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.