Tourette’s like Outbursts Posted to that Inescapable Social Media Platform

7 Apr




If you grew up on the mean streets of the 50th Ward in Chicago, Tucker Carlson, the embattled Fox Network Cerebus, comes off as a preparatory school prick. Now comes an article in the hallowed’ New Yorker magazine, providing more information and coloration than I ever wanted to know about a Fox headliner. Essentially learning that Tucker is a human being.

The big surprise for me is what the late, still great Christopher Hitchens observed about Tucker Carlson ( which is a timely reminder about the distortions of Television).

2. Syria is the nation, bordering Lebanon (in which arguably the USA has been complicit in that country’s destabilization) Yet another disgrace in which the world leader’s use human beings as shuttlecocks in their game of “World Domination.” Keep in mind this has happened before. There was even a time when the USA accepted refugees from areas where “national interest ” was allegedly operative, Hungary in, Cuba,1959 onward. Apparently also, unofficially, suburbs full of Persians (aka Iranians) landed in Beverly Hills. Need convincing of the awfulness of Syria and blaring moral failure attendant?

Here, from someone who knows…

3. Innovation without progress…Company Town tells about the bad shit that attends to the so-called sharing economy…

4.Pussy grabbing Bedlamite weighs in on one of the worst people in the world



5. Still your president

6 I expect many of us who view the Bedlamite regime as a nightmare wonder when the tipping point, the critical mass, the crossed Rubicon, the broken camel’s back, will come…

Enter Erik (the dark) Prince…(WAPOST to be commended for exposing this shadow play.

1. “…Current and former U.S. officials said that while Prince refrained from playing a direct role in the Trump transition, his name surfaced so frequently in internal discussions that he seemed to function as an outside adviser whose opinions were valued on a range of issues, including plans for overhauling the U.S. intelligence community.

He appears to have particularly close ties to Bannon, appearing multiple times on the Breitbart satellite radio program and website that Bannon ran before joining the Trump campaign.

In a July interview with Bannon, Prince said those seeking forceful U.S. leadership should “wait till January and hope Mr. Trump is elected.” And he lashed out at President Barack Obama, saying that because of his policies “the terrorists, the fascists, are winning.”

2. …War moves quickly: In less than an hour in Baghdad in the fall of 2007, American contractors working for Blackwater shot and killed 14 Iraqis, including children. Justice is slower, and it took until Monday [April 2015] for four of those contractors, who were convicted in August, to be sentenced to jail for 14 of those deaths. Three received 30-year sentences, while a fourth will spend his life in prison.

3. “Using a catchall term for the company, which keeps changing its name after successive scandals, the FBI’s Chris Briese didn’t mince worlds in court. “For an extended period of time, Academi/Blackwater operated in a manner which demonstrated systemic disregard for U.S. Government laws and regulations,”

Life isn’t fair, right? And sports, well…




Oliver saved his harshest critique for the defense that Nunes’ fellow House Republican Ted Yoho delivered on MSNBC, in which he tried to claim that Congress members work for the president and not their constituents.
“No! You absolutely do not! You do one of them, and explicitly not the other. That is literally the point of Congress,” Oliver exclaimed. “And that’s why this story is Stupid Watergate: It could very well take down the government, but nobody involved understands why, or how to cover it up, or what the government fucking is, or possibly how to breathe without getting regular reminders.”

Baseball Books 2017 Part I and more

30 Mar

In a few days the valiant ( relatively) few who enjoy what once was the NATIONAL PASTIME and of which scholar Jaques Barzun opined the dubious  and simplistic, “Whoever wants to know the heart and mind of America had better learn baseball.” will have the pleasures of the opening of  the 2017 Major League  Baseball’s regular season. From now through November we will have sanctuary and perhaps some relief from the metastasizing toxicity emanating from the Bedlamite regime. But since almost all the owners of major league baseball franchises are billionaires there is no guarantee that that some faux patriotic  gesture might not make its way into some of MLB’s consumer-oriented spectacles (think All Star game, Home Run Derby etc)

As has been the case for a long time, Baseball has attracted talented insightful writers to produce a substantial bibliography about the nuances of the sport and the people who are associated with it. And that circumstance makes reading about the sport as enjoyable as watching, Every year there is a plethora of new tomes and before I get onto noting the new there are a handful of books that have acquired the status of classics.Or at least I place thek in my pantheon of ur-texts,


1. The Dickson Baseball Dictionary (Third Edition)  by Paul Dickson with Skip McAfee

Dickson’s well-researched and comprehensive compendium of baseball information features more than 10,000 terms with 18,000 individual entries, and more than 250 photos.



Baseball: A Literary Anthology .ed Nicholas Dawidoff

This Library of America volume is a gem. Here’s the publisher’s description,

“… offers a lively mix of 70 stories, memoirs, poems, news reports, and insider accounts about all aspects of the great American game, from its pastoral nineteenth-century beginnings to its apotheosis as the undisputed national pastime. Here are the major leaguers and the bush leaguers, the umpires and broadcasters, the wives and girlfriends and would-be girlfriends, fans meticulously observant and lovingly, fanatically obsessed…

Drawing from the work of novelists from Ring Lardner to Don DeLillo, sportswriters from Damon Runyon to Red Smith, and poets from William Carlos Williams to Yusef Komunyakaa, and gathering essays and player profiles from John Updike, Gay Talese, Roger Angell, and David Remnick, Baseball: A Literary Anthology is a varied and exuberant display of what baseball has meant to American writers….”



3. Moneyball by Michael Lewis

Lewis is as good a writer/reporter as there is publishing today—which a quick scan of his bibliography will validate. This book became a seminal work in the field of talent evaluation and helped fans to some understanding of the burgeoning sabermetric approach to building a baseball roster as well as game management. All wrapped up in a readable narrative focusing on the small-budget Oakland A’s and their wily general manager, Billy Beane Lewis recounts

I wrote this book because I fell in love with a story. The story concerned a small group of undervalued professional baseball players and executives, many of whom had been rejected as unfit for the big leagues, who had turned themselves into one of the most successful franchises in Major League Baseball. But the idea for the book came well before I had good reason to write it—before I had a story to fall in love with. It began, really, with an innocent question: how did one of the poorest teams in baseball, the Oakland Athletics, win so many games?




4. The Bill James Handbook 2017 by Bill James and Baseball Info Solutions

Bill James is the most prominent practitioner in the sabermetric world and his annual includes annual Fielding Bible Awards, insightful essays, and lots of statistical analysis you won’t find anywhere else. Lifetime stats (including playoff stats) for every player in the major leagues (plus a few others) through the end of the regular 2016 season. Plus cover features a photo of Big Papi Ortiz arguably the most popular ball player of his era.


