Saturday, December 30, 2006

Festival of Flash

Please visit the Authorstore site if you want to read a prize-winning piece of flash fiction by Rebecca Jane and other fine flash fiction writers.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006


Due to a writing
deadline for the
my puppy blog
suffers temporary absence
of its master and playmate.

Good blog!

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Write Surprising Juxtapositions

Last Thursday, The Poetry Society of America hosted a reading for the 2006 National Chapbook Fellows and New York Chapbook Fellows.

Timothy Donnelly, an editor for the Boston Review, introduced Jessica Fjeld, author of On animate life: its profligacy, organ meats, etc. In his introduction, Donnelly mentioned a strategy Fjeld used in composing one of her poems. She chose random lines from the Patriot Act and from The Book of Mormon, played with the language there and voila!

In his introduction, Timothy Donnelly also read one of his own poems for which he used lines lifted from the 9/11 Comission Report.

When I first heard of this strategy for composing poems, I must admit my first thought was "What a cop out." Lifting lines from here and there is no way to compose, is no way to honor the mood swings of Our Lady of the Writing Craft. But then, I had a change of heart when I heard how queer and delightful their poems sounded when they read.

So, of course, being the easily engaged and inspired writer that I am, I had to try such a method for myself. Below you will find what came of that effort.


Reading The Analects of Confucius While Listening to 50 Cent

Boy my hoes are clean, just like my guns
And I keep them in three-year mourning, just like my funds
I keep all my big bills, give my Nine Thoughts the ones.

The Master schooled me: Gentlemen like virtue; little men like partiality.
Gentlemen like justice; little men likes mercy.
You got Pimp potential. Start selling leek in the yard.

They can snatch these braids out and put my hair in a sovereign state, word
Those who act with a view to their own personal advantage will bust
A u-turn going straight to the block.

In word, the gentleman thinks of being loyal leave with your blood
on my mink in the drop Six Guiliani and Pataki can’t stop
this since ’86 my whole clique withdrew and studied the rituals.

Confucius said, don’t burn bridges my friend
Imagine the G-Dub close and yo ass gotta swim
Phoenix does not come; River puts forth no sign of the new world order.

Gentlemen wait in line to hear the master spit
“If my virtue don’t sell, I’ma rob and steal.”
The Worthy are ‘bout to stick Slick Rick for all that old school shit.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

A Novelist Puts the FUN in Fundamentalism

If Riva Djinn doesn't read Mohja Kahf's book immediately, her colleagues are going to force her to step down as the president and Lead Spokeswoman of the Scribble Bitch Book Club. She's trying to convince the group that she must read Adios Muchachos just one more time before she wraps up in her lavender head scarf and moves on with life. She's making everyone anxious with this Boudoir Noir kick she's on. Now, is that fair?

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Does MFA v. JD Mean Literary v. Genre?

Last night, Time Warner, HBO, and Fordham Law School welcomed Scott Turow in conversation with public intellectual Thane Rosenbaum. Rosenbaum asked Turow why he hasn’t quit his day job now that he is a best-selling author. Rosenbaum’s question suggests this idea: if one is able to stay home, write, and live the isolated novelist’s life, why would such a person want to continue to practice law?

Turow’s answer was a simple: “If it aint broke…”

Turow has always been able to balance his dedication to law with his dedication to writing. In fact, a reason he went to law school in the first place was because he couldn’t turn off his imagination. His approach? Write anywhere. Keep an exacting schedule.

Turow’s optimism and faith in the rule of law set him apart from other authors who have written about lawyer characters or legal settings, among them Dickens, Kafka, and Dostoyevsky. Rosenbaum pointed out that unlike those authors who render more critical depictions of the legal profession, Turow regards the law as a noble institution. Turow added that the lawyers whom he knows to be happiest are the ones who stay in touch with a vision that the institution of law advances a more just society.

During the Q: & A: session afterward—“Q: and A:” is not quite the appropriate name for that portion of the program as audience members (similar to the ones who show up at PEN World Voices events) insist on making comments rather than asking questions—an admiring reader commented that Turow deserves a Nobel Prize for his sensitivity depicting the human drama. Turow was flattered and graciously turned the comment into a question (as a skilled trial lawyer can). He said, implicit in her comment was the question whether Turow feels comfortable being regarded as a genre writer rather than a literary writer. He responded to that issue saying that he is lucky to sell so many copies of his books and that in fact he has received respect from those writers regarded as more literary.

One issue raised during the conversation was Rosenbaum’s curiosity about how the toxic adversarial dimension of practicing law had not crushed Turow’s creative mind.

Well, we live in such adversarial times that the dimension of the legal profession that is adversarial does in fact reveal itself in the literary institution:

Literary Writer v. Genre Writer

If one is at that time in her life when she must face the choice MFA v. JD, she ought to embrace either path with enthusiasm and a clear understanding that there is no path devoid of adversarial toxins. The secret to avoiding those? Joie de vivre and singing in the shower.

Either way, it is a damn good thing Mister Turow never turned off his imagination.

Monday, December 04, 2006

Boudoir Noir

This is not your conventional book review. Here, you will find a book recommended within a piece of flash fiction. And here’s a disclaimer, no one has paid this author, or given this author any freebies. She’s just giving a good book a quirky plug.

This story is entitled “Bedtime Stories for Women Who Smoke Cigars”

This past weekend, Riva Djinn paid a visit to the Independent and Small Press Book Fair at 20 West 44th Street. She is quite familiar with this landmark building that houses the General Society of Mechanics and Tradesman. As a matter of fact, Riva Djinn used to teach English Composition for the K. Gibbs School in this very building. The school has long since moved to 40th Street, and Riva had to quit that job after a scandalous encounter of the stink-bomb ilk, not to mention the times she urged the students to petition for curriculum reform. Boy, is she glad those days are long enough over that she can smirk and shrug them off and deny she ever lived through them. Abandoning her participation in the socialist revolution is a bit harder to sweep under the rug, but that’s another story. Returning to the present, Riva spends an entire Saturday in this building’s charming library, wandering from this table to that, chatting, and picking up business cards, free buttons, magnets, catalogues, etc. Enough loot so that, later, in The Ladies, she has to ask the attendant, “Do I have too much propaganda on my puss?” No? So Riva picks up another button and another card, while all along she is vowing to herself not to pick up any men if she can’t pick up any women.

The only weakness Riva allows herself to give into is her habit to impulse-buy all books printed by independent and small presses. She can’t help herself. On principle: she just MUST buy books that have never been shoved down her throat by overbearing marketing schemes. But then what was with all the buttons and magnets, etc. at this event? She wondered.

By listening to her own Reader’s Intuition, Riva finds and buys a book entitled Adios Muchachos, written by Daniel Chavarría, translated by Carlos Lopez, and published by Akashic Books, 2001; 245 pages.

The cover features an image of Alicia—the daughter of a Cuban foreign-service man—on her bicycle. Alicia’s tennis shorts, unbuttoned! Alicia’s ass, un-retreating. Alicia’s lips & eyes, uncanny!

In her bedroom, Riva studies the cover art over and over until it urges her to light a cigar, get between the sheets and begin reading. Riva soon discovers that Alicia is as smart as she is sexy. Below are a couple sentences that entice Riva instantly:

“When Alicia decided to become a bicycle hooker, her mother agreed to sell a ring that had been in the family for five generations. She got $350 for it, and for $280 they bought an English mountain-bike, one with wide tires and lots of speeds, on which Alicia launched her hunt for moneyed foreigners.”

Adios Muchachos is set in Havana, Cuba during the Special Period. This picaresque novel is full of plenty of scenes featuring Alica’s ample ass up, up, up on that bicycle seat. But we also see Alicia excel at her studies with an Italian professor who is thrilled by Alicia’s quick fluency in Dante’s language. The narrative flows as smoothly as Alicia’s plans of seduction. We follow Alicia’s adventures; we receive salsa lessons that loosen the tightest of foreign butts. Meanwhile, Victor King, a European millionaire, promises to boost the Cuban nautical tourism industry by overseeing a project to root out buried treasure left by sunken Spanish galleons from the 16th Century. While Alicia plants patriotic kisses, sweetly commenting on the terrible effects of the U.S. embargo and the fall of the Soviet Union, King’s plans spawn an absorbing mystery that contain plenty of well-drawn sex and bloody murder scenes. This is noir extraordinaire! The narrative pace turns and picks up when Alicia breaks one of her cardinal rules: never sleep away from home.

Riva was told that Chavarría’s novel won the prestigious Edward Award. Riva thinks, awe hell, it should have also won the Pulitzer, the Nobel, and the Man Booker. Then she thinks, hey do they give a prize called the Man Hooker; if so, this novel certainly sweeps that honor.

If Riva Djinn ever puts down this book, it will be between her thighs.

When Riva reads to the end, she fires up another cigar, turns back to the first page, and starts reading all over again. Adios Muchachos is a great way for Riva to pass her time before the messenger boy arrives again to replenish her supply of the smuggled goods.

Saturday, December 02, 2006


Riva Djinn exited the 2 train,
swinging her messenger sack,
whistling an old Tom Waits tune.

She climbed the stairs,
chose not to pull her usual ankle twist hoax,
and made her way toward the turnstile just beneath 42nd Street.

For whatever reason, it so happened, there were crowds
gathered at every possible exit,
except for the one turnstile to the far right.

Riva decided to make her way through there,
but was stopped by a frazzled lady who was about to swipe
her metro card to enter.

Lady: I was here first. I'm coming through. Back off!
Riva: But the proper etiquette is to let a person OUT first.
Lady: I already let a bunch of people out. Move!
Riva: Be fair, then. You let all them go. Why not me?
Lady: Move!
Riva: (laughing) Oh, come on. Ha! That's the way we do it around here:
we let people OUT first.
You're reminding me of that old song
Queen sang with that hostage-situation dialogue:
"Let him go!...We will not!...Let him go!...We will not!" You remember that ditty?

The lady didn't laugh or move or sing along with Riva. She just locked her jaw and decided to show how stubborn she was going to be about this. She decided to lean over and block the exit.

Rive: My name's Riva.
Lady: I'm Peggy. Let me through.
Riva: Nice to meet you, Peggy.

Riva keeps singing and laughing, but Peggy is not interested in making friends.

Peggy: Really, back off.

Now she was getting sincerely mean.

Riva: Oh, all right. If you insist.

Riva backs out, ever-so-slowly.

