Archive for the ‘Writing’ Category

Cleo at her command post
This dog is guarding the house.

We had to put our dog Cleo to sleep yesterday. She had been gradually losing control of her back legs, but her descent had accelerated and she was spending more time just sitting, inspecting the grass around her and taking sensor readings of the air. It was five months to the day since I first saw her wobbling at high speed around the pen where she was being held. How can one undersized corgi become an oversized part of your life in just five months?

On her last day, Cleo slept on the bed, ate lots of treats, rolled in the grass, took a few steps on her favorite trail, charmed one last stranger, and (briefly) chased a squirrel. That would be a good day for most humans. I’ll miss the war she waged against the chickadees in our backyard, the way she swam through the undergrowth in the forest, and how she would kick me awake at 3am because she was dreaming about chasing down a moose. Like most of us, in her dream life she was invincible.

Cheryl Strayed wrote in Wild, “The universe takes things away and never gives them back.” But the universe also gives you gifts. Cleo was a gift to us in a dark hour, and we’ll never regret taking a chance on her.

Cleo's tulip parade 041414
Tulips on parade.

Horace Silver, 1928-2014
Horace Silver was my favorite jazz pianist, though I didn’t discover him until his 1996 release, The Hard-Bop Grandpop. The man was a jazz institution and I came to him very late in his career. Two earlier albums that I know and can recommend are Blowin’ the Blues Away (1959) and especially Song for My Father (1964). RIP.

I was dreamin’ when I wrote this/forgive me if it goes astray
Let’s change the mood here. The Prince Project is on hold (just when were getting to the most notorious albums) because I am once again participating in the Clarion West Write-a-thon. I’m not going to blog about it because doing that last summer was insane. Instead, I’m signing off. See you on August 2. Enjoy your summer!

Random Pick of the Day
The Beatles, Revolver (1966)
Four things strike me as I listened to Revolver after many years of not listening to it:

One is that The Beatles embarked on 14 separate explorations of new musical pathways and brought each of them home in a concise 2-3 minutes. Arcade Fire or Pink Floyd would still be playing.

Two is that the album begins with something as mundane as taxes and ends with the Tibetan Book of the Dead. (Do the Tibetans read any fun books?)

Three is that “She Said She Said” would fit into any alt-rock radio playlist in 1986, 1996, 2006, and probably in 2166.

Four is that The Beatles’ experiment with Indian music is like punk’s flirtation a decade later with reggae – interesting, but only to a point, which in The Beatles’ case will come the following year on Sgt. Pepper.

A must-own album. But you already do.

I’m back after a tumultuous week. We went on a road trip to Bellingham, Wash., and hiked in perfect weather on Mt. Baker (with a view of the North Cascades that extended deep into Canada). We last hiked Skyline Divide in 1995 and it was good to know that we could still do the steep ascent.

Emma Steve Skyline Divide Spring 1995
Emma conquers the wilderness, spring 1995.

I returned to a paying job, hallelujah, but a cold was raging through the office and by Wednesday afternoon it was mine, all mine. I somehow made it home and dived into bed, where I spent most of Thursday hallucinating that I was in Depeche Mode. I’m only starting to feel some synapses firing today. This is particularly frustrating because I’m dying to get back to my book.

But first, what did I learn from the Write-a-thon, aside from the fact that my goal of writing 25,000 words in six weeks was somewhere north of insane?

Many writers have said that while working on a novel they often flirt with other, smaller projects. (Special D is not of this school.) They give many reasons: It keeps them fresh, it’s a reward, it helps them get through those parts of the book where you feel as if you’re slogging through an ocean of mud.

If I were to take a break from my book to work on a short story, I’d get so wrapped up in this new fictional world it that it would be hard to find my way back. Fiction is too involving for me, and anyway I write slowly.

