How to tell a story

How to tell a story

Friday, May 31, 2013


Eatin' all that scrapple's gonna
kill ya, he said as if I wasn't already
dying of natural aging. Look,
I'm at a time on this declining
planet when quality of life
trumps quantity of life without
exception. Your have your little
pleasures, I have mine. Nothing
faces the impending daily onslaught
of bad news like scrapple for
breakfast. So give me a break.

On the Titanic a fat man on
a diet decided to eat a candy bar.
I would have encouraged him
to eat several.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

After Lew Welch

Th stunning silence of early morning
offers no clue to the noisy mayhem
that follows through the hours.
Reality will drive you crazy today.
This is what happens in a dying empire
that is taking the planet with it.

Unless you are waiting for the Rapture
you might want to look at your options.
You can't stop this decline.
You can obsess about it.
You can rage against the injustice
of it all, get drunk, raise hell.
You can kill powerful folks,
mistaking this for revenge.

Or you can blow bubbles in the park
or read a good book
or buy a painting
or cook a great meal
or go out dancing
or give things away
just for the hell of it.

It's up to you.
Nature doesn't care.
You make good fertilizer
as well as the next guy.

The great Lee Hays of The Weavers
had his ashes scattered in his
zucchini garden.

A man ahead of his time.

Monday, May 27, 2013



The demons are back. These termites
of the mind are blowing up synapses
morphing consciousness into obsession
banning all thoughts unrelated to hypertext
and the project at hand to a Mental Siberia
where Lawrence Welk music plays
throughout eternity. There's no rest
here, in the demonic mind, a stressful
dance I thought I'd left with semi-
retirement, recently enjoying a new
life of tranquility, relaxation, peace
but no, no, no, the demons are back
keeping me awake, dragging me
to the computer at odd moments
to change a word, fix some code
obsessed, always obsessed, with
the work, the work, the work
I thought I was done with all this.


But I learned something.

Across the way the grass is never greener.
Across the way the grass is always brown.

Happiness is knowing when to quit.

Saturday, May 25, 2013


With the planet in clear decline
handwriting in blood on the wall
I wonder why folks quibble about
the small shit instead of finding
as much joy as possible in
their lives. If ever the glass was
half full, it's now. But no matter.
Some folks were born to be
negative. The small shit rules.

Friday, May 24, 2013


Look, there's already enough negativity
in the world. I don't need more
here on the small island of my life
where it's hard enough in this dying culture
keeping my own positive thoughts in my head.

Spare me your
complaints, corrections, criticisms,
venting, whining, raging.
Spare me your soap operas.

Find something you like to do,
do it, enjoy it, and shut up.


After three hours of sound sleep
I toss and turn and finally get up
into a room as silent as it gets here
in this house, in this neighborhood
in this city.

Elsewhere on the planet
bombs are dropping
children are raped
prisoners are screaming.
With luck, someone, somewhere,
cries out in sexual ecstasy.
It's a big world with big sounds
but silent here at this hour
in this house, in this neighborhood,
in this city. In this mind.

I have things to do to pass the time
but later, tired again, I'll return to bed
and stretch out, knowing that the best
part of the day has passed;
after more sleep, if I am lucky,
it will be downhill from here.
This is the magic hour.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Low Profile

There's already enough misery in the world
you don't have to add to it.
Play your cards close to the vest.
Don't be the one who blew it.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Song of the Citizens

Candide and Pollyanna on a date
paying no mind to news of late;
suicide bombers and massive storms
too far away to do them harm.

They walked in the park, went out to dine
and ate fine food and drank fine wine.
In Oklahoma on this day
entire towns were blown away.

Starving children dropped like flies;
Pollyanna made goo-goo eyes.
Candide got brave and stole a kiss.
Political prisoners are never missed.

He asked if he might feel a breast;
her mother taught her No! is best.
She said no and he heard yes.
The Middle East is such a mess.

He felt her breast, he ripped her clothes;
but was it rape? Well, no one knows.
Candide said, What's done is done
but Pollyanna bought a gun.

She told the police that Candide lied.
Torture, war and genocide.
She sued him for her self-respect;
date rape made her such a wreck.

The jury heard the case for days;
the crowds were split a dozen ways.
The warming sands, the rising seas
were causing widespread misery.

