Sunday Afternoon Potpourri: More or Less Midterm Edition

I’m supposed to have my midterm grades together by Tuesday, and I’m already in pretty good shape. I’m sufficiently caught up on grading, so that’s just data entry for a few more weeks. In the meantime…


I spent the last Saturday of spring break in Real City, getting a haircut and supplies at the local Skids O’ Stuff. But That meant that I had time and some access to the local used media emporium. I picked up Spider Robinson’s Callahan’s Con in hardback, and a new trade edition of Mick Herron’s Slow Horses, the first in the Slough House series. The Robinson is a worthy member of its series, although it relies more on heartstrings than the screwball shenanigans and wordplay of the collections that started the whole business. The series loses a key character at the book’s end, and the author encourages readers to work against a disease with which he is, unfortunately, far too familiar. I don’t read nearly as many SF stories as I once did, but whenever I run across a new (to me) Callahan’s book, I know I’m good for an evening’s read. This was no exception.

Apparently there has been a television version of Herron’s series, but I figured I’d start with the novels, which several folks have recommended to me. The series takes place in the realm of MI-5, the U.K.’s internal intelligence and security agency. It’s somewhere between what we here in the States would see as the police and the CIA — maybe one of the less well known wings of the FBI. But while it would be nice to think of its agents as the best and brightest, such is not always the case.

That brings us to the setting of the novel: an office building unofficially called “Slough House,” where secret agents who no longer really make the grade — through drinking, burnout, or lack of competence — are exiled to make-work jobs until they retire, unless they quit first. The chances of returning to genuine, active duty are infinitesimal on a good day, but it’s still something the misfits of Slough House — themselves punningly called the “Slow Horses” — desperately seek. And when they actually stumble into a domestic terrorist operation, they find themselves in a struggle both with the thugs and even worse, the administrative bureaucracy, which has its own agenda. The result is a Bad News Bears of clandestine operation, John LeCarre after a couple of hits of nitrous oxide, or Ross Thomas sitting in with John Cleese.

I figured out a couple of the twists ahead of the game, but the interplay between the Slow Horses is entertaining, and if you like your humor on the astringent side, you’ll have a very good time. Part police procedural, part political satire, part spy thriller, Slow Horses made for an entertaining afternoon. So that’s another series I’ll need to follow.


Speaking of books, if you’ve been waiting for your Subterranean Press copy of Playing Games, patience will be your friend. I got in touch with the publisher, who told me that the ever-popular supply chain and warehousing issues have slowed them down. Look for those copies to come your way in the next six weeks or so. In the meantime, of course, you can pick up paperback or e-reader versions here, and there’s nothing wrong with that.

And don’t forget that in a couple of weeks, the new issue of Dark Yonder will be out, including my story “Bear Hunt” inspired by my father’s painting Twins. Check here for news on availability.


For today’s musical closer, we visit sunny Santa Barbara, home of mid-60s garage-folkies the Dovers. They cut four singles in the career, and this wistful little (less than two minutes!) number was the A-side of the last one. From 1966, this is “She’s Not Just Anybody.”

See you soon!

Posted in Literature, Music, Pixel-stained Wretchery | 1 Comment

“Mondo, Mondo, Where Have You Been?”

“Up to Terpville and back again.”

Friday morning, I set out for the airport in Greenville-Spartanburg, in order to spend the first half of my Spring Break visiting the Spawn at her new apartment. The drive was easy enough, and mirabile dictu, I made it through the TSA line without heavy petting being necessary. Mrs. M and I seem to have a knack for drawing extra attention during this process, but apparently the scanner gods decided to cut me some slack.

I was slightly chagrined to discover that my plan to grab lunch before takeoff wasn’t to be. In fact, the restaurant nearest my gate was still in breakfast mode, and would remain so until well past boarding time. “Ah, well,” I figured. “I’ll just get by on the in-flight snack.”

Guess again. There was mild turbulence for the flight’s duration, which meant a refreshment-free flight. On the upside, there was enough space on the flight for me to get an aisle seat with no one next to me. I’m always self-conscious about my size when I fly; I do fit in the seat, but I always feel like I’m crowding anyone sitting next to me, so I scrunch myself up and wind up with sore hip flexors. Not this time, though — I was able to relax, at least as much as one does during a bumpy flight.

