cafenowhere: coffee cup with sugar packets that read WTF (coffee wtf)
I haven't compiled a stats list this elaborate...ever. I've never shared payment info before. I post this information not to brag or bemoan my fortune, but to record for myself how much I've worked on this aspect of writing. Yes, it's been a struggle, but yes, I did accomplish stuff.

Also, as writers, it's really easy to get skewed ideas of how successful (or not) our colleagues are, since most of the time we only see sales or publication announcements, not spreadsheets. So, for the sake of transparency and camaraderie, I'm willing to risk embarrassing myself by putting my numbers out there.

Short fiction submission stats for the year are easy to compile (though depressing to consider), thanks to my account with The Grinder. Short lead times meant that my stories were published in the same year I sold them.

46 47 submissions [edited 12/29/16, because apparently I'm terrible at keeping records]
2 sales
4 subs still pending
$245 earned

Poetry submission stats are harder to produce, since each submission will contain anywhere from 1-4 poems, and obviously I don't send all the same poems to each market.

9 submissions
4 poems sold (2 from single-poem subs)
3 submissions still pending

Of the 6 poems published this year, I believe 3 were accepted last year. One poem accepted this year is slated for publication next year (but I've already been paid for it!). One payment was for a poem published last year.

My 3 nonfiction "subs" were abstracts for a conference and an anthology. One was accepted, the other two rejected. No payment, just glory. ;)
cafenowhere: coffee cup with sugar packets that read WTF (book)
Locked Down, Locked Out: Why Prison Doesn't Work and How We Can Do Better by Maya Schenwar

My Goodreads review, cross-posted.

The first half of this book discusses how the (American) prison system sabotages all the factors known to reduce recidivism rates among ex-inmates: family connections, interpersonal relationships, community engagement, education, and employment.

The author, Maya Schenwar, illustrates with examples from her own family's experience. Her sister was incarcerated multiple times and gave birth in prison. Schenwar explains that inmates are warehoused far from home, sometimes even out of state, making family visits prohibitively expensive or impossible for working-class and poor families, which is the majority of the affected families. If family makes it to the visitor center, long lines and short hours mean some won't get in. Phone call rates are extortionate; calls are monitored and interrupted; call privileges are subject to the whims of wardens and corrections officers. Mail, also monitored and censored, routinely goes "missing." Books are heavily sanctioned and may be taken from inmates for minor infractions. And once released from prison, a person's job prospects are dismal because their skills (if any) are out of date and few employers will accept an ex-con. Thus rather than rehabilitating, the system ensures that people leave prison worse off than they entered it, and therefore more likely to re-offend or fall afoul of parole restrictions.

Meanwhile, structural conditions that predispose people toward crime, such as racism and poverty, are fortified when the prison/legal system "disappears" millions of marginalized people for years or even lifetimes. Though the author is white, she is cognizant of that privilege and readily acknowledges how much worse the odds are for minorities of all kinds. She frequently turns over the bullhorn so those minorities can speak for themselves.

Schenwar doesn't ignore the abuses that inmates suffer from guards and other inmates, but she doesn't spend much time on it, either. This makes the book less upsetting than others in the genre.

The second half of the book focuses on decarceration, what we as individuals can do to dismantle the prison system. She encourages pen-pal programs and activism opportunities, but she also asks us to reconsider our understanding of crime (versus harm, for example) and whether we really need to bring police into situations. She also spends a fair amount of time on models of community-based justice (or transformative justice), with concrete examples of how schools and communities can address harmful behavior and remedy the underlying causes of violence without throwing people away.

This is a practical, personable book that is easy to read. A list of resources gives readers ideas for immediate action, and extensive bibliographic notes pave the way for further research.
cafenowhere: coffee cup with sugar packets that read WTF (book)
Just Finished: A Rope of Thorns by Gemma Files ([ profile] handful_ofdust). As I said in a previous entry, reading this book was 'bout the only thing making me happy, so I stalled to avoid the ending. It turned out, I needn't have worried, because the ending of this, the second book in the Hexslinger trilogy, was pretty happy-making in itself. There's such a density of detail in these books, delivered at such breakneck speed, that one might imagine Gemma writing in a mad-dash to get it all down. But this isn't (only?) a helter-skelter stream-of-consciousness adventure. There's a magnificent level of craftsmanship at work. For example, I had no idea Chess's mother would assume so much importance when she was first introduced, and being surprised like that gives me goosebumps: what other pivot points have I missed? what revelations await in the final book?

Perhaps my favorite line of the book: "Gods sleep within us all, waiting to be prayed alive. And gods can kill other gods."

Currently Reading: Inside Out and Back Again by Thanhha Lai. Tweetie and I are almost finished with this novel in verse about a young girl whose family immigrates from war-torn South Vietnam to America. The girl has a sweet neighbor who is a retired teacher, who agrees to tutor the girl and soon becomes her champion, helping her deal with bullies and her clueless teacher, who presents a very one-sided picture of Vietnam that further alienates the poor kid. Honestly, the neighbor reminds me of my own neighbors, both of whom are retired teachers and unfailingly kind.

