The Week That Was, or Emptiness, Eagles, and Snow

While finishing the last week of the 2018 academic year, the family got some form of stomach virus that started last week. Since that cleared up, we’ve been able to do some much needed cleaning and organizing. We’re also planning our next academic year.

The youngest got her cast cut off and she is healing. The worst part of the ordeal (besides the smell–she dutifully peed into her cast the first night she had it) was the sore she gave herself by packing mulch into her cast. She hasn’t explained why she put the mulch in the cast, and sometimes there is no real answer. Maybe because it was there.

Tonight we were discussing different astrological systems at dinner and finding out which of us are dogs, snakes, sharks, dragons, etc. When told we were water bearers, the kids began chanting:

Water Bear! Water Bear!
Polar Bear! Polar Bear!
Woo-oop! Woo-oop!
Poolar Bear! Poolar Bear!

*repeat*

Screen Shot 2018-05-27 at 3.45.09 PMThe Phantom (1931) is a giant, wonderful mess of an attempt at a horror-comedy/action film. I tend to adore this kind of z-grade schlock and I want to like this one less than I do. I can’t say anything is done well here, but I still had fun. The plot revolves around a character called “The Phantom” who escapes from jail and promises more dastardly deeds. Sure. The plot is more confusing than the poster, which I think has a lovely balance to it–unlike the film.

The movie could partially be saved with a good edit. Scenes start early or end too late rendering the performances–not stellar to begin with–almost surreal. Every emotion becomes awkward humor or just awkward.

Still, I found it oddly charming.

Screen Shot 2018-05-27 at 4.25.00 PMLilli Carré is one of my favorite comics writers and artists. Her stories, sometimes dark, sometimes absurd, sometimes neither, may remind one of O. Henry, Aimee Bender, Flannery O’Connor, Mark Beyer, or Edward Gorey.  And whether or not these folks were actual influences, Carré is a unique and inspiring voice. I’m often terrible about keeping up with comics and the comics creators I like–I just discovered that she’s done some animated films that I’m excited to track down.

Screen Shot 2018-05-27 at 4.38.28 PM
Paolo Bacilieri’s FUN: Spies, Puzzle Solvers, and a Century of Crosswords is a graphic novel that tells the history of the crossword. But it’s not that simple or straightforward. The crossword history is told as a work in progress by a writer named Pippo Quester, who I think is an homage to Umberto Ecco.

The art is fantastic, and the way the art and story inform and extend each other gives the story immediate and multiple pleasures. The book holds up on multiple reads. I was shocked at how many negative reviews this one got on Goodreads. Many of the complaints were that it should be at least two different books. I totally disagree. Quester is the vertical plane of the crossword. He is known for his intelligence. This book is also partially about his fall. Zeno Porno (a Disney cartoonist!) is the horizontal. He’s down-to-earth, moving through life, trying to figure out his life. I keep thinking of Mafalda as the face staring out of the first crossword in The Settimana Enigmistica. She is an enigma in the book. There’s also a way where I read the three characters as representations of three different generations.

I loved this book.

Screen Shot 2018-05-27 at 5.00.43 PMMy workouts tend to be scored by either Public Enemy and older Ice Cube records or Slayer, Entombed, or other metal variations. I was scrolling through music the other day before cardio and I saw this and figured I’d give it a shot. The only thing I knew (or thought I knew) about the record was that it must not be that good because we always had 10 to 20 copies in the used bin of the record store I worked at for several years. The album art, well, just kinda sucks and I figured the rest of the thing must suck, too.

We all have our blindspots.

I didn’t recognize the opener, “Highway Star,” at first because I don’t think I’ve ever heard the actual song. I’ve heard covers, clips, and a radio edit. It’s a fantastic rock song. I found it funny that it’s a hyperbolic “girls and cars” song like a lot of the early material by the Beach Boys. I found a German TV appearance that has some great solos and a hilariously drunk or forgetful Ian Gillan. Maybe he’s improvising, but if so, it’s not very inspired.

This record also has “Smoke on the Water,” a tune off limits when I was growing up and playing music. It immediately signaled you were uncool and a beginner. I’ve never heard this song played or phrased correctly. I realized this when I finally listened to the actual song and not someone trying to play the riff. Also, the song namechecks, of all things, Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention. What?! I had to stop and rewind the song and  then realized it was about the Montreux fire. It was the last thing I expected in such a ubiquitous song.

