Where Is the Justice for Troy Davis?

From Amnesty International:

Troy Davis was convicted of murdering a Georgia police officer in 1991. Nearly two decades later, Davis remains on death row – even though the case against him has fallen apart. Davis’ conviction was not based on any physical evidence, and the murder weapon was never found. Since his trial, seven of the nine eyewitnesses have recanted or contradicted their testimony, and one of the remaining witnesses has been implicated by nine others as the actual murderer.

BREAKING NEWS: On April 16, by a 2-1 vote, the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals denied Troy Davis' petition.

The Court extended Davis' stay of execution for 30 days to give him a chance to file a habeas corpus petition with the US Supreme Court.

Please, help demand clemency for Troy Davis.

I know it's been kind of a bummer around here lately---but sometimes it's just overwhelming, all the sadness out there. We can help, and at the very least, we can care.

Bus Ride

fluswinefluswinefluswinefluswinefluswineflu---Oh god, is she coughing?

"You Are Being Lied to About Pirates," by Johann Hari


How did I not know about this? Why aren't more people talking about this?

I'm really glad to see there are people out there taking a multi-angled view of this pirate mess. There's so much human suffering involved, and there's more than one place to lay the blame.

(I know, I know---this place is completely scattered. But please just go read this article over at the Huffington Post.)

"You Are Being Lied to About Pirates," by Johann Hari

You Are Being Lied to About Pirates

Johann Hari, Columnist, London Independent
Posted April 13, 2009 | 10:05 AM (EST)

[...] The words of one pirate from that lost age - a young British man called William Scott - should echo into this new age of piracy. Just before he was hanged in Charleston, South Carolina, he said: "What I did was to keep me from perishing. I was forced to go a-pirating to live." In 1991, the government of Somalia - in the Horn of Africa - collapsed. Its nine million people have been teetering on starvation ever since - and many of the ugliest forces in the Western world have seen this as a great opportunity to steal the country's food supply and dump our nuclear waste in their seas.

Yes: nuclear waste. As soon as the government was gone, mysterious European ships started appearing off the coast of Somalia, dumping vast barrels into the ocean. The coastal population began to sicken. At first they suffered strange rashes, nausea and malformed babies. Then, after the 2005 tsunami, hundreds of the dumped and leaking barrels washed up on shore. People began to suffer from radiation sickness, and more than 300 died. Ahmedou Ould-Abdallah, the UN envoy to Somalia, tells me: "Somebody is dumping nuclear material here. There is also lead, and heavy metals such as cadmium and mercury - you name it." Much of it can be traced back to European hospitals and factories, who seem to be passing it on to the Italian mafia to "dispose" of cheaply. When I asked Ould-Abdallah what European governments were doing about it, he said with a sigh: "Nothing. There has been no clean-up, no compensation, and no prevention."

At the same time, other European ships have been looting Somalia's seas of their greatest resource: seafood. We have destroyed our own fish-stocks by over-exploitation - and now we have moved on to theirs. More than $300m worth of tuna, shrimp, lobster and other sea-life is being stolen every year by vast trawlers illegally sailing into Somalia's unprotected seas. The local fishermen have suddenly lost their livelihoods, and they are starving. Mohammed Hussein, a fisherman in the town of Marka 100km south of Mogadishu, told Reuters: "If nothing is done, there soon won't be much fish left in our coastal waters."

This is the context in which the men we are calling "pirates" have emerged. Everyone agrees they were ordinary Somalian fishermen who at first took speedboats to try to dissuade the dumpers and trawlers, or at least wage a 'tax' on them. They call themselves the Volunteer Coastguard of Somalia - and it's not hard to see why. In a surreal telephone interview, one of the pirate leaders, Sugule Ali, said their motive was "to stop illegal fishing and dumping in our waters... We don't consider ourselves sea bandits. We consider sea bandits [to be] those who illegally fish and dump in our seas and dump waste in our seas and carry weapons in our seas." William Scott would understand those words.

No, this doesn't make hostage-taking justifiable, and yes, some are clearly just gangsters - especially those who have held up World Food Programme supplies. But the "pirates" have the overwhelming support of the local population for a reason. The independent Somalian news-site WardherNews conducted the best research we have into what ordinary Somalis are thinking - and it found 70 percent "strongly supported the piracy as a form of national defence of the country's territorial waters." During the revolutionary war in America, George Washington and America's founding fathers paid pirates to protect America's territorial waters, because they had no navy or coastguard of their own. Most Americans supported them. Is this so different?

