Categotry Archives: Telling Stories

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Thursday Round-Up

Categories: A Day in the Life, Just Add Photo, Let's Go M's, Metablogging, Politics (n.): a strife of interests masquerading, Telling Stories, The Agony of the Wait is the Agony of Debate, Tags: , , , , , ,

From time to time, I feel the need to post a rambly cattle-call of happenings in my life and links around the web. I should start designating a day to do this and making it something like a regular feature, but that would probably require me approaching this blog with the discipline of a professional columnist.

  • It seems I don’t write much about politics here anymore, largely because of the twin forces of Duck and Cover and TMR getting first crack at my political musings. I almost cross-posted this commentary on Obama’s lack of Socialism here, but instead I’m just linking it. Enjoy.
  • As promised yesterday, I recently put up the APDA Nats brackets for 2010, complete with results of submitted brackets from current APDAites. (Those distant from debate should note that this is not how APDA Nats is actually structured, but a hypothetical based on the NCAA basketball tourney.) This hasn’t generated as much discussion that’s gotten back to me as I expected, but I’ve heard rumors that people are still enjoying it from afar. Given that I’m on a bid to become Tab Director of Nats 2011, this will probably be the last of these I do for a while… it seems a little weird for people involved in the Nats tab staff to publish a ranking of debaters partaking at that tournament, which is why I didn’t do one in 2007.
  • The last two M’s games have been amazing. I missed the Tuesday game because I was doing prep work with the Rutgers team for Nats, but yesterday’s was a real gem. I am a huge fan of the new additions to the team, including the fact that Milton Bradley seems to be happy and ready to produce for this team. But Chone Figgins is threatening to become my favorite Mariner. Between the steals and the walks, he reminds me of Rickey Henderson so much it’s ridiculous. And I loved Rickey Henderson. But he seems to have even less of an ego than Rickey, which was the latter’s one annoying trait. Then again, Chone isn’t exactly contending for the all-time steals title.
  • Did, in fact, get our taxes in on-time, yesterday. We do owe both states a little money, and TaxAct scammed us out of more money than they should have. But it’s done and the Feds owe us a lot.
  • I wonder if the West will characterize this bombing as “freedom fighting” while everyone else utilizing these methods are “terrorists”.
  • My mental state and health have continued to be somewhat subpar in recent weeks. The main issues seem to be a general feeling of dissociative malaise and surreality that may just be endemic to April, and also migraines. I’ve been averaging about 4 migraines a week, an astounding spike in frequency that seems inexplicable when observing normal triggers and factors. This combines uncomfortably with this dreamlike sense of reality that’s overtaken much of my last 2-3 weeks, which may partially be related to the subject matter of the current novel I’m working on. (Though I haven’t been working nearly as much as I’d like, but I’m mostly doing plot work to enable really cramming on output in the next month or so.) I feel largely like I’ve been looking at my life from 30,000 feet, or at least 30 feet, watching myself live instead of actually being in a first-person view. It’s strange and makes me sound completely nuts. I’m not completely nuts. I just feel more like I’m living through a filter than that I’m actually fully here. I sort of feel that this reality is all illusory anyway and that life’s core realities are a little like our souls playing a video game (but with meaningful consequences) on this planet, so maybe I’m just more aware of that reality.
  • The other explanation for the above issues, of course, may be that there’s something seriously wrong with my brain. I’m inclined to think otherwise, but it’s good to keep all the possibilities in mind. I’ve told Emily to keep an eye out for me behaving really erratically or out of character, which would be indicative of a possible brain tumor. I’m not actually that worried, though, because the migraine symptoms have been so classic. (Though such symptoms also mirror those of tumors and aneurysms somewhat.) The other factor that I entertained was that I was somehow drinking decaf coffee – that the batch of Folgers I’m working through is either mislabeled or contaminated somehow. Because honestly, foggy worldview, increased tiredness, and more migraines could all be explained by caffeine deficiency too.
  • Debate Nationals this weekend – always one of the most exciting times of the year. I’ve attended 7 of the last 11 nationals prior to this one and this weekend will make 8 of 12. For all that I probably should feel a little strange about being so old and having seen so much on APDA, I really feel nothing of the sort. I think I’ve been in the work world long enough to understand just how meaningful and valuable I find the APDA community to be, to treasure how rare its intellectuality is. I’ve been thinking a little about how much work I’ve put in to the Rutgers team, all unpaid, and realizing that I don’t see any of it as a chore. I think this is what it would be like to really love one’s job, because I do it all voluntarily. I’ve worked for organizations I truly love before, but never felt this way about the actual work. If the writing doesn’t work out, I need to figure out a way to swing professional debate coaching. Possibly in Africa.

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Kid in a Candy Store

Categories: A Day in the Life, Telling Stories, Tags: ,

Today is a little like Christmas, or my birthday before I got old, or going to Disneyland, or going to see a Mariners game.

Today I get to tab a tournament.

For those outside the debate world, “tabbing” is the magic system by which debate tournament staff determine which teams shall face each other in any given round. There are very particular rules and processes to determine this, as guided by custom and refined over time, with fairness and competitive advancement of the tournament as ultimate goals.

The means used are either new computer programs that never seem to work properly or good old index cards, markers, and pencils. As the prior sentence indicates, I heavily favor the latter.

Even those of you familiar with debate tournaments and their culture may be confused at why getting to tab a tournament feels more like visiting a theme park than just doing some work or having a regular day. Sure, having a certain amount of control and ultimate knowledge about the tournament is entertaining. But that’s not really what makes tabbing special. Rather, it’s some combination of my affection for some relatively basic concepts: applied statistics, sorting, order, and competition.

It doesn’t hurt that I’m pretty good at it and pride myself on making tournaments run on-time. Tab is the single biggest factor in whether a tournament runs close to time (rare) or lags well behind schedule (common).

The tournament in question is, of course, our own tournament – the Rutgers tournament, the last tournament of the year before Nationals. For all but one of our teams, this will close the debate season, put a cap on probably the most successful year Rutgers has had in its modern incarnation on the parliamentary circuit. It’s important for it to be a good experience. We have lots of entertainment and food and a decent number of competitors, though late flakiness is reducing our size just a little.

Size matters not, though. It’s going to be a good time. I have my index cards and markers ready to go. And, perhaps more importantly, I get to teach a whole new generation to love tab. One member of each class returning next year will be in tab with me, learning the trade.

I can’t wait.

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April Come She Will

Categories: A Day in the Life, Let's Go M's, Metablogging, Politics (n.): a strife of interests masquerading, Telling Stories, The Agony of the Wait is the Agony of Debate, Tags: , , , , ,

New image up top. Refresh the page if you can’t see it. If you still can’t see it, well, here it is below:

One of the subtler overall changes on the page, going with a relative simplicity that reflects my effort to refind some focus. I’m not that far off, not all over the place, but still not quite as centered as I’d like to be. Ever since I got back from Virginia (all of 48 hours ago), I’ve felt a bit foggy, rather dissociative. As though this is all a big dream I’m about to snap awake from. Not all of it, as in the last 30 years, but all of it, maybe most of the last 48 hours. It’s odd.

Of course, in part, it’s April. Every April, I get to thinking and hoping that maybe it won’t be so bad, so strange, so despondent. Most Aprils, I have to remember that there’s a reason I have this whole time-is-a-place theory going. This time round, at least, I have two insanely busy debate weeks back-to-back to keep me distracted. And then it’ll be time to enter the home stretch of a book that feels like it’s not quite off the ground yet. This month may yet prove to me that two books a year is a more reasonable expectation than three.

But I’m still hoping otherwise.

This past weekend was pretty debate-heavy as well, if only because it takes about 13 hours to drive round-trip to and from Charlottesville, home of one of the better campuses in its absolute peak time. Arriving in Virginia under an 88-degree sky was pretty much just what I needed at the time and I thoroughly enjoyed the tournament there, in no small part because of Rutgers’ great successes. Not only did Dave break for the second straight weekend and the third in the last six, but our newest novices were second novice team and both made the top ten novice speakers. And Dave & Chris managed to establish that they own 7th place, having finished exactly 7th all three tournaments they attended together. One could do a lot worse, especially for a junior-freshman duo. The tournament also just managed to be a bunch of fun, I got to judge many good rounds, and everyone was generally in high spirits. Although the less said about Friday night the better – suffice it to say that it’s easy to block out the worse parts of college over time and thus even harder to when they’re re-presented to you.

The only good thing about April, consistently, other than debate Nats I guess, is the start of baseball season. And what a great start it was today, with the M’s almost coughing up a win only to demonstrate they might have enough offense this year after all. Watching Chone Figgins and Casey Kotchman come through so consistently was great. I am going to have a lot of fun watching this team run this year. It was all almost enough to make up for the heartbreaking NCAA Finals, though that itself was such a great game. And both of these were big uppers compared to the amazing but horrifying video that Russ has up on TMR.