5. American Jews In America’s Game  by Larry Ruttman

 This is useful and well-crafted work of oral and cultural history, featuring the life stories of well-known and as well as lesser known and unheralded Jews. Compiled from 50 engaging interviews and arranged by decade “…each person talks about growing up Jewish and dealing with Jewish identity, assimilation, intermarriage, future viability, religious observance, anti-Semitism, and Israel. Each tells about being in the midst of the colorful pantheon of players who, over the past 75 years or more, have made baseball what it is…”


3 Mar


This is solidarity




This is your leader


“The change in tone was the overall theme of this morning’s coverage. The Washington Post noted the president’s “muscular but measured tone.” The New York Times said Trump “appeared restrained and serious.” At the top of the hour on “Morning Edition, the anchor took note of the president’s “more optimistic tone.”

Yeah, those assessments were really stupid and make me wonder if the people writing them actually listened to that pack of lies. Judging that speech on the basis of performance is massive journalistic malpractice. And, if NPR really thought the speech had any kind of an “optimistic tone” at all, then Morning Edition is two tote bags short of a spring fundraiser.

[POYNTER] Watch the references to Trump’s physical appearance and the quirks of his speech.

One of the “quirks of his speech” is that he lies like most people breathe. Is there a strategy you have for handling this?”


Blah, blah, blah…






Cold to hot…

“… the primary reason for Trump, for Brexit, and for growing right-wing über-nationalism throughout Europe is that…

prevailing neoliberal policies have destroyed the economic security and future of hundreds of millions of people, rendering them highly susceptible to scapegoating and desperate, in a nothing-to-lose sort of way, for any type of radical change, no matter how risky or harmful that change might be.

But all of that gets to be ignored, all of the self-reckoning is avoided, as long we get ourselves to believe that some omnipotent foreign power is behind it all.”


4. In his quiet and effective way, James Fallows demurs from the chicken shit press that called the Bedlamite POTUS ‘presidential’—
“…But because this was by Donald Trump, and because stylistically it was such a contrast to his other big-deal rhetorical presentations, it is in my view receiving a significant grading-on-the-curve benefit. For other presidents, sticking close to the pre-released text was a routine expectation.

…I’ll pass over Trump’s inclusion of a group prominently featured at the Republican convention: relatives of those who were killed by illegal immigrants. This is hateful in my view—you’d have a much larger pool to draw from if you were choosing relatives of those killed by domestic violence, or by drunk drivers, or by accidental or intended gunfire, or by opioids or heroin, or by suicide and depression, or by other modern evils—but I know this (and the related, odious VOICE program) are part of the Trump brand…”



The father of the Navy SEAL killed in useless incursion into a sovereign nation

5. For those who have not yet come to the realization that checking in with Chas Pierce on a daily basis is a useful balm to the vexations generated by the neo-fascist regime of the Bedlamite prexy and his goon squad of predators, thieves, mountebanks and sub-humans I offer you this—

“Presidential, was it?

Even I didn’t believe they could lower the bar far enough that an otherwise sensible fellow like Van Jones would take the indecent exploitation of a war widow’s fresh sorrow and turn it into Lincoln’s Second Inaugural. Even I didn’t believe they could sink the bar far enough into Middle Earth that otherwise critical observers would look at a pile of deceptive leaves and see a coherent tree. Every day in every way, this administration and this president* taxes the far limits of even my cynicism. For example, it is not true that nobody profits from “lawless chaos.” How do you think Vladimir Putin created the gangster’s paradise that helped Rex Tillerson and Wilbur Ross get even more wealthy?

When one calls that speech “presidential,” whose presidency are you summoning? Pierce? Buchanan? Rufus T. Firefly? Jesus, people, at least try to sound like you graduated middle school.”



The Shadow President

6. Not that I would begrudge them this payoff but still…




Barry and Michelle hit the number

7. A person who is a Facebook friend, who I don’t know, announced he had reached the 5000 friend threshold. I responded,”You should join a support group.” Another Facebook friend who I don’t know ‘liked’ my rejoinder. Tell me this isn’t a little nuts…


8. Judging from the unreliable sampling of my Facebook timeline, I am struck by the what seems to me to be much wasted words and emotional energy. Much of it is eloquent and heartfelt and if they help energize a resistance to an apparent neo-fascist regime, great. Fabulous. Rock on. Yes, we can. Power to the Peaceful. Keep in mind the not oft-quoted remark by Edmund Burke, “Nobody made a greater mistake than he who did nothing because he could do only a little.






11. POTUS 45’s lying liar causes a stir—big fuckin’ deal—


There is fake news and then there is “who cares”news…



From My Buddy Howard…

1 Mar



Howard’s response to last night’s (by the Bedlamite POTUS) performance art,

It was inevitable that as soon as President Treblinka managed to speak for more than a minute and not to sound like he is suffering an incurable intellectual deficit or a cognitive disorder that he will calm a lot of people down and demonstrate that quality so highly revered called “presidential.” Actors do a better job of it. Reagan proved that.

What’s incontrovertible and unchanging—and horrifying in the prospect of seeing how people are reassured by a measured expression of the same insane and intemperate political goals for our country—is that virtually all of his “hopeful” speech last night is simply unfeasible, which is to say, impossible, economically. That is, not without doing what will, finally, be irredeemable damage to the social and democratic integrity of our country.

Howard’s a nifty guy (he is, after all, my friend). He has his own piece of web real estate, 1 Standard Deviation. One would do well to  take a peek as he is an accomplished photographer as well as luminous wordsmith…


Effluvia : Or My Last Ten Posts on Facebook

8 Feb


Philo, aka Philo of Alexandria, Philo Judaeus, Philo Judaeus of Alexandria,

Philo of Alexandria,

Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a great battle.” ..





1 “Count me in the resistance…

“I am Spartacus… “I am Spartacus”, I am Spartacus,” I am Spartacus …”

2.  Is there still such as thing as mail order brides? If so, how do I order one from Iowa?
3.  MY MAN!

4. Earlier today I posted an article by Jay Postman, Neil Postman’s (author of Amusing Our Selves to DEATH)son reviewing his father’s thoughts on Orwell’s dystopian view. Now comes Henry Giroux explicating both Orwell and Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World— be warned there is some heavy lifting, but that’s what’s required to the scourge of the Bedlamite regime—

“What will American society look like under a Trump administration? For Huxley, it may well mimic a nightmarish image of a world in which ignorance is a political weapon and pleasure as a form of control, offering nothing more than the swindle of fulfillment, if not something more self-deluding and defeating. Orwell, more optimistically, might see a more open future and history disinclined to fulfill itself in the image of the dystopian society he so brilliantly imagined. He believed in the power of those living under such oppression to imagine otherwise, to think beyond the dictates of the authoritarian state and to offer up spirited forms of collective resistance willing to reclaim the reigns of political emancipation. For Huxley, there was hope in a pessimism that had exhausted itself; for Orwell optimism had to be tempered by a sense of educated hope. History is open and only time will tell who was right.”
6. Jay Postman points out his father’s [Neil Postman] prescience:
“What Orwell feared were those who would ban books. What Huxley feared was that there would be no reason to ban a book, for there would be no one who wanted to read one. Orwell feared those who would deprive us of information. Huxley feared those who would give us so much that we would be reduced to passivity and egoism. Orwell feared that the truth would be concealed from us. Huxley feared the truth would be drowned in a sea of irrelevance. Orwell feared we would become a captive culture. Huxley feared we would become a trivial culture.
…Our public discourse has become so trivialized, it’s astounding that we still cling to the word “debates” for what our presidential candidates do onstage when facing each other. Really? Who can be shocked by the rise of a reality TV star, a man given to loud, inflammatory statements, many of which are spectacularly untrue but virtually all of which make for what used to be called “good television”?