Upon my arrival at the BWI airport, I caught the shuttle to the car rental terminal. Given that I’ve taken a tumble at least once while disembarking from the shuttle, I got off the bus rather gingerly — but successfully. I rented from a car service I hadn’t used before, but the process was quick and efficient, and before long, I was navigating my way to the Spawn’s new digs.

The new place is only a few miles from her old one, but it’s in a different municipality. Greenbelt, MD has its origins in the New Deal, one of three cooperative communities dreamed up by one Rexford Guy Tugwell, who in 1935 was Undersecretary of Agriculture (and with a name like that, could he really have been anything other?) The architecture at the town’s core is a mix of Deco, Streamline, and Bauhaus, and the city’s origins persist in the form of co-op grocery and community-owned movie theater (along with a couple of buildings named after Eleanor Roosevelt). It’s seen as one of the first planned communities, and in that regard may be a forerunner of the current planners’ obsession with the so-called “15-minute city.” Because I have an interest in history, I found the place intriguing; because I am deeply suspicious of centralized planning and collectivism, I also found it a little creepy, particularly with places called “Roosevelt Center” and the New Deal Cafe. I didn’t hear anyone praising “Dear Leader,” however, so it could have been much creepier.

The Spawn’s spacious new digs are a few blocks from the historic core, in an apartment complex that looks to date from the 1970s or so. (A quick look indicates I was close — the complex was built in 1967, so it’s two years younger than I am, and in no worse shape.) I was welcomed by the Spawn and Squeeze, but the latter was going to visit some of her family over the weekend, leaving the place for Daddy-Daughter hangout time. Having gone without lunch, I was a bit peckish, so I took the girls to a nearby IHOP for dinner, followed by a trip to a (privately owned) supermarket for a few more provisions. The rest of the evening completed my settling-in process.


The Squeeze left the next morning for points north, turning things over to the Spawn and me. I got lunch at a location of one of my folks’ favorite fast-food chains, a move I’d repeat several more times over the next few days. After lunch, the Spawn and I decided to indulge our inner geeks, and visited the nearby NASA Goddard Space Flight Center. Well, the Visitors’ Center, in any case. For some reason, they’re a little reluctant to let random tourists wander around where the heavy business is going down. (“Say, what does this button do?”) The Visitors’ Center had its share of reflective surfaces, which worked well for us.

Unsurprisingly, I had a great time — those who know me know that I’m a big cheerleader for the Space program. Between the Apollo program of my childhood and being a 3rd-generation sf reader, I suppose it was inevitable, and I’ll freely confess to the awe and wonder I felt as I looked at a moon rock the center had on display.

We can’t go back soon enough for me. (Photo by the Spawn)

From there we ran a few errands, listened to some music, and talked into the night. I couldn’t ask for better.


Sunday was another day of relaxing around the apartment — after all, since the Spawn has a 9 to 5 now, she deserves whatever slack she can get. I had supper that night at a restaurant in the historic section of Greenbelt. Generous Joe’s Deli has been in its current spot since about 1964, and is run by the son of the place’s founder and namesake. I can vouch for the meat calzone, and for the friendly service. I love to eat at places like this, and the fact that it’s in one of those historic buildings I mentioned doesn’t hurt.

The deli is in a similar building around the corner.

Monday, the Spawn was working, so I hit a comic book store, where I found a graphic novel/omnibus volume of Astro City, one of my favorite comic series. The clerk was friendly, complimenting me on my Harlan Ellison T-shirt and throwing in a sticker of the store’s mascot, which will soon find an honored place on my office fridge alongside my various stickers from past gigs. The book was a little pricier than I might have liked, but I chalked it up as a souvenir. From there, I had lunch at a hole-in-the-wall Chinese buffet that Mrs. M visit whenever we’re in town. I went from there to the CD shop next door, but I had spent enough money on the book and my knee was starting to bug me, so I made my way back to the apartment, where we spent a quiet afternoon and evening.

