Monday, December 31, 2007


I miss this stuff.

This little piece
by Verlyn Klinkenborg in today's NYT is brief and lovely.
It’s worth standing out in the snow just to savor the anticlimax of midnight, just to acknowledge that out of the tens of millions of species on this planet, only one bothers to celebrate not the passing of time, but the way it has chosen to mark the passing of time.

...I always wonder what it would be like to belong to a species — just for a while — that isn’t so busy indexing its life, that lives wholly within the single long strand of its being. I will never have even an idea of what that’s like.
Happy new year.

Friday, December 28, 2007


Subject of a spam e-mail in my inbox this morning:

Feel at peace in the middle of war with Valium

If only.
RIP, Benazir Bhutto.

Friday, December 21, 2007


I have just found, and particularly the blog Pharyngula. Takedowns of fatuous creationist claims! The evolution of eyeballs! Pictures of octopuses! (Note: the plural is not, and will never be, octopi.) Diverging species of giraffes!
Giraffes sleep very little and mostly standing on their feet. They give birth while standing, with no apparent ill consequences to the newborn which, after falling from such a great height, gets up on its feet and is ready to walk and run with the herd within minutes.

Newborn giraffe! Freshly fallen.

I never technically learned evolution in high school--I knew the basics and veracity of it because my parents are intelligent and science-minded people, but I skipped taking biology on anti-dissection grounds. They probably evaded the topic anyway. But then in college I took one of those science classes for humanities students: "Dinosaurs, Mass Extinctions, and Other Headlines from the History of Life." I signed up only because I needed the science credit. But I was instantly, utterly enchanted. Giant sloths and beavers and elk, australopithecus afarensis, the reason human childbirth is so inordinately painful and human infants helpless for so long (it's the price we pay for big brains and walking upright)--wondrous, awe-inspiring knowledge. Far more extraordinary than guys walking on water or getting swallowed by whales.

My writing class reads this funny, marvelous (in the most literal sense of the word) Bill Bryson essay that captures that sense of amazement that we exist at all, as species and as individuals-- and every quarter there's a handful of students who openly hate it for its evolutionary implications. This bums me out deeply. I haven't yet figured out how to work with it in class discussion. Would my job be threatened if I showed them this awesome Nova special? (You can watch it online for free!) Probably not at the college, but if I were teaching high school, quite possibly.

The way that "intelligent design" advocates (and their counterparts, the so-called "young earth" believers) try to get into public schools is to set up a conflict. Because they can't prove intelligent design using any sort of credible or scientific method, they instead frame it as a controversy, worthy of acknowledgment. But it's not actually a controversy for anyone but them.

If, as they say, they truly want to encourage critical thinking in the classroom, they're setting their inventions up to scrutiny they can't actually survive.

And yet! In Texas, you will soon be able to get an online Master's Degree in Science Education--from the Institute for Creation Research.



The curse and blessing of originating in beautiful northern Minnesota is that there is no easy way to get there. Yesterday, a long gray van called Executive Express hauled me and several other squashed human cargo from the Minneapolis airport to various stops northward. Five and a half hours and two vehicle switches later, I was finally home in the woods. As long as I was wedged in that seat in the waning light, I took some field recordings of our driver, Larry. He is a classic Minnesota Old Guy, accent and all.

What happened to the Greyhound stop in Alexandria, you may wonder? Listen on:

Finally, we loaded the final human into the van and headed out of "the metro," as Larry refers to it. It's already five o'clock, we've been in the van for an hour, and the combo of rush hour and holiday traffic is a sea of still headlights stretching before us. But, as Larry and the front-seat passenger somberly discuss here, Some People Have It A Lot Worse.

All I'm going to say about the movie Fargo is that watching it at Oberlin when it came out was really, really weird, and it made me feel a little defensive. Marge Gunderson is every hockey mom I know, and I love her. But the rest of them, too much. I didn't watch it again for ten years. I'm going to finish this thought later. The sauna has wiped me out.

Monday, December 17, 2007


I have to submit all my grades, like, now! I had better start making an unrelated list on my blog.

Chris Johanson, Please Listen I Have Something To Tell You About What Is

Ninety-eight percent of the time, I hate text in art. It's so embarrassing. In Chris Johanson's paintings, though, text is as essential as people and planets and buildings and geometric shapes. The letters themselves have a human quality, plaintive and and unsteady and yearning.

Hand Job: A Catalog of Type

Hand-drawn is where it's at!

"Girls in Their Summer Clothes" by Bruce Springsteen

Cate Blanchett in I'm Not There. Twitchy, contrary, willful, resistant, and foxiest-ever in that tight little mod suit and tousled hair.

Documenting rock, art, queers, Portland, and life, Megan Holmes just gets better and better. Delicate and heavy at the same time.

Tie between Tobey and Hector.

This may have been the Golden Year of Karaoke. I will simply list the first that come to mind.
• TJO singing "Xanadu" at the Galaxy, post-Sister Spit
• That same night, Texta Queen's unearthly, yowling hellos on "Smells Like Teen Spirit"
• Douglas's aptly titled "Rump Shaker" bringing all of Chopsticks II to its feet
• C-Love and Winner's "Fast Car" at Chopsticks III, avec human beatboxing
• Nicole Georges' surreally Jacksonian soprano in "ABC," various venues
• Khaela's banging rendition of Rod Stewart's "You Wear It Well" (just last night!)
• Most anything with Yuri and Josh
• Carrie's impassioned "Same Auld Lang Syne" (R.I.P. Dan Fogelberg!)
• Julie Butterfield's jaw-dropping "Scenes from An Italian Restaurant" in Ryan & Holly's basement
• Janet's entire wigs-'n'-mustaches birthday affair

Who could it be?

No way--it's Emmett!

Thursday, December 13, 2007


Not to lean too heavily on the Incident report, but what with the guns, snow, cold, and early darkness, shit is getting crazy in Park Rapids. Even the animals are going nutty. No wonder people are seeing Bigfeet.
A caller reported a male party showing up at a residence, possibly intoxicated, bleeding from the head; People were reported shooting from a truck in Farden Township; A Clover Township resident reported his neighbor shooting all the time, caller thinks it's just to make him mad; A Straight River Township caller reported males threatening to shoot up and burn her house, one has a rifle in the trunk of his car; Subsequent call reported the identified males are at the house shooting, four were taken into custody and a victim taken to St. Joe's; A caller reported a truck driver shooting at a mailbox and taking off, caller pursued truck but couldn't keep up; A group was reported sitting in a vehicle in a Park Rapids lot with loud music playing; Kids were reported "doing donuts" in Park Rapids; An abandoned bike was reported on Main; Three sightings of a possible Bigfoot were reported in Farden and Badoura townships and Cass County; Kids were reported throwing a football across the road in Park Rapids; A caller reported a neighbor in an apartment "came at him with a cane and was threatening to kil him"; Hunting was reported on a Lake Emma Township roadway; A caller reported hearing strange noises outside; A caller reported the neighbor's horse was in her yard again; Ten white horses were reported out on CSAH 19 and County Road 101; Three dogs were reported going through the ice in Henrietta Township, a Lab was in the water about 100 yards from shore; Two rams and a llama were on the road in Crow Wing Lake Township, offficer told they belong to a party who lives on a nearby island; Dogs were reported harassing turkeys in Guthrie Township.
(This is just a condensed version--maybe a third of what's printed in the Enterprise.)

