Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Famous Unknown

On Sunday night I'm drinking beers at the Wunder Brewery on 9th, reading through the SF Weekly. When I get to the "top picks" in the events section, Thursday night's feature is the "Mixed Muse" reading, and it mentions me by name. The actual quote is: "As for those individuals and groups we've never met: Marcos Soriano, Alia Volz, Dustin Heron, and bands Lazarus and Si, Claro are local luminaries all, with Pushcart Prizes, rad music pedigrees, and molto publications among them." So I'm a local luminary, but also someone they've never heard of. How cool is that?

Monday, December 17, 2007

reflecting on the Mixed Muse Reading

The reading I'd mentioned in a past post came and went last Thursday, and I managed to not shit myself or faint while on stage. Actually, my nerves didn't develop into the paralysing disability I'd feared they might, and the nerves I did have provided enough pressure to make me feel buzzed on relief afterwards, which is cool. Can't undervalue a free natural high.

I think one of the things that helped me get through it was the level of preparation I put in before the event. Almost every day leading up to the performance, I read the piece out loud to myself. By the end I knew the piece well enough to sink into it like a worn easy-chair, and when my nerves kicked in, the piece served as a flotation device to cling to.

It's a good thing I had that flotation device, too. I'd never been to the LAB before, and it was bigger than I thought it would be. There was a good-sized crowd--probably more than 40 people--most of whom I'd never met, and we had to read at a lecturn up on a four-foot high stage, with spotlights in our faces, while someone in the back filmed and took pictures. And the reader who went on before me--Alia Volz--was confident and charming and attractive; definitely a tough act to follow.

After Alia finished her piece, I stumbled through the storm of applause for her, and mounted those treacherous looking steps to the stage (very steep, painted black, and with no gaurdrail; I had a flashing image pass through my mind while I climbed: Marcos falling on his ass in front of the unkown crowd). Behind the lecturn, my voice boomed, huge from the speakers bouncing it back at the stage. For a second that tripped me up too, but I figured it was just my vantage point that made the sound so huge and echoey; things sounded fine from the crowd. I introduced myself, mentioned that I mostly work in fiction but this particular piece was nonfiction, and then launched into the text.

Launched is probably an appropriate term; I hit those words at such a pace that I might as well have been shot out of a cannon. It took me a few paragraphs to realize I was reading too fast, and then another few paragraphs to correct it, but I did manage to shift to a more appropriate speed before too long. I'm sad about the start though, because that's good stuff and my reading didn't do it justice.

There was one moment, while describing the jumper's appearance, when someone in the crowd guffawed at the word "elfin." Other than that, I felt I was able to pull the people into the text, so that they were there with me, feeling the intended tone by the story's conclusion. When I finished the piece the applause seemed hearty enough to make me feel I'd managed to keep them up on the level Alia first brought them too. I tripped down those steep black stairs, looking a bit elfin myself, I'm sure, and got back to my spot in the crowd.

Sona Avakian came on after me, followed by Sarah Fran Wisby. They both read witty pieces that made my grim, earnest tragedy seem very out of place. Sarah even mentioned this during her time on the mike: "You guys sure are easy to get a chuckle out of tonight. Must be because of that suicide piece; now everyone needs to laugh." I'm pretty used to feeling like my writing doesn't fit in with the SF literary scene, though (with it's McSweeney's-style quirkiness) so I wasn't bothered.

Also in abundance, besides quirk, were mentions of clitorises. Of six readers, three featured the organ in their work that night. Glad to know SF is such a clit-friendly town.

One of the three readers who didn't mention a clitoris in his reading (though he did mention nipples), and the only other reader besides myself who doesn't even have a clitoris, was Dustin Heron. He read two solid pieces, which intrigued me enough to go buy a copy of his book "Paradise Stories." I haven't started reading it yet, but I'm looking forward to it.

After the readings, Eric Zassenhaus (the other editor for Instant City) introduced himself to me. Seemed like a really nice guy. I had the chance to share a few words with Gravity too (also very nice). I ended up leaving just as the dude who calls his solo music project "Si, claro" started playing.

All in all, a good night. I'd definitely be willing to read again.

Friday, November 30, 2007

TicketMaster is the Devil

My girlfriend and I took some friends to the OZOMATLI show at the Fillmore last night. The show was pretty good (they're performances are starting to look a bit jaded), but the ticket service charge from Ticketmaster was outrageous. Tickets were $26.50 each, plus a $10 Ticketmaster charge, plus $3 for ordering tickets online. That's $13 each ticket just in addendum charges, practically half of the cost of the ticket. We bought four tickets, so we spent nearly $50 in extra fees. And on top of that, in order to buy the tickets online you have to give Ticketmaster your email account, and you have to consent to them using your email pretty much however they want (including adding it to their junk mailing list, and even selling it).

So basically Ticketmaster is the devil, and there's hardly any alternative to it. It was a Thursday show (Friday and Saturday were sold out), and our friends couldn't tell us if they could go until Monday. The Fillmore sells tickets for its shows at its box-office, but that's only open for a few hours on Sundays, and on the nights when they have shows. There weren't any shows going on until the night we went, so we couldn't buy tickets from the Fillmore directly (and to tell the truth, I'm not even sure if you can buy tickets for shows not happening the night you go to the box-office). We had no option besides Ticketmaster.

It makes me think of Pearl Jam, back during their early fame, fighting with Ticketmaster, and how that fight basically prevented them from being able to do any shows in the US for a couple years. Amazing that this monopolizing corporation had the power to shut down the most popular band of the day.

If Ticketbastard is the master, it relegates us to subservience.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

The End of Books?