This is where the moral comes
but overhead the sound of drones
the sky electric with such threat
humanity has never met

and this means simple tales must end
never to return again.
But was it rape or was it not?
A dead planet is all we've got.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Robert Coover: “Going for a Beer” : The New Yorker

Robert Coover: “Going for a Beer” : The New Yorker:

The last story that really blew me away. It's an amazing narrative feat.

The Dandelion

I have profound admiration for
the solitary dandelion on the sidewalk

in this harsh environment
somehow finding the small path
through which to reach for the sun

no weed, o heroic flower!

A Time of Tears

In this time of tears
what is precious becomes
more precious still
and the fulcrum for living
without fear.

Monday, May 20, 2013


Nothing gets better before it gets worse
and nothing gets better by writing bad verse.

Modern Times

If I turn away from floods and quakes
...just so many times a heart can break.

Waiting for the Rapture

Even Jonathan Swift might do
a double-take on encountering
certain Americans on his travels.

Has ever a people denied science
more, calling knowledge elitist,
making a literal reading of the Bible
the one and only arbiter of reality?

Has ever a people welcomed disaster
as the calling card of end times,
foreplay to the orgasmic Rapture?
Has the end of the world
ever been more attractive?

But who will do anything about it?

Has ever a government been
more impotent? More ignorant?
More cowardly? More pathetic?

Has ever the media given so much
equal time to ignorance? Who
will separate fact from fiction?

What kind of a God would want
to populate His Heaven with such
deluded, self-righteous martyrs
for stupidity?

And the thing is, When they leave
this world, they're taking you
and me with them.


Surely a strong argument against
the existence of God is
the human species. What deity
worth its worshippers would create
such a self-defeating, contradictory
creature as the mess of us?
No, we suggest the very embodiment
of chaos theory. Or perhaps,
just as an elephant is a horse
made by committee, we are
an attempt at a civilized biped
made by gods in constant conflict.
What is clear is that those who believe
in Intelligent Design have never
looked in the mirror.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Repackaging stories

I've been fascinated with the notion that screenplays, in their sleek concise form today, suggest a new narrative form best read on small electronic devices, once the film jargon is removed. Moreover, the new short narrative forms now marketed at Amazon embrace this possibility. Stories driven by what screenwriters call vertical writing.

This summer I'll convert one of my splays in just this way. If it works out I have a couple dozen stories I can convert. The possibilities are a little mind boggling.

New Release: Write Your First Screenplay

The Writing Life II: New Release: Write Your First Screenplay:

The long day ahead

Tomorrow is our only day of decent weather for a while ... more work I get done today, the more I can enjoy it. But it will be tough, mostly working in my office downstairs. And I need to get started.

A repackaging of an old book just published. More soon. Let's call it a new release.

Saturday, May 18, 2013


Slow going today.

The notion that next year is my last in the classroom has been feeling rather nice in my brain. Yes, it may be time.


In the dark still morning
awake, stretching in bed
like Sketch on the sofa
shaking my mind into thought
preparing to face the day

I realize the hours go downhill
from here, that the serenity of
sleep and unremembered dreams
has ended, replaced by daydreams
and demons that stir the mind
into restless brooding, which won't
end until sleep again returns
and brings tranquility.

Socrates said the unexamined life
is not worth living but he never
added that the examined life was.

Friday, May 17, 2013

Song of the Leisure Class

How I love days with nothing to do
and all the better if the sky is blue;
when I can brood to my heart's content
with nary a thought to weeding or rent.

How I love days when time is my own
to do as I please, to turn off the phone;
to think about nothing or think mighty thoughts
do what I feel like and not what I ought.

And this is not the impossible dream
doing it, not as hard as it seems;
here is the secret, now you've been told:
leisure comes naturally once you grow old.

Applause: Antonio

Emile de Antonio's 1968 documentary about Vietnam, made while the war raged, should not be missed. It's called "In the Year of the Pig." Passionate, impressionist, ironic, maddening in its dissection of cultural arrogance. Almost as brilliant as the Greene novel, The Quiet American.

And we make the same mistakes in the Middle East now.

May 17, 1864

Nathaniel Hawthorne dies. Does anyone read Hawthorne out of the classroom? I have good memories of a Hawthorne seminar I took in grad school. Some of his short stories are particularly interesting.

