TBR in the Time of Coronavirus

There’s a piece in Alomar’s collection THE TEETH OF THE COMB & OTHER STORIES called “Psychological Barrier” that pretty much encapsules a good 60% of what I talk about in therapy.

Anyway, I recommend the collection!

The other thing I picked up, based on that episode of The Ezra Klein Show I mentioned last week, Jane McAlevey’s NO SHORTCUTS: ORGANIZING FOR POWER IN THE NEW GILDED AGE.

Because dayjob aside, there’s time now… right…?

via GIPHY

David Lehman Reading

Went to a reading at the local indie bookstore Thursday night by poet, writer, and critic David Lehman, whose work I knew mainly through a couple of poetry anthologies. GREAT AMERICAN PROSE POEMS is a book I return to regularly every year or so. But I couldn’t find my copy for him to sign (waaah!).

I’d only heard about the event on Monday, which was shock number one. Shock number two was that I never knew he had an Ithaca connection. Shock number three was his new book ONE HUNDRED AUTOBIOGRAPHIES which, as you can probably glean of the types of things I like reading, is right up my alley. I picked up the ebook and read what I could before Thursday night.

The book is made up of writing he did as he underwent cancer treatment. In this way, its form reminds me of Harvey Pekar’s OUR CANCER YEAR. Interestingly, Pekar’s wife Joyce Brabner was a collaborator, much as Lehman’s partner Stacey Lehman-Harwood was with AUTOBIOGRAPHIES. I was only to about the 12th or 13th section by the reading, but I got a kick out of hearing a legend read out loud what I’d just read a few nights before.

#Weeknotes S02 E05

Unlike Anderson .Paak, I’ve never had The Best Teef in the Game. I had a minor dental emergency this week. Parts of a back molar around a filling I’ve had since I was a child started falling off. No pain or anything, but it did bring me to a dentist for the first time in, well, a long while. I’ll have to go back in a couple of weeks, but in all likelihood it’s just due to the inevitable bone loss that comes with age. No cavities! (I generally don’t get cavities, not since I had those fillings when I was a child.)

The tooth will likely have to be extracted. If it does, I’m going to ask to keep it as a shank. Maybe tie it to the end of a pole, like a spear.

Oh well, at least my back is doing better!

I’ve been tapped to be part of a task force at work that I really can’t talk about. Not “I’d tell you but I’d have to kill you” top secret, but I’d rather not be another angle someone looking for more information thinks they might be able (inappropriately) pursue. That’ll make my next week interesting.

WRITING PROGRESS
Longest Writing Chain This Week: 2 days, but 4 days overall!

Not really a lot of a lot of progress on revisions for Short Story 01, but I’ve worked a lot developing a couple of fresh ideas. Better than being stuck, I guess.

ROTTING MY BRAIN
I wanted to like the film 1917, I really did. Just wasn’t for me, though. I didn’t really glean anything that I hadn’t already seen in BLACKADDER GOES FOURTH, the DOCTOR WHO episodes “Human Nature”/”Family of Blood”, and series two of DOWNTON ABBEY.

Caught up a little bit more with THE EXPANSE. I’m 3 episodes away from Season 3. I’m still a little taken aback at the show’s plot scope and intricacy!

FEEDING MY HEAD
Kit Reed’s STORY FIRST: THE WRITER AS INSIDER is, in the first three chapters, a pretty succinct distillation of the sort of writing truths that most other writing books tend to start talking about halfway in. I’d only ever met Kit Reed in passing before she left us, but I did see her do a few convention panels. So I can actually hear her voice in my mind as I read…

I should say at the outset that if any of you are going to make it in show biz, that is, if any of you are going to write fiction that pleases anybody besides yourself and possibly your most doting relative, you are going to have to develop the habit of rewriting.

So yes, stuff I’ve seen before (i.e. rewriting) with nuggets that are new-to-me sprinkled in (i.e. writing as show biz).

THOUGHT OF THE WEEK

(Okay, maybe having Crumb actually would open one up to demonic possession….)