For my nonfiction research, I'm still plugging away at The Texas-Mexican Conjunto: History of a Working-Class Music by Manuel Peña. The author gives mini bios of some key artists in the conjunto tradition, and it's interesting to see my hometown region from their point of view. In the 1930s, there were Anglo and "Mexican" schools. Like my grandparents, the musicians who Peña profiles grew up with little formal education. He shares a quote from a (white) school superintendent back then:

"Most of our Mexicans are of the lower class. They transplant onions, harvest them, etc. The less they know about everything else, the better contented they are. You have doubtless heard that ignorance is bliss; it seems that it is so when one has to transplant onions...If a man has very much sense or education either, he is not going to stick to this kind of work. So you see, it is up to the white population to keep the Mexican on his knees in an onion patch...This does not mix well with education."

I think what bothers me--I mean, aside from the paterrnalism, racism, and hypocrisy (he starts by claiming ignorance is best for the "Mexicans", then admits it's really best for the white population to keep the Mexicans in servitude)--is that this attitude comes from someone who made it his life's work to foster education and enlightenment...but only for certain people, which seems anathema to the very notion of enlightenment.
cafenowhere: coffee cup with sugar packets that read WTF (dolores del rio)
All the books in this edition are history oriented nonfic or historical fiction. Not intentional, just happened that way.

Just finished: Border Boom Town: Ciudad Juárez since 1848 by Oscar J. Martínez. I was so excited about this book when I started it. My full review is at Goodreads, but, in short, I came to feel the author minimized certain acts of violence by US "authorities" and thus I lost faith in the accuracy of his account of events.

Currently reading: My read-aloud with Tweetie is Inside Out and Back Again by Thanhha Lai. As [ profile] asakiyume suggested, I probably enjoy it more than Tweetie does. I think she could take or leave it, but she perked up some when the young Vietnamese narrator and her family arrived in the US, with all the culture shock that entails.

For my own pleasure reading, I continue with A Rope of Thorns by [ profile] handful_ofdust. I should've finished it by now, but for a while there, Gemma's book was the only thing making me happy, so I (stupidly) stopped reading in an effort to make it last. Brain, get your shit together, yes?

My current research read is The Texas-Mexican Conjunto: History of a Working Class Music by Manuel H. Peña. The topic is only slantwise related to my novel, so I won't read the whole book, but it's pretty interesting in itself. The thesis is that the conjunto musical style developed among Tejanos post WW2 because of the socioeconomic, racial, and asssimilation pressures particular to that era.

Next up: The university library books I borrowed for novel research are due June 1, so I've got to hustle through Where North Meets South: Cities, Space, and Politics on the United States-Mexico Border by Lawrence A. Herzog (the author's name is familiar to me from my days of polisci copyediting). If I finish A Rope of Thorns, I may start Dark Matter: Reading the Bones, ed. Sheree R. Thomas.
cafenowhere: coffee cup with sugar packets that read WTF (coffee wtf)
Just finished: Hallucinations by Oliver Sacks. Reading this book, I realized what I've loved so much about previous Sacks books I've read. I've never sensed any judgment or disgust from him regarding his patients' symptoms and behaviors, regardless of how bizarre they might have been. In this book, specifically the chapter "Altered States" but also sprinkled throughout the text, Sacks recounts the various hallucinations he himself has experienced, some of them intentionally conjured from experimentation with recreational drugs, others due to his habit of "self-prescribing" drugs as a young doctor, and still others resulting from the contingencies of life. Perhaps it's been first-hand experience that's kept Sacks humble and compassionate.

This is not my favorite of Sacks' books, but it was enlightening, especially his observations on the geometric auras associated with migraines, how they reflect the patterns built into the architecture of our brains' visual systems.

"Perhaps such experiences are at the root of our human obsession with pattern and the fact that geometrical patterns find their ways into our decorative arts....Migraine-like patterns...can be found in Islamic art, in classical and medieval motifs, in Zapotec architecture, in the bark paintings of Aboriginal arists in virtually every culture, going back tens of thousands of years. There seems to have been, throughout human history, a need to externalize and make art from these internal experiences....There is an increasing feeliing among neuroscientists that self-organizing activity in vast populations of visual neurons is a prerequisite of visual perception....Spontaneous self-organization is not restricted to living systems; one may see it in the formation of snow crystals, in the roilings and eddies of turbulent water....[T]he geometrical hallucinations of migraine allow us to experience in ourselves not only a universal of neural functioning but a universal of nature itself."

Now reading: Border Boom Town: Ciudad Juárez since 1848 by Oscar J. Martínez. This book is a researcher's dream come true. Terms defined at the beginning of the book, photos, tables, detailed endnotes, extensive bibliography, critical analysis of sources in that bibliography, well-organized chapters, intros and conclusions. I want to make sweet, sweet love to this book. I know it will be useful for present novel and I will probably turn to it again for a future project. Big score!

Also reading: A Rope of Thorns, Book 2 of the Hexslinger series, by Gemma Files. I laughed at the book's dedication to Files' husband. I cooed over the epigraphs, and then I quick-slipped back into this 'verse I absolutely LOVE. In the wake of the Sacks book, I can't help but marvel over the hallucinogenically elaborate images spilling from the pages. So many awe-inspiring details. The gods and monsters will gobble you up while you stand in slack-jawed wonder at their terrible beauty.
cafenowhere: coffee cup with sugar packets that read WTF (silver teapots)
Currently Reading: I'm finally making progress again with On the Rim of Mexico: Encounters of the Rich and Poor. I left it on a side table the other day and JJ had to move it for some reason, whereupon he exclaimed, "Wow, you're reading the hell out of this book." Because of the number of Post-It notes bristling the pages. (I use one color to indicate a note for the Border Blaster novel and a different color to indicate a general note to self, except for the brief time I lost said Post-It pads and had to sub two other colors, before rediscovering the "lost" pads.) I've gotten past the economic discussion that dragged at me, and the second half of the book covers immigration, la migra, the drug wars, and environmental destruction, which should be easier for me to digest.