That brought us to yesterday. I tried to minimize any distraction for the Spawn as I packed up and made one last lunchtime run to Checkers. I refueled the rental and made it to the airport gate without taking any tumbles, although this time I did get an upper body patdown from the TSA folks. I can only wonder what will happen if and when I get the knee replacement I’ve been considering. After collecting my luggage and making the hour’s drive back to Mondoville, I found myself in my customary downstairs chair by about 7:30 last night, with the second half of my break (and a lot of grading) ahead of me.

So here we are. As always, I treasured the time I got to spend with the Spawn, and wish there could have been more. However, she has her living to earn, and that means we probably got it right, yes? So see you soon, Em — I love you.

And I’ll close this one with one of the songs the Spawn requested on my Spotify as we drove around on Saturday. The track is from the Australian band Mr. Brown, and this is the only song of theirs I know, but Em and I both love it. Here’s “Weird Scene.”

See you soon!

Posted in Culture, Education, Family, Literature, Music, Politics | 2 Comments

There Are Worse Legacies

One of the boilerplate lines in my my syllabi appears to have struck a chord with some of my colleagues. The picture is of a sign/placard posted in a history prof’s classroom, and I just had a prof from the music department ask if it was okay if he posted it on the Book of Faces. I said, “Sure/”

Not exactly Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address, but I’ll take it.

(ADDENDUM: The Spawn refers to that part of my syllabus as “the ‘May Contain Allergens’ warning.”)

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Sunday Afternoon Potpourri:

It’s been a gorgeous weekend in Mondoville; I spent enough of yesterday afternoon outside to get pinked up, though not scorched or sore, and I’m currently in my office with the window open and the TeenBeat Mayhem stream providing my soundtrack. I have papers I could grade, but today feels like a good afternoon to procrastinate, so…


Yesterday’s solar exposure was the result of the Mondoville women’s lacrosse match, where our crew knocked off the Railsplitters of Lincoln Memorial U (the college one town over from the Mads’ new home). Later, the men completed the sweep for the home teams, but having had enough sun for the day, I bailed after game 1.

I seem to have become the semi-official faculty rooter for the women’s squad. I try to get to a variety of events each year, both athletic and otherwise, because I want the kids to recognize that I’m interested in them outside the classroom as well as in. But last year I went to a couple of lacrosse matches, and I was impressed by our women’s coach’s positive, energetic sideline demeanor. Even when we didn’t win, I liked how he stayed upbeat and encouraging. Since Coach Kelly was new here at the time, I sent him in an e-mail letting him know that I liked his style, and I’ve made a point of getting to games when I can.

I still have remarkably little understanding of the game, and appreciate none of the sport’s subtleties. (In point of fact, I realize I understand remarkably little about even the sports to which I’ve had more exposure. But that’s okay — I know other stuff.) But there’s something to be said for naive spectatorship as well, and I’m not there as an analyst, in any case. I just sit behind the Wolves’ bench, applaud when we score goals, and listen to the spectators who know more about what’s going on. Now if I could only find a team T-shirt in my size.


Spring Break starts next weekend, and while I had originally planned to head to Nashville, I got an invitation from the Spawn to visit her new digs in the greater Terpville area, and there was no way I would turn that down. So Nashville will wait until term’s end in May, and I’m heading north instead to crash with the Spawn and Squeeze. Reports will follow.


Meanwhile, I showed my Shakespeare class an RSC production of Macbeth this week, and it occurred to me that this semester is going to be a version of the Ian McKellen Film Festival, as he’ll be playing the title roles in Richard III and Lear, as well as the Scottish Play. My students are more used to seeing him as Gandalf or Magneto, which won me a few chuckles when I intoned “Duncan, Thou. Shalt Not. Pass.”

On the sillier side, we’re watching the play on YouTube, with auto-generated captions (at the request of a student who isn’t a native speaker.) The captions sometimes leave a lot to be desired. For example, in Act II, Scene 4, the Old Man tells Ross, “God’s benison go with you.” The captions read, “God’s penis on you.” And I thought the Porter had the funny lines.


Just a reminder that my story “Bear Hunt” will be appearing in the April issue of Dark Yonder magazine. Quite a few fine writers will be in the issue, including Alice Archer, Kevin A. Brown, S.A. Cosby, Joseph Hirsch, Preston Lang, and Meagan Lucas. Of course, it helps when the editors are Eryk Pruitt and Katy Munger, so quality is simply to be expected. Keep an eye on the quarterly’s website — and you might even want to pick up the first issue to get caught up.