That video was on its way to sending me into quite the tailspin. If you don’t want to make the jump or want to know what you’re getting into first, it’s basically 40 minutes of American military chatter about 11 unarmed civilians that were slaughtered in a 2007 incident the US denied knowledge of until very recently. This is followed toward the end by a triple-missile attack on a building that also seems filled with civilians. It’s perhaps the most chilling piece of video I’ve ever seen in my life. As bad as it is to watch 11 people killed (and trust me, one sees them shot and killed), it’s probably worse to hear the live reaction from the people committing the murders. In some ways it feels like a vindication of all the things I say about people in that situation, but I’d really rather just be wrong. Perhaps most compelling of all is the vision of the blurry lines between video games and reality for a whole generation of American soldiers. The whole situation, from the dialogue to the monochrome target-screen, has the look and feel of a sophisticated first-person shooter (I mean, think about that phrase as a genre of video game on face there for a second) and one gets the sense that the people killing can’t quite get over the psychic break between the surrealistic setting and the fact that what they’re doing is all too real. But maybe that’s just wishful thinking; maybe they know full well and are just that awful and/or manipulated.

In any event, I’m still struggling with it. It’ll be with me for a long time. It’s encouraging to know that there are people who would post it, who would make it available, who would spread it around, though part of me almost feels like it’s an Orwellian exemplification of how much can be gotten away with. Still mulling.

The cat’s sick and we took her to the vet, who knew no more about why she was sneezing and wheezing than they do about my migraines. But they gave her some medication, just like me, and wished her the best. There was a lot else on my list to do today, but I only did about three other things. My brain refuses to be still and yet won’t move quickly either. It’s pickling in a jar, just for a time, letting itself soak up the brine between the folds like some grimy spa catharsis. As though to gird itself for April and all it entails. As though to make the push into the depth of where I need to go to really fulfill The Best of All Possible Worlds.

I don’t like pickles.

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When Bad News is Good News

Categories: A Day in the Life, Primary Sources, Telling Stories, Tags: , ,

Please note that, despite the timing and the strange headline, this post is not in fact related to April Fool’s Day.

Also, please note that I discuss reviews of the first 5,000 words of American Dream On below. I try to avoid spoilers, but tread a little lightly if you want to read it and haven’t yet.

Just got done reading my feedback from ABNA and I couldn’t be much happier. No, they didn’t make some mistake and fail to put through my submission despite its glowing reviews. But the feedback was so positive on what I need it to be positive on and the negativity was either (A) innate to the contest or (B) innate to the fact that American Dream On is hard-hitting and bleak.

So I thought the excerpt would be judged largely on hook and, when it didn’t advance, I was concerned about this. Needn’t have been:

The flow of the story is easy to follow and to connect with. The words fly off the pages impacting the reader. American Dream On tugs at the reader’s heart and conscience. The characters’ pain and determination to get their message or action across is experienced by the person reading. The things that once mattered now seem almost as though it was a wasted thought.

How about character development?

The strongest aspect of “American Dream On” is the author’s ability to create a character. This excerpt has great character development.

Whew. So why didn’t it go through?

The tone of the story needs to be worked on. The negative aspect of American Dream On is overbearing. When writing a sequence of bad, unfortunate, or even dismal beginnings, there has to be some sort of light to take away the effects of the darkness.

While some people (my own mother, for example) agree with this assessment, I think this is largely a problem with the contest. Number one, I don’t think Amazon Vine Reviewers are largely comprised of people who read dystopian works or critiques of their society. But more to the point, they probably assumed that they were reading the first 10% of the novel, not the first 3.7%. My work was one of the longer ones submitted, and very few seemed to be over 100k words, with ADO weighing in at 135k words. Indeed, one of the two reviewers went on to say:

I would like to note that I strongly suspect that the excerpt is from a short story collection rather than a novel. If that is the case, then “American Dream On” violates the submission rules for the ABNA contest. However, to be on the safe side, I am reviewing this excerpt as though it is a novel consisting of three independent stories interwoven together.

This makes one of the most damning aspects of the contest the failure to provide the pitches with the excerpts. I simply cannot comprehend the failure to do this, but for three years, they’ve done it the same way and it seems to be a deliberate choice. They wouldn’t print a book without a back jacket flap, so it befuddles me why they insist on making readers judge excerpts without any context. Of course, there are 5 threads in this novel and only 3 are introduced in the excerpt, so it’s no wonder people came away from the experience confused. If only they could’ve grasped the breadth of this work.

They didn’t fail to grasp its bleakness, though:

“American Dream On” is the type of novel you wouldn’t want to read if you are already suffering from depression. It may drive you to attempt suicide. Written in a morbid style that varies in degree from one character to another, this novel may turn your American dreams into American nightmares.

Wow. Talk about impact. This is actually the kind of comment that makes me elated, not because I’m sick or morbid or want people to be suicidal, but because I can see that I’m really affecting people. Two total strangers read this work and both came away distressed. The paragraph above the one just posted above called it “provocative”. Bingo. This is what it’s all about.

I wonder how many times Orwell got comments like this:

The writing style creates a depressing mood that never relinquishes. The reader can’t help but wonder if the entire novel is an emotional downer. Isn’t there enough sadness already in the world to create more?

Clearly, this contest was not a match for this novel. But I’m really energized by the nature of the critique of the excerpt. No one thought the writing was bad or failed to be engaging. People reacted to the characters, drawn in by their pain and even driven in one case to “hatred”. The work is emotionally vibrant and jumps off the page, grabbing people. A lot of them don’t like the experience, don’t want to go there. That’s fair enough. But there’s serious writing and then there’re feel-good stories. One of these prompts people to change their life and one of them makes them go to bed assuming everything’s just hunky-dory.

Now if only I can find a publisher who isn’t looking for the feel-good story of the year…

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Losing

Categories: A Day in the Life, Telling Stories, Tags: ,

I’m someone who is fairly accustomed to winning things. Debate rounds, scholarships, jobs, contests. Not NCAA March Madness pools, perhaps, but a lot of other things.

Late yesterday, it was announced that I will not be winning the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award. American Dream On missed the cut of the top 250 books to proceed to the quarterfinals.

It feels like a bigger setback than it should. Until I found the contest, shortly before the entries were being accepted, this was never even on my radar. My approach was going to be to try to find an agent. Of course I got complacent about that process once I was chugging along in the contest, starting to feel a sense of destiny or serendipity about the whole thing. So now I’m back at the drawing board and not getting a gift feels like a loss.

Of course there’s also the sting of the rejection, although I don’t know yet the grounds for said rejection. The pitch that I threw together on the last day somehow was deemed in the top 20% of pitches, which fueled my confidence that the actual excerpt, which every reader so far, even the person who hated the book overall, have found to be exciting and something that draws the reader in, would be deemed in the top 25%. Didn’t happen and I want to know why. The pain of anything negative is reduced greatly by understanding its source reasons. It is not knowing why something goes wrong that will drive a person crazy. So I’m a bit in the throes of that until I can grapple with the reasons.

At that point, the reasons will either make sense and give me direction for reworking things, or they will be things endemic to the contest (for example, I do have a bit of a fear that the first 2.5 chapters make the novel seem like it should have been entered in the “Young Adult” category, even though ADO is certainly not a Young Adult work on the whole), which will not bug me too much, though I will regret that such technicalities kept me from a shot at getting someone to read the whole book for this contest. It’s impossible to speculate. It’s even possible I got one rave review and one pan, which would likely not have been enough to put me in the top quarter of books. In which case I can use both the pitch and the rave review to move forward.

Moving forward. That’s the main thing. Getting to a mindset where I don’t even remember this contest as anything other than confirmation that I wrote a good pitch statement, the thing I was least sure of in this whole process. It will take some time, like getting over anything, but I’m not too concerned. The main thing is to not generate a series of misgivings from this process, to not take the opinions of one or two people as more serious than everything else people have confirmed about the quality of the book. To not let this make me take people missing the main allegory of the novel too seriously. To trust my instincts, my work, my efforts. And to keep having fun with the current project.

So it’s all fine, ultimately. I guess the real dream or thrall of this contest was getting to avoid some of the business side of writing. Not having to deal with agents and the monetary side as much. Not having to deal with capitalism’s absurd tentacles infecting the one thing I’ve felt unfetteredly good about doing with my life. But so it goes. Better to face up to the reality now than have it sneak up on my later. I guess.

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A Fresh Start

Categories: A Day in the Life, But the Past Isn't Done with Us, Politics (n.): a strife of interests masquerading, Telling Stories, Tags: , , ,

I don’t want to talk about healthcare today. Not much, anyway. It’s weird to be in a maelstrom of euphoria that seems so unwarranted and unfounded, touched with a counterpoint of ludicrosity almost as bizarre. It’s a little like the day Obama got elected, I guess, except I at least understood that there was potential there (since unrealized) and history in the mere fact of America’s ability to overcome the deepest depths of its historical bigotry. But this? This? This is just alienating.

I watched some of the debate last night on the computer, mostly because Em had it on. I guess I didn’t watch so much as listened, heard the same rhetoric over and over on the lips of one Representative after another. One side, then the other side. One side, then the other. It, like all political discourse, was simply a sorry excuse for debate. If only APDA could show them how it’s done, show them what a real discussion with advancement of ideas and engagement of the opposition’s points looks like. But our opportunity to do that was squandered by a few paranoids who became more concerned that their God-given right to drink on Friday nights might be impinged by documentation of their ability to rise above 99% of elected officials in the ability to cogently discuss an issue. So it goes.

