Sunday, June 28, 2009

Indie Profile: Readers Oasis--Quartzsite, AZ

Well, it is hard to say anything about Readers Oasis without first mentioning the owner-operator Paul Winer, who has his own unique way of beating the heat. I had passed this bookstore several times but I was usually on my way to the airport and hadn't had the chance to stop in. Finally, I set aside the time.

I had been "warned" about Paul some time ago, but I guess the details had slipped my mind. I was browsing the store when he suddenly appeared from around a corner and the effect of this mostly naked man suddenly upon me was startling. I tried to catch myself, but I think he saw me visibly flinch.

The store is an open-air diverse mix of books, magazines, music, videos, and memorabilia. It is located in the small desert town of Quartzsite, a community that balloons in the winter with RV-ing winter visitors. The store is homey and informal. I don't even think there is a cash register. Winer also keeps a sizable section of free merchandise, ready for the taking, quite a novelty in today's environment.

If you are looking for a specific book, and you want to find it quickly, Readers Oasis is probably not the best option. While there is some effort to section off areas by subject and genre, the divisions didn't seem very consistent. Nothing is alphabetized and many items are stacked one atop another. Come ready to browse leisurely in an eclectic, quirky atmosphere. It's definitely worth a stop.

Goindependent Rating: Three Emeralds

Friday, June 26, 2009

Reading and Discussion

Here's a video of me reading and talking at an event at Lakeland Public Library in Florida.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

I'll De-clare!

I got my new passport this week.

First of all: Wow, can one man gain a lot of weight in ten years! I look like I ate the guy from the last passport picture, then grew a beard and got glasses, then ate at a Shoney’s breakfast buffet every weekend morning for the entire decade.

It is time for some changes, people. A healthy diet, a vigorous workout regime.

But this strays from my main point.

Does anyone think the new passports are a little hyper-nationalistic? The entire book is filled with quotations lauding the United States and illustrations that broadcast the tried-and-true idealizations of our country. Were the old passports like this?

The liberty bell and the constitution seem almost mandatory. Fine. The bald eagle and lady liberty, too. The grazing bison, Mt. Rushmore, a steamboat rolling down the mighty Mississippi, fields of grain, a farmer plowing behind two oxen, two cowboys driving a herd of longhorns, a Whitmanesque locomotive, smoke billowing from its stack, charging across the frontier, a testament to American progress.

On the page with the train is the quote from Promontory Point: “May God continue the unity of our country as the railroad unites the two great oceans of the world.” Seems a little manifest destiny-ish, no?

Do I have any problems with any of these photos, specifically? I don’t know. Maybe. Maybe not. But the accumulative effect of them, along with the quotations. It just makes me wonder: When does patriotism become nationalism? And when does nationalism become jingoism?

Must we always mitigate the good with the bad? Do we need to remind ourselves that Washinginton and Jefferson owned slaves, that our taming of the Mississippi is causing coastal erosion at a football field a day, that nations of people were exterminated in our push across the continent.

I’m not anti-American. There is certainly plenty to be proud of, no? But what does that mean, to be proud of one’s citizenship status, especially a status we are born into by mere chance? Does the good done by my countrymen and countrywomen reflect on me in a way that should evoke personal pride? If so, should the bad done by my countrymen and countrywomen evoke in me shame? Isn’t that the logical extension?

But again…what is logic?

Probably, I’ve spent too many years in graduate school, sitting around tables and pontificating on stuff like this. Actually, I’m sure this is the case.

Happy travels.

Post Script

Of course, I'm never original. Many have already pointed out the obvious.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Reading: Lake Wales Library

This was a special night. It was last summer in Lake Wales, my hometown. I thought I had lost these photos when my camera was stolen in San Francisco, but I found them saved on my computer.

The event was sponsored by my hometown library along with the Florida Humanities Council. My talk was on "Writing Small Town Florida," and I really enjoyed it because it gave me a chance to talk about my town and my family, my friends and memories.

Many of my family members were in the audience, including three grandparents.

I worked on my prepared remarks right up until the event, still drafting as I sat waiting in the parking lot, the AC of my mother's car blasting into my face. It was a warm, humid evening.

