Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Being More Effective, Split the time up between activities: new material, submission of work, networking, etc.

In my mind, it's still the late months of 2000. It's late 2000 and people are bitching about Florida fucking up the election. It's late 2000 and there are a few people lamenting the fact that the world did not end at the onset of the new year. It's the year 2000, and there is a real reason why I'm there in my mind.

It's also the searing hot summer of Tucson, Arizona, 2005. The heat of the summer is oppressive, especially in Tucson. The heat waves will obscure the city even if you're a few blocks away from it. It's hot, yes, but you're still outside because smoking cigarettes is more of a comfort than the air conditioning. It's so hot that the asphalt melts under your feet. It's hot enough that you could, should you feel inclined, cook food on the steel rails of the 32nd parallel line. It's hot, 2005 in Tucson, Arizona and there is a reason why I'm there in my mind.

It's 2009. I'm a recent graduate of the Goddard College MFA program. It's 2009 and I have just quit my job as a restaurant manager and I've just sold my house. It's 2009 and I'm suddenly homeless, jobless and writing for the cartoons. It's 2009 and I'm still stuck there a little bit too, just like 2000 and 2005.

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Being More Effective, The Writer's Plan

I have always been an incessant list maker. I think it must be because I have enjoyed crossing things off the list. I don't altogether know where this started, but it has been my experience for most of my life. I think the list can go either one of two ways when you write one down. The first way is the impossible list and the second is the “see I told you I got shit done” list.

With the first list, the impossible list, the tasks never seem to end. This list is a list of big chores that seem to mount up to a lifetime sentence of things to do. On this list: 1) write a novel, 2) find an agent, 3) procure the film rights, 4) pay off student loans. This list, I suspect, will be the constant reminder of what a failure the life of a writer truly can be.

On the second list, the list maker will add at least three or four items that are already completed: 1) clean house, 2) organize desk, 3) update computer software, 4) start writing novel. With this list, it's easy to get the first three items done and the fourth, well, we got three of the four done.

Friday, December 16, 2016

Being More Effective, the preamble

It's a vast amount of hours gone. It happens very slowly, or it seems to. What happens is this: it's dark here very early in the evening now, and it stays dark all night. It's quiet, or relatively, where I live. Almost all my memories over the entire course of my life have happened at night. I have never liked the morning, I've liked the afternoon only slightly more. I am a pasty and pale dude. And when the night comes on, the world stills, the place quiets and my entire family goes to bed. Then, I am alone. This is all I want, all I want all day long is the peace and quiet and to be alone. These hours are vast, and they go by fast. I have all night.

In my youth, and I suspect everyone can say this, I became a different person at night. The rake came out, or at least the hedonist. Again, the world is quiet at night and so this sort of behavior is reserved for the few night dwellers. For many years of my life I would not write at night, I would not read at night. No, night was, for well over twenty years, reserved for gaining experiences. Many of my experiences I have fictionalized in most of my short stories and some of my novels. I think all writers do this. During these years of nightlife, I wrote, read, worked, studied, and otherwise did what I had to do during the day. I have been a morning writer for most of my life. I mean, during the morning I am resentful and peevish, so I should spend my time writing.

Sunday, November 20, 2016

November Conclusions Part 3: (pre)Occupations

I finished my manuscript (pre)Occupations today. This is generally a real cause for celebration. And anyone who knows me, knows that I love celebrations. Or rather, I like to drink, especially after completion of a project.

What I hoped to do with this project was to think about Longmont, the town where I live, in a different way. I both love and loath this town. I love it because this is home and this is where I live. I love my people here. I don't like the place because the two most dominate cultures here are the weed culture and the frackers. Either way, I don't get it. I just wanted to write a group of larger (5,000 word) short stories set here in Longmont. I chose to write each one about a character who has a specific job, or occupation. In a big way, I started to look around and see daily life here as very magical. Although it will always be hard to overlook the weed people and the kill 'em all, frack! Frack! Frack!, I did see my town for what it really is, Anytown, USA. Even the people on the streets captured my imagination.

Thursday, November 10, 2016

November Conclusions Part 2: A Scout is Brave

It was about this time last year when Janice and I were at the Cafe Luna in Longmont. I want to like this little coffeehouse because it reminds me of all the little coffeehouses in both Northwest Portland and in New Orleans in the old days when I lived in both of those towns. It's funny though, I don't like the place. Too loud. The clientele are Jerry Garcia impersonators. It's not dirty enough to seem cool and it isn't clean enough by today's standards. It does have a few big south facing windows and a small room of books. It was one of those mornings, late November, Janice and I started to talk about blogs and how a blog can be good for a writer.

Not to belabor my feelings for the blog and the writer, let me just say that we started a blog in that moment. In that moment, we were two aging Gen Xers in a sea of fearful Baby Boomer banter. While all the other patrons were talking about foreign invaders and terrorists, Janice and I posted a blog entry complete with The Dead Milkmen.

Thursday, November 3, 2016

November Conclusions Part 1: The Buchanan Book of the Dead

So, two dudes walk into a bar... Last night, my buddy Stefan and I decided to get a drink. The world, or at least our neighborhood seemed very dead. Yes, it's November, the nights come on early and it seemed much later than it was. Come on? Where was everybody? We landed up in a bar a few blocks away, and suddenly it all made sense. It was the seventh game of the World Series, and there were a great many people inside watching it. We sat at the bar, ordered gin and watched the game too.