7.  You missed this, didn’t you? How could you?

8. For what its worth, this year marks the 100 anniversary of the Bolshevik Revolution and next year the 50th anniversary of the 1968 Chicago Police Riots—

9. I agree with Emma Baccellieri,

“Most of the pace-of-play changes proposed would shave a few minutes off per game, if even that. People who aren’t watching baseball probably aren’t going to start if the average game drops from 3 hours to 2 hours and 45 minutes. The pace-of-play conversation is likely only going to keep picking up steam from here, but it’s worth questioning why it’s a conversation we’re having in the first place. “
10. The Brit Speaker of the House of Commons is a Jew…what verbal turds will flow from the 140-digital-characters mind of The Bedlamite?


Reading Tim Gautreaux…

3 Feb

6b850004-35f8-4819-b902-ac73d851a3efIn this dark time of the Bedlamite reign, I have found it useful and necessary to modulate my attention to the nightmarish absurdities daily presented in the unending toxic digital shitstream— of course, relying on a tried and true standby—reading*. This morning I delved into the new collection of short stories, Signals by Tim Gautreaux, that the kind peeps at Random House were kind enough to send me.

I was privileged to conversate** (sic )with Tim a few years back, a conversation that you can find anthologized in University Press of Mississippi’s excellent “Conversations with…”***



Here’s a snippet from that chat:

RB: If you were currently living in Seattle would you be writing about the bay and the ocean, the mountains or about mangrove swamps and alligators and Cajun fisherman?

TG: You’ll notice that when I gave the little North Dakota spiel I said, “If I had been born and raised in North Dakota…” Wherever you are born and raised tends to have profound effect on your fictional world. I don’t know why. Ernest Gaines left Louisiana when he was sixteen. And the only fiction he writes that seems to be really powerful and effective and moving is fiction that is set in Louisiana. And he knows this and he has tried to write about California and San Francisco, where he has lived, by this time probably as much or more than he has lived in Louisiana. And it just doesn’t seem to work for him. He has said this himself. One reason he has come back to Louisiana in his later years and is living there at least half the time is so that he can write and get in touch with what matters to him— the rhythms of speech. The music of the language around him and the feel of the weather. It’s in his bones. We are talking about a man who really didn’t write at all before he left here. He never thought he would be a writer. But everything that has magic to it in Ernest Gaines writing stems from a period before he was sixteen years old. I think that is the same with me. You really learned every thing you need to know about human nature directly or indirectly by the time you are fifteen or sixteen. You know what your family history is, what your structures are, whether you are paying attention to it or not, what their values are. And, of course the language of your region and all that is in your literary bones, so to speak. You know the cadences of the relatives’ parlance and you can go somewhere and you can live a long time, and it just doesn’t ring true. I used to spend summers with my sister out in California. In my first novel, The Next Step in the Dance, which did really well, I had a long section in Los Angeles, and my editor, who was originally from Los Angeles, said she found it unconvincing, “No, the Louisiana stuff is fine and has heart, but this LA stuff is kind of one dimensional. Let’s trim it back.” And trim it back. And trim it back. And finally, the novel, which was maybe thirty per cent in California, was maybe seven percent.


Tim Gautreaux [PHOTO:Robert BIRNBAUM]

The story ,”What We Don’t See in the Light”,  the last of the  22 in state environment (as well as the horrors of a landscape despoiled by the chemical industry) , But additionally, as the protagonist’s health problems impel him to move to remote New Mexico, that Mars-like landscape is rendered vividly in crystal clear images. “What We Don’t See in the Light”, is a story laden with humor, substantial characters, attention to the small acts that comprise long marriages, and a steady narrative arc ending in an unexpected place —which is a good recipe for good reading.You might even say it’s a bitter-sweet love story—the best kind.



*  The New Yorker rounds up what their writers are reading

** Talking with Tim Gautreaux

*** Conversations with Tim Gautreaux 


Chatting with Elizabeth Cox

27 Jan


Elizabeth Cox (photo: Robert Birnbaum

Elizabeth Cox [circa 20o2](photo: Robert Birnbaum

Back at the turn of the century when she was still living in the Bostin area, I dialogued with Elizabeth Cox* whose fiction I  had chanced to come across and take pleasure in reading. Betsy’ has since moved to South Carolina and her  new novel A Question of Mercy has recently been published: Here’s the publisher’s synopsis


Adam Finney, a young man who is mentally disabled, faces sterilization and lobotomy in a state-supported asylum. When he is found dead in the French Broad River of rural North Carolina, his teenaged stepsister, Jess, is sought for questioning by their family and the police. Jess’s odyssey of escape across four states leads into dark territories of life-and-death moral choices where compassion and grace offer faint illumination but few answers. A Question of Mercy, set in a vivid landscape of the mid-twentieth-century South, … challenges notions of individual freedom and responsibility against a backdrop of questionable practices governing treatment of the mentally disabled,… also stretches the breadth and limitations of the human heart to love and to forgive.
Jess Booker, on the run and alone, leaves the comfort of her home near Asheville, recklessly trekking through woods and hitchhiking her way to a boarding house in tiny Lula, Alabama, a perceived safe haven she once visited with her late mother. Pursued by a mysterious car with a faded “I Like Ike” sticker, Jess is also haunted by memories of her mother’s early death, her father’s distressing marriage to Adam’s mother, the loving bond she was able to form with Adam despite her initial resistance, and her boyfriend Sam’s troubling letters from the thick of combat in the Korean War. In Lula, Jess finds, if only briefly, a respite among a curious surrogate family of fellow displaced outsiders banded together under one roof, and there she finds the strength to heed the call homeward to face the questions she cannot answer about her stepbrother’s death.


Elizabeth Cox was born and raised in Chattanooga, Tennessee and is a professor at Duke University. She has taught creative writing at Boston University, Tufts University, Bennington College, The University of Michigan and the University of North Carolina (at Chapel Hill).

 Bargains in the Real World.

Bargains in the Real World.



Robert Birnbaum: What do you want to talk about?

Elizabeth Cox: Talk about what I read instead of what I write?

RB: We have to talk about what you write, but not a lot.

EC: You can ask me anything you want…

RB: Okay. Are you a Southern writer?

EC: I’m a Southerner and I’m a writer. I write about the South because I grew up there. The setting includes the fauna, the gestures, and idiosyncratic habits of southern culture, but I hope the subject matter is universal. I don’t mind being called a southern writer, but I don’t want it to limit my readership. I’ve tried to create a setting in New England but can’t do it yet. I haven’t lived here long enough, I guess.