Peggy: Sigh. (Rolls her eyes.)

Riva: Next time we meet, Peggy. You let me through first. Okay. Next time!

Friday, December 01, 2006

Strawberry Fields for Sean Bell

You were sitting in Strawberry Fields last weekend when you read
the New York Times article about the tragic shooting of Sean Bell.

Have you forgotten the massive amount of damage one bullet does,
let alone 50?

And it's not just one life that is destroyed.

Bullets take out entire families, communities,
artists, friends, lovers, ideals, hopes, possibilities.

take an eternal moment, next time you feel like pulling any trigger--
think of all the damage that bullet will do.

It's not powerful or strong to use a gun.
Guns are cop outs, tools for fools and cowards.
How can any sane citizen feel she is protected by a police force full of cowards?

Wouldn't it be nice to exercise some real democratic pull
and see if you could actually get that Second Amendment
repealed; and while you're at it,
reform that military police force?

You bow your head for Sean Bell,
for John Lennon,
for Amadou Bailo Diallo,
and for all the kids in Iraq.

...for liberty and justice
for all.

So, history repeats itself, does it?
Does it do any good to remember, memorialize,
build shrines like Strawberry Fields?
You wish to start talking about some real action
that would stop all this forever before another 9/11
and Iraq war roll around. Stop this forever.

Strawberry Fields...

Can you


Real Men,
the ones with the
biggest Cocks,
You can quiet the Energy
that pulls
any trigger.
Or else
Such Men can find
a more graceful
to kill each other
because the Gun
is not worthy of
human dignity.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Riddling and Fiddling With "You"

You are a long caress.

You are the smartest member of The Committee.

You are the Tao.

Some nineteenth century editor once said--some guy by the name Bergk--he said "...the history of a text is like a long caress..."

He's right. You outdo the history of the text.

You haven't been here long. You haven't finished your cigarette nor that bowl of warm milk and honey. Don't go.

Last night, you dreamt, again, of Tom Robbins. You woke with this flash essay drafted in your mind:

Flash essay title: "On Using the Pronoun 'You'"

"You," in these blog entries, sometimes refers to the writer herself, sometimes refers to others. Sometimes "you" is one particular other; sometimes "you" is a whole collection of people dead or alive, present or absent, dirty or clean. Sometimes "you" is used because it is the Blog posting its own post and having its own say. Whom "you" is referring to will always depend on the context, will always be hinted at, will never be overtly stated. In formal writing, one is never encouraged to use "you," but you started writing in the second person and realized how "you" satisfies you. You distrust the first person. You distrust the "I" narrative, the myth of the individual. You argue that the first person singular amounts to a fraudulant way to write, a misrepresentation of The Voice and The Voices. You seek; you experiment; you write in ways that properly communicate your plurality. Sometimes "You" is your consciousness, a voice once, twice, or thrice removed; this voice comments on all things and all people living for today. Hey! You! Hey! You! Yeah! You!

You rock! You blog. You rock!

You always hear Creative Writing teachers talking about writers finding their voices; well, search no further: if you have a blog, and you remain committed to posting on it every day, your blog will start to talk back to you. Voila! You are a writer who no longer needs to "find" a voice. With a blog, The Voice/The Voices find the Writer.

Now you know your neighbor downstairs writes for the New York Times book review. And when he hears rumors that you've been keeping a blog, he stomps up the stairs to come knocking and complaining that your blogging activity is getting on his nerves. Here's a clip from that exchange:

Dead-Tree Media Man:
Why do you blog? Print media is more professional, more credible, more worthy. Don't you have anything better to do with your time? Get a life!

Get a Voice.

You wave your fist in his face and think to yourself, "You are a long caress..!" The Dead-Tree Media Man, embarrassed, kisses your flying fist and backs off so you don't really have to hit him.

Blog on!

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Q: and A: With Phantom Lennon

1955 Skiffle
ging ging-e-ging, ging ging-a-ging
wah shoo booo roaaahh rarrdes?

scroll thumb Skiffle
scroll the thumb Skiff-riff-a-swiffle
“Oh, no! Yo! No!”
Sgt. Pepper &

Sweater in the
The Metaphysics of Sneezing?
“Ha Choooo?”

“Bless you
for the rest of the year.
Bless you.”

The Ghost sang these lyrics,
“Bless you for the rest of the year?”

Be low
Boy low
Tune slow
72nd Street Slow Station

subway club rub track
grub scrub trap
your lap your lap
clap clap
The Rat sat your hat flat?

Your own interview with Mister Phantom, $3.50.

Q: Really? Turn on? Tune in? Drop out?

A: Yes. Yes. Oh, & piss off, piss on, and kiss on the Saints!

And the backup?

Three thousand Voices

“Piss off the Saints! Piss on the Saints! Kiss. Kiss. Kiss on the Saints!”

Thursday, November 23, 2006

You Wanna Hold His Hang at the Thanksgiving Day Parade

You are safe.

Today, the wind gusts decide to cooperate with Macy’s helium balloons.

But the parade route makes your routine visit to Strawberry Fields impossible; besides, it’s raining.

You shrug and grin at the crowds and think:

You are family.

You see a little girl dancing, splashing in a puddle. She gets you a little wet, and you laugh. She looks at you: shy then friendly then embarrassed then uncertain. The child turns away from you.

You go to the Utopia diner on Broadway for coffee. You sit next to another solitary diner at the counter. He invites you to read over his shoulder the NYT Metro pages.

You read an article about the sophisticated operations that the emergency management officials employ in order to monitor the balloon behavior at the parade. The article characterizes these endeavors as “preparations worthy of a large-scale military operation.”

You think about that for a minute.

Your mind wanders to your grandmother, a woman who was your age around the years 1938, 1939, 1940, the golden era of American big band music, the era when people actually dressed in their finest clothes to go to baseball games. An era that is long gone. And over the past years you have spent hours researching that era in the NY Public Library for the Performing Arts. You also researched the generation before, yearning to conjure the ghosts of old Broadway, the vaudevillians, and even before that, the travelers of the ancient Mohican trail… You went way far back in history as a student of the storytelling tradition should do.

Meanwhile, you wrote, turned your research into a novel, a mediocre literary endeavor, an attempt. Now it sits on the shelf, aging. But now you actually admit you feel a bit of envy for those days when this nation was so much less…what?

Less arrogant.

You recall a greeting card your grandmother sent you while you were living abroad. The card featured Snoopy with a “Missing you…” phrase on the cover. Inside, she wrote, “We look forward to when you come home to the good ol’ U.S. of A!”

You read the simple message and could hear her voice saying it. You instantly felt the yawn, the immense chasm between the “good ol’ U.S. of A.” that your grandmother felt proudly connected to and the distant nation that you felt increasingly ambivalent about. These are more than “generation” gaps you feel amongst yourselves, your seniors, and your juniors. These are zeitgeist gaps. You aren’t merely separated by years, dance steps, and fashion trends. What about the wildly different spirits of these ages?

Regarding your grandmother’s era, you didn’t feel this sense of “Those were the good old days.” But more of a feeling that her generation’s elation was somehow connected to and responsible for your generation’s disappointments. And in your mind, these generations seem so utterly self-contained, so packaged, managed, purchased. What's on your t-shirt? Homage to Beatlemania or the hip Jersey garage band. Are the two properly acknowledging one another? Is this a sensible question?

Today, you remember your paternal grandmother. The Thanksgiving holiday conjures her ghost. The last time you saw her, ailing yet conscious, was Thanksgiving 2001. You brought her fruit (she couldn’t stomach much else) and a balloon shaped like a turkey. The balloon conked her on the head when you entered her room at the nursing home. That made her laugh. You ate fruit with her. You massaged her shoulders and neck and said something that made her laugh.

Your father called a few weeks later. He cried to you over the phone (something you’d never heard, ever, in your life). She had suffered a stroke and was in a coma. The next day you flew from NYC to Chicago. You knew she didn't want to pass on like her sister-in-law had, with no one there in the room.

You made it to the hospital in Hoffman Estates a few hours before. She passed very peacefully, the whole family circled around her, your father repeated the simple, “Now I lay me down to sleep…” prayer. You all saw her let go her last breath.

She passed away on December 8, 2001. That was the 21st anniversary of John Lennon’s death (the year the ghost of the ol’ singer/songwriter reached the legal drinking age, assuming they have such rites of passage in The Hereafter…).

Now you are thinking of your grandmother, Alma Johnson, because she used to watch the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade on television, faithfully. After seeing Santa Claus wave from that last sleigh-ride float, ringing in the more fun holiday, Alma would wait—quiet, patient, with her hair and makeup done—for your father to come pick her up from her condo in Palatine to bring her to your home in Arlington Heights for the big feast. Your mother never got along well with this sweet, old woman. That’s a deep sore spot for you. Isn’t it? But Time—with his work cut out for him—is working in you. Healing the wounds. Yes, even that wound.

Your grandmother’s name? Alma. Alma. The word “alma” is Spanish. Means soul. The woman had Soul, a whole lot of intensely quiet Soul. If she ever spoke, it was to make a remark, a wisecrack, something to try to get a laugh out of you. She never failed on that score.

You could use a dose of her old-timer brand of humor while you sit in this diner among strangers on another rainy day in New York City. You miss her.

Now you live on 73rd Street in Manhattan, blocks away from where they blow up those gigantic helium balloons for the traditional Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade. Alma Johnson might have been elated to go see such a sight.

You didn’t bother.

You had observed the crowds: family, friends, and children walking uptown to secure a spot to watch this ritual of blowing up the balloons on Wednesday evening around the Museum of Natural History.

You didn’t go because you were heading downtown, had to go to class. You wouldn’t have gone to the balloons anyway because you don’t have children. And these things just aren’t that much fun without children around.

Anyway, getting back to the title of this post “You Wanna Hold His Hang at the Thanksgiving Day Parade.”

Why does this post have this title? You were trying to tie the story of your grandmother into the theme you’ve been exploring lately, these sojourns to Strawberry Fields to read poetry.

You didn’t work in a visit to Strawberry Fields on Thanksgiving Day because the crowds standing under umbrellas and that enormous obstruction, that grandest of American holiday traditions: The Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.

So you indulge in a bit of a longing kind of mood; you remember your grandmother; and you might as well work in a little memory of John Lennon while you’re at it because it’s impossible to live in this neighborhood and not think about him.

And you know from what you’re reading about him that Mister Lennon had an absurdist’s sense of humor, and he liked wordplay.