This is not really a conversation about baseball. And it's not really a conversation about two dudes in a bar. What it is, really, is about the screen—in this case the television screen—we were watching. I don't have a TV at home. I never have. It is not a matter of me thinking I'm too good for it. The truth is, I don't do well with TV. The images move too fast, the volume changes too much, and fuck you and your advertising. I just feel sort of overstimulated and somewhat seasick. Consequently, I just don't watch TV. Last night, being a little different, I stared into the screen with my slack jaw like everyone else. I couldn't wait to leave which is just what we did when it was over.

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Writing October, The Conclusion

It feels almost like summer today. The sun is right on top of us here in Colorado's Front Range. This is the whole reason why people are moving here, well, that and the weed. It hardly feels like the close of October at all.

The light is bright white too. The wind of the last few days have stripped all the trees in my little town and that only makes the sun even brighter. I don't know how I feel about it. The naked trees have helped me to see certain aspects of the neighborhood and the town that I did not see when things we obscured by the modest foliage of summer.

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Writing October, Part 3: Janice's Notions of Transitions

The days have been really stunning here. Here it is, the end of October, the days are warm almost summer like and I still have tomatoes growing in my garden. The nights are cool, but they are not even hinting of winter despite the snow capped mountains just a few miles away from us. I've been doing my best to see each day for each day filled with its own light, uniqueness and flavor. I'm doing my best to enjoy October.

Janice loves October. We were talking about how we differ in our favorite months. I like February, but that is perhaps another story for another time. Janice loves October because she believes it is the most transitional month of the year. I brought up October 2010 to her recently. That was a great month, October 2010. We moved out of a cockroach laden apartment in Denver's Capitol Hill on September 30. We moved in with our dear friend Jana (another Umbrella Factory Worker) on Denver's west side. On November 1, 2010, we left. Denver and Colorado vanished in the rear view mirror as we pushed west then north to Oregon. Yeah, October 2010 was a transition, as Janice said. Her claim, of course, is that all Octobers (at least for us on Colorado's Front Range) are transitional. On a small level, this may be true.

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Writing October, Part 2: Death and Imaginary Friends

The rain fell for most of the night last night. A cold rain, but then, here in Colorado it's always a cold rain no matter what the month. There was some sort of government, city wide alarm that woke me up just after four this morning. Just after four in the morning, this used to be bedtime, but things have changed. I listened to old recordings, Syd Barrett and Nick Drake. I covered up in the bed and awaited what would happen.

It's now, or very nearly, mid-October. The leaves are changing and in my little town, it's pretty. I try to see the beauty, which is oftentimes just the colorful leaves on the trees. I have to overlook the brown and gray leaves which have fallen and are clogging up the gutters and making oily water pools above the rusted storm grates.

Thursday, October 6, 2016

Writing October. Part one: reflections on Octobers past

These first few days of October have been beautiful here. The days are warm, the sun is on its rapid decent to the south. The air at night is cool, crispy and dry, like one might expect in Northern Colorado. The air smells like drying leaves, which I kind of like. In a way, the nights in October bring me back to very simple times, at least the simple times in my life. I think about the first year I was back in Colorado after the war, 1992. I seem to remember all of those days and nothing specifically at all. I think about a few years later, perhaps 1993 or 1994, or 1995, when my dear friend Mendy and I wandered around the old neighborhood of Capitol Hill and talked life. It is the old neighborhood for me, and for Mendy, the old neighborhood is gone, and the neighborhood where she lives now is 25 years older...or the case of modern Denver, 25 years new. It's October now, 2016, and I haven't liked October for years.

I find the process of life to be tremendously interesting. I mean, I normally don't like summertime, but I was excited about summer this year because I couldn't wait to get the garden going or to catch crawfish in the creek with my son. We did get a few crawfish, but all summer my garden suffered under the heat and searing sun. Oddly enough, the first week of October has found my garden looking the healthiest it has all year.

Thursday, September 29, 2016

Coming to Terms, Part 4: I'm not the writer I used to be.

The light here in Northern Colorado is changing so drastically during these last few days. It's fall. And in Colorado that means one thing when it comes to these September days: the days feel like summer and the nights feel like autumn. I mean, the days are still hot, and the nights are cool. In October, the days feel like autumn and the nights feel like winter. We don't get many seasons here. And this particular time of year always makes me feel funny, and oftentimes, that funny feeling isn't good.

This year has been a great experiment for me. I've been desperately trying to recapture the writer I once was. And really, it's not the writer I once was as much as it's the prolific writer I once was. I spent 2015 with my notebooks with no care for producing anything. This year, I've been with the notebook, yes, but I've been trying to produce something tangible. The whole result of last year's work was a handful of very bad (but ultimately timely) poems, and a group of short stories namely “The Buchanan Book of the Dead” which I hope to rework as some point. All said, I didn't do much last year, but it was more than the year before. 2016 has been a different story.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Coming to Terms Part 3: Where do you find the time?