Did we expect starving Somalians to stand passively on their beaches, paddling in our nuclear waste, and watch us snatch their fish to eat in restaurants in London and Paris and Rome? We didn't act on those crimes - but when some of the fishermen responded by disrupting the transit-corridor for 20 percent of the world's oil supply, we begin to shriek about "evil." If we really want to deal with piracy, we need to stop its root cause - our crimes - before we send in the gun-boats to root out Somalia's criminals.

The story of the 2009 war on piracy was best summarised by another pirate, who lived and died in the fourth century BC. He was captured and brought to Alexander the Great, who demanded to know "what he meant by keeping possession of the sea." The pirate smiled, and responded: "What you mean by seizing the whole earth; but because I do it with a petty ship, I am called a robber, while you, who do it with a great fleet, are called emperor." Once again, our great imperial fleets sail in today - but who is the robber?

It's just so shocking (and depressing) that an issue of this magnitude could fly under the radar for so long. I can't believe I'm just hearing about this now, especially since I'm subscribed to an email news search on keyword "Somalia."

Did I mention I'm half Somali? My father is Somali, (born and raised in Mogadishu), and my mother is Armenian American.

I mean, it's pretty devastating. I know that the mainstream US media is significantly less than dependable, especially regarding world and minority issues, but wow...

Apparently they're planning to try the surviving pirate as an adult, even though he may be as young as fifteen? See blog post by Kalash at kabobfest.com.


At least South Park is paying attention, see the episode "Fatbeard":


You're probably wondering where all the "fiction" is---I've been wandering---so I thought I'd share this little review. I wrote it for a summer intro-to-fiction class. It could use some editing, but I'm sleepy, so I'm just shaking it off and setting it out to air.

Don't laugh, or better, do.

Goodnight : )


On Amy Hempel’s The Dog of the Marriage

(me, 7/2/07)

Amy Hempel’s collection of short stories, The Dog of the Marriage, is like a short series of small windows into large lives, lives belonging to women only slightly different from one another. At times, reading through the collection, it felt as though one character, one self was almost progressing into the next, also seeping into the reader---myself, as I continued down the trail.

All of these stories are written in the first person. There is a sort of flickering identity shared between the characters in this book, hard to put your finger on, and personally I suspect that this unifying “essence” is something from the life-breath of Hempel herself. The voice changes but is never unrecognizable, and I found this continuity to be very satisfying. Reading this book was like getting to look at one thing from nine subtly different insides, so that when the time came to part with the stories, I truly felt like something had been swapped between the complete work that I had read and myself.

These stories are about relationships, not-so-strangely enough. Besides the continuum of characterization already mentioned, the other element that brings these stories so close together is the unifying theme of “desire.” Hempel prefaces the collection with this hauntingly evocative little passage, an expression of the “thing” that these stories look at:

But the greatest desire of all is to be
In the dream of another,
To feel a slight pull, like reins,
To feel a heavy pull, like chains.
—Yehuda Amichai

After finishing Hempel’s book I felt as though I understood Amichai’s sentiment in a much deeper, more complex way than when I turned the page to the first story: these stories are about the need to be loved (needed, wanted, desired) and what happens when we’re not, what it means to hold on and what it means to let go. What it means when we are held onto, what it means when we are let go of.

Some of these stories, like “Jesus is Waiting,” “Reference #388475848-5” (which takes the epistolary form) and “Offertory” examine what it is to try to reach out, to come together.

The narrator in “Jesus is Waiting” desires unabashedly and without reason until a point of absurd, fragile beauty is reached. Maybe all of the stories in this collection are about that, in some way.

Offertory” and “The Afterlife” in particular also seem to ask not only what wanting is, but what memory is, how memory serves to tie us to ourselves and to others—how these old memories, these old desires can either come between or hold together, and what the consequences are of each.

Beach Town” seems to look at the ways in which we overhear the lives of others. Although the narrator does not really indulge in self-reflection, I think that this story asks us to reflect on how this kind of “taking in” can affect our own lives. After all, that’s what we do when we read a story (eavesdrop on the neighbors, watch a film, remember an old lover): we “overhear” someone else’s life, and hope to be changed in some way by doing so.

The namesake story of this collection, “The Dog of the Marriage,” is in itself a smaller series of even more fluidly connected lives. These four small pieces add up to a single expression that examines guilt and regret and a feeling that is not quite sentimental enough to be loneliness. I would describe the feeling expressed and explored within these stories as being more like an almost clinical sort of solitude, a solitude that comes with trying to turn certain things off within yourself, with trying to learn to feel resigned to things, or pretending you’re not. The “dog” in these marriages is not always of the canine variety, and the actual dogs are often far more faithful than the people. The “marriages” are usually anything but.