I miss Minnesota. Five days before I head home.

By the way, that is not my home (as much as I would enjoy that mythology springing up around my origins.) That is just the hunting shack of Rich from Rich's Antiques, best thrift/junk store ever.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007


My desk is one of many featured in the exhibit "Writers' Desks" that went up at the Capitol in Iowa City. I like Marilynne Robinson's--it takes a minute to figure out.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007


or, College Students Say The Darnedest Things™ (Part I).

1. Yesterday was my final class of the quarter. At the halfway break, one student came up to me and said, "So are we doing anything super important in the rest of class?"

How does one answer such a question?
a. No, in fact, I hadn't planned anything at all. I just like to be here with you.
b. No, we are only going to do trivial and insignificant things in this college classroom.
c. No, we are going to watch cat videos on YouTube.
d. Yes, we are going to do the most important thing ever done.

I furrowed my brow and said, "We are discussing the Sontag essay and Seong-Oon is giving a presentation." I suppose my body language made my point, because he stared at me for a second and then slunk back to his seat.

I should have said, We are having an unannounced final exam based on the reading for today. Except half the class would have failed. Because...

2. I uncapped a marker, went up to the white board, and posed the simple question, "What are some of the main ideas Sontag writes about in her essay?"

Blank faces.

"Just throw them out there," I said, and turned to the white board, ready to write. Sometimes students feel more free to speak up when you turn your back.


I turned and looked at them and asked, "How many people have read the essay? Raise your hands."

About ten of the twenty people present raised them. Mind you, the essay was THREE PAGES.

"I had a lot going on this weekend," one guy offered, unprompted.

3. One hour and twenty minutes into our one-hour-and-fifty-minute class, in comes Student X and takes a seat, flustered and breathing heavily. I have had this kind of student before: they believe that simply by showing up most of the time, they can somehow pass the class, despite never turning in assignments or participating in class discussion. (This must be a holdover from high school.) They also seem to believe that as long as you arrive at some point before class is totallly over, it counts as attendance.

But this particular student has some strange classroom habits. One day, I caught her working on sudoku puzzles. Last week, I heard a distracting crinkling sound while someone else was speaking, and looked over to see her rifling through an advertising flyer, like the ones from Target and Kmart that are tucked into newspapers. She was methodically circling objects. Then she folded it all up and tucked it back into her bag.

One of my colleagues had a student start flossing during class.

4. Last quarter, in the final week, a student approached me to pester me for an A. I told her she'd been doing good work, but the fact that she persistently came to class 20-30 minutes late hurt her grade. "But I have a math class at the same time as your writing class, and in fact my math teacher lets me out early to come to your class. That's why I'm always late," she explained. "Please give me an A?"

Can you imagine ever having approached one of your college professors and saying these things? It floors me.

Sunday, December 9, 2007


It is snowing in Portland! Right now! Falling snow is among my favorite five things in the world. I have to run outside with Emmett right away because it's too warm to last. Meanwhile, in Park Rapids, MN, it is one degree above zero and the snow is already several inches deep, and, apparently, everyone is drunker than usual. Plus they have guns. (One week left of deer season.) Here, from the Park Rapids Enterprise, the Incident report:
A Bemidji State University student reported leaving on foot from a party in Helga Township because she felt "uncomfortable," needs to get to Bemidji; Kids were reported spinning around a corner in Park Rapids; A caller reported her mother called her and said the neighbor "beat her up but she was too intoxicated to call" so her daughter was making the call; An East Crooked Lake resort manager reported a caller asking about the resort, sounds suspicious, may be related to a string of burglaries; A Park Rapids male reported a female contributing to minors, throwing a party after getting her paycheck, caller sounds intoxicated; An intoxicated male was reported walking in the ditch on Highway 64 north; Careless snowmobile driving was reported; A Park Rapids caller reported hearing female screaming; A caller reported windows frozen over in her apartment, considers it a hazard should there be a fire, wants documentation; Five vehicles were towed for snow removal; L&M called regarding a customer who was irate about a van parked in the handicapped spot, driver is not handicapped; A Lake Emma Township caller reported her husband was out deer hunting and did not return, she yelled for him and he is yelling for help, tree stand fell, Air Care launched; A caller reported the rafters in her house are on fire; A Park Rapids caller reported going out and getting drunk, giving her debit card to her boyfriend to buy pop and now there's $200 missing from the card; A Guthrie Township caller reported a car drove up and the driver shot a deer in her yard; A porcupine was reported under a Nevis porch.
When I was a kid, we had to wear blaze-orange vests when we walked down the driveway to wait for the school bus. (We live in the woods.) And when we let the dog outside, she wore an orange Park Rapids Panthers hockey jersey. (My friend's yellow lab had been killed by a bowhunter.) After deer season, Shady would occasionally drag random pieces of deer into the yard--a leg, a bone, once a head, or once, a whole rotting spine. In town, deer are tied to the tops of cars and piled in the backs of pickups parked on Main Street. Tall heaps of hides at the gas stations. In school, I would literally have to stick my fingers in my ears to avoid the trauma of people's gruesome hunting stories, classic crawled-a-mile-bleeding-to-death stuff, which they relished retelling.

The Enterprise has always published a hunting photo or two, depending on space, but now thanks to the internets they have expanded into The Game Room. Here you will find photos of toddlers gripping antlers and smiling teens (and preteens) cradling the bleeding heads of deer and bears they have "harvested." ("The neighbors should be able to sleep secure knowing that their flower and vegetable gardens can safely sleep through the winter.")

Wednesday, December 5, 2007


Today my friend Dan Selzer, who has the most encyclopedic and arcane music knowledge of just about anyone I've ever known (bordering on autistic-level, the info in that guy's brain-files), and who now runs Acute Records, posted a rhapsody on the life-affirming power of "120 Minutes" back in the day.
Now you kids out there, you may not appreciate this, what with your internets and every 13 year old weirdo in the world downloading Group XEX and Screamers music like it’s their birthright. You don’t know how much work it was to be weird, or what a relief those two hours on MTV were.
Read on (and enjoy many video clips.)

I did not have MTV growing up--in fact, you could not get it in Park Rapids, except maybe by satellite--but when I would go to my grandmother's house in North Dakota I could gorge myself on it. One afternoon she walked in the room when the video Porno for Pyros' "Pets" was playing. She took one look at Perry Farrell parading around onscreen and said, "What is that thing? Somebody get a stick and kill it."


The new challenge of being five-foot-four at a rock show is that not only do you have to tiptoe and lean and sway to get a glimpse between and around shoulders, hairdos, other hulking human obstacles; now you also have to eye-dodge a million tiny screens being lofted to capture the stage action, or else resign yourself to watching the entire show through them. You have to tune them out like blinking banner ads. Except this is a live show, not the internet, and there should not be little LCD banner ads hovering in and around the audience.

My horse is not so high; I snapped a handful of pictures myself tonight, all of which turned out useless. But the brawny dude in front of me would hold up his camera to film entire songs, bulky elbows winging outward and further slashing up the meager view. At some point, it crosses over into light pollution. Now that smoking is banned, this is the new secondhand.