Because I needed a bedtime book, I started reading Valley of Bones by Michael Gruber, the second in a series of thrillers starring Cuban-American detective Jimmy Paz. From page one there's the completely immersive level of detail that I admired in the first Paz novel, but some of the characterization is a little too "on the nose" for me, interrupting the dream. I'm interested to see how Gruber handles the sequel-itic difficulties (how much to repeat, to flash back or not, how to work around lost characters).

And, still reading aloud Mouseheart to Tweetie. :)

Just Finished: When My Brother Was an Aztec by Natalie Diaz. This is one of those first collections that you feel hissing on the back of your neck: "Look on me and despair!" I mean, really, who the fuck comes out of the gate looking so good? Some of her brother poems do lose impact from being reprinted alongside stronger ones, but just when I thought I couldn't stand to hear about her tragic, infuriating brother any more, I came to "No More Cake Here," a giddy daydream of celebrating her brother's death with a beautiful twist that both does and doesn't relieve her guilt.

(Also repetitive, when brought together, Diaz's references to Lorca)

The book is divided into three sections (the title poem appears first in an unnumbered section). I'd say section 1 is about reservation life, section 2 about her family and specifically her meth-addicted brother, and section 3 is about the wider world. Section 3 felt weakest to me (which isn't saying a lot, with a writer as strong as Diaz), with several poems I could imagine anyone writing, not only Diaz. But section 3 also had the poems that made me laugh aloud, "Orange Alert" and "A Wild Life Zoo." She really can do it all: make you laugh and cry; shake your fists or shake your head. She wields prose poems, lyrics, narratives, vignettes, formal poetry and free verse, all with enviable skill. I can't wait for her next collection--which, last I read, was tentatively scheduled for this year.
cafenowhere: coffee cup with sugar packets that read WTF (coffee addicted)
I feel like I've done so much, it has to be February already, but I don't want it to be February yet, because then I'd be behind. Hi, my name is Lisa and I have more than two problems.

I just finished reading Easy Street (The Hard Way) by Ron Perlman with Michael Largo. I liked it a lot, but it's not a good book, per se. As I've learned from watching DVD commentaries, there's usually a reason an actor is an actor and not a writer. Perlman is a great storyteller though, and I've always admired his work. My gram watched the nighttime soap Beauty and the Beast, which put him on my radar, and over the years I came to think of him as "the guy who can act through all the makeup." I loved him in Cronos and The City of Lost Children, and I perked up whenever I saw him in some low-budget flick because he classed the place up. I was really glad when his ship (also known as Guillermo del Toro) came in, and the Perl got some well-deserved recognition.

(I enjoyed him in the first few seasons of Sons of Anarchy, too, until the Hamlet redux got lost and I couldn't stand any of the characters anymore. Not coincidentally, Perlman is very brief, and generously discreet I think, about his SOA experiences.)

Though a fan, I had no idea Perlman was married and has two grown children. I'd really love to read his wife's side of the story. She must be amazing. I understand her desire for privacy, but there's next to nothing about how women have affected his life. All his heroes, men. All his mentors, men. All his cohorts, men. Perhaps I shouldn't be surprised, given his macho persona, but in an autobiography, the absence of women echoes.

Nor did I know that Perlman had battled clinical depression or that his older brother was bipolar and committed suicide. This is another reason the book resonated for me as it might not for other readers. As laced with cliche as some of his recovery talk is, there's profundity to the cliche for fellow creatives facing the same battles. And Perlman expresses such deep respect for and joy in the arts, it's hard not to feel buoyed by his encouragements.

In way other news, my read-aloud with Tweetie is Mouseheart by Lisa Fiedler. Fiedler doesn't talk down to her readers, which makes the story delightful on the sentence level. I currently identify so hard with the (thus-far) minor character Pinkie, the protag-mouse's little sister, who has extreme anger issues. Imagine Lilo from Lilo and Stitch, but she uses more teeth.
cafenowhere: coffee cup with sugar packets that read WTF (hansel and gretel)
My read-aloud with Tweetie of The Willoughbys by Lois Lowry continues at a good clip. The characters are not as dastardly as the cover copy would have you think. The parents are comically terrible and die at a distance while the story focuses on the children, who are not so different from most kids, as is proven by their sweetly growing relationship with Nanny. I believe the book is styled after Lemony Snicket's "Unfortunate Events" series, which I've not read, but it reminds me of Roald Dahl. Next up is The Fast and The Furriest by Andy Behrens, which I bought for Tweetie a while back and which is now on the ballot for the Iowa Children's Choice Book Award.

On the adult nonfiction front, I've made only a smidge of progress with On the Rim of Mexico. The "Asymmetry" chapter is easier for me than the Peso one, but I've needed comfort reading this week.

