Sunday with Zin: A Capella Series 2012 – part 3

Hello I am Zin and it is time for two more a capella songs!

First we have The Poozies (five women from Scotland) with Another Train! They are not really an a capella group but this particular song is! It is very encouraging to listen to when you have screwed something up (which I know a lot about).

And for our Christmas song… well, it would not be Christmas without the Chipmunks! But the real Chipmunks do not do a capella, so here we have the Texas A&M a capella group Apothesis singing “Christmas Don’t Be Late!”

Sunday with Zin: More New Stuff for Readers and Writers

The Man of Letters or Pierrot's Alphabet (1794)

The Man of Letters or Pierrot’s Alphabet (1794)

New listings on the Cool Sites for Writers and Readers page:

Give a Hand to Wild Life

Brain Pickings: “A human-powered discovery engine for interestingness, culling and curating cross-disciplinary curiosity-quenchers, and separating the signal from the noise to bring you things you didn’t know you were interested in until you are.” They review books, collections, and have interviews about literature, art, design, all sorts of things! All the art in this post comes from materials (books, magazines, collections, exhibits) they have featured just in the past month! It is curated by Maria Popova. I discovered this site when I did the List of Lists of Rules for Writers post!

Bloom: “A literary site devoted to highlighting, profiling, reviewing, and interviewing authors whose first major work was published when they were age 40 or older…. If someone is labeled a ‘late bloomer,’ the question Bloom poses is, ‘Late’ according to whom?” Sonya Chung, founding editor. Since we are old farts around here we like this!

The Tiny Book of Tiny Stories

The Tiny Book of Tiny Stories

Summerbooks: a monthly literary podcast by Natalie Sypolt and Renee Nicholson. They did an episode about What the Zhang Boys Know! They are new this year!

Electric Literature’s Recommended Reading: “One story a week, each chosen by today’s best authors or editors.
Recommended Reading is released on a four week curation cycle: beginning with a story chosen by Electric Literature, followed by an excerpt from an indie press, then an author recommendation, and finally a selection from a magazine’s archive. Each issue includes an editor’s note written by that week’s partner, introducing you to the work and their mission.” Halimah Marcus and Benjamin Samuel, Editors; Andy Hunter, Publisher. It is free! And the stories are good!

Enjoy!

And an announcement that is upsetting me:

Duotrope is going paid! I am very sad and kind of angry! Now, Duotrope is a very good service and I can imagine it takes time and effort to run and I do not blame the Duotropers for wanting to earn something for their trouble, and it is easily worth the fee, especially to new writers who need help figuring out where to look and those who submit a lot (we have contributed over the years, we even contributed after we stopped submitting work! Because we still used it occasionally to see what the stats for a market were like). The new fee will be $5 a month or $50 a year, and that is reasonable, but it will knock some people out of Duotrope, and that is sad! By the way if you have been using the submissions tracker you must export it before Jan.1 or you will lose access to it unless you pay the fee! We are debating whether to leave the listing with a note that it is now a paid service, or take it down since all the other links on the Cool Sites page are free! I suppose this was inevitable but I am sad this day is here!

Sunday with Zin: A Capella Series 2012 – part 2

Hello I am Zin and it is time for two more a capellas!

Wait – do not go! Please… the first one is very funny! And the Christmas one is very beautiful!

Rolling in the Higgs

Are you still there?

See, back in July, there was a lot of excitement because the scientists running the large hadron collider in Switzerland (aka CERN) announced they had discovered the Higgs Bosun! This is one of those things like the speed of light or relativity, it is a huge deal (but do not ask me to explain it to you, read what the New York Times had to say instead!

So physics student and “harmony addict” Tim Blais wrote a song! Well, he wrote lyrics to “Rolling in the Deep” which is a song Adele wrote! And he called it “Rolling in the Higgs!”

There’s a collider under Geneva
Reaching new energies that we’ve never achieved before
Finally we can see with this machine
A brand new data peak at 125 GeV
See how gluons and vector bosons fuse
Muons and gamma rays emerge from something new
There’s a collider under Geneva
Making one particle that we’ve never seen before

The complex scalar
Elusive boson
Escaped detection by the LEP and Tevatron
The complex scalar
What is its purpose?
It’s got me thinking

Chorus:
We could have had a model (Particle breakthrough, at the LHC)
Without a scalar field (5-sigma result, could it be the Higgs)
But symmetry requires no mass (Particle breakthrough, at the LHC)
So we break it, with the Higgs (5-sigma result, could it be the Higgs)

And then there is Verse Two!

But the valiant Mr. Blais was not done yet!

He sang this song in… I do not know, four, six, eight part harmony? All by himself! And put it on video! And he is pretty good though his percussion could use some work! If this physics thing does not work out for him he can become a professional a cappelist!

He got a writeup on the Scientific American blog so his lyrics are legit! But I think it is just funny! And if you go all the way to the end, you will find just a snippet of what might be his next video, to “Bohemian Rhapsody” – “Is string theory right? Is it just fantasy? Caught in the landscape out of touch with reality?”

Merry Christmas Music

And now for our Christmas a capella: Everyone knows the Praetorius ” Es ist ein Ros entsprungen” (“Lo How a Rose Ere Blooming”) but that was not good enough for composer Hugo Distler (he has a very sad story! He lived in Germany at the worst possible time! His music was declared “degenerate” by the Nazis and he killed himself rather than end up in the army fighting for a regime he despised, so even though he was a straight white Caucasian Christian, he too was a victim of the Third Reich) so he composed a Bach-style cantata called “Die Weihnachtsgeschichte” (“The Christmas Story”) which included variations of the Praetorius scattered throughout! And they are so beautiful! The whole cantata is about 45 minutes, but I am just using one of the variations for my purposes here, my favorite!

Two more next week! In honor of the cancelled Sing-Off!

Sunday with Zin : A Capella Series 2012 – part 1

Hello I am Zin and I miss The Sing-Off!

I was surprised by it when it showed up for four days in December 2009! I was thrilled when it came back for two weeks before Christmas in 2010! I knew we were headed for trouble when they made it a three-month series in 2011, but I enjoyed every minute!

And then it was cancelled!

How could they?

So in mourning for The Sing Off which should be running about this time, every week between now and the New Year I will be posting links to all kinds of a capella videos! Because a capella covers a lot of ground from Praetorius in the Renaissance to barbershop in the early 20th century to my beloved Pentatonix who won The Sing-Off last year! One will be a Christmas song, and one will not!

So you are sneering? Are you rolling your eyes at me? Stop it! Because, come on, I dare you to tell me something that is more fun than watching six guys sometimes upside down singing The Lion Sleeps Tonight with a German accent!

And for the seasonal part of our program, enjoy The King’s Singers (sort of the British version of Halbtrocken, except they came first, so it is really that Halbtrocken is the German version of the King’s Singers) and their Christmas version of The Gift to be Simple.

Sunday with Zin: Pecha Kucha

Hello I am Zin and welcome to the October 2012 Pecha Kucha Night in Portland Maine!

Pecha Kucha (pronounced “pa-CHOK-cha” and meaning “chit-chat” in Japanese) is like a flash art exhibit! Except sometimes it is about more than art! There have been 2,226 stories told so far since 2003 worldwide, probably one near you! It was started as a design thing in Tokyo, and grew from there!

Each presenter shows 20 slides for 20 seconds each! That is six minutes and forty seconds to display and narrate 20 slides of whatever you have! Paintings, sculpture, projects, sketches, ideas, dance, poetry! Anything that can handle narrated slide format! And no introduction – the emcee takes care of that! It is amazing how much ground you can cover in that time!

I learned about Pecha Kucha at the Sidewalk Art Festival this past summer via Dana Trattner, who showed the art she painted over the years through several eye surgeries! I made a note to go to the next one, and it was last month at the wonderful SPACE Gallery!

My favorite was Lindsay Stockbridge, a sculptor and recent MECA graduate who was inspired by her walk of the Appalachian Trail! Before she left she made some sculptures of beached whales, because that is how she felt! When she saw the trees she imagined them as the legs of giant moose, so she made a bunch of moose! Some of them she bronzed! Then she made a 4×4 house in the sand that washed away with the tide leaving only the frame! And because, she says, we always look for a face or figure in inanimate objects – like the man in the moon, or even the moose! – she sculpted a conch shell with a hand coming out of it – this was I think my favorite thing I saw all night!

Moose Sculpture by Lindsay Stockbridge

Moose Sculpture by Lindsay Stockbridge

Activist and USM Art Teacher Jan Piribeck described her work on the Good Fences for Good Neighbors project! Since there are a bunch of ugly chain link fences in the Bayside area, a group of artists got together and created art from them! They used only recycled materials, things that would have been thrown away. One of the most available materials was Blue Wrap, the stuff medical facilities use to wrap up sterilized items! It is not reusable once it is removed from the medical instrument, but it is not soiled or damaged in any way, it is just not sterile any more, so people are looking for ways to re-use it, and these artists came up with this one! One of the fences cast a shadow of faces on the ground when the sun was at a certain angle, it was amazing! And the Blue Wave fence just blew in the breeze like a real wave!

One of the goofy things at Pecha Kucha was the Flashlight Sponsors! Do you think this is worth $25 to a local business: “Your logo slapped on an 11×17″ billboard and personally marched across the stage for all to see. As your logo makes its way across, the emcee will say a few kind words about your business while it gets beamed at by a 1,000,000 candlepower flashlight.” It was really cool! It was like something out of Vaudeville!

Dave Weinberg is a graphic designer and illustrator with a hobby: collecting captioned cell phone pics for his Cellphone Sketchpad blog! Some are funny, some are pretty! Anyone can submit! With or without the headline and caption!

Kevin Tacka is a Portland artist who also makes fountains for each First Friday celebration! He considers it a success if it works without losing water for 3 hours! He makes these videos of them on YouTube! My favorite is Who Let the Kitty Out of the Bag for his Cat-Topped Fountain from 2010! I am amazed at how creative he is with fountains! Water falling from the sky, the Pyrex, the Wedgewood, the Campfire Cowboy, water shooting through the sky over his sketchbooks onto an old canvas – I never realized fountains could be so much fun!

Marty Pottenger talked about one of her many projects, Art at Work, particularly the City Writers Group that gives police officers, fire fighters, engineers, accountants, parking lot managers, anyone who works for the City of Portland, to meet, write, and react to work-related prompts like First Day, or Mentors.