Years ago, long before my son was born, I had only two things I needed to do daily to live. I had to write and I had to work for money to pay the bills. I had such a life then that I really didn't need to work hard, and I didn't work very hard. I've never worked very hard. I guess I always saw work and bills to be only slightly less bullshit than trying to avoid them outright. I've never had a very high regard for the system and the system demands rent, lights, grocery store visits, etc, and a job in order to maintain all of that. However, in the old days, I worked very few hours at a job to pay relatively low living expenses. Consequently, those who I meet with low bills, no car, and more free time get more of my admiration (and envy) than those with a conventionally lavish lifestyle.

In these old days in which I speak, I spent the better portion of my days writing. I didn't do much else. At the end of a day, or a week, or a month, or a year, I could get a whole lot done. Oftentimes, when asked about it: “Where do you find the time?” I would simply explain that we all have that sort of time. I really felt like all of us had that sort of time. In a way, I was very naive. Yet, if someone persisted and claimed not to have the time, I would ask, do you have a tv? And when the answer was “yes” I would simply say, you have the time.

Now, many years later, I wonder about the time. It's true, I have the same number of hours in a day that I always had. We all do. The Earth is never going to change, not the length of day, anyway. I find myself being very short on time these days. Well, if I dig a little deeper, it's not really the time I'm short on, but the level of energy. In the past, I wrote when I woke up in the morning and I worked all the way until the mid-afternoon. It was sometimes four hours, sometimes eight. I'm dad in the morning now. I work earlier in the afternoon now. So, my free time happens very late at night, and I'm cashed by then. I read sometimes, I scribble in my journal or attempt to write, but more often than not, I just stare into my computer screen.

I realize that life is cyclical. I know that things always change, like the amount of work I must do both in the home and in the workplace to keep my family financially afloat. It's life, and I can accept that. I think all of us, if we think about such things, living life and working and paying bills and whatnot isn't so bad. It isn't. It's what we do to afford living in homes and driving cars and doing what everyone else is doing. Practically speaking, it's okay.

Fundamentally speaking, however, this life, this modern life really sucks. I think we're all burdened with shit, and I mean very smelly shit, that we don't really need. And all of it takes money. To make money is to take time. For me, the opportunity cost of taking my time is time away from writing. Like I said, I have a family, I'm subject to the same lifestyle decisions as everyone else. And as I said, it's okay.

So, knowing I have a very finite amount of time and all I really want to do is write, where is the balance? Well, there really isn't any. I write when I can. I get the same amount of writing hours in a week nowadays that I once got in the first morning of the week. That's a bummer.

I think the quality of my writing suffers because of the sporadic nature of my time. I think the process lacks something too, although I couldn't say what it is. What has remained, most importantly, is how I feel during the act of writing. I can come to terms with the two real issues here, a lack of time, and a suffering product knowing, when the feeling I get while working is just as good as it's ever been. I feel great, a great sense of purpose and accomplishment at this very instant because I have written.

Where this may or may not makes sense to others, is that when you are a creative writer, the hours of creation are very important. I believe that all artists or people endeavoring to pursuit art, any kind of art, it's important to have time, use time and reach the creative center of yourself. If it's fifteen minutes a day, know that someday it may be eight hours. If it's eight hours, enjoy it while it lasts, because someday it may be only fifteen minutes.

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Coming to Terms, Part 2

The Spring of 1991 found me in Iraq. I was 18 years old at the time and a Private First Class in the United States Army, 1/1 Calvary and I was already thinking different thoughts.

After the cease fire, I was just waiting to go back to Germany and make new memories, have other experiences. I spent my days reading books, writing letters, writing in my journal and composing stories. The truth of the matter was simply that just beyond my immediate landscape, all else was just dark.

Friday, September 9, 2016

Under the Light of a Fading Evening

Since I never really know if anyone will see this post, please leave a comment below. Thanks.

Thursday, September 8, 2016

Coming to Terms

Years ago, while tending bar at The Thin Man in Denver, I struggled with the artist's dilemma. The artist dilemma, as it was for me, was how do I become a writer and still maintain my quality of life? Good question.

At the time, some nebulous time between 2002 and 2005, I wanted nothing more than to be a writer. In my mind, I wanted to fill page after page after page with my words. The notion was all too real because, being a writer was all I had ever wanted to do, and I had had a few prolific times up to that point coupled with a few publications that led me to believe I could do it.

Thursday, September 1, 2016

Surviving the blog lay-off

I've always felt like having deadlines and due dates were the only reason to get anything done. I guess it probably has to do with the way we were trained as children in school. You'd get an assignment and a date by which it had to be done. Should you not been given a date, there would have been no incentive to do it, nor any reason to even begin for that matter.

For me, once I left school, I always wanted a deadline for any of my creative projects. My deadlines used to be very nebulous and somewhat arbitrary. I may have said something like: “I'll finish writing all the pages in my notebook by Friday,” or “I'll write until my pen runs out of ink.” These sorts of deadlines worked very well for me during some of my earlier prolific times. These early prolific times I define by how much I did, what I wrote or how the process felt to me. I bring up two times specifically, the fall of 2000 and the fall of 2005. Both times I had a tremendous portion of time on my hands and I was going through a major transition. I wrote a great deal during those two autumns so very long ago, but I wrote very little of value. After all, my deadlines were arbitrary like, “I'll finish this notebook today,” or “I'll drain three pens of ink by 5:00.”

