November 29, 2005

50,000 words

I have drafted a very strange and terrible new 50,000 word novel-type thing.

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November 28, 2005

Space People

Driving home from Christmas parties when I was a kid, I'd always stare out the back window of my parents' station wagon, and for a couple years, I could almost see Santa Claus flying around in the cold midnight sky, instead of airplanes or blinking radio tower lights. A few years later, I'd lie in the grass in summer hoping that aliens would whoosh me up to that wonderful sky.

Now, I'm posting this Scientology link from the Washington Post and hoping that time travelers, Scientologists, or space people come track me down. I'm not linking to this because of conspiracy theories or skepticism or any sort of belief at all about Scientology. No, I'm writing out of that nagging feeling in every blogger or writer or conspiracy theory believer's brain--the hope that somebody notices. I'm doing it in the hope that somebody notices and the good old-fashioned sense of wonder at what will happen when they do notice....

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November 22, 2005

TV, Internet and You!

Like a snowball rolling down a profits graph, a series of big-name Internet and television deals generated lots of buzz this month. Even though my TV is run through rabbit-ears, I wrote a story about it for

November 2005 may have been the month when the major broadcast networks finally "got" the Internet.
On November 7th, both CBS and NBC cut deals with digital television providers to allow viewers to buy 99-cent downloads of a few popular shows.
Later that week, CNN rolled out a "final beta" of CNN Pipeline, its streaming media service that delivers unique content via the Web.
Meanwhile, ISP-cum-portal AOL began offering a range of television shows in a digital format on the Web, while Tivo incorporated Yahoo's interactivity with its cable-box service.
But what do all these Internet/TV deals really mean? If 2005 was the year that TV finally "got" the Internet, what will 2006 bring? forged through the snowy speculation with a team of Web experts and emerged with a few ideas about what television will look like next year.

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November 21, 2005

Novel Excerpt: Moon

Here’s another excerpt from my nebulous novel

On my roof in Brooklyn one August, I watched the sun sink behind the Manhattan skyscraper low behind me, the moon rising in front of me, so big that I could hold up a 50-cent piece and not block out the whole thing. Staring at the Mars-colored moon, I could see craters and dust on that big pink rock, so big that I could almost see the thing getting close enough to bump us, setting off tidal waves and meteor showers, with a moon that big something must be doomed.

At 8pm one of the neighborhood mosques cranked up giant speakers so the whole street could hear the call to prayer, that crashing and howling song that I’d only ever heard in movies, always with a helicopter bomb shot sweeping over mysterious desert cities with onion dome roofs, big boom shots that carry menace and exotic things in their wake. In Brooklyn on my roof, that movie-feeling rubbed off like smudges from a cheap gold painted Christmas ornament.

Half the world turned towards Mecca, praying to the same physical place in that sublime, submissive moment. Then, the prayers stopped, and ice cream trucks police sirens and car horns blared instead, and an airplane floated underneath the moon before descending to JFK, I saw the moon in mind-boggling perspective, moon as big as an airplane.

That was the first time I ever heard the call to prayer in real life, and it was beautiful.

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November 11, 2005

Novel Excerpt: Shrink-wrapped brains

Here’s another excerpt from my nebulous novel

One time I saw the most amazing thing outside of my crappy clerk bookstore job in the middle of winter: a pool of nicotine yellow water and cigarette butts had frozen overnight in the giant green ashtray out front; and stuck in the middle of the ice, perfect as a wooly mammoth in a glacier, was a shredded up love letter floating in space in a filthy ashtray.

That is goddamned immaculate, and it must mean something! I said, but nobody was listening. I went back into my mindless clerk job, and my boss made me shrink-wrap 100 books in a row. What killed me is that somebody had already shrink-wrapped these books, and I was supposed too shrink-wrap a promotional pointless and overpriced doodad on top of this already shrink-wrapped book!

After a few hours of inhaling burning plastic from the shrink-wrap machine, I decided that I would become the world’s first Shrink Wrap Artist. My art would criticize our over-consuming culture, the way that corporations figured out how to dumb down every single part of job until an interchangeable set of minimum wage earning kids like me can make the product. Then we shrink-wrap these crappy products and people buy them because they are covered in a shiny layer of plastic.

As a shrink-wrap artist, I would wrap family photos, love letters, pornographic magazines, small cars, fur coats, broke radios, and obsolete video game cartridges in plastic and pile them to the ceiling in art museums. I would out-Warhol Andy Warhol when the art-world starts paying millions for my sculptures, I’ll buy the most expensive Andy Warhol painting I can find and shrink wrap that and slap a barcode on top and sell it as my work for double the money I paid in the first place.

