Friday, August 26, 2011

On Michel Houellebecq...

The Elementary ParticlesAt one time, I was a great fan of Michel Houellebecq. Perhaps 'great fan' is too robust a phrase. Maybe 'had a peculiar fascination with' would be a better expression of my feeling for his work. See, the dude is dark. But once upon a time, 'dark' (as in psychologically messed up) appealed to my sensibilities. The first Houellebecq novel I picked up was The Elementary Particles from one of the bookstores I trudged to after work when I lived in D.C. I read about protagonist Bruno's plight--specifically, the horrible experiences he had in private school (experiences with which I could identify, having been in private school for several years). And there, I began to see a deep and abiding truth to Houellebecq's characters, to his view of the world and the emotional physics of its inhabitants. I will admit that it depressed me deeply. Things in Houellebecq's world are bleak, pornographic, and nihilistic. But along with all this is keen insight into human character.

I should also say that I read Houellebecq after 9/11, when the city changed, when it temporarily fell under martial law...when military police directed traffic at every stop light downtown...around the time I walked home to MacArthur Boulevard from K Street because a woman on my bus announced to us all that she heard on her Walkman the news that Bush had been attacked in the White House. I immediately pulled the cord, got off the bus at the next stop, and began walking home according to my internal compass, partially following the bus line. I knew the lady was nuts, and I wanted to get as far away from her as possible. But I digress...I read Houellebecq at a time when things looked particularly bad, at a time when I felt especially isolated. This colored my view of his work and caused it to resonate with me in ways that it probably wouldn't now. And yet, yet...I titled a story that was nominated for a Pushcart Prize three years later "Essential Wreckage" as a secret homage to The Elementary Particles because that's what The Elementary Particles is really about: human wreckage and human suffering. The collateral damage caused by living. The unintended (or sometimes intended) hurt we cause ourselves or others by moving through life in ways either mild or violent.

And really, you have to dig a writer who has such a superlative array of high quality shots, like the one below. It doesn't look like the man above, does it?. Who, I say, who has been at the gin today? Michel, the liquid level's well below the top of the label. And buddy, you might want to tip that ash away, too.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Like, where have you been, Savannah?

Where have I been, you ask? I'll tell you: the deli. To make extra money for a project described below, I've started working part time at a deli, where I am cutting cheese in a way that no one would object to. I'm also learning how to make rotisserie chicken (in three flavors), fried chicken tenders, and salad that comes in individually wrapped components I throw into large mix bags along with mayo squeezed from a huge packet. And who the h3ll knew there were so many kinds of ham and turkey? The learning curve, kids, has been steep, I'll tell you. Me? I trained to be a museum curator or a gallery director. To me, cheese and luncheon meat was something I put on a tray next to dip and pre-sliced vegetables. So all this business about honey-roasted, mesquite-smoked, buffalo-coated what-not is new.

Ofcourse, I'm teaching, too, starting next week. On Tuesdays and Thursdays, I have a class in Wheeling in the morning, a mid-day class on the Weirton campus, and a class back down in Wheeling in the evening. It's a lot of driving (50 minutes to the Wheeling campus and 50 minutes back, if traffic is good), but then, that's why we got Frieda.

And then...I'm still doing my freelance writing work, too. Of course, this is what I really should be doing right now because I've got a deadline for a four-page article next week. And yet...and yet, I felt I ought to offer some explanation for my lengthy absence from blog-land.

Now, the way in which my working life could get especially interesting is the fact that the grocery store in which my deli is located is a union shop. And right now, the union is in rather heated negotiations with the store owners, who feel their investors are not getting the desired returns. They have proposed a 3-year wage freeze and an increase in out-of-pocket healthcare expenses required of workers. Already, the union, of which I am not yet a part until I am there for a full 30 days, has threatened a strike until better terms are put forward by the company. The company has replied, and I'll paraphrase them in rough (if not entirely fair) terms: "Your store is a depressed area; you're not likely to find another job, so we're going to do it and you're going to like it. We could potentially close the store, too, if you all aren't careful." As you can probably imagine, this statement has was not received with delight by any of my co-workers. It inflamed many of them, since the employees are the ones that make the sun rise and set for customers (and, in many cases, serve them hand and foot...believe me, I've already had some customers I've had to take my figurative patience pills in order to deal with). The date for settling contracts is August 28th, so we'll see what happens.

