Jeff Taylor - 10:47am Aug 24, 1999 PDT (# 669 of 669)
My dad could fix all broken specimens of the inanimate and crochety persuasion, using only a few reliable tools: an ancestry melding all the outlaws of the Old World, a military grade of verbal abuse, an audience consisting of the Almighty and some ghosts, and a box of rusty, broken wrenches. His tools always looked like they'd been stored in the bilge of a sinking scow, and he cursed them as adequately as the project itself. Sometimes, after all else failed, he would invite the project in question -- leaking P-trap, haunted electrical circuit, screwed-pooch remodeling -- to a drinking contest. Nothing on this earth could withstand his Mensan intellect when fueled by black rum. It sent him into frenzies of understanding, entire schematic visions of Escherian complexity. I have seen the raising of household appliances from the dead, the healing of plumbing with compound fractures. When other methods failed, my dad summoned the very elementals, and lo, the broken was fixed.
Which is why we say at my house, when the screen door on the submarine needs repair: "Time to fetch the black rum." The genes are still here. With some tinkering, a black-rum solution will always work.
Creative Writing Programs
Bard Cole - 02:34pm Aug 26, 1999 PDT (# 304 of 313)
I'm not an MFA basher in general, and I know many students do learn a lot and have great experiences. I also understand that for certain needs, the contacts one makes at elite MFA programs like Iowa and Columbia provide fairly substantial benefits, and it's in the material interests of everyone involved to try and use these programs as the literary equivalent of a minor-league baseball team -- a feeder program. One could argue that the literary audience is drying up for a variety of reasons, but I definitely think the influence of MFA programs has an important role in this.
There is a growing 'elite' of literary writers whose books consistently sell a few thousand copies, who start teaching at MFA programs at age 28 or 30, whose names are impressive only to a small world of people interested in being literary writers and getting teaching positions in MFA programs. And few people within that little world would even think of looking outside their circles for literary quality. I think many of them regard the idea of normal people reading their books as somewhat distasteful, at best irrelevant. I don't know if I should feel resentful about this or not. I suspect they take up space that could be better used by real writers.
Among some of these kids I know, it's regarded as 'cute' that I've got a book coming out, maybe one of them will do me the favor of reviewing it even. Never mind that in the past 8 years, I've sold more copies of a godawful xeroxed chapbook than they have actual hardbound books from a major publisher. But it does feel good to have earned the respect of fellow writers who are older and established by being a writer rather than by having been handed them as a teacher. I mean, does a blurb by John Barth on a young novelist's book mean anything? Don't you just assume this was a nice kid in one of his classes at Hopkins?
I'm not always bitter... but reflecting on this subject does bring it out in me.
Call Waiting, then Cell Phones..."Convenience" for Idiots
John Tataryn - 12:55pm Aug 24, 1999 PDT (# 6 of 123)
I once knew a man who was a senior vice-president of a major Canadian bank. This was truly a high-powered financial sector kinda guy, regularly travelling the world (operations in 44 countries, etc.) and putting in 20 hour days.
However, he did not have a cell phone. He said two things that really impressed me. First, if he gives 20 hours a day five days a week, the rest of his time was his alone (even his bosses didn't have the phone number of his weekend retreat). And second, nothing belittles a person's status (status WAS important to him) more than being accessible to anyone, anytime.
Having said that, I have a cell phone, since I live in the country, and drive out in the middle of nowhere regularly. But that's ALL it's used for...emergencies.