I just wish I could preserve what I write as perfectly as that love letter frozen in the ashtray, arranging my stories like prehistoric butterflies preserved in million-year-old amber, I want to shrink wrap all the good things I felt and dreamed here, I could spend the rest of my life poking the crinkly layers of plastic, looking for me inside there, and I’ll ask me: what are you doing? Where are you going? What do you want? I don’t know, I don’t know.

I just read this fantastic story by Sam Anderson in Slate, he's writing about Sarah Silverman and the abuse of over-the-top, knee jerk irony in art and every time I think about it, I think about that shrink-wrap story, there's something else that writers are supposed to be doing beyond this tired irony, maybe Sarah Silverman is the answer, maybe it's something else, but just read what Sam Anderson says:

"Silverman is a prototypical ironist—someone who says things she doesn't mean and (through more-or-less subtle contextual winks) expects us to intuit an unstated, smarter message underneath. But what is that message? Does she, like Socrates, play dumb in order to make us smart? Or just to experience the cheap thrill of public racism? Every ironic statement should, in theory, be translatable out of the joke world and into the world of civic-minded sincerity (the classic example: Swift's "eat Irish babies" equals "stop oppressing my country"). But Silverman's ultimate point is hard to find, partly because it's hidden behind such a blank expression. This may be one reason why such a consistently funny voice has had such a peripheral career."

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November 09, 2005

I'm writing a novel because I want to

Because it's National Novel Writing Month I'm writing a novel about a high school teacher who survives a school shooting, moves to New York to become a magazine writer, and uncovers a grand conspiracy lurking behind a popular brand of military-themed toys. You know you want to read about that, right? Right? Right?

It begins like this:

Scribbling quotes in my notebook, I licked the hole in my inflamed gums that I couldn’t afford to fix unless I sold this article about feeders and gainers to my best friend at GQ magazine. My blood tasted like the corroded contacts on a car battery, shooting off tingles inside my puffy jaw. “You really should get a dentist to take a look at that,” said Josh, the "feeder."

I squirmed under his blue-eyes, and stared at the grease-smeared plate of 12 sunny-side up eggs, 12 bacons and 12 sausages that he cradled like a puppy as he fed it to his "gainer" wife. Pretending to write down everything he told me, I swallowed an hour’s worth of revulsion the way I imagined a good journalist should. All this sympathy from a man who got off feeding his wife until her clothes split open; all this from a five-foot shrimp with red hair gone rusty after 20 years cooking his brain with kids’ cartoons.

“Tell me about the show,” I asked him instead. “How long have you written for the Army Guys cartoon?” Josh sniffled and licked his lips in a way that had nothing to do with eating. “I’ll tell you when I finish feeding my wife,” he said.

He speared a chunk of sausage with his real-silver fork, rubbing it in ketchup before he plunked the meat into the sagging mouth of his 600-pound wife. Big as a grizzly bear, Susana licked the long fork clean, chomping the silver tongs as it slid out—it was pure animal punctuation, the ding of porcelain teeth on silver. Susana growled with the fork inside her, a sound that made my groin ache.

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November 04, 2005

Library 2.0

I just finished a story for about librarians and the brand-new virtual world. God bless librarians...

When students research term papers via Google and bloggers reiterate facts about every imaginable topic, they are stealing work from us, say some librarians.

So at the Internet Librarian conference last week, over 100 library professionals speculated about how to survive in a world of Web-based, user-created content.

They've dubbed their initiative Library 2.0.

These innovative librarians realize that some Web 2.0 technologies, such as blogs, wikis and online databases like Google Print, are already competing for the attentions of library patrons.

The librarians aim to build a participatory network of libraries using Web resources like blogs, wiki tools and tags.

They hope that the Library 2.0 "movement" will break librarians out of brick-and-mortar establishments and get them to interact with patrons through blog comments, IM and Wiki entries.

But the emphasis on the library as keeper of reliable information remains.

"Publicly edited technology will make libraries and librarians even more valuable where people are trying to sift through the vast amounts of information and misinformation," said Darlene Fichter, a Web consultant and data library coordinator at the University of Saskatchewan. "That information ecosphere is getting larger, richer, more complex."