OK, show report: Tegan and Sara are like Our Own Backstreet Boys. I only mean this in terms of the audience reaction, which was jelly-kneed, high-pitched, constant screams. Anything T&S said, the crowd screamed at. People even screamed while they were speaking. I thought the girl behind me was going to go into seizures when they launched into whatever that last song was. ("Living Room"?) I would not be surprised one bit to hear reports of crying and fainting in the front.

They are incredibly cute and charismatic onstage, jokey and Canadian-accented. And their voices live are more differentiated and more interesting than they are all layered up on record. Sara's voice is like a shard of glass. Very New Wave. Tegan has a richer voice with a great scuffed-up edge. She slowed down "Soil, Soil" and "Call It Off" and you could hear her voice stretch and fill the space. I'd like to hear her do a Cat Power kind of project.

Megan took some beautiful pictures at some secret early thing they did earlier in the day at Mississippi Studios, up on her sumptuous photo-blog.

Sunday, December 2, 2007


Before I owned a house, I never noticed things like crown molding, quarter-round, wall texture, backsplashes, door solidity, and cabinet hinges. Now every home I enter, I find myself eyeing all the parts of it and attempting to determine their provenance. (Atomic Series light fixtures from Rejuvenation! Et cetera.) I never would have noticed these things if I hadn't at one point had to think about them and make my own choices about them.

In the same way, the way I read fiction has changed over the past seven years, thanks to workshopping stories and teaching writing. When you start reading everything with work gloves on, you can't help but dismantle and deconstruct. I mean, I was always a critical reader--in eighth grade, I gave up on Danielle Steele novels when I found myself mentally editing her sentences as I read. But still, I read quickly and I'd read anything--classics, teen romance crap, Clan of the Cave Bear, I plowed through them all.

I sometimes miss that speed and voracity. Now I head into a story with my eye much closer to the page, and I notice a million things about word choice and sentence structure and so on. And if something doesn't immerse me within a couple of pages or chapters--if I still find myself poking, prying, and inspecting--I tend to abandon it. Unfortunately, this means that I read fewer things. And I think I've carelessly ditched some worthy works. But I think the all-or-nothing approach means that when I do like something, I really love it. My book reviews would be "didn't finish" and "five stars," and little between.

Which is why I loved coming upon "Or Else" by Antonya Nelson in a recent New Yorker. I read this story and just sank into it completely. It is deeply layered, lonesome, dark and beautiful. I love the protagonist's self-consciousness--his acute, almost meta- awareness of the narratives he is spinning, even as they leave his mouth. When somebody asked me what I'd done that night, I said, "I read this story 'Or Else'." Reading it gave me the feeling that something had happened; it was an experience in and of itself. I think that is one of my top ten feelings in life. Five stars.

Friday, November 30, 2007


This is The Alibi, my neighborhood tiki bar. Usually I go to sing karaoke in the back room, where they provide free leis, deep U-shaped vinyl booths, and a sound mix that is 80% vocals and 20% tinny backing track. Plus the mic has a sweet spot that if you don't hit it, your voice drops out. So maybe that's not so much a sweet spot as an only-spot. Hint: it's in the dent.

I went the other night with one of my favorite new Portlanders, Donal. We stayed in the front part of the bar, which is way tiki-er and older than the back. There are palm trees and Xmas lights and a waterfall and a fireplace and huge candy-colored drinks that are so sweet your tongue hurts. And deep-fried macaroni and cheese wedges, which sound totally trashy but are crispy golden on the outside and silky and creamy on the inside.

That's Donal's reflection.

Also, did you know that Portland has a gay sports bar? It's called Joq's. Green carpet, glossy oak barstools, televisions, pool table, men in crewneck sweatshirts. If you want a taste of Midwest suburbia (with a twist!), I recommend it. Otherwise, skip to Starky's, a windowless diner/bar which looks on the outside like a weird suburban steakhouse from the '70s, and on the inside, as Donal and Michael aptly put it, like a 1980s airport lounge. Mauve walls and brass trim and lots of pencil art. And the sweet white-mustachioed bartender is the gay great-uncle you never had.

Friday, November 23, 2007


The other day a student from Taiwan brought me her essay about funeral customs there. Funerals last two to four weeks and involve several lengthy rituals--all pink and red are taken down (those are wedding colors) and replaced with black and white, altars are assembled, the body is put in what she called an "ice coffin" (she meant refrigerated, but I like "ice coffin" better) until the burial-OK lunar day on the calendar, and when the ceremony finally arrives, the family members don different kinds of fabric differentiating who was most important to the deceased, second-most important, etc. Most important: burlap. Second-tier: ramie. At her grandfather's funeral, her brother was on the burlap team; she wore ramie. Why? Because boys are more important. That blatantly.

But the detail that bowled me over was that they hire a professional mourner, called a siao nu, for the ceremony. This woman comes forth and weeps and wails at great length and volume over the body of this deceased stranger to her, transcribed by the student as such: "Oh Daddy, why do you left us? Don't go, don't go! Aarrrrrgh!" ("I didn't know how else to get across the sound she was making," explained the student.)

Since the Taiwanese are expected to keep their emotions quiet and to themselves, hiring a pro mourner is the way the family demonstrates how sad they are to lose their loved one. It is totally standard. This student, however, when I asked how she felt about it, wrinkled her nose and shook her head: "I don't like it." When she dies, she says, she wants a quiet, short funeral, like she has seen in American movies.

Monday, November 19, 2007


Today, my regrets and curses are many.

I rue that I am designing an extensive graphic-laden book project using Quark XPress (to be fair, standard in 2002, when I started);
I rue that I chose to install Mac OX 10.5 Leopard yesterday;
I rue that Leopard and Quark, it turns out, cannot make PDF babies together;
and that Adobe will not have a fix for this until January 2008;
I rue that all of this happened as the deadline bears down upon me, a charging bull of a deadline, snorting fearsomely as I wave my impotent Quark noodle;
I rue that I cannot uninstall Leopard, and even if I could, I cannot find my OS 10.4 Tiger install discs, nor can I downgrade without erasing my entire hard drive and starting anew.

Dear loyal and good MacBook Pro, I am so sorry I have burdened you with this g-damn stupid upgrade.
Dear readers, I am sorry for this angry nerd post.
Fuck Leopard.

Not that one, he's okay.

[UPDATE: I figured out a loophole! Save as a PDF through the print menu. It's not perfect--it won't process some of the images--but it saves me from transferring everything back and forth to my weary, creaky 2003 iBook.]

Thursday, November 15, 2007


Searching the New York Times this morning for a particular article about how the life stories we tell reveal the raw ingredients of our personalities, I stumbled instead upon "On Self," excerpts from Susan Sontag's journals. They're funny, introspective, sometimes terribly sad, populated by the likes of Simone de Beauvoir and Jasper Johns and Lillian Hellman and Maria Irene Fornes (whom she calls "I.", interestingly.) I couldn't devour them fast enough, even as I wanted to linger in each entry, rolling my favorite lines over and over in my mind. So I had to read it all twice. For example:
Early 1959, New York City
The ugliness of New York. But I do like it here, even like Commentary [to which she contributed]. In NY sensuality completely turns into sexuality — no objects for the senses to respond to, no beautiful river, houses, people. Awful smells of the street, and dirt.. . .Nothing except eating, if that, and the frenzy of the bed.

December 24, 1959

My desire to write is connected with my homosexuality. I need the identity as a weapon, to match the weapon that society has against me. It doesn’t justify my homosexuality. But it would give me — I feel — a license.
Being queer makes me feel more vulnerable.