It is not always a comfortable or enjoyable experience, being drawn into the minds of these women, but it is always a stirring experience. “The Uninvited” is about what it is to be “loved” not just badly, but violently. What happens when the need (desire) to be loved becomes twisted within a person, and what it’s like to have that twisted desire forced upon you, on your body. The story is narrated by a 50 year-old rape counselor who has herself recently been raped by an acquaintance. She is afraid she might be pregnant, but has not followed the advice that she has given so many others over the years: she has not reported her attacker. She is feeling guilty for falling victim to her attacker even though she has spent her life teaching others not to. She doesn’t want to have to explain that she instinctively knew how to respond in order to save her life...that she pretended to love the rapist so he wouldn’t kill her.

In “The Uninvited,” Hempel uses an old film, from which the story takes its name, to draw unstated parallels and bring us into the narrator’s usually unspoken inner thoughts and conflicts. Just as the narrator wonders “to whom the title refers [in the movie]—to the ghosts or to the guests,” we are left thinking about not only the rapist she made the mistake of inviting into her home, but the seed she fears may have been planted in her womb.

The story “Memoir” lasts only one sentence, and I think it sums up with a beautiful succinctness what this collection is saying better than I ever could:

Just once in my life—oh, when have I ever wanted anything just once in my life?

This speaks to the feeling I got from these stories that they constitute a cycle or progression, and maybe to the idea that there are no beginnings or ends in this collection, only different kinds of desire.

I remember that some of the stories I’ve read from Hempel’s previous collections seemed to leave me with a sort of welling-up, while most of these made me feel a kind of settling-in, a “what-is-this?” digestion more than a “that-was-that” emotion. Most of these stories seem to avoid (surpass?) the traditional or basic idea of what story and plot are. They can be fragmentary, they move around in time. They have very open endings and often the crisis “moment” actually seems to be the entirety of the story. Resolution usually seems to be something that we as the readers need to reach for, instead of having it handed to us.

Hempel leaves us at just the tip of something with each of these. We must take the conflict within ourselves as we read each story (and she makes this easy with her attention to detail, voice and moment) in order to be able to understand the inertia of each piece. It is only by taking an active role in the experience that these stories “offer” up that we are able to see where it is that Hempel is pointing, and that is one of the many wonderful things about this wonderful collection of short stories.



PS---By the way, my cat threw up on this book (just a hairball) soon after I finished reading it, and I was really, really upset with him about it. After stomping around the living room for a while, I washed the dustcover, and I kept it. Now there's a funny little stain. Don't judge. Boots is forgiven.

Not Too Hot to Feel Disgusted

I really really wish this NY Times article was from The Onion...I mean, look at that headline. I know it's not surprising, but it should be.

My brain is exploding, and not in a good way.

In Adopting Harsh Tactics, No Inquiry Into Past Use

Published: April 21, 2009

[...] In a series of high-level meetings in 2002, without a single dissent from cabinet members or lawmakers, the United States for the first time officially embraced the brutal methods of interrogation it had always condemned.

This extraordinary consensus was possible, an examination by The New York Times shows, largely because no one involved — not the top two C.I.A. officials who were pushing the program, not the senior aides to President George W. Bush, not the leaders of the Senate and House Intelligence Committees — investigated the gruesome origins of the techniques they were approving with little debate.

According to several former top officials involved in the discussions seven years ago, they did not know that the military training program, called SERE, for Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape, had been created decades earlier to give American pilots and soldiers a sample of the torture methods used by Communists in the Korean War, methods that had wrung false confessions from Americans.

Even George J. Tenet, the C.I.A. director who insisted that the agency had thoroughly researched its proposal and pressed it on other officials, did not examine the history of the most shocking method, the near-drowning technique known as waterboarding.

The top officials he briefed did not learn that waterboarding had been prosecuted by the United States in war-crimes trials after World War II and was a well-documented favorite of despotic governments since the Spanish Inquisition; one waterboard used under Pol Pot was even on display at the genocide museum in Cambodia. [...]

Leaked to the news media months after they were first used, the C.I.A.’s interrogation methods would darken the country’s reputation, blur the moral distinction between terrorists and the Americans who hunted them, bring broad condemnation from Western allies and become a ready-made defense for governments accused of torture. The blowback has only intensified since Justice Department legal memos released last week showed that two prisoners were waterboarded 266 times and that C.I.A. interrogators were ordered to waterboard one of the captives despite their belief that he had no more information to divulge. [...]