IN THE WILD
Fjallraven Kanken No. 2 backpack I love it when retail therapy dovetails with actual, practical need. I decided I needed a lighter load to carry on days when I have chiropractic appointments after work. It wouldn’t be bad if I had a car, but I’m a bus/walking person, which you can be in the town I live in.

I still needed a smaller, lighter back for my Ultraportable EDC-In-Exile but slightly bigger than the STM bag I was using, that was simple enough that I don’t leave essentials behind when I need my full loadout, yet something that would still be kind to my back while I’m going to a chiropractor twice a week.

I’ve had my eye on this particular Fjällräven Kånken No. 2 bag for awhile, and decided I had nothing to lose by trying it out. It’s been a week and so far it fits the bill completely. I’m still not giving up my Filson, though!

Quickie Review // DEAR AMERICA: NOTES OF AN UNDOCUMENTED CITIZEN by Jose Antonio Vargas

It’s interesting–and perhaps a little narcissistic?–to think I see parts of my story, and the stories of other Filipino immigrants and children of immigrants I know, even the ones who didn’t go through what Vargas is experiencing now. The themes Vargas uses to categorize his experiences living, in his words, as an undocumented citizen in the U.S. are: Lying, Passing, and Hiding. I look at some of my family’s and others’ stories of adapting to life in these United States (not only the ones who were tago ng tago, but them too), and see those there elements in them, as well.

Surely this was unintentional, but Vargas’s book caused me to wonder if there are rites of passages that Filipino immigrants and/or their children must go through. Or rather, are fated to go through. Odd looks for bringing a lunch to school that wasn’t PB&J? Fucking up the rules of an American sport on the first go-round? Confusion about how everything is “Black and White,” when you saw how some Filipinos and other Brown folks talked stuff about both?

Other parts of Vargas’s story that I can’t relate to directly still had some resonance with my life, but the ones that didn’t had value as well. Vargas offers some education to anyone not familiar with immigration issues. The book certainly filled some gaps in my own knowledge. Vargas spells out why undocumented immigrants can’t “just get legal,” and has numbers on how much undocumented immigrants give, rather than take, economically. He illustrates how the Black struggle, and Black literature especially, informed his own thinking on the dynamics of White power and privilege that affected his life. And he draws a pretty straight line about how Asians benefited from a foundation in the 1964 Civil Rights Act, through the 1965 Voting Rights Act and up to the 1965 Immigration and Nationality Act. That knowledge, that history alone is worth the cover price.

Backlog Catch-Up // “Knock” by Fredric Brown

Hi, I’m Don and I have a problem — I can’t stop accumulating short story collections and anthologies. A few, I actually finish. Some I start and never get around to finishing. Others sit gathering dust. So I’ve decided that once a week I’m going to blindly pull a book from my pile, read one story, and talk about it.

This is a day late and I’m cheating a bit this week because this pick isn’t all that random.

From my list of Items From the Nerd Canon I’ve Missed But Dread Admitting Lest I Lose My Nerd Credentials, this classic short story I haven’t gotten around to reading before now, despite having owned FROM THESE ASHES for quite awhile.

This piece is renowned for having one of the shortest stories in sci-fi. You’ve probably seen this reference before…

The last man on Earth sat alone in a room. There was a knock on the door…

With the way it’s been presented out of context sometimes, you’d think that was the entire story. What follows after this quote is, for the time in which it was written (1948), a short subversive tale about a scientist avenging the planet Earth in the aftermath of an alien invasion. Subversive because Brown knows all the questions you’ll ask yourself at the start – What does “last man on Earth” mean? Where’s the emphasis, on last or on man? – and he toys with them. Subversive because Brown takes some jabs at some Golden Age of Sci-Fi tropes. This isn’t the story of a stereotypical pulp scientist action hero smashing the aliens with technical ingenuity and  inevitably getting the last woman on earth in the end. It’s about a quiet, homely brainiac who wins with his brainiac knowledge combined with psychological manipulation, and leaves it entirely to the last woman on earth to make the choice to repopulate the planet with him… you know, or not… whatever…

And in that case, maybe it’s not all that subversive at least by today’s standards. But I would still call it an early baby step toward progress.