In one, Wakeful, a man walks out on his wife and disappears - but is living only blocks away. Early in my career I wrote "The Other Wakefield," from the wife's point of view, who knows he's there all along.

Hawthorne loved moral dilemmas, which is why he's still interesting today.

First Words In The Afterlife

So there is one!
I'll be damned.
It took long enough to get here.
I've been ready for months.
And no more Portland chill!
In fact, it's damned hot.
But what's that godawful stink?
Garbage? Rotten eggs? Sulphur?

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Do I see the light at the end of the tunnel?

Each year, teaching takes more out of me than it did the year before. I can still do it but it takes me longer to recover from it. I'm committed to teaching next academic year but I'm wondering if 2013-4 might be the end of the road. Or will I get a second wind over the summer, as I always have in the past?

If I stop, we'll miss the extra income and will have to adjust accordingly. This also is a nudge to keep going. H would have a bigger adjustment because she does so much traveling.

Well, what happens, happens. I take it one class at a time. I still enjoy it, in fact I enjoy it more than ever, but I am physically and mentally exhausted after two hours in the classroom these days. And the prep work takes longer than it used to. Very much so. And the responsibility is more stressful than ever, considering how much an education costs kids these days. It's outrageous.

Also, it would be very nice to experience something like retirement. I would like to know how that feels.

I do sense some changes in rhythm ahead. That, or I collapse from exhaustion.



My 1975 one-act play. One of my best titles.

A Silly Rhyme About A Serious Concern

The worst thing about aging
is the change in one's bowels:
what was mindless habit
becomes speaking without vowels.

Against the Chill

In the gray damp chill
that embraces Portland
a rare ray of warmth
is Sketch cuddled against
a pillow on the bedroom chair.

Almost Inspirational

I heard an amazing speech
by a scientist about the 1950s
and how the Russians beat us
into space with Sputnik and
the first animal, first man, first woman
into space and how far behind
we were. But then President Kennedy
gave an inspirational speech about
Americans being first on the moon
if we untapped our creative power
if we untapped our brain power
whatever the expense, whatever the effort
Americans can be first on the moon
because that's who we are.

And it worked! Suddenly everyone
wanted to be a scientist
scientists were sexy and cool
and just like Kennedy said,
we beat the Russians to the moon.

Climate change is our new moon
said the scientist, and if we
untap our creative power and
untap our brain power and
spare no effort or expense
we can conquer a great challenge
once again because we are Americans
and this is what Americans do.

And the roar of approval from the audience
was so great, for a brief moment
I thought science might be cool again.

But then I remembered how different
we were then. Our schools were ranked
best in the world. We didn't have
30% of us waiting for the Rapture.
No one believed science is a conspiracy.

No, you can't fix anything in a
democracy with ignorant citizens.
It would take a benevolent autocracy
to change things, which is why
assault rifles and grenade launchers
are flying off the shelves.

What is it these warriors plan to do?
Wait for the start of Civil War II.

Oral Sex

Made with Drawing Pad -


Made with Drawing Pad -

When Romance Stinks

She was going down on him
as she had many times before.
Suddenly she stopped and
fighting back tears, told him
the odor of his crotch
made her want to puke.

This was the last time
they made love.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013


Made with Drawing Pad -

The Old Man

Made with Drawing Pad - http://

A Galactic Vacation

A couple from Planet rE32x,
wanting an exotic vacation,
decided to visit the primitive
life forms on the planet Earth.

"It was fascinating," they reported,
"to witness such strange behavior.

"The entire Earthling culture is
a contest for power and control.
This is so important that actual
adult careers, professional careers,
are based on playing juvenile games.
Participants in these contests are
routinely paid much more than
they pay their children's teachers!
No wonder Earthlings remained
so primitive.

"Even the pleasure of sex has been
turned into a struggle for power
and control.

"Sex is not considered natural.
They have a concept called
'sin,' which is difficult to understand.
It's different from Evil. It seems
to have to do with inappropriate
sexual pleasure. We found it all
very confusing at the Museum of Sin.
What we did get is that sex and violence
happen together often, another feature
of primitive behavior.

