Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Bits and Pieces, Ray Bradbury's Head

Tuesday, February 28, 2012—Long Beach, California

A quiet evening. Am just getting up from a couple hour's-long nap (the perfect length: long enough to refresh me, but not so long that it makes me lethargic and stupid). Still feeling a bit out of it overall, a bit lazy. Like I mentioned earlier, my school burnout is what’s doing it—anthropology is dragging me down. Still, I ended up applying for the Irvine job; my application was already nearly complete, so I figured why not. I have little chance of getting it anyway. My writing is about the only thing that’s interesting me these days—it’s my only possible future (and a damn good one, I’d say).

Reworked “Girl in the Orange Bikini” a bit and now I really like it. A false note had crept in near the end that, after several go rounds, I have finally weeded out. I’ve got ideas for several other stories rolling around in my head. I will hopefully get a good start on one of the more ripe ones before the week’s out.

I got the first galleys of Edgewater from Eric yesterday. They’re looking good, just a handful of changes necessary. It’s weird revisiting a book that old, though; I don’t feel all that close to the material. I sense that it will always be that way, since books take so long to hit the shelves after they’re completed. It’s probably good for me to feel thing way, though, in that it means I’m growing as a writer. I mean, if something I finished years ago still seems like me it probably means that I’m seriously stuck in my art and my life.

Things haven’t been very inspiring here beyond the writing. Dull gray weather, a winter storm that’s brought in a lot of cold air (it’s supposed to be in the mid-seventies by the weekend, though). I’m really looking forward to spring: I’m ready to be outside, warm, tanned, and relaxed. I’m basically a summer wanderer, a dreamer whose faculties only work right under buttery sunny skies. Even a Southern California winter is too cold and bleak for my current tastes …

Reading Righteous Victims: A History of the Zionist-Arab Conflict, 1881-1999, by Israeli historian Benny Morris. Very good. Very even handed (Jews and Arabs alike come off very badly). Wandering thru The Machineries of Joy too, which is a book of short stories by Ray Bradbury. I seem to be on a Bradbury quest as well. I’ve decided that I want to own copies of the mass market paperback versions of his books that I had growing up, the 1970 editions whose various covers feature a pencil drawing of Bradbury’s head in front of colorful collage paintings of images from the book in question on top of great slabs of basic colors, orange for The Martian Chronicles, white for Something Wicked This Way Comes, etc. (I’ve acquired three of these volumes so far). Nostalgia. But the healthy kind I hope. I want to commune with my past, not to aggrandize or even just relive it, but hopefully to remember some of the good stuff—feelings, attitudes, dreams, hopes—that I've lost track of over the years so I can put them back into my life (or maybe to return it to someplace more front and center).

Spring training has started. Really looking forward to baseball this season. There’s nothing better than a warm night with a baseball game on the radio somewhere in the background. Speaking of which, I picked up a used copy of the novel The Iowa Baseball Confederacy, by W.P. Kinsella, which I remember really liking back in the day. I think I’ll start it once the Angels’ pre-season games begin.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Sunshine Seas and Dandelion Wine

Wednesday, February 22, 2012—Orange, California

Laziness. Or at least in certain areas of my life—I simply feel uninspired in regards to so many things (which is partially why I haven't written here for a while). I’m especially bored with teaching. This has led me to some important decisions. I’ve all but decided not to apply for the Ventura District job. I’m also going to pull back on my Irvine application and tell the people who are writing my rec letters not to bother. I simply don’t want to move forward in anthropology. I also don’t want to spend the rest of my days having to be in Orange County. I simply don’t like this place, in a broad cultural sense; these people are really boring and strangely backwards (I say “strangely” because it hard to understand how they could be so while living in one of the biggest urban areas in the world). I’m thinking very seriously of going back to school and doing a second masters in English literature, because I think it would be fun, but also because I really like teaching and would like to stick with it—just not as an anthropologist.