The November 26 issue of Newsweek has a cover article on Amazon's new product, a "digital book" called the Kindle. The article barely rises above a hype-spot, but the idea of an iPod for Books has captured my fascination. Turns out there's a technology called eInk that allows a screen to reproduce an image that's closer to ink on paper than any screen yet invented. Apparently eInk works by rearranging elements behind the glass, instead of projecting images with light, which makes it a lot easier on the eye, so you can read something of book-length without frying your irises. It also burns way less energy; one 2-hour charge is supposed to last weeks. The eInk screen isn't illuminated, so you have to read in a well-lit area, and it's only available in black and white so far. I hear it also flashes black each time you turn the page, which some people find disorienting.

This eInk technology isn't new, and there's already a few digital books out there, including a similar product from Sony called the Reader, but I hadn't ever heard about any of this before, so I'm guessing they haven't put as much marketing into it as Kindle's getting. Another unique aspect of the Kindle is that you can use it without a computer, and it's linked directly into the Amazon website; you can download a bestseller for $10 in less than a minute.

A lot of the hype has been directed toward winning over bibliophiles who fetishize the physical nature of books: the feel of the paper, the smell of the glue and ink. For me that's not really an issue, my love of the book is only a sideproduct of my love of the story. In a lot of ways the Kindle sounds cool to me: lighter and smaller than a book, able to store up to 200 texts (which is key for me, because I hate the bulk and clutter of a personal library), able to change the size of the font, and to search for words (probably useful if you can't remember who a certain character is in a longer novel). The key problem, and it's definitely a deal-breaker for me, is that the fucking thing costs $400. And then each book you buy is another $10. You even have to pay to read stuff that's normally free, like blogs and your own personal files. I barely even buy books at the bookstore--like one or two a year--because I hate shilling out twelve bucks for something I'll be done with in ten hours. There is no way I'd ever pay $400 for the right to spend $10 each time I want to read something new.

Which brings me to another topic: libraries are FUCKING AWESOME. The vast majority of the books I read come from the San Francisco Public Library, and they don't cost me a cent. I stopped by the library on my way home from work and picked up nine books I've been eager to read. Nine books! That'll keep me busy with great reading for weeks. And then when I'm done, I can take them back, so I don't have to have them laying around my shoebox apartment, taking up my precious space.

Whoever came up with the idea for libraries is a hero, if you ask me.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Reading at the Lab

I got an email yesterday from Gravity Goldberg, of Instant City, asking if I'd be willing to read for them at an upcoming event. I emailed her back saying I would. It took an hour for my heart-rate to return to normal after hitting the send button on that email. I don't like reading, it makes me extremely nervous, and the idea of reading to represent Instant City practically terrifies me. Plus, the venue hosting the event is printing up press releases and fliers for it, so that makes it seem like an even bigger deal. But I know how important readings are in this game, and being scared seems like a pretty lame excuse for turning down an opportunity. I just hope I don't make a complete ass of myself.

The reading's going to be held at the Lab, on Thursday, December 13, from 6 to 8 pm. Small Desk Press will be sharing the stage.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Playboy confirms the death of the book reader

My girlfriend is a total trash-tv junkie. She loves reality shows and pseudo-reality shows, and celebrity gossip wrap-ups, and other horrible stuff like that. A few months ago she quit her job and went for weeks spending upwards of 8 hours a day watching the worst that television has to offer. Now she has a new job and consequently can only dedicate two or three hours a day to her junk-tv habit, and she has to work hard even to achieve that much screen time. She has to multi-task to maximize her exposure to the televisions cathode rays, watching tv while eating breakfast or clipping her toenails or sleeping. She's an expert at time-management.

One of my girlfriend's current favorite shows is "Keeping Up with the Kardashian's," which is like a sci-fi reality show about an ass with a face attached to it. On a recent episode the ass with a face posed for Playboy. My girlfriend was curious about the pictoral, and it seemed like a perfect opportunity for me to buy porn with my girlfriend's consent, so I went out and bought it.

As porn goes, Playboy isn't very exciting. It does have some decent articles in it, though, sort-of. There's a new Stephen King story in the issue with Ass-face Kardashian, so I'm looking forward to reading that. There's also an article about the shootings in Oakland, which includes the idea that white people should train black gangsters how to shoot, so the gangsters could kill their targets more effectively, with less innocent bystanders getting killed. I'm not kidding, the article really says that.

There's also the following statistic, which was printed in the Raw Data section: 27% of Americans did not read a book in the last year.

27%. That's more than 1 out of 4 people who didn't even read ONE book last year. Don't forgot that last year saw the release of some major bestsellers, including the final tome in the Harry Potter series. That book alone got more press than the ongoing Iraq war, and sold more copies than the bible. And even with a book like that weighing in, more than 25% of the population didn't read a single book.

Friday, November 9, 2007

Instant City Issue 5 Release

Last night was the release party for Instant City issue 5. I've got a nonfiction piece in it, and I went down to check the event out, as part of my ongoing endeavor to get more involved with the writing scene.

I'd been ignorant of the event until I stumbled onto mention of it on their website. Sort of took me by surprise, that internet notice, because I figured they'd send me an email to update me on the release of the issue, and when I didn't hear anything, I assumed nothing was in the works (Oddly enough, the same thing happened with issue two of NANOfiction, which is also publishing a piece of mine, and which had a release party the night before Instant City.) Maybe such notices were sent as bulk emails, and catagorized as spam by my yahoo account.

In the end I almost didn't make it. I'd been out drinking in bars the two nights before, and up early to work both days, so I felt pretty worn down come Thursday night. It was hard to get myself up off the couch.

I did though. Got off the couch, jumped onto my moto, and drove down there just in time to catch the start of the reading. Once I got there, the surprises continued.