I became much better with deadlines and quantifiable work during graduate school. I had to because I couldn't just write for the sake of filling pages and draining pens. Graduate school for writers is an exercise in productivity for the sake of meeting deadlines. I owed my advisor 40 pages of material every three weeks for two years.

Blending those two definitions of deadline, the real and the arbitrary, I made changed to my work habits after grad school. That first year out of grad school, I had wanted to write a half a dozen short stories and a novel. I wrote a dozen stories and four novels. I did this mostly because I was still wired that way and also because I made myself stick to a schedule with specific deadlines. Simply stated my goal was 10,000 words a week due by Friday. This was no easy task. It was completely achievable because I had no other things to distract me. I wrote in the morning, went to work in the evening and drank at night. It was a good life.

Then I began to add things: my blog, Umbrella Factory Magazine, The Sophia Ballou Project and later, Rocket House Pictures.

Then life added something extra for me: a family.

I know we all get busy, it's the nature of life and getting older. And I continued of with most of the things I had always done for years.

My output shrank, and rightly so, when my son was born. I had less time and I just continued with what I thought was important. I maintained only two things: my weekly contribution to The Sophia Ballou Project and my weekly blog post.

The blog became so important to me that I would not miss a deadline for anything. For years it was Monday morning. I posted every Monday morning knowing full well that no one would read it. I kept at this blog weekly even after I fell out of ideas.

Then, December 2014, we decided to shelf Umbrella Factory Magazine for a year and I decided to do the same with all of my other stuff too. I just took a small fast digitally.

It last six months.

Coming back to the blog was tough. It still is. I know I have not been able to maintain it in the last couple of years. And even now, it's been another lay-off. This time it's been four months, or the length of time my son has been on summer vacation.

I'll say this too, it took a long time for me to get involved with social media and it only took on flip of the switch to get out. I spend the same amount of time on social media in month that I once did in a day.

Although I have the sort of low-fi life I get day to day, I doubt my writing has improved significantly. I still write, in my notebook with my fountain pen and then I do subsequent drafts on my computer. When it comes down to it, I've either completed more I'm about to complete more this year than I have in the past few years. And still, this blog has been incredibly difficult to do.

It could be my schedule with the schedules of everyone else in the family too. It could be that the blog has become a priority several rungs down from where it once was. It could be that I just don't find anything I say to be nearly as interesting as it once was. It could be a lack of interest too.

And yet, here I am. I feel like all the above reasons, even just one such reason is enough to quit the blog. I also feel like I've been at this blog for so long that it deserves more. Sometimes, when something has the sort of history that this thing has, it deserves more than a fizzle and then quiet.

And the question of the hour: how does a blog, a blog like this survive a lay-off?

The same way a blog begins: a little at a time, one post, and a predetermined frequency. Again, it takes time to build up content. I suppose the two things that separate a lay-off from a fresh start are this: knowledge of what the blog once was and the knowledge of what the blog meant during the process in its heyday.

For me, what it once was, was a focus of all the things that I was doing like writing novels, managing a magazine and making film. Of all of those things now, I'm not so defined by them nor driven by them. Yet, here I am, I still do all the things I once did, seemingly, except for the blog. Which makes me question if the blog is even important at all anymore.
Is it?

Well, I know what it was and what it could be. I know the focus and the vagueness it can be. The question is, do I maintain it? And if so, why?

Surviving a lay-off of anything is very tough to do. For those exercise people, leaving the gym for 4 months and going back is next to impossible. It's the same way with the blog. It's the same way with any writing and writing practice.

For me?

I suppose it's the way it was in the beginning: a frequency, a vague notion of direction and a little commitment.

See you Thursdays from 9/1/2016 to 12/12/2016.

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Building the CV, Teach a Workshop

A few months back, I met a fella who was, at least partly, in charge of a local film festival. After introductions, I told him that I have a film that in recent months had been making a very short tour of film festivals. He urged me to submit. In the course of conversation, he also invited me to teach a writing workshop for animators. Having worked with animators before I eager jumped at the opportunity. Unfortunately, it was all talk. His counterpart at the film fest declined my film and I did not teach the workshop. I submit, humbly, to this blog: my workshop outline.

 Into to Screenwriting for Animators

Objective: a basic introduction to writing for the screen with a focus on 1) Dramatic Situations, 2) Plotting 3) Definition of characters and their roles and 4) dialogue construction.

The method: Write a short screenplay in an anecdotal tone based on a joke.

Preamble: The joke. Common structure of jokes coming in threes, the predictability and the punchline (denouement/outcome). What jokes appropriate for this exercise. Anthony's joke:
Three guys are on a deserted island. One of them finds a genie lamp and rubs it...out pops a genie. The genie grants three wishes (ever notice how these things come in threes?). The three guys decided, very democratically that they each get one wish. The first guy wishes that he was home with his friends and family. Poof! He's gone. The second guy decides that he wants the same thing, and poof! He's gone too. The third guy looks around and says “Man, this place is lonely without those other guys, I wish they were back here with me.”

