Sunday, November 30, 2008

Charlie Baxter

"For the last three hundred years or so, prose writers have, from time to time, glanced over in the direction of the poets for guidance in certain matters of life and writing. Contemplating the lives of poets, however, is a sobering activity. It often seems as if poets have extracted pity and terror from their work so that they could have a closer firsthand experience of these emotions in their own lives...Prose writers, however, are no better. ...Fiction writers cluster in the unlit corners of the room, silently observing everybody, including the poets, who are usually having a fine time in the center spotlight, making a spectacle of themselves as they eat the popcorn and drink the beer and gossip about other poets..."

from Charlie Baxter's essay "Rhyming Action" in Burning Down The House, 1997.


Saturday, November 29, 2008

Elizabeth Zimmerman 1910-1999

"Really, all you need to become a good knitter are wool, needles, hands, and a slightly-below intelligence. Of course, superior intelligence, such as yours and mine, is an advantage."
-Elizabeth Zimmerman, Knitter's Almanac, 1974, 1981, Schoolhouse Press.

Knitting Without Tears
is a good introduction to Elizabeth Zimmerman's knitting techniques and philosophy. The title says it all.


Friday, November 28, 2008

Cultured Purls

Cultured Purls is my fav yarn parlor in the Seattle area. Yes, the names of yarn stores are like the names of hairdressing salons, punny and groan-inducing. CP is having a 15% off sale this Friday - Sunday, and I am low on yarn. Actually low. Really. I've been knitting my stash for so long that when I went to find something for public knitting for Thanksgiving yesterday, I had to make a bag of mixed wools. Now I have enough wool for two more pairs of socks.

Public knitting means that I won't be able to refer to my notes, or turn the heel of a sock, or do Kitchener, or anything requiring real brain power. Really, I need a scarf project. But I'm committed to socks. I've finished 10 pairs so far, not including the nice pair I gave away to a good friend. My goal is to replace all my thick wool socks from LLBean with my own hand-knitted socks.

And now I find out that tomorrow I will be going to a new yarn parlor in West Seattle. Yippee! Stay tuned, and sharpen up those dpns (double pointed needles.)

Knitting, for those of you not afflicted, is therapy. And then you also have an end product, as a bonus. But it is the act of knitting, the soothing creating of a series of interlocked knots, that is the goal. The socks or hat or scarf or vest or sweater or garage cosy? that's the bonus.


Thursday, November 27, 2008

Oscar Wilde 1854-1900

"Talking to an admirer of Dickens, Wilde moved his hearer almost to tears by the eloquence of his enthusiasm for the master's powers. And then Wilde concluded, 'One would have to have a heart of stone to read the death of Little Nell without laughing."

from The Little, Brown Book of Anecdotes, ed by Clifton Fadiman, 1985.

However, I have always heard the above as "It takes a heart of stone not to laugh at the death of Little Nell." I so much prefer this version that I am certain it is correct. Or if it isn't, it should be. I do not doubt Oscar, but Clifton.


Tuesday, November 25, 2008

The Hunting of the Snark

'Just the place for a Snark!' the Bellman cried,
As he landed his crew with care;
Supporting each man on the top of the tide
By a finger entwined in his hair.

'Just the place for a Snark! I have said it twice
That alone should encourage the crew.
Just the place for a Snark! I have said it thrice:
What I tell you three times is true.'

-Lewis Carroll

This seems particularly apt for our current financial crisis, what with the banks using their (our) bailout money to buy other banks, the CEOs of Big Car flying their separate private jets to DC, and the general air of terror and confusion and hysteria. Yes, I know that we must not let these huge corporations die, or we will all end up in tiny, cold flames, but I hope there is something left by January 20th.


Saturday, November 22, 2008

Anthony Lane

Anthony Lane on Forrest Gump: "This movie is so insistently heartwarming that it chilled me to the marrow."

on Tom and Viv: "Tom and Viv is based on Michael Hastings's stage play, which, in turn, was based on almost thing at all, apart from a smattering of blind prejudice and a thick ear for English verse, although it purported to tell the story of the poet's first marriage. The film plods politely through this distressing tale...we get...her parents trying to decide which is worse - a daughter who is diagnosed as suffering from 'moral insanity,' or a son-on-law without even the common decency to write in heroic couplets..."

on Mrs. Parker and the Vicious Circle: " more fun than Tom and Viv, but only in the sense that a clean razor is more fun than a rusty one...


Thursday, November 20, 2008

David Foster Wallace 1962-2008

"The truth will set you free. But not until it is finished with you."
-David Foster Wallace

I'm not sure where this quote comes from. I've just started reading Consider the Lobster so if it's in there, I'll let you know. I'm still miserable that DFW is dead. I don't blame him for one single sparking moment, but I'm heartsick nonetheless.


Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Billy Wilder 1906-2002

"Wilder was sent to Berlin at the end of World War II to help reestablish the German entertainment industry. Having authorized the resumption of the Oberammergau Passion Play, he was asked if a certain actor, a known supporter of the Nazis, could reassume the role of Christ, which he had played before the war. 'Certainly,' replied Wilder, 'if you use real nails.'"

from The Little, Brown Book of Anecdotes, ed by Clifton Fadiman, 1985.


Monday, November 17, 2008

Muriel Rukeyser

Muriel Rukeyser's famous quotation is variously recorded as

"The world is not made of molecules, the world is made of stories."


"The universe is made of stories, not atoms."


Sunday, November 16, 2008


I like thin crust pizza, with minimal toppings. In Portland I could bike to Apizza Scholls on Hawthorne, thereby justifying my pizza-holicism with exercise. But now in Seattle, I am asea in a wash of thick crust, gooey, chunky junk pizza. Oh, wait, there is Tutta Bella in Columbia City. Recommended to me by my pal Peter Reinhart. Peter has his own pizzeria in Charlotte, NC called Pie Town.

Which brings me to Peter's fine book American Pie. I do not have a fancy oven, but I do have a good recipe for regular bread, and a method which involves the refrigerator, and very little work. So I'm planning and scheming on how to incorporate Peter's excellent advice and instruction on proper pizza techniques into my own method. Stay tuned for the results.

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Friday, November 14, 2008

Like and As - Your Grammar Girl on patrol

I hereby quote directly from Strunk & White, The Elements of Style, 1979, pp. 51-51)

"Like. Not to be used for the conjunction as. Like govern nouns and pronouns; before phrases and clauses the equivalent word is as.

...Like has long been misused by the illiterate; lately it has been taken up by the knowing and the well-informed, who find it catchy, or liberating, and who use it as though they were slumming."

This misuse is current. Reprehensible. Unvaryingly wrong-o. Hence my dismay and trepidation at the title for a workshop on teaching writing to children entitled: How to Teach Like I Do" offered locally. Hmmmm. I will investigate, and report back, my cherubs.


Thursday, November 13, 2008

Oregon Book Awards 2008

The Oregon Book Awards were announced November 9th.

KEN KESEY AWARD FOR FICTION: Ehud Havazelet, Bearing the Body

SARAH WINNEMUCCA AWARD FOR CREATIVE NONFICTION: Lauren Kessler, Dancing with Rose: Finding Life in the Land of Alzheimer's

FRANCES FULLER VICTOR AWARD FOR GENERAL NONFICTION: Steven W. Bender of Portland, One Night in America: Robert Kennedy, Cesar Chavez, and the Dream of Dignity

STAFFORD/HALL AWARD FOR POETRY: Penelope Scambly Schott, A Is for Anne: Mistress Hutchinson Disturbs the Commonwealth

ANGUS L. BOWMER AWARD FOR DRAMA: Steve Patterson, Lost Wavelengths

LESLIE BRADSHAW AWARD FOR YOUNG ADULT LITERATURE: A tie between The Rules for Hearts by Sara Ryan and A Taste for Rabbit by Linda Zuckerman

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Wednesday, November 12, 2008

P.G. Wodehouse

"I know I was writing stories when I was five. I don't know what I did before that...just loafed, I suppose." P.G. Wodehouse

I hardly know which book to put here. If you are not familiar with Wodehouse, instead of starting with the Jeeves stories, you might try Lord Emsworth. Wodehouse is a minor writer, yes, but a great minor writer, and a master of his craft. Here's another of my favorite lines: "If he had a mind, there was something on it." I think this is about Lord Emsworth, but cannot be sure. If you know, please let me know.


Tuesday, November 11, 2008

the long view from Annie Dillard

"It takes years to write a book--between two and ten years...Out of a human population on earth of four and a half billion, perhaps twenty people can write a book in a year. Some people lift cars, too. Some people enter week-long sled-dog races, go over Niagara Falls in barrels, fly planes through the Arc de Triomphe. Some people feel no pain at childbirth. Some people eat cars. There is no call to take human extremes as norms."
-Annie Dillard, The Writing Life (1989)


Monday, November 10, 2008

dictionary delight

paleomnesia n. good memory for events of the far past.

icosian adj. of or relating to twenty.

hypermimia n. excessive gesticulating while talking.

from Mrs. Byrne's Dictionary of Unusual, Obscure, and Preposterous Words, by Josefia Heifetz Byrne.

(My edition is the 1990 paperback. A tip of the rainhat to those who can use all three of the above in a sentence.)


Sunday, November 09, 2008

Charles Baxter to Jane Austen

Regular readers of this blog will know (hi out there, you two, nice to see you) that I studied with Charlie Baxter in 2007. This afternoon I picked up his book The Art of Subtext: Beyond Plot and it fell open (okay, okay, I browsed around a bit) to the following passage: "...there's nothing like a good, usable obssession to provide an interesting story." (p. 38.)