Could twisting “I Wanna Hold Your Hand” into “You Wanna Hold His Hang” give a dead man a little amusement?

Well…admit it, already…you do wonder what that ghost would think of you wanting to hold his hang.


One thing is certain: such a thought would have made sweet Alma Johnson blush.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Reading Yusef Komunyakaa in Strawberry Fields

You are worldly.

You are wise.

You have overcome your food-drug-sex-rock-music-politics addiction.

You are the quintessential park bench recluse.

You live by the Art of Solitude.

You memorize this poem

Nude Study by Yusef Komunyakaa

Someone lightly brushed the penis
alive. Belief is almost
flesh. Wings beat,

dust trying to breathe, as if the figure
migiht rise from the oils
& flee the dead

atirst's studio. For years
this piece of work was there
like a golden struggle

shadowing Thomas McKeller, a black
elevator operator at the Boston
Copley Plaza Hotel, a friend

of John Singer Sargent--hidden
among sketches & drawings, a model
for Apollo & a bas-relief

of Arion. So much taken
for granted & denied, only
grace & mutability

can complete this face belonging
to Greek bodies castrated
with a veil of dust.


Yusef! Yusef! Yusef! Mister Komunyakaa!


Two traveling companions paying homage to the


mosaic ask you to help them shoot a photograph. Having just read an excellent poem, praising anatomy,
you shout to the toursits, "Wait!" I have an even better idea. Why don't I slide this stone slab over here.
You step off to the side and grab a stone slab that just happens to appear because you


it appears.

You encourage the companions to transform into a Nude state.
(They are reluctant, at first, but then you recite them Mister Komunyakaa's poem).
They disrobe and pose with their muscles flexed for the next few hours while you chisel, carve, etch, sculpt, and sweat.

Only when you've finished the bas-relief that immitates the Tomas McKeller and the ancient Greeks, do you
and these good folks from Ohio
realize that they will have a hell of a time getting that souvenir into their suitcase.

Once More to Strawberry Fields

You are larger than life.

Your friends adore the way you can be, at once, irreverent toward authority and amazed by the divine. But your friends aren't with you today; they all work on Monday, and you will never tell them about your sojourns in Strawberry Fields. You itch at the thought that they might comment, "Don't you have anything better to do with your time."

But today you will sit on a bench and read Kamir's and Mirabai's ecstatic poems and forget you even have friends.

You were reluctant to leave your apartment today, not just because the weather has turned since yesterday and is now offering the cold gusts that roll off the plains of the Midwest, but because yesterday's venture to Strawberry Fields ended in such a random act of strangeness. (You can’t get that super model, with her tattooed thigh and suicide-victim grandma, off your mind). You hope such an encounter doesn’t happen again, but things like that happen to you all the time, even in your own home.

Oddly, no one is here at this hour, not a truant, homeless, or ascetic in sight. You are alone. No tourists are arranging roses over the mosaic. Not a soul shooting photographs.

But one unexpected object is hanging around here, dangling at the edge of the sacred circle: one shoe—a black, Adidas street sneaker. The laces are missing and the shoe is stretched in sad shape, as if the foot that once wore it was much too wide and tried, with more desperation than Cinderella’s ugly stepsisters, to force a too-big foot to fit.

One shoe. Abandoned. Without companion. One shoe next to that one word


The sight now makes the word more than just the word. Now you see a command. Imagine where that shoe has been. Imagine its owner who must now be hobbling along with only one shoe. Imagine where that person is now and how chilly the shoeless foot must feel.

No. You want to rebel. You want to resist the temptation to imagine. You don’t want to imagine just because the mosaic icon, the memorial to John Lennon, is insisting that you imagine…imagine…imagine. As if now, just because so many travelers come to pay their respects, this word, attractor of flowers and devotional objects, has somehow taken on authority of its own. You’ve been searching for an opportunity to rebel against your inclination to imagine (as some friends have characterized your imagination as, let’s just say, categorically overactive). Well, here is your opportunity to revolt.

Do not imagine where that shoe has been, though your mind may have already conceived the novel, the screenplay, the Broadway musical adaptation, the HBO special series: The Strawberry Fields Mysteries.

No. No. Leave that story untold.

You have been there before, to that taboo realm that urges you to imagine. What visited you in that realm delighted you as much as it broke your heart. But remark, carefully, what it would mean for you to ignore the command to


Sit. You are ready to wait. Now you are preparing for the Visitor, the Guest, the Secret One, the one coming to deliver the Gift. Believe it or not, sometimes the Guest even wishes that the word said


Rather, you read poems and rub your eyes, and it is still there:


The Guest is on the way. The Guest will arrive in Strawberry Fields, maybe this December. Maybe next. Maybe decades hence. If you wish to receive your secret visitor, stay quiet and keep reading, and (here's a hint)

"Imagine all the people sharing all the world."

Maybe, you start to imagine, that shoe was left here by the Guest?


You have been told, and you have a feeling, the Guest will bring the Voices.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Strawberry Fields Stunt Reading

You are brilliant. You sit here in Strawberry Fields, again, reading the hours away. You also half observe the Japanese tourists indulging in more Earth Woman Celebrity Word worship. They have arranged rose petals of every color around the word


And the super model flips her hair away from her neck, licks her lips, and winks at the camera.

You are reading H.D.'s lyric entitled "Sea Poppies". You re-read.

Ah hah!

You decipher its message, using Paul Muldoon-like stunts.

When that hidden meaning of H.D.'s words hit you between the eyes with their lewd message, you smirk or snort or make some kind of indescribable noise. Somehow you attract the attention of the Japanese model who has been lying on the ground, shifting from this leisurely pose to that more leisurely pose while she was being photographed over the mosaic. The model looks your way, stands, brushes herself off, and approaches you. To you, she is a tsunami. You don't know what to say when she starts to lift her skirt, ever so slowly, to reveal her tattoo, one word on her inner thigh.


She smoothes her skirt and sits next to you, as if you two are not complete strangers. You don't expect her to start crying and revealing to you that her grandmother just committed suicide. She only received the news from Kyoto this morning.

You give a second thought to returning here in the future to read poetry. You think this worship of words may be sending cryptocurrents through your reality. Be alert.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

A Poet Practices Her Scales

Odessa lives alone in an unfurnished triple loft, nine bedroom apartment on Central Park West. It is a baffling living space with frescoed celings and spiraling staircases that lead to nowhere. She inherited the apartment from her father who was Attorney General turned celebrity politician. No way could she ever afford this place on a poet's incomelessness. (Please note, dear reader, this makes our Odessa ten times more fortunate than those Paul Auster characters who happen to find loads of money where they would least expect it. These days, nine chances out of ten, ask a New Yorker if he'd rather inherit cold cash or a rent-free living quarters forever and you can bet he'll chose the latter...)

So Odessa is, hands down, one of the lucky ones. She inherited the empty apartment--sleeps on a cushion of years-old copies of the New York Times--and works tirelessly on her laptop, pounding out words she regards as The Classics.

Her neighbor is a universally renown concert pianist named MorZat (a character who is kind of a combination of Mozart and Borat). Anyway, this chacracter practices the piano CONSTANTLY. Odessa often wonders if he doesn't have more than ten fingers on each hand; he can play so many notes in one instant. Perhaps he's even using his toes as well. (Cheater--Odessa might be thinking.)

Odessa would be lying if she said that his beautiful music didn't influence her writing. In fact, his Broadwood "Bareless" Upright piano is pushed up against the opposite side of the wall where Odessa works on a folding card table, opening her Mac OS X PowerPC G4 Version 10.3.9 lap top to the wall that trembles with MorZat's renditions of compositions by Hadyn, Dussek, Beethoven, Chopin, and Liszt. Atmosphere influences Odessa's own compositions while she practices writing.

This morning MorZat was playing scales, and here is what Odessa wrote:

In the Key of F

Frail nations
Go to war
B (flat)
Funny men are extinct.

Odessa feels mortified if MorZat should ever overhear her striking a wrong note. Once, when he told her that she was out of tune, she just said, "Well, I'm not ready for Carnegie Hall yet." She turned up her pretty nose and walked away. So there.

Friday, November 17, 2006

Strawberry Fields: Imagine the Free Giveaway

After almost a week hiding behind a velvet gray curtain, the sun finally decides to show himself. Nice weather sends you straight to Strawberry Fields to read Half Asleep in Frog Pajamas.

On a park bench, you're reading, minding your own business when you're blessed with an intrusion.

A guy who'd just lost his job with Sony volunteers some words of advice:

"Life's a drag. Play video games!"

Without warning, he places a brand new Play Station 3 in your lap. You'd heard that the Play Station 3 is one item that people are lining up outside the stores to purchase. One guy in Connecticut was held up while waiting outside to purchase his Play Station 3. He refused to give the robbers his cash, and he was shot.

Now you and your new friend, the former Sony employee, both recognize the benefits of being on the margins of city life, spending weekday mornings in the park. The two of you walk arm-in-arm up to the the ghost of the Iraqi boy who is sitting like a laughing Buddha on top of the word


You abandon the Play Station 3 to the ghost boy and in unison, pass on some words of advice: "Life's a drag. Play video games!"

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Highest Standards of Health Care For All

My friend Deo, a medical student who recently founded his own organization, held a fundraising event in NYC. Here's the link to Village Health Works. If you are seeking a place to make a charitable donation, you might consider Village Health Works.

Reading Poems in Strawberry Fields

Ritual is important.


Once a day, visit Strawberry Fields.
Read poems.
Write grocery list.
Remember John Lennon.
Remember to pick up dry cleaning.

Remember that old poetic form in the Irish tradition called the dinnseanchas or "lore of place" poem?

Strawberry Fields. Mosaic lore. Mosaic place. Mosaic sacred site, of sorts.
This place in the park is bathetic and so full of

straw and berry and spirits

(may I pour you another, chum?)

Is there a term in the World language for mosaic-lore-flash-photography-tourism poem?

Strawberry Fields

Welcomes flash travelers.
Welcomes flash photography.
Welcomes flash fiction.


Three hippies sit on a bench singing the "Casper the Friendly Ghost" theme song, way out of tune.

Over there, an aspiring musician lowers to his knees next to that word:


Another friend snaps another shot snaps. Flash. Flash. Snaps. Snaps.


(you and I might come here to "pray" more than a thousand times a day, chum.)