Government studies in the 1950s found that Chinese Communist interrogators had produced false confessions from captured American pilots not with some kind of sinister “brainwashing” but with crude tactics: shackling the Americans to force them to stand for hours, keeping them in cold cells, disrupting their sleep and limiting access to food and hygiene. [*]

* Hmmm, these methods sure do sound familiar. Even if you have a bacterium-sized heart, and can't see why torture is wrong---does it really take a genius to figure out that people will say anything if they think it will get them out of hell?

Alex Gibney's Oscar-winning documentary, Taxi to the Dark Side, is incredibly disturbing---it had me sobbing in that angry/devastated way---but I think it should be required viewing in all U.S. high schools.

PS---I was really moved by the interview at the end of the film, with Alex Gibney's father, Frank Gibney. Here's an excerpt from a Six Questions interview at Harper's:

3. Some of the most compelling footage of the film comes in the closing credits in which you include scenes from an interview you conducted with your father, who was a Navy interrogator, and who was obviously distressed about the changes in military tradition that the Bush Administration introduced. Can you tell us about your discussions with your father and how they influenced the film?

My father—Frank Gibney — was a big influence on my life. A longtime journalist and old “Asia hand,” he had learned Japanese during the war so that he could interrogate Japanese prisoners — something he did on Okinawa, one of the bloodiest battles of the Pacific campaign in World War II.

At the time, there had been many reports of Japanese torturing Americans. Further, there was a pervasive view that the Japanese were a new kind of enemy, one that was so fanatical that some of its soldiers (kamikaze) would use airplanes to fly suicide missions. (Sound familiar?) But my father and his fellow interrogators were not taught “coercive interrogation techniques.” They didn’t waterboard anyone as a matter of policy. Just the opposite, they practiced rapport building techniques that were extremely effective in eliciting information despite the supposed “fanatical nature” of the prisoners.

Most important, my father felt that, by not engaging in retribution, he was adhering to a higher standard. “We never forgot,” he says in the film, “that behind the facade of wartime hatreds, there was a central rule of law which people abided by. It was something we believed in. It was what made America different.”

As a former Navy interrogator, he was furious about the Abu Ghraib scandal. As more details emerged about the way that torture appeared to be part of a wide-ranging policy, he was even more enraged. He encouraged me to take on this project. While I was working on “Taxi,” I visited him in Santa Barbara just before he died. One day, he said: “Go get your video camera; I have something I want to say.” We had to turn off the oxygen machine so he would be audible. A foreign policy conservative, he raged against Rumsfeld, Cheney and Bush for upending the very values that he had defended as a soldier. His anger, and his belief that we could — and did — do better offered a ray of hope in a bleak film.

No Blog, Jr.

Too hot, can't think.

In Memoriam: Dr. Trudy Griffin-Pierce

Dr. Trudy Griffin-Pierce
just glowed with kindness. She was such an earnest and sincere person, so genuinely warm---radiant.

She taught the Anthropology senior capstone I took my last semester at the U of A. The minute she walked into class the first day, I knew that I really liked her. (Maybe she was wearing one of her homemade skirts, maybe the knee-length turquoise one with the white zigzag trim---she seemed so young, in such a true and honest way, in such an essential way.) Just being in that room with her made me feel smiley inside. There was something about her.

She died on January 6th, 2009, not long after the end of the semester. I feel lucky to have met her, to have had the pleasure of hearing her talk about her life and work, to have had her class as my last Anthropology course at the U of A.

She had us keep journals where we wrote about various snippets from our lives (a song, a story in the news, an outing, a class, anything.) We were then to take each experience and analyze it through an anthropological lens---angling at it either from a cultural, linguistic, biological or archaeological perspective. She wrote the kindest things in my journal, and I'll treasure these notes always.

Here is a little clip from what she wrote (one of the notes that tells a little bit about who she was and is):

"And your entries about Barack Obama were so very moving---yes, indeed, as someone who was in high school & university in the the 60's and 70's, I finally feel like this country is moving again, "standing up for something."

Thanks for being a generous teacher and an inspirational person, Dr. Griffin-Pierce. You will be remembered with love, even by those of us who only skimmed across the surface of your life for the very briefest of moments.


