I’m excited to share that I have piece up at the Kenyon Review online (and my face on the homepage!)

I am unspeakably honored to be included.

Kenyon

 

Give it a read if you have a few minutes.

 

My wife left for a meditation retreat yesterday. I thought this would be a great chance for to me to really focus. No sweet face distracting me from the task at hand. No temptation to conjole her into a happy hour with me. Time to buckle down! Or not… I miss her and writing is hard.

Thus far then most productive things done include: watching three episodes of The Americans, cleaning the outside of our windows (which is, by the way, the most satisfying thing to do on a sunny afternoon when writing is impossible) and purchasing crossfit shoes.

I’m sitting down now to try again. This kind of counts right? A little blog to get the juices flowing. I’m putting words together to form a sentence. Maybe not for the sake of my project but still it’s a start.

Even the poodle knows I’m full of shit:

poodle-sticking out

This novel has the slow steady pace of country life:

Drury

A few big events puncture the narrative but mostly you get more than three hundred pages of small-town life. The sheriff and his deputies. Some townie lowlifes. A few good people trying to make a respectable living. It’s a good book. Maybe you’ve heard of it and passed it over. Maybe this is the first. Don’t pass it up. It’s a nice summer read.

I happened to read half of this book in the north-eastern corner of Iowa where this book seems to be set. Maybe that’s one reason I felt such comfort settling into this weighty novel. Tom Drury never explicitly places a pin in a map but he leaves some strong clues. The nearby Minnesota border. The long stretches of corn and gravel between towns.

This part of the country is beautiful. Perhaps most beautiful to those raised here. Even those of us who grew up in town and never lived the hard-working farm life, feel the pull of those fields and that horizon line. The comfort and awe of seeing weather work its way across the land. A thunderhead building and bubbling up lightening.

The wife and the poodle watch a summer storm churn towards us:

summer15

Writing is built on reading. I better get back to it.

I’ve taken three weeks off work (unpaid) thanks to a Minnesota State Arts Board Grant. One of the best and most unexpected things about Minnesota is how supportive it can be of artists. Who knew? I just came here to get an MFA and find a wife. The grant is just icing on the cake.

Anyways, like a said, trying to write a book. I thought it might be good for me to have a little accountability. Thus, I’m going to try to write a little blurb here – if you’ll be kind enough to indulge me – every day or every other day, most days let’s say. Ok deal, most days I’ll check in. Since this is day two I’ll catch you up.

Day One :

I managed to make word inaccessible in on my computer. Yeah. Seriously. I don’t know. Let’s call it self-sabotage. Let’s call it idiocy. Thank goodness for the folks at Best Buy who promised to fix it overnight.

In the meantime, the poodle and I read in the sun:

poodle_summer15

Day Two:

Computer is back. Great. Now I have to write. FUCK. Ok, that’s ok. I have a degree in this. It’s what I supposedly like to do. Writing is fun. Writing can be fun. Writing isn’t so bad. Oh I should mention I’m also trying to get to my new crossfit gym five days a week during this three week period. Is it avoidance or does it add structure to the day. I’m not sure yet.

We can talk about that tomorrow. Thanks, as always, for listening, sweet blog-friends.

Three years ago my step father, Frank, passed away from complications of ALS. The disease robbed him of his speech, his ability to eat, and the use of his arms before it eventually took his life. I’m still not very comfortable talking about how cruel ALS proved to be when it struck my family.

As the #alsicebucketchallenge grows exponentially it seems necessary pin down how I feel about this social media madness. I feel annoyed that my newsfeed is overrun with these posts. I feel embarrassed for all the people that drop the bucket on their heads. I feel a pull at my chest each time I hear or read those letters “ALS”.

That’s where I get stuck. That pull at my chest. ALS feels like a swear word. I don’t like saying. I don’t like hearing. It doesn’t sound like any other disease to me. It sounds hopeless. People forget when they post these laughing and shrieking and even stoic declarations of support that real people have ALS. Friends and family members of ALS victims see these posts.

This man doesn’t know ALS will take him before he turns 60: Frank

On the other side, as I’m sure Frank would argue, this has generated a tremendous amount of money and support for the cause. For all the pulls at my chest and all the annoyances, that’s certainly worth something.

If you’ve been challenged or you’d just like to donate to a good cause let me suggest donating to the Robert J. Packard Center at John’s Hopkins University. Their focus is research over awareness and that research is damn impressive. 

Who says silliness can’t benefit a good cause?

 

Without intending to, the wife and I watched two action movies this weekend: Nonstop and Snowpiercer.

Nonstop vs Snowpiercer

Nonstop vs Snowpiercer

Both movies surprised us. Nonstop in that it was surprisingly bad and Snowpiercer in that more people aren’t talking about it.

Nonstop should have been a nice easy Liam Neeson-thriller – brave yet troubled guy saves the day – yet it fell flat. We found ourselves hung up on the logistics of the action and all the little improbabilities. Why was everyone so calm? How did the bomb get there? Are they really going with that movie trope? Oy.

Snowpiercer, on the other hand, quickly won us over. It’s dark. It’s weird. It’s beautiful. The director establishes the context for and the rules of this world from the first scene. An apocalyptic climate event has occurred. All life on earth is frozen – humans cannot survive outside. What is left of humanity lives on a train which circles the globe, piercing the snow, never stopping. Life on this train is defined by your class. The lowest of these classes wants to revolt.