Much of the record is a kind of blues rock that’s fine for what it is. I love the organ riffs and solos. There are some fun lyrics like “Maybe I’m a Leo, but I ain’t a lion.” I really like “Pictures of Home,” which is a type of ubi sunt, or “Where are they?” poem.

Back to that cover: I will say that I thought the album was contemporary in the ’90s, so maybe that’s saying something. I assumed it was a compilation or best-of thing. But still, that cover’s so bad. Did it look trippy in ’72 or something? I don’t get it. I just imagine the doors closing on the worst elevator ride ever.

 

Mid-Year Reading

Over the last few years, I’ve posted mega-lists of works I’m either just starting to chew on or digesting. I’ve tried to write about this more frequently this year. I decided I’d also do a set of mid-year lists of favorites so far.

General Favorites 2017–So Far

Books that left traces.

Fiction

Einstein’s Dreams: Alan Lightman
Hamlet
: William Shakespeare
Labyrinths
: Jorge Luis Borges
Marigold
: Troy James Weaver
The Marriage Plot
: Jeffrey Eugenides
My Antonia
: Willa Cather
Oliver Twist
: Charles Dickens
One Hundred Years of Solitude
: Gabriel Garcia Marquez
The Pickwick Papers
: Charles Dickens
The Street of Crocodiles and Other Stories
: Bruno Schulz
Too Loud a Solitude
: Bohumil Hrabal
The Underground Railroad
: Colson Whitehead
Visions:
Troy James Weaver
Witchita Stories
: Troy James Weaver

 

Nonfiction

Auto/Biography
The Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man
: James Weldon Johnson
Jim Henson: The Biography
: Brian Jay Jones
Long Quiet Highway: Waking Up in America
: Natalie Goldberg

Psychology/Philosophy/Education
Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business
: Neil Postman
Beyond Freedom and Dignity
: BF Skinner
Embedded Formative Assessment:
Dylan Wiliam
The Myth of Sisyphus and Other Essays
: Albert Camus
Practicing Peace in Times of War
: Pema Chödrön
The Story of Philosophy
: Will Durant
The Teenage Brain: A Neuroscientist’s Survival Guide to Raising Adolescents and Young Adults
: Frances E. Jensen
A Whole New Mind: Dan Pink

Essays/Criticism
Blood, Bread, and Poetry: Selected Essays, 1979-1985
: Adrienne Rich
Changing My Mind: Occasional Essays:
Zadie Smith

Film
The Conversations: Walter Murch and the Art of Editing Film: Michael Ondaatje
Halloween (Devil’s Advocates):
Murray J.D. Leeder
Men, Women, and Chainsaws: Gender in the Modern Horror Film
: Carol J. Clover

 

Art/Comics

The Best American Comics 2014
The Cage:
Martin Vaughn-James
Crumb’s Heroes of Blues, Jazz & Country
Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic:
Alison Bechdel
Paper Girls, Vol 1
: Brian K. Vaughn, Cliff Chiang, Matthew Wilson
Paul in the Country
: Michel Rabagliati
Set to Sea:
Drew Weing
The Worst Breakfast:
China Miéville and Zak Smith

 

Poetry

All the Poems: Muriel Spark
Dark City
: Charles Bernstein
Magic City Gospel
: Ashley M. Jones
Off Message
: Joel Brouwer
Selected Poems, 1954-1986
: Tomas Tranströmer
Short Talks: Brick Books Classics I
: Anne Carson
The White Stones
: J. H. Prynne
A Woman of Property
: Robyn Schiff

Catch the Spirit, Catch the Quinn

You can read Quinn’s post here.

Check out The Laboratory #4!

Reading

V.
After finishing War and Peace, I felt I had enough time to finish another longish novel before school begins. While teaching, I read shorter novels because my reading is interrupted so much by work. So far, V. is what you expect from a Pynchon novel: a large cast of characters, urban legends, songs, conspiratorial murmurings, shadowy and not-so-shadowy government agencies, funny character names, multiple narratives, etc.

I’m thinking next summer’s big read will be Infinite Jest.

Narrative Discourse: An Essay in Method
Genette’s major work of narratology. Jason and I are both interested in literary theory and this fits with our concept of The Laboratory. It’s dense, but I find Genette’s terms useful, especially splitting apart the different meanings we have for “narrative.” Particularly interesting, and rather dense on first read, is his shorthand for representing narrative in a novel including side-narratives, flashbacks, and other fluctuations of narrative time.

Between this and the podcast, I find myself reading in a different way these days. I’m reading more like a writer and looking at how texts are constructed. I’ve also found that this is affecting my writing in general.