From an article at the Arizona Daily Star:

Trudy Griffin-Pierce: Navajo culture, beliefs were her inspiration

By Kimberly Matas, 02.02.2009

Anthropologist Trudy Griffin-Pierce didn't want to observe the rituals and elaborate spiritual ceremonies of the Navajo: She wanted to live the life of the Diné.
Though of Catawba Indian heritage and born in South Carolina, Griffin-Pierce was fascinated from childhood by the Navajo, said her aunt, Pat Wells of Florida. Diné, meaning "The People," is the name Navajos use for themselves.

"I remember her saying from the time she was 3 years old she had this interest," Wells said. "She had a children's book about Native Americans and she remembered her interest going back that far."

The Navajos' complex spiritual beliefs are based on Hózhó, which means existing in a state of balance, harmony, wellness, peace and completeness.

Griffin-Pierce, an associate professor of anthropology at the University of Arizona, learned about Hózhó and other spiritual and cultural beliefs when she was informally adopted by a Navajo family in Northern Arizona. She learned about healing practices and ceremonial sand painting and that death is not to be feared because it is part of nature's course.

And it was Jan. 6 that 59-year-old Griffin-Pierce entered into the next phase of the ongoing cycle of birth, life and death. She died suddenly at home with her beloved sheepdog, Mr. Skippy, at her side. The cause of death is not known.

[...] While studying for a bachelor's degree in fine art from Florida State University, Griffin-Pierce wrote to the chairman of the Navajo Nation, asking him to find her a traditional Navajo family that she could join.

"I wanted to live with them as a daughter, not as an anthropologist. To learn from them, not about them," she said in a 1992 Arizona Daily Star article.

"I lived with them in their hogan, and I didn't speak any Navajo, and they didn't speak any English," she said. "Every morning, I'd go out and herd sheep all day, and I'd ride the buckboard into the trading post with them, too."

Avery Denny, a professor of healing, culture, oral history, and Navajo philosophy at Diné College, in Tsaile, Ariz., was her adopted Navajo brother. Until Griffin-Pierce learned the language, Denny and his wife translated conversations between the anthropologist and his parents, who were practitioners, or "chanters," and sang at healing ceremonies.

Unlike most anthropologists, who observe a culture from the outside over a period of hours or days or weeks, Griffin-Pierce immersed herself.

[...] Denny and Griffin-Pierce, whose graduate work focused on cultural and medical anthropology, were working on a presentation for a Navajo studies conference in Shiprock next month on diabetes. Along with her teaching duties, Griffin-Pierce also was working with the Arizona Alzheimer's Consortium to provide outreach and education services to the state's tribes.

After finishing her master's degree in museum studies, Griffin-Pierce worked as curator of a small museum at Kitt Peak National Observatory. It was at the observatory that she met her future husband, Keith Pierce, an internationally known researcher of solar physics who was instrumental in selecting Kitt Peak as the site for the observatory. He also played a key role in the development of the McMath-Pierce Solar Telescope.

Griffin-Pierce earned a Ph.D. in cultural anthropology in 1987 and began teaching at the UA a year later.

As a teacher, she inspired her students.

[...] "She wanted to know who we were as people, why we were taking this class, what we wanted to gain from it. She wanted to get to know us as people," Garcia Dixon said.

It was that interest in others that helped Griffin-Pierce make and keep many friends from all over the world.

[...] Sue Raymond, who met Griffin-Pierce in Hawaii in 1959 when their fathers were stationed at military installations there, became a lifelong friend.

"She always saw the good in everybody; she saw the good and she saw the potential," Raymond said.

Dr. Trudy Griffin-Pierce wrote 5 books, including Earth Is My Mother, Sky Is My Father: Space, Time, and Astronomy in Navajo Sandpainting, Native Peoples of the Southwest and Chiricahua Apache Enduring Power: Naiche's Puberty Ceremony Paintings, Native Americans: Enduring Culture and Traditions and The Encyclopedia of Native America.

In addition to being an anthropologist, writer and teacher, she was also an artist. Her books include many of her own illustrations.


Here is a link to her memorial site.

This picture (with her dog Mr. Skippy), was taken in 2008 by Sandy Arbogast,
and is from the online slide show at her memorial site.

Extraordinary Spirit: A Tribute To The Life Of Trudy Griffin-Pierce
will be held in her honor tomorrow, April 18th 2009, here in Tucson.

All Results Are In

Got my FINAL notification today---I accepted at Minnesota last month, so this is just for posterity's sake. I'm taking this off the sidebar, now. It feels good to be settled, signed, sealed, delivered.

Nine applications. One acceptance (golden ticket!), one confirmed waitlist, one possible waitlist/eventual rejection, and six flat-out rejections.