August 8

Monday Morning

I must help I. to write. And if I write, too, it will stop this uselessness of just sitting and staring at her and begging her to love me again.
. . .
It hurts then to love. It’s like giving yourself to be flayed and knowing that at any moment the other person may just walk off with your skin.

Becoming aware of the ‘dead places’ of feeling — Talking without feeling anything. (This is very different from my old self-revulsion at talking without knowing anything.)

The writer must be four people:

1) the nut, the obsédé
2) the moron
3) the stylist
4) the critic

1) supplies the material
2) lets it come out
3) is taste
4) is intelligence

a great writer has all 4 — but you can still be a good writer with only 1) and 2); they’re most important.

January 4, 1966

The situation in painting is tight: like science.
One has to keep up, have a very keen radar. (To be relevant, to be interesting.)

While in literature, everything is so loose textured. One could make a parachute jump blindfolded — anywhere you land, if you push it hard enough, you’re bound to find interesting unexplored valuable terrain. All the options are lying about, barely used.

(Photo by Peter Hujar)
Here is Susan Sontag in 1975.

I know that some people say that when they die, they want all their journals and personal writing burned and destroyed. But what better time to crack it open? No one is ever going to know you again. All you are is words now. You get to just be, as Sontag calls it, the nut and the moron. The most important part.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007


The disparity between Wordstock's graphic identity--clean, modern, minimalist, W+K-designed--and the actuality of its existence in the airless, windowless, mauve caverns of the Convention Center is what I imagine one experiences upon meeting an internet date. On the other hand, along with the awkward and dull parts of the date, Wordstock did yield worthy moments of insight and wit, and I saw a lot of friends there, reading and volunteering and vending and mingling. (I have never been on an internet date so I actually have no authority to make this analogy.)

On Saturday morning, I introduced Douglas Wolk for his talk on comics. I realized, to my shock, that although I have seen Douglas sing karaoke 700 times, I have never seen him read. He was great! He did not read from the book, but instead delivered a long, loving, and thoughtful complaint titled "Why I Hate My Culture." Meaning comics culture, which has long had "an incestuous relationship between audience and medium." Still, he posits happily, now is the Golden Age of comics.

"Nostalgia is poison," says Douglas, because it makes people misunderstand what makes the object of nostalgia good. (Which made me think of "Asleep and Dreaming" by the Magnetic Fields: "I don't know if you're beautiful, because I love you too much.")

These podiums are not built for short types, i.e. women. Look: it's Katha Pollitt in a box!

She could very well be wearing no pants.

I met up with my brother and we went to see cartoonist Matthew Diffee, who utterly stole the show with his New Yorker rejects (and some accepted ones.)

On having his cartoon chosen for the groanworthy weekly New Yorker caption contest: "It's kind of like getting accepted and rejected at the same time." Apparently they receive 9,000 caption entries per contest, and they have a computer program that groups all the like captions together. Thus did no fewer than 25 people come up with what had roughly been Diffee's original caption to his cartoon. (Tip: click here to learn the perfect answer every time.)

Cartoon editor Bob Mankoff (looming behind Diffee on the screen) tells aspiring cartoonists, "The New Yorker is open to anyone, the way the Yankees are open to anyone." Ten reasons cartoons get rejected: too lowbrow; too politically incorrect; too dark; too weird; too political; too difficult to get, and when gotten, not funny enough to justify the effort; too dumb; too bad; too dirty; all of the above. For all these reasons, the rejects he showed made me and Dan laugh falsetto-hard.

Note to Taylor Clark: You do not need to say "quote" every time you're about to read dialogue. (As in, "The three of them wondered how long it could last. Quote: 'I had no idea if we would make it,' said John.")

Perhaps I was simply maxed out at this point, but I could hardly pay attention to the Dark Horse Comics panel on graphic novels with Craig Thompson (Blankets), Shannon Wheeler (Too Much Coffee Man), and a guy who draws superhero comics--except when doe-eyed Thompson, whose eyelashes were visible from a hundred yards, spoke. He was that example of the quiet person being the one you really listen to, because it seems to mean more. Scratch the "seems to"--he was just more interesting and reflective than his panelmates.

Blankets is about being raised in his fundamentalist Christian family in Wisconsin, and breaking from it. It is 580 pages long and excavates all sorts of family dirt.

MODERATOR: "Was that cathartic?"
THOMPSON: [pause] "No."

I resist "catharsis" as an artistic trope so I was happy he said that.

Out with a bang: Jon Raymond and Tiffany Lee Brown read selections from the archives of Plazm while a video of a pair of hands flipped through back issues on a screen behind them, and I felt surges of nostalgia for the '90s. Poison, I know! But I fully indulged.

(Sitting next to Jon is Lidia Yuknavitch, who read a startling story that involved a bombing-orphaned girl watching a wolf chew off its own leg in the snowy woods.)

Friday, November 9, 2007


I have a few pet peeves pertaining to the way people write about women, and about the way people write about women writers. Some of them, we women bring upon ourselves. Goddess help us! (There's one right there!)
Here is a starter list:

1. The word herstory. Nancy Dye, president of Oberlin and powerful and practicing feminist, corrected this in a seminar I took with her sophomore year--it's false etymology ("history" does not derive from "his story.") Like "mandals" or "labradoodle," it may sound cute the first few times, then just gets cringey.

2. Is wimmin the plural of womyn? I never understood that. With all due respect to the great second wave feminist forebears upon whose shoulders I stand, etc., must we still employ these awkward misspellings.
I'm not putting a question mark there because I actually don't mean it as a question.

3. Estrogen. Good god, are we not more than a hormone? I have seen countless female bands described as "estrogen-fueled," a music festival in Chicago last year called itself (cringe) EstroJam, and in this week's Willamette Week, this listing appears:
WORDSTOCK: Women & Words
A quartet of smart literary babes, Janet Fitch (White Oleander), Carole Radziwell (What Remains), Alexandra Fuller (Don't Let's Go to the Dogs Tonight) and Karen Karbo (How to Hepburn), kick off Wordstock with a chat on all things estrogen. 7 pm.
Really? Is this really a "chat" about "all things estrogen?" For one, it sounds desperate, as if the listings writer can't think of anything else that might be common to female experience. For another, what are "all things estrogen"? How many "things" can there be? And for another, the operating assumption seems to be that if the writers are all women, they will speak solely of woman-things. (Instead of, for example, talking about writing books.) Would anyone ever describe a panel of four respected literary man-authors as "a chat on all things testosterone"? Totally lazy. At least if they got right to it and called it a hen party, it wouldn't sound like a menopause info sesh.

Plea to the verbal universe: Look, I know I can be hopelessly literal. But can we drop "estrogen" unless we're actually talking straight up hormone issues? I just don't feel that my artistic and literary impulses, or my sense of community, are secreted from a gland.

"A chat on all things brain"--that I would go to in a second.

Monday, November 5, 2007


A quickie: Two of my favorite music-makers light up the inaugural day of NPR's surprising and delightful new music site.

Stephin Merritt constructs a new song, "Man of a Million Faces," in 48 hours. You can watch or listen. I heard it on the radio, driving home in the dark down the winding back roads, heat on, just my headlights and the farms and then Forest Park, and it was a perfect radio moment. He thinks about structure in such a fascinating way. This song is like a barber pole--it goes up and up and up. But you might not notice unless you were listening for it. When I hear him talk about song structure, I start to think about how I could apply it to story structure.