What the Write-a-thon taught me is that I could take breaks from my book by blogging. I’m listening to all this music anyway. Why not jot down a few insults and type them up later? Besides, blogging is done with a different part of the brain. I believe it’s the part of the brain we chew gum with. This explains why any idiot can be a blogger.

Writing a novel every day and blogging every day were fine for six weeks but exhausting beyond that. So I’m returning to my original Sunday blogging schedule while I return to my book and while I figure out what “blogging” means for the future. Thanks, as always, for reading along. Your support means the world to me.

When next we meet: All the bands I’m disqualifying from the “Let Me Count the Ways” band project!

Rock ’n’ roll has come a long way

Why? takes hip-hop, stirs it up with a hefty scoop of indie rock, then tops it off with a sprinkling of psychedelic electro-pop. These Jewish art-school dropouts know how to emcee and throw down the beats – you’ll see some mad strumming, plucking, and schvitzing all night, too.

(Portland Mercury, 27 February 2013)

I did something very satisfying yesterday at about half past six in the evening. A few years ago, I was reading an essay on railroading and hit a phrase the writer intended as an off-the-cuff remark, just a bit of levity to balance a more serious issue. In theater or in a movie they’d call it a throw-away line.

It struck me as good dialog, if I twisted it a bit and if I could figure out who was supposed to say it and what the situation was. As my book came into focus, I knew I’d use this, and I eventually figured out who was talking to whom and where and why. Last night I finally got far enough into the book that I could type the words I’d been saving up. They fit perfectly.

I didn’t get far tonight in the final inning of the Write-a-thon, but I’m lucky I got anywhere at all. I’m so tired, I’ve been approving your comments without any of my usual put-you-in-your-place remarks. I’m so tired, I’ve been playing music I don’t even like. But I still wish I could do this all over again! I just printed all 23,000 words of my book and I feel as triumphant and invigorated as I did at the end of July 1986 when I walked out of my last Clarion class. (My Clarion only had eight students and we weren’t exactly a close group, so my going it alone this time wasn’t too far off my first experience.)

What have I learned? I’ll get into all that next Sunday. I need to think. I need to clear my head before I can think. I’m going on a road trip tomorrow and taking a week off (not counting work, marriage, friends, and the rest of my life). For now I just want to say how much I appreciate everyone who followed along for all or even some of these 41 days, for everyone who commented and expressed support, for my cash-money sponsors, Karen G. Anderson, Laurel Sercombe, and Mitch Katz (as promised, I’m sending you some original Run-DMSteve artwork), and for Special D’s unwavering support. I’m a lucky guy.

Two last quotes. They work beautifully together:

“Anthony Trollope shows us that nothing is more surprising, more thrillingly strange, than the twists and delusions of staid people about whom we believe we already know everything.” (Roger Angell)

“Hobbits really are amazing creatures. You can learn all there is to know about their ways in a month, and yet after a hundred years they can still surprise you.” (Gandalf the Grey)

The “Let Me Count the Ways Band Project” is ON!
Unless you round up some more strays, this is the list I’m going to work from:

Less Than Zero
.38 Special
Kenny Rogers and the First Edition
One Direction
KRS-One
Two Nice Girls
RJD2
Devo 2.0
2 Unlimited
2Pac
2 Tribes
Amon Duul II
U2
Boyz II Men
2 Live Crew
3 Doors Down
Three Dog Night
World War III
3 Mustaphas 3
Timbuk 3
Loudon Wainwright III
The Three O’Clock
Third Eye Blind
311
Classics IV
4 Non Blondes
The Four Horsemen
The Four Seasons
The Four Tops
Four Men & a Dog
Four Bitchin’ Babes
The Four Aces
The Four Freshmen
Bobby Fuller Four
Gang of Four
The Dave Clark Five
MC5
The 5th Dimension
The Jackson 5
Maroon 5
Five Man Electrical Band
Five for Fighting
The Five Satins
Ben Folds Five
We Five
Q5
The 5 Jones Boys
V6
Apollonia 6
Sixpence None the Richer
Six By Seven
Temperance Seven
7 Seconds
L7
Crazy 8’s
8-Ball
Napoleon XIV
Nine Inch Nails
10cc
Ten Years After
East 17
Heaven 17
Matchbox Twenty
UB40
Level 42
Black 47
The B-52s
MX80
M83
Century 93
The Old 97s
Apollo 100
Haircut 100
101 Strings
blink-182
Galaxie 500
Area Code 615
1000 Homo DJs
1910 Fruitgum Company
10,000 Maniacs