How it all shook out:

The Long Wait: MFA Fiction Programs

U Minnesota---Accepted!!! by phone (Letter 2/19)...
I accepted the offer of admission 3/25

Cornell---Waitlisted 3/24, by email after I called...(I was #8 on a waitlist of 8)

Rutgers-Newark---Rejected 4/16 via website (Letter 4/22) I think I was waitlisted?*

U Florida---Rejected 3/28 by mail

Syracuse---Rejected 3/14 by mail

UMass Boston---Rejected 3/13 via website (Letter 3/23)

U Michigan---Rejected 3/2 by mail

UMass Amherst---Rejected 2/27 by mail

U Texas/Michener---Rejected 2/26 via website (Letter 3/9)

* Online status remained "no decision" long after first-round notifications
(both acceptances and rejections) went out. Finally rejected via website 4/16.


PS----Link to a list of literature-related blogs compiled by Rigoberto González (who, as it happens, teaches at Rutgers-Newark.) I originally found the link here, at Practicing Writing.


It breaks my heart:

Watch the documentary and read the synopsis here.

Interview with the journalist, Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy here---more about the piece at sharmeenobaidfilms.com.

Something has to change. I hope Obama will work to make sure that U.S. policy and action stop feeding into these kinds of cycles of violence. But to be honest, I'm worried. And sad.


I can't keep eating like this. Free food is free food (or, a shift meal is a shift meal)---but every day? I can feel my arteries organizing a protest.

And lately I'm too worn out to cook when I get home, so dinner's been frozen pizza and/or canned soup and fish sticks. Not good.

I was really proud of myself last week, I actually made myself a huge okra and green bean stew, and I've been eating it with couscous and lemon. But I'm running out.

Someone come make me a curry, quick.


I love that the school I'll be attending has a ridiculously un-threatening mascot. Doesn't mean I'll ever come within 100 yards of an actual game, but still.

Go, glorified hamsters!

Chocolate-Free Easter

It's sad when you realize how many years it's been since you ate a chocolate bunny.

The Genre Closet

About noir/detective fiction (and genre in general, and the question of what is literary):

I went through a period when Walter Mosley was practically all I was reading.

Maybe that's an exaggeration, but I was a huge fan. I even have a picture, circa 2004, where I'm standing next to him at a post-reading book signing, beaming. Part of me thinks I should be ashamed to admit that, (it's the conditioning), but after the Denis Johnson reading, well, "I just don't give a shit."*

And anyway, the larger part of me feels ashamed for worrying about that stuff. Genre or no, (and he's vocal about not liking to be pigeonholed), Mosley's great at what he does. His books still mean something to me. The effect they had on me was literary, I know that. I think his books defy genre.

I had two pet rats, I got them when I was maybe 19. I named them Mouse & Mosley. (Mouse is the name of one of Mosley's characters, in the Easy Rawlins series.) Mouse was one of my favorite pets, ever. She used to sleep in the crook of my arm when I was reading. They're both long dead now.

I admire Ray Bradbury, too. There, I said it. Take that.

I don't write genre, but I sure don't look down my nose at those who do it well. And I think that doing it well means that you still manage to speak to the literary "heart," somehow. Know what I mean?

PS---Look, I found it! I look like I'm 12. (I was 21, in my first year of college.) Why do I always make that goofy picture face?

*Hope the profanity doesn't throw you off, it's actually a reference to the Denis Johnson reading.

Denis Johnson at the University of Arizona Poetry Center

Went to the Denis Johnson UA Poetry Center reading tonight, he was signing books and he signed Jesus' Son for me. Really great reading---he was just so funny and charming. He read from his new noir "shoot-em-up" novel, Nobody Move, which apparently started out as a serial for Playboy.

Also read a poem from The Incognito Lounge, at the request of several audience members. (He seemed pleased, and joked that Tucson is the only town where people have heard of that book.)

I'm actually brand new to Johnson's work. I'm taking a community college fiction workshop one night a week, and "Car Crash While Hitchhiking" was the first story we read. I was intrigued by it, by the fragmentation and especially by the way it ends---really strange and beautiful. So now I'm looking forward to reading the other stories in Jesus' Son.

I wrote a little post-it note with my name on it, but then when I got to him there was nobody there to tell me what to do, and I didn't know if it would be rude to just hand the book to him with the post-it note on the cover---I didn't know if he was signing with names or just signing---so I just handed it to him without the post-it note. And he signed it, but not with my name, which is a little bit sad, but mostly just awesome.

Will write more later, it's almost my worknight bedtime.