A couple of weeks ago, I offered a review of William Kotzwinkle’s new Felonious Monk novel, Bloody Martini. I was delighted to hear from Mr. Kotzwinkle this weekend, asking to use my review at his website. I said yes, of course, but in the meantime, you can find it here.

I have to say that one of the things I enjoy most about my writing sort-of-career is that it has allowed me not only to make the acquaintance, but to earn the respect, of writers whose work have shaped my own life and world. I never would have seen that coming, and I’m grateful. My folks would have gotten a kick out of it too.


I’ll wrap this one up with a track I heard yesterday. While the mid-60s in the USA produced garage rock, the British and European version was presented under the heading of “freakbeat”, with its own share of obscurities and one-hit wonders, including this one.

Sun Dragon was a British studio project from producer Derek Lawrence. They cut a few singles, but are today best known for the presence of Jon Lord (keys), Ian Paice (drums), and Ritchie Blackmore (guitar), who would soon become much better known as three-fifths of Deep Purple. This track reminds me more of a bubblegummy version of the Move than the Purps, but I like it, and thought I’d share it with you. Here’s “Peacock Dress.”

See you soon!

Posted in Culture, Education, Family, Literature, Music, Pixel-stained Wretchery, Why I Do What I Do | Leave a comment

Sunday Afternoon Potpourri: Us and “Them” Edition

I’ve spent the afternoon doing lesson planning, but I thought I’d take a break to get caught up on the blogging end of things. But first…


Remember the ’50s Big Bug movie Them!, with its tale of giant mutated ants defying mankind (and the Square-Cube law) to wreak havoc in the American Southwest? I saw it in my childhood, thanks to Channel 5’s afternoon movie in Nashville in the 70s.

Anyway, I got to experience the road company version in my office this past week. On Monday, Ms. Retha (the building custodian and beloved campus fixture) told me she had found ants in my office trash can, but that she had sprayed and thought she had gotten them all. And indeed, everything was fine in my office. . . at first (Cue the theremin.)

On Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, I have lunch in my office between classes — I go home on the other two weekdays. I threw my lunch away, and turned to grab my supplies for class, only to be confronted by a significant expeditonary force of formicidae, with what looked like a couple of hundred or so having crept in while I was eating my sandwich. I did a fair amount of stomping, but quickly realized I was out of my depth, so I made my way to class. After I got the kids started on their paper in progress, I sent an urgent message to our physical plant people, letting them know that my office was due for some chemical warfare.

But it was Friday afternoon, and I didn’t know whether my message would reach the appropriate eyes before everyone took off for the weekend. So it was with some trepidation when I opened my office door this afternoon.

But, no — things seem calm enough.

For now. (Muted cello section plays tritones.)


Friday, I read Love Me Fierce in Danger, Steven Powell’s bio of James Ellroy. Writing a bio of Ellroy strikes me as a particularly challenging task, as Ellroy himself has written two memoirs and a significant number of other self-revelatory pieces. It really seems as though there’s little new territory to survey in a new volume.

Indeed, Powell’s work reminded me of the bios of folks like Heinlein and Harlan Ellison — none of them really seemed to offer much beyond what the assiduous reader of the bio’s subject would have picked up anyway. I think the book is useful enough as a one-stop shopping spot for Ellroy information, from birth to his 2019 visit to Real City (where Your Genial Host got to meet the Demon Dog — who wasn’t the least bit demonic, in the event.) The work is also exhaustively footnoted — about a fourth of it is taken up by the notes section. Ellroy’s major works receive critical consideration, and I think would be useful to readers who are only moderately familiar with his corpus.

But a great deal of the book seems to operate on a surface level — Ellroy meets a wide range of women and has relatively brief liaisons with them. Periodically he goes off the rails because of addictions to substances, work, or fame. The book offers narrative accounts of these events (often via participants given the semi-anonymity of a first-name-only citation.) The book does go at some depth into Ellroy’s relationship with Nat Sobel, the agent who did as much as anyone to foster the writer’s career.