You, unless you’re one of about 3-4 people I could imagine reading this (or you’re not an American), are either euphorically happy today or you think the country you used to love is sliding into socialism. I am baffled in either case. I am baffled at how you could love a healthcare bailout that exchanges a few token sacrifices of the worst health insurance practices of the past for the great unknown of the egregious health insurance practices of the future. As though you can start trusting profit-driven companies once they’re given the free license to do whatever they like (save a couple small things) in the pursuit of free-enterprise on the back of the mandated poor of America. If this bill was so terrible for the health insurance industry, why did stocks go up today? And I’m even more baffled if you equate a requirement that everyone buy something from a private company with socialism. Socialism isn’t some ism word that you can just throw around whenever it suits your purposes. It means something, and it does not mean entrusting everyone’s health and fate to greedy corporations.

Ahem. I didn’t want to talk about healthcare.

I wanted to talk about writing.

Namely, The Best of All Possible Worlds, currently chugging along at a sprightly 48 pages through 18 days of work. Those of you scoring at home may note that this is less than three pages a day, which doesn’t necessarily mean good things for the original deadline of 17 May 2010. (The same pace maintained from here till then would yield 200 pages total by said date, which is a bit on the skimpy side.) At the same time, I’ve had a lot of distractions, including not having the thing mapped out at all. Which is certainly burdensome in some cases, but really exciting in others.

It also must be noted that the equivalent day in the life of American Dream On was 26 June 2002, when the novel was not only well short of 48 pages, but was also two-thirds of a decade shy of completion. And while there’s a chance I will look back ruefully on this post about the best-laid plans for the Best Of, I have reason to believe otherwise. It’s something about that freshness, that not knowing where everything is going.

I mean, I know where it’s going, ultimately – I think it would be pretty challenging to start a book without knowing the ending, more or less. What would be the point? The point might end up being something one disliked, and it takes a pretty apolitical free-thinking writer to be cool with that. No, I know where it’s going in the end. But how precisely it gets there and what happens along the way are largely opaque to me. Or they were on 5 March when it all began.

In the mere two weeks and change (it feels like months, actually, which must be good) since, a lot of the mystery has gotten solved. Things have come to light that seem like the obvious inevitable answer all along. Little loose ends are coming together. And there’s still a majority yet to figure out, but the way things are clicking, I have faith it will all coalesce nicely in no time.

What’s great about this is that, while the location and discipline are the same, the method is quite different from ADO. And yet it’s still working. My biggest concern in abandoning Good God earlier this month was in going off-script, in risking everything to an ad-lib process when I’d enjoyed such success with a paint-by-numbers spreadsheet scheme. And, indeed, this process is even looser than Loosely Based, which was somewhere in between. I had nursed the ideas for LB for less time than the current project, but I had them more fully fleshed at the time of the opening lines. This one is pretty much being made up as I go along.

It’s exciting. That’s really what it comes down to. I remember this conversation I had with Lisha at the Academy about our little ventures into independent English study in sophomore year. Our high school was trying to take its best English students and give them the opportunity to go off-book, to write assignments individually assigned at a higher and specialized pace. We still would go to classes as normal and read the same books as everyone else for discussion, but then do independent analyses or creative projects on the side. She was working with Pat Scanlon and I with Eric Moya – I forget if anyone else was doing this, but I think there was at least one more person. Served us all right for turning in extra short stories and papers to our prior year’s English profs.

Anyway, she was talking about a long and arduous conversation with Scanlon about a particular work she’d turned in for the independent study and related that he’d lamented her inability to find writing to be fun. And then Lisha and I digressed into a long sidebar about what it would mean for writing to be fun in the sense the prof meant. What it came down to, as I recall, was that nothing in an academic setting like that could be fun in the sense Scanlon wanted to elicit. That there was something innate to the academic context, to exterior-imposed deadlines and requirements, the necessitated bludgeoning most of the enjoyment out of the process. Even in an independent study.

The Academy abandoned the project and we resumed normal classes the next year. I would resume the debate about academic bludgeoning of writing with many more people and went on to a four-year college career without taking a single class in the English department.

Writing this novel is fun. I am having fun. Not fun-relative-to-other-things. Not fun-for-writing-which-is-quite-a-chore. Honest to God fun. Like playing a video game fun. Debating fun.

Not debating on the House floor fun. Real debate fun. Just to clarify.

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The Week That Was (or: How are We in Middle March?)

Categories: A Day in the Life, But the Past Isn't Done with Us, Let's Go M's, Pre-Trip Posts, Telling Stories, The Agony of the Wait is the Agony of Debate, Tags: , , , , ,

It’s been a bit of a weird week. It seems a lot of people are discombobulated. In flux. It’s hard to say how much of that revolves around the fact that my life is thoroughly immersed in people who rely on academic calendars these days. After all, both Princeton and Rutgers had midterms this week, with their Spring Break starting today. Nobody likes midterms.

The writing is going… fine. It’s not bad, but it’s not tearing up the charts either. It feels like the right project at the right time, but it’s settled into that slow steady groove that probably denotes most long-haul fiction work. That’s good, overall, really, especially since this project is taking shape more on-the-fly than either of the prior novels. But I probably won’t be maintaining the quick-burning fire I started out with a week ago. Wow, it’s only been a week working on The Best of All Possible Worlds. I’m going to relax a bit.

And honestly, one probably couldn’t keep the fire going throughout a 3-month project. I just don’t think it works that way. You can have a brushfire on a short story or a poem, but it’s unsustainable for a whole novel. It’s like expecting every day of a marriage to consist entirely of that white-hot first-days-of-love butterfly passion. You’ll go there periodically, but every day of marriage is not going to feel like the first day. And that’s not only okay, but good. Because otherwise it would burn itself out.

The M’s are gearing up for their most exciting season in years and I’m preparing to block out big chunks of time to follow that. I’m sort of grateful that I don’t like Spring Training, since it both gives me another month to not worry about this and I don’t have to follow every little up and down of who exactly makes the roster. Of course, this is kind of self-fulfilling – if I liked those kind of things, I’d enjoy Spring Training more. But it’s just impossible for me to get excited about games that don’t count in an environment where strategy is handicapped and the decisions are all about getting people practice. It’s just a month-long practice-round. If I were a player or a coach, I think I’d love Spring Training. But as a fan, it just leaves me (ironically) cold.

Maybe I should figure out a way to do Debate Spring Training next year. Of course, it would be Fall Training. I guess the Novice Retreat we did this year was kind of like that, now that I consider.

Of course the other sports issue in my life is the meteoric rise of the University of New Mexico men’s basketball program. At 29-3, the Lobos are poised to receive a 2- or 3-seed in the NCAA tournament, based on their performance in this weekend’s Mountain West championship. This UNM team is unlike every other that has ever played near the Frontier – they win clutch games, they overcome adversity, they find ways to win on the road. It’s a real personality change and one that is especially strange for a long-time Blazers and Mariners (and Lobos) fan to experience. I wonder if every fan has a mythology about their team’s ability to pull defeat from the jaws of victory – if this is just one of those things that everyone feels psychologically by focusing on the crushing and unexpected losses. Regardless, this is the first time the March Madness tournament has had a real role for UNM since I was sneaking peaks of the game on Sonia Roth’s TV during the 1998 tourney, so yeah. Pretty neat.

On the debate front, this weekend is Providence College, my first visit to the campus since the fabled origin of Mep in 2001. I’m not sure how completely I’ve ever told the story on this website, and I’m not sure this is the morning for it, but I was curious exactly how badly I spoke at that tournament. So I went and looked up our performance on the old back-archives of the APDA site.

The brief story, of course, is that Russ and I were debating together for our first and only time before he graduated during that, his senior year. As a double-LO attack, we expected to tear teams up, especially given the confidence we had in our cases. Fifth round, sailing into the 4-0 bracket on the wings of crushing the mighty “juice” (Yale OJ) on a dull-as-nails-and-possibly-tight case about insurance law, we hit my regular teammate, Zirkin, and his hybrid partner, another Yalie. We had an ugly round (as such rounds between regular partners often are, especially when said partners are hybriding) and lacked full confidence that we’d won. But we never questioned that we’d break, because we were sure we were speaking well.

Russ was, of course, scoring a 132 with ranks of 7 and ultimately taking home 4th speaker in a pretty remarkable field. I, however, was deemed unworthy of the field. I apparently spoke a 128 with ranks of 13, outspoken by Russ by a full 4 points and 6 ranks. I’m not sure any partner ever outspoke me by that much at any other tournament in my life. If I had more time this morning, I’d look up what an epic fail a 128/13 was in the context of the rest of my career at the time. It’s hard for non-debaters to contextualize this, or even for modern debaters who’ve grown up with half-points and a squashed speaker scale to understand (128’s pretty good these days – and not because people used to be better, but because the scores have fundamentally changed). But trust me, it was a disaster.