Thus I began and finished Story of the Scene: The Inside Scoop on Famous Moments in Film by Roger Clarke. At only one page of text per scene (although Clarke felt Spartacus warranted 2 scenes), it was a fast read and informative. I'm a movie lover, if not a cinephile, and yet I was learning things throughout the book. I laughed, I "huh!"ed, I scowled. The entries are arranged alphabetically, which was unfortunate, for several reasons but most obviously because it means ending with a James Bond film, You Only Live Twice. There were a few scenes included more because they are iconic scenes than because Clarke provides any new or especially interesting background, but not too many.

Clarke chose a rather "macho" spread of movies, and it's telling which scenes involving women make the cut: Sharon Stone in Basic Instinct, Isabella Rossellini in Blue Velvet, Sissy Spacek in Carrie, Mia Farrow in Rosemary's Baby. Not Sally Field in Norma Rae or Meryl Streep in Silkwood, for example. Though two Marilyn Monroe movies make the list, Clarke writes with such disdain for Monroe that I was irked. ...I think I just talked myself down from the 4 stars I gave this book on Goodreads.

Fictionwise, I've been loving There Is No Lovely End by Patty Templeton. What I like best so far about its depiction of Civil War-era America is that everyone and everything we encounter has a story, a point of view, a personality and desire--even the dead, even the animals, even the houses. And yet the story never feels bogged down in those details. Patty, a wickedly wise puppetmaster, plays a light hand over the myriad strings.

Now I'm thinking that comfort reads must be as various as comfort foods. What are your comfort reads? What kind of books do you turn to when you're feeling sad or sick or overwhelmed?
cafenowhere: coffee cup with sugar packets that read WTF (book)
Tweetie and I finished our read-aloud of Rising Storm by Erin Hunter, and before she could throw another Warriors book on the pile, I quick-whoosh picked up The Willoughbys, written AND illustrated by Lois Lowry. To my chagrin, I have now realized that I mistook this book for The Wolves of Willoughby Chase by Joan Aiken. WOE and ALAS! The Lowry book is not at all bad though, and Tweetie is not complaining or rolling her eyes. It's a slim book, too, so no harm no foul. Or, No farm no howl, as I first typed.

I zipped through Blood Waters by Chaz Brenchley, a collection of short stories that I liked an awful lot. A blurb on the back cover reads, "Like a diamond dropped in a pool of sump oil" and that is accurate. I feel as if I could pick Brenchley's work out of a line-up. He has that distinct a voice. Some storytellers sound good to the ear but don't work on the page. Brenchley has a firm grip on both sides of the craft.

These stories came from Brenchley's time as a crimewriter-in-residence for a public sculpture project. If I had any complaint, it'd be that the overall tone seemed one-note, a bit depressing even for someone like me. But just when I began to think there were no happy endings in Brenchley's world, I came to the concluding novella, "My Cousin's Gratitude." It feels like a creative "remix" of an earlier story, "Pawn Sacrifice", and it contains its share of ugliness--child porn, abuse, neglect, and drug use, for examples. But in "My Cousin's Gratitude," our antihero does an about-face, reclaims his humanity, and foils the really bad guy. If it's not a happy ending, per se, it's at least a triumphant one. It catapulted me out of the book in a good mood, so I look forward to reading more of Brenchley's work!

Online, spurred by a particularly bigoted review, I read "We Are the Cloud" by Sam J. Miller, which is a near-future science fiction story in which young men in the foster care system are used as human beacons to provide a city with wireless access. The main character experiences aphasia as a result of "clouddiving," of opening his mind to the data that's constantly routed through him. The story hit my soft spot for big guys who aren't too good with words, who are seen as threatening even when they are in fact the victims.

I liked that story so much, I clicked on to read Miller's Shirley Jackson award-winning story "57 Reasons for the Slate Quarry Suicides." That horror-fantasy was stylistically marvelous, but I confess, I didn't enjoy it as much because I didn't sympathize with the main character. Normally I don't see that as a requirement, but here the main character tested his power out on animals first, and though no harm comes to the animals and it's all described very circumspectly, I was too squicked out to really trust the character anymore. That combined with Miller's facility at conveying the character's guilt and self-hatred turned me off.

I've now started reading On the Rim of Mexico: Encounters of the Rich and Poor, a collection of nonfiction essays about the US-Mexico border, by Ramón Eduardo Ruiz. The first essay, about the devaluation of the peso and its effects, particularly in the 1980s and '90s, was a little hard for me to follow. It felt like, "you would think the result would be X, and it sort of was X, but it was also anti-X and some Y and Z, too." Economics: not my strong suit. But I've moved on to the next chapter, so we'll see.
cafenowhere: coffee cup with sugar packets that read WTF (hola)
Last night J and I watched John Dies at the End (courtesy of [ profile] handful_ofdust). Originally, I'd planned to read the book, but then I got confused as to whether it was a book or movie, and I ended up with it in my movie queue. Given David's narration in the movie, I think it worked out for the best. I'm not sure I could've handled that voice in my head for long. (Although I was curious about whether the book made David's mother's mental status do more heavy lifting. Feel free to spoil me in the comments!)

That said, I'm unsure what I think of the movie itself. I'll have to watch it again. My first impression is that it wasn't as wacky as it made itself out to be. Also, I don't think it's just my degree in philosophy that made the film's questions about time and space feel sophomoric. David's philosophizing actually made Catholicism sound logical in comparison--which is not meant as a dig at Catholicism, because faith and religious paradoxes, etc. (The Catholic detective had the strongest characterization and some of the best lines in the movie.) As I watched, I kept thinking of Vonnegut and Lynch and Naked Lunch--all tough acts to follow. Or maybe I'm missing something, maybe I'm too old. The munitions factory sequence especially reminded me of Slaughterhouse-Five.