RB: It is a loaded question. Calling someone a ‘Southern’ writer seems to have a ghettoizing effect.

EC: Or sometimes it helps. People say, “Oh I like to read southern writers.” I mean there is a strong backload of writers behind me that are very good.

RB: Seemingly every subdivision of human activity has its own politics and its own hierarchy. In publishing in the USA, who gets relegated to the forefront and who gets the attention and who gets the support of their publisher and the publicity engines seem not to be southern writers…I think of Reynolds Price, who has written many many wonderful books, and I see no reason why he is not as well known as John Updike or Philip Roth. I mention him to my acquaintances that are readers and they go, “Who?”

EC: Those must be people that read the potboilers. The ones that read literary writing know him, I think. He’s a colleague of mine, you know. I have great admiration for him as a writer and a person. He is someone who is read by both literary and popular culture. Years ago, the publishing houses would use books that made money to support and bring in the literary writers. I don’t know if that’s done so much anymore. Now, everyone needs to bring in money in order to stay viable.

RB: Maybe we can come back to talking about ‘Southern’ writing… I found it charming that you dedicated Bargains in the Real World to your students.

EC: I do love teaching. If someone asks me what I do, I usually answer, “I teach.” Or rather I say, “I’m a teacher.” I hardly ever say, “I’m a writer.” I’m not sure why. I spend much of my physical time writing, but still I define myself as a “teacher.” Everyone in my family was a teacher.

RB: …you grew up in Tennessee?

EC: Uh huh. I grew up in Chattanooga where my father was the headmaster of a boy’s private school. Baylor School. I have two brothers. Both have written books of poetry. When their books came out, I thought: Maybe I can do that. One brother, Coleman Barks, is a poet. He translates the 13th century Persian poet, Rumi. My other brother was a minister, but now he is the head master of a school. When I began writing poetry I was in my early thirties, My children were already in school. I published a few poems in small magazines and decided to go back to school to earn an MFA. During that time in graduate school, I decided I would try writing a story. I worked with Robert Watson and Fred Chapell.

RB: After you got your MFA did you look to teach? Or start your first novel? Or did you join the Merchant Marine? What did you do?

EC: (laughs) During that time in graduate school I decided I would try writing a story. My first story was “Land of Goshen,” which is in this collection. When I wrote it, I felt that I had moved into a slot. I immediately felt more comfortable with story than with poetry.

RB: That’s one of your first stories?

EC: That was my first story. It received some attention. I began writing stories and then I met E.L. Doctorow and he read “Land of Goshen” and he encouraged me, along with a man named Charles Simmons and they suggested I try a novel. I had no idea how to write a novel, but that kind of thing had never stopped me before. That didn’t seem to hurt anything. I knew myself well enough to know I would not read books on “how to write a novel.” I wouldn’t read Wayne Booth’s Rhetoric of Fiction or something like that. I came home — I lived in Durham, N.C., so, I enrolled in a course at Duke in the Sonata and the Symphony. I listened to and studied the form of sonata–noticing the statement, development and reiteration as well as the reminding phrases that kept coming back. I listened to a lot of Dvorak and Beethoven. Just listened. I didn’t try to deliberately apply anything I was learning. I was just trying to hear something about form and then use it in my own way. I didn’t care if anybody knew that I had listened to sonatas and symphonies, I was just learning something.

Then with my next book,

The Ragged Way People Fall out of Love

The Ragged Way People Fall out of Love

 I took a course in astronomy. I read a lot of physics, which was hard…very hard. I learned something about form by reading that material. I can’t tell exactly how this method teaches me, but it does. I look at one thing in order to learn another. The third book, Night Talk, I read a lot of biology and nature writing, and much of that material was incorporated into the novel. The short stories–I wrote them all along. I’ve been writing these short stories for twenty years. That’s all of them. That’s all of them, here in this book. I don’t have them somewhere in a drawer. That’s it. The novels, that’s it. That’s all I’ve done! And I’ve written some essays, and then, of course, the poetry.

RB: What do you teach?

EC: I teach fiction writing.

RB: When you teach, do you suggest the same methodology to your students?

EC: Sometimes after I see a student’s work I ask, “Do you like jazz?” And usually, it’s yes. Or they’ll say, “No, but I like blues.” I urge the student to listen and learn something from the music. And they know what I mean. I don’t explain it. If the student doesn’t get it, they won’t know what I mean anyway. In one class I had where I told them to bring in some principle of physics or biology… something… photosynthesis, the uncertainty principle, and explain it. And they all did. And then I said, “Okay now, write a story that has that plot.” I didn’t explain it anymore. There is no right or wrong way — just a way of noticing the way things happen in the world that is natural and organic. Plot can come pretty easily out of this exercise.

RB: When you started you didn’t have a theory or a methodology, but twenty years later as you teach you have refined a point of view. Is it that you don’t want your students to focus on “writing the story”?

EC: Right. Or to focus on “being a writer.” That kind of self-consciousness is death to the story. Fred Chappell once said, “writing can’t be taught, but it can be learned.” I think what’s learned is a kind of waking up. I try to teach them to observe the world more intensely. I ask, “Does it matter to you the way light comes into a room? Does it matter a lot? And do you notice and can you describe it different times of day?” I try to make them be aware of people around, of gestures, of the way someone’s face looks when they are embarrassed or when they’ve told a lie or when they are angry…to know all those little moments and to get these details on a page. I teach how to read differently. The way a writer reads instead of the way a critic reads. Even if they are reading stories they’ve read before — sometimes I give Flannery O’Connor’s story, “A Good Man Is Hard To Find” — and they say, “Oh, I’ve read that.” And I’ll say, “No, you have not read that the way we are going to talk about it.” And I warn the students that it is not that you have to talk about the story, you have to write one. You have to do this. First they have to read it and enjoy it and check the places where something visceral was felt, something sad, where they laughed or where they were afraid. Then to go back and look at how that was accomplished. Was it a description of place and followed by dialogue? What is the author doing there? The student has to be aware of craft until craft becomes part of their day. Every student processes differently. My job is to listen — most of teaching is listening.

RB: Do you use the same core readings and, can I say, exercises?

EC: Yeah, they are. I start with an exercise that emphasizes dramatization of characters. Otherwise — at least as undergraduates — they will just write “what I did this summer” or it’s a therapeutic thing. It’s not from the imagination. Sometimes I use an exercise that involves two people having an argument… it can be father-son, it can be lovers, it can be brother-sister. And there’s been a betrayal and during that argument they may not be talking about what actually happened. They may be talking about what they had for dinner. But I want to feel the betrayal. Then I suggest let someone come in and interrupt and then see how it changes the emotions. That’s an exercise I give because it forces them to dramatize immediately right off the bat. I just want to get immediately into the imagination. But I do love teaching, and I do love watching them wake up.