First of all, there were more people than I thought there'd be, and they were older than I thought they'd be, and less trendy-hipster in appearance, and I recognized hardly any of them. Gravity Goldberg, one of the editors for Instant City, is involved (or was, at any rate) with the MFA Creative Writing program at SFSU, so I figured I'd recognize some people from my time in the Undergraduate program. And I did recognize a few faces (a few as in 3), but that was it.

The reading happened at Adobe Bookshop, which is a tiny used bookstore in the Mission District. I'd been there once before, to read in their "Here Comes Everybody" reading series, and even that event, which drew maybe 30 people, made the shop seemed crowded. With the Instant City party the place was packed, spilling out onto the sidewalk.

Before arriving at the event, I'd thought I'd introduce myself to Gravity and Eric (the editors), and I figured there might be the potential to be asked to read from my piece. Once I got there, I realized how unlikely the idea was. There were only four readers, all of whom had plenty of experience reading, and all of whom read on a regular basis at events throughout the Bay Area. Not a place for novices, such as myself. Once I heard the first reader loud-lisping his piece, flamboyant and unrattled, I knew I wouldn't have been able to deliver on a similar level, even had I been asked.

The second reader, Sarah Fran Wisby, was one of the three faces I recognized from SFSU. She turned out to be one of my favorite readers that night, reading from her piece on a double-amputee junkie burglar (sounds outlandish, but the piece was skillfully devoid of quirk or sentimentality).

The third reader was great too, despite my cynicism for white people writing from "black" perspectives. The guy's name was Richard J. Martin Jr., and his piece was an oral instruction on the art of the Three Card Monte. Clever, charismatic, and convincingly authentic--with only one or two awkward "whiteboy" comments.

The headlining reader had the kind of writing resume that makes newbie writers' balls shrivel up--publications in major venues like Esquire and the New York Times (if you get something in Esquire, you're getting paid serious dosh). Pretty big fish for such a small bookshop. He read a parallel piece--a guy in a bondage club thinking of an angry letter he recently received from a past acquaintance--that came to an impactful, if orthodox, conclusion.

After the reading was over, the jam-packed crowd started the process of disassembling itself, and filtering outside for a smoke (sort of like pulling a puzzle back to separate pieces). Waiting for the exitway to open, I exchanged a few comments with a guy that looked like the loudmouth on that Spin City show. When I asked if he liked the reading, he told me he liked "when words are put together." I wasn't sure if he was being clever, or stupid.

I stopped in the doorway, once it had cleared out, to look at the fliers on the wall. Another girl I recognized from SFSU, who'd ben a TA in one of my classes, chatted with me for a moment. She's always been friendly and nice, but I couldn't remember her name. She remembered mine, though, and said she was looking forward to reading my piece.

Like the rest of the store, the entryway is small. Standing there made me feel like I was getting in the way, so I walked outside. Big crowd milling on the street, and I only knew one face. A spark of embarassment and awkwardness burst into flame within me, making me feel hot, turning my face pink. I didn't feel solid enough, after the previous two nights, to brave an unknown crowd. So I shrunk away into the darkness of the night, got on my bike, and headed home.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

buy less live more

In the last post I talked about the obsession my co-workers have with buying stuff. I figured I'd follow up that post with another, because the shopping obsession of one co-worker in particular is turning out to be even crazier than I realized. He's been working a part-time job at Williams Sonoma, on top of the full-time position he has in my office, in order to get the employee discount. I'm guessing he averages upwards of 60 working hours a week. He sees a therapist once a week, and he's taking prescription anti-depressants, and he's still miserable. Yesterday he was feeling particularly low, ranting to another co-worker about how he thinks his roommates aren't pulling their weight in the household, and how the pills and therapy aren't working, and how he doesn't know what to do. At one point he yelled: "Oh god, I just want to go shopping!" (No joke.) At lunch he walked over to Williams Sonoma and bought three cookbooks and a margarita maker. The grand total of money in his bank accounts: $800. The cost of those books and the margarita maker: $380. And he says he doesn't even like margaritas; "Tequila is the devil's water."

This guy is using shopping like a junkie uses heroin.

It made me think of a favorite quote of mine, by Sterling Hayden. The quote was posted on the wall of the head on the Schooner Californian when I worked aboard her as a deckhand. It follows below.

"To be truly challenging, a voyage, like a life, must rest on a firm foundation of financial unrest. Otherwise, you are doomed to a routine traverse, the kind known to yachtsmen who play with their boats at sea... "cruising" it is called. Voyaging belongs to seamen, and to the wanderers of the world who cannot, or will not, fit in. If you are contemplating a voyage and you have the means, abandon the venture until your fortunes change. Only then will you know what the sea is all about.

"'I've always wanted to sail to the South Seas, but I can't afford it." What these men can't afford is not to go. They are enmeshed in the cancerous discipline of "security." And in the worship of security we fling our lives beneath the wheels of routine - and before we know it our lives are gone.

"What does a man need - really need? A few pounds of food each day, heat and shelter, six feet to lie down in - and some form of working activity that will yield a sense of accomplishment. That's all - in the material sense, and we know it. But we are brainwashed by our economic system until we end up in a tomb beneath a pyramid of time payments, mortgages, preposterous gadgetry, playthings that divert our attention for the sheer idiocy of the charade.

"The years thunder by. The dreams of youth grow dim where they lie caked in dust on the shelves of patience. Before we know it, the tomb is sealed.

"Where, then, lies the answer? In choice. Which shall it be: bankruptcy of purse or bankruptcy of life? "

- Sterling Hayden (Wanderer, 1973)

[The organization that owned the Californian eventually went bankrupt and had to sell it, so maybe the quote should be taken with a grain of salt.]