But Clancy Brown! I've loved him since Highlander.


Michael Northen reviewed WisCon Chronicles 7: Shattering Ableist Narratives for Wordgathering: A Journal of Disability Poetry and Literature. Northen pays special attention to essays by s.e. smith, Nisi Shawl ( [ profile] nisi_la ), Kathryn Allan, and Andrea Hairston (who provides a seriously awesome analysis of the movie Source Code). Northen also mentions my essay, "Dead Man Not Walking: Bobby Singer's Paralysis and Repair on Supernatural." Here's my thesis:

One might expect a show revolving around combat to tell its story through a range of handicapped bodies and injured psyches. Instead, Bobby's paraplegia is the only physical disability of a main character on Supernatural. In fact, Bobby's reluctance to "emote" about his disability mirrors the show's reluctance to depict a physically disabled character. Its limited depiction reflects discomfort with highly visible assistive devices, value judgments regarding accommodation, and fears of uselessness and lost identity. Furthermore, the miracle cure Bobby receives at a plot-convenient moment suggests ease of storytelling trumps full participation of the disabled character.

This was a really important essay for me to write because I love Supernatural like whoa, but the whoa is sometimes because the show is deeply flawed in its treatments of race, gender, sexuality, and yes, disability. (In fact, I've outlined another essay about how Bobby's wheelchair storyline is used in the show.) I am deeply grateful to editor JoSelle Vanderhooft ( [ profile] upstart_crow ) for choosing my work for WCC7 and to Michael Northen for the in-depth review.
cafenowhere: coffee cup with sugar packets that read WTF (studying)
Answering the interview questions about Blood in the Streets and Blood in the Works reminded me of some of the research I'd done about architecture. One of my main characters is an architect who has gone from building office plazas to biker bars and battle barricades. I read The Architecture of Happiness by Alain de Botton and really loved his idea that what we look for in a building is what we're looking for from ourselves and our companions, a reassuring but also ambitious kind of psycho-echolocation. (Below, emphasis mine.) 

"Our sensitivity to our surroundings may be traced back to a troubling feature of human psychology: to the way we harbor within us many different selves, not all of which feel equally like 'us'...

"We depend on our surroundings obliquely to embody the moods and ideas we respect and then to remind us of them. We look to our buildings to hold us, like a kind of psychological mold, to a helpful vision of ourselves...

"We need a home in the psychological sense as much as we need one in the physical: to compensate for a vulnerability. We need a refuge to shore up our states of mind, because so much of the world is opposed to our allegiances."

I'm heading out to run errands, so I will just note that my architect struggles to articulate what de Botton encapsulates so elegantly in the second quote. Identity became a huge theme in my second book, specifically that sense of having multiple selves and needing to rein them in to suit your primary goals. And the interplay of structures and allegiances is at work in books 1 and 2, but will be even more important in the final book of the planned trilogy.

cafenowhere: coffee cup with sugar packets that read WTF (chevy)
I don't grok why, but American Poetry Review regularly runs a column on Cars and Culture by Jack DeWitt. I'm not complaining, it's just that there's not always an explicit poetry connection, which baffles me. But hey, I don't begrudge a fellow gearhead and poet. Nice work if you can get it! 

DeWitt's column in the Nov/Dec '11 issue is about rat rods. This is a rat rod.

It's supposed to look like that, rusty and crunky and not quite street legal. See, in kustom kulture, there's a trend of "checkbook" hotrodding, wherein rich people pay other people to build amazing cars for them and then never drive the cars because they're too fucking expensive to risk. Those cars are called Trailer Queens.

In reaction to this bastardization of hot rod culture, there are the traditionalists and the rat rodders. For traditionalists, writes DeWitt, "The historically correct homebuilt rod, even if imperfect, is more interesting...than a perfect show car....[They] are invested in a past, not their own, that is preferable to the present." Below is what may look like a trailer queen but is in fact a working "lead sled" that even tows other cars.

God, it's so fucking juicy I want to die.

But rat rods (a term that I didn't even realize is controversial until I read this article, because I've *never* heard it used disparagingly, which maybe goes to show the company I keep) "completely subvert the fetish of perfection that has been a part of kustom kulture from the beginning...Like the punk movement that has influenced them in many ways, rat rodders intend to shock, disturb, and amuse by celebrating the elemental, the crude, the bizarre, and, above all, the imperfect." Maybe it's like wabi sabi with bite.

The thesis that perhaps rationalizes DeWitt's column in APR is that reviewing "contemporary hot rod practice reveals some important lessons that parallel the history of art movements: the instability of the past, the persistence of art, and the indomitability of capitalism." The same instinct that drives traditionalists to design a retro lifestyle that moves past cars to encompass music, clothing, art, and tattoos also renders it vulnerable to commodification. Trends that have little-to-no basis in history are taking over, rewriting the past, as it were. Add in the creep of economic viability, and the rat rod's rusty edges get filed down, not unlike modern furniture given a "distressed" veneer or, as Forrest Aguirre points out, the slick delivery method of today's steampunk.

