June 2012 Archives
1) No matter how reasonable it seems, never take ANY route to ANY city that involves spending ANY time on the Washington Beltway.
2) If you're in north Baltimore, you owe it to yourself to eat at the Golden West. Dixon and I devoured a ridiculously tasty group of sliders: bison burgers with caramelized onions, applewood-smoked bacon mixed into the meat, and white cheddar, served with an enormous side of garlic fries where the garlic bits were the size of rice grains. Da-rool.
3) Atomic Books is a fascinating place. The vibe is friendly, the graphic novel section enormous, the staff helpful. There's also a bar in the back. We bought two Tim Kreider books and thoroughly enjoyed browsing the shelves for stuff we did not buy (including a collection of David Boswell's classic Reid Fleming: World's Toughest Milkman
, which is sort of like reading about a declawed Wolverine, only much much funnier.)
4) Tim Kreider is not only a jaw-droppingly gifted cartoonist and a terrific writer, but an actual (I don't use this word often) Gentleman. He showed up for his reading, on a day when temperatures hit 105, in a coat and tie, and he stood to shake hands with every person who approached him for a signed book. We chatted a bit about Dixon's fan letter from years back--and yes, he remembered the letter--and we walked away even more impressed with Tim Kreider than we already were. Buy his book, y'all: We Learn Nothing
5) Tim, Dixon, and I have something in common: a fondness for the Penguin Cafe Orchestra
. Who knew? 1:52 PM
*Haven't done one of these in a while, have I? There have been times when I felt I was leaning too hard on the LBJ form, but lately I've either been writing at a bit of length or not writing at all. Maybe that'll change...
*I've had my head down over the book for the last few weeks, pretty much from the moment I got done with my Wilderness First Responder recertification courrse. There have been interruptions for travel and such, but the progress, thank god, has been fairly steady. I'm just shy of 101,000 words at the moment, with a few thousand more to go. I think it will wrap up between 105k and 110k. Then there will need to be a bit of reorganization. And then off it goes.
*Wednesday I took a day off from the book--literally, that was the first day on which I did NOTHING on it in a couple of weeks--and met my old friend Mary Stevens at Shenandoah National Park for some birding and/or hiking. We did VERY well with the latter--six miles plus on the Fox Hollow, Snead Farm, and Dickey Ridge trails--and pretty well on the former. Leaves are, alas, thick, but there were opportunities to spot several interesting forest denizens, including only my third Hooded Warbler ever. (Interestingly, all three were in the confines of SNP.) We also spotted what we thought were a couple of Carolina Wrens in a tangle near the path, but the color seemed wrong to me, and they weren't making the usual wren noises. We kept scoping them out until I finally spotted a pale eyebrow stripe, which would have confirmed the wren if it weren't for the darker stripe over the pale one. "I think it's a Worm-eater," I said to Mary, and sure enough, there it was: my second Worm-eating Warbler. We also saw the Traditional Color Wheel of Summer (Northern Cardinal, American Goldfinch, and Indigo Bunting), plus a bonus look at a glowing orange-red Scarlet Tanager. If my calves weren't still sore, I'd have called it a perfect day.
*Yesterday I dashed down to Richmond to pick up Dixon, who has just wrapped up his third week of performances in Student Voices
, the play he and six other VCU students are doing for the school's freshman orientation program. As summer jobs goes, he says it's a lot better than washing dishes--and yes, he's getting paid. Every Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday (and occasionally Thursday), the cast does two shows, for the parents at 5:00 and the incoming students at 6:00, which means he's already performed this show more times than any other play he's ever been in. He gets next week off for the 4th, then returns for two more weeks of shows. I think there must be something like six thousand freshmen coming in.
*While in Richmond, we ate in Carytown at the Galaxy Diner, one of our favorite funky joints in the 'Mond, and enjoyed both the food (I had the meatloaf sub, Dix the crab cake sandwich), a very pleasant waitress, and an interesting version of "Piece of My Heart" by an old-fashioned soul singer whom we couldn't identify. I'll do some more research.