Update 4/10:

So, I was jotting things down in my notebook during the reading, mostly all the funny offhand remarks and one-liners. Also the Q & A stuff. Here are some random "quotes" from what I wrote down---please be aware that even though I tend to try to try to write this kind of stuff down verbatim, really it's only as verbatim as I could manage while keeping up (and while still being able to enjoy the reading.) Consider these to be paraphrases, quotation marks be damned.

He'd been "trying to write a novel with no hope of redemption," and had wanted Nobody Move to be that novel. Is that how it turned out?

When he decided to start writing noir, he did some research, and re-read a lot of Raymond Chandler, including Chandler's writing advice: "When in doubt, have a person walk through the door with a gun."---Of Nobody Move, Johnson says: "That happens like eight times in Part One, so in Part Two they have to be naked."

Johnson also mentions that he thinks "Chandler was actually kind of a prude, who lived with his mother most of his life."

Towards the beginning of the reading, Johnson takes a drink from his water bottle. "This," he says, bottle in hand, "will be the signal that we're at a section break." Cue laughter.

"I feel compelled to sum up the plot for you, but I think you get it." We laugh---so far it's been a lot of lying about names and intrigue about who shot who and for how much money.

Cell phone rings in the crowd. "If only," Johnson says. He slaps the podium. "If only you'd timed that for when the phone rings in his pocket!"

Johnson pauses mid-sentence, makes notes. "Excuse me, I'm doing a little editing. Nobody [he says in an overblown tone of voice, for comical effect] edits my stuff except me."

He slips up reading. "Damn it." He pauses. "You know, these are my words." We laugh. "And this is my mouth. Theoretically, there shouldn't be any problem."

He says he likes to ask audiences this question: "What's the difference between a nautical mile and a land mile?" He says nobody's ever had the answer. Some guy in the audience says, "1.3." (He sounds very serious about it. I don't believe him.)

Someone asks if Jesus' Son was autobiographical. "About half of it happened to me and about half of it happened to people I knew," Johnson says. "I don't think any of it didn't happen to somebody. It's either autobiographical or it's stolen."

Someone asks if he had any role in the film adaptation. Johnson says he wrote remarks on the screenplay, and about a 3 page expansion specifically for the film. Apparently the filmmakers had wanted to add a scene or two not found in the book, but had felt "too reverent towards the material" to mess with it themselves. So Johnson wrote the pages. And onscreen, Johnson "was the guy with the knife in his head."

Someone asks if it's true that Jesus' Son started out as a collection of poems. Johnson says no, except kind of, only for the story "Car Crash While Hitchhiking." (That was the first story we read in the night workshop I'm taking this semester.) He says he "started writing a poem, finished it and sent it in, and the minute after mailing it, realized it should have been a story." The poem got accepted, and he had to tell the journal he didn't want them to publish it. Then he wrote it as "Car Crash While Hitchhiking."

Someone asks what inspired him to write noir? Johnson mentions reading Chandler. About the process of writing this book, Johnson mentions reading up on Hemingway's ideas about economy, about "writing tight." He mentions reading Chekhov. "In probably about another two weeks I would've evolved past the ability to write this thing. I would've ended up going to a monastery or something."

He mentions Paul Kane, a 1930s screenwriter who wrote only one book, Fast One, which was put together out of things published in Black Mask magazine. The book had "nothing internal at all," Johnson says. "You only see the characters from the outside. Because Kane was a screenwriter."

Small Boys, Liberia 1992: Someone asks if he plans to write more of the "journalistic traveling war stuff." Johnson says he went to northern Iraq a couple of years ago and did an article for Portfolio magazine, but he has no plans to do any more of that.

NOTE: The following, in this paragraph, IS verbatim, or very close to it. I transcribed it from the crappy iPod audio recording I made: "It just got old," he says. "The same thing over and over again. Figure out some way of getting into a place, finding someone to show you what's going on. This person is risking their life, you know to get the word out about their cause, you know, the plight of their people. Then after about two or three weeks you say---"So long, buddy." You know, just flush it down the toilet and go home. It had just gotten old, it really did, and I just couldn't do it anymore."

"This," he says, and points to the book (Nobody Move). "There's not a lot of literature in there. But I really enjoyed crafting it. And in that sense it's the most literary thing I've ever written. And the end, if you get to the end, I mean, it's not the way a shootemup is supposed to go."

Someone asks: "What are you working on now?" And Johnson says, "Nothing." He laughs. "I woke up about 6 months ago and I just didn't give a shit. And it's been like that ever since. It's not writer's block, I just don't give a shit." Someone asks, "Is it liberating?" And Johnson says that mostly it's just boring. That he's just sitting around the house "waiting for the next chapter to come."

