Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Junot Diaz wins a Pulitzer

Congratulations to Junot Diaz, who wins a Pulitzer Prize in Fiction for his first novel, The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao.

Here's a brief but interesting interview on PBS.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Transportation: Option 4--Greyhound?!

Don’t smirk. It has been suggested by otherwise clear-thinking roaddogs.

I actually have quite a bit of experience traveling Greyhound. Most memorable is one summer trip, my first attempt at a cross-country quest. This was over ten years ago. It was to be my journey west, an adventure into that land of ever-reaching frontier, a space where one could slough off the burdens of the past and re-create oneself anew. I would begin in Tampa, Florida and end on the western shore, standing bare-chested and staring out upon the profound depths of the Pacific.

There were, of course, obstacles, mainly Greyhound related:

Time: I only had two weeks, after which time I had to return to my job working as a direct care counselor in a group home for emotionally handicapped boys. And Greyhound is slow. Its routes are often circuitous, and layovers are commonplace. Often, buses are overbooked and passengers are made to wait until the next one comes along.

Sleep: I had a hard time doing this. I had (and still have) restless leg syndrome, although I don’t think there was a name for the condition at the time. I need room to stretch out, squirm around a while before settling down to sleep. Unless you’ve felt the sensation, it’s hard to understand how unsettling this disorder can be. It’s definitely hard to explain.

Calls of nature: While traveling, your options are a bus bathroom or a bus station bathroom. Neither is a big inconvenience for an occasional visit, but days-on-end without a private, spacious facility can be taxing.

Dealings with the staff: Greyhound staffers don’t make a great deal of money, and they do work hard. They are sometimes on edge. They deal with many disgruntled travelers, who are themselves often downtrodden and disenfranchised. Things get tense. I consider myself, overall, a patient and peace-loving person, but just over a year ago (on a different trip) I found myself in a shouting match with one Greyhound driver whom I had perceived as slighting me and several others who had been waiting dutifully in line. (He started it.)

Cost: Although the coach may be the cheapest option in some respects, it is often necessary to take taxis to and from Greyhound Stations, an expense that can add up fast.

Suffice it to say that, when I reached Tucson after days of travel (it seems like four. Could that be right?), I had to get off. I stepped out of the bus into the hot dry air. The downtown bank thermometer registered 107 degrees. Dry heat, I thought. Here was that phenomenon I had heard so much about but never experienced, being a lifelong resident of the humid Sunshine State. I walked around the downtown Tucson area, got on random busses, looked at things, and eventually took a room at the Motel 6. Don Delillo’s Underworld had just come out, and I was reading a copy for a review I was going to write for a Tampa Bay weekly. I lay reading in bed, in the ice-cool air of my room, until the words blurred and I drifted to sleep. I slept very well.

The next morning I made my way to the campus of the University of Arizona. I had lunch at a little on-campus bistro. On the television above my booth I watched a feature about Tony Mandarich, a football player who had overcome many obstacles to make his impressive NFL comeback. His future looked very promising.

I liked the campus very much: the cacti and the mountains in the distance. I sought out the English Department and asked if they offered an MFA in creative writing. They did. They gave me an informational packet. On the lovely green of the court lawn, I sat in the shadow a giant saguaro. I opened the packet and leisurely read an essay by C.E. (Buzz) Poverman. The essay discussed, in clear terms, what an MFA can and can NOT offer a writing student.

I left Tucson a bit reluctantly but with the resolve that I still had places to go, things to see. I did the math on making it to the coast and back. I could still do it, but it would be close. Instead, I headed north to the Grand Canyon. I had a wonderful time. There’s a story about that, which I might try to tell here at some point.

Within a month after my return to Florida, on an otherwise typical work evening, I was struck in the teeth by a bar of soap wrapped in aluminum foil. It had been launched (at point-blank range) by a short, stocky client, whom I had just directed to take his shower immediately or risk losing his evening “goal-trip points.”

I recoiled backward in surprise and pain, checking my mouth for teeth particles or blood. There was neither.

Graduate school, I thought. Wait, there was some blood, but my teeth were there—numb and throbbing—but intact. I would go to graduate school. And soon! The fastest route was to attend the nearest university in the Tampa Bay area. I did this. And no regrets there. Four years later, however, I found myself back in Tucson, a happy participant in the fiction track of the MFA program. I took a plane to get there.

This is my testimony.

Let us not take Greyhound.