I’m looking at the program at Cal State Channel Islands, which is up in Camarillo. It would work on many levels. First off, there’s a professor up there I’d like to work with. That part of California, coastal Ventura, county, is also an area I’d like to explore more deeply. Another factor in this school’s favor is that it’s out of the L.A. Basin, but not so far from it that I can’t easily visit my family. I also like the fact that the program is small (it won’t even officially exist until the fall of 2013)—I have no desire to slay academic dragons: I just want to get a no-hassle degree from a good school that’s in a place I want to be. If I do decide to go this route the question becomes what do I do for money for the next year while I’m waiting for the program to start. I’m trying not to think about that, though, mainly because I’m tired of boring, money-related thoughts floating around in my head …

The overarching reason for getting this degree is that I have finally come to understand that I’m a book guy—literature is what I do because it’s who I am. Not centering my day-to-day life in this area means that I spend an awful lot of time (of my dwindling years of life) doing things that fundamentally aren’t me. I’m a writer, yet I find that during many weeks that writing is the third or fourth priority in my life—because my job and related activities take up so much time. This has to stop and I’ve made the decision to make this happen sooner rather than later.

Speaking of writing, I’ve been doing a lot of it lately (to the detriment of my teaching work). I finished "Girl in the Orange Bikini." Or at least I think I have: I’m not sure I like the way it ends. It’s a different kind of story for me, so I think I’m going to have to live with it for a while before I make any decisions as to how successful it is. I did really enjoy writing it , though. Since “finishing” it (is any piece of writing ever truly finished?) I’ve played around with some other ideas. I’m still thinking that this story will be part of a book project of short stories that are broadly thematically linked. I’ve even got a title for the book I’m letting myself get used to: Sunshine Seas. Right now I’m envision all the stories taking place on and/or near beaches. I want the book, as its title to suggest to be permeated with summer light and the smells of the ocean. I’ve lived most of my life in coastal environments and for me a sunny day at the beach is the ultimate metaphor for all that’s good and right about this planet. Heaping Stones is book about shaking off darkness and stepping into the light. Backwaters of Beauty and Mother Earth are about defending one’s right to live in that light. I want Sunshine Seas to be about luxuriating in that light, in hope and wonder. Not that there won’t be a dark side to it, but that will simply be counterpoint to what I hope is something very positive and healthy. I want to write a book that says happiness is not only possible, but likely, assuming certain basic realities are understood. Oh yeah, the title also refers to a 1970s McGillivray and Freeman surf film I really liked as a kid called The Sunshine Sea (it was originally called Waves of Change, but it was later retitled for re-release after it bombed when it was first came out).

I finished Dandelion Wine. A fantastic book. I believe that people get drawn to certain things in life when they need them—and I definitely needed that book now: it’s really helping me understand what I’m trying to do with my own writing at the moment. Like my proposed Sunshine Seas, it’s a book of simplicity and hope. It’s also a book that really could have changed certain aspects of my life if I would have found it when I was growing up (I read so much Ray Bradbury for a few years as a kid—how did I miss such an obvious classic!—Actually, I know why: because it’s about regular people living in a small Midwestern Town—there’s not a Martian or spaceship to be seen). It’s weird, but I’m just now beginning to realize how all those Ray Bradbury stories I read as a kid have affected my writing today, both stylistically and in regards to substance. Like Ray Bradbury all I want to do (now) is tell good stories. As I’ve mentioned, these days I just want to be a high-end pulp writer. Sometime recently I figured out that I’d rather be Ray Bradbury than Dostoyevsky. Since then, literary happiness has come to me as a deluge …

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Stupid Cold Blues

Thursday, February 09, 2012—Orange, California

Illness. I went down last Friday evening with what turned out to be a nasty cold and I’m just now starting to feel better ( I tried to go to a Superbowl party on Sunday, which turned out to be a big mistake—I felt far worse coming home from it that I did before heading out). Being sick has totally thrown me off my game, in regards to my writing, my teaching, my Greek studies, and just about everything else in my life. Some people I know kind of enjoy being sick: they seem to like the break from routine and responsibility, as well as the sympathy they get. I can’t stand it. I have so many things that interest me, so many things that I want to do that down time makes me crazy. I still managed to write a little and do some reading from my sickbed, so I did manage to salvage something.