I watched as a few people trickled into the library. I watched them, and I felt a bit nervous. There was something different about addressing a crowd of people made up of many who had known me for so long.
A short woman got out of a car and made her way deliberately toward the entrance. I recognized her and felt a rush of emotion. It was Mrs. Hoagland, my senior year high school English teacher. I would have never expected her to attend. It had been almost twenty years. Yet here she was.

I count Mrs. Hoagland as one of my chief influences early on, a woman who encouraged me and who expected nothing less than excellence. She was a kind of icon at our school, a right of passage. One thing I remember very well is a poetry unit she conducted. We were all charged with writing a series of poems based on her specific prompts. On a regular schedule, she would select some of our work for recognition and post the work outside her classroom door under the heading "Fame and Glory."
I remember trying to casually walk by her door on those mornings, surreptitiously checking to see who was chosen. I remember having to restrain my excitement the morning that mine was among them.

I still remember the poem by heart:

My grand possessions I hold dear
Betray and torment me
In the Darkness
My hanging coat inches toward me
Hoping to seal my doom

A crack on the floor is an evil Serpent
Sent by the Great Dark Prince

Terrified, I close my eyes
Hoping to find relief

But in my mind my foes remain
Where they binge on my helpless soul

Here is where they live and thrive
Until the coming of the distant morn

As I sat in the car and watched people gradually making their way into the entrance, on the radio I heard, for the very first time, Bon Jovi's "Who Says You Can't Go Home." Dear readers, forgive my lack of irony when I admit that I teared up.

I thought, as I listened to those lyrics, that such a coincidence as this would never be acceptable in a fictional story. It would be unbelievable, over the top, totally sentimental.

Among those pictured here is my grandmother, partly obscured in the back row. She was a basketball player in her youth. She once made a shot from half-court.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Facebook and Egocentrism

Here I am again after another prolonged absence. I apologize, faithful readers. I hope you both will find it in your heart to forgive me.

My last entry is so topical, so embarrassingly so, that I need to get something else up.

So here are some thoughts.

I, like so many others, have fallen victim to Facebook hackers. What usually happens is that we get a message from one of our "friends" that asks us to follow a link. How they encourage you to follow a link varies and can be quite ingenious. My message, for example, stated that someone had posted a hilarious video of me that could be seen at this link. Of course, I was flooded with all of the horrifically embarrassing possibilities, and I clicked the link immediately to check the damage.

In reality, clicking on this link sent the same type of message to some or all of my Facebook friends. These friends are safe unless they actually click on the link like I did, whereupon they are potentially infected with a virus. Some people (the smart ones, ones that--perhaps--would never allow themselves to be recorded in horrifically embarrassing situations) do not click on the link. Others do click, and they fall subject to the same problem that I had.

So, to recap, one person is infected and spreads the infection to his or her friends who in turn infect their friends. It reminds me a lot of graduate school in this way.

What I've been struck with in this process has been the degree to which people (against all logic) are scrambling to place blame somewhere other than themselves. I see messages like "Don't blame me everyone! This thing started with [insert name of friend]. I didn't send it."

Of course you sent it!

You sent it the exact same way that the person sent it to you. Your friend clicked on something he or she shouldn't have. Then you did the same thing. If you didn't click, you wouldn't have to apologize to your friends. From my point of view, both users are equally culpable. Logic dictates that if you blame your "sender," then you should accept full blame with your "sendees."

But what is logic in human affairs?

I guess I understand the need to feel indignant. I suppose it's like being on the receiving end of a venereal disease. One doesn't see oneself in the long line of unfortunate infectees, all of whom became so in the same basely carnal way. We don't think of ourselves that way, as one in a long line of anything. We are each the central object in a universe designed to respond to our own needs and desires, our triumphs and heartbreaks.

It is why we have such difficulty imagining our own death, the notion that there could be a world without us, the unpleasant knowledge that--at bottom--we shed our mortal coil just like everyone else and that the world, the universe, goes on largely as it did before. What a concept.

On the bright side, we can find ourselves being very angry (justifiably or not) with those we haven't spoken to in the real world for years. Just another way the digital world can bring us closer.

In the meantime, keep a syringe of cyber-penicillin nearby.