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November 03, 2005

Novel Excerpt: Burn Baby Burn

What do you get when you mix up Monte Reel's article about President Bush in Argentina, the impending election, and the Guatemala thoughts from earlier this week? You get this excerpt from my nebulous novel

The Sunday before the RNC convention began in 2004, I met my friends Richard and Brian to go to the huge United for Peace and Justice protest march. We marched for almost 20 blocks, up from Union Square and down one avenue to 34th St. and 7th Ave., alongside rows of police barricades and orange mesh fences, just one bare block away from Madison Square Garden and the Convention—that’s all the closer the thousands of security forces would let protestors go.

I cheered along with 400,000 other people along that long parade, everybody waving anti-war, anti-Bush, and anti-Republican signs and ringing bells, one big long crowd of angry, peaceful people, the closest New York ever came to changing the whole country’s mind about the election.

A group of kids in black clothes and black bandanas steered a paper dragon into the middle of the street—stopping right in the middle of 7th Avenue over there, and suddenly, they set the whole paper dragon on fire and nuclear-shaped smoke cloud shot into the sky.

People cheered, whistled, banged drums, rattled bells, cans, buckets and screamed like crazy watching this lunatic, beautiful stunt. A couple more kids in gas masks and black clothes charged the police line, panicking the crowd, all of us packed like fraternity kids in a phone booth and bottlenecked by the police barriers.

The bucking crowd was spooked, nearly stampeded, crammed, wild, and coughing from smoke until all around us, twenty people dispersed through the crowd, started chanting, DON’T RUN DON’T RUN DON’T RUN like a slow voodoo mantra, smoothing the air with their hands.

There was the most tangible feeling of twitchy madness, tension and release in that 30-seconds, police tackling kids in the noise and smoke, another line of riot police edging closer, closer, under the spotlight of 50 cameras and thousands of mixed up people holding chaos like a bird trapped inside their cupped hands, but no one let loose, no one else charged, and the trash and smoke fluttered down from the sky and the police line parted, letting this packed, hot crowd pass peacefully.

No matter how you feel about the Republicans, I know you have to appreciate that sublime, broken moment when that dragon burned. While most places never reported the story, we made some noise and smoke that day, for a couple minutes the whole mother-fucking thing burned and I was so proud of our city.

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November 01, 2005

Guatemala Otra Vez, Otra Vez

When I read this Washington Post story by Steve Hendrix, I could almost taste Guatemalan air again. So I wanted to write along with him...

I was out there two years, and words are not enough-- you need a pile of Technicolored bells and whistles and whatnots to show new people Guatemala.

I'd show the whole thing with a movie camera hung from a helicopter filming speck of white speeding down a ribbon of road wrapped around mountains in Guatemala; some music too, something loud, going faster, faster, and the camera swoops down shows us, the Peace Corps trainees: Lisa, Allison, Cliff, Emile, Dan, Shannon, Claire and me all huddled in a Pastoral Social agency pickup.

We are sunburnt and sooty faced, screaming to each other in English over the wind, hugging to stay warm when night drops a pile of stars on our heads. We held on to each other so we wouldn’t fly off the edge of the world, going home to Jalapa for the first time.

I'd show you how we had a football game in Miramundo, 12 ragtag gringo volunteers in a dustcloud, charging up and down the lopsided field against 12 Guatemalans in green jerseys, cleats, and orange socks.

It never mattered who won, it was enough to jump off a sandy mound with a karate warcry, screaming Whoohoo to scare the pants off the other team chasing the ball that rolled along a cow fence. We went home singlefile, you could see how far each person had to go- us sundown shadows so close to the pink and blue toffee clouds.

I'd show you when my best friend Marc and me went to Tikal. We got lost in the jungle and a monster rainstorm hit out of nowhere, we ran and ran, came out in a maze of temples where stone gutters coughed out rivers of mud; we tripped on vines and crashed down a hill swamping our backpacks and yellow slickers with mud; but we didn’t care, just huddled under a stone arch in the empty lost city.

We could have been the last two boys left on Earth, we were so far away from Ionia, Michigan, the small town that made us; we were not the same anymore and this place changed us forever.

Whatever happened to us out here is not a simple story for photo albums and postcards- no what I saw was a bigtime Broadway show...

WHOOSH and the Indian weave curtain opens, fire erupts from Papier-mâché volcanoes,100’s of showgirls kick bare legs with baskets balanced precariously on their heads, ayudantes execute perfect Fred Astaire flying heel taps dancing across stage prop cardboard bus roofs, noise man, noise; gunshots, cowboy yells, evangelico speakers exploding from too many hymns, chucho howls and the firecrackers go BOOM.

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