Friday, October 19, 2007

full houses empty hearts

I got my first office job about a month ago, and I'm still getting used to the whole office environment. One of the things that's new for me is the level of chatter. The five of us in my office spend the majority of our waking hours together, and cubicles don't offer much solitude. That leads to an ongoing conversation about what we've got going on in our lives outside the office. I'd never had any real interest in getting to know my co-workers before, and I still don't, but now I've got no alternative.

Surprisingly (or not, depending on your views of contemporary society), the majority of the conversation relates to purchases. I bought this, I'm going to buy this, I wish I could buy this, I bought this but I can't afford it so I have to return it. That sort of stuff.

So these people spend all their day working, and then blow the money they made on random shit, and then they have to work more. Perpetual slavery through consumerism.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Slow Hands

In a previous post, titled "Dead Words," I explained the frustration I'd been feeling with a literary mag that had accepted one of my stories and then let more than a year and a half pass without actually publishing it. By now it's been nearly two years, and my last email got the same sort of "almost there" response I've been getting to all my queries up to this point. My original intention was to withdraw the story unless they gave me a solid publication date, but instead of doing that, I asked a past teacher for advice. The teacher, Laura Walker, urged me not to withdraw the story, and spoke of delays as such a normal part of literary publishing that it isn't uncommon for one of her books to come out two years after she wrote it.

I've been thinking about that, and its given me more insight into a few of my other stories that also seem caught in limbo. Currently I've got two stories, in addition to the story mentioned above, that have been accepted for publication, but have no solid publication date. Both stories are lingering in the inbetween stage (between acceptance and publication) for months longer than the editors had led me to expect. I've also got three short shorts being considered for the Fineline Competition held by Mid American Review. Results for that competition were supposed to be announced in September. At the end of that month, they posted a message saying "Results are tallied and the winning writers will soon be contacted." Two weeks later and still no news.

Getting a story accepted for publication is hard enough, but now I'm starting to realize that acceptance isn't the end of the struggle. I'm also starting to believe that literary journals move a lot slower than they'll admit to. I guess I'll just have to adjust my expectations to reflect that knowledge.

Monday, October 8, 2007

the future of fiction is extinction

Among the cologne and wrist watch ads that make up the bulk of Esquire magazine's content, the October 2007 issue included this shocking little tidbit: 70 recreational book readers die each year, and only 2 are born. That info leads the writer who mentioned it to prophesize that books are on the way out. To tell the truth, it doesn't surprise me much at all. Of the folks I interact with on a regular basis, most of those who read books for fun are older than 40. People my own age spend their free time watching movies, or blowing cash in bars. Those of my peers who do read in their personal moments seem to do so more out of a sense of narcissistic intellectualism than honest enjoyment, and it's those same types of readers who mock folks reading for the sake of a kick in the pants.

Books are dead my friends. Thank god all those authors haven't figured it out yet.

Monday, September 24, 2007

creative writing for idiots

While parking my motorcycle last night, I got into a heated discussion with the owner of the house I'd parked in front of the night before. Being the bookish coward that I am, I figured I'd vent my frustrations in written form, with Craigslist's Rants and Raves section seeming like the ideal forum. So I logged on and posted the following message:

"Where the fuck am I supposed to park my bike?

"Why is it so fucking hard to find a decent parking spot in this goddamn city? I live in the sunset, so you'd think there'd be plenty of spots for a motorcycle--it only takes up like two feet of curb space, for Christ's sake! But I've had my bike knocked over, run into, even pushed up on the curb by some SUV driving idiot. I've had the sidestand bent, the front fender cracked, the forks twisted, and now the brakes are all messed up too. I tried putting it on the sidewalk, alongside a building and out of the way, and I ended up with a $125 ticket. And tonight, when I went to move my bike so it wouldn't get a street cleaning ticket tomorrow morning, some asshole came down from his house to tell me not to park in front of his property. "Parking is tight here," he told me, "and I've got three cars. I don't want you to take up space where my wife could park." Maybe he should get rid of one of those cars, then. Or maybe he should put a car in his fucking garage, and another in his driveway. Then he wouldn't need three spots on the fucking street. Then he wouldn't need to worry about the two feet of space my goddamn piece of shit busted up rustbucket deathtrap motorcycle occupies when I'm not riding it. Fuck."

I logged on today to see if there were any responses. There were two. Here is the first:

"This is what you get for driving everyone crazy with your NOISY, LOUD, OBNOXIOUS motorcycle. Also, your incredibly RUDE and illegal driving--lane splitting, speeding, weaving, etc.

"Motorcyclists are scum with small cocks. I always call the meter maids when I see one parked on the sidewalk or anywhere else illegal"

and here is the second:

"How about in your big fucking ass,look like it would fit.gotta love them pedal pushing morons.My someone run you over you ugly cow and GET A REAL BIKE"

The first post is stupid enough, with it's assumptions about me and the type of bike I ride (neither of which are accurate, by the way--my bike has stock mufflers so it isn't loud, and I'm a very cautious driver who doesn't split lanes), but the second post is so moronic that it boggles my mind. I'm guessing the author of the second post was responding to the original response to my post, which included a picture of a crazy-looking white lady with the words "I am a victim" in a speech balloon coming out of her mouth. Somehow, the second responder didn't realize they were responding to a response, and assumed that the lady in the picture was the poster, and a bicyclist trashing motorcyclists.