Part one: Intro to the 36 Dramatic Situations. Handout: the list of all 36. In this workshop we will on two or three of these dramatic situations. It's good to have exposure to all 36, but for the sake of this workshop, limiting the dramatic situation to the less complicated ones is best. For instance, in Anthony's joke: Erroneous Judgment or Recovery of a Lost One are the likeliest situations.

Part two: Intro to the seven basic plot lines. Handout: the list of all 7. Like the Dramatic Situations, we will focus on just two or three of these. Anthony's joke: The Voyage and the Return is probably the likeliest definition. Or more rudimentary: human vs. nature.

Part three: Characters defined and their roles in the telling of a story. Handout: the list of Types of Characters. We will focus on the Protagonist, Antagonist and the Foil. Anthony's joke: The first two guys are protagonist, since we can sympathize with them and their situation. The situation itself functions as antagonist and the third guy functions as the foil.

Part four: Construction of dialogue: This is the bulk of the workshop. Writing exercise first, a reading of the script and an individual mentoring with each script. Anthony's practice, to end each characters line at the first period (.), the notion that we talk through one another rather than talking to each other and natural speech.

Conclusion: How do these elements work on the screen? Group discussion about a popular movie and a deconstructing of it by Dramatic Situations, Plot line, Characters and their dialogue.

Monday, April 25, 2016

The Next Step: Build the CV with Publications

There is no steadfast rule for a writer of short stories. I mean, write one, ten, or a hundred of them and then take stock in what you have. In a way, I think it's probably easier to have one short story and make it a really good one and then try your luck at publication. There are many magazines that do not mind a simultaneous submission. So, take that one story and submit it to 20 different publications and see what happens. This is one tactic. The best outcome with this, of course, is that each and everyone of the magazines except the last one reject the story; this way you do not have to write each magazine to tell them that your story was accepted by the first magazine.

Having ten short stories in your arsenal, while a seemingly daunting task, may be easier to balance. You can submit one story to one magazine (or two) at a time, and get as much work out there as possible. After all, this discussion has been about building a CV. Send out all of the stories, and hope for the best. If you send out ten stories to twenty magazines, you're sure to get one publication.

Monday, April 18, 2016

Building the CV part II: Specific CV building points

This discuss of the CV continues with the some specifics today. As I've said, too often with a CV, it's something that a writer develops as an after-the-fact situation. I mean, generally, someone will create their CV only after they've done something. I was no different. My initial CV, I put together after I finished grad school, created Umbrella Factory Magazine, and had done some work with Rocket House Pictures. I doubt I could have created a better CV if I had decided to “play it forward” and done things to specifically create the CV.

Of course, I'm changing my course of action now. I am suggesting to do things specifically for the CV.

I think for the writer, there are very few things you can do to make your CV more attractive outside of publication. Publication is the only real reason to be a writer. And publication should be the bulk of a writer's CV.

Monday, April 11, 2016

Building the CV, some Preliminaries

When building a CV, I think it's prudent first to figure out where you stand. Here's the list: 1) What do you want to achieve? 2) What have you done already? 3) What are your assets? 4) Are there current project that are CV worthy? And 5) Do you have a plan for building your CV that is focused, achievable and work worthy?

In my situation, I see these five steps as a general mode of working rather than a big mountain to climb. And really, when it comes down to the general mode of work, like just about everything else that you might do, it's probably best to make something a general way of working rather than just a long list of unrelated tasks.

Monday, April 4, 2016

Importance of a Curriculum Vitae

I've had some new ideas on the writer's curriculum vitae in recent weeks. I say new ideas, but let's face it, there is nothing I can think of that is new. I'm sure there are others that better ideas on the ol' CV and notions of how to display a CV, or how to make one look really good. Who knows? Perhaps it's better to just fabricate one.

Years ago, during a job search, I was talking with a coach who asked me point blank: “What do you want out of a job?” Well, there was the obvious, I wanted a paycheck, I wanted something that didn't take up many hours and I wanted something that wasn't going to tax my patience. I just couldn't tell the job coach these things. “I don't really know how to answer that,” I said. He said, “Think about it.” So, I thought about it. This is what I told him: “I want a job that will build my resume, enhance my CV or make a great barroom story. Ideally, I want a job that will do all three, but it must do at least two.” He laughed. “That's the best answer I've ever heard.”

Then, just as now, I have more great barroom stories than anyone should have. I don't even hang around in barrooms anymore. Stories are stories. Who cares? And as far as the resume goes, those are all completely fabricated. I feel like a resume is just about the most insincere portrait on 8.5 x 11 paper ever conceived. Sure, I have one. I have several, actually. I have a whole file full of resumes. Again, who cares?

Monday, March 28, 2016

The Seasonal Wrap Up

My buddy Jude rides a long board. The man pushed that skateboard for miles and miles and miles. He claims the only time he feels peace is when he's on that skateboard. I get it, and I'm not too different. I get it because I feel that sort of peace when I'm writing in my notebook.

Back in February, Jude went to Homestead, Florida for a 24 hour race. The basic design is this: it's an endurance race where the participants skate around a race track for 24 hours straight. This year was Jude's second time at this race. Last year, he did 194 miles, which is pretty amazing, if you ask me. It was his first time and a first time doing anything is a learning process, and in the case of Jude, 194 miles on a skateboard in 24 hours is impressive.