Thesis, Antithesis, Synthesis. Synthesis is why we can't have beat-up, tetanus-bearing rusty things running riot on the road a la Mad Max. Synthesis is why

Also, Synthesis might be why there's a Cars and Culture column in APR. ;)

cafenowhere: coffee cup with sugar packets that read WTF (scheming)
Honestly, every issue is amazing, but now is the time to celebrate Issue 8 of the Magazine of Boundary Crossing Poetry. Alongside poems by Sofia Samatar, [ profile] shadesong , [ profile] alankria, [ profile] sovay[ profile] ajodassotithenaiand other marvelously talented folks, you will find my article "A Crack in its Speak: Fantastic Birds in the Gothic Country Lyrics of Jay Munly." Be sure to check out the roundtable interview conducted by [ profile] skogkatt, as well. Participating in the roundtable is always a thrill for me, because I get delicious teasers for the poems before the issue comes out.


cafenowhere: coffee cup with sugar packets that read WTF (studying)
Charlatan: America's Most Dangerous Huckster, the Man Who Pursued Him, and the Age of Flimflam by Pope Brock

Pope Brock's writing style is perfectly suited to this story of the heyday of American hucksterism. Ebullient and seemingly effortless, his account of "Doctor" J.R. Brinkley, who became a millionaire by performing goat-gland transplants in the 1920s, is wide-ranging and in-depth, replete with period slang and so many wonderful words that don't get used nearly often enough. Brock includes an extensive bibliography, endnotes, and an excellent index. I could've used more signposts indicating the exact timeline of events and more parallel conversions of past and current moneys (Brock might state the doctor's monthly salary but then refer to the modern equivalent as an annual salary), but I suspect the fault there is with me, being as numerically challenged as I am.

One of the reasons Brinkley was so successful was that he exploited radio like no one before or perhaps even after. In the 1920s, radio stations were such a new and marvelous medium, few folks could conceive of "polluting the airwaves" with advertising. But Brinkley was the most ambitious of those greedy few, and when the FCC kicked him off American airwaves, he established a border blaster in Mexico that, at one million watts, was the most powerful in the world. So powerful, it invaded phone lines and Canadian radio broadcasts. Brinkley could be heard in Alaska, Finland, and the Java Seas! While peddling his colored water and "rejuvenation" procedures, Brinkley inadvertently changed the music scene, introducing listeners worldwide to country music and Tejano.

Brinkley's bogus promises of endless rejuvenation, although entertaining in themselves, triggered provocative philosophical considerations. People worried about the fate of introspective poetry: What would become of the sonnet if poets weren't sublimating angst over their mortality? Insurance companies fretted over their soon-to-be-defunct actuarial tables: one company even told a client who had a monkey-gland transplant: " are younger today than you were when you signed the contract...In view of this fundamental change we find ourselves obliged to cancel the contract with you."

Brinkley's adversary was Morris Fishbein, quackbuster extraordinaire of the American Medical Association. Brock characterizes their decades-long game of cat 'n' rat with a term used by military strategists, "replication." The idea, new to me, is that over time, great opponents become more and more alike, though neither would ever admit it. I recognize this thesis-antithesis-synthesis process from the Cold War, and from Nietzsche's quote about looking into the abyss. I hope it's not happening to the characters in my WiP. *frets*

The last bit too good not to note is from Brock's epilogue, wherein he demonstrates the similarities between Brinkley and his clients' obsessions with current, equally desperate youth-pursuits:

"In 2001 a form of bovine collagen was blamed for an outbreak of Creutzfeldt-Jakob syndrome, a potentially lethal disorder linked to mad cow disease, yet this did nothing to slow the stampede for fuller lips and smoother skin. 'Most women find the prospect of dying wrinkled a lot worse than the prospect of dying of dementia from collagen.'"

Sticking goat and monkey nuts in *our* nuts? That's insane. But how about injecting our faces with botulism and sticking cow tissue in our wrinkles? 

cafenowhere: coffee cup with sugar packets that read WTF (studying)
The Anatomist: A True Story of Gray's Anatomy by Bill Hayes

From the first line of the prologue, I knew this book was for me: Looking back, I can see how my whole life has led to this: a book about a book about anatomy... 

Like me, the author was an aspiring anatomist who somehow became a writer instead. Only Hayes satisfies his aspirations via career smear: he actually performed dissections when he audited anatomy classes at UCSF as part of his research for this book. (Oddly enough, neither of us seems all that interested in fixing or healing bodies, only taking inventory. I imagined being a coroner, and after his research, Hayes is more curious about evolution than medicine or histology.)

And, like Hayes, I never realized the Gray in Gray's Anatomy was only half of the equation--someone else entirely created the jaw-droppingly gorgeous, innovative illustrations. (Or, perhaps I should say a third of the equation, thereby giving some credit to the cadavers en masse). The illustrator was Henry Vandyke Carter, and by the vagaries of health and history, his life is far better documented than that of his mentor and colleague, Henry Gray.

Amazingly enough, although even laypeople recognize HV Carter's work, he received a pitiful payment for his painstaking efforts. Whereas Gray received 150 pounds for every thousand copies of the book sold, Carter accepted a one-time payment of 150 pounds, period. His acceptance of this arrangement (negotiated with the publisher, not his colleague) reflected an incredible obliviousness to his own genius. The son of a watercolor artist, Carter never thought himself an artist per se, because his subjects were scientific and his mode realistic (or as I like to think of it, "more human than human"). Nor did he perceive himself as equal to Gray. He vowed never to undertake another project on the scale of Gray's Anatomy unless again guided by a "leading mind" like Gray. Carter denigrated himself for "analyzing life on too small a scale."

