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Writing Horoscopes

Cancer (June 22 – July 22)
Set aside some time this week to watch people at the park, the café, or the doctor’s office waiting room. Go wherever your current tale is set. Pay attention to the movements, appearances, and conversations that make these people real. “When writing a novel a writer should create living people; people not characters. A character is a caricature,” Cancer Ernest Hemingway reminds us.

Leo (July 23 – August 22)
Leo, your comedic timing will be spot on this week. Make sure that every pun leaving your fingertips is working in service of its larger meaning this week. As lioness Dorothy Parker said, “Wit has truth in it; wisecracking is simply calisthenics with words.”

Virgo (August 23 – September 22)
Virgo Roald Dahl once said, “A writer of fiction lives in fear. Each new day demands new ideas and he can never be sure whether he is going to come up with them or not.” Don’t let that fear stall you this week, Virgo. Instead of opening your Word document and experiencing stage fright, tackle that electric white page like a gardener would as he tilled his spring beds. Seize the opportunity to plant, grow, weed, and nurture your ideas.

Libra (September 23 – October 22)
“I believe more in the scissors than I do in the pencil,” admitted fellow Libra Truman Capote. He was speaking of revision. Libra, this week the scales have tipped in favor of cutting, adding, and rewording rather than creating new material. Work through your past drafts dramatically on the first pass and judiciously on the second.
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The Sponsored and Sold Dictionary

All week I have been contending with Walter Mitty in my mailbox. Even words like o·nei·ric (/ōˈnīrik/ adj. formal 1. of or relating to dreams) have sponsored content, advertisements, and quotes from the movie.

It makes me want to see the box office bomb even less. I realize that the movie is based off of a James Thurber short story from the 1930s and features a copyeditor as the main character, two considerations that mean I may have eventually watched it. However, I’m not a fan of being a targeted market audience for quotes about living life to the fullest because in a moment of panic while studying for the GRE, I signed up for the word-a-day service.

I’d always been a fan of Merriam-Webster’s corporate history. When I was in grade school, I had a Webster’s dictionary that I began to realize was antisemitic.
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Riots around the Corner

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Photo from the ABQ Journal

According to the US Census’ 2012 data, about 555,417 people live in Albuquerque. That’s about a quarter of the population of New Mexico. It is a majority-minority town and state. The state often markets its tricultural harmony.

Nearly 18% of the people here live below the poverty line. Starting police salary, without differentials for overnight shifts, is about $35,000 a year.

Several years ago, there was TV show called COPS. The intro song went like this”Bad boys, bad boys. Watcha you gonna do, watcha you gonna do when they come for you. Bad boys, bad boys.”

The vague pronoun “they” appears to refer to the police. Does the ambiguous “bad boys” refer to the police or suspected lawbreakers?

The show had a little film crew who rode along with the police and taped them making arrests. The crime series aired on Fox for 25 years.

Albuquerque has a lot of drunks and homeless people. Many people come into town and go on benders.

Since I live close to the Route 66 and the university, I’m near a lot of bus stops and places where people are allowed to sit in public for free. Empty, inexpensive pints of vodka litter my neighborhood.

Homeless people are often entering the dorms on campus and trying to sleep in the warm buildings, out of the wind.

Walking to work one morning, I encountered a man weaving his way down the street on a bicycle. He appeared neither homeless nor housed. “You have nice eyebrows!” he said as he wobbled past.

The drunks here are mostly harmless. Every few days, some Native Americans will catcall me in Spanish. (I am white; I could be Hispanic or Anglo.) They are just as likely to say something vulgar, as they are to offer some potato chips or ask for a couple bucks to get another beverage.

Part of the energy with the COPS show when it filmed in Albuquerque was that racial dynamic between the police and the people being arrested. Part of it was that the combination of characteristics was foreign to the rest of the U.S. In one episode that residents have shown me multiple times to explain the popularity of COPS involves a drunk Native American crossdresser in trouble with the police. For most of the country, this is a bizarre combination. It is a reminder of some social problems that stem from 500 years of colonization.

The TV show started filming here all the time. Every time you watched COPS it was taking place in Albuquerque. The mayor finally banned COPS from filming here—the show was giving the town a bad reputation. We did not appear to be three cultures holding hands and singing kumbaya.

In the last two weeks, the police have shot and killed two men.