"Have you ever seen a rock and roll man looking so contemplative?" Asks hippie #1.
"Would you give me a dollar for each story they'll tell their friends back home?" Asks hippie #2.
"Don't you think something ought to be done about Darfur?" Asks hippie #3.

The birds whistle the Casper ghost tune.

A lone woman with wild hair, face covered in pigeon poop, moves in sneaky ways,
hopes these strangers will unintentionally photograph her.

She's scaring up
anonymous celebrity.

(would you ever date her?


Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Anne Carson's fictional essay in 29 tangos

At Westsider Rare & Used Books on Broadway, I picked up a copy of The Beauty of the Husband. (The only book left in the store.)

Remarkabe read! Please recommend it to your Mysteries.

November in Strawberry Fields. The gold leaves applaud.

The Jealousies have cell phone lip and forget to kiss.


The last line, she writes, "Watch me fold this page now so you think it is you."

Welcome Anne Carson's spell on me.

Dearest, I am listening.

Monday, November 13, 2006

Reading Jane Hirschfield

Lately, I have been trying to write poetry. Verse. I’m not used to the practice and have avoided any serious efforts at poetry because I always felt that people who could write poetry were somehow able to write it even before their parents were born—raw talent, of which I have little. The craft, to me, seems to call those to it whose existence itself contains some sort of secret muscle that is already wholly poetic. Poetry, I always supposed, asked a writer to embrace a kind of intensity, a kind of immersion into all things mystical, conscientiousness, and tender. These past years I have felt too impudent to be called to a poetic project. Unworthy.

But when a book I recently read disclosed to me that writing poetry sometimes involves being a trickster, I changed my mind. Hmm? Maybe I can make a new attempt.

I recently moved into a new apartment. The previous tenant abandoned a book, still in tact, in the cold fireplace; I rescued this collection of essays by Jane Hirshfield called Nine Gates: Entering the Mind of Poetry and made its pages my pet. I have enjoyed this book and was entirely regretful when it came to an end after 228 pages (’s published by HarperPerennial). This is the first book I have read that has given me a clearer perspective on the delight of reading and writing poetry.

There are three main ideas that I found particularly helpful from Hirshfield’s book: 1) concentration—how to invoke the poet’s attentive mind, 2) how to face the lion and what it means to confront frightening insight, and 3) working in a threshold realm as a writer, navigating the abysmal crack between the pillow and the dreamer’s cheek.

Now I might take risks and compose something I never dared. Refreshing. And I am approaching my new project with a very different attitude than I approached the novel or flash fiction. This feels much calmer, more mature. I love growing older.

Until a few days ago, I have never felt comfortable writing poetry. The problem, I learned, was that my mind had never rested in the proper attentive pose. Attentiveness. I am working on making myself more attentive (whatever that means), and during these few days of watching and listening while honoring, I have been gifted with some surprising revelations, both pleasant and frightening.

Like in my previous home, I am still not sleeping so well, but I guess the insomnia can’t be attributed to over indulgence in prose. Even when my mind, these days, turns to poetry, I can’t seem to enjoy deep slumber at night. The ancients could hire me to keep watch on the moon deck. I hear they pay a decent wage.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Friday, September 29, 2006

Move Me To Tears

This blog will go dark for a while as I am on the move.

Three beefsteak men will arrive around 1 pm today to gently carry off all our worldly possessions to storage for one month before we move to Tears. (Tears is a city about five miles south of the City of Mirth)

Am I concerned about the moving men's savviness with shipping and handling?

Well, I've heard these guys are the best. Some close friends, who are even more nomadic than ourselves, recommended this company: The Gentlemen Movers and Entertainers Inc.

It's true: these moving men are strong and coordinated enough. They showed up last night to flex and ripple their muscles for me and my husband, gave us a sample of their brawn, each could lift my husband--a heavy-weight lawyer--in the palm of their hand.

And the moving company boasts that these men are not only able to lift the heavy boxes, but they can handle two to three heavy items at once and can juggle them while ascending or descending a flight of stairs. That will do us good as we will be moving into a fifth-floor walk-up.

While packing stuff, they put on a variety show. For instance, they do a thrilling knife throwing act while packing up the kitchen things. They've got a slick water show for the bathroom. And they can balance all furniture on their chins or foreheads.

So I'm really looking forward to the fun we'll have during our theaterical move.

But the wildest part of their moving act, so I've heard, goes like this: these guys don't pack clothing in boxes. Oh, no! Instead, they snap and whistle a smoothe jazz tune, and all the clothing fills with life and walks out--or floats, rather--on its own. No folding or stuffing or wasted cardboard and tape.

Imagine our clothing strolling to our new home as if well-dressed guests arriving at a party. My clothes and my husband's clothes, arm-in-arm, floating home.

Now, should I be concerned about how they will move the piano?

Hell no! It's a thumb piano, a West African Mbira, so I don't think I should get ruffled over it.

I've moved around about eight times over the past ten years. Need any advice on how to handle moving while keeping up your joie de vie--I'm the girl to talk to.

If you read this blog, please visit again in November. I'll return with stories about swinging over to visit my in-laws in Guangzhou, China (which is a city some ten thousand miles or more out of the way of the City of Mirth).

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Speaking on Condition of Anonymity

Has the war in Iraq reduced the threat of terrorism? Or increased it?

Are we taking this question seriously?

Was the war in Iraq ever intended to reduce the threat of terrorism, really?

Remember. The war in Iraq started--this time around--because of false intelligence about weapons of mass destruction. Why act surprised when more intelligence about the situation in Iraq reveals the increasingly dubious nature of the current administration's policies and strategies in Iraq? Who needs to see the full NIE report, anyway? What would come of seeing a full intelligence report? We've eaten enough lies, and more people are killed.

I did not appreciate Congressman Joe Wilson's comments today on To the Point.

"We are winning the war in Iraq because at least the Jihadists are trying to attack and recruit those bad apples that staff the militia-run police forces."

And what, according to Joe Wilson, have these Jihadists been using as their recruiting tools? "The Pope's recent comments and Danish cartoons that Muslims find offensive."

Think again. If Joe Wilson's position ignores Iraq as a possible terrorist recruiting tool, what else is this man ignoring about Iraq?

U.S. border patrol ought to wave signs: "Welcome to the Theater of the Absurd! Bring me your tired, your poor, your muddle-headed masses."

The Bush administration creates a war on terror to fight a war on terror. Circular reasoning and lies are governing the U.S these days. Most of us are trapped: living, driving, spending, flying, eating, shitting, scratching, yawning, blogging, grinning while the Commander in Chief's Nightmare Circus rolls through town.

No one has tamed the circus lions. The lion taming profession went out of style during the dot com boom. Lion taming, a dead art like Environmentalism.

Ringmaster, what's the next act?

We're all sticking our collective head in the mouth of the king of beasts.


"Should we pull out of Iraq? Should we stay there?" Blah...blah! Why do people keep asking these questions?

I'm wondering why there hasn't been a fair and just impeachment trial. Mister Award-winning Investigative Reporter, your next assignment: find out why there hasn't been an impeachment trial.

If Bush were on trial, perhaps his more civilized conduct would set a good example for Saddam Hussein in how to conduct oneself politely in a court of law. Imagine. It'd be a kind of Finishing School for both of them. I've heard a lot of good stuff comes out of circus people attending Finishing School.

Anne Carson's Autobiography of Red: A Novel in Verse

A writer fell asleep, dreamt she was a volcano.

But instead of hot lava,

what flowed what leaked from her?

Calligrapher's ink.

Enough ink to cover entire cities.

Heroes and Enemies took up fast-flowing fountain pens.

And everyone engaged in an ancient War on Writing, a battle to stir spontaneity.


Disaster spawns autobiography.

If you are a red monster, you are welcome to write your autobiography in verse.

Me. I am blue violet. I tried to write my autobiography in the form of a musical comedy.

But Fred Eb died September 11, 2004. He was the lyricist of the famous "New York, New York" sung exquisitely by Liza Minnelli.

I always felt a bit unnerved that Mister Eb died exactly three years after... (Means nothing, perhaps, but isn't it...hmm?)

I was left weeping at the edge of a crater.

So I keep this blog now.

For solace.

Some of us like to wonder what it means to blog and what motivates us to create posts and share comments.

But you ever wonder what the immortals of myth might be saying about the blogosphere?


"Hey, that tickles."

As if these blog posts are feathers brushing under their feet.

Bloggers make the vacationing gods laugh.

(I had intended to write a conventional book review here, but this didn't turn out to be a book review. I guess you won't find the kind of book review here that follows John Updike's rules. You might find a writer playing with books, making love to books, bathing with books.)

But the main idea, if it were a book review, would be to try to convince anyone who reads this:

Please do read Anne Carson's Autobiography of Red, along with her newest Decreation.

I wonder if anyone else thinks it would be refreshing to see more novels written in verse.

Sunday, September 17, 2006

Reading Anne Carson

Exhibit in the gallery of my mind:


Solitude breathes society.
Compact urban Brontë in my wallet
between the C note and the theater tickets.

Alight at High Winds bus stop. Turn Prairie Corner. Cross Eros Street to Great Lake Avenue.

Virginia Woolf, Anne Carson, and Sappho meet me at the Chicago Diner for vegetarian greasy spoon in the punk rock piercing booth.

I've been doing some sleepwalking and sleepreading to prepare for this inter-review, of sorts.

Anne Carson's Glass, Irony and God is an astonishing collection of poetry and prose. "The Glass Essay," written in verse, tells the story of a woman recovering from the end of an affair. She visits her mother who lives on an empty moor. She reads Emily Brontë, her favorite.

Sitting with my legs crossed in this windy diner, where autumn dribbles like soup spilling off the spoon, I read Carson's poems through clenched teeth. I throw my fists in all directions until they slam up against bottles of chili sauce, ketchup, and maple syrup. These leather knuckles punch through glass. I'm angry, too. And this place is a mess. But don't ask why. The only question allowed here is "Smoking or Non?" And even that question, soon, will have archaic charm, what with all the smoke banning going on nowadays.

If I ever attempt to write narrative verse, I'd use Carson's "The Glass Essay" as a model. Her play with form does everything from guiding meditation to telling a deceptively simple story. Both activities reveal a soul coming to terms with its nakedness.

"And nudes have a difficult sexual destiny."

This sentence makes me think back to what was going through my mind when I wrote my novel Mint Fan Alley. Nude suggests the integrity of art and yet through burlesque smoke and mirrors, the audience gets a brutal confrontation with the sublime: vulgar, tender and cruel; beastly and beautiful.

