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Archive for April, 2009

Uncollected Concerns

I’ve been missing zines today, and thinking about how they seem to have disappeared from my radar now that blogs have taken their place. One of the novels that I’m working on in my dissertation features a 16 year old writing a zine for victims of sexual abuse, and now I imagine he’d have a blog instead. Of course, he wouldn’t be isolated—he’d spend his days in chatrooms full of survivors of sexual abuse—and the novel would more or less evaporate. But there was something wonderful about going to an out of the way bookstore and discovering a zine. I read some pretty amazing zines at St. Marks back in the ‘90s. But now I can watch Karen Carpenter: Superstar on Youtube, so it all balances out. And chapbooks are doing great. Who doesn’t love chapbooks?

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Is the book really disappearing, or is it libraries? My own trusty university library is increasingly purchasing electronic versions of books (I find such a thing unreadable for more than a page or two) and joining consortiums to make books flow easily from campus to campus. I suppose that the promiscuous books of library collections (indiscriminately read by endless eyes) aren’t very good for a publisher’s bottom line, but it seems like there should be a solution here to something.

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Kids, the internet is rotting your brain. It gives you cortisol. I just need to focus.

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Craig Arnold, please be found, come home.

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Gotta love the ironies of digital culture. A big fretful debate among publishers is whether the printed word is on the way out. But the first big internet retailer made its money selling books online. Amazon is a great example of what some folk call “convergence culture”— the term is a bit slippery: for some it means the way older media forms appear inside the newest media channels (like books and movies and TV shows showing up online); for others it refers to the way the technologies themselves are converging (that we can watch videos on our cell phones, which double as e-mail devices, and internet sources).

And now the Library of Congress is getting into the game. Check out their digital archives. The LOC has made its Slave Narratives, oral histories, and American Life archives available online. “Nearly 3,000 of the oral history interviews are now available on the Library of Congress’s W.P.A. Life Histories Web site, memory.loc.gov/ ammem/wpaintro/wpahome.html, with more to come.”

Since the late 1970s the Library of Congress has been quietly unpacking and vetting the contents of the WPA’s Federal Writers Project, making the materials available to researchers. During the Great Depression, as part of Roosevelt’s New Deal, the federal government employed over 6000 poets, essayists, journalists, and writers to interview and document the stories of the nation. Editors included John Cheever, Zora Neale Hurston, Studs Terkel, Ralph Ellison, Dorothy West, Kenneth Patchen and many more. They produced the famed American Guide Series, and they also produced the Slave Narratives. The timing was crucial: social and economic crisis met up with the literary, historical, and sociological imagination of the federally-employed writers. Plus, in the late 1930s the population of once-enslaved people was dwindling. Armed with microphones and notebooks, the editors went out into the nation and collected their stories. The editors also amassed oddball anecdotes and local histories. They believed—even in the face of a culture rife with white supremacy, anti-immigration laws, and the like—that they could celebrate a national culture of diversity. W. H. Auden called the whole project “one of the noblest and most absurd undertakings ever attempted by a state.”

And now all that material is available online. You can download audio files and listen to the voice ex-slave Fountain Hughes.

Take that, Facebook. I got yer “25 Things” right here.

Or, better still:

Dear 21st Century Writer, what should a poet do with those voices? What would a novelist do? Or an essayist?  What would you do? Would you listen? Bear witness? Or…

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To the Lighthouse

It’s late April and it’s 90 degrees in Philadelphia.  Right now I’m listening to the loud omnipresent hum of what I assume is a cooling device for the meat/produce store loading dock right next door.  It ends and, before I know it, it begins again when I’m in the middle of doing something else in my room.

It’s 3am and every time I try to sleep I start sweating profusely.  

I just spent an hour with my favorite book  — To the Lighthouse.  Even though I’ve read it about seven times (mostly in college), there’s something mysterious that draws me in.  No matter where my copy might be (lost, at the bottom of a pile of magazines, at a friend’s house), I think, “I should be reading that book.”  And then I’m reading it and it’s like an entirely different piece of fiction.  