Going into this year's race, there were many things Jude had going for him. First, he has trained since the last race. Second, he had studied nutrition and some caloric tactics to take during the race. Third, technology, yes, even on a skateboard had improved from his previous experience.

This race his goal was 200 miles. His did 242. He managed nearly fifty miles more than last year.

Needless to say, I'm immensely proud of my friend Jude. I thought 194 was impressive until he did 242. And what's more, he will probably top 242 by leaps and bounds next year.

I want to make an analogy between the process and subsequent results of my friends Jude's skateboard race and the life and work of a writer. The activity and the product, of course, are not comparable. Jude and I are not comparable. And when it comes to it, I both love and admire this friend of mine so much that I wish to adopt some of his personality traits: his dedication and his stamina namely.

Monday, March 21, 2016

Winter 2016 Reading List Wrap-up

I plan what I read in advance for two reasons. The first is because of a conversation I had with my buddy Mark years ago about appropriate books for corresponding seasons. I think it's great to read books that set a mood for a season like the old fashion summer reading list or the “beach reads” that we'll start seeing in the corporate bookstores soon. The second reason might be because I was trained to create semester reading lists in grad school.

I do not faithfully follow reading lists and I never have, not even in grad school. I write down more titles than I can read in a given time and I'll leave some and pick up others.

I picked up Madeleine L'Engle's A Wrinkle in Time, for example. For those unfamiliar with this book, it's a book for young adults. It's an important book too, it's not only the beginning of a series of five books, it also won the Newbery Award in 1963.

Monday, March 14, 2016

The Continued Adventures with Umbrella Factory Magazine

Issue 23 Umbrella Factory Magazine launches on March 15. I'm amazed that it's gone on as long as it has. I feel like every time I start to look at other magazines, they come and go with alarming frequency. I think it's the nature of the small literary magazine: it's a great deal of work with very little return. There must be a bit of a return, or else why would anyone do it?

At the onset of this magazine in 2009, I was teaching basic college skills to college candidates at the Community College of Denver. It was a very disheartening experience and one that hasn't seemed to lessen with perspective. I remember one day asking one of my classes: “Why do you want to go to college?” and the responses were better jobs, more money, etc. I suspect that that is the final irony, going to college does not really mean better jobs or more money, but it almost always means more debt.

My suggestion to my class was for them to go do their own thing, go make something, get into manufacturing. Like what? I don't know, umbrellas? The conversation resonated more with me than with my students.

And here I am, several years later, nearly 7 years, and this magazine is still going on with the slow steady quarterly cadence.

I think anyone who wants to start a literary magazine should do it. It's a Kevin Costner thing: “If you build it they will come,” which is certainly true of writers. Writers are everywhere, they're among us, and they are restlessly recording their observations daily and they need a vehicle.

I'm a very low-fi, nearly Ludite in my tech ways, but I'm an advocate for the online magazine. The online magazine can be shared instantly, reach endless audience and it's free or close to it. We're in 2016. In 2009, there were many online magazines, but they were somehow not as good or reputable as their printed counterparts. Print is dead. And it's amazing how fast it died. There were many print magazine types in Umbrella Factory Magazine's first year who all but poo-pooed us and our mission. How many of them still exist, I wonder?

There was another very curious incident very early on, which I love to recount. There is another magazine, a poetry magazine, that has a similar name to ours. Now, it's not the same name, but we share one word. The email I got from them was simply, “We are not amused.” I sent a polite email back, I had to, because it's who I am, and I don't want to hurt anyone's amusement. The real feeling I got from this other editor was that their basic attitude was one of scarcity. I am the opposite. The more magazines out there, the better. The more editors working for more writers, the better. There is enough room for all of us.

With this latest issue, I have not been happier with the product. If you're reading this, I hope you look at Umbrella Factory Magazine.

Monday, March 7, 2016

Make Art or Fuck Off

There aren't too many things I really loathe. There are many things that I generally do not like, a lot of things that I don't agree with, and several things that just leave me disappointed. I don't normally write about such things either. And I don't use my blog, or any of my other social media outlets to voice my opinions. I think that a person's online persona needs to be of the purest form. My online persona, and I mean with this blog, Facebook, or even with Umbrella Factory Magazine, I am Anthony ILacqua, writer.

For those who know me personally, I suffer from some furious social thought. There are those who suffer from furious political thought and we see them during election years like this one. I find the political people to be trite, cliché. Who cares what candidate you're pushing, they're all alike, at least to me. I'm terrified by proselytizers. For some reason I've always thought of religion peddlers as cheap. The sports fanatics who refer a specific team as “we” and they are not on that team's payroll I've never gotten. My social thought is simply that I don't care for highly organized things like sports, religion and politics. The other social hiccup: I loathe the person who wants “to thank a vet.” Don't thank me for my service, please. If you feel inclined to say anything at all, apologize for all the bad decisions you made at the voting booth which were influenced by flags, religious beliefs or the love of uniforms.

That said, a person can be into what they want to be into, I expect the same treatment. But these organized things are leading to what George Orwell termed “Group think” and no matter how you cut it, how can group think end any way but poorly?

The political conversations have been all around me lately. They've come on the heels of the Denver Broncos winning the football game. I live in Colorado and the Broncos make the front page of the paper everyday. And the football game came on the heels of the holidays which aside from the blatant commercialism, have religious connotations.