He is all about the waveforms. (Many of the beats on Holiday were, in fact, he made with hand-drawn waveforms.) Also, he hits the floor tom with a maraca.

And Carrie is all up in the Monitor Mix.

Friday, November 2, 2007


1. Front page story: Elsie Fearn, 82, dies in a car crash. (The driver: her 84-year-old brother, who survived.)

2. A man died of rabies after being bitten by a bat:
They were loading firewood into the friend's cabin when Hertwig noticed a bat on the door screen. He cupped his hand over it and removed it. ...Although he reportedly felt a "needle-prick," he did not believe he was bitten because no blood was drawn. He did not seek medical care immediately following the incident.
Only three other humans have contracted rabies in Minnesota in the past 100 years. (All died from it.) PUBLIC SERVICE: I heard this on This American Life, and it's true: Bats have tiny teeth. People don't always know when they've been bitten. If you find a bat in a room where you or someone else has been sleeping (or impaired or intoxicated), CAPTURE THAT BAT and bring it in to get tested for rabies. And you have to be vaccinated within 72 hours or you get rabies and die.

[I have a really great mental photograph, which I wish were a real photograph that I could put here, of my father in his boxers and T-shirt chasing a bat around the cabin with a fishing net. Maybe later I will draw an approximation and put it here.]

3. In her op-ed column Slices of Life, Jill Hertler invokes Hamlet as she poses the "age-old dilemma faced by families from Alabama to Wyoming. To truck or not to truck? That is the question." (Spoiler: her husband does get that pickup.)

4. A sampling of headlines:

5. And finally, the Incident Report, slim but memorable:
A caller reported his vehicle "stolen" after his soon-to-be ex borrowed it and has not returned it; A Park Rapids caller reported he'd gone to the pawn shop to retrieve his gun but someone else picked it up; A vehicle was reported sitting in Heartland Park with the doors open, no one around; A caller reported someone shooting a BB gun at his window; Two girls in a vehicle were reported running over traffic cones in Park Rapids; A Helga Township caller reported someone attempting to enter his home by rattling the door handle, asked for police patrol; An older fishing boat and motor washed up on shore in Mantrap Township; A caller reported his son's front license plate is missing; About 20 cows were on the road in Fern township; A woman in Park Rapids was reported to have put a note on a car, spitting on it and swearing.

Thursday, November 1, 2007


Linguistics-savvy commenter (kan det være Curt?) on my earlier post pointed me to snowclones, a.k.a. The New Y. (Basically: ____ is the new ____.)

Love! It!

Here is the chart, and the link to it with commentary:

Here's further elaboration on it, with media examples.

That said, Putin is maybe the new Mugabe.
For serious.

Saturday, October 27, 2007


The Rock'n'Roll Camp for Girls benefit dinner was a blast: excellent company, more wine than we could even drink, delicious food, good times, money raised, all lyrics remembered, the right beats percussed. Even got a writeup in the Willamette Week!

(For the record, it is Electrodoméstico, one word. But the quotes around "band" are accurate.)

Friday, October 26, 2007


WHEN I LOVE TO TALK ABOUT WRITING: At the bar, over coffee, standing in the kitchen during the party, walking the dog, driving toward the coast, in a classroom, on the phone while I sweep, when I really should be writing, popping cheese cubes and drinking wine out of a plastic cup. For starters.

WHEN I DO NOT LOVE TO TALK ABOUT WRITING: Sitting barefoot in a gown on that cold vinyl padded bench/bed thing, all my clothes draped on the chair, in a tiny clinic room with stark white walls, fluorescent light buzzing overhead, a basket-weave pattern in the beige carpet that ripples when I stare at it, and the doctor is holding a clipboard to which she is paying no attention, pen slack in her hand, and talking about how she wants to "get more of [her] stories out there" and wishes she had more time to work on the novel she's been writing for ten years, she doesn't have enough time to write as much as she wants, she wishes she'd planned sooner for early retirement, she hadn't expected that she would be opening a private practice but here she is, sigh, and where did I go to grad school, and she wishes she had gotten an MFA but she was studying hematology at the time--and I, captive and courteous, must play the part of Sympathetic Ear, murmuring terse words of encouragement, while I shiver under the thin gown and wonder if my mounting flight urge is jacking my heart rate.

I am so glad that doctors and therapists and other people who fix us have artistic and writerly aspirations. But when I go to them to get care, when I'm physically and/or emotionally naked and I'm alone in a room with them, I really just need the part of them that is a doctor.

Look, I want to say, You're OK. We are all anxious about writing. You will never feel you have written enough. Now please pick up the stethoscope, stop talking, and listen.

Friday, October 19, 2007


Today I was informed by my college students that "cool" is no longer used literally. We're talking about arguments of definition, so I assigned them "The Coolhunt" by Malcolm Gladwell. I said, Cool is a good example of a shifting definition because by its very nature it's constantly changing.

Yeah, like how nobody uses it to describe temperature anymore, said Cory.

I laughed kindly and clarified that that part of the definition is still fixed: We still say it's cool outside--that hasn't changed.

Emma raised her hand. She looked confused and concerned. (For me?) I would never say that, she said. Much murmured concurrence.

What? Really? You wouldn't? None of you?

They all shook their heads. One said, My mom would say that. I wouldn't. It just sounds weird.

The weather is rainy and cool. That sounds weird?

A unanimous yes.

I felt both astonished and delighted by the discovery of this generation gap. Be ye hereby warned: Cool as a temperature is the new slacks.

P.S. Here is the salamander Iris & I found hiding under a wet leaf in Forest Park.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007


All right, time for another Incident Report from the Park Rapids Enterprise. I could pretty much run this one verbatim, it's so rich, but here's the cream:
A Park Rapids caller reported kids fighting at the skate park and a semi that's been running for two days; A small purple bike was reported left at a Park Rapids park for several days, it's now in caller's garage; A car surrounded by kids was reported to be a traffic hazard on 12th Street, "looks like they may have a problem"; A couple of teenagers in Park Rapids appeared to be hot-wiring a car; A school bus stop arm violation was reported in Park Rapids, six kids on the ground; A caller asked to speak to an officer after his neighbor threatened to kill him; A Park Rapids store employee reported an intoxicated individual stealing and sexually harassing her with a Playboy; Half-empty cans of paint and paint thinner were reported in the ditch in Crow Wing Lake Township; A White Oak Township resident reported a man checking out his place with binoculars and "engaging in other suspicious activity"; A pickup with its hood up was parked in a Park Rapids lot for about six hours, occupant appeared to be sleeping; A hole was cut in a Henrietta Township fence; A Henrietta Township resident reported someone dumping gas in her garage; A caller reported that the "neighbor is once again cutting the trees down in her yard"; A white car with no license plates was reported parked in Park Rapids, "looks suspicious"; A minivan was reported parked on Riverside all week, "doesn't belong to anyone at Cornerstone"; A Park Rapids caller reported a female "finished it off," referring to vandalism that had been interrupted by officer intervention the night before; A Park Rapids caller reported former tenants are backed up to his shed and are in the process of stealing items.

I've spared you a particularly depressing Animal-related section, which involved loose cows, several injured deer, and a dog beating. (Or maybe now I haven't.)

