child nursing from the mother who is just shy of being out of her mind. Oh, and they have two absolutely unlikeable other children who seem to torment everyone within a square mile (including an oblivious, distant grandmother who doesn't always understand what they're saying to her). It's a well-written book that deals with a serious subject without flinching. It's life, death and moving on. Loved it.

Bicycles : Niki Giovanni -I'm a fan. I've dug her poems since I first read "Quilting The Black-eyed Pea." The title references a couple of different ideas. Bicycles, as in falling in love is like riding a bicycle. Bicycles, as in a woman needs a man like a fish needs a bicycle. These poems are almost entirely about falling in love, getting let down in love and even love for her family and the college where she teaches (Niki Giovanni teaches at Virginia Tech and was one of the professors who taught the kid who went on the killing spree). This book is fun and light, without the familiar references to Tupac and Thug Life. She mostly stays away from her political and social commentary and just focuses on the human heart. It's kind of like a box of chocolates from a serious poet.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Tales From Lake Woebegon

I've always suspected that bastard. Now, maybe someone will listen to me.

Check it out.

Friday, April 3, 2009


I'm back to sending my book out. I guess I'm sick of looking at my current wall of rejection letters and need to add a second coat. This time, I'm focusing on publishers who say they don't mind if you don't have an agent. I don't mind, if they don't mind...

The current project is working out okay, though the urge to jump ship is ever present. I have a really, really fine idea, but one thing at a time. I said I'd do the snakes next.

Here's where I'm shipping to on Monday:
Absey and Company
Academy Chicago Publishers
Aspicomm Media
Baycrest Books
Contemporary Press

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Not making a big deal out of this...

I just completed my second letter to my grandmother.

I am lousy about keeping in touch. Part of it is self-imposed exile. Old friends, family, most of them get I've taken a big step back. It really has to be this way, if not for them, but for me.

I'm not fond of telephones and besides, the reception at my house sucks. So, I've been trying to write a bit lately. I've sent a bunch of e-mails to my family, mostly babbling about this whole house buying thing. It's just noise to let them know I'm alive, that I'm doing something. I'm also writing my grandmother. I figured it was better than a call. She's in her 80s, isn't computer literate, as far as I know, and probably doesn't get much mail.

Two letters... I figure if I can try to read 100 books in a year, two books a week, the least I can do is send one letter a week. I don't expect her to write back. Maybe it's kind of outreach blogging.