Not everything was about art! John Ossie told us how a bow saved his life! As in bow and arrow! He had been getting worse and worse with degenerative disk disease in his back and neck, in more and more pain, on so many medications, but he was dragged to a yard sale by his wife and he found a bow and started working with it and it did great things for exactly the right muscles and he is much better now! He even went camping! And oh by the way he is a skilled archer, he shot an arrow that split right into the one already in the target! That is very hard to do! So the bow he found by accident was a real gift! And Brody Wood read her poetry while a dancer performed and the slides were cast on them, it was very interesting!

All of the presentations had something to say and were unique and interesting! Portland has an event about once a quarter and I bet there is a Pecha Kucha night near you! If you have been to one, or if you go to one in the future, tell me about it!

Sunday with Zin: Coursera

Hello I am Zin, and I love to learn! And the Internet may be full of crap and nonsense but it is also full of wonderful ways to learn and I just discovered a new one!

Way back in March I heard about Khan Academy, and I still do a few math review exercises every day just so I remember how, and sometimes look at a video on History or Art! One of these days I am going to try Physics (again – oh, how many times I have tried to study Physics!) or maybe Chemistry and if I go slowly enough I might get somewhere! It is a very good place to catch up on the stuff you either missed in high school, or have forgotten about!

But now I have discovered Coursera! It is another FREE online classroom, this one more about college-level and career-development courses in many disciplines! Like Computer Science, Business Management, Life Sciences, Humanities, etc etc! There are 33 participating universities! And these are real universities, like Duke and Wesleyan, not the ones on matchbook covers and in strip malls!

I am right now in Week 2 of “Design: Construction of Artifacts in Society” which lasts until mid-December. It is meant to present a design methodology, so it cuts across mechanical, product, and system design by talking about user “gaps” and the most effective way to go from a need to a product! So far the examples have been an ice cream scoop, a scooter, and an urban cart! I am having some trouble with the logistical aspects of the course (I did not know I would need a camera, and I am not sure I actually want to build an artifact) but I am very much enjoying the video lectures! The text is downloadable as well. There is something about a video lecture that is so much more absorbable than a textbook alone!

The teacher also does practical examples, like observing his son scoop ice cream to show how to determine important user needs (he runs the scoop under hot water twice to warm it up; what if the scoop could be designed to hold heat better? He holds it awkwardly, what if the handle were contoured? And it is funny to watch his teenage son who perfectly captures the “awww, Dad, you are so lame, do I really have to do this?” affect of the good-but-trying-not-to-show-it kid). He visited an ice cream shop to observe them, but they were not happy to see him! They would not let him film the employees scooping! I am surprised, I would think a store would be happy for the publicity!

It seems this is a real thing, too, not just some thing someone made up to overcomplicate the issue! It is a whole process, and right now we are on Defining User Needs. There is an entire methodology for determining and phrasing and categorizing and prioritizing those needs! And the most interesting tidbit I discovered: a focus group is less time-efficient than one-on-one interviews for determining user needs! Maybe not for other things, but in this, it is!

The other thing I found interesting is the different types of user need, and they can be graphed by how well they are met by user satisfaction! Some are “linear needs” and the better the design meets them, the happier the user is, which is what you would expect, yes? But some needs are “must-haves” and if they are met, the user does not even notice them, but if they are not met, the user will be intensely dissatisfied! And some needs are “latent” and they are things the user does not even know s/he needs but if they are met, the user will be very delighted! So there are ways to make your user miserable, and ways to make your customer very happy, and it is a matter of prioritizing! I love this kind of theory!

There are more than 5,000 students from all over the world taking this course! We have a forum set up for us to discuss issues and ask questions and communicate with a TA (we can not email the professor directly, since there are just too many of us). Considering it is free, it is quite remarkable!

I am not sure why these schools are offering these courses! The best I can figure is that it is a test-run for distance-learning, sort of like a survey but more practical. They can see where people get lost, what happens that goes too fast, and because it is free, they do not have to give refunds if students are unhappy!

Most new classes begin in September or January, but there are new ones just about every week. Introduction to Astronomy, How to Reason and Argue, and Drugs and the Brain are coming up in the next month: Go see if there is something you would like to learn!

Sunday with Zin: Literary Death Match Portland (ME), Ep. 1

October 15, 2012 — In a lit-brilliant debut at One Longfellow Square in Portland (Literary Death Match’s 45th city!), it was Lily King who outdueled poet Gibson Fay-LeBlanc in a wild game of Author Word Jumble that saw King win by a narrow margin of 1.2 seconds to win her the LDM Portland (ME), Ep. 1 crown.

Hello I am Zin and did I ever have fun at the first-ever Literary Death Match in Portland (ME)!

Do not confuse LDMs with your routine reading! Yes, there is reading: four local authors read! And to keep them within the time limit, they are shot with nerf disks every 30 seconds starting at 7 minutes! And in the second round they must play a game! Do you see what I mean that it is not your typical reading?

But as I said, there is reading! Yes, at LDM-Portland (ME) Ep.1, Monica Wood (remember Monica from Ernie’s Ark?) read an excerpt from When We Were The Kennedys so I was cheering for her!

It was also especially good to hear Sarah Braunstein read her Barack Obama FanFic explaining his poor performance in the first debate (you see, back when he was a child in Hawaii, there was this little girl he used to hula-hoop with… even Presidents get nostalgic, be it ever so ill-timed!) – and you can read it yourself at the Good Men Project! Or listen to it FREE on iTunes!

But the semi-finals went down to Gibson Fay-LeBlanc for his hockey poetry because, well, who can resist even the idea of hockey poetry, and Lily King with a mouse penis (nothing can top a mouse penis) and a round of Author Jumbles, from Nin and Poe to Asimov and Huxley!

Would YOU have recognized BLUME (as in Judy) in time?

Would YOU have recognized BLUME (as in Judy) in time?

And congratulations to Lily King, winner of LDM-Portland (ME) Ep.1!

I have known about LDM for a while but never really paid attention: I was always intimidated by Todd Zuniga and Opium Magazine (it is one of those impossibly cool litmags) so I put the LDMs in the category of “things I am not cool enough to appreciate.” But my blog buddy Stan (hello, Stan!) sent me an email to tell me LDM was coming up here! He has been to the ones in Boston and loves them! So I went to the LDM and either I am cooler than I thought, or Todd is not that cool – or maybe he is so cool, he is willing to do things accessible to the un-cool! As it happens, he is completely cool, and also very nice, posting pictures of the Portland match even as he was racing to London! He is nothing like I expected, he is very goofy and fun and easygoing!

What is Literary Death Match? It is a… literary comedy variety show? Part WWE, part game show, part standup, part celebrity roast, part community theatre? I do not know how to describe it, but fortunately I do not have to, you can see a speed preview on Youtube, or for that matter, you can watch dozens of clips from past matches, or listen to an entire LDM on iTunes!

But you should really go! They are all over the place, in cities of course like London and New York and Chicago and LA and Beijing (Beijing? Yes, and Shanghai!) but also giving local writers a chance to shine in less expected places like Kansas City and Tulsa and Iowa City and Raleigh and Vilnius! Yes, a Lithuanian LDM! That is reason itself to go when they come to your neck of the woods, to support something so cool! Todd described the project as a “gateway drug” for those who might not know where to start reading!

Check the schedule at the LDM website to see where they are, or sign up for the newsletter or Twitter feed to see when they are coming to your area! Or even email them and ask them to come, that is how they ended up in Portland!

Past winners include writers we have talked about on these very pages, including Roxane Gay, Baratunde Thurston, Etgar Keret, Andrew Kaufman, Elissa Schappel, and Amber Sparks. And the judges are from all manner of disciplines, people like Jeffrey Eugenides, Tig Notaro, Toure, Lisa Loeb, Chuck Palahniuk (you knew he had to be in the mix somewhere, right?), W. Kamau Bell, and Amber Tamblyn.

You want to go, you do, trust me!

Sunday with Zin: Play Time!

"Elaine, this is exactly why we tell the chairs we're coming back from vacation a day later than we actually do." – Molly Erdman at Catalog Living

“Elaine, this is exactly why we tell the chairs we’re coming back from vacation a day later than we actually do.” – Molly Erdman at Catalog Living

Hello I am Zin! Caution, time sinks ahead! But fun time sinks!

This past summer, our blog stats showed someone was looking for the search term: “Elaine finally understood why whenever she said something out of Gary’s intellectual grasp, he told her to eat a sandwich.” I am not sure why this search ended up here, but the sentence was interesting enough that I had to see it was a line from a story somewhere! So I did my own search, and I found a hilarious site by Molly Erdman called Catalog Living:

Catalog Living offers a glimpse inside the lives of the people inhabiting your home furnishing catalogs. Who keeps jars of starfish in their bathroom? Who uses stacks of color-coordinated books as a bedside table? The answer is Gary and Elaine, the unseen and often clueless couple who live their lives according to the gospel of Pottery Barn and Crate & Barrel.

I should have seen it before since it was one of the Best Websites of 2011 according to Time Magazine!

And now I have discovered Molly also started a second site, Magazine Living where she does the same thing for “shelter magazines” like Architectural Digest via characters Martin and Gareth.

"On a chilly autumn night, nothing soothes Gareth more than curling up in his favorite chair with a cozy blanket and his pointiest antlers." – caption by Molly Erdman at Magazine Living

“On a chilly autumn night, nothing soothes Gareth more than curling up in his favorite chair with a cozy blanket and his pointiest antlers.” – caption by Molly Erdman at Magazine Living

I have a lot of fun checking this site once a week! It has nothing to do with writing so I can not put it on our Cool Sites page but it is fun anyway!

The Sandwich quote? That is from this one:

"Elaine finally understood why whenever she said something out of Gary's intellectual grasp, he told her to eat a sandwich." – caption by Molly Erdman at Catalog Living

“Elaine finally understood why whenever she said something out of Gary’s intellectual grasp, he told her to eat a sandwich.” – caption by Molly Erdman at Catalog Living

Sunday with Zin: First Friday in October 2012

Hello I am Zin and I had so much fun at First Friday this month! It went from Edward Gorey and string quartets to blacksmiths with marimbas and break dancers in between!

First I went to the Edward Gorey exhibit titled “Elegant Enigmas” at the library! Even if you do not recognize the name, you probably have seen his work! The exhibits included first editions for many of his works, from the 1982 illustration for Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats and War of the Worlds to his backdrop and costume sketches for the 1983 Carnegie Mellon production of The Mikado! And his completely crazy alphabet books, including my favorite, The Glorious Nosebleed (“He wrote it all down Zealously”)! It is truly Zin material!