I wasn't expecting intelligent commentary, mind you. I've wasted my share of time reading the Rants and Raves section while at work waiting to go home, so I'm familiar with the mindless belligerence that typifies the posts there. Even so, I was taken aback by this whole exchange. It seems like the people reading and posting in this section are so eager to attack that they don't even bother to determine whom they're attacking. It's gone beyond unreasonable complaints, beyond even the broadest generalized group-hating. It's become so stupid and so aggressive that it makes me think that the average poster must be a lobotomized nazi with rabies.

With that in mind, I've attempted to craft the ultimate Rant and Rave post. It follows below. Feel free to copy it to your desktop so it'll be handy in case you ever want a taste of the nonsensical animosity offered up by Craig, that tech-savvy altruist. You don't have to log on any more! No need to thank me.



Wednesday, September 19, 2007

San Francisco is expensive

I just finished a month of unemployment, and during that time I figured I'd track every penny passing through my hands in order to find out what a day costs. Turns out it costs a lot. I averaged more than $200 a week, and I'm a cheap bastard. Add that to $537.50 a month for rent (I split a $1075-a-month studio with my girlfriend), and it puts a month's expenses in the $1300 range. And this is just a fraction of what my friends are spending on a monthly basis--I don't know anyone in this whole fucking city that pays less for rent than I do. Of course, rent's only one of the ways you get screwed around here. A beer costs $5 in a bar, unless you stiff the bartender on the tip. Drink 5 beers in a week and you just burned 25 bucks, which is $100 a month. Wanna see a movie? $10.50 a ticket. How 'bout dinner? You'd be hard pressed to eat out for less than $10 a person, and you could easily end up dropping upwards of $20. That's not a fancy meal, either. Even trying to go on the cheap is expensive--a twelve pack of the cheapest beer around, Pabst for example, runs over $8. No which way about it, living in San Francisco is expensive.

Here's a couple days' expenses.

Thursday August 23
$ 7 laundry wash (4 loads X $1.75 each)
$ 4 laundry dry (4 loads X 32 minutes at 25 cents for 8 minutes)
$ 6 deli sandwhich
total $17

Friday August 24
$ 10 beer (2 beers at $4 each + $1 tip per beer)
$ 32 sushi (for 2 people)
$ 3 bus tickets ($1.50 each direction)
total $ 45

Saturday August 25
$ 65.30 groceries
$ 18 phone bill
$ 5 bridge toll
total $88.30

Sunday August 26
$ 25.95 gasoline ($2.95 a gallon X 8.8 gallons)
$ 4.29 vegetarian burrito
$ 9.08 six pack Sierra Nevada Beer
total $39.32

Saturday, September 8, 2007

Open Mike Readings?

Last night my girlfriend went out with some of her pals, leaving me on my lonesome, so I figured I'd try to check out an open mike in the area, maybe even take a turn on the stage. Up to this point, I've avoided reading my own work out loud. I've always thought that reading aloud would put me between my words and the recipient, dilute the intimacy of a reader and a text by adding a middleman. One of the reasons I like writing as a means of expression is that it offers the chance for a message to be delivered without a messenger. (It's true that a lot of writers focus on developing a 'voice' in hopes of making their work reflect their identities, hoping their words will reveal them, but writing offers a chance to create work that minimizes the presence of the worker's ego in a way that performance art can't, which is one of the main reasons I'm drawn to it. To offer a contrasting example: it's hard to see a character in a play without seeing the actor, and only the most talented actors can erase themselves onstage.)

Plus I get nervous. I can stand in front of people and say all kinds of stupid shit, and not feel too embarassed, but reading my writing, which I've worked hard on and which means a lot to me, exposes vulnerabilities that don't otherwise exist. And I reason that getting nervous affects performance, and performance matters when you're reading something aloud, though it isn't a factor when someone is reading your work to themselves.

But whatever. I'm trying to come out of my dark little cave, and get involved with some sort of community of writers, and it seems like refusing to read makes finding a community harder to do. Plus the fact that reading makes me nervous seems like a reason to read in itself; a chance to slay one more of my dragons.

So I searched through the local weekly, and saw that Cafe International, in the Lower Haight, has an open mike every Friday night. "Authors are invited to read from their work at this regular open-mike event," the posting says.

I take the train down there, and walk into the cafe while some lady's up on stage playing guitar and singing. She sounds a bit like Cat Power--not quite as good but not too bad either. She plays two songs and steps down, and then another person gets up there with a guitar. Two more songs and then another guitarist. I look around me and notice that there are a lot of people with guitars in the cafe. They seem to sit and murmer to their friends, or read--basically ignore the performer--until the song's done. Then they clap.

Finally a poet gets up. She's a middle-aged white lady with dreads, and she reads a rhyming poem about the recent murders in the Western Addition community. The poem uses a lot of slang, references to "our people be dying" and stuff like that. It goes on for ten minutes, and I'm impressed that she recites without using notes, and I'm impressed that she keeps her passion going throughout the performance. But it really isn't my kind of thing.

She gets off stage... and another guitarist steps up.

All in all I was there for an hour and a half, nursing a beer. During that time I must have seen 14 musicians/singer-songwriters, and one poet. Some of the stuff sounded pretty good, but it wasn't what I was looking for.

Anyone know of an open-mike in San Francisco that focuses on writing?

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Dead Words

On February 6, 2006, I got a letter from Rogers State University saying that one of my stories had been accepted for publication in their literary journal, Cooweescoowee. It was the first story I'd had accepted, so I was excited. Later that same day I got an email from Quick Fiction, accepting a different story. The Quick Fiction story came out two months later. The Cooweescoowee story still hasn't seen print.

