Friday, September 05, 2008


This is something of a follow-up to the previous post about Sarah Palin. This is what I mean when I say it pisses me off that Republicans play the populist card. Sarah Palin says in her speech that Obama wants to raise taxes--your taxes, which presumably means the taxes of the average American. McCain made a similar claim during the Saddleback meeting, in the same answer that included his famous "I dunno. Five million dollars?" quip. Obama wants to raise taxes, the Republicans want to lower them.

Now read this comparison of each of their tax plans from the Washington Post. As far as I can see, the only taxes Obama is raising is for the upper 1.1% income bracket. The rest of us actually get a tax break. For the bottom sixty percent, where I fall and so does practically every person I've ever known, it averages out to about a 3.8% decrease. Now, McCain is lowering taxes for everybody--that's true--but the upper 1.1% gets an average 3.9% decrease, while the lower sixty will enjoy less than half a percent decrease in our taxes.

To me, this is a no-brainer. I've said this before. You tax the rich more heavily than the poor because they have more to give. When you're doling out tax breaks, you give it to people who are struggling before you give it to people have more than they need. You help people who can't get their kids through college before you help people who have enough money to send their kids to private preschools.


I just read my friend Bonnie's blog, and I think she's pretty spot-on about who Sarah Palin reminds me of:

Yep. Spot on. Beyond just the looks, the comparison's are pretty impressive. I mean, except for the tax plans.


A friend of mine in the program had mentioned he thought Sarah Palin's speech was excellent, so I thought I'd give it a listen. It wasn't as bad as I thought it would be, partially because she stays away from the really crazy shit she believes in (like teaching creationism in schools) or her hypocritical stance on abortion (she says her daughter's pregnancy was a personal choice within her family, so why shouldn't other families get that same choice?) or her disturbingly unempathetic stance on gay marriage (she's against it, surprise surprise, but claims she has gay friends; so, I guess that's just a big fuck you to them, huh?), but it still nauseates me every time candidates get up and play their "Aw shucks, I guess I'm just a small-town girl/boy with nothing on my mind but your best interests...that's why I want to drill for oil." Yeah. Never mind that Palin has ties to oil companies and, like Papa Cheney before her, has only to gain financially from drilling. She's only thinking of your happiness, completely unbiased.

Beyond that, the overall tone of her quips against Obama were just more of the same snide, mean-spirited jabs that the Republicans have fallen back on for the last eight years. It's the same sort of shit that people who like Anne Coulter (ugh...sorry...that phrase just made me throw up in my mouth a little) consider a witty barb. But it isn't wit. It's snide. It's condescending, both to her opponent and her audience. It plays on the worst, most petty tendencies in the American people. In short, it tells me Sarah Palin is the same kind of cynical, self-serving politician I've seen sitting in office for the last eight years.

It's time we were done with that. It's time we replaced these bastards with people who see governing our country as something really serious, people who respect government and, more importantly, who respect us enough to say "You are bigger than this." I want someone in my government who will call on us to be more than petty and self-serving, who believes we are big enough to come together as a society. That, make no mistake, isn't McCain. It isn't Palin.

Anyway, here's the speech, both text and video. Enjoy.

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Well, this is Just Unacceptable

I realize this blog has been silent for a long while, and it'll probably go back to being that way soon. Sorry for the tease. Suffice to say, I'm busy.

What's rousted me out of silence is the news that, three journalists for Democracy Now! were among the protesters arrested on the first day of the RNC. The show's producers, Nicole Salazar and Sharif Abdel Kouddous, were arrested during a protest while trying to leave the area after police told them to do so (read this transcript of the event and watch the video; she clearly identifies herself as press). The show's host, Amy Goodman, was arrested shortly after while trying to find out from police the status of her two coleagues. Or to put it more simply, the three were arrested while trying to gather news. Seriously. Watch the videos and tell me if there's anything on them that seems arrestable or worthy of charging with felony riot charges (which is what her producers were charged with...for running backward...while crying out, "Press! Press!").

What gets me is not just the arrest itself, which, after the last eight years actually doesn't surprise me (and how sad is that?). What gets me is the police chief's response to the reasons why the incident happened:

The chief said that he'd yet to review the specifics of Monday's incident. But he said that police seek to give ample warning before breaking up what they deem as unlawful assembly, and that if journalists don't clear the scene, he added, it is difficult for officers to look at protesters and reporters and "to make those kinds of fine distinctions."