RB: It’s a powerful gesture for you to dedicate your book to your students. Imagine what your students must think…if they see it…they must see the book…

EC: I hope they do. I don’t know if the dedication will mean anything to them. I hope it does. I’ve been teaching at Duke for seventeen years. Mainly, I teach the short story, but in almost every class I tell at least one student that what they’ve started is a novel more than a story. I don’t want the work to be turned into a story. I just want him to know the difference between the development of a longer and shorter work. Mostly though, we focus on stories.

RB: How much are your students preoccupied with being a writer and having a career?

EC: I try to discourage that so much. I don’t even let them talk about it. (laughs) The writing suffers under that kind of self consciousness, I think. I failed one student a Duke. His mother called me and said, “He doesn’t usually fail. He’s a good student, and he wants to be a writer.” I said, “Yes he wants to be a writer, but he doesn’t want to do the hard work of writing. And he doesn’t want to revise, and if we tell him anything he doesn’t like to hear, he doesn’t come back.” She was real quiet and finally said, “I think he needs to work at McDonald’s.”

RB: How much does teaching affect your writing?

EC: It hurts my writing. I lose my writing energy by giving it away to my students. I can write at the beginning of the semester, but when they start turning in their work, I don’t get writing done.

RB: You are forced to write seasonally?

EC: I can write down ideas, I can work on characters and images. I can work on images. I take notes all the time. But when I get into the place of a story I have to be inside it. And live there. Teaching takes me out of that. Now that I’m back from Duke, I’ll begin again…this summer I’ll go back to revise a novel I’m working on.

RB: Have you been doing this trip between Massachusetts and North Carolina…

EC: Since I married my husband seven years ago, almost eight now. I kept my job at Duke but come back only one semester a year. They were very accommodating to me and I’m grateful.

RB: How much does Duke University affect North Carolina’s culture?

EC: North Carolina has so many good writers. Reynolds Price, Allan Gurganus and Lee Smith, Max Steele, Jill McCorkle, Tony Earley and so many others.

RB: Why is that? Is it the water?

EC: When I arrived with my first novel in New York, publishers and agents said, “We will look at anything from North Carolina. If it has North Carolina post mark we will look at it.” And Reynolds Price has been there a long time…

RB: Why did you decide to publish a collection of short stories now?

EC: I wrote short stories over the years, and I noticed that I had thirteen, most had been published. I had a collection. I was starting a novel and I thought, “Well, why not put this together, the stories first?” A few of them had to be reworked, and I did that and sent it out. I thought maybe it might be very difficult to publish a book of short stories and found it wasn’t. Random House gave me a two-book contract.

RB: The conventional wisdom is that publishers want a novel and will take a short-story collection to get a novel…

EC: Yes, right.

RB: But they still publish short stories.

EC: I was glad to bring together years of work in one book.

RB: I am curious about the reworking and also how you decided the order of the stories.

EC: I first thought of putting the stories in chronologically.

RB: In the order they were written?

EC: But I didn’t want to do that. I arranged them by subject matter and sometimes by the style of writing. In some of them the language is very dense. In a couple, there is a lot more dialogue, and some of them have a little humor. I wanted to put those throughout. I don’t think anyone reads stories in order, do they? I don’t. I like to pick and choose.

RB: There’s a story that takes place around the Gulf War, one shortly after the Civil War…one in 1949. I am surprised that they all seem contemporary…wherever they are set…the historical time doesn’t mean that much.

EC: Right. That’s what I hoped to do, though often the time or place is dictated to me…it’s just what I see. I hope that the relationships are always recognizable — mother-son, father-daughter, family.

RB: In an essay you wrote about Richard Yates, you recall apologizing to him because all you wrote about was family.

EC: Yes, and he said, “That’s all there is to write about.”

RB: The stories are all mature, there is no way I can tell that this early Cox or later Cox…

EC: I don’t know either…My approach to every story (and to every novel) is that I come to it with a kind of ignorance. Ignorance rather than “knowing.” I have no idea how to write this story or this novel. And I’ve learned some things about character and place and dialogue but each task presents new demands. And the main thing I learned in the last story is that I learned how to write that particular story. And I trust that way of working.

RB: So you are not the writer bellying up to your writing desk going, “Okay!” with the arrogance that because you have written in the past that…

EC: No, no. I like to come to new work with freshness. I like to come to it with a freshness of, “Okay, how do I do this? What do I look at, what do I read?” Right now I’m reading a lot (sighs) of Van Gogh’s letters. I’ve been reading them for about year, a few each day. The other day Van Gogh mentioned how he was always seeking the color blue. So I started the day looking for blue. And sometimes seeing a blue truck, something that was actually blue. But sometimes actually seeing it in the way Van Gogh might have seen it, in the aspect of blue…in a cornfield, and a red barn. So that he teaches me (as Anne Dillard teaches me) a way of looking at the world. Which is what I teach students, too.

RB: A madman.

EC: Oh, he’s not mad. Everyone else might be, but… (both laugh)…he is the sanest person I have ever seen except that moment when he cut off his ear and took it to a prostitute. He comes across as kind and compassionate and he is not worried what other painters think of him.

RB: Really?

EC: It pains him but in his letters to his brother…it’s not that he doesn’t get depressed about it, but in those letters you see how it doesn’t stop him. It doesn’t stop his vision that he wants. The world told him not to paint the peasants, he doesn’t stop painting peasants. It saddens him that no one sees what he is doing, but his vision stayed clear.

RB: Why did you start reading Van Gogh?

EC: Well, I saw his exhibit. I read Delacroix’s journals, he’s a wonderful writer, you know. I like discovering the way artists look at the world. I like to experience the way scientists talk about…forces. I read physics. I bought Richard Feynman’s lectures and I’m listening to them though I don’t understand everything he says, but what I love is his way of acknowledging his ignorance. He will be explaining some principle of quantum physics and he will say, “So you would think that this is true but — this isn’t true.” And so that as he creates this arc of understanding, of logic, then he changes the arc or rearranges or breaks it down. He lectures on how little we know and unsure we are of that. I love the excitement of a process that opens the door for anything, really.

RB: You place a high value on originality. You are not reading biographies, you are reading the original works. Difficult, but at least unmediated by someone else’s interpretation.

EC: That’s right. In fiction, you can’t explain. The subtlety of the imagination is different from the subtlety of the intellect, it gives an experience to create understanding. Music does this best, maybe, but I have to try to make it happen in the only way I know how — with words.

RB: Your stories are moving and compelling, and I want to go back and see how you did it. What words you used to get to get under the rational radar…

EC: Sometimes it’s a matter of getting lost in the moment. There’s a story called “Old Court,” a boy shoots a horse. I did not plan that moment. When I wrote that moment, nothing was changed in that paragraph. I just saw it and wrote it. That’s the best part of writing discovering the moment and then to let the writing be part of what is seen. This sounds very mystical — it isn’t.

RB: There was one word you used in this book that didn’t work for me.

EC: What?