I realize that the novels and stories I like the best resound with obsession. My own, and those of other writers. Flannery O'Connor, Penelope Fitzgerald, A.S. Byatt, Shirley Hazzard, Marcel Proust.

And then I got to thinking about Jane Austen, for many years my favorite author, and one I used to come back to again and again. Not so much lately. Certainly Emma is in the grips of an obsession, in her refined way. And Fanny Price and, of course, Anne Elliot. Elinor, check. I know, it's hard to put that supremely Freudian word obsession next to Miss Austen, but her books are all about sex and money. Except for the ones which are about money and sex.

So I think I may re-read Austen next. But which one?

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Saturday, November 08, 2008


I lugged myself out of bed and into the dark and rainy morning to stand in an egg line. Yes, I am one of those. An egg addict. Just say no, because once you've tasted a soft-boiled egg from a pastured hen, there is no going back. My source is the Skagit River Ranch stand at the University District Farmer's Market. In order to get the eggs, one must be at the market when it opens, at 9am. I do not live nearby, hence the setting of the alarm last night, and when it rang, the early morning reassessment of my life and my desire, no, my need for these eggs.

I saw a long line. I got at the end of the long line and asked the goretex couple ahead of me, "Is this the egg line?" Both turned and grinned at me and we started talking food. They too are egg-driven. He works in the restaurant biz, and did not go to bed until 2am. She is going to cook her first ever Thanksgiving turkey. I told them about rendering lard. I was afraid they were vegetarians, but they leaned in, the rain pouring down all around us, as I described how I had used the crockpot. The man in front of them leaned in as well. I am not alone. We are all egg-centrics, locavores, serious about the taste of our food.

I had thought, when I parked the car and made my way down the sidewalk toward the market, that the heavy rain would thin the crowds. Not bloody likely. Those booths with large tents did the best business. After I had the eggs safely in my bag, I bought a tree of brussels sprouts, a bunch of carrots with tops, and beets with greens attached. I will saute the beet greens with garlic and finish with vinegar. Supper. The eggs, well, those will be soft-boiled, shelled, and sprinkled with salt and fresh cracked pepper. I will make crisply buttered toast. Ah, breakfast tomorrow morning will be good.


Friday, November 07, 2008

The Hollywood Librarian

There's a new film I'd like to see, but it's not on Netflix or at the local library. The film is The Hollywood Librarian and yes, I've requested that the King County Library system purchase a copy. Amazon doesn't have it either. But it exists.

"Brilliant! I had no idea it would be so moving. You'll laugh. You'll weep. Then you'll bow your head and give thanks for what you now realize is the last, best hope of democracy - your librarian."

~Alison Bechdel,
author of Fun Home
Time Magazine’s
Best Book of 2006


Thursday, November 06, 2008

The Chipmunk by Ogden Nash


My friends all know that I am shy,
But the chipmunk is twice as shy as I.
He moves with flickering indecision
Like stripes across the television.
He's like the shadow of a cloud,
Or Emily Dickinson read aloud.
Yet his ultimate purpose is obvious, very:
To get back to his chipmonastery.


Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Abigail Adams 1744-1818

"It is not in the still calm of life, or the repose of a pacific station, that great characters are formed...The habits of a vigorous mind are formed in contending with difficulties. All history will convince you of this, and that wisdom and penetration are the fruit of experience, not the lessons of retirement and leisure. Great necessities call out great virtues."
-Abigail Adams, letter to her son, John Quincy Adams, 1780.

I am so heartened by the landslide victory of President-elect Barack Obama last night. And that he quoted Lincoln seemed particularly wise.

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Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Gracie Allen 1895-1964

"I'm the candidate who forgot to take off her hat before she threw it in the ring."

-Gracie Allen, How to Become President (1940)


Monday, November 03, 2008

Takin' It Back with Barack, Jack

I bumped into this swell swing video on my pal Peter Langston's website.

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Possession by A.S. Byatt

I first read Possession when it came out in 1990. Recently I have begun re-reading it. I blush to confess that at that first reading eighteen years ago, I skipped most of the internal poems between the lovers in the story-within-the-story. What a dolt. Those back and forth poems make the passion, the possession clear. This is a story of the love of words, love of poetry, love of stories told back and forth. This time through I read slowly, savoring all the levels of the story. Ah, Byatt is a master at her craft. In a just world, she would win the Nobel.

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Saturday, November 01, 2008

VoiceCatcher 3 due out November 5th

The third edition of VoiceCatcher will be in stores on November 5th, with readings at Wordstock on November 8th and Powells on November 17.

I have a short story in this collection entitled "Cowboy Boots."

(I'd include a link here, but Amazon has only the two previous editions. I'll check back and update when Number Three is listed.)

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