Every Journal I’ve Kept Since 1986

Not including blogs. I think there’s a literary journal (book reviews) floating around the basement somewhere too. I also, briefly, kept one during the months leading up to my son’s birth and a few months after. They’re consistent (daily) from about 1995 on, I think. If I’ve met you face-to-face or through zines sometime in the last 24 years, you’re probably mentioned in here. How about that?

A longer meditation on this is required. Not tonight though.

“And as He Folded the Paper, He Would Caress and Palpitate It to Orgasm…”

Eyugggh. I don’t know what’s worse: Zell’s blinkered, cost-cutting measures (right though he is about the inevitability of electronic papers, he’s only doing this because he can shave off a few more dollars and tie in with the iPad rather than imagining the democratic and artistic possibilities of all-electronic dissemination) or the inevitable batch of paper fetishist op-ed columns that will emerge as a result. If I read one more orgiastic memory of a grandfather carefully folding his newspaper as he reads it over coffee one Sunday morning, I’m going to hurl.

In Honor of Bloomsday…

A bit from my recent article for the Baffler.

75. Ulysses, James Joyce

Strolling the streets of Zurich on a beautiful day, homburg hat set at a rakish angle, tapping along with his walking stick, Joyce is astonished as I walk up and, without warning, snap a right jab into his good eye. He leans forward in pain, and I cup my hands and slap both ears. Howling now, Joyce becomes a man possessed, swinging wildly with his cane. I bob and weave then deliver a quick snap-kick to his groin. He buckles, and I follow it with a backhanded tolchock to the chin and a leg sweep, sending him crashing to the pavement. Unlike reading Finnegans Wake, it is over quickly. I take Joyce’s homburg as a trophy, jauntily wearing it as I walk off, his groans receding in the distance.

My Sickness

A friend asked how I’d write a horror story for a pre-teen that would take the edge off his growing “too cool for spooky stories” attitude.

“How about a story about a pig that turns into a  ghost?”

“Yeah?” he said.

“And it rapes people to death.”

Dead silence, followed by my other friend Seth’s LOUD declaration, “THAT’S NOT FUNNY!”

Of course it isn’t. But I’d like to see any smart-ass kid come back from that one.

Pure Sex

New pocket Moleskines, in an all-new color… RED—appropriately, the color of notebook lust. While I love my journal-size Moleskines, these pocket versions are mighty handy for quick notes. With their soft cardboard covers, they fit very comfortably in my front pants pocket. And while they grow softer and more frayed and wrinkled over time, they remain intact. No metal spirals to snag my clothes either. Believe me, all this makes a difference if you need to carry a notebook with any regularity. Yes, there’s nothing innately superior about Moleskines this size, but… I just like them. The paper feels great and they’re so beautifully visually stripped-down. And I love that red. I can’t wait to fill out my latest notebook so I can start using these.

My First National Exposure: An Auspicious Start

Sent to me by my friend Kathy, who is plundering her personal archives. From The Nose… July 1994. Edited down from a longer piece (I was told that it was “too literary” and needed to be tacked back a bit, which is fine, because The Nose wasn’t Harper’s). Oh, so much has changed since then. And so little.

The article generated hate mail—amusingly I was vilified by both racists (“Asian bastard” was how the writer described the man below) and worried parents who never read “A Modest Proposal” and thought I was encouraging dog-munching. I’ve never TRIED to generate hate mail, by the way, yet I’ve gotten my share. Debate over the propriety or morality of an article has always struck me as peculiar. Some folks have trouble separating the signifier from the signified, I suppose. Writers who struggle to be controversial are idiots. Personally, I like my parents, and I stopped rebelling against them when… well, I never really did rebel against them. They generally left me alone to do my thing, man. Of course, I didn’t tell them EVERYTHING I did. Détente.


Geek to the Core




Seriously, what more could I say? I really captured the essence of the story. Obviously, I was destined to be a writer.

Now, what the teacher didn’t know was that this was a Fotonovel. I was a terrible, terrible student back in grade school. I made the “C” honor roll one year. Really. I wasn’t stupid, I was lazy. I’m keeping my eye on Nate.

Tough Crannies

American Goshic

There’s a style of  writing that I call “cheesecake writing.” I don’t mean that in the pin-up sense. I’m describing works that serve up tasty but ultimately pouffy and empty verbiage. It’s pretty, it tastes sweet, but it’s porous, mushy, and fits the shape of the pan you poured the mixture into. I can’t stand it. I find it suffocatingly precious and insincere. The goal is to sound like Truman Capote, but it inevitably turns into Erma Bombek at her squishiest.

It starts with someone standing on a porch, looking across the farm as the sun sets, large and orange. The person squints, their face is lined and craggy, they wear unpressed flannel shirts and have rough calloused hands stained with the red clay of the land. Their land, and their father’s land, and his father’s land before them. Vintage automobiles roar by on the nearby road, cherry red, blasting Buddy Holly. wait, maybe they’re not vintage cars. Nah, they’re army vehicles. Yeah, jeeps coughing black smoke and growling like green tigers, carrying the boys to boot camp, or… something else?

Some large wooden or metal object stands nearby, weatherbeaten, painted, stained, and nicked with a thousand cuts from the labor of honest working men and women, or perhaps studded with a hundred staples. It bears a flier with the virginal face of the prom queen. She’s been missing five days since she first descended into the mines with a pick-axe, canary, and a satchel of dreams. Someone stands vigil with a candle nearby, while an elderly woman scoops up and plops mac and cheese onto steel trays, aside a steamy piece of apple goddamn pie. Incidentally, there’s a hound dog fingering a well-worn Bible, and he smokes a pipe and hasn’t worked for two years. He wants to work. But the hound dog jobs went away one day, and he fears a chihuahua has taken his place at the hound dog plant, which sits silent and grey.

“I guess things will never be the same again,” said the craggy guy from paragraph one. He spits out a brown loogie of chewing tobacco on the stove, where it hisses like angry jumping beans. “But then, I guess they never were.”

I could do this all day.

It might seem confusing or even contradictory for a writer to decry descriptive writing. I’m not doing that. What I can’t stand is reality massaged into a predictable narrative I’ve been reading for years now. See, this reporter walks into a bar, right? Though it might be a barber or beauty shop. And he interviews the saltiest of the salt of the earth types he can find (who are willing to speak with him), looking for pull quotes and amusing little digressions and side conversations he can mold into his cheesecake. Let me stress that: stories that read like this (to my mind) sound like the story didn’t develop organically; the facts were merely inserted into a template that forced the events into a narrative. The journalist tells the story they want to tell, not the story as it happened.