Backlog Catch-Up // “Riya’s Foundling” by Algis Budrys

Hi, I’m Don and I have a problem — I can’t stop accumulating short story collections and anthologies. A few, I actually finish. Some I start and never get around to finishing. Others sit gathering dust. So I’ve decided that once a week I’m going to blindly pull a book from my pile, read one story, and talk about it.

Judith Merril, the editor of this anthology, employs Fredric Brown (one of my personal favorites) to introduce it by posing questions about the qualities which define “human.” Merril divides the stories into three sections. The first section — which contains Budrys’s story — juxtaposes humans against extra-terrestrials.

A lonely little boy with dimension-folding and other powers, transports himself to the dimension of a lonely female with powers of her own and whose nature is pitted against the boy’s desire to return home. And as the reader tries to parse the strange details and qualities of both characters and of each of their worlds, one doesn’t immediately expect to be confronted with such an array of heart-tugging, almost heartbreaking, emotions in such a small space as this story occupies.

Maybe my next reach into my reading backlog shouldn’t be so random — I know I have some more Merril (i.e. her writing), Brown, and Budrys around here somewhere…

Backlog Catch-Up // “Free Dirt” by Charles Beaumont

Hi, I’m Don and I have a problem — I can’t stop accumulating short story collections and anthologies. A few, I actually finish. Some I start and never get around to finishing. Others sit gathering dust. So I’ve decided that once a week I’m going to blindly pull a book from my pile, read one story, and talk about it.

“Free Dirt” by Charles Beaumont
From THE HUNGER AND OTHER STORIES (1959, Bantam)

This is the story of one Mr. Aorta — See, already that sounds like the beginning of a Rod Serling TWILIGHT ZONE intro, which is fitting given Beaumont’s relationship to that show as well as the tone of this piece. First published in F&SF in 1957, it’s a cautionary tale of a lazy man’s petty dreams of avarice coming true thanks to some magic dirt. The wonder of Beaumont’s writing is that while you know Mr. Aorta is headed for a not-so-happy ending, Beaumont’s dreams go a step beyond what you expect.

Quickie Review: THE DEAD MOUNTAINEER’S INN

The Dead Mountaineer's Inn: One More Last Rite for the Detective GenreThe Dead Mountaineer’s Inn: One More Last Rite for the Detective Genre by Arkady Strugatsky
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I got this book as a gift and I was happy to get it; my reading of Soviet era science fiction has been nonexistent. This book is now my new standard for judging the “genre mashups” I read from now on. The book really is everything that Jeff VanderMeer promises it is in his introduction. It’s all here: shades of mystery, hints of the occult, and a bit of science fiction (some of which brought R.A. Lafferty to mind). A little surrealism and magical realism too, but with a twist. I loved how the Brothers Strugatsky almost always had a rational narrative explanation… which the reader is free to accept or reject.

There’s so much delicious meta in the book, too. In one scene, the main character breaks into a fellow guest’s room thinking, “I did this just like a hero in a spy thriller would have — I didn’t know how else to do it.” Meta is the book’s mission statement, in a way. It’s theme is how “The unknown makes us think — it makes our blood run a little quicker and gives rise to various delightful trains of thought. It beckons, it promises. It’s like a fire flickering in the depths of the night.” And, it’s a warning that, “You’re following the most natural roads, and for that reason you’ve ended up in unnatural places.” It’s elements like these, and the timelessness of the story’s setting that allows this 1970 novel to age well.

View all my reviews

The Mind of a Chef; Writing; Reading

THE MIND OF A CHEF. Been watching a lot of this show over the past few months, not on Netflix, but on my local PBS station. The thing I like about The Mind of a Chef is how the episodes – mini-documentaries, really – are generally so well done that I find myself investing in the lives of these various chefs, who I might not otherwise care that much about if they weren’t swaggering around the world on semi-drunken, binge-eating travelogue shows.