I waited about six months, and then emailed Cooweescoowee, asking for an update. The magazine's editor sent me a friendly note saying my "poem" was scheduled to appear in their Fall issue, in November. She said she'd happily mail me a few copies when it came off the press. I felt a bit uneasy reading that, since my piece wasn't a poem, but I didn't bother to respond for fear of irritating her with excessive emails. I'd only published one piece by this point, and I didn't want to do anything to jeopardize the chance of getting another piece in print.

Time passed. I published a few more things. After six more months without any news from Cooweescoowee, I sent the lady another email, and left a voice message on her phone's answering machine. She replied with the following email:

"I assure you your story is coming out. We're reading the third edition of the galley proof now. As soon as we're done with that the Coo will go to the publisher. There have been several production problems with this issue, primarily due to training a new layout and design editor. As soon as I have copies in my hand I'll mail copies to you personally. "

It's been six more months by this point, about a year and a half since the story was first accepted, and a year since the editor said it'd be in print. I've had two more stories accepted for publication, but I still haven't heard a thing from Cooweescoowee. I just sent them another email. Unless I get a response saying the thing's already been published, I'm planning on telling them they've lost their chance.

What bothers me most is that just after the story was accepted by Cooweescoowee, I found out it had also been accepted by Transfer, a literary journal for San Francisco State--at least that's what one of the fiction staff told me when I wrote to tell them I placed the piece elsewhere. That issue of Transfer came out a year ago.

I found Cooweescoowee by looking through the Classifieds section of Poets and Writers Magazine. Anyone out there now a better way to find journals seeking stories?

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

oh! my little heart went pitter pat

Today I logged onto this blog and, to my surprise, found six comments for my last post (which is six more comments than the cumulative amount garnered by all my previous posts). Three of those comments are from Blake Butler, the first two of which he'd gone back and deleted. The one he left standing jibes: "whoever has the biggest tits gets published most, didn't you know? i have EE implants." Makes me wonder about the two he took out.

Another thing I've been wondering, since reading the comments, is whether the word 'conspiracy' holds greater weight in the world outside of San Francisco. I feel like it gets thrown around a lot in this burg, so much so that when I hear the word, or see it written, I tend to assume the speaker/writer is either a nutter, or talking with tongue in cheek.

In any case, the interest garnered by "a conspiracy of writers" is more than this shitty little blog has ever seen. I checked the hit tracker and saw it had logged 17 visits! Total fame, I know. Of course, three of those hits were probably from Blake, as he visited and revisited the site to revise his comments. And more than one of those hits was probably from me, checking to see if the post had gone up or not (I still haven't figured out this whole blogging gig). But whatever, none of the other crap I put up got any attention at all. Just goes to show: if you want recognition, court controversy.

Sunday, September 2, 2007

a conspiracy of writers?

Haven't posted since those first few, mainly cuz I got tired of writing about myself, but I figured I'd punch up a quick entry to express my newest revelation. I was looking online for info about a magazine that's asked to publish one of my short shorts, "spoon". The magazine's titled NANOfiction. On their site right now, they've only got two pieces up, one of which is by a writer called Blake Butler. I'd never heard of him, but I figured I'd check out his website, which he'd listed on the NANOfiction page featuring his work. I go to his site, and it's a pretty basic affair, mostly consisting of a list of stories he's published, including links for those that can be read online. What blows me away is the number of stories; he's got like a dozen publications for the past year alone. A lot of those are short shorts, and most of those are in journals I've never heard of, but it still boggles my mind that he's finding homes for so many of his works. I go to his blog, and it's packed with entries, talking about all the writing he's doing, the readings, the literary type stuff. Where does he get the time? Doesn't this guy have to work a job? The blog features a list of links to other authors' blogs; they're mostly up-and-comers like himself. I start clicking through those links, and seeing the same names coming up again and again. They all live in the Eastern areas; a lot of them publish a lot of shit in journals I've never heard of; a few of them even edit and publish their own journals, and in those cases, they often feature the works of the other people on the list--Derek White, for example, is a dude linked on Blake's list, and he edits a magazine called "sleepingfish", and that magazine features the work of... you guessed it: Blake Butler. It makes me wonder: is this some sort of conspiracy of underground writers?

The idea has me a bit worked up, agitated. I've always been struggling with two conflicting desires: the desire to shut myself off from everyone else and just do my own thing, and the desire to find a community of like-minded people. It seems like Blake Butler, and Derek White, and all of those other dudes, are actively making the community thing happen. And they're also doing a lot of writing. Not sure if that's just because they've got more free time than I do (probably less of a struggle to make rent in Atlanta, where Blake Butler is from, than here in San Francisco), or because they're just more motivated, or because having a community helps them feel riled up to write more. But looking at that publication list on Butler's site makes it easy to feel like he's getting more done. Green eyes of envy, I'm telling ya.

On Butler's blog there's a statement that he'll link to anyone who puts a comment on his page. I'm wondering whether or not I should do it, and dip my toe in his writer's pool.

Thursday, July 5, 2007

Broken Lever Pt. 2

Finn pulled out his cell phone, and started making 411 calls. The first operator connected him to a tow company's fax machine, which didn't do any good. On the second call he got through to a live person, who told him it would cost $150 to get the bike towed to Santa Rosa (apparently Windsor doesn't have any bike repair garages). $150 is a lot of cash, but Finn felt like there weren't many alternatives, so he asked them to send a truck out. They said to expect the truck in a half hour to 45 minutes.

Next Finn went through 411 for repair shops in Santa Rosa. He had to get connected to a few different places (I was adding up the 411 charges in my head and inwardly grimacing, but I guess he felt like it wouldn't mean shit compared to the tow cost, and subsequent repairs) before he found one that was open. They wouldn't be able to work on the bike until Monday, but he made plans to have it taken there.