I'm left befuddled by the conversations around me which range from very passionate and heated to quite banal and stupid. This superimposed on the normal banter of TV, cellphone plans and the ever fluctuating price of gas leaves very little space to talk about other, deeper, more important stuff.

I took a walk to the lake with my family yesterday. It was a beautiful day. I had my Holga 120N with me and a fresh roll of 120 film. It was a very bright, sunny Colorado day, in short, not the sort of day, or time of day for a real photographer. But I'm not a real photographer, I shoot with a very cheap plastic toy camera and if there isn't bright searing sunlight, the camera doesn't do well. Sunlight, cameras or not, for me, I just wanted to see things, snap some pictures and spend time with my family. I landed up getting some images of an ancient car and dead cattails.

On the walk home, we started to talk about a comment I'd heard at work. “Who's voting for Trump? Certainly not the Mexicans,” someone said. I laughed. After all, who cares? I think we live in a one party system trying to pass off as a two party system. And really, they're all a bunch of scoundrels. So I said, “The people who own the voting machines. It isn't like you got any freedom.” And I'm met with head shakes and pity.

But it's really how I feel. I don't feel like we have any freedom. I feel like those on one extreme want to make anything we may do illegal, and those on the other side want to ban everything so as not to offend a single individual's constitutional rights. Yeah, I know, this is America and America is great. This is true enough. I've been to many places on this Earth that are worse than here, and I haven't been to places that are worse still. I have been to places that are better. It's okay, it's life, it's humanity, and it's our devout desire to organize things, politically, religiously and otherwise. With enough systems around us, the less we have to think. Who knows? Maybe this is a good thing.

We do have one freedom. We have the freedom of creation, words and art. We can create anything we want to in this country, and even if we confound, anger or shake those highly organized systems, we probably won't meet with a capital punishment. The United States does not imprison her writers and artists. It's something we have over, say, those who imprisoned Pussy Riot.

The last thought of the walk home was about what we're writing. My wife is a great writer and she's writing again and I love it. I'm always scribbling something. We don't have much say in our future, either individually or collectively. We don't have much material wealth. We don't have anything but our lives, and our lives are dedicated to work and paying taxes and distributing the last of our money to the goods and services that make us good citizens. We don't have much time. I mean daily, yearly, our lives. We're indisposed. We must work.

But we can make art. We can write novels, which may not have much, if any readership. We can hold onto those plastic cameras in hopes of capturing an image that may never grace other eyes. What about it? Make art, what else is there? Imagine if everyone suddenly took a walk with the notion of snapping a picture, or if everyone suddenly stopped all they were doing to write a haiku. What would become of the world? Less war? Less economic ruin? This is not a hippy thing. I don't care about love, just art. Start right now. Start right this instant. Go make some art. Or fuck off.

Monday, February 29, 2016

The Buchanan Book of the Dead, Part 3

What is a short story collection?

I know a good number of writers. I know these writers from grad school, barroom meetings and from the literary magazine community. I know a great number of short story writers. I know them from the aforementioned places and especially from my work at Umbrella Factory Magazine.

Rather than get into a philosophical or existential conversation about why write at all, perhaps I'll just focus on why write short stories, or in the case of The Buchanan Book of the Dead, why write a collection.

In short, magazines.

Monday, February 22, 2016

The Buchanan Book of the Dead, Part 2

The process, stats and feelings

I made a decision to take a hiatus from the digital world last year and do all of my writing in composition notebooks. I made a goal of 25 short stories.

I had completed that goal by the fall. The whole process felt very good to me. I used eleven 200 page composition notebooks over the period of a year. I've been writing in these composition notebooks for twenty years. Over that time, I imagine, eleven notebooks a year is about the average.

I've been writing short stories for a very long time. However long it has been since I wrote my first short story, it's really been since 2009 that I've taken them seriously. And by 2015, that's only been six years. I feel like the act of writing a short story is a pleasurable act. Writing a good short story is a laborious thing to do.

Monday, February 15, 2016

The Buchanan Book of the Dead, Part 1

I don't think it's uncommon to feel scattered. Scattered like your mind is in 3,000 directions at once and nothing gets done. Or you feel like your energy is scattered, like you've just got too many projects going on and the results are the same—nothing seems to be getting done.

For many years, I had many projects at once, many of them ongoing, complete with deadlines. For instance, I maintained this blog weekly, I contributed to The Sophia Ballou Project weekly and I was maintaining my magazine Umbrella Factory Magazine quarterly. In 2014, I was doing all these things and also getting a script ready for Rocket House Pictures. On top of all of that I was working on my latest manuscript for Ring of Fire Books.

It's good to be so busy, it just is. It's good to have deadlines and guidelines. It's good to work.

Monday, February 8, 2016

The Seasonal Chapbooks, Part 2

“The Theory, the Fallacy”

Back in 2014, while still living in Glendale and in my last days at Marlowe's and before the shoot of “To Better Days,” I decided to write poetry.

The decision to write poetry was not too strange. In the waning months at Glendale's slum of “The Cherry Creek Club,” I read poetry at night before bed. I had been the poetry editor at Umbrella Factory Magazine. There was poetry everywhere.