Powell is willing to remind us that a significant portion of Ellroy’s public schtick is, indeed, schtick, but to get beyond that to the person wearing the mask is harder to do — not least because the subject has so explicitly revealed at least some of what’s underneath. I would have enjoyed the book more had Powell tried to see how much of that was a mask as well. Still, it made for an engaging couple of hours reading, and makes an interesting companion piece to Ellroy’s own memoirs.


Speaking of writing, I’m happy to report that my story “Bear Hunt” will be appearing in the second issue of Eryk Pruitt’s Dark Yonder magazine, coming out in April both in electronic and dead tree form. Like a lot of my recent work, the story is inspired by one of my father’s paintings, to wit:

I’ll give you more information as it becomes available.

Meanwhile, I hope you haven’t forgotten about “Lightning Round,” my story in El Bee’s Playing Games antho. There’s plenty of good stuff in the book, and I’ll provide you a full review when my copy arrives, which I hope will be soon.

On top of that, I’ve registered for this year’s Bouchercon, which takes place Labor Day weekend in San Diego. I’d love to see you there!


All right — I had best get back to my school work, but here’s a little more music to send you on your way. Given my recent siege, this one seems like a gimme. After a young British fop named Stuart Goddard (working under the name Adam Ant) was introduced to Sex Pistols Svengali Malcolm McLaren (who promptly stole his band and turned them into Bow Wow Wow), he hooked up with a couple of drummers who were influenced by the beats of Burundi and guitarist Marco Pirroni. The resulting album, Kings of the Wild Frontier, became a centerpiece of what was called the New Romantic movement. It included this single.

See you soon!

Posted in Culture, Education, Literature, Music, Pixel-stained Wretchery | 2 Comments

A Blast from My Past, or a Bullet Dodged?

Because I’ve always thrived on standardized tests, I qualified as a National Merit Scholar in my late high school years. As part of that, I was invited to apply for a program sponsored by the Telluride Foundation the summer before my senior year. I made it to the interview stage, but didn’t make the final cut to join the program at Cornell U. I’m not complaining — instead, I went to Western KY U and earned college credit while having one of the happiest summers of my youth.

The Telluride program has continued through the years, and its alumni roster includes numerous recognizable names both within and outside academia. However, at least one recent Telluride instructor found that the program took a disturbing turn. This is what sometimes happens when dogmatism meets education. It’s worth a read.

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Gulping Down a Bloody Martini

No, I haven’t abandoned my teetotaling ways. Bloody Martini is the new novel from William Kotzwinkle, the second in a series that started with Felonious Monk.

Tommy Martini, descended from a family of mobsters in Pennsylvania, was a college athlete and Olympic-class wrestler until his moonlighting job as a bar bouncer resulted in his killing another man with one ill-timed punch. To avoid a manslaughter rap, Tommy winds up in a Benedictine monastery in Mexico. In the first novel, he leaves the monastery when an uncle dies and mentions him in the will. As it happens, the uncle was a priest, but that was his day job, his true vocation lying with the family business. The events of Tommy’s re-emergence into the world are the matter of the first book.

As the second book opens, Tommy — Brother Thomas — has returned to the monastery. The monks coexist with the local drug cartels, and Tommy coexists with his anger management issues, but the monastery remains separate from the corrupted secular world. That is, it does until the abbot informs Tommy that his childhood friend has been murdered, with a final request that Tommy find and take care of the new widow. Tommy’s conscience drives him to leave the monastery once again.

He returns to his home town of Coalville, a slightly microdosed version of Centralia, PA. Or maybe it’s a foretaste of Hell. While there, he deals with his mobster family, Russian pimps, dognappers and dogfighters, a cousin who resents Tommy’s inheritance from their uncle, and the brothers of the man he killed in that bar fight. There are also teen hookers, drag queens, beautiful former crushes, beautiful current crushes, addicts of various persuasions, dog fighters, a ukelele-playing scion of old money, and a karate-trained cosmetician. In short, it’s Kotzwinkle country, a weirder, sardonic version of places one might find in a Jim Thompson novel, or a whacked-out Hap and Leonard tale from Joe R. Lansdale.

The book’s violence level is considerable, crisp and realistic without being ghoulish. There’s remarkable balance required to pull that off, and if I put my mortarboard on, I would suggest that balance, karmic and otherwise, is one of the themes — and strengths — of the book. Tommy’s appreciation for his monastic life balances with the temptations of Coalville. The nihilism of noir is counterpoised with humor and moments of gentleness. Nearly everyone in the book is corrupt in some way or other, but in many cases one winds up reminded that “They know not what they do.”