RB: In the story “Biology” you have the character — a young girl — remarking on the ‘timbre’ of the preacher’s voice. Her use of that word didn’t sound right to me. Do you remember that?

Night Talk.

Night Talk.

EC: Yes. That story came from my novel, Night Talk. Though I made it into a story. The book is first person, but she is an adult, and the word fits more into her adult mode, and that might have slipped in that story. I do like that word though.

RB: What’s it like to reread stories you wrote twenty years ago?

EC: Oh, well it’s odd. I did rework some of “Land of Goshen” and took out places that felt cluttered. But it was what I was writing then and it seems right for that story. There were some I was reworking because they weren’t finished. “The Last Fourth Grade” is a new story.

RB: Would you say there was something of a bittersweet tone that runs through these stories?

EC: Yeah. And dark.

RB: I don’t know about dark. Not what comes to mind though there is tragedy and sadness. Is that dark? Dostoyevsky is dark…Jim Crace is dark…

EC: Cormac McCarthy is dark. I find that telling the truth brings in darkness. I try to present something that is true. A difficult thing to do. A writer once gave me some good advice: “Don’t worry whether or not it’s good: worry whether or not it’s true.” People experience pain and they usually come out of it. It’s hard for me not to get them out of it. I see the human spirit as very resilient.

RB: I see these stories as distinctly southern because there is a unique sense of community and human interaction…there isn’t a lot of American narrative, outside the South, allowing for decent and thoughtful interaction between human beings…

EC: I guess, if there is anything I long for it might be, a strong sense of community. I’m working on a novel now that struggles with the violence of kids toward other kids. But at the end the community comes together in a way that is different. It isn’t the answer and it probably won’t change anything — the boys are still going to jail — but there is something…it’s the only hope I can think of. Hearing people lament video game, violence on TV and movies, latch-key kids and divorce, though they are legitimate concerns I wanted to look further. When I did, I saw something about a change in community. I don’t know if that’s southern…I think it could be anywhere. It’s certainly Jewish, isn’t it?

RB: Yeah, sure. It could be anywhere other than the Northeast. And the West Coast. (both laugh)

EC: When I first moved up here I asked my husband, “Where is everybody with the pies?” He informed me, “They’re not coming with the pies.” I said, “Well, I’ll invite everybody over.” So I put invitations in mailboxes of people — I had no idea who they were or how many were in their family. I asked them to RSVP, how many. My husband came home and said, “Oh Betsey, they’re not going to understand this.” They did, of course. Everybody came and we had a great time. We had fried chicken and lasagna. Wonderful neighbors, I love them.

RB: That reminds me of Mark Twain’s notion of a secret kindness in everyone…

EC: I keep wondering why everyone is in such a hurry and the competitiveness is fierce. Who cares who wins? I don’t care who wins…you can win. What’s the big deal Winning never lasts very long. What does last long is the friendships. But there is a loyalty to the friendships. If you have a friend here, you have them forever.

RB: Are you traveling to publicize your book?

EC: I’m not touring this summer, but I’ ve given readings in North Carolina, Georgia and Massachusetts. This fall I go to Tennessee and Indiana. I love to read, though! I’m such a ham! I love to get up in front of an audience. I’m a ham. I love it. I just love to read a story. I doesn’t have to be mine. It could be anybody’s.

RB: Do you read to your students?

EC: Yes, I usually read a couple of stories just to get the language of fiction into their heads.

RB: What do you read to them?

EC: I read one by Fred Chapell and I read one by Max Steele because he wrote it when he was nineteen and it’s full of humor. A German writer Borchardt has a story I’m beginning to incorporate called “The Clock.” At Bennington Seminars I require students to memorize something that they love. I don’t tell them what to memorize, but I give poetry to read or… and they have to memorize it for me. I think if they get language that they love and admire into their bodies, it will change their writing.

RB: How much do you think of your writing career?

EC: It distracts me to think career. I just want to write the next thing. I want to finish this next novel and then begin some stories — stories I’ve already begun. I have ideas for stories, for another novel, I’ve got ideas for a book of essays. I’m trying to get a book of poems published. I would like some time and money to write. I would like to make some money on my work so I wouldn’t have to teach so much.

RB: You could get one of those wonderful Lannan or MacArthur grants…

EC: I don’t ever expect that, but it would be nice.

RB: Those people who have blurbed your work are an impressive choir of writers who may get some foundation’s attention. If Bargains in the Real World became a runaway best seller would you stop teaching?

EC: Oh gosh I said I wanted that but that would be hard…I couldn’t stop. I’d miss teaching.

RB: Do you have a timetable for your next novel?

EC: Yes, I never had a deadline before. It’s taken me five years to write each novel. This one was written in a year. And I thought, “Oh, I can do it faster than that.” It’s finished but I’m probably going to work on it another year. I like to go back and handle every word, again. I want the language, the sound of it, the rhythm that hits the gut, I want that to be right. It takes a lot of work. Not only the story, but the way the language sings.

RB: Is there a title?

EC: No, I don’t know the title yet.

RB: Is that normal for you?

EC: No, I usually know a title. I had about ten titles for this and none of them seemed to be working.

RB: You want to take the same amount of time it took you to write it to now…

EC: Well, I have the summer then I’ll be teaching. I hope to get a big chunk of revision behind me this summer. I may get it ready because I have a lot of stories that I want to write and another novel…the title is The Jealous Wife. I wanted to write that one, but I don’t know if it’s a novel or a novella. Feels like a novella, but I don’t know yet. But I want to get on to new work. That usually helps me to finish, to get the other thing behind me.

RB: Does it seem as if you have a greater backlog of stories now…

EC: More than ever, right.

RB: Any idea why?

EC: I have no idea. I’m just getting ideas like crazy. I’m even dreaming stories, getting up in the middle of the night and writing them down. And one story, I dreamed “whole”: a boy in a wheel chair and a man in prison. And I got the whole story. And right before I woke up a voice in the dream said, “This is from Chekhov.” Now is that pretentious or what? But I’m gonna need a little more help from Anton in order to finish it. (laughs) Actually it’s finished. The whole thing is there, but there are some transitions that need improvement. I’m not sure yet what it’s about. I can’t revise it until I’m sure of that last piece. That’s how I write though — discovering all the way. I resist any kind of agenda. It’s none of my business.

RB: Alan Lightman says that readers complete stories. And Jim Crace says that the writer doesn’t experience the writing the way readers do.

EC: I know. Well, I don’t really know how readers experience my writing. I only know how I experience the writing of others and how I experience putting down on the page my own stories. I know this though: I like fiction that disturbs more than entertains…though it’s nice when both can happen — as in Shakespeare. I like characters who struggle and stumble toward something larger than themselves even if they don’t know they are doing so. In writing or in reading I like to discover something honest. That’s all.