As one who has often kicked herself for the same fault, I found Hayes' spin on Carter's near-sightedness quite comforting:

"What he meant as a putdown...I see as his great gift. Carter's ability to focus on the small, to break things down, to mentally dissect--the same ability that made him so miserable on personal inspection--is what made him such a precise anatomical artist and such a natural researcher. This man who so firmly believed 'I can't' is no a pioneer, the first scientist to apply modern the investigation of tropical diseases."

Aside from the subject, which I find as fascinating as Hayes does, the writing itself is superb. Early on, Hayes notes that the encyclopedias on his family's bookshelf are as straight-spined and orderly as the cadets lined up in a West Point photo nearby. Such parallels are nestled, Easter egg-like, throughout the text, thus emphasizing the reflexive nature of this book about a book, and of the study of anatomy itself.

Although obsessed with his subject, Hayes' voice is never subsumed by the minutia of historical research. He writes about his own past, without sounding at all self-involved. He writes about his present: visiting the inner sanctums of various Special Collections, exploring with his partner the streets and buildings that the Henrys walked, dissecting cadavers, meeting students and instructors of anatomy, and examining his own body in light of his new knowledge. He also writes a bit about the future: trends in anatomy curricula and his classmates' career paths.

Most affectingly, Hayes writes of his desire to abridge his story about Carter. He'd like to end on a high, happy note, but his scrupulously completist nature won't allow that. Likewise, Hayes' personal story takes a heartbreaking turn that he could've (and understandably) omitted from the book, but he doesn't. He gives it to us straight. And with a grace as illuminating as Carter's illustrations, Hayes' epilogue relieves the tragedy, giving the reader a sense of peace rather than grief.


cafenowhere: coffee cup with sugar packets that read WTF (studying)
Last week I watched Conan the Barbarian, Skyline, and Chrysalis. None of them would I recommend. I will note, however, that Conan was the first movie in a loooong time that squicked me hard enough I instinctively closed my eyes and turned from the screen. That, and I'm always amazed to see a horse get punched, which happens a couple times in Conan. Jason Momoa was the only thing right in that movie, otherwise. (Sorry, Ron Pearlman. I love you, but...)

This weekend I finished reading Black Coffee Blues by Henry Rollins. Extremely uneven book. The first section, "124 Worlds," started off interestingly enough but devolved to the point where all the worlds sounded the same, populated by the same three or four people, none of whom can speak about cops without using the term pigs and none of whom I wanted to spend much time with. Still, Rollins has a good eye and delivers many a sparkly gem, like this one from #26:

"A broken nose is a many splendored thing. This guy's face just exploded. It was like a rainbow--but all the colors were red."

And from #101: "The diamonds of his mind had been stolen by unseen hands. All things had turned to brass and tin."

Also, he speaks truth. From #77: "What the fuck is it about laundromats? When you go in there with your mate, you always come out of there in some kind of seething argument. Happened to me every time. It was easier to sneak out with the clothes and do the damn wash alone and not deal with all the petty bullshit. You could go in there at any time of the week and there would be a couple in there staring furiously at magazines, or watching the dryer like television. Hating each other's guts. I'd rather live alone."

The travelogue section, "Black Coffee Blues," was more interesting to me, partly because of his honest reactions to other countries and the people he encounters, both natives and fellow (tourist) Americans. The isolation also elicits honesties like this one:  "I don't work well up-close. I am abusive and I don't know when it starts or where it comes from." 

"61 Dreams" was excellent, reading like a set of surreal flash fiction pieces. My only quibble was that Rollins's relentless use of pigs to mean cops meant that Dream #2 made me laugh, until I realized that no, a hog was not making a pass at Rollins.

The book ends with the brilliant "I Know You," which is available as a spoken word piece on youtube. This version is decent, although the music annoys me (just because it doesn't need to be there) and there are errors in the text:

cafenowhere: coffee cup with sugar packets that read WTF (book)
I read about 32 books this year. It's hard to keep track, with all the co-reading I do with Tweetie.

Looking over the list, I suppose it was a bad year for nonfiction. With the exception of A Mind Apart by Susanne Antonetta, I don't have a lot of fond feelings for the book-length nonfic I read.

Adult fiction was better. Trick of the Light by Rob Thurman made me happy, and The Devil's Alphabet by Daryl Gregory has stayed with me. Zoo City by Lauren Buekes and Robopocalypse by Daniel Wilson were also sturdy reads.

But this year, it was really MG and YA fic that thrilled me. The Mouse and His Child by Russell Hoban entertained our entire family, and I can easily see re-reading it every couple of years. Shipbreaker by Paolo Bacigalupi was an enormously ambitious adventure, with a rich cast of characters I cared about. Playground by 50 Cent was surprisingly effective and a lightning-fast read that I've already passed on to a friend.

But my favorite book this year, hands down, any category, was The Boy at the End of the World by Greg van Eekhout. Meaningful action, inventive future, amusing and engaging characters, thoughtful commentary, and quite satisfying for the whole family. J read it on my recommendation, then he and Tweetie started reading it for bedtime, then while we were on vacation, Tweetie begged to be able to read it on her own on the iPad because the suspense was killing her, then once she'd finished it, I zoomed through it, and then I bought a copy for my niece and nephew for the holiday. Suffice to say, I want everyone to read it.