Meanwhile, the book is also quite funny, with subplots like a slingshot-wielding preteen boy who assists Tommy in order to get a bicycle, and the interplay between Tommy and various mobbed-up acquaintances and family providing quite a bit of humor. All told, the book becomes a sort of absurdist noir, and when I finished it last night, I found myself thoroughly satisfied, and slightly disoriented — that microdose thing again, I think.

I don’t know if Mr. Kotzwinkle plans to continue the series, but I hope he does. Kotzwinkle’s fictive worlds lie a few vibrational planes away from our own, but I’m grateful he lets us look in on them, and Bloody Martini is no exception to this trend. Buy it now.

Posted in Culture, Faith, Literature | 1 Comment

Cut Me Open; Count the Rings

We’re getting ready to start looking at each other’s work in my creative writing class, and for a run-through, I decided to let them practice on something I wrote around 1985 or ’86, at about the age of 20. (I still have a great deal of my juvenilia; my high school English and Latin teacher told me to hang onto it, probably in the vain hope that it might serve a future reader/critic/scholar/biographer.) None of that’s going to happen, but it lit my packrat signal, so there’s a ton of it in a folder in my office.

Portrait of the author as a callow, blurry youth, ca. 1985. And no, I’m not holding my hair on with a fur strap. It’s a beard, dammit!

Anyway, since I had the original, I scanned the story into a PDF, which I sent to the kids. At least one of them was fascinated by the fact that it was a typescript (done on my old Smith-Corona portable, complete with a handwritten correction in the first paragraph. They looked at my original as if it were an incunabulum.

Clearly, I’m ancient.

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Sunday Afternoon Potpourri: Coronation Edition

No, not that guy in England — nothing against him, but this one’s closer to home.


A public schoolteacher’s career is like an iceberg; most people never see most of it. Yes, there’s the grading, lesson planning, and assorted feats of bureaucratic hoop-jumping. And of course, there’s the professional development, “off-hours” meetings and such. Heck, I’ve heard rumors that occasionally they even get to spend some time with children rendered even more feral than usual by COVID shutdowns and the according lack of socialization. But wait — there’s more!

For example, at Mrs. M’s Mondoville Elementary, there’s the Sweetheart Dance, a parent-child event that raises funds for the school while allowing folks and kids to cut a rug in their finest threads. Or not: there were also plenty of students and family who approached it more casually, and some who probably were just there for the popcorn, pizza, and stick-on tattoos. However, Sweetheart Dances don’t just spontaneously generate; someone has to hire a DJ, make the popcorn and decorations, take pictures of the revelers, promote the event, order the other concessions, and about Avogadro’s Number of other things. Mondoville Elementary doesn’t have a party planner on staff, but it has numerous staffers who want to make things special for the parents and kids.

While Mrs. M wouldn’t want me to give her the star treatment here, I think I can safely brag on my wife, and say that she was chair of the committee and first among equals when it came to bringing this year’s dance to fruition. I can certainly say that she brought her usual Unsurpassed Work Ethic (TM pending) to the task. This year’s committee was smaller than it has been for many years, which meant that she had extra things to do, even beyond the chair’s usual extra George tasks (as in, “let George do it.”) She was spending her after school time taking care of many of the tasks I mentioned above, and had to recruit additional staff volunteers for the Big Event proper. That’s not always easy when we’re talking about a Friday night after a week’s worth of classes with kids from pre-K to 5th grade. Think of your high school prom, only without kids old enough to help plan and bring off any of it.

The team managed to glam up the cafetorium, complete with streamered backdrop built by Mrs. M, and by the time the doors opened, the parents and students were queued up as far as the eyes could see (or at least beyond the end of the nearest hallway). And per Mrs. M’s report, the kids had a blast through the whole thing. Among the highlights, of course, were the coronations of the Sweetheart Dance King, Queen, Prince, and Princess. The King and Queen represented the upper grades, while the Prince and Princess represented the littles. Each class had candidates, and candidates fundraised for votes. While the crowns were store-bought, the sashes were made by another member of the committee.