Beastly naked. "Oh, it's only Dedalus whose mother is beastly dead." Said Buck Mulligan.

Stirs the soul. I am dead naked. Where art thou, buck?

Yes. I realize it is true: This difficult sexual destiny involves slamming up against the bars of a prison, grabbing around the stained, iron rods and grinning through them.

Carson's words leave ash over my skin, as if her words have erupted something dark and hot over my entire body. I'd like to eat every page of her Glass, Irony and God, that was published by New Directions in 1992 with an introduction by Guy Davenport. I could chew it to bits, including the introduction.

Sometimes, in Carson's poems, "April light is filling the moor with gold milk." And I am reminded that the narrator is with her mother, after losing a lover, and her mother suggests she turn on the lamp when day fades to evening. Read under light. What comfort!

I even found it amusing that this absent lover's name was Law (as I am now contemplating and preparing to go to law school, dealing with the strange personal conflict that this endeavor involves for me.)

But then sometimes, in Carson's poems, there is "[a] solid black pane of moor life caught in its own night attitudes." I am grinning through the bars of bardic prison. Prison schoolroom. I've learned from Carson's Decreation: Sappho knew the question is not "Why don't you love me?" The question is "What is it that love dares the self to do?"

"Love dares the self to leave itself behind, to enter into poverty." So ends the first part of the three part opera. I know what she means. Those lines are giving me strength, and I'll dare Law.

Anne Carson's work impresses a reader with its genre-mixing. She swirls essay, criticism, poetry, opera, and narrative--ink ensemble spills out the paper orchestra pit. No, no. It's not a pit. Carson is applying pressure under earth. Ink volcano. Read her, and you'll spill.

Friday, September 15, 2006

Furtive Reading & Writing


In 1959, Susan Sontag wrote--in her diary: "The ugliness of New York. But I do like it here. In NY sensuality completely turns into sexuality - no objects for the senses to respond to, no beautiful river, houses, people. Awful smells of the street, and dirt ... Nothing except eating, if that, and the frenzy of the bed." (If you like to play the voyeur, check out The Guardian's recent exposure of this great thinker's diary!)

Nothing changes much.

My husband will travel to NYC to look for an apartment. We've been away from the city for one year, living in Chicago. We're moving back to Brooklyn--a place where Paul Auter's funny men go to die.

I was reminded of what I miss most about New York when I spoke to a broker named Allen at Brooklyn Properties. It was the end of a busy Wednesday, and when I asked how he was doing, he said, "Oh, lousy; I guess; it's been a long day."

I said, "Sir, you haven't even talked to ME yet!"

Allen laughed; his laugh echoed: hardy, edgy, soulful music.

Sure, New York's ugly, but people have a good sense of humor about it. Sorry Sontag was too distracted by sex in the city to appreciate wit in the city!

It takes a little time away to see it clearly, but sex is not the funkiest dimension of New York City.

Haven't you heard: someone is writing a new series for HBO called "Wit in the City" about two Brooklyn brokers who frequent a grimy diner and scheme ways to rope all those Paul Austerian heroes into crazy real estate deals? It's airing sometime in 2007, but don't take my word for it. Ask that gossip monger who is right now passed out in the gutter.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

"Sara Gran's Opinion About Writers' Hopes and Brooklyn Settings" & "On the Dangers of Literary Provincialism"

I was impressed with Sara Gran’s writing in her article entitled ”Call It Brooklyn” in today’s Times' “The City” section, but I cannot say that I was convinced by her argument.

Although Gran's tone is not entirely polemical--she is mostly just expressing her concerns as a native Brooklynite--I am currently embarking on a serious study in formal logic, so I took the liberty of dissecting Gran's article as if it were a formal argument. Below is a portrait of what Gran's thoughts look like under close scrutiny.


Gran concludes that Brooklyn is the worst place on earth for a writer.


1. Brooklyn is populated--perhaps glutted--by writers deemed highly successful, who have achieved National Book Critics Circle Awards and National Book Awards, which leaves a young writer in the realm of pipe dreamer if she thinks she can measure up or even if she thinks, by moving to Brooklyn, she can rub noses with these literary untouchables.

2. A young writer, fresh out of an M.F.A. program, who is headed to Brooklyn is full of too much optimisim, perhaps misguided by rumors started by The Believer that "Brooklyn is some kind of heaven on earth for writers." Dealing with Brooklyn's level of compeition from esteemed writers is no walk in the park. A young writer faces certian disenchantment.


1. The publishing industry and book award circles have little or no enthusiasm for fresh Brooklyn-related topics or settings portrayed by unknown writers.

2. The M.F.A. graduate is not headed to Brooklyn for any other reasons than his literary ambitions.

3. A particular geographical location's surplus of esteemed writers produces ennui and humiliation that could have a negative influence on a young writer's craft.


Sara Gran is an experienced writer who knows a thing or two about the difficulty of getting published and selling books. She uses her expansive knowledge of Brooklyn's literary history as evidence that emerging writers might want to reconsider Brooklyn as a setting that is way overcooked. At first, her discussion seems to be heading in the direction of urging writers to avoid Brooklyn as a setting and a topic because every stone in the borough has been overturned. She positions herself as an experienced writer giving advice to the less experienced, as if to warn that publishing industry trends may not be heading in the direction of embracing yet another beast who calls himself a Brooklyn writer.


But then Gran does not provide any concrete example of how geographical location that has been overpopulated by writers has any direct correlation to the demise of a writer. Even the example she provides serves to undermine her point. Gran urges aspiring Brooklynites to rent the movie "The Squid and the Whale" in which a character, based on Jonathan Baumbach, ends up ignored by ciritcs, divorced, and living on "the other side of Prospect Park." Gran goes on to explain that this supposedly failed writer, after all the humiliation, still felt he was smarter than eveyone else. In other words--though he has an inflated ego--he still clings to his sense of dignity: at least he can hold his own, and might be wise to feel accomplished that he has written at all.

Flaws in Reasoning:

The tone of Gran's article suggests that writers with big names and book sales can enjoy a kind of literary dominion over this particular geographical location: Brooklyn, New York--as if these literary giants are imperialist wordsmiths whose writings have erected walls and marked borders, and as if literary accomplishment somehow embelishes writers with sovereingty over neighborhoods, thereby leaving them "off-limits" to others.

Gran writes, "Brooklyn is mine, and I am not inclined to share it." And poses as the native defender of territory. Careful.. Isn't this similar to sentiments triggering current hostilities and strife in war-torn regions of today's world?

What is also disturbing about Gran's attitude is the degree to which it assumes that when a geogrphical setting meets with literary rendering, the setting is somehow confined to the three dimensions of physical, geographical location--a street corner, a city block, or an avenue. But do such confines really exist in the literary, creative mind?

Though I appreciate her work, Gran's article encourages me to write this critique precisely because I feel that it reveals bad habits that some writers could fall into: sometimes, in an effort to express an opinion, writers favor sass, tone, and attitude over the importance of logical reasoning. I know; I have been trying to work my way out of this trap.

To what extent should a strong fiction writer be skilled at formulating convincing arguments? To the extent that she wishes to earn the trust and confidence of her readers, a writer should focus less on self-motivated, insular, and ego-driven, provicial material, attitude, and posturing. A writer is not someone who is called upon to exploit the “cool” and "hip" features of a legendary setting for purposes of impressing a publishing industry or an established litrerary cirlce. A sincere writer will be able to seek out the singular qualities of a subject or setting and will be able to arrange all the telling details in ways that allow a reader to gain insight into a time, a place, and a particular writer's mind. But, even more, a writer provides a great story. An Alice Munro story written with a Vancouver setting or a New York setting would still be an Alice Munro story. So a writer who has got any sand should be able to write a good story no matter what the setting, without concern about who has written in that setting before.

I refuse to buy into the cynicism that many writers, published or unpublished, express about the glutted publishing industry. I have three words for people who try to tell me it's hopeless: I don’t care.

I write for writing’s sake. I hope to please a reader. Of course, acclaim is welcome but not necessary.

Paul Auster’s Brooklyn is not Sara Gran’s Brooklyn. Jonathem Letham does not have imperial reign over the topic of the St. Vincent’s Home for Boys. They're merely parts of the tradition. Ms. Gran, if you wish to write about something someone else has already written about, go right ahead. Sure, it is difficult to be the living part of a tradition, but it is possible to engage in a dialogue with other living writers through fiction. And it can be an awfully rewarding mind exercise. If the publishing industry and high brow circles aren't eating it up, screw them! In your writing efforts--failures or successes--you have grown and improved your craft.

Brooklyn is only one borough that is connected to a larger city that is still connected to an entire country and the world. My point is that there is never an exhaustion of interesting topics to explore, think about, and write about while one inhabits a Brooklyn home. And by despairing over the overcooked quality of a certain scene, we are perhaps not paying due respect to our predecessors: Harrison, Auster, Lethem, Styron, Miller, etc. have planted seeds, lit torches, helped successors receive an illuminated and eloquent perspecitve of history, and have given us the gift of getting to know their minds through their well-crafted prose. We continue from where they leave off because our writing minds extend way beyond the confines of geography, one street corner or a block, or a certain neighborhood turns over and inspires generations of minds.

I’m wondering if Sara Gran is willing to allow "outsiders" to embrace Brooklyn for what it is: though there might very well be lots of competition, talent, publishing industry muscle, and intimidation concentrated there, Brooklyn teems with all shades of lives, every one of them embodying an epic narrative. Brooklyn is more than its physical location. Brooklyn is its people, its moment-to-moment transformations that are profound in their shiftiness and provocation.

Gran referenced Paul Auster’s movie “Smoke.” Remember the scene in which Auggie Wren is showing his photography to Paul Benjamin? Wren took a photograph of the same corner of Brooklyn at the same time every day, filled entire volumes with that same shot. Paul Benjamin is baffled at first. Why? Auggie Wren explains that it's never the same corner twice. Never. That is a beautiful way to invite and celebrate artistic variability. The spirit of Auster's work does not tell other writers to stay out.

I have lived in Chicago for the past year. Not one day has passed when I did not feel to urge to take photos like Auggie did, only I would want to take them of the corner of Broadway and Melrose street in Chicago (if I were a photographer). I would get a similarly amazing and varied results. The scene would be different, but the idea is similar. And the exercise could only be regarded as tired and boring in the eyes of the beholder. A character like Paul Benjamin was able to see that Auggie's project amounted to one man's celebration of a city's day-to-day motion, a living representation of our collective unconscious.

