Wednesday, November 27, 2019

Vermont, wood, silver lining

Earlier this year I joined ANUFF Wood, a loose group of people in Windham County (VT) who turn up at each other's houses to cut/split/stack firewood.  The idea is roughly that if you turn up for 4 or 5 you can ask them to come to you, though I don't think this is very strictly enforced, and the core members seem to turn up for many more sessions than they possibly "redeem."

I've been to a fair number (wd go to more if I had a car), and recently asked the organizer, Michael, whether it might be possible to have three dying beech trees at the edge of my clearing felled etc.  Someone had told me years ago that I should have them down, and had then left the business, and each year I had meant to do something and left it too late.  And I'm not confident enough of my chain saw skills to fell trees, especially if alone on the hill in a place with no cell phone access.

Michael came about a week ago to have a look, and said the trees were manageable, and a session is now planned for Sunday.  On Monday I managed to reach Mark Russ, a local workman with a pickup truck, who agreed to get some palettes for stacking (for which he thought $10 was a reasonable fee). Today I rode my bike to the supermarket 4 miles up the road to pick up provisions, and when I got home Michael's car turned up in the road - he had decided to fell the trees early to make sure there were no problems.  He headed off to the edge of the clearning.  Meanwhile Mark Russ arrived in his pickup truck with the palettes, courtesy of Ron's Husqvarna.  He said Ron had said he expected to have more palettes and offered to bring more if needed.  We shook hands on this (that is, I did not have change for a $20, and cd definitely use more palettes for other things). 

Mark headed out.  Meanwhile Michael finished felling (or rather dropping) the three trees.  The last, with a wedge in its trunk, refused to fall, so he went out in front to pull at various long branches, which eventually worked. (Timber!)

No one reading this is going to understand - I was so happy!  I had meanwhile received an email from a foreign rights agent at the agency that did not work out, declining to provide a contract template for a deal they had declined to see through on the basis that it was proprietorial.  This is the agency that managed to take over a year to handle paperwork for a French publisher who had been publishing an illegal reissue of Le dernier samouraï - I should have known better than to approach anyone who worked there, because they were all toxic and it had taken months to get maybe 70% of the nastiness out of my system.

So the fabulous thing about ANUFF Wood (ANUFF = A Neighborhood Uniting For Fuel) is that everyone is so generous with their time, so happy to turn up on a weekend morning to help out, and by the end of a couple of hours two or three cords of woods have been stacked.  Something has been ACCOMPLISHED.  Within, maybe, a week or so of the beneficiary putting in a request.  And now someone has actually come to my place and solved a problem!  And the whole thing will be sorted out by Sunday pm!

Of course, from a professional point of view, it would be better if my neighbors took a Not my circus, not my monkey approach to their fellow man, while someone who has actually agreed to represent me is a miraculous of competence and efficiency AND anxious to help.  Also from a professional point of view, it's in some ways a handicap to have Vermonters as a point of comparison when dealing with the biz.  Perhaps I am not really, in the long term, better off knowing that 15 minutes is about the time it takes to drop three trees.  But for now, no, this was the highlight of the year.  It is my substitute for the highlight of yore, which was visiting Best Dentist in the World (Roz Tritton has now retired).

Saturday, November 9, 2019

They warned me

I was recently interviewed by Jeremy Kitchen and Michael Sack for Eye 94 Radio (105.5 FM in Chicago), Lumpen Radio's books and literature program. Shortly before the interview began I got a call from someone at the studio to run through things that should not be said on air (basically various bad words, which would be tricky to bleep out).  This helpful person reminded me that this would be a live show, not a podcast.

If I had been writing my replies for an email interview, for example, I would probably have edited them down for brevity and coherence, but instead (in my memory, at least) I babbled madly on.  I've now been sent a link to a recording; needless to say, I can't bring myself to listen to it.  Still, what's done is done.  YOU can listen to it here.

Wednesday, April 3, 2019

you take paradise, put up a parking lot (John D. MacDonald cover)

Terrific piece by Craig Pittman on John D. MacDonald, the Travis McGee series, and Floridian environmentalism smuggled into the adventures of a knight in tarnished armor:

The more I read, the more fascinated I became. MacDonald’s books weren’t just straight-ahead puzzle mysteries like my grandfather’s Perry Mason books. This author digressed. He quipped. He had a lot to say about a lot of things—particularly about the greed and carelessness driving the bad decisions being made about my state. What he had to say was a revelation to teenage me. I’d spent lots of time hunting and fishing with my dad, as well as camping and canoeing with my Boy Scout troop. Until I read MacDonald, I didn’t realize that the places I’d enjoyed visiting might someday be turned into cul-de-sacs and convenience stores, or that such changes might not be for the best.
My experience with MacDonald’s writing is shared by a lot of my fellow Floridians.
“I read all JDM’s books in my early 20s,” non-fiction author Cynthia Barnett (Rain: A Natural and Cultural History) told me. “My father and grandfather had both read them all and it was a point of inter-generational connection for us. We didn’t agree on many things, but Travis McGee and Florida and rapscallions, we could agree upon.”
The whole thing here.