"Earth is not a pretty planet but
apparently was before it became
a desert. The primitive life forms
that remain are protected but can be
observed in their natural desert

"Our vacation package was for
a week but this is too long.
It only takes a few days to see
how irrational behavior was
before evolutionary progress reached
civilization. And after a few days
the pervasive color of brown gets
boring and a little depressing."

The Order of the Universe

Tossing and turning in the gray morning,
unable to sleep, not ready to rise,
it is Sketch who jumps on the bed
and decides the day has begun.

I get up without argument,
let him out, and when he returns
I am at one end of the couch,
reading the paper on my Fire.

Sketch jumps up on the other end
and goes back to sleep, which
always makes me smile. This
is our reveille for a new day.


Made with Drawing Pad -

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

In the beginning ...

Made with Drawing Pad -

Advice To Bachelors

Be careful if you date a single mother
used to herding kids. You'll be another.

James Salter: the forgotten hero of American literature | Books | The Observer

James Salter: the forgotten hero of American literature | Books | The Observer:

"Acclaimed as one of the great postwar American writers, James Salter has, at 87, spent his working life in the shadow of his peers. But his first novel in more than 30 years may finally raise the profile of this former fighter pilot whose books are inspiring a new generation of readers"



If only there had been Kickstarter years ago, I would have tried to fund this. I swear, if somebody does it, with good content hyperdrama to perform, this will be so hip and so cool and so unusual, it would be a smash hit. I think the tech savvy audience of today would respond to it.

More about this design near the end of the video, Nuts and Bolts, part of the Changing Key project.

Thought Experiment

Einstein was always making thought experiments
so I decided to try one myself.

Imagine a grass roots protest
of three million people
on the Capitol mall.
Thumbs down to this government!
is the theme, and to dramatize
the point, one guy brings a chain saw
and cuts off his thumb and
tosses it in the pool.

Then somebody else wants
his thumb cut off and then another,
a rush of energy,
and eventually there are so many
severed thumbs in the pool
that it spills over.

What a protest! What a story!
What video! What sound bites!
What an avalanche of tweets!

But nothing changes.

Oh, there are expressions of concern
and sympathy, committee meetings
and proposed legislation,
but nothing changes.

No power shift. No income shift.
No war stopped. No greed stymied.
Same-o, same-o.

So it occurred to me after this
thought experiment, the Mother of All
Grass Root Protests, that if this
doesn't change things, nothing will.

"You can't fix it. You can't make it go away."
Forget the world and fix yourself.

Monday, May 13, 2013

Civil War II, or the Parameters of Doom

Take a considerable number of angry citizens
almost all of them white
almost all of them with guns;

give them a coloring book education
emphasizing mythology over history
simplicity over complexity
with the Bible as Final Word;

add so much paranoid anticipation
of government aggression that they buy
military assault weapons for defense;

add a profound ignorance of
and resulting distrust of science;

add corporate sponsors who understand
that funding ignorance can help
their bottom lines;

add a yellow-bellied university system
that lets moronic discourse continue unchallenged;

add well meaning, reasonably smart
citizens who take none of this seriously
and therefore see no threat;

wait for the inciting incident
the match put to all this gasoline

and then run like hell

A Beautiful Day

It's a beautiful day when you can
listen to Brahms, Bach, Mozart or
Mulligan, Miles, Kenton or
read prose written by
Connell, Fawkes, O'Hara or
listen to lyrics written by
Porter, Dylan, Brecht or
read poetry written by
Welch, Cummings, Whitman or
listen to the voice of
Sinatra, Connor, Caruso;

it's a beautiful day when you can
wake up, stand up and walk into
hours shaped by your choices.

Starbucks At Three

(Scene: Two old men at a table on the patio.)

