Monday, January 9, 2017

So I've got this podcast, or a third of one, more accurately...

And it's pretty great.

In recognition of this podcast, which if the dates on this blog are any indication, took me the last 5 years to create, I'd like to tell you that we all should have a conversation about writing. In fact on our podcast we recently started a good dialogue. One of our most frequent readers, Anonymous, checked in to ask if I ever "liked" any stories. I wrote a reply. I'm posting it here because I spent a long time on this reply and wanted it to live more than one place on the (In general, I'll get better at this blogging thing because both Nick and Ben are better at it than me and it drives me crazy"

Hey Anonymous!
Dan here. (hey, readers/listeners: MUCH more to come on this questions in the next issue of the WW Newsletter! Sign up on this very site!)
First off, thanks for commenting! That makes us all feel like an ice cold root beer from a glass bottle on a steamy August day at the lake in Minnesota, the lake where you spend as much time shooing away horse flies and cursing the fact that we ever took that land from the natives as you do enjoying the chilly waters that encourage some of your external organs to return to their internal homes. Sweet, cool and satisfying. Thanks, Anonymous.
You know, I DO like some stories! Lots, even. But that's not what Wordsworthing is about, no sir, M-O-O-N that spells what WW is about. There's a great teacher and writer out there, Jo-Ann Mapson ( who challenged us (Ben, Nick and this guy) to get past what we "like" and dive much deeper into the quarks and tongue depressors and cellulose that go into the making of a story, and to try to understand what all those things were doing. And, if we were extra-special-smartly, to adjudicate what was working, and, as often of more educational value, what wasn't. 
Let's be honest for a moment: sometimes I watch "American Ninja Warrior" on the television. I like it. Conversely, can't exactly say that I "liked" "Schindler's List." But I don't remember who won the last jungle-gym-on-crack competition, whilst I do remember in my deepest places how I felt and what I experienced sitting in that dim theater watching Spielberg's homage to the survivors of the horror that is humanity. 
To me that is the difference between what can be a likable story and what constitutes literature. Nick–and you don't want to cross that man–suggests that stories should "kick your goddamn teeth in." Now, I literally just today received my Oral-B Genius Pro 8000 electric toothbrush because I really really (I mean, just really) like my teeth, so getting them relocated to some more inward locale seems not at all positive to me, but I'm guessing we all know what he means. Stories, literary stories, should move you and change you and break your heart in some way. There are books full of stories that do this, and if you find something from Carver or Johnson or O'Connor or Carlson or Saunders, I've likely read it and I liked it. I liked it a lot. It also kicked my goddamn teeth in. Ouch.
So, at WW, we are looking to the outlets that, through their own admission (claims), offer up LITERARY writing for those who desire such a thing, such a teeth-kicking. And we examine those stories and all their parts. We look at craft, we dissect, we analyze, we react. Some elements are admirable, some worthy of appreciation, some are disappointing and downright craptastic. But, remember, these are media outlets who self-proclaim to offer "literature" to those seeking such. NBC pretends that "American Ninja Warrior" is nothing more than the mindless (and utterly likable because who wouldn't want to be able to do half that shit??!) entertainment swill that it is. I love their honesty. The New Yorker? Not so much. 
At WW we are genuinely and un-ironically interested in the elements of craft which go into the stew-pot of a story; we want to suss out each carrot and onion and flake of spice and hunk of game flesh and understand what they contributed to the taste of the whole. How did the author create something worthy of me being short a canine or two? Or, as we've seen often, not? When you can do this, when you can understand how something wonderful was achieved (or missed), you are made better by it. One can go into the world and believe that with the right ingredients, combined and stirred and fretted over, one can make something that MOVES someone else. Like it they should, just as anything sublime and life-changing should be liked and appreciated. Doesn't mean I can't like Master King's "The Stand" (and I'm the MFA grad who entered the program loudly proclaiming how much I LIKED that book–and I did, goddammit, and I don't care who knows, though now I also realize it's not exceptionally accomplished from a standpoint of craft, but it made the man a shitton of money and entertained many and I appreciate the hell out of that) because I did. But Carver? Hemingway? Steinbeck? Nabokov? Those folks changed me, forever, in a way that is as painful as it is good. 
Listen, Anonymous, I LOVE your question. It's the right one. Wait till Episode 4!! (spoiler alert: I LIKED the story) I–we–are more than flattered that you even took the time to put forward this meaningful query. I sincerely hope that you end up liking what we do, how we do it, and why we do it I hope it will improve you or your understanding of literature and what it is and can be and how it can kick your fucking teeth in for good and bad and you'll be forever altered by that, much as I am by the fine beers I like from El Segundo Brewery (full plug: these guys craft the shit out of some beer
Thank you, Anonymous, from all of us here at WW for being passionate about this minuscule and unimportant slice of the internet we occupy enough that you asked a question. Let's keep a dialogue going. I like the way this feels.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Let's All Get Dumberer!