So we missed the break – as it turned out by only a point, despite my glaring apparent incompetence. We even outranked the two 4-1 teams who broke over us, just a slim point behind either of them. If I’d been deemed only mildly incompetent, we still would’ve made the semifinals. (To say nothing of a 36-team tourney breaking to semifinals being pretty skimpy as well.) It wasn’t till we received our ballots that we realized I was to blame for our near-miss – neither Russ nor I felt I’d performed poorly that weekend, but the proof was on the paper.

In long retrospect, of course, I’m grateful for the outcome, both because it made a great story and it spawned my spontaneous apology to Russ for unseating the emu who’d asked him to debate with him instead, from which all Mep lore was borne. As I squatted down and craned my neck around to the dulcet sounds of a monosyllabic flightless bird, I had no idea my self-flagellation would be creating this monster. But I’m glad it did.

Interestingly, looking through some of those results from the past, I hadn’t realized that PC was the weekend before NorthAms that year. Somehow I’d thought it was later in the year, after Zirk and I had already secured the title that would define my career. It somehow makes it all the more amazing that we overcame the frustration of that fifth round, that my last round before our tear through the title tourney was an adversarial match against each other. Of course we both long attributed our success in that tourney to my yelling at Zirkin after octofinals and the self-examination that such produced (he’d been over-coaching me from his desk during my PMR for the Lottery case, something I knew I had in hand and could give in my sleep and I ranted at him after the round about how we had to trust each other if we were going to survive the marathon of break rounds we were facing at the time… the rest is history). But it’s interesting to note how much extra acrimony there was going into that tournament. Ah, memories, mythology, madness.

For context, I’ve been looking up a few other scores I received, and I got all 130+’s everywhere I look, including at Wellesley, a tournament with a notoriously low speaker scale and where I received the last of my only two career losing records. It’s almost as though the fates aligned to give us the emu. One might even say it was… Providence.

Makes you wonder what Providence College will offer us this year. I’ll find out.

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A New Hope

Categories: A Day in the Life, Telling Stories, Tags: ,

Two days ago, I was falling apart. Now I’m putting it all back together.

In fact, I started writing a post called “Disintegration” around this time on 3 March. All I could get through was a single line. It read: “I am falling apart.”

There were a number of additional places the post might have gone, but by the very nature of the veracity of its opening salvo, I was unable to complete more than said preamble. And while I’m all for honesty and forthrightness with this blog and all my projects, I know a bit better than to post a one-liner saying “I am falling apart.” in the wee hours of a Wednesday in March. It’s like begging for misinterpretation, paranoia, and panic.

None of which, surprisingly, help those who feel they are falling apart.

I hasten to add that the issue was nothing personal, nor anything really all that dramatic. There was some roughness around the edges, some bleeding into arenas of feeling like I might be unable to control my mental state. But mostly it was about writing, about figuring out what to write and when to write it and arguably, though less so, a little bit how. And now I’ve pretty much put it all together, or at least I think so, enough to feel good about it, to get going and not look back until I have a setback of this kind of magnitude again. If I have that. Which I’m hoping to avoid.

I’ve been working for a month on Good God, my first serious foray into non-fiction. I have concluded, after writing ~42 pages in a month, that this foray is not optimally timed. I am putting the project on the shelf. In its stead, I will begin working tonight on The Best of All Possible Worlds, another novel. If successful, it will be my third novel to be completed and my second this year (by which I mean the academic-ish [plus summer] year of 2009-10 in which I still aspire to complete three books).

The Best of All Possible Worlds is jumping in line, not just over Good God, but over another novel whose idea is older, namely that tentatively titled We the Purple. There are four more novels in the queue behind it, and they’re staying there for now. When and where any of these will be written is largely becoming up for grabs, but for tonight and the foreseeable, it’s TBoAPW‘s job to lose. Sadly, this work doesn’t devolve into an easy acronym like my first two novels, but I’ll probably shorthand it “Best of” or similar.

Unlike the originally slated nonfic project, I can’t reveal anything about Best of, as per my personal protocol on fiction. So this may be a less exciting development for you. But given that I’m tentatively trying to stick with my original deadline of 17 May 2010 to complete the first draft, there may be excitement yet for my fiction fans. To say nothing of the shortness of this wait in comparison to the near-decade it took to finally complete ADO.

17 May may prove unreasonable, though, since that deadline presumed a 1 February start-date and it’s currently 5 March. In which case, I could push it to sometime in the first couple weeks of June. I’m hoping not to have to, but I’m also not about to set up a deadline which is guaranteed to fail. It’ll probably take a month to make a good determination about that.

The larger point is that I’m opening this project with the fresh energy and excitement a new project deserves. Which is not to say that I didn’t feel that way about Good God, but 40 pages in, that was starting to look like a flightless bird. I wasn’t sure it worked. It wasn’t turning over, but rather coughing and sputtering. And rather than continue down the path of trying to right a potentially sinking ship, I’m tabling it in favor of something I know functions on its basic premises. I still hope to write GG, and soon, but it’s not the project for this Spring.

And so it begins. Again.

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Wildly Content

Categories: A Day in the Life, But the Past Isn't Done with Us, Pre-Trip Posts, Telling Stories, The Agony of the Wait is the Agony of Debate, Tags: , , , ,

Waking up to a snowstorm, with a tournament ahead and yesterday’s great news behind, I find myself to be wildly content. It may seem like a strange state of being, to feel such a passionate sense of a relatively dispassionate feeling, but that’s how the end of my first week being 30 is seeming.

Since committing to a life of writing, I’ve had an overwhelming sense of coming around to what I was always supposed to be doing, to living the life I’d always envisioned. Living deliberately, purposefully, with meaning – all the things I’ve been talking about on this blog since its inception and perhaps my whole life since conception. And while I’m not sure I would’ve picked New Jersey out of a hat and I’m not convinced of Em’s happiness in this new life, I couldn’t see myself doing much better than I’ve been doing. It’s early yet and I’m already hiccuping a bit on the second book, but I’ve gotten enough confirmation that this is the right path to feel simply satisfied. At peace. In my place.

As I’ve aged, I’ve steadily felt more and more comfort with being in the world. The world still depresses the stuffing out of me and I rail against its problems, but I’ve felt more at home here with each passing year. Most of my youth felt like a perpetual struggle, that I was just flailing against an insurmountable tide that I didn’t understand. I had great parents and fantastic friends, but I was never good with where I was, what I was doing, how time was passing, how I was living my life. Maybe for the first few weeks at Broadway, now that I think about it, and probably parts of senior year at the Academy. But they were rare and fleeting glimpses, all the way up till pretty recently.

The glimpses have gotten longer and more sustainable, though. Even times on the debate circuit or at Seneca or Glide started to feel like the world was a place I could be, that I had figured out enough to carve out something worthwhile from the recalcitrant rock of an unfriendly planet. And each year has just brought a little more smoothness, a little more pliability. It gets easier.

I think this is the bottom line. I’m not saying it works for everyone or I haven’t been lucky or that I haven’t made hard choices to help myself on the way. But it gets easier. They told me that adults have more to worry about than children, that one can’t comprehend the stress and difficulty that awaits with age. It’s not true. It gets easier. Grow up, relax, breathe. Youth is the test we pass to show we’re cut out for living.

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American Dream On Advances in ABNA!

Categories: A Day in the Life, Telling Stories, Tags: ,

About an hour ago, it was announced that American Dream On had bested 80% of its competition in the General Fiction category of the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award and has moved on to the second round.

Given that was based exclusively on the pitch I wrote, which I had the least confidence in of all elements (pitch, excerpt, manuscript), I’m wildly excited to be through to the next round. Not only does this mean that I have a chance of continuing on toward winning the contest and getting a contract with Penguin, but it means I’ve written a compelling pitch statement that can be used for other submission prospects.

Woooooo!

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Snow Days (or: Why New Jersey Isn’t So Bad)

Categories: A Day in the Life, Just Add Photo, Telling Stories, Tags: , ,

We are living right now under a swirling Nor’easter that reminds me why Emily was able to convince me to move back to the East Coast. My love for snow simply can’t be underestimated. Really can’t. I am just walking around in a state of euphoric bliss as the precipitation accumulates. It even figured heavily in the short story I wrote last night, the second in a week.

Here’s ten quick pictures to get you started on the storm of last weekend and the much bigger storm underway now…

On Saturday, it snowed!:

I finally made good use of our fancy new scraper thing:

We made a plan to meet some friends in the afternoon and play in the snow. I immediately set to work on a snow fort that wound up looking a little mazey:

Emily made a snow angel, her first ever:

Obligatory artistic shot:

When we got home and a day or so had passed, I missed my snow fort. So I started another one in our yard, with a much smaller footprint, but aspirations for greater height:

This morning, as dawn broke, it was deja vu all over again:

This tree is right in front of our house:

I had worked on the fort last night as it started snowing again… there’s some real potential brewing here:

The Prius was ready this time. If by “ready” we mean “prepared to look silly”:

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Inspiration

Categories: A Day in the Life, Awareness is Never Enough - It Must Always Be Wonder, Telling Stories, Tags: , ,

Rarely do I feel as inspired in my life as when I’m just starting out on a car trip (of almost any length), looking forward to where I’m going, with music blasting. Life is just good under those conditions, but there’s more to it than that. Like taking a shower or playing certain kinds of puzzle games (e.g. Tetris), the process of embarking under these circumstances precipitates an extra uncanny layer of inspiration. My mind works in a slightly different way, one that’s quite simply much better than everyday functionality.