Baker: Be nice.
Curt: Why should I be nice?
B. Because you're no better than anybody else.
C. Who said I was?
B. Well, sometimes it sounds like it, the way you carry on.
C. I look at the world and I get upset.
B. Curt, I got news for you. There's not a damn thing you can do about it.
C. I know that.
B. Then get off your high horse about it. Nobody else can fix it either.
C. But they act like nothing's wrong.
B. Because they don't scream about it like you? Maybe they tried and the wind blew piss back in their face. Maybe they have nightmares about it but keep them to themselves.
C. Maybe they're stupid.
B. Some of both, I'm sure. The point is, since nothing can be done - well, with an exception - why go around blaming people?
C. What's the exception?
B. You can keep a positive attitude.
C. Are you kidding me?
B. Not about the world. About yourself. About your good timing and good fortune. About how much control you have over your day. You get to listen to Chris Connor or Mulligan or Miles whenever you want. I know you like that. You can watch those old movies you like. Whenever you want, you're retired, for Christ's sake. Like that Burt Lancaster one you were telling me about.
C. Atlantic City.
B. Atlantic City. And what is it you were telling me the other day? There's not enough time to read all the good books out there. Even less time if you waste some banging your head against the wall. See my point?
C. I just get so frustrated.
B. Everybody does. What matters is what you do with it. Don't get one-eyed about it.
C. Cummings.
B. Exactly. "as long as you and i have arms and lips which are for kissing and to sing with, who cares if some oneeyed sonofabitch invents an instrument to measure Spring with?" Amen. Right?
C. I see your point.
B. Amen.
C. Amen.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

It Must Be Nice

It must be nice not to give a shit:

that your government was overthrown
by a series of political assassinations;

that fat cats on Wall Street and in banks
make millions from fraudulent schemes
and avoid jail even when caught
while some poor addict with no money
for a lawyer gets a maximum sentence;

that CE0s who screw up big time
get lucrative severance packages
while some worker with 19 years on
the job gets the ax called downsizing;

that some unlucky dude spends
15 years in prison before DNA proves
him innocent, which is not your problem;

that you've become a modern Candide
and don't even give a fuck you have
no idea who this is.

It must be so nice not to give a shit
that sometimes I almost wish
I was you - before I come to my senses.

Tentative Conclusions

The human experiment failed.
There's no way around it.
Wishful thinking won't change
the evidence. We destroyed
the planet we call home.
I call this failure.

But the species may survive.
We may colonize Mars.

In the meantime, we failures left
here don't have much to do.
Though our experiment failed,
there were wonderful moments
along the way. I plan to celebrate
them. Quietly, privately.

Of course, most will carry on
as if nothing has happened.
What, me worry? I can't say
I blame them but for me,
personally, this feels dishonest.

I'll keep out of your way,
in the shadows, like the fool
who keeps pining for
the girl who got away.

When Silence Ends

In the silence of early morning
I can imagine a peaceful world.
It's only with the rising of human
sounds - cars starting, bombs -
that the tragic overture
of civilization begins.

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Man. Fire. Food.

I like the mental mode of watching hot dogs on the grill. Mesmerizing comfort. Slow, reflective. Like baseball. Like a track meet.

"Doing nothing, if properly understood, is the supreme action." Norman O. Brown


I try to imagine how this mess
we've created - climate change,
plutocracy- is going to end
and it's not a pretty picture.

It's already started far enough
from us to ignore: drought,
food shortages, disease, riots,
genocide as the usual final
solution. We repeat endlessly
that we'll be spared all this,
being so civilized and all, but
look more closely and you'll see
the sides being chosen for class
warfare - and water shortages
and the rest aren't even in
the mix yet. We're riding a
runaway train out of control.

I'm lucky. I should be dead from
natural causes before the worst
happens but, man, I feel for you,
faced with such a future. I ask myself,
What would I do if I were
in your shoes?

I think I know.

I'd revive my show "Ramblin'",
an appreciation of the songs
and stories of Woody Guthrie.
And I'd sing at the top of my lungs

That ol' dust storm
blew my house down
but it can't blow me down
and it can't blow me down

That ol' dust storm
killed my babies
but it can't kill me, Lord
and it can't kill me

and I'd sing this as long as
I had breath because in times
of crisis a man has to live
his own epitaph.


By and large we're a good group
we Americans, the latest benefactors
living the benefits of empire
(except for those of us in poverty)
a people who love to rescue animals
help a neighbor in distress
(within limits), we love guns
TV shows that humiliate people
violent sports, mysteries where
we can guess the villain

but we dislike algebra and geometry
(excepting certain immigrants
among us), dislike the rich
(if we aren't), dislike the poor
(if we aren't), dislike anyone
who has an opinion about us.