A Passing: Aimé Césaire 1913-2008

I first came across the work of Aimé Césaire when I was writing my master's thesis and trying to learn as much as possible about anti-colonial writing. Césaire was a French Martinican, a poet, prose writer, and activist. He was one of the principals of the négritude movement that strove to forge a positive black racial identity in the face of colonial oppression. His efforts influeced Black Pride movements all over the world, including the United States. His anti-colonial stance also paved the way for the postcolonial (post-colonial, (post)colonial) critique that is so in vogue in critical theory right now. Edward Said writes of his debt to Cesaire in Culture and Imperialism.

Aimé Césaire, dead at 94. He shall be missed.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Guest Column!

Road Dog Ace gives her report from the corporate cubicle.

Your blogmaster said I could use this space to guest-rant. I have tentative road dog status as of right now. I'm at a crossroads.

Things I hate about my corporate job:

-My cube. It's exceptionally salmon-colored. I have a puppy calendar up that my coworker gave me. The puppies are alternately wearing hairbows, pearls, and neckties. I also have a sign that says "Check your reserves and document!" This was company mandated. I'm mad that I know what this means and it matters to me.

-My boss. He looks like the Warden from Shawshank, so much so that we've taken to calling him that full time. My coworker (one of the few who is genuinely human) called him that to his face when hungover one morning a few weeks back. It wasn't received well. Just today, the Warden made fun of me for 15 minutes because I wrote "her" when I meant "here" in an e-mail. 15 minutes. Of my life. My precious, beautiful life.

-The fluorescent light which is competing with my stress level over which will give me cancer first.

-My claimants, my insureds (repugnant, all of you!), my claim files, my zombie coworkers who swear that they used to have dreams too but then claims is so stable and layoff-proof and they have families and mortgages and then you get realistic and comfortable and life gets in the way, etc.

But there are life-affirming things too. I'm going home to see my sister run a half-marathon. She hates her corporate job too. Some cacti were blooming last week. I've gotten 3 sizeable paychecks for things I wrote this year and I won't even apologize by telling you what I wrote or for whom. I know I won't be eaten up here and I won't have a mortgage or children for a long while if ever. My dream has not withered and died. It's still a raisin in a dry, room-temperature cabinet, I think. I'm really tired though. This work hurts my head and my pride. Office Space is a superior film, yes, but it's not funny any more. Not at all. It's just true.

So back to the topic of this blog: Independent book stores are glorious. How could anything "independent" not be? Let's not just visit them, let's buy one! Let's really really commit to never making any money but doing it with integrity. Maybe you guys have already committed to that.

If so, damn your integrity. I hope a little rubs off on me.
Question: Stay at horrendous cubicle job with evil "Warden" boss or quit and come on part of the Book trek and be irresponsible as is, I believe, my birthright?

--Ace in AZ

About the author: Despite her corporate day job, Ace is a top-notch writer of literary fiction. She is also one hell of a poker player. I think I financed half of her MFA with the money I lost to her.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Transportation: Option 3--A Really Cool Van

This would offer certain space advantages. And it definitely has more panache than my car. I believe the back seat converts into a bed.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

I live with a stigma, '

Well, I figured out why I've been squinting to read lately. Today, I had my first eye exam since elementary school. Afterwards, a young pretty woman took me to a wall of potential frames for my new eyeware. She asked me what I had in mind. I thought for a moment. "Do you know Allen Ginsberg?" I said. "The poet?" She looked at me very seriously, shaking her head slowly in regret.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Book News

My cover can now be seen on Booksense and other online venues. I'm happy with the image. It's of a faded family portrait, which I think goes well with the subject matter.
Check it out here:

Amazon has it listed with a deep discount. I would love to get a few independent stores to match the price, at least during the tour.

My editor tells me that the files will go to the printer in a few days. Somebody pinch me! Not that I have a hard time believing any of this. I just really like to be pinched. I'm into it; sue me.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

And So Much Green

The trees, shrubs, and cacti come alive suddenly. I admire anything that can get by on so little, that can bide away in obscurity--waiting--ready to spring forth when the opportunity strikes. Surely there is meaning here.

Desert Blooms

I recently took some time out of my grueling schedule and drove deep into the desert. We've had some really nice blooms over the past few weeks. My photos don't do them justice, but the purple and yellow blossoms are striking in this usually brown part of the world.

Transportation: Option 2 -- My Car

I realize that she's not much to look at, but this 1985 Nissan Sentra stationwagon still has some life in her. This car has only 85,000 miles on it. The air conditioner even works. This would probably limit our capacity to four (maybe five) at a time, with space in the back for "luggage." If we go with this option, you can bring one moderately-sized bag (measurement requirements forthcoming) and one personal carry-on, like a back pack, briefcase, etc.

Journeypersons, let me know your thoughts.