Thursday, January 28, 2010


Or Jerry. That was the "J" in J.D. Salinger. On a kick during a couple months of college, because I'd already read his books, I turned to a bunch of Salinger biographies. Pretty much all of them lacked any input from the reclusive author himself, but there were plenty of snippets of trivia. About his diet. About his love life. About his home in Cornish, N.H.

Reading about him, I remember thinking it made sense that he locked himself off from the world. I felt sympathetic, even as I mourned his decision not to publish any more books while he was alive. (I still carry a bit of a torch for Holden Caulfield.) Then in my commuting days I listened to Joyce Maynard's "At Home in the World," a memoir about Maynard's relationship with Salinger that began when she was a teenager. She was candid about the details, which were not at all flattering. I mourned again: maybe this misunderstood genius writer was just...human. Unlikably so, viewed from Maynard's perspective.

Salinger died today at the age of 91. I saw the news after I left campus, so I'm mostly reading online comments about his death. Snark abounds. Some people loved him. Some people hated him. The Onion nailed it, as always.

I'm surely sad he's gone and wish him a peaceful rest. And I'm eager to know if he really had 15 unpublished books in a wall safe. But in truth? I feel like J.D. Salinger left this world a long time ago.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Stone Canoe | A Journal of Arts

Last weekend I had the pleasure of returning to Syracuse, N.Y., for the Stone Canoe Issue 4 launch. Contributors include Hayden Carruth, Mary Gaitskill, Jennifer Pashley, Brooks Haxton, Juliana Gray, Megan Muldoon, Emily Farranto, and many more.

The arts journal was kind enough to award my short story, "Hysterectomy," the Allen and Nirelle Galson Prize for Fiction. The story had been in progress since 2005, and was kind of beaten down along the way. So this kind of honor makes me happy for my story. Fiction Editor Jennifer Pashley said a few incredibly nice things.

Visual Arts prize winner Emily Farranto (whose art can be seen on the wall, above) arrived from New Orleans, and I from Indianapolis. And now the Colts are playing the Saints in the Superbowl. Coincidence?

At dinner, I was so busy talking that I forgot to take pictures of my coffee-encrusted filet of beef with Irish whiskey demi-glaze. Understand that it was delicious. I did capture huevos rancheros from Sunday brunch at Alto Cinco. The picture is slightly blurry. My hands were shaking with anticipation. You have never had cornbread such as this.

Alto Cinco used to deliver food by skateboard courier. They have a mural made of hammered bottle caps. It is in walking distance from most of my Syracuse apartments. I chose most of my apartments based on proximity to Alto Cinco.

Me: "Hey, I'm going to take a picture, but you don't have to move or anything."
Guy: "OK."

I now live in a very flat land. I'd forgotten about Syracuse's icy hills, even though my story takes place in Syracuse, in winter.

Upstate winter can get to you. But it's also beautiful: a world all its own. I'm glad to have lived there. I was glad to return.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Ain't that a kick in the head?

Dean Martin* wants to know. And so did the grocery store bagger, all those years ago, who proclaimed something to be "better than a kick in the head."**

But what? What was better than a kick in the head? The price of ground chuck? A shopper's club card and its attendant savings? I have the sinking suspicion this isn't even my story: he was somebody else's bagger, remarking on somebody else's conveyor belt of comestibles.

Guess I'll just have to make it up. Which is convenient, for that is what I like to do best. I ain't sayin' I'm a liar. But I ain't sayin' I'm not. My associative brain hears Dean on the radio, and then I see this article on the Best Grocery Store of All Time***, and the song and the story reunite in my mind. The blanks are left to be imagined. It feels good to be writing again, even if it's piecemeal, in bits and chunks, in blanks to be filled in later. Lots of writers talk about "writing the islands," or just getting down the parts of the story that you can see, and eventually it'll all come together later. I'm going on faith that I'll be able to see the rest of the picture eventually. Not today, but eventually.

*Check out the video for the three classy dames seated front and center. I can't tell if they're bored or entranced. Ain't that a kick in the head?
**This phrase enjoyed a brief resurgence in my personal lexicon circa 1999. I'm bringing it back, 2010-style.
***Which I will visit in mere days, as a matter of principle.

Friday, January 8, 2010

It's 2010! What should I wear?!

Stronger coffee
Orange bowling balls
Taking it out, chopping it up
Reading Knee-Jerk Magazine, which includes my interview with Porter Shreve
Giving stuff away
Poetry, daily (and Poetry Daily)
The number 8
Long e-mails
Chatting with random strangers about Fela Kuti

Benevolent gestures performed angrily (No, YOU go first!)
Soda pop
The number 10
Short n' pithy e-mails
Footage of celebrities tripping
Mental footage of me tripping
The Christmas tree, eventually