I have known this for most of my driving life, especially since I got a car (post the ’51 Buick era) that could play music. I remember driving out in the Kia the first few times, blasting Counting Crows, realizing that not only could I conquer the world but I had the thoughts in mind right then that would do it. I don’t recall exactly how many of the novel ideas I’ve developed were composed at the outset of music-blasting trips, but I can tell you exactly how many short stories I wrote tonight were.

One. And it might just be the best story I’ve ever written, a 3,200 word gem called “Haywire” that I could not feel more euphoric about. I came up with the idea on the outset of my journey to New Brunswick tonight for debate, letting the concept play in my mind for about two and a half songs before I let myself believe I was really on to something. Then it was time to grab the flowpad at stoplights and jot down as much as I could, just in case the idea simulated some inspirations I’ve developed in dreams and fled as soon as I had a grasp on the real thrust of its direction. But I needn’t have worried and I needn’t have written. Until I got home, of course.

Which I did, promptly, spending the 2.5 hours since arriving crafting the thing. And then I started celebrating, as much as I could pump my fists in the air and jump up and down without waking Emily. No, seriously. I really did this. I feel that euphoric right now.

It’s not just about the quality of this story, which may be inflated in my perception – I will have to read it tomorrow to really know for sure. It’s about being able to come up with a story I feel this confident about, start to finish, in six hours, three of which I spent at debate. That the stories are supplying the fiction to breathe life into my months designated for writing non-fiction, just as I hoped they would. There’s a part of me, sure, that looks at all this euphoria with an eye to the past and considers that this might be the last short story I write for months. That this might all be a lot of sound and no fury. That this is an exception, an anomaly.

But God, I hope not.

I once joked with Emily, noting the phenomenon of how this inspiration struck, that I should just go for short drives with music every time I wanted to get jump-started on writing something. But I surmised, shortly thereafter, that this somehow wouldn’t work. That it might be cheating. That I couldn’t trick my brain into getting in the state where the world slows down and opens itself up to a new idea.

But at this point, I’m ready to try. Bring on the showers and the Tetris and the driving with music. Bring on the life that I am living. Everything I’ve done has gotten me to this point and it’s all been worth it. Thank you, thank you God for letting me get to this point right here right now.

Gee, I really hope this story is up to all this swagger.

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Soup Can Labels Can Be Interesting

Categories: A Day in the Life, But the Past Isn't Done with Us, Telling Stories, Tags: , ,

When I was enrolled at Clatsop Community College in the fall of 1990, I took English 101 as one of my three classes. And in it we had one of these dismal textbooks that was about writing and the writing process. It was the sort of remedial stuff that I would later come to loathe as people continually suggested I take writing classes to learn how to write. After things like CCC and the Seaside Signal and the seventy short stories of high-school, I didn’t need the how. I needed the time, the motivation, and maybe a little more practice.

But something from the how, from that early primer on writing technique, stuck with me. It was this essay called “Soup Can Labels Can Be Interesting” – at least I would swear that’s what it was called and has always stuck out in my memory as being that. This phrase has become something of a totem for me, for my writing life. Not that I always feel an accordance with its sentiment, but often enough to make it work.

But just now, feeling this memory full-force, reinforcing Em’s Psychology in Public Policy assessment of why I don’t feel I’ve changed much over the years (more on this in a bit, perhaps, like in a future post), I Googled the phrase of Professor John Rupp’s beleaguered fame. And I found exactly one hit (“Googlewhacks” I guess they call them these days, though I thought there was some other term). And it was … from my own webpage. How anticlimactic.

But of course, because I’m in SCLCBI mode, I pursued the link to my own storied past, to May of 2001 and the fateful weeks they were. To a Mariners season I accurately projected to be well beyond 100 wins. To the epic balance of non-communication that spared a long-documented Quadfecta-precipitated disaster for all involved (see, I can still talk cryptically about the same things I did 9 years ago – where’s the change in that?). To a visit to Sandy San D, to reuniting with old friends, to speculating on the writing life, aspiring to be a columnist, aspiring to write a story in 2001 that remains half-written on my desktop here in a year with all the same digits in a slightly different order. I only read 20 days and it felt like a lifetime, a time machine, a portal to life on the precipice of some of the better things I ever did while I waited and recuperated on the periphery of something I couldn’t yet detect.

And I’m there again. Because Soup Can Labels Can Be Interesting.

The essay, of course, and now I’m really wigging out because I could have sworn I wrote something about this essay before on this blog in this format and this kind of thing always seems to end with me figuring out a better way to Google it and discovering that it was a different February 4th when I was constructing the exact same post, but anyway the soup cans. The essay is about procrastination, about the little tricks and distractions we find to keep ourselves focused on anything else when it’s time to get started on writing. The essay was very general and written for people who sort of fear writing as a process in the same crippling way that most of the freshmen who walk in the door of Hardenbergh A2 have spent their lives fearing public speaking before they resolved to get up and do something about it. You know, the way people who attend Clatsop Community College sometime after their 11th birthday feel.

And while I never related to that exactly, or to the bulk of the essay, the imagery of Soup Can Labels Can Be Interesting stuck and stuck hard. Emily and I later identified a whole syndrome at work where one can clear an entire to-do list that’s been sitting on the back burner for a week or a month if there’s one dreaded task that creeps into the periphery. Suddenly, rote data entry and catching up on reply e-mails to people who accidentally wrote you become essential to job performance. Rarely for either of us was the task in question writing something – more often for me it was making particularly inquisitive phone calls to strangers (though that got better over time) or dealing with a couple of prickly personalities. But I think everyone can relate to this phenomenon, to being suddenly really motivated by the idea of putting off something that seems like even more of a struggle.

I could chronicle everything I’ve been doing since a little after midnight, the proverbial soup can labels I’ve been reading. Some of them have been about my past, while others have been really obscure Facebook data I’ve absorbed. There’s been a check of every blog I regularly read, every report about the Mariners, research into the nearest Minor League teams and when their seasons start, comparative mileage analysis and schedule checking for when I could embark. Granted, I could have spent this time, I don’t know, looking for an agent or doing something fun and non-productive, but instead this sort of half-assing around seems like a better compromise.

Editing out the soup cans is essential to deliberate living, to making this sort of life work. It’s part of the reason I’m coaching debate, playing intramural basketball, scheduling a good chunk of my time. Because life works best when time is valued, has a premium on it, is chosen for favored activities. Not doled out to absurd levels of self-delusional procrastination.

I’m being a little too hard on myself. Nights like this are rare. They were especially rare last year when I wrote American Dream On and they show no signs of entrenching themselves as I approach more projects. But they make it all important to nip in the bud when they arise. For all that I’ve enjoyed explaining this, this 1,000-word treatise on soup can labels is, itself, another soup can in a way. Though at least it leaves something for posterity. If nothing else, a second Google hit for the phrase.


Postscript – apparently my memory is thorough but its diction is imperfect. The actual title of the essay is “Soup Can Labels Can Be Fascinating“, which is more cutely hyperbolic. It appears in Jean Wyrick’s Steps to Writing Well, which I think was the remedial primer of record discussed above. The book is apparently still in print and newly released in a new edition, so bully for Jean Wyrick. The whole metaphor is aptly laid out in the first paragraph or so of that link, by the way, so check it out. If, y’know, you’re not just putting off something else you should be doing. Or maybe if that’s exactly what you’re doing.

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Experimentality

Categories: A Day in the Life, Awareness is Never Enough - It Must Always Be Wonder, Telling Stories, Tags: , ,

I have been having a tough time the past 60 hours. Not really bad, just weird. It’s mostly the result of trying to figure out how to approach the next writing project, Good God. As my first non-fiction effort longer than a college paper, it’s a daunting task. And with five novel ideas queued up behind it, in widely varied states of readiness, there’s a big part of me that wants to just stick with the fiction. Fiction, after all, is fun. And I feel that American Dream On was a profound success, the book that will ultimately, some way or another, probably put me on some sort of map. So why shift gears?

Well for one, it’s due up next. I was trying to explain the other day that the book ideas have been coming at about the pace one might expect them to over the last several years of not writing, despite the fact that I haven’t written the old ideas. American Dream On was the real gorilla on my back, having been a pretty well formed idea since early 2002. But the next few books are old-timers as well, all dating back to at least 2005. Chronologically, Good God is the oldest unwritten book. So it should be up next.

But that’s probably not good enough reason all by itself. There’s also the issue of my trip to India and the religious experience I had there in a boat on the Ganges in Varanasi. Wherein I felt called, more than anything else, to write this book which I have just re-embarked on tonight. And though the book is not the product of literal divine revelation, my life would seem pretty empty without its many religious experiences. I feel impelled – deeply impelled – to write this book.