While Finn tried to sort things out via cell phone, I started looking over his bike. The clutch lever was the immediate problem. It'd busted off so close-in that the nub didn't allow enough leverage to take the bike out of gear. What remained of the lever was held in place by a bolt dropped through the top, cinched against a nut on the bottom. Top of said bolt had a flat-head-screwdriver slot. We didn't have any flat head screwdrivers, but the edge of my keychain fit in well enough. I pulled the supplied tool kit out of my bike, and found a wrench that fit the nut on the bottom. In a few minutes, I had the busted lever off the bike. Still, without a good lever to replace it with, we weren't really any better off.

Right about then two junky old bikes came around the first turn. Each bike was driven by a clean-cut younger dude, and each dude had a preppie-looking girl sitting behind him. As they passed by us on the second turn, the dude in the lead called out "All right?" I shrugged my shoulders. About a hundred yards past us, they turned around and came back.

Finn was still on his cell, but I stuck out my hand and met the dudes. Alan and Mitch, they were brothers from Jersey who lived in Salt Lake with their wives--the preppie-looking chicks (whose names I don't remember). Two clean-cut younger dudes, in polo shirts and slacks, with their wives, on vacation from Salt Lake--I put it all together and figured they were Mormons. Later on Alan confirmed my suspicions by admitting he worked as a youth spirituality counseler.

Mitch drove an old Yamaha, maybe a Seca or something like it, and Alan's bike was the same year and model Nighthawk as Finn's. "If you guys had nice bikes," Alan told me, "we wouldn't even have pulled over."

After the introductions they were all over Finn's bike with so much fervor I felt like I had to force my way into the conversation to let them know what the problem was. A veritable swarm of energy. "Either of you guys got a spare clutch lever?" I asked. Neither did. They did have a pair of vice grips, though, and they figured that if we put the lever nub back on the bike, they might be able to fasten the vice grips to it, creating a makeshift lever. I got the nub and the bolt and nut, and we started working at getting it back on the bike.

Right about then the tow truck pulled up. "He's going to be so pissed if we can get this working," Mitch said. The driver, to his credit, seemed like an ultra-laid-back guy. He said hello and sat down on the guardrail, waiting to see how things turned out.

First Mitch put the vice grips on facing the rear of the bike, but that didn't leave enough room for the makeshift lever to pull tight enough to take the engine out of gear. Mitch flipped the grips around, and lo and behold, it actually worked.

I whispered to Finn, "If we can get the bike back into Windsor, I can cruise to the nearest bike shop and get a new clutch lever. With a new lever you could make it back to the city, and save yourself $150 for the tow."

Finn pulled the makeshift lever a few times, trying to judge if it was solid enough to stay in place for the ride to Windsor. He was already on the phone with 411, trying to find the nearest parts shop. After a few tugs on the vice grips, he looked at me and said "Let's do it."

Turned out the nearest parts shop was also in Santa Rosa, and once Finn got connected to them, he learned they were just minutes from closing. He negotiated with them to sell him a lever over the phone, charging it to his credit card. They said they'd leave the lever in their mail box.

That left breaking the news to the tow truck driver. He'd been following the events closely enough to know what the score was, and he didn't seem too bothered to have been called out for nothing. I'm guessing he even felt amused by the novelty of some strangers coming together to jerry-rig a bike back into action. "I didn't want to do any work today, anyway," he said, smiling.

We thanked the driver for coming out, and we thanked the Jersey Mormons for helping with the bike, and giving us their vice grips. Before they got back on their bikes and rode off, Alan turned to us, laughing, and said "So don't be saying us East Coasters are all a bunch of pricks. I know all you Californians think the East Coast people are a bunch of assholes."

"I'm an East Coaster too," said the truck driver. "I was born and raised in Philly."

"I'm from Pennslyvania," Finn said, "and I lived in New York for years."

Finn and I got back on our bikes, and headed back the way we'd come. I followed at a pretty good distance, expecting the vice grips to come off the bike at every bump in the road, but they held on well enough that by the time we got to Windsor Finn wanted to shoot straight to Santa Rosa.

"You think they'll stay on on the freeway?" I asked.

"I think so. They feel pretty solid to me."

And they did stay on. We got to Santa Rosa, found the shop, found the new lever in the mailbox, and put it on the bike. It was getting close to six, and I had to meet up with my girlfriend in the City at seven, so we got back on the 101 and headed straight south. Traffic was thick, but moving fast. I kept the speedometer at 65, but Finn kept dropping back, and I had to slow down. Finally, when he was a few hundred yards behind me, and we were still 10 miles from the Golden Gate, I saw him take an exit, pull off the freeway. I took the next exit, pulled over and called him on his cell.

"You all right?"

"I'm fine, just needed to get some gas."

"Bike working all right?"

"Yeah. It doesn't sound the same as before, but it's running fine."

"You probably ought to take it to the shop sometime soon, have it checked out."


"You don't need me to wait for you, do you? I'm still trying to make it to the City before seven."

"No need to wait. I'll catch up with you later."

I pulled back onto the freeway, cranked it up to 75, scooted on home. I made it back to my place by a quarter till.

Monday, July 2, 2007

Broken Lever Pt. 1

On Saturday I went out for a ride with my friend Finnian, who has only recently gotten interested in motorcycles. We headed north on the 101, with Windsor as our destination. Finnian's parents have a house there, and he'd gone up the week before to check in on the place--his parents are doing an extended cruise in the Mediterranean right now. During that little visit he'd accidently left a bag of weed on the kitchen table, and this week he wanted to retrieve it (poor form to leave your drugs out for your parents to find, you know). It also served as a good excuse for Finn to take his bike on the freeway, which he's only done once or twice before.