We're a good lot and all this
trouble in the world isn't our fault
how can it be? when everyone
envies us and everyone wants
to live in America? Can you
blame them? Who says, I really
want to live in Denmark?
I want to live in France?
No American ever says that.

We're Americans, don't blame us.
Blame those anti-Americans,
those foreigners, those barbarians,
because we're a good lot,
we're the good guys,
and all the world envies us.

We started out as God's chosen people
and we're ending up the same way.
That's the bottom line here,
in America.

Friday, May 10, 2013


So we've done it,
CO2 levels over 400 ppm
what the scientists warned
us to avoid, the disaster line
something like that
highest in human history
and we've really just begun.

Are you responsible for this?
Did you decide to base our lives
on oil? Did you make sure
alternative energy research got
sabotaged years ago? Did you
decide to build an empire
to acquire our energy needs?
Are you the one?

No? Then what the hell
did you do? Did you endorse it?
Pay taxes to support it? Did you
object to it? Did you raise hell
to stop it? No? No?

Christ, did you do anything?
Did you understand what was
happening? Did you get it?
What? You just minded your
own business? Got married,
raised a family? Minded your
own business?

Are you telling me the health
of the planet isn't your business?
Survival - of us all! - isn't your
business? What do you think,
you're a victim here? A victim?
None of this is your fault?

Well, whose fault is it, then? Who
is responsible for this mess?

If you ever find out, let me know.


For my first ten or twelve years at PSU, I took pride in collecting script work on Tues. and returning in on Thurs., a two day turn-around. I worked my ass off on Wed. But this gave me a four-day weekend for my own work.

As I got older, and my own work less pressing, I changed the rhythm to collect on Thurs. and return. on Tues. I now have four days to read student work - and usually need every one of them!

Ah, the perils of aging ...

On the Independence of the Gods

The gods can be kind.
The gods can be cruel.
But never do the gods
show mercy or revenge.

They do what they do
and don't give a hoot
what you think about it.

Prayer is masturbation
a one-way street
satisfying and harmless
but no way to start a family.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Starbucks At Three

(Two old men on the patio at Starbucks.)

Baker: Did you hear what happened to Eddie?
Curt: Another heart attack?
B. He got shot.
C. Shot?!
B. I got the whole story from his sister. She got it from a witness. It's unbelievable.
C. What happened?
B. He was walking away from an ATM yesterday, broad daylight, when two teenagers come up and point a gun at him.
C. Jesus. And he didn't just hand over the money?
B. Worse. He starts singing at them, at the top of his lungs.
C. He gets more senile every day.
B. No, there was a method to his madness. You know how much he loves opera. Especially that one he dragged us to that time. Remember how he'd keep singing the ending for weeks afterwards?
C. You had to remind me.
B. So that's what he does. He belts out, You can dig a hole for him, you can put him in it, you can cover him with dirt ... Nothing you can do can help a dead man.
C. Jesus.
B. The chorus over and over, Nothing you can do can help a dead man! And the kids are freaking out, yelling at him to stop, but Eddie just sings louder, Nothing you can do can help a dead man! Eddie looked wild and crazy, waving his arms, the witness said. Finally the kid with the gun freaks out so much he fires, Eddie falls to the ground, the kids panic and run with Eddie yelling after them, You forgot your money, asshole! Meanwhile the witness calls 911 and cops and an ambulance are there in no time.
C. Was he hit bad?
B. Just a leg wound.
C. He could be dead.
B. That's what his sister told him. Eddie tells her, And bid farewell to this cesspool of a planet we've created? I should be so lucky.
C. Sounds like him.
B. Nothing you can do can help a dead man. Can't you just hear him?

Applause: Aram Saroyan

STARTING OUT IN THE SIXTIES: Selected Essays by Aram Saroyan (Kindle edition)

Here is a wonderful collection of essays by the author of Genesis Angels, which I consider the best book ever written about the Beat generation. My writing career started out in the sixties, too, and hence I readily identify with much written by Saroyan about the changing literary landscape, mostly to the detriment of serious writers. 

These changes are widespread through all the arts. In my screenwriting class I show my students a documentary called "The Monster That Ate Hollywood," which focuses on changes in the film industry, and to screenwriters, after the buyout of film studios by huge multinational media corporations. The same thing happened in publishing. As a result, family-run businesses by book lovers and film lovers became subsidiaries run by corporate VPs with no book or film background. The arts became a severe bottom line business.