 

I’ve been noticing the passing of time more than I usually do. It’s been a crowded season with a lot of lessons.

Participating in the Write-a-thon while Clarion West runs in Seattle reminds me of the six weeks I spent at Clarion in 1986, when every day and night could turn into a write-a-thon. There are about 18 students in this year’s class, a cross-section of scribbling humanity. What are they feeling right now, besides exhaustion?

I just had a birthday. That always makes me stop and think (after I’ve opened my presents).

I just saw my sister’s kids. They’re in the early moves of their lives.

I just saw my parents. They’re playing out their endgame.

I just lost two of my aunts. They both lived into their 90s.

But the daily reminder of the passing of time is an absence. Our dog Teddy (aka Storm Small) died in June. The life he lived in that area we humans simply walk through, the first 12 inches above the floor, is empty. I think of this whenever I don’t walk into him or trip over him or look at him fondly as he takes yet another nap in a high-traffic area. Maybe I should grab a pillow and lie down there as an homage to this small dog who got us past the death of our senior dog, Emma, who helped us establish ourselves in Portland, and who was willing to bark at just about anything that walked through the front door.

I’ve had very few dreams that I could remember on awakening. Most of my dreams are about dinosaurs or cheerleaders. No, not in the same dream. A few of the dreams I do remember have been about dogs. A few nights ago, I dreamed about a summer morning in Seattle in 1993 or ’94. There was a park we used to take Emma to, on the ridge overlooking a beach called Golden Gardens. For lack of a better name, we called this park Upper Golden. There was a wide field and a forest with trails and great views of Puget Sound.

Golden Gardens
The view from Upper Golden on an old postcard mailed before WWI.

This dream was more like a recalled memory or a replay than a dream. There was no plot and no dialog, except for barking. There were several dozen owners and dogs there. I couldn’t remember any of the owners’ names, but I knew some of the dogs’ names. (People at dog parks call out dog names, not people names.)

A light brown lab named Mocha chased a stick with utter single-mindedness. Emma and some other small dogs chased Mocha. They did that all the time but they never caught her. Mocha never acknowledged their existence, in my dream or in the real world. There was a dalmation named Ruby whom Emma always tried to herd. She must’ve thought Ruby was a cow. There was an old corgi named Casey who belonged to a garrulous old guy. Casey looked like an overstuffed footstool and didn’t move much faster. Both Casey and the garrulous old guy had been hit by a train years before. I think they both had steel plates in their heads.

(A year before this morning I was dreaming of, when Emma was a puppy, she tried to take something from Casey. The ancient corgi lifted one lip slightly, uttered a short “Errr” as if he were the King of England, and Emma dropped to the ground, her ears flattened against her head.)

The dogs played. The people chatted. Someone brought out water bowls and the dogs had a drink. People and dogs left, other people and dogs arrived. That was probably the whole experience that summer morning. That was the whole dream.

Emma on TV
Emma was ready for her close-up the day King-5 TV came to Upper Golden.

The odd thing to me, given how vividly I recall that experience, is that all of those dogs who brought so much life to that grassy field are now gone. Long gone. Other generations of dogs play on that field, and the people from back then who haven’t moved away or moved on or moved to wherever it is the dogs go when they die, and new people who never met Ruby or Mocha or Casey or Emma, throw sticks and balls and frisbees and laugh at canine capers that have been going on since forever but always seem new when it’s your dog doing them.