*We also discovered, to our resignation, that the Carytown location of Plan 8 Music is apparently closing down. Whether they're planning to relocate or what we don't know, but it seemed a good excuse to dash in and drop some coin on used music. Dixon opted for a new album by Andrew Jackson Jihad, a folk-punk outfit that called to mind a combination of the Mountain Goats, Modest Mouse, and Rock Plaza Central--strangely disturbing but often very funny lyrics, upright bass, expressive but untrained lead vocals, fast-paced acoustic thrashing--under the provocative title People Who Can Eat People Are the Luckiest People in the World
. I opted to mix it up a bit. I spotted several old favorites that I'd either lost or had only on vinyl:
Monty Python/The Album of the Soundtrack of the Trailer of the Film of Monty Python & the Holy Grail
Simon & Garfunkel/Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme
Then I went for a few unfamiliar albums by artists I liked:
Ben Folds/Songs for Silverman
Stan Freberg/The Capitol Collector's Series
Jens Lekman/Night Falls Over Kortedala
The New Pornographers/Twin Cinema
This last was a no-brainer, as I've spent the last couple of years making a laser-burned hole in my copy of Challengers. The Lekman I bought purely on the strength of one song, "A Postcard to Nina," which concerns the narrator's being called in to play the role of boyfriend for his lesbian pal during dinner with her parents. I received a copy of the song a few years back when some Readervilleans and I were exchanging mix CDs, and the estimable Mr. Scott Tennent included Jens on his disc. Way to proselytize, Scott!
*Tonight, Dixon and I will venture forth to the wilds of Baltimore for a reading by one of our favorite cartoonists, Tim Kreider. Creator of The Pain--When Will It End?
and author of such cartoon/essay collections as Twilight of the Assholes
and the brand-new We Learn Nothing
, Kreider is not only a humorist of Biercean darkness, but a fabulously gifted artist with a cross-hatched style whose detail adds a dollop of sweetness to his most misanthropic ideas, while making some of his goofier ideas frighteningly plausible. I've been a fan since stumbling across his brilliant "Science vs. Norse Mythology
" way back in early '05, but he cemented his place in my heart when Dixon was 14 and wrote him a fan letter; not only did Kreider respond on his site, marveling at his own ability to warp young minds, but after asking our parental permission, he sent Dixon an original sketch. So yeah, we're gonna spend six hours in the car today.
*Wait a minute... it's going to be HOW warm today? 9:15 AM
As you may know, I'm trying to finish a manuscript for my second nonfiction book. It's titled, tentatively, The Verb 'To Border',
and at the moment, this draft is just over 98,000 words. That makes it about 13% longer than the final version The Verb 'To Bird'
, but well short of my as-yet-unpublished novel A Raven for Doves
, which clocks in at about 128k in its current form.
Regardless, it's a lot of words.
It's not, however, quite enough
words yet. I've still got a couple of interview subjects out there working on answers, and I've got to incorporate a few pieces of material from my recent stint at Living Bird
as well. There's also a bit of research yet to do on a couple of items--sparrows, cranes, and capybaras, if you were wondering--and I've got to do some reorganization of the whole shmear, but I am at least at the point where the end of the tunnel seems to be in sight. Once the final interviews are in and the rearrangement/trimming is done, I'm betting it'll fall somewhere between 100k and 105k. I'm fervently hoping that will all be done by the end of July.
And then, of course, it must be sent out into the world for agents and such to examine.
Keep your fingers crossed.11:29 AM
Back from my whirlwind tour of Chapel Hill, a four-day stretch so busy that I never actually remembered to take my camera out of my backpack. The main event, my Aunt Susan's somety-somethingth birthday party, went off smoothly thanks to my parents' yeomanlike prep work (including Mom's cooking not one but TWO beef tenderloins). I also got to eat out well (Pepper's Pizza, Southern Rail, S&T Soda Shoppe in Pittsboro, and the inevitable stop at Breadmen's), take in a Transactors show with Dixon, spend a few hours in consultation with the Cheeseman for part of the book, watch a few episodes of Squidbillies
, and pick up a few used CDs.
Now, of course, I'm looking at the last few weeks wondering why I'm so tired when school's out, and I realize that I haven't stopped for more than a day--maybe two--since school got out. The very Friday I handed in my final grades and comments I jumped into the car and drove to NC for the College World Series, then drove right back late Sunday to be ready for Monday morning's year-end faculty meeting. The next day I was writing advisee comments, and then it was two days of recertification classes for my Wilderness First Responder card.
