Posts Tagged ‘Clarion West’

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!

 

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!

Snoopy letter What is it with you

“Let’s face it, some boys and girls become writers because the only workplace they’re willing to visit is the one inside their heads. And even then it’s a tough commute.” (Arthur Krystal)

“A writer is a person for whom writing is more difficult than it is for other people.” (Thomas Mann)

I don’t find writing difficult. I write all the time. Stories, blog posts, music reviews, love letters, flame mail, and whatever they throw at me at work. When I have work.

The difficulty for me is concentrating on something as large and as made-up as a novel. Heather Sellers, in her excellent how-to book Chapter After Chapter, reminds us that, in general, we humans lack experience in long-range projects. At our core we’re hunter/gatherers who are still concerned with today and how we’re going to get through it. Which is also how we often live our harried modern lives.

Ms. Sellers writes:

Writing a book is going to annoy the hell out of your brain. What you are asking it to do – to always move toward the unknown – goes against thousands of years of successful survival. But that’s how we evolve. We move toward the unknown.

Today in the Write-a-thon I spent 90 minutes moving toward the unknown in the window of my favorite coffee shop. Flannery O’Connor  said, “I write to discover what I know,” and I discovered a little more tonight. I’d rather discover a lot rather than a little but I guess my brain is too annoyed to cooperate.

I’ll let former U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld have the final word on the known and the unknown:

There are known knowns; there are things we know that we know.
There are known unknowns; that is to say, there are things that we now know we don’t know.
But there are also unknown unknowns – there are things we do not know we don’t know.

Random Pick of the Day
Various Artists, You Heard It Here First! (2008)
What makes a hit record a hit? Talent, timing, personality? You Heard It Here First!, a collection of “26 classics from the 50s and 60s, heard here in their original, pre-hit versions,” leans toward talent, but it’s a close and interesting race.

For example, Elvis Presley had a hit with “Suspicious Minds,” but the musical arrangement is almost exactly the same as Mark James’ original. The only difference is Elvis Presley. Soft Cell had a hit with “Tainted Love,” but the original, by Gloria Jones, has all the menace Soft Cell was too soft to deliver. And The Troggs had a hit with “Wild Thing,” besting the original by The Wild Ones. If you’re going to call yourselves wild and make a song about being wild, you should at least try to sound like you’re wild.

Johnny Darrell’s “Ruby, Don’t Take Your Love to Town” almost had me in tears. Kenny Rogers & The First Edition raked in the cash after applying their Purell hand sanitizer to it. And The Leaves, with the first “Hey Joe,” turn in a surprisingly strong and genuinely wild performance, even though it’s obvious after the first minute that the only thing they know how to do is play wicked fast.

Some songs I thought were ties – “Louie, Louie” is “Louie, Louie” no matter who plays it – and then there are the hit songs that I will always hate no matter who sings them: “My Boy Lollipop” and “Something Stupid” head that list.

The main things I learned from this disc are 1) The Raindrops (“Hanky Panky”) may have been the worst singers in the history of singing; and 2) Bill Haley took a nothing of a song called “Rock Around the Clock” (“Put some glad rags on and join me hon/we’re gonna have some fun when the clock strikes one” is the only halfway decent line), added some catchy musicianship and a delivery that made sex seem goofy, and got the first rock song to break the Top 40. And if you think an 87-word sentence like the one I just wrote is lengthy, the record, held by Victor Hugo, is 400+. Gonna write, gonna write, gonna write around the clock tonight.

Random Pan of the Day
3 Doors Down, The Better Life (2000)
They had a hit with “Kryptonite,” which is still a nice song, but they’re basically interchangeable with Candlebox, Nickelback, Creed, and most other hard rock/fake grunge acts of the 1990s. None of them are as good as Cream or even Stone Temple Pilots. The boys in 3DD try harder than most, but their limitations are cruelly exposed when they attempt a ballad and immediately enter Kansas and Styx country.

Snoopy letter make me rich and famous

I put an hour and a half of today into the Write-a-thon, though I had to use most of my lunch hour to do it. It was the most interesting part of my work day, that’s for sure!

“Visions are worth fighting for. Why spend your life making someone else’s dreams?” (Tim Burton)

I’ve been writing most of my life; at least since I was 12, when my sixth-grade English teacher gave us a writing assignment every Friday. I’d been reading like crazy, but I don’t remember trying to write anything before Mr. Gray made us do it. Some Fridays he had a topic and some Fridays he said the sky was the limit; the only rules were that you had to finish in a set period of time and then you had to read what you’d written in front of the class. That last part might’ve been voluntary.