Eventually we’ll get another dog and fill the first 12 inches above the floor and then we’ll be the new people at the park and we’ll restart this wonderful cycle. My dream was a gift, a painless trip back in time. I just wish I could’ve really gone back to 1993 and given myself a two-word message: “search engines.”

Lining up my next project
Thanks to my Seriously Loyal Readers (see comments to yesterday’s post), I now have the following list of bands with numbers in their names. I have the feeling some of these are spoofs, but with the Write-a-thon still on I don’t have time to check your work against Allmusic.com. Whether you’re conning me or not, this is going to be fun!

I’ve written about these:
One Direction
2 Live Crew
3 Doors Down
Three Dog Night
Bobby Fuller Four
Dave Clark Five

These are still to come:
Less Than Zero
.38 Special
Kenny Rogers and the First Edition
2 Tribes
Amon Duul II
U2
Boyz II Men
World War III
Classics IV
4 Non Blondes
The Four Horsemen
The Four Seasons
The Four Tops
MC5
The 5th Dimension
The Jackson 5
Maroon 5
Five Man Electrical Band
Five for Fighting
The Five Satins
Ben Folds Five
We Five
Q5
Six By Seven
Temperance Seven
7 Seconds
8-Ball
Nine Inch Nails
10cc
Ten Years After
East 17
Heaven 17
Matchbox Twenty
UB40
The B-52s
MX80
M83
The Old 97s
Haircut 100
101 Strings
blink-182
Galaxie 500
Area Code 615
1000 Homo DJs
1910 Fruitgum Company
10,000 Maniacs

If you can think of any more, let me know! I’ll be back tomorrow night for the Write-a-thon wrap-up, if I’m still conscious.

 

After holding a job for the third consecutive day and continuing the Write-a-thon after I got home – I’ve got nothing. So I’m going to do something easy: Call for help!

Loyal Reader Verlierer got me started on reviewing bands with a number in their names. The following list comes mostly from Mr. V and Accused of Lurking. I only thought of a few. (How did I overlook U2??) My question for the rest of you: Can you think of any bands we’ve missed? Bands are named in ascending numerical order.

I’ve written about these:
One Direction
2 Live Crew
3 Doors Down
Three Dog Night
Bobby Fuller Four
Dave Clark Five

These are still to come:
.38 Special
Kenny Rogers and the First Edition
U2
Classics IV
4 Non Blondes
The Four Tops
The 5th Dimension
The Jackson 5
Maroon 5
Five Man Electrical Band
Five for Fighting
The Five Satins
Ben Folds Five
Heaven 17
Matchbox Twenty
UB40
The B-52s
MX80
M83
The Old 97s
Haircut 100
blink-182
1000 Homo DJs
1910 Fruitgum Company
10,000 Maniacs

Your assistance is appreciated as I stagger toward Friday and the end of the Write-a-thon!

 

Sit down and put down everything that comes into your head and then you’re a writer. But an author is one who can judge his own stuff’s worth, without pity, and destroy most of it. (Colette)

When I was a pre-bar mitzvah sprout in Hebrew school, I was at the mercy of a teacher who came from the Old World with some old skool Old World characteristics, including teeth and fingernails yellow from chain-smoking and a tendency in any academic situation to fall back on his main teaching tool: violence.

I’m not going to tell you this man’s name, or the nickname we children gave him, or the songs we sang about him, because I don’t want his descendants to track me down and torture me the way he did. And anyway, maybe he behaved so badly because he had survived the Holocaust and journeyed to America and in his declining years ended up marooned in our declining, uninteresting city, teaching Hebrew to a bunch of youthful dumbshits. Whatever his motivations, when he called one of us up to the front of the class to recite and we couldn’t deliver, he always screamed, “Go back to your seat and study!!!”

