Monday, November 26, 2012

Waiting for life in Tucson, Arizona. Part 2

The State of Kansas by Julianna Spallholz, a review

The slim volume came to me by mail. All the way from Vermont too. The State of Kansas ISBN: 978-0-9823594-4-0 available through GenPop Books ( for $16. It's well worth the money, the book is beautifully laid out, the pages and the font are pleasing and comfortable to read. I know to some, a beautifully bound book or a first edition is of paramount importance. GenPop Books have taken extra care in the treatment of their books and have manufactured a handsome volume.

I suspect that short (and very short) fictions of The State of Kansas would be every bit as effective if printed on the inside of gum wrappers or scribbled with dark lipstick on kitchen cabinets. Julianna Spallholz has treated presumably ubiquitous things with such subtle force you must wonder if the bricks that surround us, or the pinstripes a man wears, or say, an ironic mustache might really be involved with the greater depths of daily life. Within the pages of The State of Kansas Spallholz weaves 43 tales, some like “Room” which are just a few sentences long. She has a mastery of story too despite the brevity. As an example “Adult Matters”:

I know that I started it by stomping on your foot but you should not have chased after me with that bright red chair. It was frightening for all the little children who do not understand such adult matters.

This is, as the description of the book implies (very short fictions). We see character, conflict, and a certain level of plot, although much of the beginning and end are implied. As far as description goes, the word generous does not really apply, but consider this: bright and red describing chair and little with children and such for adult matters.

Leaving the very short fictions aside a few larger works round out the book. The title story, “The State of Kansas” can be a nearly textbook definition on how dialogue works in fiction. The entire story is the conversation between a mother and daughter about their ability to name and the placement of states. Longer works like “Billy Glock,” “Thanksgiving” and “A Brief Introduction to Downtown Tucson, Arizona” certainly do showcase Spallholz's prowess as a crafter of fiction. She conjures the mood of Geleano, the compactness of Colette and channels a bit of Cortazar.

The State of Kansas is a must read; it's like sipping cheap beer with an audience of iridescent green bugs. 

Monday, November 19, 2012

Waiting for Life in Tucson, Arizona. Part 1

Enter Julianna and the wellspring of fiction fodder.

I know Julianna Spallholz. Julianna and I shared a summer together many years ago and in a place very far away. We met at the home of mutual friends in May or June of 2005 in the Barrio Viejo in central Tucson. I had come from Denver via the southern half of the United States and she had come from upstate New York via Vermont and Ashville. We hit off. We were the two writers in our circle of musicians, artists and bums and our circle was pretty much everyone in summertime Tucson between the ages of 25 and 55.

One night Ruby and I had been swigging warm gin from a handle of Seagram's I kept in my backpack. The larger group of us had been at the Hotel Congress listening to the blue stylings of Tom Walbank and The Ambassadors. After the Congress closed down, a smaller group of us wandered the streets like the roving pack of maundering miscreants that we were. We headed to the outskirts of the Barrio Viejo to a house party where the bands played just as loud as they had at the club.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Waiting for life in Tucson, Arizona. The preamble.

Enter Doris the cockroach queen of Armory Park.

Here in Portland, Oregon I occasionally see cars driving around in the summer with Arizona license plates. I only see these plates in the summer. This leads me to believe two things: first, these are people who are too scared to remain in Arizona in the summer. And second, they are too soft to remain here in the winter. I like the winter in Portland. I like the winter here because I feel as if I own the place. In the winter, in the rain, in the short gray days and long dark nights, there are very few people on the streets. I am not obligated to give anyone a dollar, a signature or a care. Truth be known, many people come to Portland in the spring and stay through the summer. They fall in love with the place. But those people who come from sunnier climes have a difficult time here in the winter. It's persistent. It's dark. It's wet. And for many people, it's hard. And for whatever reason, I like it. It suits my disposition. After all, I have not been known for my sunny disposition, not now, not ever. I would like to wrap it up with a Generation X anthem, but I'll call it what it is: flawed or not, it's my fabric. To further this rainy season bit, I do not blame someone who lives here all summer only to move to Arizona all winter.

