Friday, July 29, 2011

A Gun at the Tie Dye Grill

The three of us ate lunch at the Tie Dye Grill on Tuesday afternoon before I went to work, and I came home all set to write this long, scathing rant against guns and Republicans because I observed the owner of the Tie Dye Grill carrying a visible firearm tucked into the waistband of his jeans…but I didn’t have time to finish writing it before I went to work, and then later I lost the fire in the belly I would have needed to see it through to the end. And what would be the point? Ordinary Hoosiers loves them some guns, and that apparently extends even to the people who operate an establishment that trades on the Sixties theme of peace and love. (And yes, I know that a restaurant’s theme is just part of its shtick, but the irony’s sort of rich, isn’t it?) I didn’t take the time to speak to the owner and ask why he felt compelled to carry his firearm openly while working in the kitchen of his restaurant, so I don’t know if he felt he needed to be packing heat in order to feel safe in his own restaurant. I hope that’s not the case, but it doesn’t really matter. I won’t be spending any more of my money there, and I sure as hell won’t be taking Jackson back there. I’m never going to win any Father of the Year awards, but the least I can do is limit Jackson’s exposure to Republicans and the right-wing gun nuts who pull their strings.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Spending Twelve Bucks on a Magazine

Literary magazines blur the line between magazine and book to the point that such a line pretty much ceases to exist. You think of most magazines as relatively thin, relatively tall, and stapled; they come out every one to eight weeks. Literary journals are perfect-bound, often very thick, and usually contain almost no pictures. Like magazines, they come out regularly (though not as often); and like books, they contain a great deal of writing and often cost quite a bit. I recently came across something called H.O.W. Journal on a trip to Barnes & Noble after work one evening.

It was twelve bucks, so I put it right back down. So was something called upstreet, which I also put back down. In fairness, standing there in the store, upstreet looked more interesting than H.O.W. Journal. Barnes & Noble has recently made changes to their literary magazine selection. They rearranged the magazine racks (at the Clearwater Crossing store) and dramatically reduced the number of lit magazines they carry (at both Clearwater Crossing and Greenwood Park Mall)—though they do seem to have added Poetry, at both stores. They used to carry Zone 3, published by Austin Peay State University, but they don’t seem to anymore. Zone 3 is only five bucks a copy. They also used to carry The Normal School, a relatively new journal that also only costs five bucks. A number of other journals, with price tags in the less-than-$10 neighborhood, have also disappeared.

But anyway, back to H.O.W. Journal and its twelve dollar price tag. There is sometimes a way around those hefty prices if you just want to get a taste for what a journal publishes but don’t want to commit to a whole issue. Oftentimes, they will have part of their current issue available for download from the website. Other times, they have other information—such as details of their current fiction contest—that will change completely the way you’ve been thinking about their product. I’ve entered the occasional fiction contest over the years; and since I’m not made of money, I tend to prefer the ones that have relatively low reading fees and which offer a sample issue or one-year subscription to the journal as part of the entry fee. H.O.W. Journal wants $20 for the reading fee, and does not offer a sample issue or subscription.

For me, though, they offer something way better. Mary Gaitskill sits on the board of the journal, and she is the one judging the fiction contest. I came across her name in a profile article in Poets & Writers awhile back, and she’s been on the ol’ radar ever since. Her fiction tends toward the transgressive, which I like; and the language of her interviews tends toward the salty, which I also like. Breaking taboos is one of the best ways to drive things out into the open and advance humankind a little closer to the ideal of the extermination of conservative thought.

I bought a copy of the journal, of course. They say you’re supposed to get an idea of what a journal publishes before you submit to it or enter a contest. With no samples to look at online, I had to buy the journal—because I knew I was going to enter the contest. Even if I don’t win, Mary Gaitskill will have read my work. That’s worth the twenty bucks all by itself. (Also, I will have accomplished part of what I wanted to accomplish this year, which was to submit to short story contests during the second half of this year—after completing the current draft of the phantom novel I have been working on.) I’m about halfway through the copy of the journal that I bought, and I have really enjoyed the stories I have read so far. To a degree, they are all somewhat transgressive—not a one has been afraid to drop an F-bomb, and several of them have dealt with sexual subjects, either directly or indirectly.

I don’t necessarily think F-bombs and sex are necessary in all stories, but I feel reassured when I see them in print journals. That generally means that there no limits—or very few limits—when it comes to the kind of work you can submit to such a journal. Even if I have no plans to break them, I don’t like limits when it comes to creative work. When you put limits on submissions and contest entries, I sort of wonder why you bothered to get into the business of literature in the first place. Literature has no limit. You can’t put a fence around your imagination and expect to do good work—and no one should expect that of you, least of all the people who claim to be attempting to advance literature.