In an MFA program in the sixties, I never met a single writer who was working on a story about vampires. Many of my students seem to want to write about nothing else. "Literary novel" was a badge of honor, not the pejorative term it is today. Saroyan writes:

elimination of the mid list book is, I think, a euphemism for the elimination of literature itself as a part of our mainstream culture. There are, of course, many reasons why

Saroyan talks frankly about his writing career in the essays that dominate the focus here. I didn't realize Genesis Angels was trashed by some "heavyweight" reviewers (idiots!). But there is much more to relish, especially his reflections on well known writers and artists he's known over the years. It's a versatile collection well worth your time.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Applause: Tom Strah

Tom has a new page at an art website, let's call it: The Art of Thomas Strah.

how I spent my summer in Idaho

Justice in Cleveland

In a more primitive, less humane day
far different laws would come into play:
you'd cut off his dick and throw it away.

Against Shock

He's a good guy
said the neighbor of the man
who for ten years kept
three young women captive

he comes over for a beer
and plays with the kids
and cracks jokes
just a real good guy

so imagine my shock!
to learn the truth
the good guy was a monster
who wore a mask

but I wasn't shocked
having been through this
doubting my own perceptions
about my own wife

it only takes one intense moment
to bring perception into doubt
after which nothing, nothing at all
is secure in its meaning

Applause: John O'Hara

Article in LA Times on America's best forgotten writer, John O'Hara, with wonderful news that his masterpiece, Appointment In Samarra, has been reissued. Just got the digital book. Extraordinary novel! I can't wait to get into it. Hemingway was a great admirer of O'Hara, who others called "the real Scott Fitzgerald." I think Samarra is better than Gatsby myself.

Dos Passos, O'Hara, nice to see these forgotten literary giants being remembered.

Appointment In Samarra! Incredible book.

Now let's add James Agee to the revival list.

A Call to Creation

Listen up, artists!
whatever your tools
writers, musicians, painters
whatever your medium

these are grave times
filled with mayhem
filled with butchery
all demanding response

which is your challenge
why Nature is calling you
in this zero-sum universe
in desperate need of balance

against rape, your poems
against torture, your songs
against greed, your landscapes
against murder, your dances

this is no time to rest
this is no time to retire
Nature is calling you
Nature needs you

Listen up, artists!


I look at the world in wonder
and marvel at our diversity
from poetry to perversion
from greatness to greed
from sacrifice to sadism
from brilliance to butchery
from music to mayhem
such extremes of behavior
such extremes of possibility

no wonder my dear sweet mother
said so often before she died
"People are more interesting
than anybody."

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Sign my petition: National Death With Dignity Act

Go to petition.

Well, my petition is up! One signature! Me!

I cannot in  my wildest dreams imagine 100,000 in 30 days, the requirement to get "an official response." However, the We the People site seems filled with libertarian paranoid nuts, maybe this would appeal to them ha ha. Personally, if I break 100, I will be almost ecstatic! This is an experiment.

But I let the Death Cafe folks know about this. Who knows? It's kind of fun to join the paranoid nuts online ha ha.

Monday, May 6, 2013

Master narration

It doesn't take long into John Fowles' master work to realize you are in the company of a great artist of dramatic narration. The Irons reading is first rate - but abridged. I'll reread the novel entire when I'm done and also revisit the film for the dozenth time.

Genius at work. It's exhilarating!

National Death With Dignity Act

At age 75 any American citizen is eligible to receive a medical prescription for a "peaceful pill" with which to terminate life. No questions asked, age being the only requirement.
This is my petition to the White House. The site is down at the moment. Hmm. I'll keep trying.

Irons reads Fowles

Started an audio book last night, Jeremy Irons reading an abridged version of The French Lt's Woman. Really like it early on. Art like this really raises the spirits.

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Russian gypsy music

Found a radio station dedicated to this - a perfect find! No music is sadder and more energizing at the same time, giving bad fortune, giving history, the finger. Soulful not with vocal histrionics, which is interpretation, but with minor keys and changes in rhythm, soulful in the very bones of the musical structure.