A string quartet was playing in the lobby when I left, so I waited and listened with about thirty other people because we would have had to walk between them to get out! Everyone just stood and listened, it was like a six-minute pause, very sweet!

Across the street in Monument Square a different band was playing – The Maine Marimba Ensemble plays contemporary Zimbabwean marimba music! I did not know there was contemporary marimba music, but of course there is! It is wonderful, you can watch videos at the link above!

And because it was a warm night, many people were out for First Friday! Some of them were funny – there was a man trying to preach and a group of girls in green makeup and dressed as monsters – maybe zombies? – kept following him! They had a sign on a sheet between two poles that read “DamnedNation” or something like that, and it was so funny, because they can not tell him not to preach but he can not tell them not to be on the sidewalk either! I actually am not 100% sure they were not part of the same troupe doing street theatre!

There were also several dancers, including one young man doing break dancing (ouch, the brick sidewalk must have hurt his back!) using a glass storefront as a window! That is what happens a lot, people just come out and practice whatever it is they do and they put a box or a hat down and hope someone gives them money! Some girls doing modern dance did the same thing, they had hula hoops but they did not use them while I was watching.

All the galleries and stores and of course the art college (MECA) had displays and lots of stuff going on, but my favorite thing was the Blacksmith! Sam H. Smith – that is really his name – is a Master Blacksmith and had a mini-forge and hammer and was making hooks and pokers and triangles right there on the Congress Street sidewalk! He was very nice and answered a lot of questions (yes, this is what he does for a living, and he has to abide by the same First Friday rules as the musicians because his instrument is the anvil). Update May 22 2013: Today the Portland City Council banned fire! Not completely just for blacksmiths and jugglers and street artists because of safety concerns! He seemed very careful to me but I do not know much about fire safety but I am now so sad I will not be seeing him again at First Friday any more! The website for Sam has disappeared but you can still find him at the Portland Forge page on Facebook!

Thank you Portland for another great First Friday!

Sunday with Zin: the Zin List of Lists of Rules for Writers!

“There are three rules for writing a novel. Unfortunately, no one knows what they are.” Somerset Maugham.

Hello I am Zin! Last week my feed from The Millions included a link to Etgar Keret‘s “Ten Rules for Writers from Rookie. My favorite: #10 – “Hear what everyone has to say but don’t listen to anyone (except me)”.

This started me thinking! And we all know: a thinking Zin is always dangerous!

When I come across a List of Rules, I save it to my Writing Craft folder, so I have several Lists already. I found several more just googling around! So I decided I would create a List of Lists of Rules for Writers! And consolidate other sources with a List of Lists of Rules (like The Guardian, Brainpickers, The Millions).

Some of the lists are technical: about structure, or dialogue tags, and such. Others are about lifestyle, both personal and professional, or about handling the difficulties of writing. Some are very funny!

Many lists include exhortations to edit! And read! Of course, read! And many advocate breaking the rules when it is artistically imperative to do so!

And I am so surprised so many include the obvious: WRITE! I understand this! It is easy to waste 20 years saying, “Someday I am going to write a novel.” If you want to be a writer, write! You do not have to quit your job! You do not have to go to school! You do not have to travel! All of those things may help, but the only thing you actually must do is write! Helen Simpson, below, puts it just right:

The nearest I have to a rule is a Post-it on the wall in front of my desk saying “Faire et se taire” (Flaubert), which I translate for myself as “Shut up and get on with it.”

Some of these Lists are by very famous writers; some are famous in a specific field, like playwriting, humor, poetry, detective novels, fantasy, or business; some of them are less famous but still very wonderful writers; some are writers I know from Zoetrope Virtual Studios, the Flash Factory and Long Stuff offices. And some are just lists I have stumbled across in my travels. Fifty-seven lists! From Mark Twain to Henry James to Jack Kerouac to Zadie Smith! And it is not in any way complete, but it is a pretty good start! Thank you to Christopher James and Douglas Campbell and Tom Barlow on Zoetrope who pointed to additional lists!

The Zin List of Lists of Rules for Writers:

Kurt Vonnegut: Creative Writing 101 from Bagombo Snuff Box – “The greatest American short story writer of my generation was Flannery O’Connor (1925-1964). She broke practically every one of my rules but the first. Great writers tend to do that.”

William Safire: Rules for Writers from How Not To Write – “Don’t overuse exclamation marks!!” [Pffffft! – love, Zin!]

Erica Jong: 20 Rules for Writers – “4. Write for joy.”

Christopher James: 27 Rules for Flash and Life in General – “17. Be careful with the ugly stuff, and get ugly with the careful stuff.”

Zadie Smith: Rules for Writers – “7. Work on a computer that is disconnected from the internet.”

The Willesden Herald of London short story contest: Common Faults in Short Stories Submitted – “24. Ankles. Particularly ankles in Asia.” I do not understand this! But every time I come across it, I am gripped with an urge to write a story about a gang of rogue malleoli in Hong Kong!

Randall Brown: Five Can’t Miss Ways to Avoid a Reader’s “So what?” – “3. Use the title of a flash piece as a thesis statement.”

Ray Bradbury: Three rules for writing (Video from 2008 Comic-Con – “Go to the edge of the cliff, jump off, and build your wings in the way down.”

David Ogilvy (emperor of advertising) on writing better memos, letters, and speeches – ” 4. Never use jargon words like reconceptualize,demassification, attitudinally, judgmentally. They are hallmarks of a pretentious ass.”

Henry Miller: “Commandments” from Henry Miller on Writing – “5. When you can’t create you can work.”

Jack Kerouac: “Belief and Technique for Modern Prose” – “29. You’re a Genius all the time.”

John Steinbeck: Six Tips on Writing culled by Brainpickings from the 1975 Paris Review compilation/article – “3. Forget your generalized audience. In the first place, the nameless, faceless audience will scare you to death and in the second place, unlike the theater, it doesn’t exist. In writing, your audience is one single reader. I have found that sometimes it helps to pick out one person—a real person you know, or an imagined person and write to that one.”

Susan Sontag: Diary entries on writing culled by Brainpickings from As Consciousness Is Harnessed to Flesh: Journals and Notebooks, 1964-1980 – “The only story that seems worth writing is a cry, a shot, a scream. A story should break the reader’s heart.”

Roy Peter Clark: Fifty Writing Tools – “26. Use dialogue as a form of action. Dialogue advances narrative; quotes delay it.”

Colson Whitehead: How to Write – “Rule No. 8: Is secret.”

Myfanwy Collins: Ten Essentials of Reading for Writers –”9. Don’t sacrifice feeling for critical thinking.

Robert Heinlein: Rules for Writers from his essay “On the Writing of Speculative Fiction” – “1. You must write.”

Kevin Moffett: Six Rules included (and broken) in the short story “Further Interpretations of Real-Life Events – “Never write about writing.

Charles Martin: Random Rules for Writers – “God gave you your ‘voice’ for a reason. It’s the only one in the universe. You’re the only one that sounds like you.”

Anis Shivani: New Rules For Writers – “8. Aim for zero audience.”

Janet Fitch: 10 Rules for Writers – “10. Torture Your Protagonist.”

George Orwell: from “Politics and the English Language” – “Break any of these rules sooner than say anything barbarous.”

S.S. Van Dine (Willard Huntington Wright): Twenty rules for writing detective stories from The American Magazine, 1928 (and referenced by Ujala Sehgal in The Millions on 12/10/10) – “16. A detective novel should contain no long descriptive passages, no literary dallying with side-issues, no subtly worked-out character analyses, no “atmospheric” preoccupations. such matters have no vital place in a record of crime and deduction. They hold up the action and introduce issues irrelevant to the main purpose, which is to state a problem, analyze it, and bring it to a successful conclusion. To be sure, there must be a sufficient descriptiveness and character delineation to give the novel verisimilitude.”

Elmore Leonard: Writers on Writing (2001 NYT article) – “10. Try to leave out the part that readers tend to skip. A rule that came to mind in 1983. Think of what you skip reading a novel: thick paragraphs of prose you can see have too many words in them.”

Mark Twain: “Fenimore Cooper’s Literary Offenses – “13. Use the right word, not its second cousin.”

Matthew Cheney: Rules for Writing – “Some coaches insist adverbs are stronger than nouns, but an independent panel of statisticians has proved otherwise. Despite appearances, though, statisticians don’t like nouns so much as they adore conjunctions.”

The Guardian, in an encyclopedic two-part article from February 2010, asked for lists from a wide array of writers (this is where some of the above, though discovered independently, originated) including:

Margaret Atwood: “1. Take a pencil to write with on aeroplanes. Pens leak. But if the pencil breaks, you can’t sharpen it on the plane, because you can’t take knives with you. Therefore: take two pencils.”

Richard Ford: “1. Marry someone you love and who thinks you being a writer’s a good idea.”

Jonathan Franzen: “10. You have to love before you can be relentless.”

Neil Gaiman: “8. The main rule of writing is that if you do it with enough assurance and confidence, you’re allowed to do whatever you like. (That may be a rule for life as well as for writing. But it’s definitely true for writing.) So write your story as it needs to be written. Write it ¬honestly, and tell it as best you can. I’m not sure that there are any other rules. Not ones that matter.”

PD James: “3. Don’t just plan to write – write. It is only by writing, not dreaming about it, that we develop our own style.”

Joyce Carol Oates: “7. Keep a light, hopeful heart. But expect the worst.”

Annie Proulx: “3. Write slowly and by hand only about subjects that interest you.”

Anne Enright: “1. The first 12 years are the worst.”

Diana Athill : “1. Read it aloud to yourself because that’s the only way to be sure the rhythms of the sentences are OK (prose rhythms are too complex and subtle to be thought out – they can be got right only by ear).”

Roddy Doyle: “1. Do not place a photograph of your ¬favourite author on your desk, especially if the author is one of the famous ones who committed suicide.”

Helen Dunmore: “7. A problem with a piece of writing often clarifies itself if you go for a long walk.”

Geoff Dyer: “6. Have regrets. They are fuel. On the page they flare into desire.”

Esther Freud: “4. Find your best time of the day for writing and write. Don’t let anything else interfere. Afterwards it won’t matter to you that the kitchen is a mess.”