Main Street, last December.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007


The Learning to Love You More book arrived today!
I have two contributions in it.
I took a picture of Seven under the bed,

and drew this guy, way back in '02.

Morgan Rozacky's neighborhood field recording (Assignment #2, and cause for above Assignment #12, "Draw a tattoo of one of Morgan Rozacky's neighbors") still holds as the one of the best things on there, and maybe should be in the Whitney.

Sunday, October 14, 2007


I have sent out a call for stories from rock campers about how the Rock'n'Roll Camp for Girls has affected their lives, and man, are they sending me throat-lumpers and tear-eliciters. Like this excerpt from Madison, a 15-year-old guitar player who lives in a small town on the coast:
When I entered the Rock 'n' Roll Camp For Girls, I was a shy, quiet little girl who had been home-schooled for three years, moved 10 times in her 14 years of life, and had hardly even made friends in the city she was currently living in. But when I left the Rock 'n' Roll Camp For Girls, I was a brave, noisy, strong girl.

Thank you, Rock 'n' Roll Camp, for changing my life, and the lives of hundreds of others. Because of you, I can defend myself, and speak my mind. Nobody can bring me down.

If you want to fill the world with more brave, noisy, strong girls, consider this. We're holding a swanky benefit feast in Portland on October 25th, featuring food by the illustrious Simpatica, a silent auction full of awesome items and services (an Emily the Strange electric Epiphone guitar donated by Dark Horse Comics, a Fender electric guitar, keg-and-multiple-pizzas party-in-a-box, and more), and a solo performance by Carrie Brownstein. It's $100 per plate. It's going to be so worth it. Here you can reserve your ticket/pay/donate (do it soon--must RSVP by October 20, and seats are limited!) Spread the word.

Also at that link, you can watch a great little montage of clips from last year's showcase, starting with the Electric Ligers, who start off with the battle cry, "Scream if you hate captivity!" and then burst out from their cages. The tiny guitarist plays her guitar with an electric toothbrush.

Right here you can see Silo 24 from this year's second session singing "Wanna Be Free." I think they are eleven. They are a three-piece: just drums, guitar, and vocals. At this point, they had existed as a band for exactly six days.

If this is the future, I feel a lot better about the world.

(That's Sticks and Auzzie, the Silo 24 drummer and guitarist, in the foreground of the photo at left.)

Wednesday, October 10, 2007


E. coli has struck the Park Rapids* water supply! Foul! Pamida (shabby regional medium-box store chain) has helpfully posted this sign:

(*My hometown in Minnesota, pop. 3000, for the unaware.) (Photo by Jean Ruzicka for the Enterprise) (Btw, Pamida is named for the entrepreneur's sons, Paul, Mike, and Dave, and is pronounced accordingly.)

Onward! To the good stuff. From the Enterprise, the most recent INCIDENTS:
Farden Township caller reported a grandson came downstairs and found a male sleeping on the couch; A trailer house being towed by a pickup was reported dragging on the highway, losing pieces of frame; A caller reported a male walked in front of her car, she stopped and he used an obscenity and punched her windshield, breaking it; A male was reported sitting on Highway 2 with a rifle, proved unfounded; A "missing guest" was reported in Lake Emma Township, went out jogging and did not return for a reception; Caller reported males hunting in his cow pasture, he asked them to leave and they argued with him; Two kids were reported peeking in a Park Rapids window; Someone was reported writing on a car with a blue marker in Park Rapids; Kids were reported "messing around in vehicles" in a parking lot; A bike with flat tires was reported parked in front of a Park Rapids store; A man was reported to have severed his finger at the Henrietta Township tractor pull, en route to hospital; A male fell into a drain pipe in Park Rapids, is out but injured; A bottle was reported on fire at 8th and Main, fire was out but caller asked that it be checked out; A deer stand was reported stolen from the woods; Donkeys were out on the road in Rockwood Township; A Nevis caller reported her granddaughter's at her home and there's a big, black dog in the yard.

I would like to make a movie called Incident Report. Based solely on true incidents reported in the Park Rapids Enterprise, it would take place over the course over a single day/night and dramatize each incident in brief, no more than a few minutes each. There may need to be two volumes, Winter and Summer (those are basically the only seasons in northern Minnesota), so as to encompass the distinct and equally significant lake-and-sweltering-boredom-related incidents and snow-and-frozen-boredom-related incidents. I guess Fall (hunting season) could be a featurette. That one might be a little drunker and bloodier. Definitely would require a shot of the towering stacks of deer hides at the gas station and the carcasses roped to the tops of cars parked on Main.

Sunday, October 7, 2007


The sci-fi horror of the rape rampage happening in Congo right now is unbelievable.

According to victims, one of the newest groups to emerge is called the Rastas, a mysterious gang of dreadlocked fugitives who live deep in the forest, wear shiny tracksuits and Los Angeles Lakers jerseys and are notorious for burning babies, kidnapping women and literally chopping up anybody who gets in their way.

United Nations officials said the so-called Rastas were once part of the Hutu militias who fled Rwanda after committing genocide there in 1994, but now it seems they have split off on their own and specialize in freelance cruelty.

I had in my class this summer a 24-year-old woman from Congo, an amazing writer with shoulder-length braids and a mellifluous African-French accent, quiet in class (self-conscious about her English) but driven and outspoken outside of it. I learned at least as much from the essays she wrote as she did from anything I assigned. She managed to get out of her engagement at 15 to a much older man by stalling with education: she said she did not want to marry until she had finished her education, then proceeded to earn more and more scholarships and degrees until finally six years later the man gave up in exasperation. Now she has married for love, emigrated to Portland, and added English to her roster of fluency (five languages now).

I know she is not from this part of Congo, but I think of her immediately whenever I read about it. Knowing someone from another part of the world instantly makes you care about it in a different way. I thought about that a lot in Norway last summer.

This image haunts me:
Recently, [United Nations peacekeepers] initiated what they call “night flashes,” in which three truckloads of peacekeepers drive into the bush and keep their headlights on all night as a signal to both civilians and armed groups that the peacekeepers are there. Sometimes, when morning comes, 3,000 villagers are curled up on the ground around them.
Read it all. It's not long.

We talked about the word "rape" in my writing class on Thursday and the students told me that in [some enormously popular interactive video game--maybe Halo?] people casually use the word "rape" all the time; it's become vernacular. You'll see it come up multiple times in an hour. I wish I could invent a computer virus for this game where every time someone types in the word rape, the game would freeze and this article would fill the screen. Then a different article or image every time, until the geniuses finally get it and choose another word among the quarter million English has to offer.

Friday, October 5, 2007


On yesterday's Fresh Air, an epidemiologist made a disturbingly convincing case for the brain-cancerous potential of cellphones. I tend to be skeptical/dismissive of such claims but when she offered the eerie explanation that "the cell phone uses the head as an antenna," and described how the microwaves of the cellphone actually warm your brain an inch deep into your skull, and how it is illegal to sell cellphones to anyone under 16 in India and restricted in England due to child-brain-development concerns, and that the main research asserting their brain-harmlessness was based on a study of non-business users from 1987 to 1995, I started tallying in my head (many minutes I use per month) x (six years since I got it) = invest in quality headset immediately. Als0: texting for health reasons, bring on the hypertrophied thumbs.

I want my head to be my antenna alone.

