Tuesday, July 31, 2012


A post from facebook. I am spending the day doing various kinds of house and writing work and giving myself breaks to go on facebook or blog.

Breakfast was the usual: coffee, toast and English marmalade. The radio is on to MPR. Patrick is about to go out. I plan to do a load of wash and actually write. I was reading a Neil Gaiman essay on Terry Pratchett. Back when he had a day job, Pratchett would write 400 words every night. One night he came to the end of a novel after 300 words. So he put a new piece of paper in the typewriter (typewriter?) and began a new novel. I wonder if I could do that?

I managed 800 words, though I had a rough draft of most of it. I've gone back to my old habit, which was doing the first draft long hand in a notebook. The advantage is, I don't have to carry a computer everywhere. Even a netbook is heavier than a notebook. And I may think better in long hand, especially when I use a fountain pen with colored ink. My two options right now are purple and turquoise. Then, when I input what I've written, I do a lot of revising. Not a bad technique. So my 800 words are inputting + rewriting.

And I have the great pleasure of buying nice pens and notebooks and using them, and then the even greater pleasure of ripping pages out of my notebook after I input them. There is something so satisfying about this. Words into the garbage!

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Someone Put a Quarter in Me Today...

More from facebook:
I am listening to Finlandia right now, which I love. Lots of Finns around here, including the chief conductor of the Minnesota Orchestra. Let's talk about our Finnish heritage and our special relationship with Finland. Fantastic architecture and design and generations of Red Finns up north on the Iron Range. You can still -- in the 21st century -- say about someone, "He's a Red Finn from the Iron Range," and it's a meaningful statement. And there is Finlandia and Sibelius...

Patrick wanted to see the John Deere Pavilion in Iowa. So we went down to the Quad Ciites. The Pavilion was okay, more a souviner shop than anything else, but we stumbled on the corporate headquarters, designed by the younger Saarinen. Talk about awesome. And there is an amazing Finnish American architect in Duluth. David Salmela. I have a coffee table book of his work next to my couch. Our apartment is full of Marimekko fabrics and there's a piece of Aalto glassware on the table next to me. Those Finns do good work.

Salmela designs North Woods cabins with saunas. His saunas are awesome. If I had an indecent amount of money I'd hire him to design a cabin for me. But the coffee table book is fine, and I am not really a sauna kind of person. But boy are his cabins wonderful.

Patrick mentioned Finnish pastries, and the Finnish section of the Jim Jarmusch movie Night on Earth. The Village Voice reviewer talked about how tragic the Finnish section was. The Minnesota audience at the Walker Art Center laughed nonstop through it. It's done by members of a Finnish acting troup, and it's a very funny skit about death.

Oh, and Patrick mentioned the restaurant in Thunder Bay in the Big Finn Hall. Communist Finnish pancakes.

Patrick adds, "We have a lot of ethnic heritage celebrations here in Minnesota, but none for England. I have never seen a Spotted Dick Day."

Anglo-Saxon Heritage

Jane Yolen posted the followed about Mitt Romney's arrival in London, because she was struck by the obvious racism:

“We are part of an Anglo-Saxon heritage, and he feels that the special relationship is special,” a Romney adviser said when he and crew landed in London for the Olympics, adding: “The White House didn’t fully appreciate the shared history we have.” Romney himself capitalized on that same thought a bit later.
I posted this:
Minnesota is full of Americans who identify with their Scandinavian heritage, their German heritage, their Czech or Italian or Balkan or African or Sioux or Ojibwe heritage... The big question in Minneapolis when I was kid was "what are you?' Which meant, are you Norwegian, Swedish, Danish...? In my experience, English descent Americans have been here so long that they no longer identify with the original homeland, unless they have some class or race issue. A lot of Anglophilia seems to me to be coded dislike of other Americans. (This is not entirely true. There are all kinds of people who love England for its literature, the way people love France for the food and the general Frenchness. But the American ruling class has identified with the English ruling class since the 19th century, and white racists obsess over the English language -- which they can barely speak -- and "our" Anglo-Saxon heritage.)

I just had a bone scan. The tech and I were chatting. She asked if my name was Norwegian. I said, "No. It's Icelandic." -- "Have you been to Iceland?" "Yes." "I've been to Norway," she said. Typical old-time Minneapolis conversation. No mention of our Anglo-Saxon heritage.
I could go on a long time about this, because I cannot stand the "special relationship" crap. It was invented by American Nativists, who could not stand the rest of the American people, and by the English ruling class in order to bond with a rising power as their empire declined.

In point of fact the US has fought two wars against the English: the Revolution and 1812, and in next war that was about American survival -- the Civil War -- the English backed the Confederacy. When the issue was freedom, England was our enemy. I feel a lot more kinship to France, because the French backed the American revolution -- granted for imperial reasons -- and because they fought their own revolution soon after ours, and because of Lafayette. Also, because of French food and general Frenchness.

Because England was the first industrial nation, it has a long and noble history of working class struggle. I admire that -- and the wonderful literature and an amazing, rich, mongrel language I am glad to have an my own. But the Anglo-Saxon stuff is crap. It's nineteenth century Germanic racism and imperialism.