Learned a few of these at the language school, later covered a number of songs on Bikel's brilliant album of the music. Man, tonight - in these times - the music sounds like the voice of the gods. As deep as Caruso.

Trees in the Forest

--mental health
--home (Harriet, Sketch, roof, income)

--sunshine (rare)

--making scrapple
--preparing iced coffee
--evaluating student work

--American mythology
--American history
--pop culture

--changing demographics
--Sketch's instincts
--favorite artists
--world outrage

--Nature wins
--"an old, old story" (Norman Brown)
--"my best friends are writers and are dead" (Q. Pizzini)
--"what the people expect, they get; what they get, they deserve; always" (C. Deemer)
--"the Way is to the crematorium" (C. Deemer)

Saturday, May 4, 2013

The Corporation Film: Welcome

The Corporation Film: Welcome:

"The global response to the film has been amazing with over 200 grassroots screenings being self-organized by individuals and organizations in over 25 countries, and more being added every day. The largest community screening so far took place in Porto Allegre, Brazil on April 11th attracting a whopping 1,500 attendees!"

A powerful documentary. More optimistic than I am but hopefully they are right and I am wrong. Everyone needs to see this.


Still need to read today ... evening, I suppose. Got a tad of yard work done. Mellow day. Mellow life! More or less. Mellow for Puddle City.


In the dark silent morning
my thoughts rule the mindscape
and I realize how effortlessly
I could slip into oblivion.

In Lord Byron's dramatic poem
Manfred, the hero on his death bed
tells a priest, It is not difficult
to die.

Manfred never lived in America
where much money is made
keeping old folks alive long after
their quality of life is gone.
America runs on numbers and
a 90 year old human vegetable
is more impressive than an
80 year old human vegetable
and modern medicine can keep
anyone alive for a price.

If you've had enough, good luck,
you have to become an outlaw
to decide to die in America
and nothing is made easy
for you. No understanding,
no help, no admiration. Anything
you do to end your life will
put you in jail. America doesn't
understand the absurdity here.

Manfred, an existential hero,
can face death with honor but
America has no room for heroes
like this. We alienate them and
turn them into criminals and
question their sanity.

There are no Manfreds in America.

Friday, May 3, 2013



"I became a teenager in the right place at the right
time. Although you could count on one hand the number
of blacks enrolled at Woodrow Wilson Jr. High or
Pasadena High School, Los Angeles County had large
enough a black population to justify the existence of
radio shows that played "the very best in Negro
entertainment" around the clock. One such show was
Hunter Hancock's afternoon "Harlematinee" on KFVD."

Click title above to read more.

The Man Who Shot Elvis and other stories.

Since I Must Die

Since I must die
let it be
on a clear hot day
so I feel good

Since I must die
let it be
during the summer
when I'm not teaching

Since I must die
let it be
during the day
when not in bed

Since I must die
let it be
when I'm alone
making no disruption

except for Sketch
who would understand
more than others
and lick my face

Since I must die
let it be
on some other day
surely not today

when it is hot
here on the deck
and I'm alone
except for Sketch

so not today
surely not today

Derby day

Almost a holiday for me, important growing up, attention continued through life. I'll be rooting for two longshots, each of which would make history for the jockey.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Hot haiku

Sunny day at last!
I want to work up a sweat
outside, mowing lawn


THE TEACHER, from The Colorado Quarterly, Summer, 1969 (click title for complete story)

" If I were a menial clerk, to whose gloom a Dostoevski or a Melville could give cosmic importance, then readily would I win your understanding. We are in an age the sensibilities of which are riveted to the absurd and what, after all, is more absurd than filling a ledger book with numerals, sorting out dead letters, filing away last year's purchase orders or pulling a lever in a factory? If I made my livelihood in so dreary a fashion, you would accept my gloom as being inevitable, deem it significant, and find in it an occasional metaphor for your own misgivings, whatever your employment; you would offer me understanding, empathy, sympathy, at least something more meaningful than what you now offer me, which is flattering but undue praise, or what usually is called "a good press." "

Wednesday, May 1, 2013


It's essential to remember
when you remember the past
that your memory is in
the present tense.


Since this dog
Kindred spirit
Entered my life,
The world is
Charged with
Humorous comfort.