I finished copy-editing In the Aftermath, a collection of short stories, several of which are previously unpublished. When I've completed my article and finished my lecture prep for next week, I will purchase an ISBN, format the document using the Kindle interface, and get it out there for Kindle users. This may take a month or so for me to complete, since Michael and I will be in Williamsburg for vacation soon. Of course, once In the Aftermath is out there, I suspect no one will purchase it. Yet, it will be out there, and I will feel somewhat heartened that I'm producing something for public consumption. Someday maybe someone will read my work, likely only after I am long gone, and say, "why was she ignored?" (This, kids, is the fantasy that keeps me going.) I've found it almost impossible to get anyone to accept any piece of fiction I write. So, I'll publish myself, rather than sit back and continue to wait for someone to deem my message worthy. In order to have income for such a venture, I play with meat in the deli. Now, see, we've come full circle. But let's have another slice (look at me, I can't stop with the deli puns) of "Conceived in the New Liberty"-which is almost, almost done!)

"Appearing endlessly on the news were images of Richardson’s mug shot, where his glasses were off and his eyes were as wide as a startled doe. Occasionally, online, simulations of a red rubber stamp appeared above his head: Public Enemy#1.   “But he’s a boy,” Richardson’s mother said, when the Today Show finally interviewed her. “He’s just a boy. He’s not responsible for this.” She wiped away a tear dark with eyeliner. “He was in the city feeding people that day. He was trying to do some good. He wasn’t in any of those museums. I don’t understand why he’s even in jail.” She was husky-voiced, a smoker, who was heavily wrinkled and heavily made up for the show. Even though her tears were obviously genuine, she did not inspire empathy from viewers. No one felt her pain. Instead, they forgot her when they were again presented with the grainy video feed from the G-20 protests and the image of a confused looking Richardson coming up the steps of the National Archives." -- from "Conceived in the New Liberty"

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Farewell, Fair Truckerella. Hello, Frieda: A Pictorial

Truckerella, my Mountaineer, saw me through my late-20s to my mid-30s.
I got Truckerella in late 2003, when my Dad felt I needed a more reliable vehicle for going back and forth to Harrisburg, where I then had a boyfriend (a man, who, funnily enough, sold used BMWs). At the time, I was driving my Mom's 1998 Mountaineer--hunter green--whose check engine light persistently flickered on while I drove up and down the white-knuckle highway known as Route 83. And so, Truckerella, as I came to call her, came into my life, thanks to the fantastic generosity of my parents (to whom I am very grateful). I drove Truckerella everywhere, and over the years, several men have sat in the passenger seat, including: a male cheerleader (yes, yes, I know...giggle away if you like); a former Calvin Klein model-turned banker from Lancaster, Pennsylvania. Later, an astrophysicist from Baltimore, Maryland. Still later, a Redbone Coonhound breeder, with whom I went out once and who inspired this letter-story appearing at Yankee Pot Roast in 2005. Yes, the guy pulled it out in the passenger seat of my truck, to my utter shock. Note to boys everywhere: this is really not an advisable first date move. This memorable and slightly horrifying moment is the only reason I include the guy in the list. I don't even remember his name, just the absolute horror of realizing what he had in mind for me that evening. He made an impression in all the wrong ways.

And then, I came back to Pittsburgh and met Michael a day after I arrived. Michael took and kept that passenger seat. So, Truckerella has a great deal of sentimental value. She was with me through the last vestiges of my twenties and through my early thirties. I wanted to drive her for ten years, but she kept falling apart. We've sat along the road twice: once in searing heat and once in freezing cold, along Route 22 in the dead of winter. After three towing bills, and numerous repair bills, I began to feel Truckerella was letting me down. And when the window broke last Friday, I had to let a good girl go.

On Saturday, at a Kia dealship in Robinson Township, outside Pittsburgh, Michael and I found Frieda. It was the first car we saw. It was the only car we drove (if you don't count the Jetta wagon we test drove last year, around this time). Now a new life chapter begins. Pictures follow:

Michael makes sure Truckerella's 'chastity consol'
doesn't still have any CDs. We're saying goodbye to her.

Our salesman Tom Cole at #1 Cochran holds Frieda's
driver's side door open for me.

At Michael's mom's house, Michael claims the
passenger seat again for all time. I'd already reserved
it for him. :-)

At home, nightfall. Of course, we've been cruising. The speakers light
up and change color inside. We had to experience that after dark.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

And on Thursday....