One had his hands up in the air and was agreeing to come peacefully. He was homeless; they were arresting him for sleeping in the foothills. Read more »

Ballad of a WiFi Hero

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Great animated adaptation of “In Which I Fix My Girlfriend’s Grandparents’ WiFi and Am Hailed as a Conquering Hero,” by Mike Lacher, from McSweeney’s Internet Tendency.

Anything Other Than Writing

My brain is a kind of synapse soup leaking out of my ears after two terrific conferences, one odyssey in Denver, a delivery of files to the printing press, and the mere suggestion of grading scientist profiles. So, in lieu of a thoughtful post, I will offer you several games.

1. Pick up the book nearest you.
Turn to page 45. The first complete sentence describes your love life.

Here’s mine:
“Rather than simplifying and unifying, he is revealing the complexity of the Japanese ‘natural’ world and opening a space in the cosmology for native yokai.”

from Pandemonium and Parade: Japanese Monsters and the Culture of Yokai by Michæl Dylan Foster

(Har har har, sounds supernatural, huh?)

2. Make a book spine poem by arranging books on your self.
Here’s mine:


The hummingbird’s daughter
falling up
in the wilderness
skinny legs and all.
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Publishing Bots on the Loose: David Publishing

This week I have been at the Southwest Popular American Culture Association Conference, which one of my students has called a “nerd extravaganza.” On Wednesday, I presented some of the X-Files poetry that I have been working on; the manuscript of the collection is called “Glitches in the FBI.” Last night, I received the following e-mail:

from emailThis note (which included some more specific information beneath the scroll), is my first encounter with David Publishing. Because I am human, I like to have my ego stroked, so my first thought was, “Cool.”

When I was younger, I kept a blog, in part to keep in touch with my family across the country, and in part (ok, a really big part), with the hope that I would be “discovered” by some publishing company and land a book deal.  The publishing process was very mysterious to me then (it still is, some days), so I had no idea how writers could be proactive about becoming authors.

Anyway, I saw this e-mail and, I have to admit, it satisfied some part of that “being found” desire I used to have. Even though I presented to a crowd of about seven poetry enthusiasts, in a ballroom staged for 200+ people, I believed my presentation went well. One of my students came, on assignment from the school paper. A poet in a gray suit shook my hand afterward. “Glitches in the FBI” had a lot of good energy around it; of course some one would want to publish some of the poems or a discussion of the process. Read more »

Never Knew What I Was Missin’

Do you anticipate all of the RED to stop? Do you wish to enter a store devoid of hearts, turn on the TV without Hallmark saying that Life is Worth Sharing, especially a pink Love Life, or fire up the internet with the peace of mind that comes with forgetting, for months at a time, all the fine loves abandoned?

Have you ever noticed that all of our Valentine’s Day gifts come from steamier parts of the planet, equatorial warzone lands?

1-800-FLOW-ERS ships a dozen roses from the Columbian cartel to your door. South of the border heart-shaped boxes of chocolates from Russel Stover’s Mexican cacao collection of decapitated mules. Blood diamonds from Congo Republic of Kay Jeweler.

Is it more difficult to be single or to be ethical and in love?


All the Songs Are Triumphant and Resolve to a Minor Key

praying-drunk-coverPraying Drunk
Kyle Minor
Sarabande Books
193 pages, $15.95

This morning I trashed e-mail from an organization called Kentucky for Kentucky. I have bought a couple shirts from the organization: “Lincoln is my Co-Pilot” and “Kickass Commonwealth since 1792.” This morning they were advertising a new poster, the Bluegrass alphabet:

A – Ali, B – Bluegrass, C – (Kentucky) Colonels, D – Derby, E – Ernest, F – Fried Chicken, G – Goldenrod, H – High Five, I – Isaac Murphy, J – John Jacob Niles, K – Keeneland, L – Lincoln, M – Mammoth Cave, N – Natural Bridge, O – Opossum, P – PawPaw, Q – Quilt, R – Rosie the Riveter, S – Shaker Village, T – Turtle Man, U – United We Stand, Divided We Fall, V – Vault (Fort Knox), W – Wigwam Village, X – Moonshine, Y – Y’all, Z – Zombie.

I am not usually so taken with statehood camaraderie, except perhaps after growing homesick watching Winter’s Bone or later today, when I finally finished Kyle Minor’s new collection of stories, Praying Drunk.

I’d read the first story in the book, “The Question of Where We Begin,” in a collection of flash nonfiction essays. The second line reads, “My uncle takes a pistol and blows his brains out,” and the following paragraphs wrestle with why, maybe this, maybe that, cause and effect, driving backward from the personal story, the family story, the national-historical story, to the mythic, big, beginning story. Here is an excerpt:

We begin with the trouble, but where does the trouble begin? My uncle takes a pistol and blows his brains out.