I feel like I am in a better place as a writer and reader because I accidentally happened upon this particular journal during a random stop in at Barnes & Noble one night after work. If the journal had existed only on the magic Internets, I probably would never have run across it; likewise, if the bookstore I went to (now that the good ones in the city have closed) had not been carrying this particular issue of the journal, I probably would never have run across it. These are the kinds of happy little accidents that make bookstores so necessary. They are the kinds of things I hope are happening to other people and that I hope keep people other than just myself going into bookstores—bricks and mortar physical bookstore—on a regular basis.

(I will update this later, with links and a few more sentences about a David Hoppe NUVO article from back in April, when the River Crossing Borders was going away. I have to sign off for the moment because Amy and I have the rare opportunity to go out on a date.)

Midnight in Paris

Woody Allen has been churning out roughly one movie a year for the last 143 years, and he shows no signs of slowing down. I don’t imagine that very many people are going to be swayed by the news that this is his best-reviewed movie in many years. Some might find themselves slightly less disinterested when they learn that Allen himself is not in this particular movie. Others will see it without knowing anything about it other than that it is the new Woody Allen movie—because for some people, Woody Allen can do no wrong. I loved it because it’s steeped in literature and art, and those things appeal to me. They don’t appeal to everyone. So what if it’s the best movie Allen has done since Husbands and Wives…what does that even mean? You know? It’s crazy!

This is the story of Gil (Owen Wilson, in the role played so often in the past by Woody Allen), the accidental tourist, as it were, who is in Paris with his fiancée and her pretentious, elitist parents (who support the retarded Tea Party, of course!). He’s a frustrated writer who is trying to escape what he sees as the tedium of screenwriting for the loftier goal of being a novelist; and during a somewhat drunken walk through the streets of Paris one night (while his fiancée is off dancing with another pretentious couple), just as the clock strikes midnight, a car stops along the street where he is walking—and the people inside beckon him to join them.

The people inside the car are Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald, and they take Gil with them to a party where Gil is introduced to Ernest Hemingway, who suggests that Gil show his manuscript to Gertrude Stein to get her take on it, since she has always been honest with Hemingway’s work. At Stein’s house, Gil meets and starts to fall in love with Adriana, Pablo Picasso’s mistress. Claiming writer’s prerogative, he skips out on activities with his fiancée and her family each night and goes to meet the car that will whisk him away to his new friends from 1920s Paris. Eventually Gil rewrites part of his novel and shows it to Stein again, who says he is on the right track. He winds up taking a walk with Adriana one night and going back even further in time, to the Belle Époque, Adriana’s idea of the golden age of Paris. Gil is momentarily floored by the idea that someone from the Jazz Age could possibly think that any other time in history would be a better time to have lived in; and then he begins to understand the subtle shadings that separate idealism from realism.

Like a lot of recent Woody Allen movies, there isn’t a lot of subtext here. Allen plays with the idea that life would be much grander if we could simply zip back in time to the period when we would have liked to live, but by the end he steers Gil toward the somewhat melancholic understanding that most people wouldn’t be any happier in any other time and place than the one they currently occupy. He also steers Gil toward a girl whose interests more closely align with his own than did those of his fiancée (with whom he breaks up in a scene that descends only slightly into the turgid morass of fatalism that sometimes tails Allen’s characters like weepy shadows).

At this point you might be thinking that I’m giving away the store, and in a way you would be correct; but the underpinnings of this story are standard rom-com stuff, with a small twist: the nice guy winds up with what might be the right girl (though not—and this is the twist—what might be the ideal girl), and he comes to understand himself and life a little bit better along the way. The film adds a dose of realism, too, by making the Republicans look, sound, and behave like idiots—just like they do in real life!

This is not one of those movies where the point is to puzzle out the ending or decipher the mystifying symbolism. Since Allen’s working thesis is that wishing for a different life is an unrealistic fantasy, he turns most of the film into an unrealistic fantasy and lets his main character loose in it in order to test the hypothesis. Some of the characters, such as Hemingway and Dalí, are drawn with broad strokes as caricatures (Hemingway, especially); some are drawn more closely to their historical selves, like Josephine Baker and Gertrude Stein; and some are just barely hinted at, like Buñuel and (more’s the pity, for me anyway) T.S. Eliot. The fun lies in watching the actors play up the idiosyncracies of these artists and writers—and there’s a lot of that fun to be had.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Deep Thoughts #61

I know that tens of millions of people did, but it’s always disheartening to find concrete proof that anyone actually voted for Dubya twice.

Friday, July 08, 2011

Deep Thoughts #60

I’m indifferent to Facebook; I don’t care what those I went to high school with are doing now. But this is almost enough to make me sign up.

Tuesday, July 05, 2011

Deep Thoughts #59 - Special Topical Fake Three-Day Weekend Edition

The Captain America movie will have its titled changed in some countries; so when will the conservatives start drooling over this non-issue?