In what passes for the not too distant past in a ridiculously fast moving life, I attended a residency for my MFA program in the majestic state of Alaska.  More specifically, The Blue Fox (a dive bar).  Anyway, there I was, deeply immersed in learning, in the camaraderie of education, in the mutual pursuit of grand ideas, in a world unfolding before me, skills and path-makers, great and small.  This is as inspiring as it sounds.  And the immersion, well, it was as grand as the snow dusted Chugach range which cups Anchorage to the sea and serves as a constant reminder that there is more weight teetering above us than we may care to consider.  All of which led me to a small epiphany:

Lordy, but I am stupid.  (hold on, I have to go get more beer)

It was at this a-ha moment that I knew my education was working! (I'm back, btw...)  How, you are asking (and I know you are), does feeling stupid demonstrate the efficacy of a University experience?  In what way would I feel the value of the many of thousands of dollars making their way from my wallet the opposite way up the Alaska pipeline, when all I feel is dumber and dumberer?  Well, goodness, thank you for asking these pointed questions.  Allow me to digress.

I have a theory.  It doesn't have a name much fancier than Dan's Theory, but I think it's as important, or at least as demonstrable, in the physical world as Heisenberg's Uncertainty Principle (  Dan's Theory has a lot of fancy mathematics behind it, and general pontificatory language around it, but I can summarize for your convenience: the universe is an awfully big place.  So big, in fact, that the processors which inhabit the cranial space teetering atop our spines cannot in any valuable way understand how big (and how small!) it really is.  We can blah blah on about how many miles it is to the Sun, and et cetera, but that just doesn't slice it.  What that means is it is simple for us to discuss x relative to y, when often the actual difference between x and y on the scale of the known universe is hard to measure.  Clear?  Let's take it another step and see if we can't all follow along:

The grandest single outburst of energy ever considered by mankind is the supernova: the explosion of a star which can, momentarily, outshine an entire galaxy.  That is an ass-ton of energy, people.  As far as we know, it is the single most powerful thing (okay, event) in the universe.

Now let's consider Dan's (that's me!) heartbeat.  Or Dan (me, again) taking a breath.  These events are energy events as well.  Now, our dinky processors would obviously take the relative value of x (the supernova) and y (my heartbeat) and naturally conclude that one, namely x, was significantly more impactful (I think I made that word up, but I like it) than y.  This would make me feel small if I didn't take Dan's Theory to a level that you probably don't see coming.

On the Universal scale, BOTH of these energy events are so insignificant as to be less than a rounding error apart.  The difference betwixt them, at the relative scale of the Universe, is nothing.  Nada.  Zip.  This leads me to the dramatic one line summation of Dan's Theory:

I am the most powerful thing in the Universe.

Which is to say, I don't mean fuck-all.  But until we find something a heck of a lot bigger than a supernova, or me, even, nothing really matters.