David Hare: “10. The two most depressing words in the English language are ‘literary fiction’.”

A. L. Kennedy: “9. Remember you love writing. It wouldn’t be worth it if you didn’t. If the love fades, do what you need to and get it back; 10. Remember writing doesn’t love you. It doesn’t care. Nevertheless, it can behave with remarkable generosity. Speak well of it, encourage others, pass it on.”

Hilary Mantel: “1. Are you serious about this? Then get an accountant.”

Michael Moorcock: “2. Find an author you admire (mine was Conrad) and copy their plots and characters in order to tell your own story, just as people learn to draw and paint by copying the masters.”

Michael Morpurgo: “6. By the time I sit down and face the blank page I am raring to go. I tell it as if I’m talking to my best friend or one of my grandchildren.”

Andrew Motion: 2″. Think with your senses as well as your brain.”

Philip Pullman: ” My main rule is to say no to things like this, which tempt me away from my proper work.”

Ian Rankin: “1. Read lots. 2. Write lots…. 9. Get lucky. 10. Stay lucky.”

Will Self : “4. Stop reading fiction – it’s all lies anyway, and it doesn’t have anything to tell you that you don’t know already (assuming, that is, you’ve read a great deal of fiction in the past; if you haven’t you have no business whatsoever being a writer of fiction).”

Helen Simpson: “The nearest I have to a rule is a Post-it on the wall in front of my desk saying ‘Faire et se taire‘ (Flaubert), which I translate for myself as ‘Shut up and get on with it’.”

Colm Tóibín: “7. If you have to read, to cheer yourself up read biographies of writers who went insane.”

Rose Tremain: “6. In the planning stage of a book, don’t plan the ending. It has to be earned by all that will go before it.”

Sarah Waters: “4. Writing fiction is not “self-expression” or “therapy”. Novels are for readers, and writing them means the crafty, patient, selfless construction of effects. I think of my novels as being something like fairground rides: my job is to strap the reader into their car at the start of chapter one, then trundle and whizz them through scenes and surprises, on a carefully planned route, and at a finely engineered pace.”

Jeanette Winterson: “10. Enjoy this work!”

And if you visit the One Story website, for each issue since the second (that makes 167 as of now), the author interview includes the question, “What is the best bit of advice about writing you have ever gotten?” That is another list with 167 items!

Whew! That is some list! If you have a list to include, leave a comment!

Sunday with Zin: Fifty Shades of East Millinocket

Hello I am Zin! I have learned so much about paper in the past few months!

First there was Richard Russo talking about his new book Interventions being printed in Maine on sustainable paper. Then it was Monica Wood and her memoir about growing up in a paper mill town, and her short story collection set in a paper mill town. And now, it is Fifty Shades of Grey which is printed on Maine paper!

When Random House ordered 3,000 tons of Baxter Brite Grade paper for the books, the Great Northern Paper mill in East Millinocket had to open more machines and hire more workers to fill it! And they might open the defunct mill in neighboring Millinocket to make the wood pellets that supply the paper mill to supply the 110,000 tons needed to print the European editions!

In the video from the recent Rock Center story (the appearance of the story on a national newsmagazine show is itself covered by the Bangor Daily News), they encourage people to buy the book, not the e-book versions! Like papermill engineer David Jamo, who has not read the book (I have not either) says: “There’s nothing like the feel of a book in your hands.” E.L. James might be able to think of a few things.

I am very happy for the workers in East Millinocket and I hope their prosperity continues and they enjoy the fruits of their labors for a very long time! But can I admit there is also something very sad about this! It is like the beautiful 2011 Holiday Message (picture above) from mill owners/financers Cate Street Capital (“To our new friends and neighbors in Millinocket and East Millinocket”). Those majestic snow-covered pristine pine trees might be captioned: “Now cut these suckers down and turn ’em into mommy porn!”

Sunday with Zin: The Artists of the Chestnut Street Lofts

Archival Pigment Print by Robert Moran from his series “Relics”

Hello I am Zin and today we are back at the library!

This month, the exhibit at the Lewis Gallery is “Inspired by Place: Artists of the Chestnut Street Lofts”! The Chestnut Street Lofts is a recently-constructed condo, and I am not really sure why six artists live there! Coincidence, I guess? I am also not sure why they get their own art exhibit, except maybe because it is located around the corner from the library!

My favorite art was by Clyde McCulley. He was at the show and I was lucky enough to talk with him! He produces “dye-infused metal prints.”

Now that does not sound very artistic, but in person the pictures have a unique finish that is both matte and glossy and seems to have some depth as well! But he does not just send his photos to be printed, no! It is a whole process! First he takes digital photographs of a scene that interests him. He pays special attention to light! Then he manipulates the image using three kinds of software, including Photoshop, to brighten the colors and also make it look more like a painting (he was a trained painter) then sends it to be put on metal. The effect for me was warm and very pleasant! From a distance the finished products look like photographs, but up close, when you can see brush strokes, like paintings!

I also very much liked the “Relics series by Robert Moran! They are also digitally manipulated archival pigment photographs! This sounds like gobbledygook but it is quite interesting because medium and method work together! Archival pigments allow the finished print to last longer than regular prints, and his photographs are of old items (a very old medical bag, a 50s radio, an old television set), and he is also using digital manipulation, so old and new are entwined! I like that! The pictures are very simple but striking and interesting to look at for a long time!

Leslie Anderson had pretty landscapes on exhibit, but what interested me about her was her website! She offers “Paint Your View!” In the summer she will come to your house (if you live near her) and paint your view! That is a pretty cool idea!

Savin Mazzotti is interesting because he is just a kid! He is a high school senior! But he is very serious about photography, and his photos were from a trip he took to the Dominican Republic with a volunteer group! He too was at the show, and was very nice though he did not say much. He is the only one who does regular film photography! The youngster in the group is using the oldest technology!

It is a nice exhibit, if not a groundbreaking one! I understand next they have an Edward Gorey exhibit coming in, and that will be fun too!

Sunday with Zin: New Stuff!

"Begin" (detail), Susan Webster/Stuart Kestenbaum

“Begin” (detail), Susan Webster/Stuart Kestenbaum

Hello I am Zin and I get to do this installment of Additions to Pages! It is a little different from the older ones, but it is the season for changes and I thought it could use some perking up!

First, here are three flash fiction stories we have added to the Online Fiction Sampler page:

Revived by Eugenio Volpe: grief takes many forms. From Smokelong, 7/9/2012

Instructions for Growing Men by Margaret Patton Chapman: I am sad the (still anonymous) editors at killauthor have now stopped publishing new material, but I am glad they included this in their June 10, 2012 Issue 19!

Amy in Twenty Chapters by Nick Sansone: from Bartleby Snopes. Exactly what it says!

These last two stories were recommended by Seth Fischer in his Rumpus column Here Are Some Stories Seth Likes – another good reason to subscribe to The Rumpus!

And one new blog is added to the Cool Sites for Writers and Readers page:

Boston Writers Review: Our blogger-friend Stanley Dankoski does a great job showcasing the efforts and goings-on of Boston-area emerging writers.

Enjoy!

Sunday with Zin: The Sing-Off China

MICapella!

MICapella!

Hello I am Zin, and I was going to talk about something else today, but I got so excited when I saw on TWoP that China is doing their first season of The Sing-Off, I just had to post about it right away!

The American version was canceled (and I am still very sad about that), but it seems the Chinese love a cappella! Actually, it is a “totally new thing” for them, according to this casting video posted by Inside A Cappella on YouTube! And as Kromm said on TWoP – “Holy No International Copyright Batman” – Entire episodes are on YouTube! So even if the Sing-Off is not profitable enough for American audiences, serious diehards and get a fix – even though it will be mostly in Chinese!

What is really hilarious about the episodes is that even though they are in Chinese, they are so similar to the American version! The same excessive blather between performances by the unrelentingly smooth host! The same excessive reactions of the judges! The same cheesy performances! It is perfect!

You can just search YouTube for “The Sing-off China” and find dozens of videos (no I have not seen them all, but I will keep looking), but here are some of my favorites so far:

TV Promo in an Inside A Cappella story – 1.5 min.; it starts off slow, like all these random people are singing, then turns into a really good anthem; the commentary is in English, but most of the song is in Chinese, except for the last line.

MICappella (apparently the leading contender; they are from Singapore) singing a Chinese pop song! At least I think it is Chinese, how would I know? They are really good! They do not sound like this is totally new to them!

Freemen singing “Creep” by Radiohead (my personal anthem!) In English with some very interesting staging! They give it a very different twist: instead of an outcast bemoaning his fate, it is the story of a man meeting his soul in a dream! That is quite special! The judges look like they are going to cry! This is really great! They will never replace the Street Corner Symphony version, but it is very impressive!

And then, because no Sing-Off post is complete without them, I am including my beloved Pentatonix doing “We Are Young” on the Chinese show. It is not my favorite song that they do (that would be “Dog Days Are Over“) but I am very happy to see they were invited to be on the show in China!

And I am so happy that the Chinese have embraced a cappella! Maybe if it is successful, we will get our American version back! There is even a bridge to help that happen: the University of Pennsylvania has a Chinese a capella group, PennYo, which does Chinese pop songs! So anything is possible!

Sunday with Zin: at the 2012 Portland Sidewalk Art Festival

2012 Portland Sidewalk Art Festival

2012 Portland Sidewalk Art Festival

Hello I am Zin and last weekend was the 2012 Portland Sidewalk Art Festival!

Every year, the city closes down the main downtown street on the Saturday a week before Labor Day weekend and artists take over! Some years it is very hot, or rainy, but this year was perfect!

You can see a whole slideshow of photographs of the festival! [no longer online] There are also a lot of slides of cars which was a different festival but somehow the pictures are all together in the same slideshow so you have to zip through some of them! Unless you like cars in which case you will have twice as much fun looking!

Most of the art was of the “pretty art” variety – landscapes, animals, and a lot of Maine scenery which is fine, it is pretty! Not all of the artists are from Maine but I think only Maine people can win the Prizes! I would say all of the four prize winners were of the “pretty art” variety. I do not remember seeing any of the prize winners (there were three hundred artists and I did not even get to some of them) but they all have websites where you can see their work:

Third place went to Heidi Wilde for her Wilde Accents, reverse paintings on glass (“Life captured in a window”)! This is an interesting idea, and requires some planning, and some are done in multiple panes which is clever! I like some of her small-town scenes!

Pamela Jo Ellis won second place with her watercolors.