Mrs. M was so busy with the dance and the kids that she hadn’t noticed when it was time for the assistant principal to announce the royalty. Fortunately, she was in a position to herd the aspirants into their positions, and even wound up bestowing the crowns, tiaras, and sashes on the winners, making sure there were sufficient flourishes before the coronations. Fortunately, none of the kids pulled a Napoleon and crowned himself, but there was plenty of cheering and excitement all the same, and as it happened, one of Mrs. M’s kids entered the nouvelle regime. Congrats to all the participants, in any case.

Finally, it was time to wrap things up, and by the time the cash was counted up and the venue put back into shape for Monday, Mrs. M was happy, but worn out (as we hope were the kids and folks). She was worn to a frazzle when she got home, but smiling with the pleasure of a job well done by a group of teachers and staff willing to work below the surface to give the kids and families something special. She’s already looking forward to next year.

But don’t think she can put her feet up just yet — she’s leaving later this week to help the Spawn and Squeeze move from the grad school apartment to the First Job Apartment, complete with home office for the remotely working Spawn. The new place is only about a 15 minute drive from the old one, but in my experience, those short moves can be more grueling than the long ones, if only because the long ones basically have to be done in one swell foop, whereas the short ones offer the experience of innumerable small trips, like being nibbled to death by ducks. So I’ll be holding down the fort here, while the distaff Mondos take care of things in Terpland. (And as it happens, there are lots of stairs involved at both the old and new places, so I probably wouldn’t have been much use anyway.


In last Sunday’s installment, I mentioned my artistic discomfort about the whole short-vs.-novel thing, and concluded that it might be best to just relax and let the work be the length it wants to be. And what do you know? While I was sitting at the basketball doubleheader yesterday (a Mondoville sweep, by the way), a story idea popped into my head, and bits and pieces have been bubbling in since then. You’d think I’d be better at getting out of my own way — or if you’ve ever seen me move around, maybe you wouldn’t.


Buying soft drinks recently, I noticed that the Pepsi folks are now marketing a lemon-lime competitor to Sprite and Seven-Up. The new beverage (which replaces Sierra Mist) is called Starry, for reasons probably clear only to the people who do focus groups. However, since I discovered it last weekend, I find myself with Don McLean’s “Vincent” (a song my dad used to play and sing for my brother and me at bedtime) stuck in my head, with the opening lyrics transformed to “Starry, Starry Sprite.” It may have seemed folky, but I guess it was a pop song all along. I’ll show myself out.

See you soon!

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Sunday Afternoon Potpourri: “Too Old to Rock and Roll, Too Young to Die” Edition

I’m in the office, doing a bit of planning for the week’s classes. But of course, that’s always a good incentive to do something else, so here we are.


I’ve noticed in the past that I seem in many ways to be thoroughly out of step with my time. Not in a pathetic, Miniver Cheevian way (at least, I hope not), but out of step nonetheless. I’ve been told my 2002 dissertation would have been state of the art in about 1962. My pedagogical style is rather old-school as well — although “the sage on the stage” (a term largely freighted with irony these days) is now considered terribly out of touch, I generally rely on a pretty traditional lecture format. (For what it’s worth, my evaluations from colleagues and students have always been somewhere between positive and incandescent, and I’ve won every teaching award Mondoville offers, so like an ugly tie, “It works for [me].” My biggest litcrit influences are Northrop Frye and Samuel Johnson, neither of whom are terribly hip in our era of identity-focused, politicized criticism.

It’s true of my musical tastes as well — most of what I listen to tends to be anywhere from 40 to 60 years old, and my favorite year for popular music was three-quarters finished before I turned one. While I do listen to current music, much of it carries a lot of that mid-60s feel in its DNA. (Of course, my other rock genre of choice — Prog — may have reached its peak around 1974, so even there, I’m just 50 years behind the times, rather than 60.) Likewise, my taste in country music trends toward 50s/60s stuff — I’m much more in sync with Porter Wagoner and Buck Owens than with Luke Combs or Florida-Georgia Line. I get things like Robert Crumb’s 1930s obsession and the cartoonist Seth’s fascination with vintage clothing. (As it happens, those aren’t things I need to sweat — it’s hard enough to find clothing in my size now. Vintage? “Ferrrrr-git it!”)