There’s also probably the matter of hope. I find American Dream On to be an ultimately hopeful book, but I doubt many will agree with me. For the most part, people have found it somewhere between bleak and Kafkaesque… and it is those things, too. Good God, on the other hand, is a legitimately and unequivocally hopeful book, perhaps the only one I will ever write. And it may be the only non-fiction, unless I decide to tackle my theory of dinosaur extinction or the book earns enough refutations to warrant a defense publication. It’s a unique book, even for all the differences I see among the many novel plots I am contemplating. So maybe I want to write it next to prove I can, to show the breadth of my versatility. Em and I were joking a few hours ago about how anyone excited about publishing ADO would be utterly baffled by my description of Good God as the follow-up work.

But as I embark on it, writing 7-8 pages tonight to accompany the paltry 14-page headstart I brought to New Jersey, more questions than answers loom. What sort of tone can one maintain for a largely second-person conversational non-fiction work on God? Is this just going to be too experimental? How do I balance philosophical exploration with straightforward personal appeals? And how do I get the target audience to want to read whatever this looks like?

Tonight, though, I remembered that these questions are pretty thin and unimportant when the process of writing is afoot. I have come up with six book ideas yet unwritten and I have developed them because I believe in them. There will be questions of form and plenty of time to second-guess and to doubt. That time is not amidst the two years I’ve set aside to churn out the ideas full-time, to make good the promise of my inspiration. It’s time to churn, to chunk out the pages and let them do the talking. It might not work.

But it doesn’t matter. I must work and the rest will follow.

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I’m Alive (Breaking a Long Silence, on the Occasion of the Passing of J.D. Salinger)

Categories: A Day in the Life, But the Past Isn't Done with Us, Duck and Cover, Politics (n.): a strife of interests masquerading, Read it and Weep, Telling Stories, Tags: , , , , ,

It will either happen today or February 14, 1958 when I am sixteen. It is ridiculous to mention even.

When people in my generation haven’t been in contact for a long time, or haven’t posted to their webpage or other expected forms of social media/communication, they tend to break the silence with the phrase “I’m alive” or, less frequently, “I’m not dead.” Where this custom originated is hard to trace, like any viral meme of our culture, but it is surely prevalent. When my father took a long absence from posting on his page, a relative wrote in fear that something had happened. It’s hard to argue that this is the frequent concern of people when a long absence is experienced, but our society tends to “go there” pretty quickly. J.D. Salinger is probably about as far from a social media type person as I can imagine living into the twenty-first century.

On November 22, 1963, Aldous Huxley and C.S. Lewis died. No one particularly noticed because John F. Kennedy was shot that day as well.

In a discussion of next steps for my new novel American Dream On, my father purported that the fifty best books written in the last hundred years were never published. I told him that if I believed that, I would give up all hope. And while part of my disproof for his theory is The Catcher in the Rye, part of his rebuttal might include the unpublished works Salinger has famously kept in a safe for much of the last few decades. My excitement for the release of these works is perhaps the only heartening element of the developments of Wednesday.

I want them to have a nice time while they’re alive, because they like having a nice time… But they don’t love me and Booper – that’s my sister – that way. I mean they don’t seem able to love us just the way we are. They don’t seem able to love us unless they can keep changing us a little bit. They love their reasons for loving us almost as much as they love us, and most of the time more. It’s not so good, that way.

When I was 18, I compiled a list of the hundred best books of all-time. All Salinger’s four published works made the cut, ranging from 10th (Catcher) to 61st (Franny and Zooey). Catcher had slipped to 12th on my list by 2002, but checks in at 5th on the composite list of 73 Blue Pyramid friends and visitors. Franny and Zooey is 69th. In 2008, I finally got around to compiling my favorite 17 short stories of all-time. They were bookended by Salinger works from Nine Stories, with “A Perfect Day for Bananafish” checking in 17th and “Teddy” 1st.

J.D. Salinger was born in 1919. Ray Bradbury was born in 1920. Richard Adams was born in 1920. Kurt Vonnegut was born in 1922. Howard Zinn was born in 1922.

Salinger’s obituaries were coated with accounts of his life as a recluse. These overshadowed any particular discussion of his works and their enormous qualities. His life was discussed as the story of potential gone bad, of talent gone crazy, of a light of the world snuffed out by his own misanthropy. There were the isolation and the lawsuits and the affairs and the urine-drinking rumors and everything beneath tepid notes about Catcher that still couldn’t resist citing the man who shot John Lennon. And censorship. Outcry. Controversy.

But I wouldn’t have had to get incarnated in an American body if I hadn’t met that lady. I mean it’s very hard to meditate and live a spiritual life in America. People think you’re a freak if you try to.

I haven’t been posting Duck and Covers lately because my scanner is broken. It used to have trouble, but now it seems completely ka-put. My phone line has been out for days, too, if you’ve been trying to get ahold of me. It keeps saying the line is in use and when I pick it up, the dialtone is replaced by a noise that sounds like someone is on the other line, but has set the phone down for a bit. I’d imagine it generates a perpetual busy-signal to anyone who tries to call. It’s had trouble like that before, where it hangs up on anyone calling in, but with this problem I can’t call out either.

Ray Bradbury and Richard Adams are still alive. They are hoping to turn 90 this year.

Salinger had allegedly promised the release of all his unpublished works upon his death, though it’s unlikely his estate will grant the right of others to hijack Holden Caulfield for use in an examination of what he’d think of being alive at 70. My suspicion was always that he didn’t want someone to write that book because he’d already written it, but that remains to be seen. Unfortunately, it remains to be seen over a devastatingly long period of time to come. Were there any justice in the publishing industry, all 15-20 tomes would be released in quick succession, maybe one a month, a cavalcade of Salinger’s views on the world we’ve lived through for the last half-century. But at their pace, we’ll be lucky to live long enough to read all of Salinger’s already written work. Hell, they haven’t even released The Pale King yet… nor do they plan to for 15 months.

My sister was only a very tiny child then, and she was drinking her milk, and all of a sudden I saw that she was God and the milk was God. I mean, all she was doing was pouring God into God, if you know what I mean.

On January 7, 2010, I sent American Dream On to twenty-two volunteer readers. Five more have since added themselves to the list. As of today (January 29, 2010), only three have finished reading the book. None of them have full-time jobs or are attending school.

On January 27, 2010, Howard Zinn and J.D. Salinger died. Between these two events, President Barack Obama addressed the nation on its State for the first official time in his tenure. He noted that “it’s tempting to look back on these moments and assume that our progress was inevitable – that America was always destined to succeed.” He seemed to be warning against impending calamity. He went on to conclude that “We can do what’s necessary to keep our poll numbers high, and get through the next election instead of doing what’s best for the next generation. But I also know this: If people had made that decision 50 years ago, or 100 years ago, or 200 years ago, we wouldn’t be here tonight. The only reason we are here is because generations of Americans were unafraid to do what was hard; to do what was needed even when success was uncertain; to do what it took to keep the dream of this nation alive for their children and their grandchildren.” His dire tone about America’s future was belied by his eternal affable smile, made somehow more Bushlike by its inappropriateness while trying to empathize with unemployed families or explaining why US soldiers will continue to kill Afghans after a decade of doing so. Bush at least kept the smile to the corners of his mouth, always on the verge of an inappropriate grin. Obama’s grin seems to crest, convincing you that he’s really enjoying himself up there despite the calamity he portends.

Salinger’s reclusion begs the question of why one is writing at all. He insisted that he enjoyed writing for himself, noting notedly in 1974 that “There’s a marvelous peace in not publishing. Publishing is a terrible invasion of my privacy. I like to write. I live to write. But I write just for myself and my own pleasure.” With all appropriate apologies, Jerome, this is phony. You were being a phony when you said this. People who believe that do not write. They sit around and think their own thoughts. And if they do write, if they do find some pathological urge to put their thoughts to paper because they love the artisanship of crafting the idea despite not wanting to share it, they insist their works get burned upon their death. Or they burn them themselves, just to make sure. (You’ll note Kafka, who was not born in the early 1920’s, never did this.) Certainly they do not insist their works are published upon their death. People who do that cannot live with the repercussions of their misunderstanding, Jerome, but they also cannot live without trying to be understood. Without trying to share what they have to share with the world. So I see that. I see you. I see that you could not face the same tribulation and misunderstanding that plagued Catcher, that plagued Holden. But you had to try anyway. You had to try to get out a message, to be understood. Which is what we will wait for, obnoxious greedy publishers’ delay or no.

For example, I have a swimming lesson in about five minutes. I could go downstairs to the pool, and there might not be any water in it. This might be the day they change the water or something. What might happen, though, I might walk to the edge of it, just to have a look at the bottom, for instance, and my sister might come up and sort of push me in. I could fracture my skull and die instantaneously.

In February, Emily will return to classes and I will start writing Good God and the Rutgers team will start debating again and I will buy a new scanner/printer and get my phone fixed and I will turn thirty years old. In February. Which is still three days hence.

