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It was a bit fraught writing this review of Haywire by Thaddeus Rutkowski for the The Nervous Breakdown seeing as it was ultimately a mixed review (excellent beginning, worth reading just for that) but overall I think it was a good exercise; I’m more used to reviewing movies rather than books. I’m hoping to review more in the future and especially to try my hand at nonfiction next.

How it Feels to be Free


Today is Nina Simone’s birthday and in honor of it here’s a song too apropos of the times.

Wence’s crew


June’s newest assignment was a story about identity theft. She felt bad about how repugnant yet disarming she found some of her sources. (Yet it was like a sorbet after all the charming people she’d been around.) While a sophisticated endeavor, it attracted the congenitally lazy. Being lazy, they did no advance research of the industries they tried to infiltrate, opting to pose as underlings of C-Level executives. Outside of their clandestine circles they took relatively innocent behavior from those outside of them as suspect, presuming someone quite innocuous might just be a master criminal from a different neighborhood, with slightly different procedures, newly revised perhaps. It was merely because the master criminals they knew were righteous, just righteous by the code of that world which sat upside down from the rest.

Langston as Busboy and Poet


Here’s an article I wrote about the Langston Hughes photo cardboard cutout taken from a restaurant and bookstore in DC.

It gave me food for thought about how the romantic day job for creative types causes such conflict within some circles. It would be ideal for everyone to be able to make a living doing exactly what one wants and is good at (in my Utopian idea version of the world) but then for writers what would we have to write about if not for the more interesting career/jobs we take to subsidize our arts?

Here’s a poem I’ll speculate was inspired in part from Hughes’ work in a restaurant:


Sometimes a crumb falls
From the tables of joy,
Sometimes a bone
Is flung.

To some people
Love is given,
To others
Only heaven.

The end of the affair*


In the movie version of Graham Greene’s, The End of the Affair, the heroine asks her lover, whose life with a prayer she’s saved, and thus sworn off in that bargain with God, “Does love end if we don’t see each other?”

“No,” her lover tells her factually, with care, as if lighting a match that will fire a slow-burning candle in church. And with his fuse of solace and sentence, she turns from her lover.

Later, risking a return to him, fate, chance, perhaps the wrath or whim of God, thwarts her, keeps her from her one worldly desire, her true love. Yet as promised, love for her does not really end but merely changes as if from fluid to gas.


“If God exists, why not give us a sign?” he asks after the movie.
“Believing in God is like believing in your parents,” June says.

She tells him she believes that the dead will exist in the universe as dispersed energy.

Del says “If we both died right now I guarantee we’d both end up in the same place.”

“I didn’t mention heaven or how we might get there.” She smiles while a very serious look settles from his brow on down. Up top there are wrinkles as if it’s the mechanism he’s using to control the rest of his face.

*cannabalized another poem of mine for my novel-still-in-progress



“Julia was twenty-six years old. She lived in a hostel with thirty other girls (‘Always in the stink of women! How I hate women!’ she said parenthetically), and she worked, as he had guessed, on the novel-writing machines in the Fiction Department. She enjoyed her work, which consisted chiefly in running and servicing a powerful but tricky electric motor. She was ‘not clever,’ but was fond of using her hands and felt at home with machinery. She could describe the whole process of composing a novel, from the general directive issued by the Planning Committee down to the final touching-up by the Rewrite Squad. But was not interested in the finished product. She ‘didn’t much care for reading,’ she said. Books were just a commodity that had to be produced, like jam or bootlaces.” — Nineteen Eighty-Four by George Orwell

Let the Sunshine In


Never saw any live production of Hair, that hippie-dippie, feel-good, racially-harmonious*, we-are-or-could-be-one (but let’s be real, the Vietnam war is going on) musical, but the ending number from the filmed adaptation directed by Milos Forman (of all people) makes me wish I had, if only to see if it matches its emotional intensity.

*I did flinch at some of the racial representations which seem dated and in the name of progress of the era(s) [play: 1967, film: 1979], probably intentionally provocative.

Treat Williams (of all people) sings, Flesh Failures(Let the Sunshine In), now one of my favorite movie musical interludes rivaling Easy to be Hard, also from the film, winning that particular sing-off because of the genius plot twist compacted into the last few minutes of the movie.

Major spoiler alert: This is the end of the movie and it differs from the play and it is the end, folks, so don’t watch unless you want to reduce its power from the whole.