I’d like to think that one of the things that keeps me from being that Miniver Cheevy figure is that while I recognize my own xenochronous nature, I try not to let it lead me toward Miniver’s scorn for the present. My out-of-stepness is a Mondo issue, not an everybody else issue. They’ll go their way, and I — well, I go mine because I don’t really know any other path my feet will follow. I can’t help it, so I may as well try to make a virtue of necessity. (An advantage to having spent your formative years as the Weird Kid — you’re less surprised by your weirdness as the years go by.)

So where am I going with this? I’ve mentioned before that when I was in my late 20s, I realized that I was too old and too fat to be a rock star. But I still wanted to play music, so instead of getting discouraged, I decided to let my incongruity with what was cool serve as a means of liberation. Since I wasn’t going to be a worldly success anyway, why not be “unsuccessful” while playing whatever I want to play (and as importantly, not playing stuff I didn’t care for)?

While I’m still passionate about music (and if you’re a guitarist near Mondoville, give me a shout — there are folks I’d like you to meet), these days my principal means of expression is through fiction (and I suppose, the “creative nonfiction” of this blog). I love being a writer; it’s what I’ve always believed I was meant to be, whatever else I’ve been along the way. I’m fortunate, too, in that my work has earned the respect of at least some of my peers (and some of those I would consider my betters, who accept me as a peer).

But here too, I’m a little bit out of step, out of time. While I’ve written a novel, my metier seems to be the short story. In retrospect, I’m not surprised — many of the books and writers I loved when I was younger focused on short fiction, and when I think of the writers I love (among others, LB, Peter S. Beagle, Harlan Ellison, Heinlein, and William Kotzwinkle), all of them have shown a gift for the form.

However, short fiction is almost certainly not the path to hot- and cold-running limousines and receiving the idolatry of millions (or even dozens). While I occasionally hear prognosticators claiming that we’re heading into a new golden age of short fiction, my discussions with agents and such don’t exactly lead me to bet the house mortgage on that coming true anytime soon. Similarly, when I started my Ph.D. program 25 years ago, it was thought that tenure-track positions would be opening up any minute now. It worked out for me, but again, that was a sucker bet for a lot of folks.

No, it would appear that for the overwhelming majority of writers, the novel (or better yet, the novel series) is the career move. But what if that’s not exactly the direction in which whatever talent I have lies? Furthermore, at 57 years old, it’s not like I’d be anyone’s typical up-and-comer, and certainly no enfant terrible — although I would cheerfully be un homme de moyen age terrible. Add to that the fact that a lot of the stuff I write is downbeat, liver-flavored toothpaste and that’s another thumb on the scales.

So why not think of my fiction as I think of my music? My music hasn’t brought me fame or fortune, but I’ve had a good time making it, and there are people who have enjoyed it and listen to it from time to time. I’m always going to be musically inclined anyway, so why not just do it when and as I can?

Likewise, pressing myself to write another novel (I have written one, after all) may be chasing down a path not suited to my stride. Don’t get me wrong — I have a novel in progress, with a character that I could see visiting more than once, and if I should finish that, then terrific. But honestly, even if I do finish the thing, there’s no guarantee that it would find a happy home or an audience — the odds are almost certainly tilted the other way. So it doesn’t make sense for me to feel stressed or guilty about it, particularly when I’ve had what I think I can fairly describe as succès d’estime with my short works.

I’m out of step musically — but I love playing, and I’ve made people smile and cry with my music. I’m out of step intellectually — but I’ve made a career talking about things I love, and I’ll have taught a generation of students, many of whom come back and tell me what they got from my classes. And my writing is out of step generically — well? So far, so good?


Speaking of writing, here’s a reminder that Playing Games (with my story “Lightning Round”) is available for purchase through the usual suspects. Heck, you may even learn about games you didn’t previously know — anyone for crokinole?


Fellow music geeks will recognize the allusion to Jethro Tull in the title of this post, so it seems fitting to finish where I started. From Tull’s odds-and-sods collection of the same title, this is their 1969 single, Living in the Past.

See you soon!

Posted in Broken Glass Waltzes, Culture, Education, Literature, Music, Pixel-stained Wretchery, Why I Do What I Do | Leave a comment