Partially because of my being sick, there really hasn’t been much going on. That’s probably how it’s going to be for the rest of the semester: I see school eating up my time and struggles to save money dominating the next few months. My only goals besides this are to finish the short story I’ve been working on and another one I’ve got rolling around in my head, get more into learning Greek, and to start ramping up my fitness (my messed up back and now this cold have kept me from doing much physical for the last few weeks). Feeling increasingly frustrated lately: personally I’m in a great place, but work and other outside issues are dragging me down. I’m discovering that as I get older each moment is seeming increasingly precious, and the idea of spending my time doing things other than those that truly fulfill me seem like a waste of my valuable finite days and nights.

I picked Dandelion Wine, by Ray Bradbury off the shelf this weekend. It’s one of his few novels that I’ve never read. I’m enjoying it. It's a weird tale of a young boy growing up in the Midwest of 1928 and his fantastical awakening to the fact that he’s really alive (which of course means he’s discovering that he will also someday die). I’m not far enough into it to say much more, but thus far I’m finding it both charming and a little disconcerting, which is almost always a wonderful combination.

That’s about it. Like I said, the cold (and before that my back), has pretty much sunk everything else. Hoping to charge back into life within the next few days.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Pushing Thru

Wednesday, February 01, 2012—Orange, CA

Busyness. I’ve been buried with school and other crap for a couple weeks running. I also blew out my back again (though nowhere near as bad as I did several months back), which has been slowing me down. Feeling pretty good overall, angry, in the sense that I ready to finally blast thru a bunch of shit that been blocking my way in life and that’s the attitude I need for the final push. Don’t know exactly what I’m fighting, but I’m fighting it hard (I know I keep saying this stuff, but I can’t shake the feeling that my life is about to start changing in big ways). Maybe ornery is a better word for how I’m feeling. I might want to throw “agitated” in there too …

Like I said, I’m feeling good overall. This I think has a lot to do with the fact that I’m writing again. I’m still working on the "Girl in the Orange Bikini" and it’s a very satisfying experience. In fact, I’ve probably never enjoyed writing as much as I am with this story. My last couple of books really dove into politics, or social policy at least. It’s something I needed to do, but not something I’m overly comfortable with. To me life is at its best when I transcend those things. Politics and government are necessary evils. The real core of life exists far deeper than those things. It’s that core I’m looking for with my new work. I’m also trying to avoid all internal commentary on the big picture with this story and the others I plan on writing—anything large must come from the events I’m writing about, from the feelings they touch. That can only happen when a writer is concentrating purely on accurate description—mood, plot (such a dreadful notion), and message will all flow organically from that. It’s a very pure form of writing, something closer to painting than typical writing (there I am back on that point again). Actually that’s a good way for how I’m feeling when I write these days—“pure.”

Speaking of painting, I’m about to begin work on a new cover for Edgewater. I’m going to paint something for it, something abstract. I’ve never had much interest in painting recognizable forms—I can write that sort of stuff all day long. I like to try and paint feelings, moods. I have no idea what will come out of this, but there are certain colors movement Edgewater’s poems give off, so I’ll start from there and see what happens. In know this is all pretty vague, but that’s the point—I want this to come out of my subconscious, which means if I know what I’m going to paint I’ve failed before I touch a brush.

What else? What else? Superbowl party this Sunday. Usually a big shindig. Greg’s finally started on my website. Hopefully I’ll have a new homepage by next month sometime. I the insides of Edgewater off to Eric last week. If all goes well and I can conjure up a cover I hope to have that sucker on the shelves, so to speak, by late March. Lots of things happening. Lots of good stuff on the horizon too. Wish I could figure out a way to stop teaching and not starve—then life would be fun twenty-four-seven (or at least that’s how it looks from here …).