Last night Holmes and I hit some First Thursday, PDX's monthly galleries-open-late night. A certain five-year-old I know once casually (and aptly) referred to First Thursday as "Butt Zone." We chose our targets carefully though and saw amazing stuff.

Chuck Close prints at Augen Gallery.

An installation at Portland Art Center:

Also: tributes to lost loved ones at Reading Frenzy, Shayla DJ'ing at Upper Playground in her spectacular new spectacles, and Leslie's great bunny and chipmunk astral-projection comic at Floating World.

Then a Madonna tribute night at Holocene, highlights being the Gay Deceivers' synchronized dance moves and hand-painted T-shirts, and Mirah + TJO as I had never seen them before, the former in corset and garters and bondage hood and the latter in mustache and pomaded hair, doing a most otherworldly and amazing cover of "Erotic" while sexy girls swiveled and fondled around and upon them.

Wednesday, October 3, 2007


Getting Around Town In Russian: Situational Dialogs was published by Slavica in 1987. I had to get it in college, and by then the Soviet Union had dissolved but none of our texts had caught up (my big red language textbook immediately gave us the vocabulary "collective farm" and "samovar" and "little hedgehog," but did not contain the words "sad" or "angry" anywhere in its pages.) I like to return to Situational Dialogs, a slim white paperback with no ISBN or price on it, printed in a small and slightly corroded-looking Helvetica. On the left page is the Russian, on the right page is the English. Recurring themes are: waiting in lines, things not working, things being out of stock, and disapproval with one's conduct.

Here are some excerpts.
- Hey buddy, how 'bout getting a light off you?
-What's that? I don't understand.
- Got a match, got a light?
- No, I don't. I don't smoke.

- Could you tell me where the nearest restroom is?
- There's no restroom here.
- Well excuse me.
- Go into the nearest cafeteria, they always have a restroom.

(A policeman can address you with a megaphone.)
- Young woman in blue jeans, why are you going through a red light, are you tired of living?
- Young man in the raincoat, turn back, this is not a crosswalk.

- What are you doing coming into the snack bar wearing a wet jacket?
- Well where can I put it?
- Jackets and raincoats have to be checked in the cloakroom.
- Where's the cloakroom?
- Downstairs, in the basement. On the right as you enter.

- Young woman, why don't you have a coat tab? Here inside the collar there should be a little loop, it's called a
- In America, we don't hang things up by tabs.
- But we do. You have to sew one on, or else I won't take it next time.
- I'm sorry, I'll definitely sew one on.
The chapter of (thwarted) telephone conversations is also a treat. As are the black and white photos scattered throughout. Next time.

I think there ought to be a companion Situational Dialogs for Portland. A solid start might be the actual sign posted by the cash register at Crema.
- We will not make you a 16-ounce cappuccino. If you insist, we will make you an extra-foamy latte.

The chapters "Conversations Among Lesbians" and "At The Dog Park" will be extra rich.

Meanwhile, a visual accompaniment: A Soviet Poster A Day!

Saturday, September 29, 2007


Another edition of selected Incidents from the police blotter of the Park Rapids Enterprise, my hometown newspaper.
A car with a lot of people in it was reported sitting in a Park Rapids lot; A Lakeport Township resident reported lending his snowmobile to a friend a couple of years ago, the friend died and his girlfriend sold it; "Fighting and drinking" were reported in Farden Township; A parked semi was reported running for more than 24 hours;
A Park Rapids caller reported asking the neighbors to turn down the music and was threatened with being shot; An intoxicated female was reported lying on the road; A caller reported getting constant calls from a recorded message; A Park Rapids apartment manager reported a man who's not supposed to be there is refusing to leave, locking himself in the bathroom; A caller reported a driver tried to get her to race at the Highway 34/71 stoplight, he followed her, passing and slowing to 20 mph; A drunk Park Rapids apartment tenant was reported swearing at children; A neighbor was reported moving property line markers; Gunshots were heard in Mantrap Township, caller thinks someone may be lost; A Park Rapids caller reported a male making threats toward her regarding her stolen vehicle; Loud music and kids in the middle of Main were reported; Two people in a car were reported acting suspicious, caller thinks they're smoking something; A caller asked for assistance in retrieving his cellphone from an ex-girlfriend; A Crow Wing Lake resident reported a horse in the driveway.
Home sweet home!


Friday, September 28, 2007


Junot Diaz read at Powell's the other night and no way was I going to miss that. He had on a black fleece zipped all the way up and kept tucking his chin into it and kind of fiddling with the zipper, and arty glasses and good jeans (black rinse). Look, I took one picture for just this purpose but it's distant and blurry and I didn't try again because, I discovered, it feels really dumb to take photos of writers. But check out how Oregon this crowd is.

1. Junot Diaz loves Portland because "of all 20 cities I've visited on this tour, this is the first one where within two hours someone offered me smoke."

2. He has a total Jersey accent.

3. Responding to the question of how autobiographical is this book (answer: it's not): "My next book is about fucking mutants. I'm not kidding. And still someone's gonna be like, [in falsetto voice] 'Is that from your liiiife?'"
3a. He was also gracious and sweet about it, though: "I don't mind that question--fuck, as an artist you're so lucky anybody even wants to ask you questions at all."

4. "When you're writing it's like a fire. Fire is so eager to integrate everything it encounters." I just read something else like this, who said it?, about how when you're really in a story you're writing, you see signs everywhere you go. That is an exhilarating feeling--it changes how you see the whole world. Peronally I think it makes me a little checked out and socially retarded, too, but whatever, it's more gratifying than your standard social intercourse.

5. In 1992, the Dominican government built this enormous lighthouse, the Faro a Colon, to commemorate the quintennial of Columbus landing there. It cost a shit-ton of money and projects a cross-shaped beam of light 150 feet into the sky. But, as Diaz told it, the electricity situation is sketchy, and so at night, all the lights would go out in Santo Domingo--all the houses, the whole city would go dark--and then the lighthouse would switch on, this huge beam rising into the sky, and (here he swooped his cupped hand upward to illustrate) "it was like it was sucking all the light out of the city." He laughed and shook his head. "They don't even turn it on anymore. Couldn't afford it."

6. "You're probably really good at something that you gave up on too early." And then: "I thought, What if I gave up one week before it was gonna happen?"
It's true, right?
What did you give up on?

Monday, September 24, 2007


Carrie and Fred finally made a website for their short movies. They are so funny. "Feminist Bookstore" is my favorite (hits close to home!), but I love them all.

The womynly music in the background? That would be me on flute.
(It is all improv-ed. We just made it up in Radio's studio.)
(It was hard not to giggle into my mouthpiece.)

Friday, September 21, 2007


Here's the cover of the new Donnas album.

When you look at the back, it makes complete sense. Straight up eighties posturing.

But I have to wonder a couple of things. First: I am curious about the meaning of putting ass on the cover of your record. I know, the Donnas have always worked that jailbait/seductress thing, and I do appreciate that they're clothed all tough-like on the back here, not in corsets--more fatale than femme. But when Girlschool put an ass on their cover (the obvious reference here), what audience was that playing to, back in 1980?

And so, what about the Donnas? When is objectification tongue-in-cheek/kitsch? Or maybe the qualification is really, to whom--and can it ever be, fully? I know, I'm being all Bummer Feminist here. I'm just thinking aloud.