WRITING. Taking a cue from Warren Ellis’s newsletter, I’m going to talk about my current works in progress by giving them code names. Not because of any contractual obligations about confidentiality, but because I’m superstitious. I’ve always felt that talking too much about what I’m writing takes away some of the urgency to write it. It’s just possible that I’m just so lazy that I’ll look for any excuse. Either way, I’m going to make more of an effort because I’ve been told lately that people like knowing what writers are working on. And so…

  • PROJECT RUST: An essay for an anthology series I’m trying to crack into. It’s about 800 words about a certain sanctuary in my hometown. Gonna give it another pass or two and send it in.
  • PROJECT FLOSS: Novel that’s currently in index cards, hidden under a blanket on a table in my lab. The toes, chest, and nose are poking through. Gonna have to suck it up, switch the Jacob’s Ladder back on, and make it walk.
  • PROJECT FIELD: A short story I’m wrestling with from an idea that won’t go away. Just as well because my problem has always been follow-through. It’s been on the back burner, but I just saw a call for a story anthology for which this piece could work.


READING. Just finished Rust Belt Chic: The Cleveland Anthology from Belt Publishing, because Cleveland Rocks. It’s a little frustrating though that I’m going through about 10 books simultaneously, and this one I picked up and devoured this essay collection in three days flat. Will probably read Car Bombs to Cookie Plates: The Youngstown Anthology next because it has pieces from, among others, Ed “Al Bundy” O’Neill and Christopher Barzak. And then I really need to get back to my reading queue before I start Gabrielle Hamilton’s memoir Blood, Bones & Butter: the Inadvertent Education of a Reluctant Chef, but it’s tempting, since it’s her episodes currently showing on The Mind of a Chef.

And so turns the circle…

World Fantasy Convention 2015; Borgesian Philippines; What I’m Reading

WORLD FANTASY CONVENTION 2015. Took a hop northeast from Ithaca to Saratoga Springs last weekend, despite the Piss Poor Harassment Policy kerfuffle. Managed to not only keep my running streak of being on WFC programming (3 for 3), but I actually appeared on two panels: “Real World Nomenclature, Taboos, and Cultural Meaning” (There’s a pretty good summary here.) and “Bibliofantasies.” Or, as I call it, “Bibliofantasies 2: Electric Bugaloo” since I was also on a panel of the same name at WFC 2012. After all, how the fuck else I could I sit on a panel with Michael Dirda, John Clute, Robert Eldridge, Paul Di Filippo, and Gary Wolfe? The socializing, always the best part of any con, was more targeted now that I’ve been at enough of these things not to fanboy over everybody in the room, and to instead spend the time with people – old and new friends – that I want to spend time with. Okay fine, I finally got to meet Jeffrey Ford and squee about what a big fan I am. Happy?

Not a hoax. Not a dream sequence.

BORGESIAN PHILIPPINES. Missed a talk by Gina Apostol, author of the upcoming novel William McKinley’s World on the Philippine-American War. In it, she makes the disturbing observation about how hard it was to find first-person Filipino voices in records of the period, and where she did find it “…occurring mainly in captured documents within military records, the Filipino voice being a text within a text, mediated, annotated, and translated by her enemy.” There’s a bittersweet Romantic tragedy about how this mediated story of the Philippines casts it as a place that’s as fantastic as Borges’ Tlön. This is relevant to a project in progress….

WHAT I’M READING. My personally inscribed copy of Mary Rickert’s collection You Have Never Been Here, worth the cover price for the single previously unpublished story “The Shipbuilder.” Pieces of The Best American Travel Writing 2015 edited by Andrew McCarthy, for another project in progress, Laszlo Bock’s Work Rules!, and when I can, Felicia Day’s You’re Never Weird on the Internet (Almost). Yes, that’s an awful lot of nonfiction, I know. What’s your point?