First Prize was for the Collagraph Prints of Kathleen Buchanan, owner of Grey Seal Press!

The Purchase Prize which puts a piece in the WCSH collection went to Catherine Meeks of Artistic Sisters! She works in an interesting array of media, from Paintings and Illustrations to iPad Digital Finger Paintings (ooooh! An artist who embraces pop technology!) and Polaroid Image Transfers.

I had my own prizes! The Zinnies! Some of them are from Maine, and some are not, but they all seemed a little different to me!

My Oliver Sacks award: I was drawn to the intensely bright colors of Dana Trattner but even more drawn to her story: “The art before you is a celebration of my new visual world.” She has had many eye problems (keratitis, astigmatism, and believe it or not, color blindness!) and each procedure, including corneal transplants, has changed her perception and her art! She gave a seven-minute slide presentation at Pecha Kucha Night (a kind of speed-presentation for artists and designers) in 2010! Not only her use of color but of contrast changed! It is an amazing seven minutes! She speculates: “…I’ve been wondering how different art might be if famous artists had been forced to wear glasses constantly. In the book The World Through Blunted Sight, Patrick Trevor-Roper states that many Impressionists, such as Cezanne, [were] nearsighted and painted without glasses. So I wonder, is it like Thomas Wolfe said in The Painted Word, that art critics started impressionism while the Impressionists were merely drawing what they saw?” I think this is an exciting thought!

My Best Use of the Name of the Artist award: Burrealism is the work of John and Carolyn Burr of Springvale, Maine! They do reverse acrylics, using acrylic sheets instead of glass which is pretty cool! Their subjects are sometimes brightly surreal (floating cubes and spheres in architecture, planet landscapes seen through Grecian columns) but sometimes more traditional and nature-themed.

My Emotional Tug award: I loved the lonely silhouettes of Sus Iserbyt! She is originally from Belgium and now lives in Massachusetts. I am not sure what this elongated style is called (she just calls it silhouettes), but it interests me! Another artist painted in the same style – you can see a couple of examples on Slide 28 of the WCSH slideshow, behind the man wearing the hat) but that artist was not at the booth at the moment I was there so I could not talk to her to see if there is some word for this style (if you know, please tell me!).

Some runners-up for the Zinnies:

Renaissance Man: Chris Newcomb (ARTernatives) of Gorham, ME does some acting, writing, and storytelling in addition to his steelwork! I wonder if I will see him at some future MOOSE meeting!

Art on a T-shirt: I loved the Wild Woman series of paintings by Peyton Higgison; he also does landscapes, and he and his wife Chaké run the Wilderwoman Country Store in Brunswick ME and sell t-shirts online with some of the Wild Woman designs on them!

Found Materials: Geri Geremia from New York caught my eye with her mixed media pieces using gold leaf and corrugated cardboard and other textures!

Sense of Humor: Phillip Singer does puns (A Mangoes to a Bar or Apple of My Eye). I like puns!

Nostalgia: I was charmed by the old-time street-corner jazz portraits of Joel Beckwith from Vermont!

I had a lot of fun at the Festival and thank you to all the artists whose work is so wonderful!

Sunday with Zin: Asteroid 9491

"The Little Prince"

“The Little Prince”

Hello I am Zin! And do I have a story to tell you! It is the true story of a Nobel physics laureate, his asteroid, and apostrophes!

You may have noticed if you read my posts often that I do not like apostrophes! I do not use contractions or possessives unless they are in quotes (and I must then, because, after all, to change the words or punctuation that someone else has written would be just rude! Are you listening, International Astronomical Union?). But that is one reason why this story is so wonderful to me!

Gerard ’t Hooft has been a professor of Theoretical Physics at Ultrecht University in the Netherlands (where he also earned his degrees) since 1977! He was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics, along with his colleague Martin Veltman, for “elucidating the quantum structure of electroweak interactions in physics.” Please do not ask me to explain that, but it has to do with the Standard Model of physics in which there are four main forces and that is one of them. So he is very smart!

The International Astronomical Union wanted to honor Drs. Veltman and ’t Hooft for their achievement, so they named a couple of asteroids for them! What a nice thing to do! So now we have Asteroid 9492 Veltman, and Asteroid 9491 Thooft.

Wait! Thooft? What is Thooft?

It seems the IAU can not handle apostrophes! Maybe they can not handle spaces either! So they turned ’t Hooft into Thooft! Talk about rude!

But Professor ’t Hooft is a genius with a sense of humor! So he wrote a Constitution for Asteroid 9491 Thooft that, among other things, bans the use of apostrophes on the asteroid:

Since the I.A.U. was unable to place an apostrophe in the name of 9491 Thooft, any other uses of apostrophes on 9491 Thooft or within its territorial zone will be outlawed. No keyboards that have an apostrophe key will be allowed on the asteroid.

Clarification: Not only the apostrophe, also the space between t and Hooft has been removed in the name, and the capitalization has been altered. However, since the spaces before and after the name are still present, and since the t was capitalized, we do accept keyboards with space bars and with the facility to capitalize letters.
Another misunderstanding is to be corrected: If your name is D’Arcy, or O’Connor, or #&’! ’96, you are still quite welcome to visit the asteroid, but during the visit, and on your visa, these names will be spelled as: Darcy, Oconnor and #&!96. Needless to say, the previous sentence in the clarification will not be shown in the versions of the Constitution used on the asteroid.

Visa applications may be emailed to Professor ’t Hooft. Be sure to include your swimming certificate and proof you have never been hit by a meteorite!

I heard about Professor ‘t Hooft on the tv show Through the Wormhole with Morgan Freeman, and you can watch the “What is Nothing?” episode too![sorry it was removed] There is a lot more about the actual science ’t Hooft does, as well as many other very interesting things! But if you just want to see the apostrophe part, it is from 24:29 to 27:00! And the official webpages the Professor has on the official University of Ultrecht website are wonderful! That university must be a fun place! Go to his home page and click on everything that can be clicked, especially in the lower half! Really! You will have fun! In particular do not miss his comments on evolution (where he outlines the eras of the Technozoicum, the Polluticum, and the Extraterrestrazoicum) and SmartQuotes (Word does not do much better than the IAU with his name), or his Universal Manual, his the Fulmination Page, the Crackpot Index of John (not Joan) Baez, and instruction on how to become a Good and a Bad Theoretical Physicist!

Sunday with Zin: MOOSE!

Hello I am Zin! And I saw MOOSE!

No, not a moose with antlers… the Maine Organization Of Story Telling Enthusiasts ! Who knew there was such a thing! But yes, there is, and there they were, right there in the library! They meet once a month and tell stories! I have known about this for some time, and have thought I might like to go, but one thing or another intervened. But on August 8 I went, and I am glad I did! It was much, MUCH better than I had expected!

I was expecting something like the SLANT event from June, with people telling stories about their lives! That was okay, but it felt more like a 12-step meeting and was not something I was particularly interested in doing again.

But this was completely different! Some of the stories were about people’s lives, but not many. Most were folk tales or jokes! And the storytellers varied from okay to really, really good! I was not aware that there is a market out there for storytellers! Or that there were so many festivals – like the Western Maine Storytelling Festival – and professional organizations – like LANES, the League for the Advancement of New England Storytellers (which includes NY State)! And the National Storytelling Network! All these storytellers, all over the place! They have festivals and give lessons and workshops (check the websites for information if you are interested) and are available for performances at parties and meetings!

Storytelling in this context is very different from the way the term is used in writing. In writing, there is sometimes a distinction between “writing” and a “storytelling” and both skills are needed for great fiction! The post-modernist period (the 20th century, but at its heydey from the 60s to the 90s) kind of moved away from story and plot (“he is a storyteller but not a writer” was considered an insult, indicating he might be able to produce commercial or genre fiction but not literature) in favor of “tricks” of point of view and narration and language. But sometimes this work has been considered boring because “nothing happens!” And it can be hard to read! Recently there has been a resurgence of interest in the art of plot construction; maybe we are in a post-post-modern period where an actual story is being told!

But this oral storytelling has nothing to do with writing! It is a matter of finding a tale, modifying one, or creating one, that can be conveyed in a single telling! Susan, the host, explained to me that a good story is constructed like a pizza: the main plot is the dough, the details are the sauce, and the embellishments are the toppings! And the embellishments do not have to be words! They can be sounds, accents, changes in tempo or rhythm or volume or pitch of the speaking voice; they can be songs; they can be props, costumes, and gestures! She told me she started when she was telling stories to her children, and that is all she did for 11 years, but one day she was asked to fill in for a friend who worked at the Portland Headlight – Susan said, “But I only know stories for children!” and they told her that was ok, just provide some kind of entertainment for the tourists! She got interested in telling stories to adults, and has been doing it for 30 years now!

The meeting took place in two parts: first there was an hour of open-mic storytelling, where anyone could sign up right then and there, and take 10 minutes to tell a story! And when they run out of people who are signed up, someone else always realizes, Hey, I do have a story, maybe I will tell! or just jumps in to fill the hour! Then there is a five-minute break for refreshments and to pass a basket for a requested voluntary donation of $5 to pay for the featured speaker. And the featured speaker gets an hour to tell stories!

The open-mic stories started with Phyllis, who told an announcement (about needing help to organize the LANES Share the Fire conference next April) in the form of a story! At the end, she said, “You might be thinking, this is not a story, it is an announcement! And that is right! But I told it as a story because everyone complains that my announcements run so long!” And someone yelled out, “The story was actually shorter than most of your announcements!” But I will bet she got a lot of volunteers!

Most of the stories were folk tales or extended jokes, like Anecdotes. But one woman told a story about swimming in Sebago lake and someone telling her there was a shark in the water (it was a snapping turtle). A woman told a story about something that happened on a trip to Burma (she called it Burma so I wonder if it was a long time ago) but she spoke so softly I could not hear her! That was the only story that was not that entertaining; everything else was wonderful! The stories were terrific, no matter what their origin!