“Each photograph is read as the private appearance of its referent: the age of Photography corresponds precisely to the explosion of the private into the public, or rather into the creation of a new social value, which is the publicity of the private: the private is consumed as such, publicly (the incessant aggressions of the Press against the privacy of stars and the growing difficulties of legislation to govern them testify to this movement). But since the private is not only one of our goods (falling under the historical laws of property), since it is also the absolutely precious, inalienable site where my image is free (free to abolish itself), as it is the condition of interiority which I believe is identified with my truth, or, if you like, with the Intractable of which I consist, I must, by a necessary resistance, reconstitute the division of public and private: I want to utter interiority without yielding intimacy. ”  – from “Camera Lucida” by Roland Barthes

future book


The rock documentary, I Am Trying to Break Your Heart, improbable as it may seem, has a clue in it about the future of publishing. Music critic, David Fricke, laments the state of the music industry in which one label (Reprise, a Warner subsidiary) drops Wilco from its roster after the band delivers a challenging yet watershed album, Yankee Hotel Foxtrot. After label-less Wilco streams it for their fans on their website, creating such a buzz that it feeds a bidding war, the band finds itself a new label, Nonesuch, another Warner subsidiary. They sold it to Warner twice! Fricke shares an interesting observation about the nature of music itself (while couched in the subtextual language which acknowledges a cutthroat industry that ONLY values commercial success) that could also apply to books:

Holding up a CD, he speaks his peace:

“This is a record. This is something someone will buy…They’ll pay 15, 16 …whatever bucks for it. And that’s cool..but you know what’s encoded in this dopey little disc — you know, that’s what matters. This — the artifact, the actual object — is not. What’s encoded in here, if it’s any good — you know — you’ll hear it and just as — as a.. as a writer, as a fan, as a guy who just listens to music a lot — you know, if you don’t get it…you know, I just think that’s kind of too bad.”

That was back in 2001 or 2002. Nearly ten years later, it’s an observation very few can disagree with in a world where the iPod (and the 10,000 songs it can hold) is ubiquitous. So the record, the cassette, the CD…the book…are all artifacts of the “thing” that actually matters, the art that needs a “delivery system” in these rapidly technologically collapsing days. But it partly gives me pause, for surely, someone is working to create a device to deliver music directly to the part of your brain that processes sound. And perhaps one that will allow words to scroll across your eyes, too. Oh no, Apple!

If you can recall the freedom of first experiencing the untethered technology to play your music then you have to acknowledge that at some point books (those things with paper leaves) will one day be seen as antiques despite their superiority. Once paper falls away (hopefully not entirely), never again will it be possible to have a truly fixed document. The digital — until the next wave of technology — is too easily mutable. Who knows what textbook revisions we are in store for?

With such a Brave New World on the horizon, our present challenges may one day seem paltry. This is a moment when publishers and their allies/nemeses (Amazon, Barnes & Noble, literary agents) are struggling to co-operate and survive yet best one other. The dissonance of that tact will be fruitless since in this economy most customers are blithely unaware of the embattled state of the industry and if they are, must likely be loosing interest in these wars, even less likely to be sympathetic. They want engaging and entertaining books for reasonable prices. If not, there’s the library. Or better yet, HBO.

With new technology, books, along with TV, video games, movies, etc, are in a limbo space where they easily become part of what Henry Jenkins calls “Convergence Culture,” a phenomena where for this moment nearly anyone has the ability to create or re-create works and distribute them, whether on the Internet, via print-on-demand services, or a trip from their desktop to a Kinkos for a quick bind-up job. So with some interested parties epically conflicted, what is interesting to note, is that some customers are also becoming “publishers” and creators. There’s a long tradition of self-published books among niche markets and communities (E. Lynn Harris was a major pioneer). Chapbooks for poets are a burgeoning business. Mom blogs (like my cousin, Dorothy‘s Laundry Can Wait) give way to books. The big news is when an established literary star like John Edgar Wideman breaks from the routine and takes charge of their output. This may be the moment that takes the stigma out of self-publishing, one of the main barriers preventing writers from regularly taking such a route.

Publishers are trying to avoid the mistakes of the music industry and yet…Google wants to convert every book into digital files (current copyright law be damned). If Google gets (or takes) its way publishers may have to quickly embrace the idea of converting every book known to man into an eBook version while consumers are still used to paying for “books”, so at least they and the authors and their heirs may reap some financial reward. Google’s ambitious initiative may extend the life of works to a much wider (and searchable) universe, allowing the collective populace a chance to advance its evolution. Surely young people of the next generation will not have to lose brain space to memorized historical dates or…or anything…with the knowledge of eons of human civilization at their fingertips. And if that’s the case won’t some among them then be able to use that freed up extra intellectual muscle to finding a cure for cancer, solving economic crises, or building a time machine that inevitably someone will use to go back in time and destroy the Google that made it all possible? Well maybe not the last Terminatoresque scenario but the consequences of Google getting its way will be enormous.

This is a moment before readers and audiences will consciously get to choose a winner. After a certain point it will be gone. There are very few horse-drawn carriages, not too many gaslights, and who knows what this is?* I do imagine with tribes, niches, and communities finding each other on the Internet (the water cooler of the world now, word of mouth to the nth degree), people’s tastes narrow and refine to the point that readers will easily find and support whatever suits their tastes without direction from publishers or the media foisting it on them. Most likely this will make for a diverse landscape of art with far fewer mainstream hits. This may be more satisfying for the many more voices that will be subsequently heard and as long as the words survive and the meanings behind them, I suppose that artifact, whatever it is, should not matter.

*for those who do not click, it’s a typewriter eraser.

A Change is Gonna Come