Sunday, August 22, 2010

Reading Dear Sugar at The Rumpus

Mhmmm....well, after seeing a series of Facebook posts about it. I went to read it myself and found it was just as cool as everyone had been touting it to be.

So, I highly recommend reading the August 19th "Dear Sugar" column, called "Write Like Motherfucker":
"So write, Elissa Bassist. Not like a girl. Not like a boy. Like a motherfucker." -- Sugar

This is bound to become a classic. I hear shades of Virginia Woolf's "Professions for Women" in Sugar's words, especially killing the "Angel in the House".

You can read Woolf's speech here, for comparison purposes:

And, here's an excerpt from Woolf's essay:
"It was she who used to come between me and my paper when I was writing reviews. It was she who bothered me and wasted my time and so tormented me that at last I killed her. You who come of a younger and happier generation may not have heard of her--you may not know what I mean by the Angel in the House. I will describe her as shortly as I can. She was intensely sympathetic. She was immensely charming. She was utterly unselfish. She excelled in the difficult arts of family life. She sacrificed herself daily. If there was chicken, she took the leg; if there was a draught she sat in it--in short she was so constituted that she never had a mind or a wish of her own, but preferred to sympathize always with the minds and wishes of others. Above all--I need not say it---she was pure. Her purity was supposed to be her chief beauty--her blushes, her great grace. In those days--the last of Queen Victoria--every house had its Angel. And when I came to write I encountered her with the very first words. The shadow of her wings fell on my page; I heard the rustling of her skirts in the room. Directly, that is to say, I took my pen in my hand to review that novel by a famous man, she slipped behind me and whispered: 'My dear, you are a young woman. You are writing about a book that has been written by a man. Be sympathetic; be tender; flatter; deceive; use all the arts and wiles of our sex. Never let anybody guess that you have a mind of your own. Above all, be pure.' And she made as if to guide my pen. I now record the one act for which I take some credit to myself, though the credit rightly belongs to some excellent ancestors of mine who left me a certain sum of money--shall we say five hundred pounds a year?--so that it was not necessary for me to depend solely on charm for my living. I turned upon her and caught her by the throat. I did my best to kill her. My excuse, if I were to be had up in a court of law, would be that I acted in self-defence. Had I not killed her she would have killed me. She would have plucked the heart out of my writing." -- Woolf

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

This Week in my Life and Some of Last Week too

School is about to start again, kids. I imagined over the last two weeks that I would be R&R-ing in front of my computer, writing diligently, reading submissions, etc. But I've been lucky enough to land a nearly full-time fall gig at Eastern Gateway. I'll be teaching two Freshman Success classes, an online version of Comp II (whose technology I've been learning via modules for the last five days--I'm not kidding....they're complicated), and two traditional Comp I classes. It's a full fall program, but I think I'm more or less ready for the fun. Instructor orientation happens this Saturday, and on Monday, classes begin.

Now, let's have an interlude with Royksopp before we continue on....

In other news, my story "The Only Things You Will Ever Give Birth To" is up at Foundling Review. Sad story, this one. But *shrugging* c'est la Vie.

One more story that I know is slated for publication sometime this summer, perhaps early fall, will appear at LitSnack. This story is also semi-autobiographical and titled "Zurich, 1989" (which I also realized is the title of a Pixies intended symbolic correlation, though). This one is about a table conversation I had with a much older, foreign salesman when I was just 14 and on a European business trip with my parents. More on this when it goes live. As I mentioned before, every story has a story. And that one is no exception.

What else? Oh yes, in the evenings, we've been canning everything: beets, cabbage, beans, tomato sauce and putting it all away for the winter. I've been making a fanny-load of pesto, too. It's quite the display in our fruit celler (and, to a lesser degree, in our freezer). We probably have another two weeks of canning to do, and then harvest will largely be over, except maybe for corn and pumpkins.

All right, back to lesson planning. Over and out for now. In the meantime, one of my favorite story-telling songs by Patty's so sad, which is part of its appeal to me. What is not said is every bit as powerful as what is said. Bun always howls along with the ahhhh-ing when I sing along with it. :-)

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

General Doins in Guzland

Today, I'm working on my Library Journal book review column and getting my syllabi ready for my fall classes. I've also been working on stories, one of which I submitted under my pen name, in order to protect the innocent. Ha, indeed. Right now, I'm struggling to get a story done that's just being stringy and complicated. It's based on fact, but I'm having a hard time imagining the details I don't know while still revealing the nature of the people whose actions I'm writing about. Does that make sense?

In other excellent news, I've gotten the okay from Scott, New Yinzer editor, to start a NewYinzer blog, where I post weekly fiction. I plan to get this going tomorrow. Updates to follow.

In the evenings, Michael and I have been spending time preserving food. So far, we've made Bruschetta in a jar, pickled eggplant, pickled cabbage (green and red), and several different kinds of tomato sauces. Last night, we shelled beans: soldier beans and black beans. They're now in the dehydrator, along with some oregano.

My brother-in-law is talking about getting bees and situating them behind the farm house, so I think we're getting him into the hobby farming spirit, which is really good.