When I decided to start writing it, in 2014 anyhow, I knew I needed a tangible goal. Arbitrarily, I decided to be a poet for one year, the whole calendar year of 2014. I also chose 100 poems as a goal. I figured I could do one or the other, 100 poems or a calendar year.

Monday, February 1, 2016

The Seasonal Chapbooks, Part 1

The fall of 2013 was a blur for me. The biggest reason, of course, was that we moved from Portland back to Denver at the end of August. Furthermore, I got back to Denver on a Sunday night and I went right back to work at Marlowe's on Monday.

Marlowe's, at least for me, was an enigma. I worked at Marlowe's for years, 2006 to 2010. I worked my last shift in 2010 at the end of October and left for Portland the next day, so it was only fitting that I should get back to it the day after our return. It was like the whole Portland experience, nearly 3 years was but a vacation, a holiday away from a regular, squalid work-a-day life. In many ways it was.

Monday, January 25, 2016

Building a Book: Sand and Asbestos, Part 1

In the spring of 2009, I was writing manuscript after manuscript. My goal when I left Goddard College in January of that year was to write a handful of short stories and one novel. After all, I had just spent thousands of dollars on an MFA degree and countless hours doing the work. I really had something to prove, especially to myself.

The day after returning from Vermont I started writing. The piece was originally called “The White Party” but I changed the name because of possible misinterpretations. That piece became Dysphoric Notions, my first published book with Ring of Fire Publishing.

At some point when I was writing Dysphoric Notions, I had taken a day trip to Palmer Lake. On the road there, I saw what looked like an old canvas bag covering a road sign. The sight struck me funny. The image became the inspiration for Sand and Asbestos.

Monday, January 18, 2016

The ILacqua Experiment, Part 2

When Janice invited me to contribute to her blog, The ILacqua Experiment I was pretty flattered and excited. I instantly thought about the project I might pursue.

A few months back, I read both of Alex James's books, A Bit of a Blur and All Cheeses Great and Small. The first book really meant a great deal to me. If you don't know Alex James, I think you should. He's the bassist for Blur. At the time of the first book, Blur was broken up.

Much of the book was Alex's experiences with Blur from the very late 1980s and through the 1990s. I had been a big Blur fan in the 1990s. I'm still a big fan. After reading his book, I became a big Alex James fan too.

Monday, January 11, 2016

The ILacqua Experiment, Part 1

Janice constantly says she wants to be more of a writer. She's got ideas. At times she wants to write her manifesto, The Abundance Manifesto. Sometimes she wants to be the writer yoga instructor. I think both ideas are great, and both ideas would not only be ample to write about, but interesting too. When she starts writing, she won't stop.

I think Janice is a better writer than I am. I've felt this way for almost 20 years. She has never claimed or denied my assertion that she is the better writer. She does, however, think I am a disciplined writer. I suppose I agree with the statement. However, I am not nearly as disciplined as I once was.

Monday, January 4, 2016

The Winter 2016 Reading List

I don't suspect it's a secret, the way I feel about Mark Dragotta. Sure, I've always admired him, as I think one might admire a friend. He and I were always able to get things done and have ample time for gin and honky-tonkin'. After all, we started up Umbrella Factory Magazine all those years ago and left a fairly substantial portion of our livers back in 2010.

Mark and I were together much of the time during the early days of UFM. We worked on our magazine for a part of the day, and we worked as waiters at Marlowe's nearly every night too. It was only after our shifts at Marlowe's that we partied, but even in those times too, we were talking about writers and books and the direction of literature in America.

In more ways than one, I miss my days with Mark. I miss him because he always had insightful things to say and he was always reading, oftentimes interesting books. I mostly miss him because we were still in our youth in those days, carefree and blissfully drinking our nights away.

When I think about the seasonal reading lists, they are always associated and sometimes dedicated to Mark. After all, years ago, I thought about reading lists and it was his suggestion after reading The Virgin Suicides that some reading lists like “alcoholism and depression” were best for winter while “beach reads” were suited for summer.

For my reading list this winter, I'm also thinking about something Mark once said. Mark is a voracious reader. He's a selective reader too. He once wanted to get into Chekhov but he waited for a very particular translation. Years ago, while he was still writing for Denver's weekly, The Westword, Mark decided to quit his job as a waiter and spend a year writing and developing a web design business. He didn't have much money in that time, but he didn't need much either. He didn't have money to go out often and he didn't have money for books. The way he presented it to me was like a camel had water, Mark had bought books. He had many books on his shelf which he bought when flush and lacked the time to read. He now had ample time to read and no money for new books.

I'm in a bit of a similar situation now. Of course, I've never had much money. I do have many books I'm yet to read. And as the last few years, the years since my son arrived, I don't have a great deal of time to read. I'm often tired and reading has proved tough. I read a quarter of the books I once did. And I've been meaning to read the books on this list, mostly classics, for years.

Here's the list:

1 Christina Rossetti “The Goblin Market” and other poems
2 English ghost stories
3 Edith Wharton The Age of Innocence
4 Gustav Flaubert Madam Bovary
5 Mark Coker Boob Tube
6 Emerson's Essays
7 Lensworks

It should be interesting to see how well I do come March. It's my belief that everything starts with reading. Those who are readers become thinkers and writers only writers if they are readers first.