J.D. Salinger, Kurt Vonnegut, and Howard Zinn fought in World War II. Richard Adams was in the British Army for the duration of the war, but did not fight in it. Ray Bradbury was writing science fiction stories.

We write to be understood. No matter how hard that is, how long the odds are, how impossible it might seem. His literary agent said “Salinger had remarked that he was in this world but not of it.” It is hard to imagine a more fitting epitaph for this writer, for any writer. But being in creates an obligation, an obligation to try to be understood. He tried. His works will try. The only reason to write, really, is to make contact with other human beings. He was a coward, perhaps, or made a desperate failed attempt not to let personality overshadow works which he wanted to speak for themselves. But he wanted, wants, will want, to be understood.

Halfway down the passage, a stewardess was sitting on a chair outside the galleyway, reading a magazine and smoking a cigarette. Nicholson went down to her, consulted her briefly, thanked her, then took a few additional steps forwardship and opened a heavy metal door that read: TO THE POOL. It opened onto a narrow, uncarpeted staircase. He was little more than halfway down the staircase when he heard an all-piercing, sustained scream – clearly coming from a small, female child. It was highly acoustical, as though it were reverberating within four tiled walls.

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Storey is… Asleep and will return… Soon (Hopefully)

Categories: A Day in the Life, But the Past Isn't Done with Us, If You're Going to San Francisco, Telling Stories, What Dreams May Come, Tags: , , , ,

When I worked at Glide (they update their website now!), I designed this makeshift sign that I manually laminated with contact paper which served the purpose of either the old open/closed signs my Dad used to package with FAX machines when he sold them in the 80’s or whiteboards on college dorm room doors. I made the latter correlation when one of the Administrative Assistants I hired used a whiteboard instead, but she was fresh out of college and the whiteboard thing was far too closely associated with college for me. Not that my makeshift sign looked all that more serious.

I wish I had a picture, but I can’t seem to find one in my archives. I didn’t take all that many pictures at Glide… even though my parents warned me about sufficiently chronicling a workplace, workplaces always seem like the mundanely ordinary in contrast to the extraordinary that’s worth documenting. Anyway, the basic idea was that it was a basic 8.5×11 with the phrase Storey is…, then a little transparent holder, then and will return…, then another transparent holder. And then I had all these fiddly little inserts that I would drop in the transparent slots, such as at Lunch, in a Meeting, Done Today for the top slot, and at noon, at 1:15, at 3:30 for the bottom. Yeah, I actually had them in 15-minute intervals from about 9:00 to 5:00. People really needed to know where I was.

I even made one of these for my super-incompetent boss in the early job, whose incompetence was based in never being reachable. The day he asked me to make one of these for him, my heart leapt with the joy of realizing that he really did care that people knew where he was and I would no longer need my Sherlock Holmes hat whenever someone called regarding his whereabouts. Of course, he used it maybe twice and it kept falling off his door in these sweeping metaphorical gestures about his general findability. Also, it misled a good number of people because he didn’t remove the inserts when he was neglecting it, so it would say he was in a meeting till 3:00 for twelve straight days. Which… was about right.

Anyway, I had a dream just now (I’m apparently sleeping and waking in roughly alternating 4-hour shifts, which I take optimistically as a sign that I do have an infection [ear? sinus?], but my body’s gotten serious about fighting it off) wherein I’d laid out all the little inserts for the sign on the front of the Glide Celebration (which is what they call their “church” services, which are somewhere between a Gospel rock-concert and a race to reference every known human religion) stage for some clearly work-related purpose. Em and I were in the front row, keeping an eye on all these little inserts, some of which weren’t laminated (historically accurate – you try wrapping contact paper around every quarter-hour between 9:00 and 5:00… it gets aggravatingly dull), trying to make sure the ratty little things didn’t blow all over the stage. And then it was time for the sermon and Cecil was preaching and I whispered to Em about how he preaches more often than I’d thought when we went to Celebration that one time and I told her it was very rare to see him preach and he glowers at me from the pulpit and I can’t tell if it’s because I’m whispering as he starts to speak or because I’ve left all these annoying little papers at the front of the stage for some purpose he’s either forgotten or can’t see. And I’m having trouble seeing the purpose myself and am considering cleaning them up, just sweeping them into the disorganized pile they often became themselves when I was switching them out frequently (like, six times a day) and didn’t have time to sort them and they got all disheveled, but I’m pretty sure my rising and doing this will be even more glower-worthy than the status quo and I decide to sit tight and try to enjoy his words and I wake up.

I think a little smidge of this dream may be about missing Glide, although the incumbent stress of the situation seems to belie that interpretation. Maybe I miss the stress that came with those ever-changing inserts, the correlated expectations on my time and energy. As I commented to Em a couple nights ago, going somewhat insane over the dearth of detailed feedback yet received on American Dream On (I get it, everyone’s much busier now with their lives than they were in 2001), I don’t get a lot of confirmation these days that I’m doing a good job. Much has been made of the solitude of the writing process and while I enjoy the aloneness of the creation, I really crave the confirmation (or denial) of others once the process is done. At Glide, three people a day told me I was impacting them in some direct and almost always positive way. When writing, one goes months at a time with no outside feedback whatsoever.

Which I guess is why people like Greg tend to release things serially in chapters. But that makes the process itself far too dependent on others, far more organic and focus groupy than I’m interested in. Besides, I’d just have heard the same overreactions to the difficulty of the subject matter – the “darkness” and “depression” and so forth – in 2002 instead of the last week. Which might have prompted me not to go on at all, or to change the project into something it wasn’t. No thanks.

A small price to pay for doing what one wants, for having freedom over one’s life. Really. But I’m beginning to think the most satisfying part of being picked up by a major publishing house (if/when it happens) would/will be getting a big unadulterated dose of others’ opinions about the work. Just like… y’know, work.

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Purgatory

Categories: A Day in the Life, Telling Stories, Tags: ,

You know how people sometimes say they wish they could hit the pause button on their life and just have some pure, unadulterated downtime? I’ve probably said it before at some point. Let’s see, yeah… here (15 March 2007).

Well the last few days have felt like that. And guess what? It’s not so great.

I mean, the big problem is that I’ve been sick. Not crazy super sick, although as I recently observed to Em, the sickness hasn’t really been tested because I’m not working or running around or really trying to do much of anything. When I had a day job, I would need a lot of energy to get through a day. When debate coaching or writing or playing basketball, I’d need quite a bit of energy. But I’m in this weird stage between vacation and starting the next project, still waiting to get feedback on American Dream On so I can find an agent/publisher for it, totally in limbo. And so I don’t use much energy. So I’m sick, yeah, but I don’t really know how sick.

But it’s been two weeks. Which isn’t a great sign. But it’s now just in my sinuses, which is sort of livable, though not conducive to expending energy. I had a cold and ear problems while in New Mexico, pretty well ruining my physical state during the vacation (though not really ruining the vacation in sum), but since getting back, it’s really just been in the sinuses. I sort of sniffle and blow through the day, then get a little worse at night, eventually decide to sleep and awaken to the sensation that I’m drowning. I then spend a very intense couple morning hours trying to unclog my sinuses to escape that lovely drowning sensation.

And it starts all over.

I’ve been taking Sudafed on and off, sort of experimentally, to discover that it doesn’t really change much. It certainly doesn’t prevent the drowning feeling, which is really the big problem.

In any case, I’m just drifting right now. Without the energy, motivation, or schedule to start a new project, but without enough real sense of freedom, departure from the last project, or wellness to feel free and like I can really enjoy a break or time off.

And then I smashed my toe. I kicked a tiger. Really. Or El Tigre Grande, the solid metal tiger I won for being top speaker at Princeton in 2002. This was about four days ago, I guess, just after I’d sent out the book (or just before?), and I was running into my room and had forgotten that El Tigre’d been moved off the bookshelf in the hallway and onto my floor before we left so people could inspect the damage behind the bookshelf that the movers had left there. It’s a real horseshoenail that lost the kingdom kind of thing, or tiger that broke the toe. Except I’m pretty sure it’s not broken.

If you’re wondering what it looks like, just imagine a left pinky toe that looks like this: my ring finger in April 2008.

I don’t mean to complain, really, because I’m doing pretty well overall. I’m very happy with my novel and the positive feedback is starting to trickle in (along with some expected grumblings about the difficult subject matters). Everything is on schedule and according to plan. Globally, it’s hard to imagine me being happier.

But day-to-day, I’m just sort of slumping along. In limbo. Which is probably why I haven’t been posting, haven’t written any comics yet, why it doesn’t feel like a new year yet.

I’m ready for that year to start. Anytime now. Just let me wake up able to breathe.

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One Dream, Eight Years in the Making

Categories: A Day in the Life, Telling Stories, Tags: ,

I am pleased to announce (this seems to be a big new phrase of mine these days) that drafts of American Dream On are in the (electronic) mail. Check your inboxes.

But seriously, please do. Because your e-mail program may not accept 2 MB PDF’s and you may have assumed you were getting a copy but didn’t tell me that you wanted one. Unlike when I sent out Loosely Based in its second-draft state, I am actually sending it only to people who expressed overt interest instead of just doing a cattle call. But I’m happy to share with friends, so drop a line my way if you’re interested.