I read all the McGee books in Jan 2018 (2C2E); it's interesting to me, at least, that both Carl Hiaasen and Lee Child took him as a starting point.  It's interesting that lifestyles that have mass appeal are so scandalous to the people representing the people who dream up these gloriously marketable gigs. Interestingly or not so very, it's seen as dodgy if influencers who promote, as it might be, brand of makeup don't use it, and A Good Thing if they do.

the paranoia of celebrities

If totalitarian regimes greatly restrict public language, pushing people toward coded language but making codes problematic by taking away the shared platforms where they could be unambiguously decoded, then a fraying totalitarian regime where people are bolder with their codes but still lacking the platforms for decoding is doubly problematic.

(Think of a situation where any attempt at alignment, at “clearing up", could constitute an act of transgression in itself, threatening with high costs all participants.)

So while doublespeak and expected complicity were becoming commonplace in the city of my childhood, people were still rightly worried that 1) their codes may be misconstrued, 2) any innocent remark would be interpreted as a code by someone wishing them harm.

Amazing piece on Medium by Anna Gát (Three Prologues to Language), the whole thing here

Sunday, December 30, 2018

adeste fideles

I'm staying with my mother in Silver Spring for a few weeks and have agreed to do an informal event at Politics & Prose down in DC on Sunday, January 6, at 6 pm. 

P&P is at 5015 Connecticut Avenue, NW, which is just by the intersection of Connecticut and Nebraska.  The event will be a sort of get-together downstairs in the Den café - not a formal signing or reading, just a chance to talk about books or whatever else occurs to us.  The link to details on the P&P website is here.

The events coordinator (Jonathan Woollen) and I are also trying to work out a way to distribute largesse.  I am trying to clear books from my mother's garage and guest bedroom - there are foreign editions of The Last Samurai dating back to 2000-2002 (!), books I brought to New York for a residency in 2003 which never managed to get taken back to Europe, books bought at college, books bought as a graduate student, books bought on visits to the US . . . My idea at the moment is that anyone who buys a book at P&P (not necessarily by me) should have a souvenir book for free.  (We may refine this closer to the day.)

I suppose this all does mean I must grapple with updating my website (the horror), but now my mother and I must go to lunch.

Tuesday, February 20, 2018


People who at once start talking 19 to the dozen are exasperating. Just consider those documentary films about animals, in which those young, good-looking commentators say something which doesn't have anything to do with an answer. This is actually meaningless, because things are just being read off and because the spokeswoman has never seen the animal.  This is one of my chief torments.

Gadamer, interviewed by Hans Ulrich Obrist in May 2000 (Interviews 1)

Saturday, December 23, 2017


Many, many months ago I met a reader who commented that I never seemed to write on my blog.  I said all kinds of bad things were happening and I was dealing with difficult people.  He seemed to think I could find something else to write about.  I think if you're struggling to keep your head above water you can't think about anything else.

A long time ago my ex's mother had breast cancer.  That is, it had been in remission and came back. The thing I remember about Norma is that she never talked about it, never complained. 

One problem with dealing with difficult people is that it takes up a lot of energy.  It's hard to force yourself to do more than tackle immediate problems.  But in late summer/early autumn I forced myself to write some applications - one for a fellowship at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study, one for a Stipendium in Berlin for writers in a language other than German, one for a grant from the Society of Authors.

It looks as though I didn't get the stipendium (the announcements were to go out in December).  The Radcliffe fellowships won't be announced until March.  But today, when I came in from doing a load of laundry, I found a letter from the Society of Authors and a cheque - they'd given me a grant which will let me replace my ailing MacBook.  (Its keyboard died in July 2016; I've been nursing it along with an external keyboard every since.)

So that's the good news for the year, because I was wondering what I should do.  I could definitely cut costs by switching to a PC - it's not nearly as worrying if a $300 laptop suddenly has to be replaced. And it's not as though I'm a fan of Macs - I loathe Apple with every fibre of my being.  But it would limit the kinds of book I could write.  I would have to leave all my Mellel documents behind.  I had the feeling that it would be bad to sit down and try to think of a book that did not require X, Y and Z, and talk myself into it. 

So now I don't have to make that decision.  Thank you, Society of Authors!