Watching

In the summer, I watch more movies than I should. Lately, to balance the reading of books like The English Patient and War and Peace, I’ve been watching a lot of trash, euro-trash, and exploitation films. Too many to name here, but I’ll say Fascination (1979), Death Bed (1977), and Blood Freak (1972) are particular favorites. Some reviewers feel extreme hatred for those last two, but I found them a lot of fun in their own way. I’ve also been watching some art film to balance some of the trash:

Son of the White Mare (1981)
Not only one of the best animated films I’ve ever seen, but one of the best films period. The story is based on a kind of Hungarian Beowulf epic. The use of color here is fantastic and intense. This movie makes me want to make things better. Click the title above to get to a version on YouTube. Thanks to Derek Ballard for introducing me to this one.

Shana Moulton
I’m still processing her work. It’s slightly disturbing and hilarious and brilliant at the same time. The films I’ve seen are mostly out of the Whispering Pines series in which Moulton’s character Cynthia pursues self-improvement through versions of New Age and mundane medicine. You can see her work by following links at her webpage.

Carolee Schneemann
Out of several films I’ve watched by her, my favorites so far have been Fuses (1967) and Plumb Line (1968-1972). Fuses is described as a meditation on heteroerotic love. Not for kids and NSFW. Plumb Line is about the decay of a relationship and probably the most experimental listed. Films are scratched, burned, reversed, etc. I would love to see these in a theater or museum. Maybe I can talk my cinematographer friend with a projector to screen these one night.

Listening

With the exception of Parmegiani’s Violostries, I’ve been listening to movie soundtracks. Sometimes while writing, sometimes not. Generally, I’ll try to listen to an hour of music at the end of the day if I have time. I’ve been playing and replaying:

Assault on Precinct 13: John Carpenter
Lost Themes:
John Carpenter
Lucifer Rising:
Bobby BeauSoleil

I recently discovered Stelvio Cipriani’s score work. Listening to what I can find. I think I love Carpenter’s film music more every time I listen to it.

Writing & Submitting

Ghoulanoids #2 is fully drafted. Derek and I consult and discuss and re-write the whole time he draws it, so our final draft is the issue when it comes out. There should be multiple toys with this release and we’ll have bigger news in the Ghoulanoids world soon. I’ve got at least three more issues heavily outlined and partially scripted and the overall story outline in skeleton form.

We’ve heard from the publisher that issue one is now being shipped all over the US. If you pre-ordered, it should be on its way within a week or two. Copies will be available at Quimby’s and Floating World and some other places. Drippy Bones will be updating their site shortly and you will be able to order from them as well.

Derek and I have another book to deliver this year unrelated to Ghoulanoids. I’ve outlined the story and scripted most of it. There’s still quite a bit of work to do on it.

I’m almost ready to begin submitting poetry and flash fiction again. I just need to set out some time to edit and make some files and submit. Sounds easy, but it’s a whole job in itself.

I need to work on Lab #4’s exercise.

 

 

 

 

Wherein I play catch-up to the Quinn again.

You can read Quinn’s post here.

Reading

War and Peace
My big summer reading project. This is the third start as I’ve had to set it aside for teaching duties. I’m close to finishing (Book 11 of 15, plus two epilogues). Slowly I’ve been catching up on the great Russian literature I’ve missed. Epic, but you knew that.

The Zend Avesta, Part II: The Sirozahs, Yasts and Nyayis
One of my reading projects involves religious, spiritual, and mythological writings. The Zend Avesta is a collection of Zoroastrian texts. I find this interesting, though I know many would find it dull.

I’m catching up on a few magazines I haven’t been able to read: Poetry, Paris Review, my free Harper’s subscription. One day I’ll get to read that one year of McSweeney’s Quarterly I have. One day.

Watching
One of the first things that gets cut in my day is viewing time. When I was in Austin and had some downtime I watched It Follows (2015), which I enjoyed. I thought the film used interesting metaphors to capture the fear and anxiety of teenagers dealing with sexuality. I’ve really liked the poster art I’ve seen for the film, mostly throwbacks to VHS box art. Other than that, I watched Re-Animator (1985) for maybe the 20th time.

I have seen Tinker Bell and the Legend of the NeverBeast (2015) about seven times with my oldest daughter. It’s actually watchable and touching. Other than that I’ve only been able to process a few episodes of season four of Bob’s Burgers.

