Delightfully Busy

A couple of intense summer classes and the last-minute assignment of a graduate workshop starting Tuesday have left me too busy to blog, but I’ve been having a blast.  The summer workshop was unbelievably good. A couple were so good I invited them to take the graduate workshop, and one has taken me up on the offer. I’ve met most of the members of the graduate workshop, and they are a smart, energetic, committed group.  I can’t wait.  Twenty-five years after moving to Richmond to take the VCU graduate fiction workshop, I’m teaching it.  Not a bad way to celebrate my 65th birthday.  Besides Medicare, of course.

Life’s Too Short

I received a mailer from a cleaning company the other day with the slogan, Life’s Too Short to Clean Your Own Home®  It sort of spoke to me.  At my age, a cancer and heart attack survivor, the brevity of life is a real attention getter.  I didn’t feel a great need to extend my life by foregoing housecleaning.  I rather enjoy it sometimes, sweeping up dog fur and so forth, but with this heart healthy high fiber diet I’m on, sometimes I feel like I could use someone to wipe my bum for me, but I suppose we all end up there if we stick around long enough, and there’s no sense rushing things.  After all, life’s too short.

But I did get to wondering if the women cleaning my home would suffer twice the life shortening effects of housecleaning by cleaning their own homes and mine too.  I guess I could refinish the basement, put a little apartment down there, so they’d only be cleaning one home.  This being a southern city, there’s already a toilet down there for the help.  Sort of like Downton Abbey.  It could be a real opportunity for someone.  I could post flyers on the trees as I hike through some of the more obscure reaches of the James—Life’s Too Short to Be Homeless.  Catchy, don’t you think?  First, I’d need to get that toilet fixed, but life’s too short for that.  Besides, plumbers cost a fortune.

Redemption in Indigo

I just read Karen Lord’s Redemption in Indigo, and I was completely enchanted.  At first I was reminded of Amos Tutuola, but Lord brings much more to the narrative table than reworked folktale.  Funny, wise, and cleverly constructed, this novel is a delightful antidote to the excess of urban fantasies whose heroines possess the ethical sensibilities of paid assassins.  Karen Lord packs more skilled storytelling in this 188 page novel than most wheezy trilogies can crank out in a 1000.  I loved it!

Timothy Tiger

While thinking about my literary influences for Wilderness for a class I’ve been asked to teach on the novel, I thought of Timothy Tiger, about which I was deeply passionate at 4.  The influence on my work is clear:

Timothy was a dear little tidy tiger who did not have a mother.  He lived all by himself in the Great Big Jungle.  What he wanted most of all, was someone who could cuddle him and play with him and purr him to sleep every night.  So one day Timothy set out in search of a mother…

Canada Geese in Byrd Park

Canada Geese in Byrd Park

I’m moved by their dawn song, though I’ve grown to hate them,
a flapping, crapping infestation,
a non-migratory shit machine.
Still I’m a sucker for the splash
of their landing in the morning mists
upon the lake built to be so lovely in the 20’s
for man and goose alike. Only it’s
winter, guys, you’re not supposed to be here,
with more and more all the time,
a hazard to every water hazard,
destroyer of US Airways Flight 1549.
So where do you guys get off sounding so sublime?
Hired border collies roust you from the shit-slick promenade,
but still you keep coming back, determined. These are
your darkest days. The temptation must be strong to fly.
That must be what I hear in your song that moves me—
That longing to be birds again and fly the whole world round.
Hang in there. It’s Sunday.
Your pals with the Wonder Bread will be round shortly,
their chubby eager children, churning through the slime.

Patricia Anthony

Among the books I’ve read recently was the fine novel, Flanders, by Patricia Anthony, which I missed when it first came out in 1998. I was delighted to find it still in print from Berkley. She is one of my favorite sf writers, especially Happy Policeman and Brother Termite. The fantastic element here is ghostly and understated, but it is hands down the best novel I’ve ever read about World War I, a pitch perfect epistolary novel about a Texas sharpshooter in the trenches. I loved this book.  If you’re weary of hip noirish steampunk mushrooms, give Flanders a try.  It will break your heart.

Rereading Wilderness

I’ll probably have more to say about this when I’m done, but I’m in the process of rereading my first published novel, Wilderness, written 20 years ago, because Tom De Haven is teaching it in his American Fantastica class at VCU, and I’m guesting.  Except for a few scenes I draw upon for “greatest hits’ readings, I haven’t reread the novel.  It’s fun how often it surprises me.  The characters certainly smoke a lot of cigarettes and have red-hot libidos.  It’s nice to know I’ve gotten better, I remind myself as I read, but the damn thing does keep me turning the pages.  Let’s just see if it can make me cry—one way or another.

On addressing the elderly

“Sir,” people address me in increasing numbers. Not “Hello,” but “Hello, Sir.” It’s the overwhelming whiteness of the hair, the bald pate, and the beard, I suppose. “Old-timer” is out of fashion, so I get “Sir.” I know this is supposedly a term of respect or something, but I detect a note of fear in it—that I might pass along some unwelcome wisdom or gas if they give me half a chance. I know my young wife, barely eligible for AARP and with a pitiful bit of gray to show for all her years on the planet, has an equal affection for “Ma’am.” I like a simple “Hello.” It makes me feel young, and you know how we old farts like to feel young.