So what if Brooklyn is an intimidating literary Mecca these days? What puny writer or reader wouldn't want to get lost in those overflowing shelves of "local authors?" Personally, that is my fantasy; to be thoroughly surrounded, anonymous yet animated, and compelled to contribute to the pile, a prospect that seems both exhausting and elating. Call that pile slush, if you will; I see a hub full of intellectual good fortune. So what if I haven't time to read it all or my own work goes unread? It's been pure joy and privilege to read and write.

I live in Chicago now, but my husband and I will be moving back to New York City after being away from it for one year. We've lived on the lower East Side, the Upper West side, and Hell's Kitchen. 2003-2004, I did a reverse commute to Brooklyn Heights to teach English composition at a local vocational school before I experienced teacher burn-out and just decided to write full time. Now we live in Chicago's Boystown, another vibrant neighborhood.

But our time here is coming to an end, and now we are discussing moving to Brooklyn. So Gran's article was particularly timely for me, and to read that she is unwilling to share Brooklyn just might have broken my heart--if she had provided stronger reasons for why I shouldn't move there. I may move there yet, and if I do, I will continue to write and take up my station as a no-name, struggling writer, equipped with a healthy sense of dignity and a reined-in ego (I don't even have an M.F.A.).

I wish writers, though they face a monolith when dealing with the publishing industry, would stick together and stay strong about the edifying and gratifying aspects of the creative process. We who do not work in the publishing industry, need not worry as much about its glut. We respect agents, editors, and publishers for the tough work they do. We have our work cut out for us.

Perhaps one could argue that I am too optimistic, but not so: I am a free-thinking individual who refuses to embrace the cynicism of our times. And if I find there is too much cynicism among all writers and residents of Brooklyn, well, where does one go from there? Yoknapatawpha County? Will my husband find legal work in Yoknapatawpha County? Do they have good law schools there as I am considering that profession myself?

At last, I hope that writers will trade inflated egos for a sense of humilty-with-backbone; we, too, can stand up, shake our tiny fists, and say "Shame on you!" to a publishing industry that convinces many good writers, like Sara Gran, that they are somehow a day late and a dollar short. It's unnfortunate Sara Gran feels short changed in her own hometown just because her name and book sales are not as beefy as those of the next Brooklyn bloke. I stand firm that all hope is not lost because I am a gypsy soul who thoroughly believes that Brooklyn does not belong to Paul Auster any more than Chicago belongs to Saul Below, rest his soul. Young, rejected writers out there! You know who you are. Chin up! The world is your oyster!

Cynics. Kiss off!

Friday, September 08, 2006

Rated xoxoxo: A Storyteller Considers M.P.A.A. Movie Ratings

I am living a double life. Striving to maintain my goals as a fiction writer (at least 500 words per day) while also preparing to go to law school. This struggle urges me to find ways to balance my writing life with my continuing education.

Lately, I've been studying strategies for scoring high on the Law School Admissions Test, and Kaplan recommends dissecting editorial and Op-ed writing to improve the chances of scoring higher on the "Logical Reasoning" section of the exam.

Below shows how I dissected an editorial written in today's New York Times, entitled Rated R, for Obscure Reasons

This editorial couches its argument in the context of a discussion of a new documentary entitled, This Film is Not Yet Rated. The Times editorial expressed its confidence in this film and agrees with the attitude expressed in the film: the movie industry ought to review and upgrade its rating system.

This argument proceeds by first extolling the informative quality of director Kirby Dick's documentary and then illustrating that it is persuaded--by evidence provided in the film--that the movie industry's rating system is not fair nor open.

Here's the editorial's conclusion:

“It is questionable whether the movie industry should be in the business of rating movies at all. It might make more sense to simply make information about content available, and let parents make their own assessments.

If there are going to be movie ratings, they should be done through a fair and open process. After the revelations of 'This Film Is Not Yet Rated,' the burden is now on the M.P.A.A. to give its ratings system a serious upgrade.”

Here are the argument's premises:

The rating system is operated by industry leaders and groups who keep the identities of the raters anonymous out of self-interest. Producers feel motivated to curtail the content of the movies to ensure that their movies receive a rating that is commercially viable.

Now, please give a warm welcome to the argument's assumptions:

Parents own assessments of movie content will ensure a fairer and more open process for rating movies, as will freeing the process from being conducted by anonymous groups and industry leaders.

And please give a round of applause for the argument's weaknesses:

This argument does not provide enough evidence for what it suggests is a clandestine nature of the movie rating system. The editorial’s argument does not take into consideration what the M.P.A.A.’s Rating Board deems its integrity: A group of 8-13 members who “have the capacity to put themselves into the role of most American parents.” According to the M.P.A.A., Rating Board members must have “a shared parenthood experience.” The president of M.P.A.A. stands by his principle of not involving himself in the Board’s decisions, which suggests his laissez-faire approach on the side of the industry. Finally, the editorial fails to address the reasons why the Board regards its anonymity as important: the Board wants to keep the rating system free from unfair persuasion by the industry, producers, or other groups.

Please consider how this argument might be strengthened:

If the editor offered examples of parents who feel betrayed by the industry’s anonymity, such examples would strengthen the editorial's argument.

What can we infer from this argument?

From the editorial’s argument, we can infer that this opinion has lower regard for industry leaders and values more the integrity of individual parents when it comes to making decisions about the appropriateness of movie content for their children.

What might be a criticism of the editorial's argument:

The editorial’s reasoning assumes these industry leaders are out-of-touch with these individual parents, and assumes that these two groups are alienated in their motivations and interests.

So that's what my mind was juggling with today in my endeavor to study for the LSAT. Now, here's a flash fiction piece, a short short story inspired by the exercise above:

Wendy’s thin brows furrowed and her fine jaw clenched beneath her rosy cheeks. She turned her brown eyes away from her father who sat across from her at the breakfast table. Alvin Grey had made his final decision: No. His twelve-year-old daughter was not allowed to see the movie Repetition. Are you kidding? My daughter see an independent film that bears no rating! I won’t hear of it!

Alvin always suspected those low-budget films, disguising themselves as “art,” were really nothing more than left-wing lunatics indulging their soft porn fetishes.

Unrated “films” are unsuitable for my daughter!

“Wendy, you’ll come home after school, and we’ll talk about your college applications.”

“But Father!” Wendy protested after swallowing a bite of waffle, “I’m not going to college yet for six more years.”

“Well, Princess. How do you suppose Daddy became In-house Counsel for the Motion Picture Association of America? Do you think I wasted my childhood watching movies that contain gratuitous sex and violence?”

“Father, please. This movie is a compassionate portrayal of aspiring actors who struggle to overcome abusive habits in order to fulfill their yearning for genuine human connection.”

“Well said, Wendy. But you haven’t convinced me of the merits of such a 'film.' (And Wendy's father was actually that kind of Dad who makes quotes in the air with his fingers around words that he feels are sensitive) Save your urge to pontificate for that impressive college essay that you should start drafting, today!”

Wendy’s father kissed her forehead and started to head off to work.

“Father, will you come see me perform the Lead in our school ballet?” Wendy, once again, asked at the wrong time.

“No can do, Princess. Daddy is on trial; working all weekend.”

Silently, Wendy called him all the bad names she could think of, barring Islamofascist.

Wendy had it in mind to leap into the courtroom in her lioness costume. She had to get it through her father’s thick skull, somehow: she wasn’t going to college; she aspired to dance for the New York City ballet.

"Mom, can I have some money to see a movie?" Wendy asked when all was clear.

"Go ahead. There's plenty in my purse."

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Logic Games and the term "Islamofascism"

I was taking a break from doing logic game drills in preparation for the Law School Admissions Test. I turned on NPR and then I was inspired to write my own hypothetical LSAT logic game after listening to today’s airing of World View with Jerome McDonell followed by the President’s speech from the White House. McDonnell interviewed a variety of people about what they think of the administration’s new use of the term “Islamofascism.” In the following program, President Bush announced his vision for the trying the Guantánamo detainees; meanwhile, I had logic games on the brain. See if you can play this one.

Here’s the game:

Military Police categorize eight different kinds of inmates in a high security prison: Detainee, Terrorist, Islamofascist, Combatant, Mastermind, Communist, Nazi, and Anarchist. The prison is built in such a way that one cellblock of four cells is on the floor above another cellblock of four cells. Only one prisoner is confined to one cell. All prisoners are assigned to three different kinds of cells: Hell Cages, Stench Vaults, or Black Holes, according to the following stipulations:

1. The Detainee cannot be in a cell next to the Anarchist.
2. If the Islamofascist is in a Hell Cage, then the Communist must be in a Black Hole.
3. There are no Hell Cages on the first floor of the prison.
4. If the Terrorist is in a Stench Vault, then the Communist must also be in a Stench Vault.
5. No prisoner who was captured and detained was an innocent bystander.
6. If a prisoner has been interrogated and has experienced torture, humiliation, or both, he will be confined to a Black Hole.
7. No prisoners who stand trial will be confined in Hell Cages.


If the Islamofascist is in a cell between the Communist and the Anarchist, then which of the prisoners is confined to a Stench Vault?

a. Mastermind and Nazi
b. Combatant and Terrorist
c. Combatant, Nazi, and Mastermind
d. Terrorist and Communist
e. Detainee


If you figure out the answer, please let me know.

Really, if the President had any real vision, he would encourage the Gitmo MP interrogators to threaten those prisoners like this: "Talk! Or we'll administer the LSAT!" (Law School Admissions Torture)

Good luck to all who embark on this fabulous exam this fall. Yes! You can do it! 180! May I recommend that before the exam you eat 180 organic blueberries. Blueberries are supposed to be good for the brain, so I've heard...

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

How to Outsmart Chinese Officials

Wu Kong’s hands gripped the steering wheel; his palms burned; his knuckles whitened. This was Hollywood-movie excitement! If it could, his foot would depress the accelerator straight through the floor for added dramatic effect.

“Hang on!” He hollered, almost elated, to his passengers—a reporter and photographer for the New World Times.

The mysterious sedan followed them in hot pursuit on this desolate, rural village road until they ripped a sharp turn onto the exit and made a clean getaway onto a new, major highway that had been paved and paid for by The State.