There was a brief hesitation there, during which I was able to get in a few days of actual exercise at the gym, but then I was off to Richmond to pick up Dixon, drive to Chapel Hill, clean my parents' house, pick up party supplies, interview my subject about digital sound reproduction (more fun than it sounds, honest), wish Aunt Susan happy birthday, drive back to Richmond, drop Dixon off, pick up Ian, bring him back home, retrieve the dog from the kennel, and clean my OWN house before my mother got here (which she did roughly 23 hours after I'd last seen her.)
So if you're wondering why I haven't exactly been filling this space with deep thoughts, it's because I haven't had time to get very deep. Heck, I haven't been able to do much more than wonder who the hell thought Rock of Ages
had "summer blockbuster" written all over it.
On the plus side, I did take this:
Okay, so it's a cliche, taken by everyone who's ever been to Chapel Hill.
I spent 28 years there. I'm entitled.12:26 AM
The roar of school's engine is now grown faint, but the dust it kicked up in its final race over the horizon is only now settling, and my eyes have cleared only a little bit. Still, I can see by the date that it's been far too long since my last entry, and there's plenty I should be talking about.
But I won't be, because Ray Bradbury has died.
Like many a reader before me, I had my first stirrings of interest in science fiction generated by the short stories contained in a Bradbury book. I don't recall which one, alas, but it could have been any of the collections on the shelves of the Chapel Hill Public Library, all of which seemed to have titles far more evocative than the norm: The Golden Apples of the Sun, The Martian Chronicles, R Is for Rocket, S Is for Space, Twice 22, The Illustrated Man, The October Country
... In some ways, the best tribute I can pay to Bradbury is that to this day, a good forty years after I first read one of his short stories, I can still call to mind the details of so many of them from the titles alone:
The Golden Apples of the Sun
All Summer in a Day
The Silent Towns
The Fog Horn
The Wonderful Ice Cream Suit
There Will Come Soft Rains
Way in the Middle of the Air
The Anthem Sprinters
The Very Last Night of the World
I'm not sure I can recall more than a handful of titles by any other writer.
I lost myself in his stories on so many occasions I can no longer remember when and where I encountered them; today they feel almost innate, like something passed down from my ancestors, but a handful of moments stick out. I can recall sitting on the Carrboro stoop of some friends of my parents', whiling away some kind of downtime while Mom & Dad visited or ran errands of some sort; I think I had Twice 22
in my hands, and I remember a feeling of horror--I was probably reading "Skeleton" or maybe "Fever Dream." I took The Martian Chronicles
to Carolina Basketball Camp, I know, and I couldn't have been more than eleven then; I don't think that was my first exposure to Poe, but I know darned well I'd never read "The Fall of the House of Usher" before reading Bradbury's homage to it. And I know that at some point before we moved away from Sugarberry Road in the summer after I turned thirteen, I stumbled across a PBS broadcast of Francois Truffaut's Fahrenheit 451
; I don't recall much about the film, other than the end, when Guy finds the Book People, who memorize their books and then burn them so they can't be taken away. It was in that scene that I first heard the title of a book that I would track down many years later and rather enjoy: Pride and Prejudice
A death at 91 is hardly unexpected, but it is sad to see one of the last true giants of American science fiction leave Earth forever, especially with so many of his dreams of what the future would hold having gone unfulfilled. We have not conquered Mars, let alone the asteroids or the solar system; we haven't even visited yet. But I take some small comfort, as I suspect Bradbury himself did, in knowing that he contributed to humanity in a way few writers have. He added a richness and a fecundity to our minds that will produce new ideas for many years to come; imaginations will spring up, strong and green and new, in the dark soil he dreamed up for us.
My favorite of his stories is "Kaleidoscope," the tale of a spaceship crew scattered helplessly by an explosion, all tied together by radio, but helpless to reach each other or to direct their final flights. I knew it was a stark and beautiful story long before I knew it wasn't about space travel at all. I also know that there may be no better epitaph for Ray Bradbury, or for any of us on this planet, than the last words of the story, spoken as the protagonist, Hollis, hits Earth's atmosphere with a sense of peace, knowing that his ashes will add to the soil, that his little life will accomplish some small good thing for someone.
The small boy on the country road looked up and screamed. "Look, Mom, look! A falling star!" 8:20 PM
The blazing white star fell down the sky of dusk in Illinois. "Make a wish," said his mother. "Make a wish."