Tweetie's favorite book, ftr, is whatever she's just finished. :D

cafenowhere: coffee cup with sugar packets that read WTF (studying)
I mistyped the subject line, so it originally said "Stone Telling 6 Is Love." That works, too. :)

This issue, science and science fiction themed, includes my review of Mary Alexandra Agner's poetry collection The Scientific Method, available from Parallel Press

cafenowhere: coffee cup with sugar packets that read WTF (hola)

As part of today's research, I googled "types of noses." In 1852, George Jabet attempted to exhaustively catalogue the various kinds of human noses with Notes on Noses. Jabet lists seven types of noses: Roman/aquiline, Greek, Greco-Roman, Cogitative, Jewish, Snub and Celestial. (Celestial!) Obviously, Jabet's study was limited, not just in the way of examples, as he acknowledges in his preface, but also by his racial/ethnic obliviousness. Still, the book is fascinating and often amusing, with illos and geometry. So far my favorite part is the chapter titled "How to Get a Cogitative Nose."

"It is a great and prevalent mistake to imagine that a Cogitative mind (and Nose) is to be acquired by reading alone. It is almost certain that, as books multiply, Cogitative Minds decrease, for how is a man to think, if all his thinking is done for him?"

Modern readers might wonder, for that matter, how women might ever acquire such a sought-after nose. (Snip, snip!)

More recently (2011), Professor Abraham Tamir wrote in the Journal of Craniofacial Surgery that there are actually 14 types of noses. The snub, the Duchess (e.g., Kate Middleton),  the fleshy, the hawk, the Mirren, Greek, aquiliine, Roman, Rumpole, celestial, Lenin, Redknapp, Nixon, and the Tara. I confess an attraction to the Greek and aquiline noses on men. But this catalog also suffers from glaring omissions, and worse, perpetuates the same kind of personality predictions Jabet offered over a century ago.

My nose is, I think, snub. According to Simon Brown, author of The Secrets of Face Reading, "People with this type of nose are often quick-witted and more street-wise than your average person. They react quickly — sometimes too quickly, which can sometimes lead to aggression." Which, except for the temper part, is all wrong. I have the reactions of a turtle and the street smarts of an armadillo.

How about you? What kind of nose do you have? What kinds of noses do you find attractive on other people? What, if anything, do you think noses "mean"?


cafenowhere: coffee cup with sugar packets that read WTF (book)
A Mind Apart, Travels in a Neurodiverse World by Susanne Antonetta

I'd heard of autistics who embrace their neuroatypical traits and refuse to think of autism as an illness, but I'd not realized some folks with bipolar disorder feel similarly about their atypical traits: p. 89 [quoting from an online forum] "I choose not to look at bipolar as an illness at all. In fact, I couldn't imagine myself as not being bipolar, nor would I want to be. The bipolar is a strong component of who I am, and I do not wish to be anyone else but me."

I've spoken to friends about how/when to disclose our illnesses to new people in our lives. One friend advocates secrecy until the new person gets to know and love us. I prefer to tell early and often. Part of our disagreement has to do with preconceptions about certain illnesses--that is, folks might be sympathetic to someone with depression, but flee from someone with dissociative identity disorder. But also, I've recently decided my illness is so much a part of me, that it's akin to withholding the info that I'm brown or a woman. If a person cannot cope with my skin color or heritage, then there's really no basis for communion. Likewise, if a person's going to bolt because I'm depressed, then better to get them gone before the going gets rough. Whereas some of my friends insist they are not defined by their illness, thus the disclosure should be a moot point.

So I suppose I've come around to the quoted sentiment. My depression is currently a huge part of who I am, even though I medicate and wouldn't discontinue medication without clear evidence of change in self or situation. That said, it's hard for me to imagine choosing my default neurochemistry, if I could instead be "typical."

p. 76 "Art by manic-depressives pulls hard at the neurotypical human soul: Vincent van Gogh, Sylvia Plath, Georgia O'Keeffe, Blake, Rossini--ironically, the artists people are least likely to find incomprehensible. It may be that the hyberbole of this disease...leaves a clearer imprint when displayed artistically..."

I think it's more likely that it's easier to appreciate someone's insights when one doesn't also have to cope with the day-to-day eccentricities (or disabilities) of the artist. A case of good fences (in time and/or space) making good neighbors. When fences are insufficient, the typicals tribe is apt to ship off the oddballs:

p. 106 "...some European countries began...turning their mentally ill over to boatmen, who promised to take them a certain distance away and sometimes carried a ship's worth of such cargo....Often the ships' purpose was simply removal, but they also took the mad on pilgrimages to holy sites with cures specifically for the mind...Of course, uncured lunatics didn't sail back to their homes, so villages like Gheel ended up forming colonies of the insane...the mad needed to be distanced but also purified, baptized almost."

Beyond the friction inherent between tribes, Antonetta also considers problems of consciousness more generally:

p. 226 "...our present lasts about two to fifteen seconds, according to Merlin Donald and other consciousness theorists..." 
p. 232 [quoting Donald] "How could a person stitch together a meaningfully conscious existence from an endless series of two- to fifteen-second samples of experience?"

Persistence of identity despite impermanence of consciousness is the same problem considered in the movie Memento, which I loved. (and btw, director Christopher Nolan has come a long way, hasn't he? in terms of commercial success if not depth) 

I'd heard good things about this book for a long time. I'm glad I finally got around to it.



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