*Eizabeth Cox’s website


21 Jan





Illustration courtesy of Anthony Russo



“As democracy is perfected, the office of president represents, more and more closely, the inner soul of the people. On some great and glorious day the plain folks of the land will reach their heart’s desire at last and the White House will be adorned by a downright moron.”*

Paying attention to the shit stream of information, polls, false news, Facebook hysteria and hand wringing and thankfully, eloquent opining on the forthcoming Bedlamite Reign (which is now at hand) it would seem that a great many of my fellow citizens are dismayed.

Include me in.

HL Mencken’s apparently prescient observation not withstanding, that such a nightmare should come to pass is a shock to the system. As it happens I have
spent some time (when not diverting myself from the impending darkness with literature (textual and filmic) watching the confirmation hearings ( being extremely thankful for Senators Warren, Franken and Saunders) and attending to the small circle of observers who I count on for spirited (and yes, humorous )commentary. That group includes Charles Pierce,, Chris Lehmann, Keith Olbermann, Andy Borowitz, Barbara Ehrenreich, George Scialabba, Rebecca Solnit, Henry Giroux and on occasion, Gail Collins. One wonders what Molly Ivins and Christopher Hitchens would have made of the evolution of neoliberalism.


Theme song for Dark Times

There is also Howard Zinn’s half century of dissidence  which offers many clues as to how he would view current events. One of the principles he held dear is expressed in this articulation of  Edmund Burke’s remark on activism.

History is instructive. And what it suggests to people is that even if they do little things, if they walk on the picket line, if they join a vigil, if they write a letter to their local newspaper. Anything they do, however small, becomes part of a much, much larger sort of flow of energy. And when enough people do enough things, however small they are, then change takes place.


Keith Olbermann has been cvertainly been around the media block. Currently, he is affiliated with GQ ( yes, the slick Conde Nast glossy) and his outpost in cyberspace is entitled The Resistance (which is a good a rubric as any, I suppose). Forgoing his penchant for bombast, Keith recently offered this bulletin to Trump supporters


William Greider, in the Nation in a piece called “Donald Trump’s Presidency Will Be a Fiasco for Donald Trump” mordantly suggests a note of hope;

… If Americans wanted a performer to run the country, why not pick George Clooney? Instead, we got a slightly demented carnival barker with gilded hair and a bloated ego. The fright and gloom are understandable, but I have a hunch Donald Trump has already peaked. He won’t go away, of course—he will be Mr. President—but the air is already seeping out of Trump’s balloon. The president-elect has amassed a huge inventory of dubious promises, and I expect this powerhouse of American politics to get smaller and less influential as the broken promises pile up…

…his governing vision, it was usually limited to 140 characters. His longer speeches, if you listen closely, are always about the same subject—the greater glory of Donald Trump. We still don’t know how much Trump knows about governing. Or how much he cares…





The Fortiefifth President of the United States


…President-elect Trump doesn’t seem to understand that governing is a team sport. It requires complicated cooperation and fluid policy arguments. Small details produce awesome differences. In other words, for Trump, it’s boring. Trump is a big-picture guy who treats the politics of governing like it’s high-stakes mud wrestling. And it’s all about him. He shows little interest in or knowledge of policy specifics and spews gratuitous scorn and ridicule on his opponents…

…Now he is to be our president, and Trump’s “magical realism” is about to collide with the hard earth of mortal politics. The president-elect and his staffers are already busy trying to distance themselves from some of his more explosive promises, hoping they get forgotten in the excitement of a new party’s taking power….


Rebecca Solnit in the London Review of books (From ‘Lying to Leering”:

Trump was the candidate so weak that his victory needed the disenfranchisement of millions of voters of colour, the end of the Voting Rights Act, a long-running right-wing campaign to make Clinton’s use of a private email server, surely the dullest and most uneventful scandal in history, an epic crime and the late intervention, with apparent intent to sabotage, of the FBI director James Comey. We found out via Comey’s outrageous gambit that it is more damaging to be a woman who has an aide who has an estranged husband who is a creep than actually to be a predator who has been charged by more than a dozen women with groping and sexual assault.

The pride of Providence Rhode Island Henry Giroux warns (warning Henry uses big words explicating a dense theory of pedagogy —he is nonetheless worth reading)

The United States stands at the endpoint of a long series of attacks on democracy, and the choices faced by the American public today point to the divide between those who are committed to democracy and those who are not. Debates over whether Donald Trump was a fascist or Hillary Clinton was a right-wing warmonger and tool of Wall Street were a tactical diversion. The real questions that should have been debated include: What measures could have been taken to prevent the United States from sliding further into a distinctive form of authoritarianism? And what could have been done to imagine a mode of civic courage and militant hope needed to enable the promise of a radical democracy? Such questions take on a significant urgency in light of the election of Donald Trump to the presidency. Under such circumstances, not only is the public in peril, it is on the brink of collapse as the economic, political, and cultural institutions necessary for democracy to survive are being aggressively undermined. As Robert Kuttner observes:

“It is hard to contemplate the new administration without experiencing alarm bordering on despair: Alarm about the risks of war, the fate of constitutional democracy, the devastation of a century of social progress. Trump’s populism was a total fraud. Every single Trump appointment has come from the pool of far-right conservatives, crackpots, and billionaire kleptocrats. More alarming still is the man himself – his vanity, impulsivity, and willful ignorance, combined with an intuitive genius as a demagogue. A petulant fifth-grader with nuclear weapons will now control the awesome power of the U.S. government. One has to nourish the hope that Trump can yet be contained. Above all, that will take passionate and strategic engagement, not just to resist but to win, to discredit him and get him out of office while this is still a democracy. We can feel sick at heart – we would be fools not to – but despair is not an option.”[1]

Trump’s willingness to rely upon openly fascist elements prefigures the emergence of an American style mode of authoritarianism that threatens to further foreclose venues for social justice and civil rights. The need for resistance has become urgent. The struggle is not simply over specific institutions such as higher education or so-called democratic procedures such as the validity of elections but over what it means to get to the root of the problems facing the United States. At the heart of such a movement is the need to draw more people into subversive actions modeled after the militancy of the labour strikes of the 1930s, the civil rights movements of the 1950s and the struggle for participatory democracy by the New Left in the 1960s while building upon the strategies and successes of the more recent movements for economic, social and environmental justice such as Black Lives Matter and Our Revolution. At the same time, there is a need to reclaim the radical imagination and to infuse it with a spirited battle for an independent politics that regards a radical democracy as part of a never-ending struggle.


Women’s March 22 January 2017

I could, of course, go on. Hopefully  you have overcome your despair (to which more than a few of my acquaintances have succumbed )and availed your self of useful social media and serious activist organizations to contribute to  coalescing resistance, Otherwise, to quote Edmund Burke:

Nobody made a greater mistake than he who did nothing because he could do only a little.