I only took enough notes to remember two stories in full:

Deb is apparently known for her Moments, and she had another Moment! She turned it into a Story! She noticed something going on at the corner near her house, and realized they were drug dealers and prostitutes! She was afraid for the first time in ten years! Everything in her life seemed so stressful, and was getting worse, she could not sleep! She remembered the story of the man who went to the Rebbe (rabbi):

The man went to the Rebbe and complained that his wife was yelling and the dog was barking and the kids were screaming, and he could not take the noise any more! And the Rebbe said, I think you should get some chickens. The man did not understand, but the Rebbe was the Rebbe after all, so he went out and got some chickens. And now his wife was yelling and the dog was barking and the kids were screaming and the chickens were clucking… he went back to the Rebbe, who said, Hmmmm… I think you should get two cows. The man did not know what on earth the Rebbe was thinking, but he got two cows, and now the wife was yelling and the dog was barking and the kids were screaming and the chickens were clucking and the cows were mooing … and he went back to the Rebbe again, and again, and he added a flock of geese and a pair of mules and by this time the wife was yelling and the dog was barking and the kids were screaming and the chickens were clucking and the cows were mooing and the geese were honking and the mules were braying and he was losing his mind! He went back to the Rebbe and said, Listen, this is not helping, I do not understand, please, I must get some peace! And the Rebbe said, Now I want you to sell the mules and the geese and the cows and the chickens. So that’s what the man did, and that night – ahh, it was so peaceful – how nice, the wife was yelling, and it was so wonderful, the dog was barking, and joy of joys, the kids were screaming, and he finally had some peace!

So she learned from this story and called the police and once the drug dealers and prostitutes went somewhere else, suddenly her stress-filled life seemed very peaceful!

Now, some of the fun of this story is lost by my recounting because she used a lot of gestures and facial expressions; it was so much fun!

I also remember a story told by Michael Cooper. He is famous for the masks he makes; you can find out more about him here, he is quite a performer! He told a slightly bawdy Irish tale in a very good Irish accent (I am recreating the story from memory, so I take the blame for any discrepancy between this and his story!):

Youngman has a black eye, and his buddy asks him, “How did you get that black eye?” Oh, said Youngman, I saw a lovely lass wearing a frilly little dress, and the skirt was billowing this way and that, just as free as you please, but then it got stuck, a little bit, right there in between the cheeks of her bottom! So as any helpful gentleman would do, he ever so gingerly grasped the fabric of the skirt and pulled it free, and she turned around and gave him a black eye! A week later Youngman ran into his buddy again, and the other eye was black! “Oh, no, did you do it again?” asked his buddy. No, Youngman explained, he learned his lesson the first time! But he was at church the past Sunday, and who should be in the pew in front of him but the same lass, wearing the same kind of frilly skirt billowing this way and that, just as free as you please, and again, it got stuck a bit, right there in between the cheeks of her bottom! He stood fast, having, as he said, learned his lesson. But the gentleman next to him apparently didn’t know, and that gentleman reached over and ever so gingerly grasped the fabric of the skirt and pulled it free! “But,” said Youngman, “I knew she didn’t like that, so I stuffed it back in!”

The featured speaker this night was Claire Miller from Nova Scotia – she came down to Maine just for this, which seemed like an awfully long drive for a two-hour storytelling meeting, but then I remembered there is ferry service between Portland/Brunswick and Nova Scotia so it is kind of a fun weekend trip for a lot of people!

She first met the MOOSE people in 1991 in the exact room we were in that night! So she has been visiting for a long time! She is a famous storyteller it seems! She focused on folks tales of Scotland, and added a family story about her grandparents who came over to New Brunswick from Glasgow many years ago! She sang songs in between each story – like the Skye Boat Song, Mairi’s Wedding, and Loch Lomond (which pretty much everyone knows, “You take the high road and I’ll take the low road…” – see?). And she sang a hilarious song, “Ghost Chickens In The Sky ” – yes, it is a parody of “Ghost Riders in the Sky” and it is perfect:

A chicken farmer went out on one dark and dusty day
And by the coop he rested as he went along his way
When all at once a rotten egg hit him in the eye
It was the sight he dreaded: Ghost Chickens in the Sky

This farmer had these chickens since he was twenty-four
Working for the Colonel for thirty years or more
Raising all those chickens up to send them off to fry
And now they want revenge: Ghost Chickens in the Sky

Their beaks were black and shiny, their eyes were blazing red
They had no meat or feathers – oh! These chickens all were dead!
They raised that farmer up and he died by the claw
They cooked him extra crispy, and served him with cole slaw

So let this song remind you if you want eternal peace:
Don’t raise up harmless poultry for to cook ’em up in grease
Remember: don’t raise animals that you will some day kill
For a chicken may come haunt you, but Tofu never will.

Her version was not as exuberant as the one by Leon Troy on YouTube, but it was somehow funnier because she was just singing, like it was serious!

The group was about 25 people, and most were around my age! There were very few people under 30! Maybe this is something people grow into; I hope it does not mean this wonderful, entertaining art form, which I have just discovered, is fading away!

If this meeting sounds like fun to you (it was tremendous fun for me), there are videos of more stories on the MOOSE website! And if you do not live in Maine or New England, you can probably find a storytelling group in your area at the National Storytelling Network website!

Sunday with Zin: Monica Wood: Ernie’s Ark – Ballantine Books, 2002

Ernie’s building [the ark] is an act of desperation, of communion, of hope, of despair. It worked on many levels for me, which is why so many stories resulted from it. Ernie understands that the town will never be the same after what’s happened, so he’s determined to survive, whether he knows it consciously or not. It’s significant he doesn’t think twice about his ability to build the ark. My favorite line of the book is this one: “Ernie figured that Noah himself was a man of the soil and didn’t know spit about boatbuilding.”
— “A Conversation With Monica Wood,” appendix to Ernie’s Ark

Hello I am Zin! I went to a reading by Monica Wood for her memoir When We Were The Kennedys a few weeks ago (I wrote about her talk last week), and the prologue was lovely so I thought I would read some of her fiction! I am glad I did!

This collection is a set of closely linked stories set in the same mill town – it is called Abbott Falls and Wood calls it “a composite” of paper mill towns all over the country but it is clearly informed by her experience growing up in the Oxford-Rumford-Mexico area of Maine. It is used in Maine schools especially, because the kids can see how a writer treats a real setting! On her website there is a picture of an ark students in Scarborough built after they read the story!

There is a whole appendix of wonderful material at the end, including an interview with Bill Roorbach and a guide for reading groups! She did not plan to write a story collection, just the title story! She noticed a man walking a teeny-tiny dog, then she realized there were a lot of older men out walking teeny-tiny dogs, all the time, and finally realized they were widowers taking care of the dogs their wives had loved! And the story came from that single image! Then the collection came from that single story! That is quite a lot to get out of noticing one little thing!

She does not write a draft and then edit – “language itself is what leads me through the story” (I wonder if this is something like the process Ron Carlson used in his book about his Governor’s Ball story. Or maybe I just have Ron Carlson on the brain because my friend Marko Fong recently did a workshop with him). Then at the end she might have to throw away some stuff but she uses the language as a map!

She is adamant that this is NOT a novel! It is not a novel-in-stories, a form she does not really like! She would hate to have someone buy the book thinking it is a novel! And I agree, each story has a different sense to it. But they are very closely linked stories, and I am not really sure some of them work alone. The later stories get a lot of their impact from the reader knowing the characters and events from earlier stories! And some stories just go together! I think in particular “The Joy Business” and “Take Care Good Boy” require each other, and I am pretty sure for me “That One Autumn” works best when it follows “Ernie’s Ark.” And “The Temperature of Desire” might not be one of my favorites without the background of the preceding stories, but I am not sure, I can not really go back and find out! It was published in a literary magazine by itself, so someone thought it worked solo!

The Stories:

Ernie’s Ark

Ernie was an angry man. He felt his anger as something apart from him, like an urn of water balanced on his head, a precarious weight that affected his gait, the set of his shoulders, his willingness to move through a crowd. He was angry at the melon-faced CEO from New York City who had forced a strike in a paper mill all the way up in Maine – a decision made, Ernie was sure, in that fancy restaurant atop the World Trade Center where Ernie had taken his wife, Marie, for their forty-fifth wedding anniversary last winter, another season, another life. Every Thursday as he stood in line at Manpower Services to wait for his unemployment check he thought of that jelly-assed CEO – Henry John MCCoy, with his parted blond hair – yuucking it up at a table laid out in bleached linen and phony silver, figuring out all the ways he could cut a man off at the knees three weeks before retirement.

I think Ernie has good cause to be angry! On top of the strike which is holding up his pension, probably forever, his wife is dying and is in a hospital 35 miles away! He sees a newspaper story about an “installation contest” at the college, and builds an ark in his back yard! A man from the city tells him he is not zoned for an ark! It is such a charming story! Yet there is a point to it!

Everything fits: the installation competition, the wife, the city guy. The dog the city man has in his car, I am not so sure, but it fits ok, not quite as perfectly as the rest but well enough. When every thread works together like this, without anything feeling forced or jammed in there because “I need a character who will do this” or “I need to get him from here to there” a story tumbles, as I call it, under its own steam and is a pleasure to read!

This story was in the Winter 1998 issue of Glimmer Train and the 1999 Pushcart Prize anthology! And it made me cry!

At the Mercy

I am not a patient man. My daughter is reading poetry, aloud, in the seat next to me, because (she says) she has always loved poetry. Her mouth opens and closes over the words—wide, narrow, wide, narrow—which is either the way people read poetry aloud these days or a signal to me that she suspects I might be unfamiliar with words like urticant or sidereal, which I am. My daughter’s abiding love of poetry is one of many facts that I have not (she says) managed to apprehend about her character, either because I was never home (which is true) or didn’t give a sweet goddamn about the machinations of her inchoate soul. She says.

We always say there are two sides to every story, so here comes the other side! The melon-faced CEO who put the plant on strike has his own problems! It is a much more internal story, with less of a plot than “Ernie’s Ark” and it seems to me, while this man has troubles, they are of his own making! Still there are similarities! He too grew up on a small town, he was not born rich it seems! His wife left him and later died and he was in Japan at a meeting so could not attend her funeral and the daughter, 26, has never forgiven him. She sounds more like a petulant, if precocious, 15-year-old than a 26-year-old! She is a brat! But she has her own story too, I am sure! And father and daughter, two-by-two, are in a car for almost the whole story, which could be seen as similar to an ark!

In the material at the end of the book (there is an interview and even a study guide!) she says this was the biggest stretch for Wood, writing for a CEO. And maybe that is why, or maybe it is because he is a character it is hard to feel close to, or maybe it is the off note about the daughter, but I did not enjoy it as much as “Ernie’s Ark.” I might have liked to have read it first so I could read it without having Ernie peeking out! It was published in Confrontation under a different title (and she does not tell us and Confrontation does not list stories or authors in their archives so I do not know when or what title).