It may be a few hours before I get you the copy, though, since I have to sleep. I wasn’t quite intending to stay up till 9:30 in the morning when suffering from sinusitis, but I couldn’t exactly stop halfway once I had it in mind that tonight was the night.

I really have nothing to add beyond expressing gratitude at the life that’s allowed me to focus on this, finally, relief at getting through the insanely extensive editing process, and weariness from continuing to be sick for every day this year so far. And, of course, incredible anticipation at what other people think of the plot I’ve been keeping under wraps for most of the last decade.

I’ll be excited soon.

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Edits Complete – ADO Coming Soon!

Categories: A Day in the Life, From the Road, Pre-Trip Posts, Telling Stories, Tags: , , ,

After a torrid night of typing amidst the rages of what is almost certainly a sinus infection at this point, I am pleased to announce that I have completed constructing the second draft of my second novel, American Dream On.

There are still some very minor inconsistencies to iron-out, a couple last things to fact-check, and a few other small formatting issues that will keep me from sending draft copies to preliminary readers before I leave Albuquerque in four hours. The upshot, however, is that it will take me very little time to complete these last i-dottings and t-crossings, enabling me to send out copies quite soon.

The elation I feel for this is heavily mitigated by my ongoing illness and my predictable sadness at leaving New Mexico. It’s been a great visit, if one of the most sedentary, featuring the revitalizing time with parents and friends that has made coming back to Albuquerque so important every year. This trip in particular has yielded important talks and a deep-seated feeling of family, not to mention ever-winnowing progress toward a readable manuscript of what I have every hope will come to be considered a major work.

2010 seems ready to deliver on the same highs and lows that marked the previous year (see previous post). Today, I’m looking forward to Waffle House, making it through two plane flights with sinuses intact, seeing Philly friends and Pandora, and making it home. Tomorrow, maybe, you should be looking forward to a nice long read.

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Top Nine Highlights and Lowlights for 2009

Categories: A Day in the Life, But the Past Isn't Done with Us, From the Road, If You're Going to San Francisco, Let's Go M's, Summer Sojourn 2009, Telling Stories, The Agony of the Wait is the Agony of Debate, Tags: , , , , , , ,

I’m thinking about compiling one of these for the decade too, but let’s look at what made 2009 great and not so great.

In summation, looking back at this year, it’s been one of those seminal and all-encompassing annums. It’s been a slow and generally joyous year, punctuated with some really lousy events. I think it’s good to look at the good and bad of a year, lest one think that any year, no matter how great or terrible, is all one or the other. Ultimately, however, I have to say that I’d be pretty happy if all the years were like this one.

Let’s start with the lowlights (who knew I could have a happy ending in something I write?!)…
9. In June, we were informed that we would be getting a small (464 square foot) apartment from the housing lottery at Princeton. Emily and I fought about to what extent the preferences I’d asked her not to list on the housing form had determined this decision and the ensuing tension lasted for much of the summer and the early part of our time moving into Princeton. Upside: We ended up being happy with the place and sincerely calling it “cozy” instead of just tiny. Though it will always be Tiny House to us.
8. In August, at the conclusion of a great six-week trip, we moved to New Jersey. We’d come to accomplish many great things in school, debate, and writing, all of which wound up going pretty well. But… New Jersey. Upside: Yeah, we were moving to Jersey for some pretty good reasons.
7. In December, a co-worker of mine from Glide passed away. While he was not my closest friend or someone I’d even contacted since departing Glide, his passing hit me very hard with its suddenness and the loss of such a vibrant, joyous personality. He’d moved me to tears the day I sent out my e-mail announcing my impending departure from Glide, coming down to my office, giving me a hug, tearing up, and saying “I don’t want you to go.” I can’t stop thinking about this scene, how much it meant to me, or how little time he proved to have left. Upside: While one never wants to see an upside in death, it does always get those still living to examine their mortality and priorities, which never hurts.
6. In November, I got tremendously sick, derailing my writing at the time and prompting my parents to cancel a long-anticipated trip to see us on the East Coast. I had extreme trouble breathing and went through a number of inconclusive tests, ultimately requiring simple time and rest to recover. Upside: The illness didn’t derail my novel as I feared it would at the time.
5. In July, we left the Bay Area, possibly never to return long-term. While I felt we’d stagnated a good bit in the Bay and needed a change, the actual departure was tough to swallow and required leaving jobs we’d felt were the best we’d ever had, people we really enjoyed, and an area that seemed more naturally like home than where we’d be going for some time. Plus, there was a lot of packing. Upside: (Most) everything that followed.
4. Over the course of the year, I lost an impressive amount of money in the stock market. I had been up big and got complacent and started losing like crazy. While all of this could theoretically be recouped, I’d started betting against banks right about the time people got irrationally excited about banks again. Granted, I hadn’t risked anything we couldn’t afford to lose and it was all in long-term futures anyway (i.e. money we can’t touch till we’re 65). But it still hurt. Upside: Banks could still collapse.
3. In July, Emily and I were informed that all of our stuff making the cross-country trip to support our life in Jersey had been in a rollover accident outside LA. This proved to be more devastating in the resignation and loss it inspired in us between then and finding that the damage was generally much better than anticipated. Almost all the most sentimental items came through minimally scathed, though we still took some costly losses. Upside: It was a good reminder of the relative insignificance of material goods.
2. In January, Emily and I were informed that her mother had colon cancer. We endured a horrific month of ambiguities and tests and worries. Upside: Not only was the surgery successful, it wiped out the cancer so completely she didn’t even need chemo.
1. In October, Emily and I were in a car accident that could have killed me were it not for a pickup sandwiching itself between a passed-out octogenarian and myself. The Prius sustained 5 digits worth of damage and Emily and I had 4 digits worth of damage assessed by the ER. Upside: We survived the accident.

And now for the highlights
9. In September, Fish and I (accompanied by Madeleine and Emily) saw John K. Samson play “Sounds Familiar.” live.
8 (tie). In November, the same four of us (no John K.) enjoyed a restful and rejuvenating Thanksgiving weekend in Washington DC. It was just what we needed at the time and recharged our batteries to make a last push in the book and the semester.
8 (tie). In March/April, I spent a similar week of restful rejuvenation in LA with Russ, the last of my many trips to his apartment while I was living in the same state. We watched movies, talked about everything, played chess endlessly, beat FIFA on World Class mode with Denmark for the first time ever, and I even won the most money at online poker I’d ever won. It was just what I needed to get through the last 45 days of day job I had left.
7. In March, Emily ran the table on her grad school applications, going a perfect 5-for-5 in schools applied and allowing herself to have the maximum possible options. This culminated in her full-ride to Princeton, freeing up our options as a couple to pursue what we’ve spent most of the decade putting off in terms of personal aspirations and fulfillment.
6. In June, many New Mexican friends and I reunited for Jake’s wedding. We had a fabulous “bachelor party” hiking in the woods above JPL that would later be endangered by fire. Many of us wrapped up the weekend of celebration with a visit to Disneyland and California Adventure that was probably the most efficiently jam-packed such visit of my many to such parks.
5. In May, I watched Randy Johnson pitch what was almost certainly his last game in Seattle, going out to a triumphant standing ovation from an infinitely appreciative fanbase. Though watching him shut down the Angels in the ’95 one-game playoff, let alone his relief appearance in that year’s ALDS, will always be more charged memories, those were witnessed on TV. This was my single greatest live moment of Mariner fandom to date. No less, it was enjoyed from the best seats I’ve ever secured at a Major League Baseball game. This was the highlight of a generally great trip to Seattle.
4. In November, the Rutgers team I’d been coaching for two and a half months enjoyed their first break in almost two years, to quarterfinals at American University, a tournament fielding 90+ teams. After being uncertain of the impact I was making on the team, I finally had confirmation of progress and great reason for optimism about the coming semesters. The team celebrated at a DC diner that night with spirits raised high to the future of the team.
3. In May, I left Glide exactly as I’d hoped to, going out after ten weeks’ notice with a perfect day of meetings including the long-anticipated foray into what would ultimately be the new database solution for Glide’s programs. I could not have scripted a more fitting exit and I finally got to leave something on my own terms, with a great replacement, and with people wanting me to stay.
2. In July, Emily and I departed for a six-week tour of the US, with stops in National Parks and baseball parks, plus plenty of time with friends and family. Highlights from this trip alone could fill this list, so it’s only fair to group the whole trip. Our anniversary dinner at the Wawona in Yosemite, hiking the Grand Canyon, and camping in the Badlands are probably the most lasting memories from this epic journey.
1. In December, I finished writing a novel for the first time in eight and a half years, after working on it for seven and a half. The culmination of everything I’ve hoped to do in the last decade of struggling to write against a backdrop of day-jobs was finally reached, five days ahead of my deadline. I had once again proven to myself that there’s reason to take this writing thing seriously. Just before year’s end, I finished editing the work.

Yeah, like I said, I’d be pleased if every year could be this full of life, decisions in the right direction, survival, and joy. I’ll take ten more like 2009 any time. 2010, care to start with one?

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