The freeway part of the trip went without much problem. Finn hadn't ever spent that much time on a bike before, so his ass got pretty saddlesore, and the roaring and pushing of the wind freaked him out a little too. His bike handled fine, though. It's an old Nighthawk 650, made in the year when they changed out the chain for a shaft-drive. He's only had it for a month or so, and hasn't put it through serious use yet. My own bike is also a Nighthawk, a 750 from '92. I've had it for a few years now, and I've covered a few thousand miles with it, so I know it pretty well.

In any case, we got to Finn's parents place without incident, except for a few car wrecks we saw on the way (mangled cars, but no human casualties). The weed bag wasn't where Finn had left it, but he got up the nerve to ask the neighbor (who's coming by daily to feed the cat) to see if she'd taken it. She didn't fess up to doing so, though Finn thought she had a nervous look in her eye when he approached her.

So we were short on weed, but still had plenty of time left (the only constraint being my seven o'clock date with my girlfriend). We decided to drive the backroads to Bodega Head, have a quick hike, and start back toward the city.

I let Finn take the lead, because I didn't know the area. In just a few minutes we were out of the town and cruising on a two-lane with vineyards on either side. The weather was beautiful, the scenery a delight; perfect conditions for a bike ride.

About twenty minutes in we came to a sharp curve to the right that was followed immediately by a sharper left. We were moving about ten miles per hour faster than the posted limit for the curve, which isn't a big deal on a bike (or even most cars), but the turns were sharp enough and close enough together that a little charge of energy sparked in my gut. I breaked a bit in the upright moment between the end of the first turn and the start of the second, because Finn had slowed enough to put me on his heels, but we were carrying enough speed to cause the following to happen very very quickly.

Finn started in on his lean, but didn't seem to be leaning in enough. His break-lights flashed for an instant, and then the bike was on its side, dust and plastic and shards of the rear-view mirror floating in the air around it like a cloud. Finn came off the bike, his left shoulder and hip against the asphalt, his body turning as he slid so that he was facing back toward me when he and the bike made contact with the guardrail. The sun was shining down strong at that particular part of the road, and the whole thing seemed incredibly sharp and vivid in my eyes, like High Definition television when compared with regular TV.

I stopped my bike, leaned on its side stand, and headed in Finn's direction. He was already on his feet by the time I got to him, his eyes wide, saying "Looks like I'll be riding bitch back to the city." A kid who'd been driving a car right behind us stopped and hustled over to help. We got the bike off the road, and started assessing the damage.

Finn hadn't come out of it too bad. His jacket had a few new holes in it, and his left hip sported some fresh scratches, but the only serious casualty seemed to be his pride (during the next half hour he berated himself continuously--I must have heard him call himself "stupid" at least two dozen times). The bike, on the other hand, wasn't ridable. Besides the destroyed left mirror, and the dents and scratches on the tank and body, the clutch lever had busted off completely, so we couldn't put it into gear.

After making sure we were alright, the kid jumped back in his car and took off. We were alone, with an unridable bike, 75 miles from the city...

Friday, June 29, 2007

Neighborhood Blowhard

I was changing my car's oil near the corner of 17th Avenue and Rivera Street when I noticed that a mousy-looking lady was standing on her front steps a few houses down, watching me attentively. I'd say she was glaring at me, but her face was too timid to deliver a full-on glare. She skittered back into her house when she realized I'd noticed her, and a minute later she was back at the doorway with a chunky guy I imagined to be her husband. The mousy woman pointed at me, and hubby got me in his sights, then came lumbering in my direction. Mousy clutched the doorjamb, looking on.

When hubby got about five feet away, he hit me with: "What do you think you're doing?" I looked down at the full oil pan at my feet, and back at him, and paused for a moment, trying to think of the best way to state the obvious. Before I could, he hit me with another question: "Are you changing your oil?"

"Yes," I said.

"You're not supposed to do that. Where do you live?"

"I live right around the corner," I said, and turned to face him. He stayed on the curb, well out of arms reach, looking down on me. His shirt was tucked in, and his fat belly hung out over his belt, a soft sack of flesh.

"You can't just drive up on the curb, and change your oil here."

"Why not?" I asked.

The haughty look on his face soured into a scowl. "Why don't you change your oil in front of your own house?"

"I live on 19th. I can't change my oil there." (For those of you not familiar with San Francisco, 19th Avenue is where Highway 1 cuts through the city. Six lanes wide, a constant torrent of traffic.)

"Well you can't change your oil here."

I stood there looking at him, with a dozen ideas running through my head. He was only a few inches taller than me, but he probably carried at least 50 pounds more weight on his frame. Still, I entertained thoughts of smashing him one in the face. I also thought of responding to his attitude in kind, giving the guy some insolent quip that took into account the fact that there were no laws saying I couldn't change my oil in the street, or telling him that I wasn't in front of his house, or pointing out the plentiful oil stains that already adorned the asphalt. What gave him the right to be pissy with me when an oil slick the size of a floormat was just twelve inches from his right foot?

In the end I just stood there for a beat, looking him in the eyes, without saying anything. I imagine my face looked emotionless. I felt a bit angry with the guy's blowhard attitude, but not enough to really get all worked up about it.

After a few minutes of this, the guy shrugged his shoulders and said "Just don't spill any," before turning around and walking away.

And I didn't spill any, at least for the most part (a couple drops here and there, I admit, but nothing significant). I wonder if he came back out to the curb later, and combed over where I'd been, looking for evidence. If he did, and found the site relatively clean, did he think this cleanliness was a result of his efforts? I wonder. If wasn't for him, in his mind, would I have painted the street with used motor oil?