That One Autumn

And then? They no longer looked back on this season as the autumn when they lost their second child. This season – with its uneven temperatures and propensity for inspiring flight – they recalled instead as that one autumn when those awful people,that terrible pair, broke into the cabin. They exchanged one memory for the other…. This moment became the turning point – this moment and no other – when two long-married people decided to stay married, to succumb to the shape of the rest of their life, to live with things they would not speak of.

Marie, the same Marie in “Ernie’s Ark” – his wife – lay dying and thinks back to “That One Autumn” back in the early 70s. It was traumatic for many reasons! Their son left for Berkeley, and Marie miscarried a surprise pregnancy. She went up to their vacation cabin to be alone, hinting that maybe she was thinking about separation, and finds a girl squatter living there! The girl is not a nice girl! She has a switchblade! Her boyfriend is on the lam from robbing a couple of gas stations and he has gone to get something, for a day and a half, and she is not sure he is coming back, but he does! And that is too bad, because he ties Marie up! But he can not kill her! He tells the girl to kill her and the girl can not kill her either, they are bad kids but not killers! So they leave Marie tied to a chair, and she waits, knowing that Ernie will come up, he will miss her and will want to follow her even though he is not supposed to, she knows this in a way the girl did not know if her boyfriend was coming back! And this is the memory that replaces the miscarriage, because even though it was scary, it was also full of love!

The Temperature of Desire

Our father was a faithful man, and I miss him still, that machinist who loved scales, everything calibrated, quantified. He measured anger in ounces, surprise in feet, and happiness in degrees Celsius.
The happy scale, he called it….He died four weeks later, and we froze in that house for years. our mother never thawed – I don’t think there was a day when her personal mercury rose above a degree and a half – so it was left to me to pass Dad’s lessons on.

This one is amazing, and it covers the whole town just about! In fact, if I have a criticism it is that it is not very focused, there are many themes. But it is still truly wonderful! This story was previously published in Orchid, which I think is not in publication any longer.

It is told in first person by Dan Little; he is an electrician at the paper mill and is on strike. But he is also now working part-time as a city code officer so he is the guy from the city who tells Ernie he is not zoned for an ark! But it turns out he loves the ark! He also loves his younger brother, Tim. He pretty much raised Tim as father, because their father died right after Tim was born, when Dan was fifteen. So he is confused that Tim has chosen to cross the picket line and work at the plant as a replacement worker: “I taught my little brother how to read a micrometer and sharpen a drill bit, but also how to navigate a library, flip and omelette, tell a clean joke….It never occurred to me to include in Tim’s instruction the sin of crossing a picket line.” I have never belonged to a union or been caught up in an emotional strike, but I have seen on the news how it can get nasty, and we already have an idea from “At Their Mercy” of how angry people are! But Tim is only twenty, and has his own agenda. He wants to leave town, go somewhere else, be something else, and he needs money so that is why he crossed the picket line:

My brother’s crime was in wanting to get out so badly he’d step on his brothers’ necks to do it. It had cost him big, but he was willing to pay. That’s how much he didn’t want to end up like me. As much as it hurt me to know this, I couldn’t think of a blessed thing I wanted that bad, and a weird, vague, crushed part of me wished I did.

The story ends with them on a horrible rainy night with Tim on his way out of town, and they go to look at the ark and… well, you have to read the story!

When she gave her reading of When We Were the Kennedys, Wood said that she did not use autobiographical material in her novels and stories, but I think she does a little bit here, at least for the family structure! I remember her talking about an older sister who took care of her right after her father died and her mother was in a depression, so that is a similar kind of dynamic used for the Little brothers! It is not identical of course, but I can see the roots of inspiration there! It is most interesting she chooses the older brother (or in her case sister) point of view, as if thanking her sister for all she did, showing that she knows!

The Joy Business

This one felt like exposition or a connecting chapter (and when I read “Take Care Good Boy” I realized it is!). It is third person but with Cindy as the point-of-view character. She is the ex-wife Dan was talking about! With the flower shop – that is The Joy Business! She is remarried to Bruce, the sculptor! Yes, that sculptor! The one that won the prize that Ernie saw when he got the idea to build his boat! She is now stepmother to his two children. Bruce is a creep, cheating on her as he did on his first wife with every student he can get his hands on, son Kenny is the typical too-good-for-this teen, and Francine is the daughter who clings to Cindy and is the reason she will not leave Bruce but demands he stop being such a jerk! But the story just kind of shows us who the characters are, it does not really go anywhere!

Visitors

This refers extensively back to “That One Autumn” and I found it quite disappointing – I am so sad to say that! Marie has just died, and the girl from the cabin shows up on the day of her funeral to apologize but does not know she has died. I am very willing to go where a story wants to lead but this was just stretching credulity a little too much! We also meet the son, James, who had just gone off to Berkeley when the incident happened, in fact it starts with him in California, and his ex-wife, coming to the funeral. There are some intense interactions of course, but James felt two-dimensional, and even Ernie did not feel like the man who built the ark in his back yard! I was almost angry because as a follow-up to those two stories I almost felt like this almost ruined them retroactively! I would rather have enjoyed the pleasant afterglow of the previous stories rather than this continuation of events! But it is ok, because if you just keep reading you find out why this story is here in the collection! It is not one of the “stars” but it has an important supporting role!

Take Care Good Boy

Now he saw this place as an apology. Money had changed hands, his mother had fled, and Ellery was the kind of man who would have felt sorry for the good boy left behind. And if he’d known about the good girl, the four-year-old birl his mother hadn’t mentioned? Something twisted inside him, a physical hurt which he took for the spiritual waking he had so wished for. If this place was an appology, then Francine deserved it, too.

This story was previously published in Yankee.

Did you know that when Thoreau did his little wilderness visit, his mother and sister supplied most of his meals and did his laundry? And he mooched off Emerson and his wife for his other meals! So the myth of self-reliance is a bit overblown! Kenny Love, the main character of this story, is the son of sculptor Bruce and stepmother Cindy, as we were introduced in “The Joy Business.” Maybe that is why that story did not go anywhere, it was exposition for this story! I do wish they were combined, because together in a longer story, maybe a novella. At first this story seems to be skimming the surface, but once it settles in, it turns into something really special! Kenny finished high school a semester early (which seems to me a little like some plot convenience rather than anything organic to the story, I am afraid, but it is not glaring) and was going to go to Harvard the following Fall, but he finds out he has been bequeathed a cabin (another cabin! Another ark?) by a relative he only met once, a great-uncle, from his mother. He decides to play Thoreau though his father is enraged, and tells him he must fulfill his “obligation to Harvard” and that he is more of a math guy than a nature freak! And his sister makes fun of him and tells him about Thoreau and the women that made Walden Pond possible! And at first it seems they are right, he does not really know what he is doing, but he finds some old calendars his great-uncle kept, with a lot of notations about nature and other things – like for his one visit at age eight there was a note that he was a “good boy”, but no indication why the man thought that! He finds a diner within walking distance and becomes friendly with the waitress, a friend of his great-uncle! Then… well, I do not want to tell you everything, but he really does grow up, he discovers some family truths, and it is quite nice how it happens! He outstrips his parents in maturity and character! At the end I had the feeling he has now outgrown his self-absorbed teenager self and is ready to be a “good man.”

Solidarity Is Not A Floor

Francine grasps all this, fleetingly, in the grayish privacy of her own head, where she works out the problem of family as if it were algebra, coming up with formulas that work cleanly, both sides equal. But in practice the formulas don’t hold, they never hold, they crumble into pieces so fine they can’t be put back.

Another terrific story! It reminds me a lot of “Rothko Eggs” because it is a teenage girl trying to figure out a very confusing world! In “Rothko”, art is the lens through which the character sees the world, and here, it is a speech by Jesse Jackson!

I liked this girl very much! I was very interested in her and her discoveries; I am not completely sure I would be so invested if I had not read the material leading up to this, however! Not the parts about the Love family, but the parts about the mill workers and the strike. But I can not know for sure!

Francine is the daughter of Bruce and Cindy Love from “The Joy Business” and the younger sister of Kenny from “Take Care, Good Boy.” She is 13 and goes with her father to the college one Saturday to find material about Jesse Jackson (he is coming to the mill to speak in a few days), she finds out another secret instead! All this time, the town is still on strike, and she feels like an oustider because her family has no connection to the mill. The teacher gives her an A on her report and praises her, but then when it comes time to pick a student to greet Jesse Jackson, the son of the union president is picked by the class! Francine has probably not read Animal Farm yet, but she is discovering that even among the downtrodden some people are more equal than others:

Not everybody has suffered equally. At first everybody was equally angry, their anger a straight, perfectly directed line, like an electrical current….Their anger is no longer perfect. It is less an electrical current than a lightning bolt, jagged and hard to control and not as fussy about its target….Solidarity forever, solidarity forever, they have sung many times, standing on this hallowed floor: The union makes us stronnng! Francine loves that song, she hums it all the time. But solidarity is not a floor, she has found. It is a ladder. People end up on different rungs.

Just before Jesse Jackson arrives to address the union, word comes that the company is selling the mill! This is terrible news! They are just out of work now! There is no more strike but no more work either! They may never get what they were owed! And while Francine is trying to figure this out, she returns home with knowledge of the secret about her father she discovered at the college, and learns one more new thing: “that she, Francine Love, is a person about whom it is possible to have inside knowledge. That her father is the one who possesses it.”

Shuffle, Step

With Marie gone, Ernie saw the world more than ever as a place for two-by-two.

This is an excellent closing story! It ties some of the characters together and fills in some information that gives the reader an idea of where things will go from here! And it closes with the ark, where it opened, and I like closing circles very much!

Francine Love, the girl from “Solidarity is Not A Floor,” has sold Ernie a winning ticket for dance lessons, but he does not want to go! He has no one to go with! So she goes with him! The dance class turns out to be tap dancing which is where the title comes from, but it fits perfectly in the overall storyline of the collection: things change! We change our gait to match, then go on! We tap dance through the difficulties and the fun stuff too, just to keep our footing! And the son James, from “Visitors,” comes to visit Ernie! And though that story was not one I particularly liked, it now fits and fills in this story, the whole flow of the collection!