But just after losing the sedan, the driver was forced to quickly decelerate to avoid slamming into a village man who was carrying an obscenely long bamboo pole over his shoulder. The man was climbing over the median strip and had to slowly turn his torso until the pole swung parallel to the highway so the car could drive past. Apparently, the villager hadn't been expecting cars this way, let alone the charge of a random speed demon. Wu Kong whooped as he accelerated again, and the photographer snapped a shot out the back window, capturing the villager's astonishment and his pole acrobatics on film.

After ten minutes on the highway, Wu Kong was pulled over by police and answered three-hours of questions, while the photographer and reporter, who spoke only a little Chinese, waited patiently and snoozed all afternoon on one another's shoulders in the rental car's back seat.

Later, the driver explained the problem to his passengers, although the seasoned nesmen had expected as much. Chinese officials were concerned that Wu Kong was driving journalists to the outskirt villages. They suspected these journalists were sticking their noses into Chinese Internal Affairs, sniffing out the details of the most recent paper mill spill. The journalists would have been caught and punished if it weren't for Wu Kong's charms and bribes.

While he drove into the city, Wu Kong suggested a new approach to the foreign journalists, "So what should you do if you are a writer who wants to get the inside story on paper mill spills that sink Chinese villages? You should disguise yourself as toxic sludge! That's what. I tell you: Eat Beijing duck, vomit all over yourself, and don a mask made of tar and shit-smeared feathers. Because Chinese officials ignore toxic sludge. They spend all their energy trying to tighten their grip around the necks of the foreign journalists. I tell you: if you disguise yourself as a stinking, festering, slimy, goopy environmental disaster, you are more likely to sneak below the Central Government’s official radar than if you try to sneak around pretending to be sleepy tourists. That's how you'll get the story. Go toxic!"

"In closing," Wu Kong said as he pulled to the curb of the International Hotel to let off his passengers, "I quote your good, ol’ Eddie Murrow, 'Good night, and good luck!'"

Sunday, September 03, 2006

Wining and Dining the Alums

Frank McQuill smoothed the blue napkin over his lap. After ironing out every bump and wrinkle under his palms, his hands re-emerged to animate his speech.

“Invest! Build assets! Choose a worthy philanthropy!”

His long, manicured hands pirouetted around the word “philanthropy” and gave him away; if his fingers could speak, they’d say: ‘See Frank! He is a seasoned ballet dancer, an eccentric, a sensible man, poised, a grandfather. Trust him!’

Frank had invited Allen Young and his wife Rita to a restaurant in Chicago’s Greek town. Frank had just taken up the post of V.P. of External Affairs at the liberal arts college Allen and Rita attended a decade ago—they were loyal givers of a small donation, but Frank sensed they smelled of wealthy potential. The three had drunk enough dirty martinis to speak candidly. Frank, however, did not share the story of his desperate days when he lived on what he made from the wallets he snatched on subways and buses. Instead, to humanize his task of “making The Ask,” he told the story of the Minnesota farm he had recently sold. He and his wife had raised sheep for the slaughter. Once, a lamb rested his head on Frank’s shoulder as he was driving it to the slaughterhouse. “After that I turned the truck around, and we never killed another animal.”

When the waiter came around to take their orders, Frank ordered the Korinthian Special, tender lamb chops boiled to perfection.

“You know,” Frank said while chewing with cheer and gusto (no worries, the lamb did not die in vain), “the college’s performance outranks its endowment!” Allen and Rita listened, nodded, feasted, smiled.

Rita, who was unemployed and trying her hand at writing a novel, was enjoying the effects of the dirty martini and felt an urge to rest her head on Frank’s shoulder. She’d whisper ‘Baa baa!’ into his ear, then ‘Opa!’ Then she’d get up and ask him if he’d dance with her because now she was thinking of her favorite scene from the movie “Cabaret,” the scene in which Liza Minelli and Joel Grey do that “Money Makes the World Go Round” number.

The dinner ended with Frank picking up the tab. Rita promised him—as if he had asked for her hand and she were delivering her answer—that she would quit her scribbling and start a more serious pursuit of law, business, or medical school so she could give generously some day. That satisfied Frank and Allen, who was burned out being a lawyer and the solo breadwinner.

Years later, Rita sat on a city bus, her hair matting, her teeth rotting, her clothes stinking. Her hand was inching closer to the man next to her who resembled her ex-husband.

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Naguib Mahfouz, Father of Modern Arabian Narrative

Even though his name was featured on the Islamic fundamentalists' sprawling hit list, Naguib Mahfouz lived a long life. Age 94. Admirable, especially for a writer who survived a stab in the neck when he was 82 and still refused the protection of the Cairo police. Now, how's that for a courageous, snooty snub to those tiresome "cultural terrorists?"

I receive the news of Mahfouz's death while I am reading his Cairo Trilogy.

Mahfouz once said, "Everyday a writer must write something, anything." In that spirit, I urged myself to post this blog entry today, though lately I am feeling a bit of a sense of "shifting gears." Recently, my usual writing schedule has become a shade more unusual. Truncated.

Despite that, to come up with something to write on this blog, I imagined what it would be like for Mahfouz to come talk to a character of mine who has been living in my head for some months now. Her name is Riva Djinn. She enjoys cameos here and there on this blog, as is her roguish wont. I suppose she's in one of her more poetic moods to commune with the dead, to play with the shades.

Riva Djinn met Mister Mahfouz at a coffee house on Broadway and Belmont in Chicago. The place is called Latakia; it's owned by a man from Syria, named Malik, who quit his job as a chemical engineer after suffering too much indignity and employment discrimination because of his Middle Eastern accent. Now Malik is his own boss and makes a mean cafe latte, the best in town! He sets his jaw and tries to laugh when he tells the story of how his brother in Syria, who is a developer, has outstripped Malik in prosperity. "I'm the one who came to the States!" Malik says, as if it still surprises him that he ended up less impressive by his mother's estimation.

Malik is a character Mahfouz would have written about.

But Mahfouz won't write another word. No longer bound to his writing desk or his beloved Cairo, Mahfouz can haunt this coffee shop on a rainy day in Chicago. He can play chess with a fictitious coquette who checked out evey book he's ever written from the Chicago Public Library. Now she sits on this stack of his books so that she might be perched high enough to look over the chess board and into her opponent's shady gaze. Though she thinks herself as tall as a suprermodel, Riva is a dwarf or hobgoblin or troll, of sorts. She may be short on physical stature, but she's got soaring sex appeal. In this coffee shop, Riva's admirers sometimes wait for her to finish the contents of her mug. When she returns the mug, they pounce; they vie; who'll be next to put his lips where hers have been?

But now, Riva Djinn and Naguib Mahfouz occupy their own corner table in Malik's cafe, and they play chess in total silence while the chatter, stories, and aromas of the coffee shop swirl around them. That's all there is to this tale, so far. Nothing more. Riva Djinn, the quintessential urban hermit, and the ghost of the Nobel Prize-winning novelist, Naguib Mahfouz, go unnoticed in a coffee house in Chicago; each quietly contemplates the next strategic move. The vibrations of silence and din merge and dissolve, merge and dissolve. A stranger asks, "Does the Mastermind's heart beat here?" Another asks, "Can I get a free refill?"

Riva bows her head, lowers her lids, sighs, as Mahfouz reaches for his queen.

Monday, August 28, 2006

Getting Published

Please visit this recent Fusion Views blog post if you'd like to hear Yang-May Ooi's podcast interview with a literary agent. Yang-May Ooi has published two legal thrillers: The Flame Tree and Mindgame. She lives in London.

Sick Day, yet Inspired

Today I am feeling, well, not myself. I am feeling you, you, and you.
And febrile.

My body's shareholders throw a party in my throat.

How can they just sit there--
Mister Gullet eating foie gras; Madame Trachea finishing off the stinky tofu--
while the anatomy's industrial average nose-dives into the punch bowl?

The insider trader gets a tip: Perspire will merge with Respire to form Expire.

The dance floor belongs to sickness and sweat; their moves whisper
tender offers of bliss.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Seeing the Madonna, the Messiah, and the Terrorist in Everyone

Riva Djinn is the quintessential urban hermit. She lives alone and listens to hours of National Public Radio.

Today she heard that the pop star, Madonna, tours her song “Live to Tell” while hanging from a mirrored cross and wearing a crown of thorns. Sure enough, this act stirs controversy.

A professor of religious studies from St. Michael’s College in Vermont shared her unique views on Madonna’s behavior: the professor said she admired what Madonna was doing. “Madonna has accomplished—in one performance—what I have been trying to do with my students for years. I’ve been trying to get them to see everyone as the crucified Christ. Usually, my students shudder or laugh when I ask them to imagine Christ as a woman. Madonna is claiming a woman’s right to pose as Christ.”

Riva listened to all this with an open mind. When the radio program turned up the volume on Madonna singing, “Hope I live to tell…” She sang along and humped the walls of her studio apartment, remembering the days when she and her fifth-grade girlfriends took naked photographs of one another while listening to Madonna’s “True Blue” album. Riva, to this day, doesn’t know what became of those photos.

The next NPR show to air was "Marketplace." The story discussed recent tightenings of airport security. A Commentator, David Frum, was yakking about how, “Aviation security operates on the assumption that all passengers present an equal and randomized risk. If MI-5 had operated on the same principle, they'd still be kicking open the door of every house in London to search for terrorists.”

Riva listened, but just couldn't suppress her urge to talk back.

As the radio continued to crash its foamless waves into her open ears, Riva, who was now chopping vegetables for her fish filet dinner, waved her chopping knife this way and that and said, “What a wild world! While the religion professor hopes that we see the crucified Christ in everyone, Aviation security is busy looking out for the terrorist in everyone! Now why wasn't I invited to this whoopee party?” She grins and returns to chopping.

Riva never frets. When she’s not listening to the radio and chopping onions, Riva Djinn loves to read novels. She feels so much more fortunate, you see, because she is able to see the epic narrative in everyone. The end.

Saturday, July 29, 2006

When Riva Djinn Received an Arts Grant

In Rome there is a museum called The Institute for the Pathology of the Book. Subterranean tunnels contain mounds of blackened paper and parchment, proof that war brings literary holocaust. During World War Two, millions of books in over 250 libraries in Europe were destroyed. Apparently, books do not survive gunfire, bombings, blazes, floods, military incursions, or hungry insects.

One hot day in July our heroine, Riva Djinn, snapped her fingers and secured herself a generous arts’ grant from the Dead Letters and Languages Society. Riva decided to use the funds for a translation project that would involve a visit to the Pathology of the Book Museum in Rome.

