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.