Most of what I wrote was about my family. My sister, who was 4, was the frequent star, but my brother, parents, and grandparents all made an appearance. The stories often had a science-fictional bent, but I didn’t realize they were funny until the first time I read my work out loud. Turns out, my family is hilarious, and without being taught I somehow knew just which details to use and how to use them to get those laughs.

Of course, if my family was truly dysfunctional, I would’ve written Angela’s Ashes by now. Instead they’re merely aggravating.* This places me closer to Erma Bombeck and Phyllis Diller than to Chelsea Handler or David Sedaris. Or the guy I just read about who’s a recovering meth addict who’s written a novel about meth addicts and zombies fighting for world domination. But my family gave me my start, and though it’s taken me years to figure out what this start has meant, it’s the only one I’ve got.

“It took me my whole life to learn what not to play.” (Dizzy Gillespie)

* Certain parties who are married to me might offer a different perspective.

Random Pick of the Day
Deodato, Prelude (1972)
Brazillian child-prodigy keyboardist Eumir Deodato (why wasn’t I born with an awesome name like that?) can play just about anything he feels like playing. His jazz-fusion records are a mixed lot, though I’ll take his Top 40 hit “Also Sprach Zarathustra (2001)” over anything by Weather Report or Chick Corea.

Prelude shines when Deodato brings on his guitarist, John Tropea, a man who can play jazz and imitate Santana, Jimmy Page, and some funky Motown. They shortened “2001” sufficiently to fit on a 45 by removing Tropea’s 4-minute solo. “2001” will live forever; “Baubles, Bangles and Beads” and “September 13” are pretty good. The band’s cover of Debussy’s “Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun” is inferior to Frank Zappa’s “Prelude to the Afternoon of a Sexually Aroused Gas Mask.”

Random Pan of the Day
2 Live Crew, As Nasty As They Wanna Be (1989)
They want to have sex. Big deal. I want to have sex. I don’t think this is scary at all. (Shut up!) If this music was a latex toy, it’d be the one at the bottom of the bargain bin the day after Christmas.

 

Snoopy 2 rejections at once

There are 11 days left to go in the Write-a-thon and though I wrote again today I have to admit that my original goal of hitting 50,000 words by August 2 was just a wee bit optimistic. I’ll be lucky if I get to 30,000. I do wish I wrote fiction faster, but I don’t. Marketing writing – that I can do fast. Advertising, editorials, web copy – I’m a speed merchant. These blog posts? Warp factor 6! But when I have to invent characters and situations and see how they play out, I move one. step. at. a. time. Sort of like the way the first primitive Mariners played baseball.

My hero, John Updike, wrote that “There’s a kind of tautness that you should feel within yourself no matter how slow or fast you’re spinning out the reel,” and though I gave up fishing in 1967 when my brother took three bass and all I hooked was a lousy starfish, I take heart from these words.

Right now there’s a kind of tautness in the back of my brain, or a bubbling. All day long, and often just before I wake, something back there is working on this book. Objects and actions bubble to the surface, things I can use on a page I’ve already written or one I have yet to write, like a bird finding the right-shaped stick for its nest. (We saw an osprey nest on Cape Cod that looked as if the occupants had built it out of firewood.) I’m mixing my metaphors here but I’ll trust that you get what I’m driving at. I wouldn’t go so far as to say Esteban esta caliente, but I do feel kinda warm.

Random Pick of the Day
Paul Van Dyk, In Between (2007)
In my house we have this divide over anything that isn’t rock ’n’ roll. Trance (or techno), for example, is not only not Special D’s thing, she classes it with The Thing, The Thing From Another World, The Thing with Two Heads, 10 Things I Hate About You, and Thing. Despite the constant scorn I live with, I like this stuff. The dance-floor anthem on this disc is “Far Away.”

Random Pan of the Day
One Direction, Up All Night (2011)
Boy bands sure have deteriorated since The Beatles. Today they’re all strip-mined from the same barren earth. Bruce Springsteen could use One Direction for dental floss.

I’m going to start Randoming bands with numbers in their names. We’ll see which one becomes the first to move from Pan to Pick.