I also just read tonight that there is going to be a new David Foster Wallace book, titlted “This is Water.”  It’s a commencement speech that he gave at Kenyon College.  I’m pretty sure I read it all online (it’s not that long, and you can read it here), but it’s most definitely worth re-reading.  Here is Wallace at his big-hearted, big-brained best.  

The refrigerator is running again and I’m still sweating.  Maybe the weather will be better tomorrow.  

Maybe.

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Sorry loves– I’m home being ill and doing things with a neti pot that should not be recounted.

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Woke up in Rome; now, in Athens. Hiked up a hill for the Aprokopli, and it makes me wonder about all this news, why we sift through the papers all day long, why so many living rooms are stale with the light of the Weather Channel, why so many kitchens hum with what’s just happened. I guess it’s just as good as thinking waaaaaaay too far ahead or waaaaaay too far behind, but tonight, in this strange Athens’ Internet port, none of the news matters to me; only this matters to me; this now; this way back when.

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PLUS:

INTERNET-AGE WRITING SYLLABUS AND COURSE OVERVIEW.

BY ROBERT LANHAM

~@~

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Maybe he doesn’t work at the bookstore anymore.  He goes there to pick up an old check?  After the scene at the doggy daycare, she wouldn’t be browsing magazines if she thought he might be there.   Also, she should be wearing the shirt from the night where he met her sister.  Ties into the blue theme.

More sex.  Three new scenes?  (They need to go all the way.)

Also, before the car crash, a new scene where he’s talking about the sex with Kenny at a restaurant and the woman from her office overhears.   This is where the milk coming out of the nostrils part can go back in.

Cut out the long thing on whales.  Steve is probably right – this has been done before.

Too many singing in the shower scenes.  Cut six of them.

Dr. Toliver is not his father, but he has to be the prime suspect at the party so that the road trip happens.  Need new reason for suspicion.  Smokes a pipe?  Line dancing?  Someone tells him his dad used to have wavy hair?

He has to go to the bank after the Laundromat, otherwise why does he have the coat hanger with him when he bumps into her again?

Move last chapter to somewhere near the beginning of part 2 so the talent show coincides with death of the grandmother.  Write new last chapter that sums up living in America these days.  A parade?  Reality show?  Race riot?  Maybe he has to fill up a friend’s car with a really big gas tank – super expensive.

Prettier adjectives for the camping chapter.

Something missing from the Mount Rushmore part.  Do pumas live around there?  Possums?  Research.

She doesn’t accuse him of stalking at the dentist.  But she does at the Lamaze class.  More room for drama there.  Could be really touching if it’s handled right.

What if all the dream sequences have him chasing a butterfly that symbolizes his hopes for the future?    Maybe work in some stuff on Native American beliefs when he goes to the “haunted” museum.  Then it makes more sense.

Tone needs to be Tolstoy crossed with Palahniuk.  But the exact same feel as a Johnny Cash song.    Rhythm.

Not enough descriptions of people’s clothes.  Add more.

They need to have a kick ass band for the wedding.  Like a dream band.  They can do Salsa, reggae, hip hop, show tunes, 70s rock (no 60s because of the protest theme – too obvious).  Irish line dancing too much?  The singer is hot, but not hotter than the bride.  And the guitar player can do that thing with his teeth.  The first dance should be November Rain or the Humpty Dance.  Either way, this part needs to be written really, really well so people get how freaking awesome the whole night is.

If his mother doesn’t kick him out of the house in chapter 47 they can just live together there at the end.

Swearing or no swearing?  Need to nail this down for the part where he drops the hammer on his foot.

More brand names.

Her cat runs away.  And they find it in the park with bite marks all over.  Foul play.  Professor Fraussenpunch?

Probably too many scenes where they bump into each other (14 if you count the Ferris Wheel?).  Cut one or it will seem like he is stalking her.

Start writing tomorrow!

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