Okay....back to work for now, but not without a fun picture. Thanks to fellow West Virginia hobby farmer Suzanne McMinn of for this pic. My folks had a big white Saanen goat named Isabell until 2005. Someday Michael and I will probably buy a pygmy or two for milking purposes. Anyway, we're planning on just a few because goats tend to be naughty and difficult to keep in their pens, although they are truly endearing little minxes.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Chris Hedges, Howard Zinn, and Our Responsibility as Writers

As usual, Chris Hedges writes a fascinating article in Truthdig, this time about Howard Zinn and his unjustified persecution by the federal government. Zinn died in January, and thanks to the Freedom of Information Act, his 423-page FBI file was declassified and opened by the government.

What Hedges writes about specifically is Zinn's New York Times best-seller A People's History of the United States, which is about the history of dissent in our nation. Listen to an amazing 'rockified' excerpt here. Hedges taught this text to prison inmates over the five weeks preceding the posting of his Truthdig article.

Picture: Howard Zinn from the front page of

Now, what fascinates me so thoroughly with all this is the idea of fighting the tide of functional illiteracy through political engagement and constructive dissent, all of which involves the use of language. Hedges wrote in an earlier post that our loss of engagement with language, especially a clear understanding of nuances, is a serious impediment to recognition of manipulative tactics. And this is why I teach English. What little bit I can do to engage students in the process of critical thinking, to bring their attention to tactics of verbal or conceptual coersion, I do. And I do this because I feel very strongly that this is a genuine path to individual freedom (take control of your life and empower yourself by looking, reading closely, and thinking about what is really being said). For the most part, we still enjoy freedom of choice, and we need to take advantage of our ability to say 'no' when a commerical or political interest might possibly do us harm. Hedges indicates that freedom of choice is sometimes not always possible, particularly with the Patriot Act and with the proliferation of cameras that chart our every move. But, conscious thought about the ramifications of our actions--allowing ourselves to operate outside the autopilot we are set on by corporate and political interests--is freedom.

We are such a media-nourished society that most of the thinking is done for us. We are much like baby flies, to whom pre-digested material is given by a the parental entity. It's a pretty digusting comparison, but not inaccurate. Much as our food is processed and full of fillers, so too is our information.

When I wrote the story "Amerian Soma," it was 2005. It was my first political work and shortly thereafter, the momentum I gained in writing it rolled me right into the composition of "Evolution." Both were born, in part, because of what I'd studied in graduate school. Between 1998-2000, after I returned from my scholarship work in Germany, I studied the German social satirist George Grosz under Grosz scholar Barabara McCloskey. Barbara was an avowed Marxist and very interested in worker's rights. I remember hearing that she spent her summers with Fred Evans in Mexico, where they helped with a political movement (although I don't know the details and might well have what little I do know wrong). While my thesis ended up talking more about Grosz's apolitical career while an American exile (but his strong influence on the Black empowerment movement via Grosz's student Romare Bearden), reading Grosz's early polemics and manifestoes made me realize something about the purpose of art. I'll excerpt Grosz from his 1925 essay "Art is in Danger":

"...come out of your seclusion, let the ideas of the working people take hold of you and help them fight this rotten society."

Now, I do have to admit that I saw Grosz as a pure rabble-rouser, one who reveled in defying authority and being disrespectful, especially during his foray into Dada. I still believe this. But it is his belief that art should serve some purpose besides aesthetics and entertainment remained with me. Sure, for awhile this became unpopular, especially after artists kicked Social Realism and its related propaganda to the curb and moved towards the opposite pole, complete abstraction.

But do we, as writers, have some responsibility to engage in dissent? Or maybe the mere act of creating is an expression of individual defiance against the forces that tend to drown us out. Still, the simple act of creation as defiance was true in Hitler's Germany, where artists like Emil Nolde were denied brushes and oil paint, placed under daily surveilance, and forced into hiding or destroying their creations. While we don't now live under these kinds of circumstances, we do have to compete with other media like movies, games, and popular music, where images overwhelm and lyrics become bland mantras. What, then, is our responsibility, if there is any at all, as writers?

Monday, August 2, 2010

A Skunk Named Darnell at decomP

I'm excited to announce that "A Skunk Named Darnell" is live at the fantastic journal decomP. You can read and listen to the whole story by clicking here. Thanks so much to decomP's editor Jason Jordan!

So....where did this story come from (since every tale has a genesis story). Well....having been born and raised in central Pennsylvania (not in the frighteningly rural parts, but close to the capital and not terribly far from Gettysburg), I had never before heard of a family having a pet skunk. However, in West Virginia at one time, this practice was not uncommon. In fact, de-scented skunks were sold at pet stores. Whether they still are, I can't say. I just haven't yet been in the market for a skunk. *shrugging* It might happen. Who knows?

Anyway, my mother-in-law's friend Almadeen bought a de-scented skunk for her daughter, although the skunk (whose name I can't remember) immediately took to the son Ronnie and followed him around. One day, the skunk got out, and the family went out to look for him. They brought home not their pet, but an imposter, who quickly alerted them to their error. Now, granted, Cleo (husband to Almadeen) was definitely not a drunk, although from all accounts, he did not shun the bottle. Still, he is spoken of very affectionately in the elder Guz household.

But this, friends, is how the story started. Apparently, skunks as affable pets are not uncommon. While searching for an appropriate skunk picture, I found the little boy from Britain (above). Young lad has a Darnell all his own, although he admits in the related article that he originally asked for a hamster. did that not translate? (To give credit where credit is due, this picture came from The Daily Mail.)