Power to the Peaceful

  • HL Mencken

Remembering Benjamin Cavell/ Or Burying the Hed

20 Jan


Previously, you could not number me among the legions of admirers of the AMC series Breaking Bad or lead actor Bryan Cranston— a judgment I have now altered due to his portrayal of black-listed screen writer Dalton Trumbo in the eponymously entitled film, Trumbo. Cranston’s assumption of various key roles (creator, producer, director, actor) has edged the applause meter even higher with the new Amazon (10 episodes) series, Sneaky Pete , featuring a cast including three of my favorite actors, the (really) amazing Margret Martingale , quicksilver Marin Ireland (see her in 28 Rooms) and the always dependable Peter Gerety— which would have been a Royal straight flush if Melissa Leo and Ving Rhames were included in the ensemble

Giovanni Ribisi plays the lead, Marius Josipovic aka Peter Murphy as a pathological confidence man, a profession  is rife wth comedic possibilities as well as uncommon narratives ( except to the practitioners, who have a glossary of terms attached to their heir craft’S various grifts and cons)

Marius , released from a 3-year stint, is informed by his brother that thug who triggered the events leading to Marius’s incarceration is looking for him. Thus his initial dodge finds places him in Bridgeport Connecticut insinuating himself into a family whose failing business is a bail bonds agency. Havoc and merriment result with a minimal body count.

The second leg of an entertaining series after skilled thespians is, of course, the writing.And as it turned out ,in scanning the credits t0 discover who to credit for the good story telling, I  came across Ben Cavell’s, credits for his various contributions. Now followers of another well-regarded crime series, Justified, might recognize the name as  he had a hand in that shows 6 successful seasons.



However I am familiar with through the unlikely;y arena of literature— having ‘conversated’ with him in 2003 upon the occasion of his short story collection,Rumble, Young Man, Rumble. You literary types may be interested in reading that chat, which is accessible at Identity Theory.* Here’s a sampling—

BC: When I finish a story that is going to work it looks pretty finished. I really revise as I go along. Some guys just spout for a while and then have twenty-seven different drafts. But I don’t. It takes me a long time to make any progress, but I really keep going back over sentences and paragraphs and massage them as I am going. When you get to the end of something you both have a better sense of how the whole should look and also I have heard a couple of people say this and I really think it’s true, even though it’s a short story. You are a better writer at the end. Anything that you write, that works, makes you a better writer, and therefore you are a better writer at the end of a twenty-page story than you were at the beginning. Maybe it’s barely perceptible, but a matter of smaller degree. But it matters. Schumann or someone said, “If I don’t practice one day, I know. If I don’t practice two days, my friends know. If I don’t practice three days everybody knows.” Maybe someone who wasn’t me wouldn’t be able to see the difference just in a short story, but I can. It bothers me if the beginning is not up to the end. So in order to really finish a story I have to go back and make sure.

RB: So you dropped a story that you felt was repetitive?

BC: Richard Price said that the stories are sometimes manic. I think that’s not a bad description. I think there is a balance between the manic stories and stories like “The Ropes.”

RB: I only see one of them as something I would call ‘manic’, which was the first one (“Balls, Balls, Balls”). The others didn’t seem to be feverish and hyperactive.

BC: “Evolution” may be to some extent.

RB: Is that the one about the guys who are going to kill the girl friend’s father?

BC: Yeah.

RB: That’s haunted by an inherited insanity. Anyway I think of “manic” as describing tempo, not a mind set.

BC: I guess I am using it to mean both. Maybe that word isn’t as good as I think it is. Somehow it was important to me because some of these stories are restrained—it’s hard to say what the difference is. If we use “Balls, Balls, Balls” and “Evolution” as one kind of story and “The Ropes” as another, I wanted there to be a balance between those kinds of stories. And so the last story [that was not included] made the collection veer too much toward “Balls, Balls, Balls.” I don’t want to be that kind of writer.

RB: You’re clear on how you think the reader is going to react to the stories. Your characterization of the stories may be different than what readers get out of them. Having said that, I understand you to be saying you labored over the stories, their sequence and their classification.

BC: Yeah, I meant for this collection to be read in sequence. I know people jump around in a short story collection, and I do it too. I want the stories to exist on their own…

RB: Perhaps you should have included a set of instructions….


Okay, so I buried the led…



¡No Pasarán!

16 Jan

photo Mikhail Koltsov

Nobody made a greater mistake than he who did nothing because he could do only a little.

Edmund Burke


Apparently not only the women of this country are embarking on a campaign of resistance to the forthcoming reign of  The Bedlamite and his lickspittle apologists. Around the country the very people increasingly marginalized by the juggernaut of globalized capitalism, ie writers and poets and journalists, have formed a loose confederation entitled Writers Resist*

In Boston, an overflow crowd came to the Boston Public Library and was fêted with a rich and diverse selection of readings intended to illuminate the crisis that so many people feel is at hand. You can read about the program in the papers**

I should not let it be unsaid that I was moved and inspired by many of readings (especially young high school student from Lynn MA, Michelle Garcia) Needless to say there were there few strains of humor which is why I  enjoyed this poem by Seattle’s Elisa Chavez:

Revenge, by Elisa Chavez

Since you mention it, I think I will start that race war.

I could’ve swung either way? But now I’m definitely spending
the next 4 years converting your daughters to lesbianism;
I’m gonna eat all your guns. Swallow them lock stock and barrel
and spit bullet casings onto the dinner table;

I’ll give birth to an army of mixed-race babies.
With fathers from every continent and genders to outnumber the stars,
my legion of multiracial babies will be intersectional as fuck
and your swastikas will not be enough to save you,

because real talk, you didn’t stop the future from coming.
You just delayed our coronation.
We have the same deviant haircuts we had yesterday;
we are still getting gay-married like nobody’s business
because it’s still nobody’s business;
there’s a Muslim kid in Kansas who has already written the schematic
for the robot that will steal your job in manufacturing,
and that robot? Will also be gay, so get used to it:

we didn’t manifest the mountain by speaking its name,
the buildings here are not on your side just because
you make them spray-painted accomplices.
These walls do not have genders and they all think you suck.
Even the earth found common cause with us
the way you trample us both,

oh yeah: there will be signs, and rainbow-colored drum circles,
and folks arguing ideology until even I want to punch them
but I won’t, because they’re my family,
in that blood-of-the-covenant sense.
If you’ve never loved someone like that
you cannot outwaltz us, we have all the good dancers anyway.

I’ll confess I don’t know if I’m alive right now;
I haven’t heard my heart beat in days,
I keep holding my breath for the moment the plane goes down
and I have to save enough oxygen to get my friends through.

But I finally found the argument against suicide and it’s us.
We’re the effigies that haunt America’s nights harder
the longer they spend burning us,
we are scaring the shit out of people by spreading,
by refusing to die: what are we but a fire?
We know everything we do is so the kids after us
will be able to follow something towards safety;
what can I call us but lighthouse,

of course I’m terrified. Of course I’m a shroud.
And of course it’s not fair but rest assured,
anxious America, you brought your fists to a glitter fight.
This is a taco truck rally and all you have is cole slaw.
You cannot deport our minds; we won’t
hold funerals for our potential. We have always been
what makes America great.

So, given the encroaching nightmare you can expect the resistence to continue…stay tuned