Listening
My listening has been more confined than my viewing. On Monday, I recorded an upright bass track for a friend’s solo album that’s coming out later in the year. I had to listen to the song and practice since I haven’t played bass in 3 years. My left hand would work for about 15 minutes. I used to do 4-hour bluegrass gigs.

Anyway, the song is great and I just hope I didn’t mess it up. We did 3 takes, all usable, but each got better, I believe. My intonation was probably the best on the third take.

I’ve been doing frequent pre-bath/book/bedtime dance parties with the kids. Our main groove source has been Stop Making Sense by Talking Heads with a little James Brown thrown in.

Writing and Submitting
The first issue of Ghoulanoids is out! It premiered in Austin at the New South Festival. I stayed with a friend I hadn’t seen in 23 years and it was like we never had down time. I’ve rarely felt that welcome anywhere. Cheers, mi hermano!

If you pre-ordered from Secret Prison, then you should get your comic soon. They should also be available for order through our publisher Drippy Bone.

Ghoulanoids #2 is written. Just needs some tightening and editing. I believe Derek’s even started drawing some pages for it. We have another book (unrelated to Ghoulanoids) coming out in early 2016(?). I have the story outlined, but I’ve got to go back and do detail work.

Derek and I worked really hard from last summer into winter to very little avail. We had a lot of stuff “in meetings.” It was production hell. Then we were excited because we were editorial favorites to re-do the new Madballs comic. Unfortunately, some of the trademark holders refused to let us work on it. After those disappointments, it’s nice to have work flowing and being completed again.

Check out the toys from Dolphin Wizard! We’ll have other collectable toy announcements soon.

I also need to work on my piece for the next Laboratory podcast. See my last post for info on that.

Random Thoughts
Even though I’m with my kids almost every night, I do enjoy the time that opens up in the summer. I’ve been able to cook more for my family. I get to try new things in the summer, instead of simply worrying about the practicality of getting food in bellies. I even have freestyled a few desserts based on fruit we’ve needed to use.

I also take on a few educational projects outside of working on my classes. Every year, I get more into grammar and grammar theories and try to diagram more and more difficult sentences. It’s oddly fun. Studying math has been, too. I’ve been using Khan Academy to study math, history, and computer programming. The first two subjects are weaknesses of mine. The last is something I’ve been playing with on a whim.

Thanks for reading! Happy summer!

Poe’s Hoaxes: “The Facts In the Case of M. Valdemar” Assignment

Poe invented or re-envisioned several genres including horror, detective, and science fiction (Poe possibly supplied Jules Verne the idea for all those hot air balloon fictions!). While not discussed as much, he was also a purveyor of the hoax. Our story for this assignment, “The Facts In the Case of M. Valdemar,” is one of Poe’s famous hoaxes that grew out of the country’s interest in the interstices between life and death that were said to be traveled in séances and in mesmerism.

Let’s look at some of the ways he “facts” his fiction:

The title tells us that this is a “case,” not a story and that we will be reading “facts.” Contrast this to a story called “The Tell-Tale Heart,” for example.

The first paragraph tells us that this story had to be released because the public has been bombarded with “a garbled or exaggerated account.” So we now know why it is “necessary” that the narrator “give the facts.” He doesn’t want us disturbed by the false versions of this “extraordinary case.” He wishes to simply set the record straight.

Later, we find out that Valdemar is an editor and author who uses pen names. We get several titles of books that are a mixture of real and imagined ones. And, of course, something like the “Bibliotheca Forensica” sounds important, right? (We are entering the realm of some of Poe’s humor, as well, with some of the book titles and description of Valdemar. He has black hair and white whiskers—he’s between “light” and “dark”—“life” and “death.”)

We also get a note from Valdemar later. I’ve always found it an interesting technique when an author includes notes, letters, quotes, etc. from other works—existing or non-existing. It can help an author achieve a kind of realism or verisimilitude because it hints at an intertextual world, a world rich with perspectives; it hints at an “archive.”

Notice the details that lend the story believability: “five minutes of eight”; “his breathing was stertorous and at intervals of half a minute”; and the use of vocabulary such as “aorta” and “ichor.”

OUR ASSIGNMENT:
Introduce and/or discuss your own hoax. Make something incredible completely credible in a minimum of 500 words. You can be serious (Giant squids are the real cause of the “Bermuda Triangle”—they need boats and planes for Undersea Trench Tetris, of course) or silly (Rainbows are made of multicolored unicorns and squishy pandas). I will be posting mine soon.

You can also read more about Poe’s hoaxes here: http://www.museumofhoaxes.com/poe.html