Fine distinctions? The press are easily identifiable because they wear press passes, which are big dangly name tags with the word "press" written out in big block letters for all to see. Often, they're brightly colored. Not exactly what I'd call a fine distinction to make. And if that wasn't enough, the producer kept announcing that she's press, both during the arrest and after, while she was sitting and awaiting a medic. So, no. That's not an acceptable reason for nabbing someone and throwing them in jail and charging them with felony riot charges. Not at all.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

The Swelter

A couple of days ago, I was down the shore visiting my father. We had this lovely weather for three days. Seventy degrees, a nice ocean breeze blowing inland. It was so beautiful that I took a bike ride to celebrate. A nice long one. Ten miles or so. Late Saturday night, the swelter blew in. I woke up in the middle of the night sticking to my sheets. The air had gone still and the ceiling fan wasn't doing a thing to stir it up. I spent the rest of the night rolling over and over, looking for the comfortable sleeping position. Around eight, I finally gave up on sleep.

Summer is officially here. Not in an astrological sense, of course--solstice is still a couple of weeks off--but damn the stars, the sweltering heat outside confirms it. My insomnia confirms it. With it, all of my productivity has completely evaporated. Hell, I'm easily distracted in the best of weather. In heat like this, I can barely put together two coherent sentences without staring off into the distance and wondering how on earth I'm going to get out of here. Seriously, it's taking multiple cups of coffee, a mind-focusing playlist, and 1000 BTUs of air conditioning just to finish this paragraph.

Still, I've been keeping busy. As the semester came to an end, I slowly started gathering all of the books I wanted to read last year, but couldn't, since I was reading other books for classes. Over the course of a couple of months, what started as one or two books I wanted to read has grown to a stack of books up to my hips, which I can't possibly hope to finish before the year's out, let alone the summer (one of my students this semester told me he reads a book a day during the summer...I'm lucky if I can finish one in a week). I'm whittling my way through it, hoping I'll manage to make at least a dent before I have to start teaching in August. I just finished reading The Anchor Book of New American Short Stories, an excellent and eclectic collection edited by my chair, Ben Marcus. Though not everything in it is really my cup of tea, there was not a single story that didn't grab me and keep my attention all the way through. Currently I'm reading Paul LaFarge's Haussmann, which is a fun read and full of all sorts of nerdy references about Paris.

In addition, I took a position as one of the reading staff for Columbia: A Journal of Literature and Art, which is Columbia's journal of literature. And art. I've basically been reading slush, which is the unsolicited manuscripts the journal receives from various aspiring writers. People like me, essentially, who aren't well-known enough that magazines ask for their work. Some of the stories are really excellent, but for the most part the stuff we read is really awful. Actually, awful isn't the word. Boring is the word. Earlie this year, Stephen King published an essay titled "What Ails the Short Story," which basically sums up my feelings while I read slush. The whole article is here, but the part that I'm thinking of goes like this:

Last year, I read scores of stories that felt ... not quite dead on the page, I won’t go that far, but airless, somehow, and self-referring. These stories felt show-offy rather than entertaining, self-important rather than interesting, guarded and self-conscious rather than gloriously open, and worst of all, written for editors and teachers rather than for readers.

It's the last one that keeps getting me. I think ninety percent of the stories I've rejected, it was because they felt like the author was playing it too safe. They're not bad stories, exactly--in fact, some have been absolutely functional pieces--but they don't do anything to define their own space in the literary canon. Either the author's voice is too weak to drown out the rest of the world and induce (as Ben Marcus would have it) the literary hallucination that makes us feel really immersed in a good story, or the subject is too uninteresting to keep me enthralled, but the end result is the same. A story that's easy to put down and forget about. The problems these stories have are, I should say, problems I see in my own work. Timidness. Over-explanation. An overly soft touch. It comes from wanting to be liked. To seem nice. Pleasant.

More and more as I read, both in my every day reading and my slush reading, I find myself looking for stories that are just slightly flawed. Not so badly that they can't keep it together, but just enough that what I'm looking at doesn't feel too constructed by human hands. I look for the glorious messes, the stories where I can see that the author isn't entirely in control but is reaching a little outside of their own grasp. These are the stories that grab my attention and keep it. The ones I want to publish right away before anyone else gets the privilege.

And that's about it for now. I'm planning to spend the summer writing, and hopefully you'll see this blog updated more regularly. I'm a little sad I missed out on the primary season, but really, did the country need another uninformed political blogger? I didn't think so, either. All the same, go Obama, and that's the last I'll say on the subject.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

I Turned 3O and All I Blogged Was this Lousy Cartoon

Well, at least I'm not this far gone.