I once lived in Tucson, Arizona. I lived there all summer. I showed up in May and I left at the end of December. I do not advertise this part of my life. I do not like to mention too much of it. The time is quickly approaching a decade ago now. Oddly enough, I value the experience now only in distant retrospect. At the time however, I hated every day of it. The time was summed up with a quickly souring marriage, un(der)employment; excessive heat and excessive spending. It would take years for me to be cured of the ills of Tucson.

Monday, November 5, 2012

The Writer and (the) Work

I spent a few hours with my dear friend Caroline today. I say dear friend, and it is true, she is a dear friend. Generally when I introduce her, I introduce her as my MFBF (mother fuckin' best friend). I don't know exactly how she got this title, but it sticks with her. So today, my MFBF came around for a visit.

We caught up on new times. We talked about work. We talked about family. We talked about the things that adults always seem to talk about. Then our conversation turned to her recent return to college. It seems she's taking a German Language class and a writing class. A writing class? I never seem to get tired of talking about those classes. Janice doesn't seem to get tired of talking about those classes either. Fortunately, and this is always good to hear, my MFBF is doing well in her writing class and enjoying it too.

Then the discussion arises that maybe she will become a writer. I think she should. Oh, I think she should. She says it's a possibility, but just that—a possibility. It seems that writing is still laborious for her. “How do you do it?” she says. “I just do,” I tell her. And that's just it, I just do. What's even funnier about it is that I had spoken to another friend earlier in the day who asked me when I find time to write. I don't know, I just find the time.

As our visit wound down, I put another plug for her decision to become a writer. “It get's easier,” I said. “The more you do, the better it will be,” I said. “It's like anything. You just have to do it,” I said. “Then you can look at my blog,” I said. “I've dropped by your blog,” she said. Well, Caroline, if you're stopping by now, I just told the world that you're my MFBF and that I think you should be a writer.

I've talked about what I think it means to be a writer. I've talked about what means to be a worker. I've talked about being a screenwriter, an editor, and a novelist. But what does it really mean? What does the writer and work -and- the writer and the work mean?

The writer and work is just that. I writer must work, a writer must write. I've said this before. All your writer friends have said this before. Your instructors have said this before. In the case of my buddy Noah who asked when I find time to write, I have no straight answer. I just find the time. Remember it doesn't take all that long to write a page. Write one page a day, stay at it for 25 years and you'll be astounded at what you get. When I say one page a day for 25 years that comes to 9,131.25 pages. I'll venture to guess that I have more than that many pages. I try to write everyday. As of late, I finally have a family, by which I mean a newborn, and writing hours are hard to find. But I find them. I think everyone should.

A different angle to it is the work. When I think of the work, it is just that, the body of work. When I say 25 years of writing, at least for me, I am not far off. I have precious few pieces of my writing that date to 1986. They are not very good, but we all start somewhere. I started to keep a personal diary in 1990. I got heavily into writing sometime in 1993. I could go through dates and milestones which might be boring, so I keep it brief: I have just about everything I've ever written within a fingertip's distance. I will not be able to pour over all the pages I've ever written, not in a sitting, not in a weekend, probably not in a month. I could recall or pull up anything with a moment's notice. I could bring up the pages upon pages of the weird shit I wrote while living in Europe. I could pull up the pages I wrote under Vance Aandahl's tutelage. I have the hot months of Tucson, Arizona, and I have the long rainy nights of Portland, Oregon equally close at hand. I have mountains of poetry (mostly bad), I have highways of screenplays (mostly surrendered); I have hundreds of shorts stories, and I have a dozen novels. What does this mean for me? Well, I have work, I have worked and I have work to do.

As writers we have so many tools and we cannot forget to use them. We have pens and paper; we have typewriters and file cabinets; we have computers and disk space. We can collect words in every conceivable order. We can maintain what we have written and we can work it all over again. In the case of Caroline, she has an entire life of writing to embark upon. I'm excited for that. For me, I may not have all the time I once had, but I do have mountains to sift through. I still have work to do even if it is not the generation of new material. A writer must work.

So, when does it become time to organize all of this work? I have no real answer to that. The time comes, I suppose when it makes sense to give the college essays and travel poetry a looksee. Who knows? Perhaps when it comes to vast depths of a writer's work, well that may be work for another person or another time.