Of these transportation based action films why is one so much better than the other? Is one story better than the other? Possibly. Is it the acting? Maybe. What about the cinematography? Perhaps. Above all these, I’d dare say, it’s the immersion into the movie world that matters most.

Nonstop takes us into a world we know – an airplane – and asks us to imagine a highly improbable situation. Snowpiercer takes us into an improbable future and asks us to exist there. There is no assumption that we would know what life is like on an ever moving train. It’s just a movie. Settle in and enjoy the film. You can’t ask for much more for an action movie – from any movie for that matter. As a side note, Tilda Swinton is fucking brilliant in this movie. She’s terrifying. She’s hilarious. She’s just plain weird. If for no other reason, you should see Snowpiercer for this glory:

snowpiercer tilda swinton God, she’s good.

Seventeen years ago a generation of cicadas crawled from an underground slumber in the Iowa soil and screamed for months. They flew about like tiny drunk pilots, slamming into humans and agriculture alike. They ruined a summer’s worth of outdoor picnics. Then – goal accomplished, I assume –  they mated, laid their eggs deep into the ground, and died.

Their babies have arrived. I assure you they scream just as passionately as their forefathers.

The poodle met a few of these new cicadas this weekend. Like most living creatures, they baffled her. She batted them about. Sniffed and snorted. Eventually she took a bite out of one and the screaming stopped. Here, I have photographic proof of the poor bastard:

CicadaHe’s kind of beautiful. Now that he’s quiet.

The poodle feels no shame. She seemed rather pleased with herself and the conquering of an invading army – or at least one enemy soldier. Here she is immediately post-kill:

HappyPoodleMy sweet little happy killer.

 

Growing up, I was one of those Midwestern kids who said I liked all kinds of music, except country of course. Anything but gross, stereotypical, tractor-lovin country. Then I grew up, apparently used my sense of hearing for the first time, and realized how naïve I had been. Country is awesome. Well, some country is awesome. Patsy Cline, Dolly Parton, Johnny-Fucking-Cash.

Recently I came across this slowed down version of Dolly Parton’s song, Jolene:

It’s haunting. It’s heartbreaking. It’s lovely. Then again, so is the original:

Jolene tells a better story than half the books I’ve read recently. Our dear narrator, Dolly, doesn’t have the bravado one would expect of this genre. She’s been bested. She’s humbled.  “Please don’t take him, even though you can.” She’s fighting for her man by begging the green-eyed, auburn locked, adulterer to have pity on her. She isn’t condemning the other woman. She isn’t threatening her. She begs. That narrative kills me every time!

That is all.

My wife and I got married because we love each other. We got married because that seemed like the next step in life. We got married because we could. (Thank you Iowa and Minnesota) Like a good modern couple the cohabitating, dog adopting, and mortgage came before the marriage. The wedding felt like a mere formality. An excuse to have a party. We didn’t think it would change much.

But it did. It changed something huge and intangible.

We aren’t dating any more. She isn’t my girlfriend. We are married. She is my spouse. She is my wife. These are words society at large understands. We don’t have to explain that our partnership is deep and true and real, these words do it for us.

Also being married got us a post on A Bicycle Built for Two. That’s kinda fun.

I love this girl.

Loves

I’ve read three books in the last two months at wildly different paces. While the pacing can occasionally be blamed on the authors, it’s mostly my fault. If you don’t feel like reading my rambling let me start by saying you should read all three of these books. They’re good. I promise.

Anyway, here’s the breakdown:

Wave by Sonali Deraniyagala (four days):

wave deraniyagala

Sonali Deraniyagala lost everything in the tsunami that hit Sri Lanka in 2004 – her husband, two sons and parents. Her grief is palpable if blessedly unreachable. This book should be read quickly. As quickly as one can stomach this much grief.

Simply flipping through this book one can see the pages are spare, the margins wide. Page layout encourages a quick read. If not for the sheer devastation within, I would have finished this book in a single day.

Life After Life by Kate Atkinson (one week):

life after life - atkinson

I’m a sucker for a historical novel. Set it during WWII and I’m double sold. Atkinson delivers a lovely piece of the past with a bit of a mystical spin. Our protagonist, sweet Ursula Todd, dies over and over until she gets life right. At least I think that’s the moral of the story. I enjoyed the book even though I’m not exactly sure what I was supposed to “learn” from it. Maybe there isn’t a moral. Maybe it’s just a book.

Despite the heft (560pages) the chapters passed quickly for me once I found a rhythm. There is a special kind of satisfaction to eating a book this quickly. That’s kind of why I’m writing this blog. That satisfaction makes me want to brag a bit. It makes me want to big up another 500 page book and finish it over the weekend. (I won’t. This is hubris. But still, it feels good)

White Teeth by Zadie Smith (one month):

white teeth smith

Yes, I just read this. I’m slow. That’s the point of the damn blog. If you haven’t read it, I’d recommend it. A book like this gets talked about for a reason. It’s good.

When I reached the end of this novel, I wish I’d read faster. After twisting ever forward, through generations and friendships, Smith swings around at the end to reference the initial sections of the book. I saw it happening. I saw my slow progress coming back to bite me in the ass. While I understood the moment was significant I had no recollection of the initial scene. Damn you procrastination!

Just read. Fast. Slow. It doesn’t make a difference. Reading is fun.

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