This evening at the end of my Write-a-thon hour I wanted to send myself back to my seat to study. What I wrote was definitely not worth reciting at the front of a classroom or anywhere else. There’s a character I have yet to understand, and my subconscious writer brain refuses to let him walk through these pages as valiant, virtuous, and virtually flawless. Unlike my former Hebrew school teacher, who is long gone, I can figure out what makes this guy tick and why anyone should care.

Maybe that was my old teacher’s real problem. He cared too much.

The 10-year-old inside me just ducked and covered.

Random Pick of the Day
Three Dog Night, Cyan (1973)
Loyal Reader Accused of Lurking has pointed out my math error. Before I so blithely skipped to the Dave Clark Five, I should’ve stopped at Three Dog Night! I also skipped 4 Non Blondes. I’m rectifying the first error tonight.

I find Three Dog Night interesting because almost everything they sang was written by someone else. The original was practically unrecognizable after 3DN finished rearranging it. Look at their first record, Three Dog Night (1969). The composers on this disc include Tim Hardin, Stevie Winwood, Harry Nilsson, Lennon & McCartney, Randy Newman, Neil Young, and Johnnie “Guitar” Watson. Their second album, Suitable for Framing (also 1969), adds Laura Nyro, Dave Mason, Sam Cooke, and Elton John. I wish 3DN had lasted as far as 1980 because I would’ve loved to have heard what they did with songs by, for example, Bruce Springsteen, Elvis Costello, Joan Armatrading, and Michael Jackson.

Other than the fact that I flee from any room where “Black & White” or “Joy to the World” is playing (the latter being the “Jeremiah was a bullfrog” song, which Hoyt Axton wrote to showcase the melody – the lyrics were a nonsensical placeholder), I’m OK with this band. They fit well on a road trip in-between the harder stuff. My favorite 3DN songs are “One” (Nilsson), “Eli’s Coming” (Nyro), “Easy to Be Hard” (the team that wrote Hair), and “Liar” (Russ Ballard). Except for “Easy to Be Hard,” these treatments are tougher than usual for them. They’re all from the first two albums.

Cyan (which includes the hit “Shambala”) is not 3DN’s best album (that would be their debut), but it’s their closest to the blue-eyed soul of Rare Earth. There’s also a gospel flavor to some of these tracks. (“Celebrate,” from Suitable for Framing, could easily have appeared on a Rare Earth album exactly as it is.)

For a few years back there in our rearview mirror, Three Dog Night was more powerful than the Van Allen radiation belt. According to Google, they ran up a string of 21 hit singles from 1969 through 1975. I’d rather revisit their music than that of their contemporaries Grand Funk Railroad, a band that rocks very hard for very little reason.

There was a New Yorker cartoon right around the time we called up our first corgi from the minors. A puppy is writing a letter. “Dear Mom and Dad: My first day went really well. We went for a walk and I chased a rabbit and a ball. They think I’m cute, and now I’m guarding the house.”

That’s about how my first day on my new job went. I like the people, the work, the office culture, the building (views and stairs, my favorites), and the very walkable neighborhood. I went to two meetings and though they didn’t give me a rabbit or a ball to chase I still feel that I contributed to the overall effort. They think I’m useful, if not downright cute, and tomorrow I’m going to get up and do it again.

I just finished my Write-a-thon hour. It’s starting to feel like a book to me. Chapter 1 seems like it happened a long time ago. I keep getting ideas, messages from my subterranean self, even at the office. I scribble them down and work on them later. Sadly, listening to the Dave Clark Five today didn’t help. If ever there was a band that wanted to make people happy, it was the DCF. They had a string of hits in the ’60s and for about three weeks they were bigger than The Beatles, but time has not been kind to them. They’re not the kind of band I come back to.

Like Khan, I grow fatigued. This blog is going to go lie down. Good evening, and in case I don’t see ya, good morning, good afternoon, and good night!