Design-wise, I'm not that interested in design that purely mimics a previous aesthetic. It seems lazy to me. And it also obviates the designer--where is your invention, your way of seeing? It's just pastiche. (I'm way more excited by, for example, the stunning opening credits of "Mad Men," which integrate 1960 mid-century minimalism with a modern illustrative sensibility--the Herman Miller and Knoll catalogs appear on screen for a moment, but they're the means, not the end.) Design has its own equivalent of Stone Temple Pilots--imitation so pure it's not even flattery, it's self-effacement. A fake so meticulously executed you'd think it's real. Which can be parasitic.(1)

The Donnas cover isn't parasitic, as it's not sucking the life force out of anything. Nostalgia is about the Over. And the eighties are definitely Over, though the nostalgia for them is through the roof. I'm curious about this, because the true believers, especially fashion-wise, seem to be mostly people who were born in the '80s or even '90s--the people who were basically babies, if that, the first time around. (Even though I was formatively age four to fourteen during that decade, I have pretty much zero nostalgia for the '80s. Maybe it's because I was living, literally and in my mind, in a woodland bubble with minimal/delayed pop culture exposure. We got three channels and I didn't watch them. I played in the woods and wrote horse novels. I never had a Madonna or Michael Jackson record. Totally missed David Bowie. Most '80s music I like now, I didn't discover until the '90s and the '00s. (2) )

Anyway, what I've heard of the Donnas record so far sounds exactly what the cover looks like. I really am not trying to dis the Donnas here. I think they are great musicians and performers and people. And I have a huge soft spot for pop-metal, despite the heinous misogyny of it (the lyrics to "Once Bitten, Twice Shy" will make any Rock'n'Roll Camp for Girls believer's stomach turn)--it was the soundtrack to high school, and I am ever a sucker for an inescapable pop hook. So it's cool that women are reclaiming/reappropriating that sound for their own purposes.

I'm just saying: when I saw that big purple ass at the top of the eMusic charts this morning, it struck me in all these ways. It grabbed my attention, and got me to write all this stuff about it; and just by looking at it, you know exactly what the record sounds like.

So maybe, ultimately, it's a design coup.

(1) Remember when that first STP single "Plush" came out? (No, if you're lucky.) The exactness of the Pearl Jam imitation was stunning. They were the first (of many) to reduce Vedder from a voice to a mannerism, just like Silverchair did to Cobain, et al., ad nauseum. The chameleon gone cannibal.

(2) My nineties nostalgia, on the other hand: encyclopedic.

Thursday, September 20, 2007


I subscribe to the Park Rapids Enterprise, my hometown newspaper (comes out twice a week, circulation 6000.) I used to work there in the summers of '93 and '94. Since it's a tiny paper, I was able, even at ages 17 and 18, to do pretty much everything--I reported, took photos, edited, and did layout. This was pre-digital times: we were exacto-ing out the text columns, feeding them through a machine that coated the back of the paper with a skin of warm wax, and sticking them down into place. Peeling off and taping down long thin stripe-stickers to frame the photos. (O ye olde twentieth century.)

The Enterprise was housed then a couple blocks off Main Street in one of the strangest structures I have ever worked in. It looked like a tin can, cut in half the long way and tipped over, and painted dark brown. (Basically, a turd.) The walls were cinder blocks, the roof was corrugated metal, and it had two doors and one window. Inside: carpet, dark fake wood paneling, and an open room of desks. I sat three feet away from the editor-in-chief, LuAnn Hurd-Lof, who was/is openly feminist, worked all the time, and constantly drank from a small styrofoam cup of office coffee.*

Today I went through recent issues with a scissors to extract some clippings. As always, there are a few Onion-worthy pieces--"Couple Liked It Here In Spite of Incident," and an amazing editorial called "Bleach Accident Causes 'Bullet Hole,'" which describes in detail a laundry mishap, and which I may have to reprint here in its entirety. But the INCIDENTS section is hands-down the best part of the Enterprise and 90% of why I subscribe. On a slow news week, they print every single call that comes in to the police station. I have one in front of me that takes up a full five columns. They break it up into categories: Miscellaneous, Animal-related, Fires, Accidents, ATV-related, and Burglaries, thefts. Here is a selection of things that made the paper last week:
Careless driving and rude gestures were reported in Akeley Township; A male was reported shooting rocks through a PVC pipe into a Park Rapids park; A red boat was driving "very crazy" in Mantrap Township; A "weird odor" was reported coming from a neighbor's house; A house was toilet-papered; A caller asked to speak to an officer regarding her aunt exploiting her grandmother; A highly intoxicated female who's "worked up" was refusing to leave in Lakeport Township; A Park Rapids caller asked to speak to an officer regarding his neighbor who ran over his ice cooler; A Helga Township caller requested 27-year-old daughter be removed from her home; A caller reported her granddaughter broke into her home while she was gone and had a party; A caller reported her renters vacated property at her request, but left horses behind, which she's been feeding; A "skinny dog" was reported in Todd Township; A horse with a saddle, no rider, was reported in the ditch; Shoes were reported stolen while caller's son was at the neighbor's house; A foreign car was reported to have flown around a corner and hit a tree in Park Rapids; Loggers were reported cutting through the night on the east side of Lake Minnie, disturbing caller's sleep; a Todd Township mailbox was "stuffed with something."
Thefts: gas, chainsaws, the food shelf, guns, money, rings, golf clubs, tires, a wiper blade.

The masthead of the Enterprise today is still made up of three quarters of the people I worked with then. Can you imagine being a sports writer in a town of 3,000 people? The only sports are high school sports. But Vance Carlson has been doing it for at least two decades. He goes to every game and meet, he takes the pictures, he writes up the stories. He is a veritable thesaurus of ways to say "defeat" ("Seals Swim Past Panthers" said a recent headline.) I have nothing but respect.

* LuAnn liked me and paid me more than I'd ever made: $7 an hour. She even let me have an opinion column. Fresh out of my first year at Oberlin, leftist fires a-blazing and jarred by re-entry culture shock, I chose as my first subject the Little Miss Park Rapids pageant; my second, the word "feminazi." The newspaper received a surge of letters, including a four-page handwritten-in-blue-ballpoint missive about baby-killers, and one cane-waving (no joke) lady stormed in demanding to have a word with me--"Who's this Chelsey Johnson? Where is she?"--alas/luckily I was out "reporting." But I also got stopped and thumbs-upped in the supermarket by the rad middle-aged women of P.R.'s small yet ardent feminist posse.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

T:BA Festival

I'm a member of the "Press Corps" for PICA's Time-Based Art Festival this year. I have been gorging myself on performances and art and performance art. Here are links to writeups I've done so far (most with pictures too):

• Seeing Mikhail Baryshnikov dance in Donna Uchizono's Leap to Tall
• A breathtaking light installation of constructed eclipses
Mirah and Spectratone International
• A roving guy reading On The Road aloud

I am formulating things to write about some of the other things I've seen--Taylor Mac, William Kentridge's 9 Drawings for Projection, the Dutch theater/film group Kassys' weirdly awesome Kommer. And there's still a whole slew of things to hit this weekend. I'll update as I go.

Here's Kassys, the super cute Dutch film/theater group.

UPDATE: I got sick! Terribly sick! And missed almost everything after. But despite anyone's better judgment, I staggered down to see the Nature Theater of Oklahoma's No Dice Saturday night.