So, how cool is Dan's Theory?  Feel free to use it for yourself, but do know that you have to give credit where credit's due, and call whatever your pathetic, insignificant, dust-mitey version of MY theory may be what you want, you still have to admit it's my theory.  Copyrighted and all.  Patent pending.  Whatever.

Let's circle the wagons back around.  Ben Harper is really great, blaring as he is in my headphones at the moment.  Anyway, a truly effective education begins to pull back the curtain on all it is that we don't know.  We can get a glimpse of it, of the blanket-boundary of galaxies that seems to surround us at the 13.4 billion lightyear distance like the delicate but comforting shell of our Universal egg.  But that revelation is more a slap in the face than it is a comfort.  What I don't know fills millions of volumes, spans thousands of miles of library shelves, is barely contained in the heads of legions of the brilliant, past and present.  Literally.  This is awesome.  My education is aiding me to scratch the shimmery coating off the lotto card of my future, and what I begin to see is how very very small I am.

There is a ridiculous amount of freedom in this.  I only have to aspire to be as good as I can be, and no more.  I don't have to save the world, or the universe, even, because I can't.  I don't have to understand all of literature, or be the greatest writer there ever was, because, damn, how much arrogance would it take to assume, in this great, sprawling, sexy, grotesque Universe we can't even come close to understanding, that I was the best there ever was, anywhere?  A lot, people.

See also: Dan's Theory.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Supposed to be good for you.

When pursuing a Masters degree in writing, there's a great deal of encouragement to do some actual writing.  My surprise at this perhaps says a bit about where I was as a writer prior to setting out for an advanced degree, which I've learned is quite a bit more than just an expensive deadline generator.  It is that as well, however, and it is to those deadlines the last year of my writing efforts have gone.  Other than email, of course, in which milieu I am staggeringly prolific, as an audience of one strikes in me nowhere near the fear of producing something which may be read by tens.

Alas, part of living the "writer life" is writing more than just emails and assignments on deadline.  A year ago, it was suggested to us newbie scholars to journal and/or blog.  In a roiling online discussion about this topic, I likened journaling to masturbation (presumably as justification for the fact that I didn't journal–not that there's anything wrong with masturbation, unless to you there is, in which case I would suggest not reading my blog on masturbation featured prominently on these pages some day in the future).  Blogging is therefore like masturbation on a webcam; something I would never do, of course, at least not from a traceable IP address or without my Richard Nixon mask.

A fellow classmate said this about blogging:

"As for blogs, I think they can be a good exercise, especially in editing, because it forces you to proof (at least it does me) because I can't stand the thought of anonymous strangers on the internet thinking I'm an idiot because I misspelled something."

Naturally, his misspellings are not the reason any of us thought him an idiot (I promise not to use your name, Ben, if you promise not to read this).  As there is no shortage of misspellings (or idiots) on the internets, I'll assume that my blogging will not automatically enroll me in that particular obtuse subset.

In any case–and thanks to Ben for his uncredited cameo here–I can see where this is going.  I started this post several weeks ago, and, as rambling and verbose as it is, I can see that it really hasn't gone anywhere.  All this writing is supposed to be good for me.  But what's it to you?  So, wishing to give my audience of many (ok, none) some value, I'll offer at least one piece of tested advice in each blog.

Today's advice:

If you have water damage in your home, you will likely have mold.  If you have mold, guys in space suits will come to your house and tear walls out and place "negative air pressure machines" in your home, and generally treat you like something out of The Hot Zone.  If you are treated this way, you will battle with an insurance company long and hard enough to get out of containment level 3 that they will eventually agree to put your entire family and two dogs up at the Pelican Hill resort, which is a ridiculous decision on their part, honestly.  If you are put up at the resort, you will eventually find the time to sit back on the couch, have a cocktail, and ramble through to the end of your first blog.  So, to sum up: get mold in your house.  It's good for your writing.