(Yeah, I know, this is a lame post, but I'm busy. Much to blog about later.)

Sunday, March 09, 2008

New Stories

I've put up a couple of new stories on the Stories I Tell blog. This semester, I'm taking two seminars that are fairly heavy on writing, one with David Plante and the other with Kelly Link. The Plante seminar is focusing heavily on a structuralist view of writing, the idea of which is that you can analyze writing from a less organic place by examining the simple facts of the events in a story. Which sounds really dull when I write it out, but is actually a wonderful and freeing way of approaching a piece. Last week, we created fabulas--time index grids outlining the basic facts of a piece--and then traded the fabulas with other people to see what would come of it when they fleshed it out. The first story, "Birds and Water," is the result of my fleshing out. I should give credit to Ramon Isao, who wrote the initial fabula this story is based on; he really did the heavy lifting with this piece. All the other stuff is just me having fun.

The second piece, "Cyril Shot: Private Eyes" is for my Kelly Link seminar, which is focusing on genre fiction pieces, specifically about transformation. Earlier in the semester, we read an essay by Samuel Delaney that talks about the various signifiers readers pick up when they read a piece of fiction, and the way that genre affects our interpretation of various sentences. He uses the example that the sentences, "Her world exploded," and, "He turned on his left side," take on entirely different meanings for a reader of science fiction than they do for someone reading more mimetic fiction. In response to these ideas, I decided to create a piece around the idea of eyes and seeing. Hence, Cyril Shot. It's much more genre than I normally work in, but I like it, and it's not bad for a day's work.


Also, as an aside, my long-time friend, Miranda has put up a blog. Check it out.

Sunday, March 02, 2008

Experimental Skillet

One of my more interesting classes this semester is a course in experimental writing with David Plante. The original title for the class was "The Short Story," but basically every class David Plante teaches that isn't workshop becomes experimental writing. Which is lovely, actually, since it's had me writing a great deal without worrying too much about what I'm saying.

Anyway, one of the major experiments we're working on this semester is trying to find a way to use the computer to expand our writing. We're trying to see what the computer does that can't be done on a typewriter. I decided at an early point in the semester to play with using the computer to create an interactive environment, something that is more three dimensional than what you experience on the page alone. So, I expanded my skillet story and came up with this:

Every night, as was his custom, my father would come to the kitchen before my mother made dinner, pull a copper skillet out from behind all of the other pans and wave it over the other kitchenware in an act of ritual blessing. The food processor, the stick blender, the metal and rubber spatulas, the Japanese knives that promised to julienne a tin can should we ever choose to include one in a salad, and so forth. Every cooking implement we had, dad would wave the skillet back and forth above them, his lips moving in slow, silent prayer. He was not religious in any other way, my father. He was, in fact, an atheist, and he would happily expound to anyone who would listen on the ills of needless ritual. This skillet, however, he held up as a sacred object, and by the sheer act of waving it over the other cooking tools, he believed that the other tools in the kitchen would be inspired to the greatness this skillet knew.

Enjoy. If I pulled it off, you should have felt, while you read it, as if you were walking down a hallway, opening doors and peering in as you went.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

And Here We Go Again

The semester officially started this week, and it looks like I'm going to have a good one this time around. Workshop, especially, looks like it's going to be good. Before we got started on the semester, the teacher, Jaime Manrique, had us all submit a few pages of work to each other, just to break the ice. The stories people submitted were wonderful. Engaging and passionate. Excellent work. It's nice to look forward to reading what people turn in. Jaime, himself, has a reputation for being a tough critic, but he's fair and very supportive.

I'm also taking Yiddish this semester, which I almost dropped after the first class. I took it, thinking that since it was similar to German, I might have a good chance at picking it up quickly. Which is true on the speaking end of things. Unfortunately, on the writing end, Yiddish is written in the Hebrew alphabet, something I did not know when I signed up for the class. Being the big Goy that I am, I've never read Hebrew, except when it's transliterated. I decided to stick through it, though. I'm not sure I'll ever get the hang of the alphabet, but that's fine. I'm not looking to write for the Forward, just to be able to order at a deli. So I should be OK. Also a friend of mine in the program is taking a bilingually taught Yiddish literature class, so she and I have agreed to start meeting to help each other. I'll help her with the Yiddish lit, and she'll help me reinforce what I learn.

For those of you wishing to pick up a bit of Yiddish on your own, may I recommend starting with the Bulbes song. Mmmmm...bulbes an Zuntik!