"Which of your books are your favorites?" someone asks. (I think this question is in really poor taste, but hey, it's still interesting.) Johnson lists off: The Incognito Lounge, Angel, Jesus' Son and Tree of Smoke.

Let's Take a Vote (De-Lurk, Ye Lurkers)

So, I kind of feel like I should take the blog down, start over with a less guess what happened to me today/work sucks/I like cider beer approach.

Try to be more serious and professional, mwah ha ha? Since I'm going to be starting this program, and I'm going to be teaching, and I feel like I'm supposed to have a "myrealname.com" sort of website, where I (try to) say brilliant things in a charming, writerly manner.

I sorta feel like an idiot, now that I know I'm not really as anonymous as I thought I was. I have fun with this little bloglet, though---and I'm not sure I have the time to be serious, right now.

Pretty please, let me know what you think. Is this blog too embarrassing for a future MFA student? Could I ever put my real name on it without dying of shame? I know it's a silly little site, but what if I promise to start being more put together, before the program starts?

What would you do? Are there any redeeming qualities, or has this blog served its purpose---getting me through the MFA admissions season with my gray matter intact?

PS---No blowing smoke where it doesn't belong!

U Minnesota Prospectives Weekend

Here's a bad photo I took of one of the Dinkytown murals.

So far I've been too busy to write about my visit to Minneapolis, but I had a great time. I got there on Thursday, and met another incoming student at the airport---we rode the lightrail into the city together, and then split up for a bit (she went to meet her host, I went to the department.)

I met Julie Schumacher (fiction faculty and the current Program Director), and Kathleen Glasgow (the Program Coordinator.) I was nervous, but they were both really friendly, and I was so happy to be there, so I managed to keep it together.

I sat in on a poetry seminar taught by Maria Damon (poetry faculty), called "Poetry: Bodies and Knowing." It seemed like a reading/lit course with a little bit of workshop thrown in. I was lucky, because the current students happened to be reading their work that day.

Some other prospectives showed up and Kathleen took us out for dinner at a little diner in Dinkytown, an area right next to campus. (I love that name, it's so unabashedly ridiculous. And a little research shows that there's an actual Armenian restaurant, which makes me very very happy.)

I was STARVING. It was maybe 6 pm by now, and I hadn't eaten anything yet, just coffee. I ordered a grilled buffalo chicken sandwich, which was actually really tough, but I didn't care. And I had a nice cider beer. Kathleen and my future fellow students (?) were delightful dinner companions.

Next, we went to this event (from the Minnesota MFA site):

First Books

An evening of readings with debut authors Salvatore Scibona, Nicole Johns and Kao Kali Yang.

Thursday, March 26, 2009, 7:30 pm reading, followed by a panel discussion with the authors and editors from Graywolf Press and Coffee House Press. AI Johnson Great Room, McNamara Alumni Center.

Salvatore Scibona is the author of The End, nominated for the National Book Award. The novel takes place in one day during the lives of six carnival workers. Nicole Johns is the author of the raw and engaging memoir, Purge: Rehab Diaries. Kao Kalia Yang's details the trials of her family's journey from Laos to Saint Paul, Minnesota in The Latehomecomer.

After that we walked over to the Kitty Cat Klub, a bar in Dinkytown. I thought the name was borderline creepy---why not avoid the unnecessary k, if you're going to have three words with a k sound in the name of your establishment? I'm just saying.

It was loud and crowded, but the beer was cheap (they had cider on tap!), the decor was funky, and there were sofas at the back. Good times.

I don't think people smoke in Minneapolis? And the streets are all eerily clean. The Mississippi runs right through campus, separating Minneapolis and St. Paul. There were huge chunks of ice in the river. It was sunny, and the snow looked like dust motes, or ashes, when it snowed.

Here's a really bad picture of me in an incredibly un-picturesque spot. It's the only one I got, but take my word for it---most of Minneapolis was lovely.

More soon.

A Good Month for Equality

A million cheers for Iowa and Vermont!

In other news (I'm a future Minnesotan, after all)---when will Al Franken get his Senate seat?

In other other news, President Obama (I love saying that) was in Iraq today.

Now that the mayhem of the admissions season is over, I have some brain space left to read the news again (not just scan it.) It's nice.

Congratulations, S!

Big news for S. today---Hooray! We're free, it's over, we actually made it through...now for the good stuff.

PS---No blog lately, sleepy all the time.