I've got my courses for fall. There are three, two Writing Skills and a Comp I. My Tuesdays and Thursdays will be slightly crazy, since I will be traveling down to the Wheeling campus, back up to the Weirton campus, and back down to the Wheeling campus at night, but it will give me time to think in the truck. And thinking leads to new stories. Also, I'll get to see my old friend, the electric plant near Brilliant, Ohio, lit up at night like a post-apocalyptic fortress. And then there's the gorgeous red flame that shoots eight feet into the sky from the coke plant stacks across the river in Follansbee, and this is always what I see just as I'm making my way into Steubenville. It's then I know I'm finally close to home, where Michael's waiting on the sofa for me. Also, on Monday, I have an interview for another part-time job, which will give us some much-needed extra scratch for our upcoming projects. Both of us are in dire need of new cars (although I don't say this in the presence of my truck, in order not to make her feel, I'm kidding. That sounds a pale shade of insane, doesn't it?). This month, I'm working on several freelance projects, too, so things are moving along.

I mentioned before that I'm working on a Kindle edition of a new short story collection. I've got 40 more pages to proofread, and I'll be ready to create the cover and prepare to upload the entire package. I also re-reserved the domain name, which will become my own imprint.

Over the last few days, I haven't spent quite as much time on it because so many other demands have snagged my attention, but I'm nearly done with "Conceived in the New Liberty". The story deals with the complete dismantling of the America's political foundation. Here's another tiny excerpt:

"As pro-Constitution activists grew in numbers and began sparring with members of The New Liberty Movement, riots broke out. When 18 people were sent to the hospital, police were dispatched in their riot gear to restore order. On K Street--less than a mile away from the National Mall, where police formed a charcoal-colored wall with their raised shields and FlexForce Crowd Control suits--the wide windows of lobbyists’ offices were smashed with crowbars. The Molotov cocktails that sailed from the street onto desks, leather sofas, and upholstered cube walls caused an inferno that occupied fire companies from both the District and Northern Virginia for several hours. And while fire hoses doused the blackened buildings, from which searing flames continually shot, a popular coffee shop on Connecticut Avenue was being held up. Around the same time, a bar was broken into on 18th street. A light-colored SUV drove onto the sidewalk and figures in plastic George W. Bush masks rapidly loaded into the back five full liquor boxes, a small floor safe, and—to their great surprise—a Thompson M1A1 from the manager’s office closet. No one stopped them."  

Now, to a completely different topic: I have to admit that I'm not easily impressed. Things affect me deeply, and I sometimes cry in response to other people's pain. Also, music can make me emotional. But rarely do I get goosebumps from something. I realize that I've had a long obsession with what follows here, and I suspect I've probably written about it here before. I've only seen segments of the movie, and eventually I would like to see the whole thing. It is, from the parts I've seen, totally amazing, totally haunting, and exquisitely produced. The synthesis of story (which I understand is based on the director's own experience), the animation (which is incredibly good, particularly in the metaphorical interplay of light and dark), and the music (I mean, it has Max Richter as part of the soundtrack, and he is on a nose-bleed-high level in my mind) make this something I feel would leave an imprint both on the imagination and collective historical memory. Here is the trailer.

Monday, August 1, 2011

"The Unnatural History of Brown's Island" at Fiction365

The Service Bridge to Brown's Island
On Saturday, July 30th, "The Unnatural History of Brown's Island" was the featured story at I am grateful for the exposure. Thanks very much to Benjamin, Fiction365's editor, for accepting it. While the story is fiction, it is based largely on fact, as well as local folklore. My husband's uncle actually died in the Brown's Island explosion of 1972.
Right now I'm in the thick of job hunting, looking for something that will provide a more steady stream of income than freelancing and adjuncting, which can vary from project to project, semester to semester. With our many farm-related aspirations and the small (but not serious, thankfully) emergencies we've had over the past two months, a steady source of income will be welcome and provide me with a more dependable schedule. Actually, as I write this at 1 p.m. EST, our shepherd-collie is having a $1K tooth extraction. Yes, I meant to write 'one thousand dollars'. I choked on that number myself when we went for the consultation on Saturday, but it is genuinely needed, and so he is getting fixed up. Michael started talking about getting insurance for the boyz now. He said it's actually available through Thermo, where he works. When I first heard about pet insurance, I thought it was a little silly. Now, if you'd ask me, I would say 'sign me up please.'

Right now, I'm working on proofreading a collection of 16 stories, which I plan to release as Kindle Edition under the Literary Outlaw imprint. Stay tuned for the details.....

If you wonder what else is going on in our world, check out our homestead blog, the link to which is below. We've been canning beans most of the weekend. We're ants instead of grasshoppers, right? Right. This evening, we'll be making watermelon jelly. For pictures of our gardening and culinary activity, just visit

More to come shortly....