From facebook, over the past few days:

I began a new story, set on Venus. I have the setting and a lot of back story, as well as the heroine and a couple of other characters. But I don't have a shtick, a gimmick, a MacGuffin, something to hang the story on. So I started writing and I will see where the writing leads.

The trouble with getting into a serious writing mood is -- it makes it hard to get to sleep. I lie in the dark, my brain whirring, working out plot ideas and bits of dialogue.


I woke up this morning thinking about the current story. I seem to be experiencing a drive to write, something I have not felt for a long time. We will see if it lasts.

It's not entirely pleasant. I can't get to sleep, because I'm working on stories in my mind, and I rise thinking about the next section of a story. I remember -- decades ago -- writing a novel about a woman who was a were-bear, and it felt as if the story was the bear inside me, trying to claw its way out.

But it's nice having something to say.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Alexander Cockburn

The writer Alexander Cockburn has died. I did not always agree with him, but he was wonderful to read. He finished his memoirs, which has the wonderful title of A Colossal Wreck, and CounterPunch Press is going to publish them. Cockburn's great gift to me was a story he told about his father Claud. When Alexander was a teenager and suffering the way teenagers do, Claud said to him, "Read a little Marx. It will put things in perspective." This leads to the wonderful image of Alexander dealing with adolescent angst by burrowing into the first three chapters of Capital. And it's good advice. As I have mentioned elsewhere, Marx is a heck of a good writer, and his ability to remain good-humored while doing savage take-downs of society is an amazement and a tonic. Anyway, farewell to Alexander Cockburn. I will pull out the first volume of Capital.

To give you some idea of what Cockburn was like, he took great and amused pride in being descended from the British General Cockburn, who burned down the White House during the War of 1812.

He was always opposed to the status quo, and he was very funny.

Friday, July 13, 2012


Patrick and I got Kenneth Branagh's Much Ado About Nothing from Netflix and watched it three times. Patrick then ordered our own copy online, and I wrote the following poem:
Kenneth Branagh as Benedick

In order to be loved
a man must have
golden hair,
good politics,
a quick wit,
slim legs,
a voice like a trumpet.

Hedges must lean
to shelter him,
fountains rise
to greet him.

Honor must be his badge,
in his hands
ordinary decency
sit like a bird.
A lot of my poetry is notational -- a kind of journal entry. In this case, I was talking to Lyda Morehouse about Branagh's habit of casting African diaspora actors in untypical roles: Denzel Washington as Don Petro in Much Ado, for example. I ended by saying, that what I liked about Branagh was his golden hair and good politics.

Then I went upstairs and read some Pablo Neruda and wrote this to record my pleasure in the movie and Benedick, who has always been one of my favorite Shakespeare characters, along with Beatrice, of course.


And of course one can be loved without golden hair and slim legs, but not (say I) without good politics, honor and ordinary decency.

Thursday, July 05, 2012

Post Modernism

This from a conversation about post-modernism on facebook by Gregory Feeley and others. I am posting my comments only.
Boy, do I find this conversation difficult to follow. I think I first need to understand what modernism in terms of literature rather than the visual arts. In the visual arts, modernism was continuing a 19th century attack on the idea of a painting as a window. Instead, a painting was paint on a flat surface. I can follow that through the New York School of the 1950s. Then something happened in the 1960s, which I don't understand. I guess I could say, art became less serious -- and, at the same time, a huge market for art appeared. The art might not be serious, but the money was; and you get art designed to be put in museum galleries and the houses of the very rich. Didn't happen in literature, because there isn't a lit market.
One of the other people in the conversation asked how postmodernism was different from what James Joyce was doing in the early 20th century. I wrote:
This is part of my problem with this topic. (Though a more serious problem is my erratic reading in 20th century lit, except for American science fiction). Modernism (in the visual arts, anyway) is breaking down the illusion of art as a form of reality early in the 20th century. Aside from all the games played with the picture plane, there are things like Dada and Duchamp's toilet. How is the end of the century different? I suspect there is a loss of content in the visual arts. Art is less and less about anything, even formal problems.

And then I start thinking about the way I write. I have a story to tell, and I tell it however I can -- with footnotes, forewords, afterwords, the author intruding into the story. One of the things I'm trying to say is, "This is a story. Words on paper. You do realize this, don't you? It isn't real in the same way that your (the reader's) life is." What I'm doing is modernism -- emphasizing the picture plane, breaking the frame, putting in a atuffed goat for the heck of it. (Though the goat is Rauschenberg and might be post-modernist. I don't know.) However, the story remains important. In fact, the story is all-important. I am trying to say something about reality, as well as about art.

And of the two, reality is more important than the formal problems.
Gregory Feeley asked me if a poorly written story with social content was better than a beautifully written story that did not have social content. I replied:
Bad stories are bad stories. I guess you give the author points for having a good heart. I also have trouble with fiction that doesn't seem to be about anything, even though it's beautifully written. Fiction can be about a lot of things. Formal problems. Social issues. The psychology of the individual. But I have to feel something is going on, and it's important. Though I may not be able to articulate what is going on. I like Calvino's Invisible Cities a lot. But right now I'm not able to say what it's about. Architecture? City planning? Calvino is pushing the limits of the novel in a way I like, and the book is a darn fine read.

I am talking about how and why I write. Other people have other reasons. You know, this stuff is hard to talk about. It's complicated. It makes my head hurt.