Now we may proceed to the aftermath. The removal of the body from his bedroom. The cleanup. The reading of the will. The funeral in West Palm Beach, Florida. The woman he wanted to marry, taking the ring he gave her and putting it on her finger after the death.

But this beginning is not satisfactory.  The mourners are now parsing their theories of why. Did you know that he was brain-damaged when that city dump truck hit him twenty years ago? Look at his children grieving in the front pew of the funeral room. Why wouldn’t they visit him except when they wanted his settlement money? Had his settlement money run out? And where is his ex-wife? Why couldn’t she love him enough to stay with him (for better or for worse, right?) Do you think it’s true he was physically violent with her like she told the judge?

I read “The Question of Where We Begin” months ago and said, simply, “Wow.” I had not read anything that good in a long time. Not only was the structure interesting—as it echoes the questions that we ask ourselves sitting in a pew, whittling down the suicide to the most basic and complex set of questions we can ask about character, choice, and death—but I recognized the people, the poverty, the darkness lingering at the edge of the forest. Read more »

Winning the Kokoro of the People

In 1689, Basho went for a long walk into the interior, Oku. After he returned in 1690, he began revising his travelogue from the adventure. I offer the introduction as a testament to its beauty:

The moon and the sun are eternal travelers. Even the years wander on. A lifetime adrift in a boat, or in old age leading a tired horse into the years, every day is a journey and the journey itself is home. From the earliest times, there have always been some who perished along the road. Still I have always been drawn to windblown clouds into the dreams of a lifetime wandering.

It’s not your average travelogue. It’s not a day-to-day record of events. Basho avoids either or the major tropes in travel writing: “I went to an exotic place and found it exotic” and “I went to an exotic place and found it quite ordinary, just like home.” And while most travelogues are meant to relate useful or timely information, Basho’s writing feels timeless to such a great extent that I have been enjoying it 317 years later.

Basho’s haibun works in a similar way to the headnotes in the Kokinshu and haiku emerges through the hybrid form: the prose sets up the poem. The travelogue aspect of the work is as crafted as the poetry—his account of his journey in The Narrow Road to the Interior does not represent a straightforward, factual, or complete rendering of his travels. He did travel, walking for a hundred and fifty days with the goal to visit the famous places mentioned in poetry, but in the book, the order of events has changed, details have been deleted or embellished. Likewise, the poems might feel spontaneous embedded in the narrative context, but he spent five years revising the text that appears in the final compilation.

His autobiographical prose sections rarely lean overly lyrical, since Basho observed the renga (linked verse) tradition of including less lyrical passages before and after gemlike vignettes, so as not to exhaust the reader. For instance, his account of visiting the place called “Under-the-Trees” moves from the mystic to the mundane—from a narrative description of this dense, dark, dew-laden forest to a quote from the Kokinshu (Poem 1091) where the speaker suggests that one should carry an umbrella in this place.

“Kokoro” means the “heart and mind,” here, the beautiful cohesion that cannot be found in form alone. It includes the sincerity and conviction of the poem.

I love you but I do not want to write about you unnecessarily.

I hate it when I am reading an essay and the writer suddenly says she has a husband or fiancé or boyfriend for no real good reason other than she thinks she must. I will be reading some perfectly good essay about stargazing or foreclosures and suddenly know whether the author lives with her boyfriend. She will be working through her thoughts, then bring in his as one line of dialogue or some other form of aside, a throwaway line that does not complicate anything and could just as easily be cut.

Why must women always have to declare they’re female and they’re taken or single, a mother or not a mother? What is that all about? It is not expected that a male writer will say how committed he is to a significant other or if he’s fathered a child, and he really doesn’t have to declare that in the first sentence.

But females still have to reduce themselves to a stereotype. What Golden Girl/Sex in the City/Designing Women/L-Word/Girls/name-a-show-with-a-female-cast character are you? The naïve one? The super-sexed-up one? The too-macho and outspoken one? The sensible one?

What if I am Southern and only occasionally feisty? Or terribly naïve but not at all innocent? What if that isn’t the point and I am not, by nature, a confessionalist?

One of the last essay critiques I got said, “Tell me your sex up front.” I had not thought my sex or gender was important to the question at hand, which is why I had not devoted any space to my anatomy or whether I am sporty or free-spirited, or if I am co-conspirator in some playful, moonly love.
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