So yes it is excellent structure for the collection overall, and it is also a lovely story! It reminds me a little bit of the very end of The Financial Lives of the Poets – or I should say the other way around since this collection came years before the novel! The story ends with Ernie and his son working on the ark – two by two – like “Poets” ends with the family working on the treeless tree house! Something about building things, a concrete sign of rebuilding a life and starting over! It is a wonderful story and left me very happy!

Overall:
Some collections, you can read the stories out of order. Maybe there is a story you have heard of, or , or one someone recommended to you. But here, the stories are in chronological order, so there is a progression in time! It does need to be read consecutively, from beginning to end! And that means the less-interesting stories can not be skipped; do not worry, they enrich what is to come!

One of the themes that is emphasized in the “Questions for reading groups” part of the end material is the ark itself, how it is viewed by people, how that view changes, how the symbolism works in each story even when it is not mentioned! Sometimes it is about safety during times of trouble – the original Ark was intended to keep Noah et al safe from the Flood, and the strike is like the Flood! But there is also the idea of two-by-two which is there at the start and comes to full fruition with the last story! It is very effective!

I am very happy I read this book and I happily recommend it!

Sunday with Zin: Non-Fiction: Monica Wood, When We Were The Kennedys (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2012)

In every household in town, the story we children heard — between the lines, from mothers, fathers, mémères and pépères, nanas and nonnas, implied in the merest gesture of the merest day — was this: The mill called us here. To have you.
This was one powerful story. Powerful and engulfing, erasing all that came before, just like the mill that had made this story possible. In each beholden family, old languages were receding into a multicultural twilight as the new, sun-flooded story took hold: the story of us, American children of well-paid laborers, beneficiaries of a dream. Every day our mothers packed our fathers’ lunch pails as we put on our school uniforms, every day a fresh chance on the dream path our parents had laid down for us. Our story, like the mill, hummed in the background of our every hour, a tale of quest and hope that resonated similarly in all the songs in all the blocks and houses, in the headlong shouts of all the children at play, in the murmur of all the graces said at all the kitchen tables. In my family, in every family, that story — with its implied happy ending — hinged on a single, beautiful, unbreakable, immutable fact: Dad.
Then he died.

Hello I am Zin! On July 25, 2012, Monica Wood came to the Portland Public Library to present a Brown Bag Lecture about her just-published memoir about life in Mexico, Maine! She lives in Portland now.

This book is not about the Kennedys at all, except in a metaphor. The title is a play on We Were the Mulvaneys by Joyce Carol Oates, I suppose, but it is a memoir about Monica and her Catholic blue collar family in a mill town in the 60s. When she is 9, her father dies, and life gets quite scary and Mom goes into a depression! Then a few months later President Kennedy is assassinated, and Monica felt her mother drew on the strength of that widow and that family – even though there were so many differences between them, they were from completely different worlds, but they had this similarity of a Catholic family who lost a husband and father – to pull them together, gather strength, and cope.

It took years for me to see how loss can tighten your grip on the things still possible to hold.

Monica Wood is primarily a fiction writer; she has not included autobiographical material in her stories or novels (I have been reading her story collection, Ernie’s Ark, and I think there is an autobiographical family in one of them!), and she never really thought about writing a memoir! This book started as a short piece for the nonfiction anthology A Place Called Maine; the editor wanted something from interior and industrial Maine, which wasn’t as covered as the coast or the farmlands. That became the prologue, which you can read, along with Chapter 1, on her website! She put it away while she was working on her story collection Ernie’s Ark (maybe it was the timing that had her shade the stories with some autobiographicality) but at a low period went back to it as a comfort and started adding to it as a full-length memoir!

Mexico, Maine was named in support of the Mexican revolutionaries fighting for independence from Spain in the early nineteenth century! But she never met any Mexicans there! There were French Canadians, Lithuanians, Russians, Italians, and others, though, descendants of immigrants who came to work there in the 19th century! The Mill (originally owned by Oxford, now owned by NewPage) in Rumford, which underwent the kind of stresses you would expect a paper mill to have undergone over the past century, was her first metaphor and so she knew it would have to be a major character in the book!

She is very happy with the cover! She gave the publisher – Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, a different publisher than she used for her fiction – some photographs. There were some from a family trip to Niagara Falls, taken by her uncle, the Father Bob of the story (he is a priest, and he was part of the inspiration for a character in her novel Any Bitter Thing). They made them the cover! She especially likes that they moved her older sister Anne to a position so it looks like she is supporting all the kids on her shoulders! She was puzzled by the back cover, which is plaid – there is nothing about plaid in the book! But they told her it is the Prince Edward Island tartan – and that is where her father emigrated from! She was very happy to learn that, and to see it on the book!

She found the memoir much easier, and quicker, to write than a novel! But still it was hard, because all writing is hard! The first draft was straight narrative, because she was worried about “violating the truth.” But her younger sister said, “Shove us aside and make yourself a character!” So she rewrote it with scenes and dialogue and an eye towards weaving threads through the whole text, and her sister said, “Now it is true!” She talked to most of the people in the book, the ones who are still alive, to make sure her recollection was accurate and to show them how they were being portrayed, and she found it warmly received all around! No one asked for any changes, she felt her sisters accepted her as an artist!

She was very pleased by a review that appeared on the online New Yorker blog Page-Turner (the same one that includes all the author interviews from their fiction)!

I found her to be a very polished and engaging speaker! Her sister was in the audience with us so it was fun to see her too!

I am not going to read this book; it just is not the sort of thing I want to read at this point, though of course that may change, but I am very happy to know about it! And I do like her writing! So now I have checked out her short story collection, Ernie’s Ark, from the library, and I am reading it and will post about it next time!

Sunday with Zin: Everything Was Beautiful At the Ballet

Ballet in the Window

Ballet in the Window

Hello I am Zin, and today we go to the Ballet at the Library! This is one supercalifragilisticexpialadocious library we have in Portland, with art and authors and furniture and now ballet!

In the evening on June 29 (yes, it was a long time ago, I got busy doing all sorts of other things and my files got mixed up so it just came to the top of the pile now) the Portland Ballet gave a performance in the window of the library! This window faces Congress Street at Monument Square, which is pretty much the center of Portland!

We stood outside on the sidewalk or across Congress Street in the actual Monument Square (yes, there is a Monument, to World War I veterans), and I would guess there were 100 – 200 people, most of them there the whole time, plus a lot of passers-by who were going somewhere but stopped to watch for a while!

The dancers were in the Atrium of the library. In the construction that was just completed a couple of years ago, this is a tiled area for food and beverages so you do not have to go somewhere else if you want a cup of coffee or something to snack on while you are visiting the Library! It has a glass front facing Congress Street! It was like peeping through a window! Except that is what we were supposed to do!

This was part of the Portland Fringe Festival, an Arts weekend that featured several events in more traditional venues and a few weird freebie things to catch the eye of people who might not go to the Ballet but might stop to watch. I knew about it in advance and planned to be there, but I thought it was a great idea, and if I had been just walking by and saw it, I would have stopped!

They did five numbers, with music piped out to the street! I was on the sidewalk 10 feet from the windows so it was quite loud but it had to be for the people across Congress Street!

I wish I had pictures – I know they exist because I saw a lot of people taking pictures (I do not have a camera) but I could not find any online, except this one on the Facebook page of the Portland Ballet! You can just barely see a couple of dancers! On the ground floor! They are wearing red! And you can see me! See? On the sidewalk? No, not there… yes, there! There is Zin! I emailed the ballet company to ask if there were any pictures online but they are on vacation so I do not have an answer yet; if I get one I will update!

The complete program of five numbers with full credits is below.

They started with “Cleansing Fountain” which used an old hymn, “There Is a Fountain Filled with Blood.” That sounds terrible, yes? “Drawn from Immanuel’s Veins; And Sinners Washed Beneath The Flood Lose All Their Guilty Stains.” If you are familiar with Christian imagery, you know that blood plays a big role! Lots of blood! Are you washed in the blood! Nothing but the blood of Jesus! If you do not know what is going on you can think it is pretty gross, but it kind of makes sense within the theology! And it is a pretty hymn (I have not been “religious” for many years, but I very much like hymns – I am singing it right now in fact, can you hear me?), it was done in very gospel-spiritual style, with five girls dressed in red shorts and tanks. They kept holding out their arms and shaking them, and I thought that was because the blood was flooding over them, but I saw a review in the paper from an earlier performance that called it “flowing movements with mournful evocation and lovely lines and shapes, juxtaposed with jerking gestures of anger.” I am not sure why they would be angry (maybe because blood is pouring over them?), but since I do not know anything at all about ballet (this was actually more like modern dance but I am not sure where one ends and the other begins) I will defer to greater expertise!

Somebody” to the music of Queen (“Somebody to Love”) was a duet, two strangers finding each other in their busy lives! “Saudades” is a Portuguese word which connotes a certain kind of intense and deep longing (it does not easily translate to English) and used a piece of music about the Azores. And “In Closing” used “Pictures at an Exhibition” which is always cool!

The program lasted about forty minutes. At 8:30, the listed start time, the Director announced “We will wait for our Lighting Director to bring down the house lights a little bit” since it was not quite twilight yet, and it was a lot easier to see inside the windows fifteen minutes later! I thought that was clever!

I love these crazy things that crop up once in a while – a couple of years ago there was a program of music in various odd settings, and I found a Afro-Caribbean vocal group singing in the bakery section of the supermarket! These things are a lot of fun!

The Program:

Cleansing Fountain – Choreography by Nell Shipman; Music: Elliot Goldenthal; Dancers: Deborah Grammatic, Morgan Brown Sanborn, Katrina Smedal, Meghan McCoy, Hannah Wallace, and Jennifer Jones

Somebody – Choreography by Nell Shipman; Music: “Somebody to Love” by Queen; Dancers: Joseph Jefferies and Jennifer Jones

Asunder: (Maine premiere) – Choreography by Jennifer Jones; Music: “Smoke & Mirrors” by RJD2; Dancers: Deborah Grammatic, Morgan Brown Sanborn, Katrina Smedal, Meghan McCoy and Hannah Wallace

Saudades: (Portland premiere) – Choreography by Joseph Jefferies; Music: “Ilhas Dos Acores” by Madredeus; Dancers: Joseph Jefferies and Jennifer Jones

In Closing – Choreography by Nell Shipman; Music: “Pictures at an Exhibition” by Hans Zimmer; Dancers: Deborah Grammatic, Morgan Brown Sanborn, Katrina Smedal, Meghan McCoy, Hannah Wallace and Jennifer Jones