When she arrived, Riva met a hunchbacked tour guide who informed her: “Most visitors, and there have been too few, turn white as ghosts when they see the Grim Reaper of literature, science, history, poetry, and civilization.” The hunchback scratched at the festering wound on his inner right thigh. “And no one, I mean no one, can long endure the moans and groans released from dead books.”

Riva pouted her rouged lips and simply said, “May I be left alone here for a while.” The hunchback, who feared nothing, almost turned white himself. He said, “You must be mad, but suit yourself! My ears aren’t what they used to be, so I can only promise that I will not hear you scream.” He climbed the stairs, alone and wheezing, then he slammed the door.

In the dark, Riva sighed then wept over the dead books. Riva, being only five inches tall, could comfortably curl herself up inside the center of one book whose pages had been hollowed out by fanged and foamy-tongued beetles. Nature and war will be cruel, but Riva noticed that words clung here and there. Maybe a story could form around all the words the insects hadn't eaten.

To help her think, Riva sang a song. She sang a tune the Bedouins used to repeat to her. Riva sang of the copper moon over the desert as the books repeated their repulsive dry heaving.

At last, Riva fell asleep, curled up in this book whose pages had been eaten away; the books parchment and broken spine coughed up dusty despair that settled in Riva's long, dark, worm-like braid.

When Riva awoke, she went straight to work. She squinted over the dove-shaped letters; she strained to piece the old words together again; she become intimately involved with this one volume, a cycle of mawlawi drum poems. What did these words mean? Could she ever deduce all that was missing?

Riva hunkered over this translation project for nine lonely years. Finally, she had interpreted a master work by a Bedouin poet, a whirling dervish who had hidden an uncommon love for a sacred whore in the desert of North Africa. Would this volume find readers? Was this the kind of poetry that Book Sellers were regarding as too passé?

Riva didn’t care. She’d spent nearly a decade of her life kissing the trembling feathers of doves. She had wrung gentle words from her dark eye lashes.

This was the least she could do to prove herself to her father, who had lived an accomplished life as an esteemed scholar. Now Riva had something to recite to him on his deathbed, and she could whisper these verses to him in Arabic, French, Russian, Sanskrit, and English. Surely, her father would be pleased.

“Just think!” She grinned at her friend, the hunchback, who had been bringing her fresh pots of Moroccan mint tea for the past nine years, as it was Riva had never once surfaced from that museum's underground tunnel, “If every man, woman, and child in the world came down here to visit and stayed through one night to read and translate, we could restore all these volumes, rebuild entire libraries! Tell me, don’t you think that would be more interesting than mooning over the boob tube?”

The hunchback shrugged then nodded then itched his groin.

Friday, July 28, 2006

The Scribble Bitch Book Club Has a Crisis Hotline

The Scribble Bitch Book Club currently has three members: Rebecca Jane, Sheela Swift, and Riva Djinn. (See the post below entitled "The Scribble Bitch Book Club" to know exactly what titles they are reading).

These three women met at a small club in Chicago called the Rhythm Room, a nightclub that hosts Friday night drum circles.

All three of these women happen to play different varieties of hand drums. Rebecca plays an inverted steel drum; Sheela plays an Irish bodhran; Riva plays the Middle Eastern dumbek.

These women met two weeks ago at the Rhythm Room's weekly drum circle. Drumming together quickly made them into a classic example of fast friends. They all discovered that they share interests in reading, writing, and talking at high speed.

All three women worry over the crisis in the Middle East, and they have anxious personalities, so they decided to form a book club to start reading, talking, thinking, and writing about this problem amongst themselves.

After exchanging phone numbers, they agreed to be available to each other anytime, day or night. The three of them created a kind of Middle East Crisis Hotline, thus agreeing in this way to be within reach of each other, all the time.

Last night, Rebecca picked up the phone.

First, she called Riva, who was busy indulging in a foam bath. Riva splashed and laughed. Rebecca, being as reverent as she is toward a woman in her bath, couldn’t imagine disturbing her dear friend. Rebecca needed to quietly rant; her reading had inspired an urgent and pressed mood in her, so she explained to Riva that she'd just call her later; she'd bring her concerns to Sheela first. Riva agreed, and they hung up.

Rebecca called Sheela, who had bathed in rose petals and goat's milk an hour ago. Sheela was ready to listen closely:

"I have just read this scene in the novel Beirut Blues by Hanan al-Shaykh. The scene made me think about something. May I read you a paragraph?" Rebecca asked.

Sheela took her friend off "speaker phone" and whispered, "Sure. You have my ear, Sweetheart."

Rebecca read this paragraph from page 21:

“Kazim was listening to what Ricardo said, but he rephrased it in more ideological terms; he said that religious faith was now the solution but that this was a gut reaction after the failure of the other political parties. ‘We confronted Israel with weapons, nationalism, guerilla operations. What was the result? If we’d fought them with our religion, we would have overcome them. Look at them. Because they operate on the basis of a single religion, they’re the strong ones. Religion must become the authority."

"May I share with you what this paragraph made me think of?" Rebecca asked.

"That's what our hotline is for. Speak, girl. Don't be timid!" Sheela gently urged.

"In this novel, this passage strongly suggests that Hezbollah, which regards itself as a political party of God, was created in reaction, a 'gut' reaction is the way this novel's characters state it, to the idea that perhaps the Israeli army draws its strength from its religious affiliation. This makes me see that these two sides, these fighters, are like two sides of the same coin. They are mirrors of one another. True. I am afraid of the way the US government and Britain will point to Hezbollah as the ONLY and MAJOR problem in the Middle East. It's not right. It's not that simple. The problem is a human one and needs a human solution. No more violence, please! I am desperately afraid of the kind of bullying the Bush administration probably has in mind."

"Also, reading this made me think of something I'd recently read in Tin House, an interview with Roddy Doyle. Many of us 'Westerners' and people who feel more cynical about religion may feel like dismissing warrior mentalities that appear to be flawed and simplistic and steeped in religion. It's more complicated than that."

"Anyway, in this interview with Roddy Doyle, who is a writer I admire and respct, he wanted to dismiss all religion—he included yoga and vegetarianism under his 'religion' umbrella—as silly. Religion may be silly, but like other silly urges such as war and revenge, we need to admit that many people embrace religion; it's a human force..."

"I wish writers who become cultural icons and spokespeople would not be so careless, dismissive, and cynical when dealing with other people's choices, affiliations, and actions, especially when the consequences are war and death. Dismissing actions as 'terrorist,' 'fundamentalist,' 'radical,' or 'silly' does not seek to understand the very human forces that compel people to act the way they do. Our mind needs to kick out its habits of judgment if we want to deal effectively with one another. We need to think in terms more compassionate. Enemies are mirrors of one another. The characters in al-Shaykh's novel seem pushed by desperation, i.e. Israelis have religion; they're strong; we need religion... Oh, how shall we ease this suffering, this urge to fight, this despair??? You see, Doyle wishes to define himself as Dublin-Irish. You see why this is still problematic? At the rate we're going, Dublin could be taken away from him any day now. He could be exiled involuntarily from Ireland. What then? What is left when you let go of designations such as American, New Yorker, Syrian, Israeli, Indian, etc.? Is there a place for all of us to grieve together, to finally acknowledge the extent of our exile?"

"In a poem called 'As He Walks Away,' Mahmoud Darwish's speaker recites the lines of Yeats' Irish Airman:

Those that I fight I do not hate.
Those that I guard I do not love."

"Oh, I'm sorry my thoughts are so scattered over this. I'm just feeling a little desperate too."

Rebecca's voice, exhausted, fell silent.

Sheela nodded and winked, and by some odd magic (or perhaps through an excellent Verizon connection) Rebecca could actually hear Sheela nod and wink over the phone.

"I am listening." Sheela assured her. "I have heard all you have said. I have received your words, warmly, absorbed them into my consciousness. Now, I will be silent and think."

Before they hung up the phone, Sheela thought of all this:

'I was reading too, and now I am thinking of all you have said and of a very powerful passage in Elias Khoury’s novel Gate of the Sun. A French writer is interviewing the Palestinian fighter, Yunes, asking him if he’d ever killed anyone and how he feels about it. Yunes is telling Monsieur Georges that in war, killing is like breathing, you do it without thinking about it, in war you are a fighter and you shoot and shoot, fighters live and die shooting. In a warrior consciousness, it's as though one can never really know the extent of damage he can do. I suppose we always sort of live like that, not knowing how we hurt each other, but maybe it's not always as obvious as a military battle. Killing each other; hurting each other; experience teaches that fighters get swept up into the vertigo of it. I can show you vertigo.'

'Anyway, this passage, Khoury's whole book, makes me realize that war is a way of being for displaced people who have been falling too far into despair. History has been repeating the obliteration and annihilation of people, masses of people killed violently and erased. Even their erasure is being forgotten.'

'It's not just Israelis and Arabs; we all must stop killing each other! Where do we begin?'

'Do we agree to go down together? The earth enshrouded, a white sheet over her eyes?'

'I'm on my stomach, my lips press to the ground. I'd do whatever it takes to stop this nonsense, nothing more and nothing less than complete submission. Surrender. Israel! Western Europe! US! You've won. So rape me. Palestine! Arab nations! Islam! Ugly martyrs, all! You've won. So veil me!'

'Lock me away in your gas tanks, your refugee camps, and your bombed out harems! I care less. Stop this nonsense, at once! Listen to your Grandmother's stone-cold heartbeat, sounds like this: Live! Age! Live! Age!'

'Grandmother's heart tightens in your fist. Let go. Slow down.'

'This is a desperate situation! Makes me want to sit back and do nothing but drink lots of brandy and listen to my favorite Billie Holiday tunes! Where's my silk robe? Oh yeah, and I also need to oil my legs and rub my clit. Ah! Fuck you, cruel world! Go ahead! Destroy cities! I'm busy giving myself an orgasm. God, Sheela, man, I love you!'

'What else can I do? No one can hear it anyway.'


Though they were both silent, only breathing, Rebecca heard all of Sheela's thoghts; she even heard Sheela's self-induced orgasm and her tiny cry for help. Rebecca hoped that she was not the only one who had observed Sheela's silent, wicked beauty. Rebecca hoped their phone line was being tapped.

Finally, Sheela whispered, barely audible, "Call again, tomorrow. I must hear your sweet voice repeat another bedtime story!"